Neon lights zip by, a blur of colour as Prompto cycles at breakneck speed, weaving in and out between cars and people alike. If he chanced to look up now, he’d see the Citadel ahead on the horizon: a towering monstrosity of steel and glinting glass, reflecting the dying glow of the sun.
He gets back to the depot in good time, like he always does — his speed on the bike is one of the few reasons he’s still got a career as a courier in a world where drones airdrop their customer’s goods right to their doorstep.
Aranea’s in the rec room when he gets in; she’s got a beer in front of her which is definitely not regulation, but he says nothing as he slips into the bench beside her.
‘What’s that?’ he says.
She’s got something pink in her hand; when she opens her palm to show him, it looks like a custom take on the credit tabs that pass for physical currency — albeit highly obsolete — in Insomnia. On the top of it are the words ‘Lonely Hearts’, with a small cartoon-style depiction of a moogle holding a bow and arrow.
‘This?’ she says. She slaps it down on the table and passes it towards him with a sigh. ‘Some chump was handing them out in East Central. Couldn’t get away fast enough before he put it in my pocket.’
Prompto picks the tab up and turns it over, inspecting it. Other than the name and image on the front and the serial number on the back, there’s little to identify its function. There’s a button on the underside, but it doesn’t seem to do anything.
‘Aren’t people s’posed to be taking stuff out of your pockets in East Central?’
Aranea’s shrug says it all.
‘Guy seemed pretty desperate to get rid of ‘em,’ she says. ‘Said it was for a dating service or something. Keep it, if you want.’
Prompto weighs the tab in his hand. Other than the overly pink colour scheme, there’s nothing remarkable about it. Nothing to say it isn’t loaded with viruses, either.
Still, he sighs and slips it into his pocket. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and it’s not like he has a date — not like he ever has a date — so what’s the harm?
He’s still thinking about it as he wheels his bike out of the depot. Still puzzling it out when he clambers on and takes off, his backpack fastened across him, the tab safely in the bottom of it.
WELCOME USER: PROMPTO ARGENTUM
The pink of the tab in his hand seems impossibly cheerful compared to the austere blue of the LucisNet booth. He thumbs at the little piece of plastic for a minute while he deliberates. If this thing is a vessel for viruses, the LucisNet booth is set up with all sorts of firewalls to prevent it from infecting the system. It’s still attached to his name, though — which means anything shady that might be loaded onto the tab will link with his account.
He knows he should probably throw it in the trash, but his curiosity keeps getting the better of him. Sighing, he inserts the tab into the receptacle slot and waits.
The cool blue of the booth takes on a warm pink glow; music fills the air, like something out of a cut-rate romance movie. In spite of himself, he glances about in case anybody passing by outside should hear or see him — it’s two-way glass, of course, so anybody walking by would only see the city skyline reflected on its surface.
On the podium in front of him, a hologram fills the air: a moogle, with a heart-shaped pompom.
‘Unlucky in love?’ the moogle says, tipping its head sympathetically. ‘Here at Lonely Hearts, our vision is simple. Every person has a soulmate out there, who holds the other half of their heart. Our job is to reunite them, kupo!’
The moogle does a little dance, turning around as it goes. Its wings are a vibrant pink, adorned with tiny, glittering hearts.
‘Do you want to take a chance, kupo?’ the moogle asks. ‘A chance on love?’
The hologram vanishes with a flash. On the screen in front of Prompto is a pink background with an image of the same moogle, dancing around merrily. Below it are two buttons: one says Exit, the other Give love a chance!
‘This is is so dumb,’ Prompto says with a groan. ‘No thanks.’
Yet he finds his finger drifts a little as he points it at the Exit button; as if compelled by some higher force at work, he jabs at the other button in spite of every instinct telling him not to.
The hologram pops up again; this time, the moogle has a bow in hand with an arrow nocked, the head of it a stylised heart. The moogle draws the bow and fires it, and the hologram of the arrow projects toward Prompto, hitting him right in the heart.
‘You won’t regret it, kupo!’ the hologram says, before vanishing into the ether.
On the screen is a message and little else:
We’ll be in touch to give you your match soon via Mognet. Keep your Lonely Hearts tab with you — you’ll need it!
Be patient, kupo! True love takes time.
With that, the screen clears, and the booth returns to its standard LucisNet blue glow.
‘That’s it?’ he says, slipping the tab from reader. ‘No survey?’
If this Lonely Hearts thing is a dating service, it’s the weirdest one he’s ever heard of. Are they just going to set him up with some random user? No wonder the guy who had been handing out the tabs had been so desperate to get rid of it.
Whatever. It’s not like it’s costing him any money — maybe they’ll set him up with somebody nice, and they can laugh over how awkward and weird the whole thing is.
More likely he just won’t show.
He sighs and rakes a hand through his hair. After quickly checking through his mail — there’s nothing on Mognet, although he wouldn’t expect it to happen that quickly — he pockets the tab and leaves, slipping out into the night.
He’s awake to see the glow of his datapad illuminate the ceiling at four in the morning; he’s always been a bad sleeper, so this is a typical scenario for him. He sighs and scrubs at his eyes before leaning over the side of the bed, fishing around amid the heaps of unwashed laundry and discarded shoes for the datapad where it lies in the middle of it all.
It’s Mognet — probably mail about some promotional offer he has no interest in, but he checks it anyway.
A pink glow fills the room as he opens the mail, and immediately he sits up with interest. Looks like they’ve already set him up with his soulmate.
There’s a picture of a young man on the screen in front of him. At first he thinks it’s the government-issue photo that everybody has tied to their account, but then it moves and he realises it’s a simulated image, computer-generated with perfect realism. The image looks at him from its place on the datapad, and a pair of cool blue eyes meet his own.
He’s good looking, maybe about Prompto’s age. Dark hair that looks inky blue in the dim glow of the screen. He has angular, almost catlike features: eyes that curve up at the outer corners, a smooth jaw.
Prompto can’t bring himself to look away.
When he does, finally, he scrolls down to the rest of the message.
He may seem cool at first, but beneath that indifferent exterior is a heart of gold. Show him you see him for more than his heritage, and his heart will be yours to unlock.
3314-5 Canal Street, Wednesday 8pm
Wednesday — that’s Valentine’s Day. Prompto wonders if his match picked out the meeting place and the date, or if it was automated like everything else.
He wonders if this mystery guy, attractive and definitely out of Prompto’s league, is looking at Prompto’s picture right now.
He sighs. Maybe this nameless dude won’t even show — Prompto wouldn’t be surprised. He’s just some goofy bicycle courier who plays video games in his spare time. He bets his match is, like, a model or something. He looks like he could be.
There’s no option to reply to the message, however, which means Prompto can’t accept or refuse.
He shuts off the screen of his datapad and sets it aside.
This whole thing is so dumb. He got matched up with some random dude, based on — what? The LucisNet profile tied to his social security? Prompto should just count himself lucky that he didn’t get set up with a serial killer.
He turns over, putting his back to the datapad where it lies on the floor, and stares at the window. Through the paper-thin blinds, the neon lights of the city glow in myriad blues and reds.
Prompto looks blankly up at Aranea over the brim of his coffee mug. The job entails long days — and early ones, at that — and after a marathon gaming session over the weekend, he’s not exactly well-rested. He’s pretty sure he needs another gallon or so of caffeine before his brain can kick into gear.
‘So… what?’ he says.
Aranea rolls her eyes and slips into the seat beside him. Somehow, even at seven-thirty on a Monday morning, she looks put-together. Pissed, and like she’d prefer to be in bed right now, but about as wide awake and chipper as she ever does.
‘You tried out that Lonely Hearts thing, right?’ she asks. ‘Gimme all the gritty details.’
He wants to tell her she’s got him all wrong, but the truth is she doesn’t. They’ve barely been working together a year and she knows him better than she has any right to.
He shrugs and scratches self-consciously at his neck. When it seems she expects more by way of an answer, he reaches into his pocket and grabs his phone, pulling up the Mognet app. The message is still there, starred just in case he loses track of it.
‘I’m s’posed to meet this guy Wednesday night,’ he says. ‘I dunno. He seems kinda outta my league.’
She takes the phone from his grasp and looks at the image; her glance has barely landed on it before her eyes go wide.
‘You kidding me?’ she says. ‘He’s not just out of your league, he’s out of everybody’s.’
He narrows his eyes in confusion. Maybe this guy is a model after all.
‘Please tell me you know who this is,’ Aranea says. She taps Prompto on the temple, a little less than gently. ‘Guess those games you play really have turned your brain to mush. That, my friend, is Noctis Lucis Caelum, heir to the throne.’
Aranea’s words are still echoing in Prompto’s ears two days later. They laughed about it, of course — the odds that he of all people would wind up matched with the prince of Lucis.
Today’s the big day. Or what’s supposed to be — he’d been unconvinced of his chances with this guy even before he found out his blind date was going to be king of Lucis someday; this little revelation doesn’t exactly strengthen his odds.
He needs to get it out of his head. He’s still got work to do.
It’s Valentine’s Day, so most of his drops today are seasonal: bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolates. Even a gigantic stuffed version of the moogle of legend that gave its name to the day, Valentinus. He’d had to strap that one onto his back, since it’d been way too big for his bike’s pannier.
It’s nice, in some ways, to be the one to bring these gifts to people. Valentine’s Day might be a vacation dreamed up by companies to shill chocolates and expensive gifts, but couples young and old cling onto it as an excuse to shower each other in romantic gestures — and he’s able to be a part of it, in his own little way.
Maybe he’s not in such a bad mood when he gets back to the depot that evening to clock out. Maybe he’s willing to give this whole Lonely Hearts things a shot.
If this Noctis guy — Prince Noctis, whatever — doesn’t show up, it’s not like he lost anything. A bruised ego doesn’t really count.
Aranea gives him a knowing look as he goes, like she’s already figured him out.
‘Lemme know how it goes,’ she calls after him. ‘I’m living vicariously through you.’
The next predicament, of course, is what exactly a guy wears on a date with royalty. He doesn’t have anything that even vaguely resembles a suit, and judging by what he saw when he looked up the bar at the address in the Lonely Hearts message, he doesn’t think ripped jeans and a tank is going to cut it.
He remembers, fleetingly, what the message had said: show him you see him for more than his heritage. Maybe dressing up super fancy isn’t the way to go.
In the end he picks out a pair of dark jeans and a black shirt, rolling the sleeves up past the elbows to make it a little more casual. He spends longer than usual on his hair, only to wish he hadn’t bothered when it winds up falling back into its normal style. On the way out, he blots some cologne on his neck — something tangy and spicy he got as a birthday present years ago, that he’s never really had an excuse to use.
Doubt starts to kick in as he heads for the subway. Sure, he can tell himself that he’ll just have a good time alone if the prince doesn’t show up, but he’s not so jaded that it won’t still hurt.
Maybe he’s going along because there’s a tiny little bit of him that hopes Prince Noctis liked what he saw.
It’s not much of a walk to Canal Street from the station. Prompto almost wishes he left himself less time to get here, because he’s still about twenty minutes early and there’s not much to do in on Canal Street to kill time other than stroll past restaurants and bars.
In his pocket, he feels a pulse. At first he thinks it’s his phone, but when he glances down there’s a light bleeding faintly through the denim of his jeans. When he slips his hand in, it’s the Lonely Hearts tab.
The end of it is illuminated; as Prompto lifts it up, the light glows brighter, and as he lowers it again it dims. It seems to be… pointing to something?
When the tab pulses again, he remembers what the message had said a few nights earlier — that he’d need to hang onto it. He wonders if it’s telling him that Prince Noctis is close.
His heart’s in his throat as he walks along the canal toward the bar, the pulsing only getting stronger as he goes. The light’s flashing on and off now, like a beacon guiding him. He’s sure of it now: it must be leading him to his date.
The bar is right on the edge of the waterfront, with an awning of silver and black hanging over to shield against inclement weather. There’s no worry of that tonight — the skies are perfectly clear, the stars twinkling faintly above the haze of light pollution.
There’s a couple sitting at one of the tables, talking animatedly over cocktails. The only other person sitting outside is in a corner, hidden in the shadow of the awning.
The tab pulses more frantically as Prompto turns toward them. On the table in front of them is an identical pink tab, vibrating urgently against the glass of the tabletop.
This has to be a joke. The guy sitting there — it’s not really Prince Noctis, right? This is just an elaborate prank, meant to get his hopes up only to dash them at the last minute. He just hopes Aranea isn’t in on it.
He still steps forward, though, and as he squeezes around the couple’s table, he can see the shadowy figure picking up the tab and holding it tightly in their hand.
They stand up as Prompto gets to the table. This close, it’s impossible to deny: it’s really him.
‘I think this is trying to tell me something,’ the prince says awkwardly, showing Prompto the tab in his hand.
Prompto laughs. When he brings his own tab closer, they both miraculously stop pulsing and flashing at the same moment.
‘So, I guess you’re my soulmate,’ Prompto says.
He hadn’t meant it to sound so cheesy, but it is what it is — and it draws a lazy chuckle from the prince’s lips, which is good enough for him.
‘Guess so,’ the prince replies, smirking.
Prompto sets his tab down on the table. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do here. Should he bow? He’s pretty sure he shouldn’t bow.
He settles for extending his hand for the prince to shake, instead.
‘Prompto,’ he says.
Noctis waits for Prompto to sit first, and Prompto has to wonder fleetingly if that’s a royal thing or if he’s just being polite. Almost immediately, he metaphorically shakes himself to get the thought out of his head. He needs to stop thinking about this guy as a prince and remember he’s a person, too.
‘How did you find out about Lonely Hearts?’ Prompto asks. ‘I hadn’t even heard about it till a few days ago.’
Noctis shrugs and taps his finger against the half-empty glass in front of him — Prompto wonders if he’s been here long — before lifting his glance to meet Prompto’s. The image in the message failed to do them justice; they’re cooler in person, but there’s a depth to them, too.
‘A friend gave me that thing,’ Noctis says, nodding to his tab where it sits on the table. ‘He doesn’t really have time, so he figured somebody might as well use it.’
Prompto grins. If circumstances had played out differently, maybe Aranea and Noctis’s friend would have been sitting here instead.
‘I kinda didn’t think you’d show,’ Prompto says. ‘I almost didn’t. The whole thing is…’
‘Weird?’ Noctis supplies, with a wry smile. ‘I know. You seemed nice enough in your picture, though.’
Prompto feels warmth spread traitorously across his cheeks. And he’d been so worried that his picture would put his match off.
‘What’d the message say?’ he asks, clearing his throat self-consciously. ‘The description-y thing underneath?’
He’s not sure, but he thinks he sees the prince’s cheeks colour a little, too, as he glances away.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Noctis says. ‘I was half-asleep when I read it.’
Something tells Prompto that’s not the whole truth, and he feels a little twinge of anxiety. What if it said something really embarrassing? He may be a loser, but he can be kinda cool if you give him a chance! Yikes.
‘You want a drink?’ Noct says, standing up suddenly. ‘What are you having?’
Prompto glances at the glass on the table in front of his date. It looks like there’s a cola mixer in there, and a wedge of lemon. He wonders how strong it is — wonders if the prince expects him to start out on the hard stuff, too.
He could order a beer to start out with but even a beer would go straight to his head, and he’d be talking nonsense in no time.
‘Uh, would it be weird if I didn’t drink tonight?’ he asks. He can feel heat blooming across his face full-force now, and he knows there’s no going back. ‘I’m kinda a lightweight.’
He waits for the sarcastic remark, or the not-joke about how he’s a wet blanket. Instead, Noctis only smiles.
‘No problem,’ he says. ‘I was sorta hoping you’d say that. I’m not much of a drinker, either.’
Prompto narrows his eyes.
‘Wait,’ he says. ‘Why’d you pick a bar if you’re not a drinker?’
He watches one of Noctis’s dark eyebrows rise quizzically.
‘I didn’t,’ he replies. ‘I thought you did.’
It must have been Lonely Hearts, Prompto realises. So maybe they did an okay job of setting them up together, but they got the venue totally wrong.
‘Y’know,’ he says, standing up. ‘Hold the drink. I’ve got a better idea.’
Vinnie’s hasn’t changed much in the past eight years since Prompto first stumbled upon it, and he watches Noctis’s face for that look of excitement he had worn on his own the first time he saw the place.
Noctis doesn’t disappoint: his face all but lights up, his mouth opening wide in glee as he takes in the seemingly endless array of arcade games lining the walls.
To Prompto, this place feels like a slice of the old world — before everything became virtual reality this and touch screen that. The place has been open longer than Prompto’s been alive; probably as long as his parents have.
‘I know it’s a little different to the VR you grew up with,’ Prompto says, shrugging his jacket off his shoulders, ‘but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.’
‘Are you kidding?’ Noctis says. ‘I would’ve killed to come to a place like this when I was a kid.’
The place is dimly-lit, the only real illumination coming from the flickering glow of the various machines. There are other patrons around, as there always are — Prompto doesn’t think he’s ever come in to find this place empty — but nobody pays them any attention as they march over to one of the tables and shed their jackets.
‘You hungry?’ Prompto asks. ‘The chili fries here are so good.’
‘Sure,’ he says. ‘I’ll get whatever you’re having. Just… no veggies, okay?’
Prompto resists the urge to burst out laughing. The prince of Lucis doesn’t like veggies? Huh.
Vinnie — or, more accurately, the guy who took up the mantle of Vinnie when he took over the arcade — isn’t in tonight, but one of Prompto’s favourite staff is. He still remembers having the biggest crush on Cindy when he was younger, and apart from one embarrassing attempt at wooing her, they’ve been on pretty good terms these past few years.
‘Hey, kiddo,’ she says, tipping the brim of her cap. ‘Bringin’ in fresh blood?
‘Something like that,’ he replies. ‘How’s it been tonight?’
‘Quieter’n usual. Guess some folks don’t plan on spending the most romantic day of the year locked away in a dark arcade with strangers.’
Prompto grins and drums his hands on the countertop.
‘Mood lighting,’ he says, ‘what’s not romantic about that?’
She rolls her eyes and rests her elbows on the counter, leaning toward him.
‘You gonna spend Valentine’s hittin’ on me, or are you gettin’ somethin’ for your friend?’
‘Two bowls of fire fries,’ he says, ‘two rocket dogs, a cola and a Sylkis Boost. Oh — hold the veggies on one of those dogs. And I’ll take fifteen hundred credits in tokens.’
He pays up and she sends his order into the back. As he turns to go, a pouch of tokens in his hand, he pauses and glances back.
‘Hey, Cindy?’ he says. ‘He’s not a friend, he’s my date.’
He catches the look of surprise — and maybe there’s a little bit of her that seems impressed, too — just as he’s turning away once more.
So maybe there’s a little part of him that’s gloating. Noctis is cute after all, and he’s literally the only person in his social circle who can say they’ve ever been on a date with royalty.
Noctis is inspecting one of the driving games when Prompto returns; Prompto dangles the pouch of tokens by the prince’s face to show him.
‘These machines are old school ,’ he says. ‘Like, they don’t even know what credits are. Since they don’t make quarters any more, you gotta use tokens to play.’
Noctis wrinkles his nose in confusion.
‘Quarters?’ he says.
‘You have so much to learn.’
Noctis is a pro at driving games — although that’s probably not a surprise, since the prince has apparently been behind the wheel since he was sixteen. Rail shooters, however, are most definitely not his forte. They play a couple co-op games to let Noctis get a feel for it, but it becomes obvious soon enough that the prince is too used to the responsive VR version of these games to get a handle on the slow, clunky controls.
‘All right,’ Prompto says, after their third game over. ‘Let’s do single player for a little while, and I’ll talk you through.’
He watches Noctis at first, and spots something right away — he’s holding the joystick like he doesn’t know what to do with it.
‘You’re holding it all wrong,’ Prompto says. ‘Hang on.’
He steps up and positions Noctis’s hands a little differently on the plastic gun. It’s obvious the guy has never held one of these things outside virtual reality, so his grip on it looks like something out of a cheesy cop thriller. Next, Prompto gently places his hands on Noctis’s hips and rotates them slightly into a better position.
‘That way you won’t have so much trouble switching your aim,’ he says. ‘You got less room to move around here, so you need to pivot when it counts.’
He realises, with a flush, that he’s still holding onto Noctis’s waist; hurriedly, he lets go.
Already he sees an improvement, and Noctis has no trouble dispatching the first few enemies. He loses a life soon enough, however, as he gets caught out on the same blindspot he keeps falling for.
‘You gotta preempt him,’ Prompto says. ‘Backtrack through the office, and come up on him at the corner.’
‘But won’t he know I’m coming?’ Noctis says.
Prompto laughs and brushes a strand of hair out of his face.
‘Trust me, dude,’ he says. ‘The AI in these games is a joke.’
He watches as Noctis follows his advice; as anticipated, the enemy is waiting at the doorway out of the far entrance of the office, his back to the camera. Noctis fires promptly at him with a shot that clips his shoulder, then follows it up with two more in the back.
‘Great!’ Prompto says. ‘You should try to get headshots when you can. They’re worth more points.’
Noctis looks a little peeved; Prompto hopes he hasn’t offended him.
‘I’m trying,’ the prince says. ‘I keep missing.’
‘I can help,’ Prompto replies. ‘I mean… if you want.’
After a nod from the prince, Prompto steps up behind him and takes hold of his elbows, steering them slightly into position. He tries not to think too hard about how nice Noctis smells, about how his hair shines in the lights of the arcade games, before moving to his side and carefully angling his wrists into place.
‘The sensors aren’t calibrated too good,’ he explains. ‘So you gotta improvise. Try that.’
He watches Noctis’s face, rather than the screen, as the prince continues. There’s a look of careful concentration there, his lips pressed slightly together, and Prompto sees his eyes go wide as he comes across and enemy before a bang issues from the game’s speakers.
With a jolt, Prompto realises he probably should have been studying the screen, not Noctis; he glances hurriedly away as Noctis’s eyes turn towards him.
On the screen, the multiplier shows the word Headshot! in red. Looks like Noctis managed it, after all.
‘See?’ Prompto says, turning to Noctis with a grin. ‘You’re getting the hang of it!’
‘Thanks to you,’ Noctis replies.
Prompto thinks his cheeks look a little dark; it’s hard to tell under the glow of the game’s display. He doesn’t have long to think on it, however, as Cindy marches over and sets their orders down on their table nearby.
‘Two orders of Leide fire fries,’ she says, ‘two rocket dogs — one without veggies — a cola and a tooth-rotting energy drink. That everythin’ for ya?’
Prompto nods brightly.
‘Perfect. Thanks, Cin.’
When she’s gone, he turns to Noctis.
‘You wanna eat,’ he says, ‘or play some more?’
Noctis shakes his head hurriedly. His eyes keep darting toward the meal on the table.
‘No way,’ he says. ‘I’m starving.’
He’s not kidding — he stuffs a handful of fries into his mouth before he ever takes a seat, and as soon as the fork is in his hand he shovels a mouthful of chili in, too. At least Prompto doesn’t have to feel shy about eating in the company of royalty; the prince certainly doesn’t seem to be paying much attention to etiquette.
‘So what do you do, Prompto?’ Noctis asks, dabbing at the corner of his mouth. ‘Student?’
Prompto shakes his head.
‘Nah,’ he says. ‘Thought about it, but tuition is insane. I’m a bicycle courier.’
Noctis lifts an eyebrow.
‘Serious? I didn’t even know that was a thing.’
Prompto shrugs and dips a fry into his chili before popping it into his mouth.
‘It’s pretty retro,’ he says. ‘But it’s cool. I guess some people still like the personal touch. What about you?’
If he’d had time to think about it, he might have thought it silly to ask the prince of Lucis what he does for a living — thankfully Noctis seems to take it in stride, rather than laughing it off.
‘I work part-time,’ Noctis says. ‘Café. It’s a little hectic, but it’s good to have money that’s… y’know, mine.’
It’s not something Prompto had thought of before, but it makes sense; he’s sure the royal family of Lucis must have coffers filled with gold — literally and figuratively — in their shining Citadel, but it’s probably different when you worked your own butt off to pay your way.
'What do you do in your downtime?’ Prompto asks. 'When you're not working or… prince-ing.’
Noctis laughs and shrugs, awkwardly scrubbing a hand through the back of his hair.
‘Video games and comic books, mostly,’ he says sheepishly. ‘I don’t… I don’t get out too much.’
Noctis seems to regret this admission right away — he glances off, avoiding Prompto’s eye, and scratches self-consciously at his face. It’s not like Prompto holds it against him; he’s just surprised to hear that the prince of Lucis is a homebody. He supposes it probably makes sense, in some ways.
‘I get it,’ Prompto replies with a shrug. ‘You probably can’t go anywhere for long without being bothered. But hey — you can always come here, Noctis. Everybody’s too busy trying to beat the high score to care about anyone else.’
Noctis glances back, meeting his eye, and there’s such intensity there that Prompto feels it pang in the pit of his stomach. It’s weird — it feels like they’ve known each other for years.
‘Noct,’ the prince says. ‘You can call me Noct, if you want.’
Prompto feels his lips curve into an involuntary smile.
‘All right,’ he says. ‘Noct.’
Prompto meets his match when it comes to the ancient dance machine squirrelled away in the back of the arcade. Between the food weighing down his belly and the still-jangling nerves over being on a date with a prince, he keeps making sloppy mistakes — and even though Noct has allegedly never played before, he’s thrashing Prompto.
‘Are you sure you haven’t used one of these before?’ Prompto asks suspiciously, as they take a break between games. He can feel sweat pooling under his arms and in the small of his back.
‘What can I say? I’m a natural.’
Prompto snorts; in spite of himself, he nudges Noct gently in the side, like they’ve known each other for years and not a couple hours.
He keeps doing that — forgetting himself. Noctis doesn’t seem to mind.
‘I gotta call it quits,’ Prompto says.
Noct turns to him, a wry grin on his lips.
‘You saying you can’t keep up?’ he taunts. ‘I’m disappointed, Prompto.’
If the prince is trying to goad him, it’s not going to work; although it’s tempting to try to redeem his dignity, the constant losses are a blow to his ego.
‘One more,’ Prompto says. ‘We can get shakes after to cool off. Whoever loses, pays.’
Noctis seems to consider the proposition thoughtfully, tapping his lip as he looks off into the distance. After a moment, his gaze meets Prompto’s again and he nods.
It seems the prince is pulling no punches as they pick up their final game. He gets off to a roaring start, his eyes intent on the screen — but then he misses an easy combo, and another. Prompto watches with a dose of suspicion as Noct breezes through difficult sections while failing miserably in parts he should get with no problem.
Noctis is letting him win, he realises.
‘Hey,’ he protests, reaching across to tap Noct’s arm. ‘Don’t go easy on me just ‘cause you feel sorry for me.’
Noct’s got an innocent look on his face, like he doesn’t know what Prompto’s talking about. With a sigh, Prompto makes a resolution. He’s not going to win because Noctis let him: he’s going to win fair and square.
All bets are off after that, and Prompto manages to somehow forget his fatigue as he dances in earnest. He’s not even paying attention to what the prince is doing any more — his eyes are trained on his own screen, his feet finding the pads beneath them by muscle memory.
He can barely believe it when the song comes to an end, and the message comes up declaring him the winner. He made it by the slimmest of margins.
He expects Noct to have that innocent look on his face again, but he’s panting from the exertion when Prompto glances over. Seems he really put his all into it, too.
‘You won,’ Noctis says, clapping a hand on Prompto’s shoulder. ‘Shakes are on me.’
They get malted cookie shakes, full to the brim. Cindy flashes an encouraging little smile as she hands Prompto his one.
‘So you’re a natural at dancing,’ Prompto says, as they take their seats. ‘And you love video games and comics. I feel like I’m learning more about you than a Mooglepedia page could ever tell me.’
Noct smiles bashfully and busies him by sucking some of his drink through his straw, his gaze artfully avoiding Prompto’s. He’s shy, too — something Prompto never would have expected.
‘We have people in charge of the image we show to the public,’ Noct says wearily. ‘If it doesn’t mesh with the perfect picture of the royal family, the public doesn’t hear about it.’
Prompto can’t help but frown. It all sounds a little depressing, like Noctis never gets to be the real him if he knows people are watching. He wonders, fleetingly, if this is the real Noct, but then it hits him — it is. He’s seen the prince of Lucis stuffing chili fries into his mouth, seen him wrinkling his nose in concentration as he takes aim at an enemy, seen him drenched in sweat in the middle of a dancing game. Of course this is the real him.
‘Can I say something?’ Prompto says. ‘Maybe a little cheesy and embarrassing, but I’m feeling sappy.’
Noctis quirks an eyebrow.
Prompto clears his throat and stirs his shake with his straw. He pauses to lick a bead of melted ice cream from his thumb and levels his glance on Noct.
‘It doesn’t feel like I’m on a date with a prince,’ he says. ‘And I feel like maybe it’s the same for you. And maybe… maybe we’ll never see each other again after tonight, but I’m glad you got to be normal for a little while.’
He looks quickly away before he can see the reaction on Noct’s face. For a while, the prince is quiet.
‘Who says we won’t see each other again?’ Noctis says. ‘I’m having fun — aren’t you?’
Even as Prompto feels heat rush to his cheeks, he forces himself to meet Noct’s glance. Swallowing, he gives a determined nod.
‘Yeah,’ he says, a little timidly. ‘This is the best date I’ve ever had.’
At this, Noct splits into a full-blown grin.
‘Me too,’ he says.
It’s almost midnight by the time they leave Vinnie’s. If it weren’t for closing time, they might have stayed all night; Prompto hadn’t even realised the time when Cindy had come up and tapped him on the shoulder to let him know they were the only ones left.
They retrace their steps from the arcade and take a walk along the canal, skipping the nearest subway station to make the journey a little longer. They’ve been quiet for a while, but it’s been a comfortable silence — like it’s as natural to them as playing video games together, or gently teasing each other.
‘You wanna stop for a little while?’ Noct says, slowing his pace. ‘The view’s amazing here.’
The prince is right — the city on the other side of the canal is reflected in the water, along with the pale glow of the moon. Prompto didn’t think to bring his camera, but he uses his phone to snap a quick shot.
‘I lied,’ Noct says. ‘About, uh. About forgetting what the message said about you.’
When Prompto glances up at him, he’s staring off into the distance, his hands gripping the barrier.
‘You did? Why?’
Noct clears his throat.
‘It was kinda, uh…’ he says, hesitating. ‘Kinda corny? I didn’t wanna weird you out before we got to know each other.’
Prompto feels his heart clench. So it was embarrassing, whatever it was. He pretends to busy himself by lifting his phone to take another shot, acting nonchalant as he does so.
‘Well, what’d it say?’ he asks.
There’s a little sigh from Noct; at the corner of Prompto’s vision, he sees him brush a hand through his hair.
‘They say laughter is infectious, although it’s never more true than with this bright soul,’ Noct recites. ‘His smile is like the break of dawn after a long night. Even the moon needs the sun.’
Prompto runs over it again silently. It sounds more like a riddle than a description.
‘Even the… moon needs the sun?’
Noct clears his throat again, and when Prompto stealthily takes a look at him, the prince is blushing.
‘My name,’ Noct says. ‘Noctis Lucis. Night’s Light.’
Prompto finds himself grinning. So maybe it is corny, but it’s sweet — Lonely Hearts really did go all out.
‘I’m really glad we got matched up,’ Noct says. ‘I was… worried it’d be weird, but I’m glad I took a chance.’
Prompto glances up as he slips his phone into his pocket. The prince isn’t looking at the view any more — he’s looking at him.
‘Yeah,’ Prompto murmurs. ‘Me too.’
He hears Noct’s shoe crunch slightly against the sidewalk as he takes a step forward. Reflexively, Prompto moves a little closer, angling himself toward the prince.
‘So…’ Prompto says. ‘You think the moogle was right? Think we’re soulmates?’
Noct all but bursts into a grin, and the sight of it makes Prompto’s heart race. After a moment, however, the smile is gone, a sober look in its place.
‘I don’t know if I believe in soulmates,’ Noct says quietly, touching a hand to Prompto’s chest, ‘but I think it did a pretty good job matching us up.’
Prompto’s heart is pounding so hard that he’s sure Noct can feel it through the layers of his jacket and shirt; he doesn’t have much time to worry about it, however, as the prince closes the last of the distance between them, his eyes fluttering closed.
When their lips meet, it feels like a punch to the gut — that terrible, wonderful feeling you get when you hear a beautiful riff in a song. To Prompto, it feels a lot like the world is ending and beginning anew all at once; he’s shaking so badly he can barely stay standing, so he braces himself by gently clinging to Noct’s sukajan.
Noct’s lips part; Prompto opens his mouth in turn and guides his tongue against the prince’s, and even though he’s only done this enough times to count on both hands, it feels so natural and perfect and right that he’s not even worried he’s doing it wrong.
Noct certainly doesn’t seem to mind as he pulls away, his eyes a little dazed, his chest heaving. Slowly, steadily, a dopey grin spreads across his lips, and Prompto can’t help but feel it reflected on his own.
‘Whoa,’ Noct says.
‘Was that a good whoa, or…?’ Prompto says, tipping his head shyly.
He feels Noct’s fingers curl into the collar of his jacket, and the prince edges a little closer and touches a kiss to the corner of his mouth.
‘It was a very good whoa,’ Noct says. ‘Trust me.’
They resume their walk side-by-side, following along the canal. Prompto feels Noct’s hand knock his own, and after a moment the prince’s hand is slipping into his grasp, their fingers twining together.
There’s only one more subway station along this way — if they keep walking, they’ll have to double back. With a sigh, Prompto draws to a halt by the blue glow of the subway sign and heaves a sigh.
‘This is my stop,’ he says reluctantly. ‘I should head home. Got work in the morning.’
Noct nods. He tugs at Prompto’s hand, and Prompto’s more than happy to let the prince pull him close, with another kiss that leaves his heart pounding again.
‘How are you getting home?’ Prompto asks, after they’ve parted again. ‘Subway?’
Noct shakes his head, and there’s something a little rueful about him as he glances away.
‘I, uh,’ he says, covering his mouth as he clears his throat. ‘I’ve got a driver.’
Of course he does.
Grinning stupidly, Prompto leans close and kisses Noct on the cheek, only for Noct to twist his head and turn it into another kiss with eager lips and searching tongue that leaves Prompto desperately wishing he didn’t have to get up in six hours.
‘Okay,’ he says, breaking away breathlessly. ‘If I don’t go now, I never will.’
It’s another ten minutes and another set of eager, hurried kisses before Prompto finally manages to drag himself away — but not before they program their numbers into each other’s phones.
Noct stands by the top of the stairs as Prompto heads down; at the bottom, when Prompto turns to glance back up, the prince is still standing there. He waves, and Prompto waves back with a little pang in his chest.
He’s sitting down as the train takes off when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket; he expects it to be Noct, at first, but to his disappointment it’s just the Mognet app.
It’s a message from Lonely Hearts — Prompto opens it curiously.
Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean the romance has to be! Take out your Lonely Hearts tab and flip it over; you’ll find a little pink button, kupo. If you press it, your soulmate will know you’re thinking of him — when your tab lights up, it means he’s thinking of you!
Prompto slips the tab out of his pocket and looks it over. He’d figured he could probably just throw the thing out when he got home, but his curiosity is piqued. If he presses it now, what will Noctis think? Will he be pleased to know he’s on Prompto’s mind?
Prompto sucks in a breath and moves to press the button, but before he can get there, the light flashes at the end of it. With a little heady rush of excitement, Prompto realises what it means: Noct is thinking about him.
With a goofy grin that he’s glad nobody else is around to see, he jams his thumb into the button and holds it to his chest.
Maybe Noct doesn’t buy into the idea of soulmates — but after tonight, Prompto’s a believer.