It comes crashing down like a meteor from the heavens, and Prompto's got about five seconds to enjoy the sight of one of the most badass things he's ever seen.
The sky above them's a crisp, bright blue, and the breeze is brisk and chilly, the way it always is around Cape Caem. To their left is one of the rugged, picturesque cliffs so frequent in the area, and beyond that is the ocean, the sun gleaming on the water like a shiny coin that's left a silver snail-trail behind.
It would make a great shot: the Niff drop ship coming down, still sparking with the remnants of thundaga, red lights flashing out of control. It looks epic, like the scene out of some action movie he'd watch with Noct, curled up on a couch in Insomnia, bowl of popcorn at the ready.
Prompto keeps thinking that until the ship veers hard to the side, overcorrecting and bringing itself back in at cliff level.
He keeps thinking it until the roar of the engines is directly overhead, and as one, all four of them realize this thing is coming down, and it's coming down right here, on top of them.
Prompto doesn't think he's ever moved faster in his life.
He glances around for Noct – sees the flash of metal and glimmer of magic that means he's warping himself the hell out of here – and takes it as his cue, ducking his head and pounding his feet on the grassy ground in hot pursuit.
It's some kind of miracle they clear the drop ship. It's some kind of miracle they don't get crushed under all those tons of cold, hard steel, or seared crispy by the engines, or shoved straight over the edge of the cliff, now about two feet away. No, they come out of it more or less in one piece, and Prompto just has time to meet Noct's gaze and offer him a shaky grin that's the nonspoken equivalent to, "Hey, cool, we actually made it."
Then the tiny swath of cliff remaining beneath their feet shifts and groans, and Noct shoots an alarmed glance his way, and they're falling.
It's an ugly fall.
Prompto snags on a jut of rock and feels something drag, and press, and snap, a white-hot line of pain against his ribs. When he hits the ground, he can't quite bite down the scream.
It takes him a minute, after he's at the bottom. He just kind of sits there, face pressed to the rock, trying to convince himself that he needs to get moving. From up above, he can hear what sounds like combat: the clash of metal on metal, and the bellowing roar of a pissed-off Gladio.
He licks his lips – tastes blood. Every breath brings in new pain.
Then he remembers: Noct.
It crashes over him like an icy wave, sudden terror, and he jerks himself up to sitting so fast that the pain makes his head spin. "Noct?" he says.
There's no answer.
"Noct?" His voice is higher-pitched this time, creeping up into the range that usually means there are daemons on the way to tear them to pieces, but Prompto can't even be self-conscious about it. He's too busy being scared out of his wits by the crumpled form in black lying against the rocks, way too still.
He scrambles over, dimly aware that there's blood dripping down from his forehead, a hot, wet line that stings in his eyes. His hands are shaking when he touches the curve of Noct's wrist, gently, to take a pulse.
It's there. Thank all the Six, he can feel the dull throb of Noct's heart, there beneath his fingertips. He goes limp for a second – just rests his forehead against Noct's side, relief making his head spin. Or maybe that's the shock. It's kind of hard to tell.
He stays that way for a while.
At some point, distantly, it occurs to him to check his pockets for potions, but he comes up empty. Figures.
The fight up above them grows fainter, and then fades out entirely, and then a voice drifts down from the cliffside.
"Noct?" says Gladio. "Prompto? Can you hear us?"
Prompto licks at his lips – tastes blood, bright and metallic. "Yeah," he calls up. "I'm here. But Noct's – Noct's out cold."
There's a pause from above, presumably as Ignis and Gladio confer. Then Ignis' voice says: "Are you injured?"
Prompto glances down at his side, where the tear in his shirt is sticking to his skin with blood. He licks his lips again, and there's a dizzying moment when he's afraid he's going to puke. But he rubs a hand over his mouth, and he waits for it to pass, and he calls up: "I'm okay!"
There's another moment of silence from above him. Then Gladio's voice comes again: "Think you can move him?"
He should've known that was the next question. It only makes sense: he knows this stretch of shoreline well enough. It's the one he always eyes longingly from the cliffside, because it's maddeningly inaccessible once you actually get down to water level. There's a whole pile of rocks in the way, too high to pass even on chocobo-back.
How many times has he wished to be able to get down here to snap some shots of the ocean with that formation of rocks at just that angle in the distance?
Funny, he kinda doesn't feel like taking pictures right now.
He looks at Noct's still face, so pale and peaceful. He glances out over the water, where the sun is drawing down closer to the horizon, and he feels a twinge of fear. They can't stay here. Even if night didn't bring red giants this far west, he sure as hell doesn't want to beat off humongous crabs while he's injured. They've got to get moving.
They've got to get to a place where Iggy and Gladio can actually reach them.
"Yeah," Prompto calls up, shaky. "I got him."
"Excellent," says Ignis. "Make your way west. We'll come as far as we can to meet you. With any luck, the slope will be more forgiving on your end."
A rock slope. Carrying Noct. That sounds like the worst idea ever, even if he was whole and in one piece. But the sun doesn't stop for anyone, and Prompto glances up at it, nervous.
"You got it," he calls.
He waits a minute, to see if they have any other instructions for him. But they've probably already left – there's nothing but silence, and the sound of the wind coming in off the water.
Okay. So. Carrying Noct.
He can do this. He only had a couple weeks of training, but this part was covered. It was the what-you-absolutely-need-to-know-to-keep-your-prince-safe portion, and it included – thank every one of the Astrals individually, by name – how to pick up an injured party in an over-the-shoulder carry.
It's not fun. It's not easy. But Prompto knows how to do it, and he's not going to leave his best friend out here to be crab food.
So he gets his legs under him, careful and shaky. He braces his feet on the hard, rocky ground, and he pulls one of Noct's arms over his shoulder. He takes hold of his thigh, and he grits his teeth, and he pushes.
The pain drives the air from his lungs all in a rush. He sees stars for a second, and he damn near drops Noct straight back down onto the ground.
Then he grits his teeth harder, and he keeps going, and he only sways a little when he's standing.
There, he tells himself. You see? You've totally got this.
And he does totally have it, even though he's pretty sure he broke a rib, and something's scraping in his chest with every step he takes. It's worse than the time he got bit by a zu. It's worse than when he got run through by a dualhorn outside Longwythe. Those were sudden and all-consuming – and then gone, with the heady rush of an elixir.
This is different. This this is endurance. This is every step making his breath burn and stutter, and his side scream in protest, and his head spin a bit more as the blood slips away. It occurs to him, distantly, that maybe he should have tried to bandage himself up.
Oh, well. Too late now. If he tries to go back to his knees, he's pretty sure he's going to drop the king of Lucis on the rocks like a carton of eggs on the grocery store floor.
So Prompto just keeps going. He stumbles his way along the rocky shoreline for what feels like miles.
He goes until his legs are shaking – until his boot catches on a rough outcrop of rock, and he stumbles and goes down hard. His hands aren't free to break the fall.
Noct tumbles. The impact jars something inside of Prompto, and he screams again, hoarser this time. The throbbing pain is searing agony now, and every breath brings it back all over again, stronger than before.
He thinks again of a bandage, but all he has to use is his own shirt, and that's almost soaked through anyway. Besides, he's almost there – and Prompto's afraid that if he stops now, sits here for too long, he won't have the strength to get back up again.
It's cool, Prompto tells himself. It's fine. You've still totally got this.
He lifts his best friend in his arms, and he keeps going.
"Think they beat us here?" says Gladio.
He doesn't wait for an answer; he's already scanning the rocky seaside for some sign of life.
He doesn't see any, not that he really expects to yet. That's a hell of a hike for anyone, carrying a whole person's worth of dead weight, and Prompto's built like a toothpick. He's got some arm strength from hauling around those ridiculous machines he loves, sure, and he can outrun damn near any of them, but he's rail thin, and his endurance is crap.
"Perhaps," says Ignis, even and noncommittal.
If Gladio didn't know better, he'd say Iggy wasn't worried. But he's known Ignis almost a decade, and the tells are all familiar. His mouth pinches in, there at the corner, and his eyes go a touch narrower, and his voice gets a bit crisp around the edges. All the signs are out in full force right now.
Hell, Gladio's worried himself. It's not that he doesn't think Prom doesn't have it in him. He's seen the way the kid looks at Noct when he thinks no one's paying attention. There's more loyalty in a look like that than most Crownsguard oaths.
It's just, well – he's Prompto. Prompto, who got stuck up on a ledge on Mt. Ravatogh, trying to squeeze through a gap to snap a picture or twenty. Prompto, who thinks it's a good idea to walk the back alleys of Lestallum after midnight for a shortcut that'll save him maybe two minutes. Prompto, who treats the whole trip like some kind of arcade game, complete with victory fanfare when they come out on top.
So yeah, he knows – the intent's there. Prompto's got good intent for days. But sometimes, that's just not enough.
The first sign of them is Ignis' sharp indrawn breath, and before he can say anything, Gladio's turning to look.
And suddenly, every last charitable thought goes flooding right out of his head.
What the hell is Prompto thinking, lying down on the job? Because he is lying down, curled up on one side like he does when he's napping, doubtless wiped out by the trek.
"Of all the stupid, irresponsible – the hell didn't he keep watch?"
Gladio stalks over to where Prompto's sleeping, and the closer he gets, the more he sees that it's not really his standard nap position, after all. He's draped half over Noct, for one – kind of curled around him. It sends alarm bells ringing in the back of Gladio's mind, but the rest of him shouts them down. The kneejerk impulse is one of anger – that Prompto's too wiped out by a little heavy lifting to bother staying up to protect his damn king.
"Hey," says Gladio, harsh and unforgiving. "Prompto. Break time's over."
And he grabs the kid's shoulder to give him a good, hard shake.
The skin's like ice. It's clammy and chill to the touch, and from what he can see of Prompto's lips, they're starting to go blue.
The anger rushes out like a tide – leaves him feeling sick and empty. "Ignis!" he calls, half-turning, and discovers that Ignis has crept up behind him, unheard.
"How are they?" says Ignis, voice low and intent, and Gladio's trying to get a look.
He goes to pry Prompto away from Noct – has to peel him free, there's so much blood. "Shit," he says, because that wound is no joke. It's over the ribs; he can see the hints of it, through the tear in the shirt. "How are we on potions?"
"Two remaining," says Ignis. He's reaching for Noct, not Prompto, and Gladio has a dizzying moment when he realizes that yeah, they're doing this. They're about to make a maybe life-or-death call over who needs those potions more – and Noct has priority.
Gladio reaches to check Prompto's pulse in the hollow of his throat; with those wrist bands, the usual spot's covered. He feels it, weak and shivery – barely there.
With violent regret, Gladio's mind replays the position he found them in: Noct on the ground, Prompto curled up around him. Strange for a nap, sure, but when you're bleeding out and trying to keep someone safe, what do you do? The only thing you can do – cover them with your body.
Gladio learned that in training, in years of drilling and practice. Prompto figured it out for himself, here alone on these rocks.
"Iggy," says Gladio, tense and urgent.
"I know," says Ignis, hands searching for injury, steady but quick. He traces along Noct's back – lifts his shirt to check that none of the blood is his. He runs his fingers through Noct's hair, brow furrowing as he discovers what must be the injury that knocked him cold.
He can see Ignis hesitate, running whatever mental calculations you run in a situation like this. Then he reaches into the pocket of his blazer and holds out a potion toward Prompto, and Gladio remembers to breathe again.
He doesn't waste any time – just uncaps it to pour over Prompto's torso. The magic glimmers in the air, brilliant green, and thank the Six, the flesh begins to knit together again.
Prompto jerks and twitches; he coughs, low and ugly, and a fresh bubble of blood pushes out from the partially-healed wound at his side. Gladio can hear him breathing now, a tortured wheeze that sounds like death's about two steps away.
"Pick him up," says Ignis. "Carefully. We'll save the last potion in case the worst comes to pass."
Gladio doesn't have to ask what that is. Instead, he slides his arms under Prompto, so damn careful, one under his back and one under his knees. The kid's eyes flutter open when Gladio lifts, and he makes a soft whine of pain. "Hey," says Gladio. "Easy. We got you."
With Ignis' prodding, Noct's coming around, too, groggy and disoriented. He's slurring his answers a bit, and hell if that's not a concussion. Gods, they're a mess.
But Iggy gets one of Noct's arms over his shoulder, and they start to move together, Noct more or less under his own power.
Gladio cradles Prompto closer to his chest, and he looks down at the boy's face, waxy-pale and tight with pain. "You did good," he says. "Noct's gonna be just fine."
And Prompto closes his eyes, like he's been given permission, and he's out again in seconds, limp and dangling in Gladio's arms.
For a second, Noct's not sure what wakes him.
All he knows is he's sitting in an uncomfortable folding chair, in a room with patchy white walls that it takes him a minute to place as a hospital. The rest comes all in a rush: Prompto, pale as death, draped in the back seat of the Regalia; counting their funds and realizing they don't have enough left for an elixir; the long, harrowing trip to Lestallum and a real medical facility with actual equipment.
So now here they are: Noct with the remnants of a pounding headache, Gladio and Iggy off hunting to pay for a hospital stay they can't afford, and Prompto paper-white against the sheets, looking small and horribly fragile.
Not for the first time, Noct reflects that his best friend's an idiot.
He's known it for years – ever since they were sophomores, and Prompto jumped down onto the subway tracks to scoop out a kitten that'd gotten wedged under the overhang. He still has that image stashed away in his mind: Prompto, absolutely beaming, arms full of squirming grey fluff while the train thunders by behind him, about thirty seconds too close for comfort.
His best friend's an idiot, and Noct fights down the wave of warm relief that floods him when Prompto shifts on the bed, groaning and beginning to stir.
"Prompto?" says Noct, and reaches out. He sets a hand on Prompto's arm – skin still too cold. Now, at least, he reacts to the touch, a soft shudder that Noct can feel through his fingertips. "Are you okay?"
"Noct?" says Prompto, vaguely. The questions are printed across his face, clear as any newspaper headline: where are we, and what happened, and why does everything hurt?
Noct sees the second recollection kicks in – watches the grimace etch across Prompto's face. "Ugh," he says, and lets his head flop back against the pillow. "Let's never go on that ride again."
"Yeah," says Noct, and gives his shoulder a squeeze. "Okay, buddy. Whatever you want."