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Down to the Last

Chapter Text

Even before the skies opened, the decision had been made.  They were too low on supplies, dangerously low, to risk another night away from civilization. It would be warm beds tonight, even Gladio had easily agreed.  Meaning all the rain did was slow their already too delayed arrival, to past nightfall.

Beside Ignis, Prompto's continuing silence for the last few miles suggested he'd finally succumbed to the slumber the other two had fallen into over an hour ago.  Ignis was more than ready to join them.

He breathed a sigh of relief as the road turned and the dim glow heralding Old Lestallum came into view. To the left, the forbidding walls of Fort Vaullerey towered above; to the right, the arch of the bridge. As he made the turn, the roar of the rain-swelled river was audible even through the closed windows.

It was only upon rolling onto the bridge that the shape blocking their path became clear. Ignis slammed on the brakes, fishtailing on the rain-slick concrete.  The welcoming lights of the town were tantalizingly close, but not close enough to have driven the Iron Giant away, its pacing bulk an effective blockade between them and safety.

A flash in Ignis' periphery and a grunt from over his shoulder signaled both Gladio and Prompto's return to consciousness.  A lack of any rustle from directly behind indicated Noctis slept on.  Predictable.

"Hey Iggy, why're we—oh shit."

"Quite."

He could see Gladio's slow shrug in the mirror.  "We've taken them down before."

"Unless I've calculated incorrectly," — they all knew the odds on that —"we're down to three curatives.  Noct and I each have a potion—"

"And I've got the last elixir." Prompto confirmed his assessment with a nod.

"Ah." Gladio grimaced, then sighed. "Maybe we should…"

"Indeed." Throwing the car into reverse, Ignis began backing up. Peering through the rain-streaked rear window, he silently thanked the Astrals the daemon had yet to notice their arrival. Hopefully the same would hold true for their departure.

Apparently the Six had just been playing with them, though. First one, then three, then at least seven distinctive glows blossomed into existence in the avenue of retreat, effectively boxing them in on the narrow bridge.

Thunder bombs. Wonderful.

"Ifrit's balls. Oi, Noct!" Gladio gave their still-snoozing monarch a firm shove. Prompto scrambled for his door, gun already summoned.  

Between the sounds of rain, river and now bellowing Iron Giant, the sleep-roughened, grumpy "What?" was nearly lost.   

Ignis put the car into park, reached for his own door. "If you would care to give us a hand," he tossed out with just enough edge to guarantee to get Noctis moving.  A squawked "shit" floated up from the back seat as Ignis stepped out into the driving rain, calling forth own weapons.

It had been a long few days, a long few months, truly, and they were all exhausted, but the promise of warm beds and an easy meal so close at hand spurred them on.  Even so, slip-ups happened in most battles, even when the elements weren't working so actively against them.

Only three thunder bombs remained and the Iron Giant was showing signs of wear, when Gladio took the brunt of an attack aimed at Noctis, failing to fully deflect it.  Ignis clearly heard the crack of bone even over the explosive pop of another defeated thunderbomb.

In a flash, Noctis was there, warping in with his potion, out again in a split second, the damaged limb healed without Gladio even dropping his sword.   

A minute later, Ignis was forced to use the potion he carried on himself after another thunderbomb got too close, discharging right at his feet. The cool rush of the curative immediately applied erased the burn entirely, restoring feeling and motion. The singed pants were almost certainly a write-off, though.

Ignis regained his stance just in time to dodge another explosion, started calculating. Only a single elixir remained.  The Iron Giant was staggering but not down.

They could take advantage of that to make a dash past, beeline for the far end of the bridge and the safety of town. Could work, but it would leave their backs entirely exposed. Or should they risk the damage and push to victory--

Then Noct was flying through the air, caught mid-warp as a strike faltered. He collided, hard, with a bridge strut, and crumpled. Ignis couldn't be sure from here how bad it was, but there was definitely blood, and Noct wasn't moving.

"Prompto—!"

"On it!" came the swift reply.

While Ignis dispatched the last thunderbomb, he tracked Prompto's progress peripherally as the gunner darted for Noctis' prone form, pulling out the elixir as he went.

Only before he could crack it open, Prompto was hit from the side. He and his attacker—Ignis would swear it was a bussemand, though this was the farthest west they'd ever seen one--crashed into the guard rail, started to overbalance.

Ignis was already moving, dismissing his daggers, as gravity joined the fray and the two tangled figures slipped over the edge. He lunged, brushed at a flailing hand—grabbed on tight, and braced himself.

Breath whooshed out of Ignis’ lungs as the railing drove into his chest, shoulders wrenched forward.  Between the sickening shift in his hold and Prompto's strangled scream, Ignis could guess the arm clasped between his hands was significantly more than wrenched.  

"Prompto!" Gladio's shout came from behind. "Ignis?!"

"I've got him," Ignis reassured, sparing a quick glance over. He wished not for the first time for better water-repellant glasses, rain spatter obscuring far too much.  Gladio was still managing to hold his own against the Iron Giant, keeping himself between it and Noctis.  But for how long? And if there were any other bussemand lurking about…

Ignis' gaze was drawn down by a muffled whimper from below. Prompto's pale face stared back up, stark against the frothing waters below.  The rain had slicked the leather of Ignis’ gloves; he could feel his hold start to slip, adjusted his grip.  "Prompto, you must grab hold—"

Prompto raised his free arm, shakily. In his hand was the elixir, somehow still unbroken.  Ignis opened his mouth, froze.

The shaking worsened as Prompto brandished the vial higher.  "Here…for N'ctis..." Ignis had to strain to make out the softly slurred words. Took a moment they didn't have for the implication to stubbornly penetrate, gravity meanwhile continuing to work over time.  Prompto slid down a little further in his grasp. Ignis swallowed, knowing unquestionably what royal duty dictated. Hesitated anyways.

"Prompto, I—" Ignis never finished the thought. Gladio's cry of warning came too late to do anything but grab tighter as the Iron Giant bellowed, stumbled, crashed backwards. Right into the bridge where Ignis leaned a hair too precariously over, knocking him the rest of the way over the rail.

There was the gut-wrenching sense of falling, and then they were plunged into the rushing current. The shock of the chilled water drove the air once more from Ignis' lungs, all sense of up and down lost as he was tumbled about.

One hand still locked around Prompto's wrist, he tried to swim, praying he was aiming for the right direction. His lungs were burning when he finally broke the surface, sucked in a mouthful of blessed air. A gasping cough nearby verified Prompto had made it as well.

"We ne—ed--to—" Ignis gave it up as a lost cause as more water sloshed in than words escaped out.  Instead he targeted what he thought—hoped—was the nearest bank, tried to strike out in that direction, dragging Prompto along in an unrelenting hold.

Only the water fought back, the current stronger than he'd ever faced before, driving him under again and again.  The occasional splutters and coughs that reached his ears each time he surfaced confirming that Prompto was still hanging on, but faring no better.

Then through the churning swells a lighter shape rose up. Too late Ignis realized its significance—then he was slammed, full force, into the concrete slabs forming the canal walls of this section of the river.  There was a flash of blinding white, a choked "Ignis!" and then everything faded to black.

*****

Someone was calling his name. At least he thought it was his name.  Was about eighty percent —seventy…sixty-five percent—sure that there existed a reality in which he went by 'Ignis.' If only said reality didn't include so much misery.

Everything was muffled, as if he was underwater, only no…that had been before.  He could breathe now, albeit not without stabs of white-hot agony with every inhale and exhale.

"Ignis, please…" He was fairly sure he recognized that voice. How such a hoarse, strained whisper could slam against his skull with all the force of a sledgehammer was beyond him, though.  It was black as the darkest night, no help to identify his attacker…helper?

Which may have had something to do with his eyes still being closed. The attempt to rectify that met with resistance, his eyelids heavier than the Titan's meteor burden.

"They're getting closer! Ignis—" a hand on his face, patting, gentle but urgent.  The owner of said hand was presumably the same as the increasingly frantic voice. "Six be damned, I know this is probably the wrong call and you're gonna be pissed, but—"

A tinkle of breaking glass, and suddenly the haze around his thoughts was lifting along with the fog of pain permeating his body.

Ignis' eyes snapped open.  He noted the loss of glasses, dismissed them as irrelevant to the immediate problem.  Which would be the band of swiftly approaching hobgoblins he could just make out past Prompto's shoulder.

Ignis shot to his feet just as the lead daemon began to charge.  Plunged the newly summoned dagger into its neck—a fatal strike—before spinning to the next.

The familiar retort of Prompto's gun came slower than Ignis was estimating.  He was already dispatching the fourth hobgoblin when the fifth, striking from behind, reared back, the shot catching it in the shoulder.  Ignis took advantage of its stagger to finish it off.

He spared a moment to assess, spotted the gunner still on the shore, the light of his flashlight drawing the eye even tucked half behind a boulder. Close enough to the river's edge for water to be lapping at his boots.

Ignis was between Prompto and the remaining two hobgobblins.  He darted for one, daggers making quick work. Another shot—cleaner this time--to the head finished off the other.

Then it was quiet, save for the thundering of the river at his back, the patter of the still-falling rain.  Ignis drew a deep breath, dismissed his daggers without turning.  "You used the elixir."

Their sole light source—Ignis' own flashlight not having survived the encounter with the wall--bobbed and shifted as Prompto rose from his crouch.

"I had no choice." Ignis could just make out the words over the ambient noise of the water.

"Our last elixir. Noctis—"

"—is miles upstream. You were right here, hurt, with daemons closing in. I was just supposed to, what, leave you?"

"Yes."

Silence. "I wouldn't have made it to them. Not alone." Which was selling himself short. Not an uncommon failing for Prompto, but to use it as an excuse..."But you will."

"Which does little good now, if…" Ignis trailed off, the implications of that emphasis sinking in, warning bells ringing. He whipped around, rage draining out of him as abruptly as if a plug had been pulled.

Despite his missing glasses and the distance between them, Ignis could see the toll travel via flooding river had extracted. Bedraggled would be a severe understatement.  Prompto's hair was a damp rat's nest, his clothing askew with numerous rents and tears, the aftermath of other debris swept along by the swift current. 

Ignis doubted he looked much better, save that for him that was only cosmetic, outfit and hair, his body fully restored thanks to the elixir.

Though Prompto had mostly made it to his feet, he leaned heavily against the boulder.  One arm was cradled high on his chest—the one you helped dislocate earlier, Ignis' mind supplied—while the other was pressed tightly to his stomach.

But it was the splash of red adorning the splayed fingers, glittering crimson in the flashlight beam's light, that had Ignis moving. "How bad?"

Prompto shrugged, started to push himself fully erect, then aborted the attempt as Ignis reached him.  

Up close he looked worse.  Along with the obvious damage, he was shivering. Ignis told himself the blue cast to Prompto's lips was due to the light’s tint, knew it for a lie even as he thought it. While the elixir pushed back Ignis’ own hypothermic reaction, between the rain and still thoroughly soaked clothing, Ignis knew he’d himself be impacted again soon enough.  Prompto had had no such reprieve.

In the moment Ignis paused to analyze, Prompto sagged further against the rock, legs shaking.  Ignis caught him as he started to slide, eased him to the ground in a controlled fall, back propped against the rock.

“Ow,” Prompto’s pained huff cut through the sudden darkness; the flashlight now buried in the folds of his sodden clothing.  Ignis fumbled for it, affixed it to his own belt, already wishing for better light.

Prompto stilled, one hand remaining pressed tight to his stomach.  Ignis pushed it aside, raised the sodden shirt—more soaked with blood or rain, Ignis didn’t care to guess—briskly but careful. Despite that Prompto still hissed as the fabric reluctantly separated from wound.

The cut wasn’t overly long, placed low enough to avoid most vital organs and the bleeding sluggish enough to suggest no arteries had been nicked. Lucky, all things being relative. Not fatal, with proper attention and no further strain. If only either were currently possible.

Ignis reached into his coat, relieved to find the small first aid kit still present, alongside his phone. He spared the latter a single glance; dead, as he’d assumed. There was water-resistant, and then there was full immersion for Astrals knew how long.

“Apparent--” Prompto’s breath hitched, his hand rising to reapply pressure after Ignis withdrew. “Apparently hobgoblins have started carrying daggers.”

Ignis frowned, replaying the battle in his head, even as he began sorting out bandages, antiseptics and medical tape.   He was sure none had gotten close enough—

“Back on the bridge,” Prompto filled in, reading Ignis’ confusion correctly. “The one who blindsided me.”

“Ah,” Ignis again pushed Prompto’s hand away. “I believe that was in fact a bussemand.”

“Really? I didn’t think they—” Prompto faltered, fist clenching as Ignis began to clean the wound. Bit his lip, pushed on, “---that they ever came this far—ah—west?”

“Or used knives.”  Ignis agreed dryly.

“So I got taken down by a rebel. Not sure if that makes it better or worsssss—” Prompto cut off a groan as Ignis pressed gauze to the wound, followed by the bandage.

Placing one last piece of tape, Ignis gave the field dressing a careful tug, satisfied it would hold at least for now. He then turned his focus upwards, keeping his touch light as possible as he assessed the dislocation.

“Anything else, beyond your side and shoulder?” And the hypothermia, which effects would be compounded by the blood loss. But both were issues with no immediate solution. Not worth dwelling on.

Eyes closed, Prompto shook his head minutely, titled it to lean against the rock. “The rest is just scrapes and bruises, I think…”

Which would be more reassuring if Prompto didn’t have a tendency to ‘think’ everything was ‘fine’ if he suspected being not so would put anyone out in the slightest. Seeing as every damn thing about this situation was putting Ignis out, who knew how far Prompto would attempt to obfuscate.

“Downplaying anything at this point is just going to be more of a hindrance down the line,” Ignis said.

Prompto grimaced, eyes still squeezed shut. “Believe me, pretty sure these are already more than enough—”

His words cut off with a strangled yelp as Ignis smoothly relocated the joint.  Unexpected meant less tensing, which theoretically meant less discomfort, but popping a shoulder back into position was never going to be painless.

Prompto hunched forward, panting. Ignis gave him a moment as he removed his jacket, emptying the other pockets. It would have to do for a sling.  He limited jostling as much as possible as he slipped it around Prompto’s back, tied it off.  Minute tremors shook Prompto’s whole frame as Ignis carefully maneuvered the injured limb into the temporary support.

“Better?”

Prompto nodded, still dragging shallow breaths through clenched teeth.  His other arm had once more inched back up to press against his injured side.

Ignis rocked back on his heels, fully processing their surroundings for the first time since regaining consciousness on the bank.  Taking in the rocky shoreline, the terrain ascending steeply into darkness behind him. “Do you know how far down past the end of the flood canals we are?”

Prompto drew another deep breath, swallowed.  Blinked his eyes open to make his pain-glazed gaze meet Ignis’. “N-not far…I don’t think. After the concrete pancaked you, I tried to keep us close to the river’s center until after the canal ended.  Was gonna try to get out as soon as possible after, but...kinda lost track of things…for a bit there…” Prompto trailed off, shoulders and spirits slumping, eyes fixed downwards.  

As if somehow managing to get them to shore successfully wasn’t good enough. Or miraculously keeping them from drowning beforehand. As if doing both while already injured, and somehow retaining the elixir through it all was a failure.

As if, after using said elixir to most likely save Ignis’ life, when Prompto clearly needed it just as much, perhaps more so, he had been immediately berated. Ah, right.

Ignis sighed.  The fact that Prompto wouldn’t blame him, that he understood the single-mindedness when it came to Noctis' safety, shared it, even, was less a comfort than Ignis cared to examine. “Prompto—”

It was hard to judge the distance of the crash, between the rain’s dampening effect and the river’s thunder. But it was definitely too close and made by something large. Prompto’s head snapped up; they both froze, poised, listening.

A second crash was followed by a rumble that may or may not have belonged to another Iron Giant on the prowl. Best not to stick around and find out.

Thankfully the sound was coming from further downstream. Small mercies, but Ignis would take whatever they were granted, given the short supply this night.

“Can you walk?” Ignis kept his voice low, reaching to steady Prompto, who was already—shakily—attempting to regain his feet.

Prompto grunted what sounded like an assent, no breath to spare beyond that. Ignis looped an arm around his back, cautious of both his shoulder and side, and they started walking.

They stuck close to the water’s edge. Any further inland and the forest rapidly grew dense, the hills impossibly steep, and with no river to act as guide, it wouldn’t be hard to get turned around entirely.

It wasn’t easy going, however, the rocks slippery from the rain, footing treacherous, reducing their speed even before taking Prompto’s condition into account.

Finally, the sounds that’d spurred on their mad scramble began to fade, eventually drowned out entirely by the harsher, labored wheezing at Ignis' side. Ignis allowed their pace to slow, but kept attuned for any hint of pursuit, braced and ready for further challenge.

Then came to a halt all together as Prompto stumbled, Ignis suddenly supporting the majority of his weight. Ignis felt more than heard the muffled moan from where Prompto’s face had landed, pressed against Ignis’ shoulder.    

“Sorry.” Ignis could just make out between gasps. “Sorry…just…gimme a sec…” before Prompto abruptly pushed back up, swaying once before steadying his stance. He started hobbling forward again, compelling Ignis to continue as well or deny his support. Support all too clearly needed.

“See,” Prompto's forced laugh was more mocking than amused, “there was no way I was getting that elixir back to Noct.”

Considering the impossible accomplishments Prompto had already achieved this evening, Ignis wouldn’t be so sure. But he also knew that the risk of them both ending up dead—uselessly so--had been a high enough gamble to wisely not bet on. “You made the right call.”

“Oh…” Doubtful. “…really?”

“Or rather…” Ignis didn’t miss the slight nod, as if Prompto had expected a qualifier. “Using the elixir was right. Whether it would have been better to use it on yourself, at least partially if not in total, remains in question.”

Further doubt, some disagreement, was not unexpected. The snort of complete disbelief was. “C’mon, Iggy, we both know who’s expendable on this trip.”

Ignis fought the instinct to freeze, because they had to keep moving; he could already feel Prompto flagging, listing more into him with every step.

But Prompto kept talking. “Between the three of us,” because of course Noctis’ position wasn’t ever in question, much as his highness—majesty—at times might try to disagree, “I’m nonessential.”

The words chilled Ignis more effectively than both river and rain.  It was not the statement itself. Ignis was acquainted with Prompto’s self-worth issues; they’d all stumbled across them more than once, all too well-hidden landmines, that could be tripped at unexpected, inopportune moments.

No, it wasn’t the sentiment that made his blood run like ice, but the delivery. Prompto’s assessment included no bitterness or resentment. Nor even sadness, no plea for sympathy.

Nothing like that. Just a matter-of-fact declaration, an obvious, unquestionable truth, that all must plainly recognize.   

Ignis opened his mouth, closed it again a moment later when no words were forthcoming. He knew from past experience that direct refutation would get them nowhere, no matter how his reflexes were calling for it.  Prompto’s self-esteem was inversely proportionate to his stubbornness.  Such conviction called for careful unraveling rather than candid confrontation.

The sudden appearance of the canal emerging out of the gloom ahead, gray concrete illuminated in the flashlight's weak beam, provided a needed reprieve as Ignis strategized his approach.

They’d been making steady progress, if slow, less than a mile since they’d started their trek. If Ignis remembered the region correctly, the flood canal continued for roughly ten miles south of Old Lestallum. Based on the approximate water speed, Ignis calculated the time their journey downstream had taken. Assuming his return to consciousness happened soon after they’d made it ashore, he estimated a little over an hour since their header over the bridge.

Since Prompto had taken the majority of his injuries.  Ignis knew all too well how the effectiveness of a curative steadily declined the longer after an injury it was applied.  An hour in, a standard potion would already be noticeably depowered. Not that they had a potion.

Might never have one again, if Noct—but no, that kind of thinking was counterproductive. Ignis still had access to his blades, to the other magics granted by the Lucis line. As long as that continued, he could be assured Noct lived, if nothing else. They just had to make it back. Both of them. And the sooner the better.

The change from natural shoreline to flood canal was abrupt.  Sheer walls topped with metal railings cutting off their path, with no stairs or breaks cut into the concrete to aid in getting up on it. They’d have to climb up the bank, access the walkway from behind.

Once up top, if the canal was maintained even half as well as it was closer to the town, the walking would be significantly easier.  Getting Prompto up there, less so.

Ignis tightened his grip to haul Prompto in closer, taking as much of his companion's weight as he could, as he carefully chose their path.  By the time they reached the top, Ignis himself was huffing, and Prompto was shuddering, every breath labored, head fallen once more to press against Ignis' shoulder.

Reaching the flat ground of the canal walkway, Ignis stopped, shifted Prompto to lean more against his chest. Bringing his free arm up, he rubbed slow circles over Prompto’s back. Gave a moment for them both to recover. “Do you remember the last time you heard Noctis laugh?”

Prompto heaved a few more labored breaths, otherwise silent, until Ignis felt him shrug. “D’nno. Guess it has been less…since Insomnia, and…y’know…”

‘Y’know’ could refer to any number of recent events; the hits really had not stopped coming. It didn’t matter. Prompto wasn’t entirely wrong; they were all more solemn these past months.

Yet Ignis still recalled more laughter on this road trip from hell than throughout most of Noctis' childhood. Whether due to his royal upbringing or natural inclinations, he’d always been a reserved kid.  Smiles from the prince were rare, laughter even more so.

Right up until that first day of high school.

“It was three days ago,” Ignis supplied. “While you were attempting that new ‘trick’ with the chocobos.”

“Still say it woulda worked, if we’d had the right greens…”

Despite current dire straits, Ignis found himself smiling at the insistence, and the accompanying memory.  Hummed non-committedly in response.

As Ignis let the silence stretch, Prompto finally raised his head, squinted at him. “S’there a point?”

“They say heavy is the head that wears the crown.  I’ve served the Lucis line my entire life, seen firsthand how true that can be, now more than ever.   I can guide Noctis to the best of my ability, Gladio may shield him--but your presence lightens that burden.”

Prompto's huff was somewhere between derision and disbelief, as he attempted to push away from Ignis' shoulder. “We should probably keep going.”

Ignis ignored the suggestion, feet planted as firmly as his sentiments. “You make him happy.”

Prompto’s gaze skittered away. He shrugged, then winced as the motion clearly pulled on injuries.  “Isn’t that, like...gonna be Luna’s job?”

Ignis nodded, conceding the point. “It’s true, Lunafreya and Noctis share a special bond, and I do believe, if the world let them be, they could find happiness together. But the gods have given them both heavy duties instead.  They brace each other to try and support that weight. But they can't do it alone.”

Ignis jostled him gently until Prompto finally looked back up and met his eyes, then continued, “Noct needs all of us. He's struggling to fulfill unreasonable prophecies. He's lost his father, and he's lost his home.  Don't make him lose his best friend.”

Prompto broke first, turned away again. Swallowed. “If...if we don’t start walking now, I’m not gonna be able to…” Suiting actions to words, he began shuffling forwards.

Ignis sighed, fell in beside him rather than let him fall. He took a moment for at least some of it to hopefully sink in before trying again. “Prompto…” Pressed together the way they were, Ignis could feel Prompto tense, waiting. Maybe, just maybe, actually listening. I'm trying to keep Noct alive against angry gods and mad empires. I've lost my king and my home.  Don't ask me to lose a best friend either.” A beat. “Gladio would say the same as well.”

The “Oh,” when it finally came, was soft, barely voiced. Uncertain, maybe even wondering.  “I’ll…um…try?”

Ignis nodded and increased their pace, knowing it wouldn’t be maintainable for long. “That’s all we ask.”

Chapter Text

As Ignis had hoped, the going was much easier along the concrete path, and they made good progress, even despite the unrelenting rain. At least at first.

He estimated they’d gone maybe another two, two and half miles, before Prompto really began to wilt again.  What little conversation they’d been maintaining—idle chat about Ignis' latest recipes, Prompto’s newest camera filter, what would drive a bussemand, and daemon in general, so far afield from their normal haunts—slowly petered out.

Ignis was tiring himself; he had already been tired before he’d ever stopped the car, and was now moving well past full exhaustion.  Keeping his attention split between his companion’s state and any approaching threats was taking more and more focus.

Prompto no longer had energy or breath to spare for words. He’d been cycling through a pattern of drooping more and more against Ignis, until he was practically being dragged, beginning to trip over his own feet.  Whereupon he’d haul himself up and continue mostly on his own steam for a few minutes before slowly sinking back again.

It had been a while since the last time Prompto had made it upright, though. Ignis didn’t register it at first, the choked whimper, different from the increasingly labored panting.

“Iggy…Ignis…please…” Prompto’s eyes were closed—had been for a while now—his good hand gripping at Ignis’ shirt weakly. “Gotta…stop…jus--just for…moment.”  His knees gave out before he’d fully finished, body slumping boneless in Ignis’ grip.

It was a mostly controlled fall, Ignis barely keeping them from slamming knees—or worse, heads—upon the concrete. The less-than-ideal light made it difficult to be certain, but Ignis swore Prompto had somehow grown even paler.  

And his shivering had stopped. Which might have been a good sign, if only Ignis could explain how he’d miraculously dried off and warmed up.

Instead, the way Ignis’ own teeth had been clattering for a while now made Prompto's stillness anything but good.

Kneeling as they were, Prompto’s head had come to rest against Ignis’ sternum. Tilting it back carefully, enough to clearly see the lax features, Ignis tapped Prompto's cheek gently.  

After a few moments his eyelids fluttered open, barely half-mast. “W..wha?” He blinked up dazedly, unfocused. “Iggy?...think m’gonna puke—”

Ignis had just enough time to angle him away, arm looped under his chest to hold him up as he retched. As soon as he finished heaving, Prompto sagged fully forward, unresponsive, Ignis’ hold the only thing keeping him from face-planting.  

There was blood mixed in the bile. Ignis had very much been hoping the stab had avoided actually perforating the intestine wall, but between that, and just vomiting in and of itself, suggested otherwise. Through the rips in Prompto's shirt, Ignis could see more blood spotting the bandage, all their activity having worsened the bleeding.  He needed to get Prompto real medical treatment and/or a curative now.

Seeing as those weren’t actual options, Ignis was left with getting him to aid as soon as physically possible instead.  He’d been bearing the majority of Prompto’s weight on and off for at least the last hour anyway.  He might even be able to maintain a faster speed full-on carrying him, at least for now.

Hoisting his friend into a fireman’s hold, Ignis was excruciatingly aware of both injured chest and shoulder as he maneuvered Prompto’s limp form into position.  Ignis' knees gave a twinge of protest as he rose, adjusted his burden slightly to keep one hand free and ready to call a weapon to bear if needed.

Prompto was a twig, as Gladio so often teased, but the lean build was a runner’s, still packed muscle. And deadweight, sopping wet deadweight, was always harder.

After fifteen minutes, Ignis' calves were burning, lungs heaving. Half an hour and he was forced to slow from his almost jog to a more sedate pace.

Ignis felt the shift, sudden tension in limbs previously limp, before the slurred “Iggy…?” reached his ears.

“Try not…to move around…too much.” Ignis panted, breath still short even slowed as he was.

“Why s’everything upside-down…?” came the confused rejoinder a few moments later. “Am I…are you carryin’ me?”

Ignis didn’t have the air to spare for a sigh. “Yes.”

Another pause. “Oh…sorry…”

Apparently, he had the air after all. “Skip the—apologies…Focus on actions.”

He could feel Prompto stiffen, muscles bunching.

“The critical action…at this juncture—” pause to deeply inhale— “being not dying. Everything else…leave to me.”

No answer was forthcoming, save for his burden's body again going slack. Ignis assumed Prompto had once more passed out. Then, so quiet, he almost missed it, “Kay…try not to let you down.”

The smile came unbidden. “I know you won’t.”

*****

They’d been forced to stop once already, when Prompto had still been on his feet.  Ducked off the open exposed track of the canal to crouch in the nearby underbrush to avoid a lone, roving coraldevil.

It was due to a similar worry, trying to assess a possible rustling up ahead, that distracted Ignis enough to miss the pothole, a chunk of the concrete torn apart.  He saved them from going down entirely, but pain shot up his leg as he rolled his ankle, forcing him to one knee.

Over his shoulder came a querulous half-sob, the jostling bringing Prompto back to semi-consciousness. Unfortunately, Ignis couldn’t take a moment to reassure him as the noise from ahead grew louder, shadows forming into what appeared to be a group of mightyshears. Ignoring his ankle's scream of protest , Ignis pushed up, already moving towards the edge of the walkway.

The underbrush was sparser here, with little to shield them from view.  Deciding on a rot-riddled stump as the best cover he was going to get, he lowered Prompto gently but swiftly to the ground.

"Iggy, wha—" Ignis clamped one hand over Prompto's mouth, cutting off the question, motioned silence with his other.

Even through the pain-driven confusion, Prompto's eyes widened with understanding. Feeling the nod, Ignis released him. He had his daggers in his hands as soon as he pulled back far enough to be safe. Rose to his feet, disregarding the accompanying spasm from his foot. And instructed, "Stay here, I'll draw them off—"

But Prompto was already trying to push himself up.  "I can provide cover fire—" He made it mostly to kneeling, hunched over his injured side.  His good hand was repeatedly trying to close around a nonexistent gun, too exhausted to actually summon his firearm.  The effort had him swaying dangerously, adrenaline burst that had gotten him this far running out of steam.

Ignis turned back, hastily dismissed one dagger in time to catch Prompto as he started to topple and eased him once more prone.  Moaning, Prompto curled half in a ball, plastered hair obscuring his face, hand pressed hard to his bandage. Which was showing even more red then before.

"Please recall, you already agreed. Stick to your one task. I'll take care of the daemons. And you?"

Prompto's one visible eye blearily squinted open to meet Ignis'. "Hang on…and don't die."

"Agreed."

"But…" The soft, distraught exhalation paused Ignis mid-standing. "You don't either."

Ignis offered Prompto a brief shoulder pat before calling the other dagger back, rose smoothly to his feet. "An acceptable deal."

Then Ignis was diving back for the paved path, hopefully before the giant crustaceans  took notice of Prompto's position.

There were only three of them, thankfully. Large, but slow-moving. Under normal circumstances, Ignis could have dispatched them with little difficulty. But it had been a long night, he was already exhausted, fighting hypothermia and a damaged ankle, and had someone to shield.  That made the odds decidedly less favorable.

Nevertheless he was holding his own, dealing damage swiftly and moving out of range just as quickly, when he landed wrong on his bad leg, felt it give under the misstep. He tried to scramble back in an awkward crab-walk, a distorted reflection of his attackers' strides, cringed uselessly as the giant claw swept toward him—

Only to blink in shock as it fell, twitching at his feet, severed completely with one clean broadsword stroke.  Then Gladio was between him and the rest of the daemon's bulk, ending its existence entirely with two more hacks.

Ignis wasted no time regaining his feet as the second and third mightyshear closed in on them.  Together, he and Gladio made short work of their foe.

As the last one shuddered and disintegrated into the telltale black goop, Ignis dismissed his weapons, turned just as Gladio did the same.

"Prompto?"

"Noctis?"

Gladio nodded over his shoulder.  "He's safe. Back in Old Lestallum, resting up. Prom?"

Ignis knew there was more to it than that.  The fact that Gladio had ventured out alone a testament, but it would suffice, momentarily.

 "This way." He turned, loping as fast as the uneven ground would allow, trusting Gladio to follow. "Was Noct able to make any—"

But Gladio was already pulling out a vial as soon as Prompto's downed form came into view, handed the curative over to Ignis as they reached his side.  Sometime between when Ignis had left him and now, Prompto had managed to summon his gun.  Doing so, or perhaps the effort of trying to once more join the fray, had been enough to put him out cold.

Ignis wasted no time unhooking the tape and pushing the field dressing aside. He registered Gladio's hiss at the jagged, freely bleeding cut, even as he broke the potion directly over the wound.

As they watched, it began to close, but halted nowhere near healed. It now looked a few days old rather than hours; the surrounding tissue was less inflamed, but the cut was still oozing slightly.

Even if applied immediately, a single potion would not have been enough to fully heal the injuries Prompto had sustained. As Ignis had feared, this many hours delayed, the ineffectiveness was disheartening. "I don't suppose you have any more?"

Gladio's grim look matched his own. "Two.  Noct wanted to make more, but these three and the one we used on his own injuries took a lot out of him."

A deep inhale signaled Prompto coming around while Gladio was fishing the remaining potions out of his vest.  He flailed weakly, hand questing blindly for his weapon. "Daemons, gotta…Iggy?"

Ignis grabbed the sought-after firearm, flashing it reassuringly in front of Prompto before placing it aside safely.  "Gladio and I dealt with them all." He motioned Gladio to assist him getting Prompto sitting up, brought the second potion to Prompto's mouth. "Here, I need you to drink this."

Prompto's lips remained shut as he slowly blinked first at it, then up at Ignis, then shifted his gaze slowly to Gladio. "Gladdy?" His eyes continued to rove dazedly; then suddenly his whole frame tensed. "…Where's Noct?"

"He's fine. Safe," Gladio assured, voice gruff with poorly concealed concern. "Now listen to Ignis, Blondie, and drink the damn potion."

Refocusing once more on the vial held before him, Prompto nodded, allowed Ignis to tip it back and swallowed. Within moments, the blue tinge of his lips receded to a more healthy red, a slight shivering resumed and more solid awareness returned to his features.  The wound, however, did not noticeably change this time.

Better, but still not out of the woods yet, figuratively or literally. Suppressing his frown, Ignis reattached the bandage. "How's the shoulder feel?"

Prompto began to shift in their grip, rotating the limb in question, then stopped almost immediately with a grimace.  "It's…better."  The half-bitten off groan as he ground out the words spoke volumes louder than the poorly attempted lie.

Ignis debated the merits of using the third potion now versus saving it in case they encountered further problems. The curatives were proving weak enough for Prompto at this late hour; it clearly would do little good now, but could make all the difference down the road.

Still, the tremble he could feel where Prompto was pressed against him, the way his breath was still catching with each inhale, made the decision decidedly less clear-cut. Ignis froze in momentary indecision.

For too long; suddenly Prompto was shoving himself up. "We should…get back to Noct…" The attempt faltered halfway as he listed badly.

Gladio caught and righted him, left the support where it was when it became clear Prompto’s own legs still weren’t up to the task. "Woah, easy there. Sure you're good?"

"Yeah…s'fine…" Only he sagged more into the hold rather than straightening.

Gladio shot a questioning look over Prompto's head. Ignis answered it with a brief nod, and Gladio swept their wounded companion up into his arms in one smooth motion.

Prompto's mouth dropped open and it looked like he was going to protest.  Ignis cut it off with a pointed glare. After a minute, Prompto's mouth clicked closed again, his head falling back to rest against Gladio.

"What about you?"

Ignis followed Gladio's glance to his own ankle. Apparently, he hadn't been overcoming it quite as well as he thought. "Barely twisted."

The twin looks of suspicion being thrown his way had Ignis fighting a smile, despite everything.  "It's fine, truly. Won't slow us down. And—" Ignis held up a placating hand as the scowls deepened. "—barring further incidents, I'll use the remaining potion once we reach the town."

Satisfied, at least temporarily, they set off once more.  Truly, compared to tonight's prior adventures, only having to hobble on a vaguely throbbing ankle was a stroll in the park.

As they walked, Gladio filled them in on the events following their involuntary separation.  They had missed aid by mere moments.  A hunter recuperating in town had led several of Old Lestallum’s denizens in redirecting one of the floodlights, weakening the Iron Giant enough that Gladio had been able to finish it off.

By the time they'd brought Noct to the motel, he'd already been coming around.  Just a mild concussion, Gladio reassured…and a fairly bad slash to the leg, he admitted ruefully. The latter they treated the old-fashioned way. Then it was a matter of Noctis resting and recovering enough to change the energy drinks Gladio had procured into potions.

"He wanted to go after you immediately, but…" Ignis heard the unspoken sentiment; Gladio had wanted to go after them just as much.  But duty came first, and in these circumstances they all knew—

"S'okay big guy, someone's…gotta save Noct…from himself," Prompto finished haltingly, giving Gladio's chest a little pat.

"Yeah, well. In the end I had to make a deal with him. I'd go after you guys, with as many potions as he could manage to make, as long as he agreed to save at least one to use on himself. And that he'd stay behind."

Ignis raised an eyebrow.  "I'm impressed you managed to get him to concede the latter point."

Gladio grunted. "Less concession, more the inevitable. He was all but passed out after completing potion number four.  And his leg's not fully healed."

"Even so—"

"Yeah, no way I was trusting that either," Gladio grinned. "Got Jim, the hunter that gave us a hand, to keep an eye on him. Made it clear that under no circumstances should Noct take off on his own."

"I see." Ignis considered the situation, considered Noctis. "Still, best to make haste."

Gladio snorted, but his strides lengthened.  "So, what about you two?"

Ignis, taking a moment to scan their surroundings, realized with a start that Prompto wasn't chiming in. Following his sudden glance, Gladio grimaced. "Yeah, he's out again." He shifted, hefting his limp burden a little higher.  In the dim light, Ignis could just make out the wrinkle as Gladio's brow furrowed. "Ignis…how bad we really talking?"

Ignis felt his own forehead crease as he echoed the frown.  "No single injury was too serious. But in combination, along with the continuing strains and delays…" Ignis shook his head. "I fear that by the time Noct will be up to making an elixir, even that won’t be wholly effective. "

Gladio was quiet for a moment, his focus drawn down to the half-concealed face pressed against his shoulder. "He'll recover.  We all know he's tougher than he appears."

Ignis’ agreeing nod was sharp. "An understatement if there ever was one."

He could feel Gladio's eyes on him, considering. “Fill me in on your side of things…?"

*****

When not just the promising glow but the distinct shape of the illuminated 'skyline' of Old Lestallum came into view, Ignis’ first instinct was to breathe a sigh of relief.

The second was to brace himself, because really, it had been that kind of night. Against expectations, though, they made it without incident to where the canal walk broke off, and then to the staircase leading up. A night lookout waved as they began their ascent.

Apparently—finally—the gods had had enough entertainment at their expense.  For today, anyways.

Ignis took the lead up the narrow motel stairs. Just being out of the blasted rain more than made up for the second-story climb. He had no trouble locating their room even without Gladio's indication. The raised voices and loud thuds coming from the half-opened door were more than enough.

"I'm sorry, Your Majest—err…Mr. fellow hunter, sir," an unfamiliar, apologetic voice pleaded. "But you gotta understand--" Bang. "--I promised your friend—"Slam. "--see, and well…you've seen the size of that guy!" Rattle, rattle thud. "I really think it's best if you stayed—" Another loud crash shook the room, accompanied by indecipherable exclamations, as Ignis made it past the threshold. "—put right here!"

Inside the motel room, Ignis found the hunter, Jim, bracing his whole body against the bathroom door, a chair jammed under the handle.  From the other side Ignis could just make out Noct's muffled voice vehemently spewing a combination of demands and curses as he threw himself full-force at the door.

"Ah," Jim jumped, whipped his head around at Ignis' throat clearing. "If I may? ...Noct?"

A pause. Then, nonplussed: "Ignis?"

Jim's shoulder's sagged in relief as he stepped back, happily relinquishing his position. In his periphery Ignis saw Gladio enter the room, carry Prompto toward the beds.

 Ignis rapped once, firmly, against the bathroom door. "If you would be so kind as to not charge me while I unbar the door."

Suiting actions to words, Ignis had the chair pushed back and the door swinging open in moments. Noctis stood glaring on the other side, one hand still partially raised, halted mid-attack.

"You're back." Noct's eyes roved over him, head to toe, tension bleeding away as his scan found no obvious impairments beyond thoroughly wrecked clothing. Ignis returned the favor, noting the still-too-pale complexion, the slight full-body tremble, too much exertion when he should no doubt still be resting.  

"You okay?" Noct demanded as he stepped—limped—forward, heavily favoring his right leg.

Ignis nodded, reached to assist. "For all intents and purposes. What about you—"

"Prompto!" Both Ignis' proffered arm and his own injured leg were ignored as Noct shot across the small room.

Gladio had Prompto laid out on the floor at the foot of the nearer bed, had only just started stripping him of his drenched clothing when Noct reached them.  His crash down next to them was almost smooth enough to be intentional.

Ignis thanked Jim for his assistance, shuffled the hunter out with the promise to follow up in the morning. Then he continued into the bathroom, grabbing every spare towel he could find. Gladio had mentioned fetching the Regalia, bringing in their supplies; sure enough, Ignis spotted all of their bags stashed in the corner of the bedroom. Digging through, he retrieved their main first-aid kit as well as a pair of Prompto's softest pajamas before returning to the others.

Noct's worried exclamations had served as a continuous backdrop throughout. "What's wrong with him? Is he…oh shit, that looks like it’s still bleeding? Didn't you give him a potion? What happened to the potions I made you? Careful, careful, his shoulder…Six be damned, where’d you put the elixir bases you bought? I need to make one—hey!”

Gladio’s patience had finally run its course; he hauled Noctis roughly back to his knees as he made to rise. Ignis readjusted the items he held enough to place a restraining hand on his over-ambitious majesty’s other shoulder.

“Noct, you need more time to recover. We don’t want to risk—”

“—I’m fine, I can handle—”

“—wasting the materials, or worse, what effect it might have on Prompto if the magic goes wrong.” Ignis headed off the further argument he could see was imminent in the mulish expression Noct was sporting. “For now, he's had two potions, he’s stable, and the priority is to get him warmed up and comfortable.” Noct continued to glare; Ignis returned the stare calmly. “As quickly as possible.”

Working together, the three of them soon had Prompto dried off, a fresh bandage applied and pajamas wrestled on. Despite napping normally being one of his most favorite pastimes, a worried Noct was a contrary Noct.   In this state, getting him to rest for his own sake was a non-starter, but luckily the very real argument that his friend needed the extra body heat had Noct sliding, uncontending, into bed next to where Gladio was tucking Prompto in.

Prompto began to stir just as they finished getting him settled, Noctis burrowing in beside him. “Wha…where…Noct?!” Blue eyes flew fully open; without question the only thing keeping him from springing up was the arm Noctis had wrapped firmly over Prompto’s chest.

Gaze jumping between the three of them, Prompto stilled as his eyes met Ignis’. “We made it back?”

Ignis inclined his head.

Prompto looked back at Noctis. “And you’re okay? Gladio said you weren’t fully healed?”  Prompto squirmed around, trying to assess Noctis through the blankets piled on them, started to shift them down.

Noctis stopped the attempt, pushing Prompto back flat and tucking the bedspread tight around him. “I’m fine—” Noct glared at Gladio’s snort, “—or will be, soon enough. Just gimme a few hours and I’ll be able to whip up an elixir.”

At those words, Prompto stopped resisting. Only to start again immediately at Noct’s, “Which will get you all fixed up.”

“What? No,” Prompto struggled up. “First elixir goes to you, dude.”

Noct was shaking his head, all the while attempting to forcefully curtail Prompto’s rise without risking further damage. “Yeah, no, most injured gets priority.”

Prompto’s stubborn side was still out in force. Of that there was no doubt, as he turned pleading eyes to Ignis. “But—”

Noct was having none of it. “Seeing as it’s my magic making the elixirs, I’ll be the one deciding how they’re used.”

“Iggy? Gladdy, a little help?”

Gladio turned away with a shake of his head, making the wise decision to stay out of it. Ignis looked between the two of them, finally gestured back to Noct. “I believe I’ll defer to his majesty on this one.”

Triumphant, Noct began to resettle, hoisting up the blanket before starting on plumping one of Prompto's pillows.

Really, Ignis would think Noct knew his best friend’s tenacity better by now. “It makes more sense if you take it. Then you’ll be up and ready to make more that much sooner—”

Ignis was distracted from the argument by a mostly dry towel hitting his head. A hand to his shoulder followed a moment later, Gladio guiding him over to the room’s small sofa. “Leave ‘em to it, see to yourself.”

The sudden relief of being off his feet drove home just how much his ankle had started to ache. Getting out of the damp clothes would certainly be a relief as well. Beginning to towel off his hair, he was interrupted by a potion waved in his face.

“No incidents, so…” Gladio was staring down at him expectantly.

Ignis continued to dry off, considering. “Not much point now, really. We’re clearly going to be here for at least a day or two. Better to—”

“Save it,” Gladio cut him off. “The objection, not the potion. There's no way I’m dealing with those two without an ally at one hundred percent.”

The grin was ill-hidden, the twinkle in Gladio’s eye even less so.

Ignis sighed, opened his hand to accept. Realized, as he was uncapping the vial, that the squabbling from the other side of the room had cut off, leaving two additional sets of eyes fixed on him.

“Hey,” came Noct’s betrayed protest. “You said you were okay!”

“Iggy, you shoulda said something…” Prompto’s latest attempt to sit up, halted by a small, pained whimper, served to distract Noctis, who whipped back around to resume fussing.

"Idiot." Gladio threw his gaze heavenward in a plea unlikely to be answered, if tonight was anything to go by. Honestly, Ignis couldn't say to whom he referred, himself or Prompto. Perhaps Noct.

With a smile, Ignis knocked back the potion. It hardly mattered, really. Whomever, at least they could all be assured they were in good company.

The End