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Woes of Winter

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Crimson on alabaster.  There was a kind of beauty in the stark contrast.  Prompto's fingers twitched, part of him itching for his camera.  

Yeah, that's the part in shock, the remaining sliver of rational thought informed him, while simultaneously compiling a list of the many things that took immediate priority over any and all artistic endeavors.

First and foremost being the monumental task of standing.  Scratch that, at this point he'd consider it a victory to make it to his knees.  Relying on his right hand to provide leverage—he didn't even want to look at the left, not with the way it was throbbing, not with the way he'd almost whited out when they stomped down—he hoisted himself to sitting. Or at least a close approximation.

His arm had sunk almost up to his elbow in the deepening snow.  So cold it burned. But if he gave into the instinct to draw his hand in close, tuck bare skin against his body for what little remaining warmth, he knew with certainty he'd be right back on his face without the feeble support it was providing.

Prompto's head was spinning; his vision swam. Or maybe that  was just the swirling flakes, heavy enough to obscure the alley wall only a few feet away. The gusting wind cut through his shirt, a brutal sweep of a frozen sword, followed up by an unending bombardment of miniature ice daggers.  Prompto was rapidly discovering that what was worse than a possibly broken nose was a frozen one, blood slowing its gush to become a thin red ice dam crusting his upper lip.

Couldn't do anything about it for now. Or the rest of the damage, not until he got out of the cold.  That'd been his priority, even before he got jumped. Before the fuckers had made off with his brand new parka, courtesy of Noct as a solstice present. Or wrestled him out of the matching chocobo-themed gloves and scarf he'd found on sale last summer, glad for the whimsical splurge when this winter started to shape up even worse than all the early predictions foretold.  Or taken his bag and his—crap, his phone .

They'd tossed it immediately after Prompto had reluctantly handed it over, after seeing  how outdated it was, scuffed and worn, cracked at the edge of the screen. Prompto squinted desperately in the direction he was fairly sure the big guy'd thrown it.  Nothing obvious. Of course, it was hard to be sure of anything in the middle of a freaking blizzard. And oh yeah, the deepening shadows as evening set in weren't much help either.

Prompto had known today was going to suck. Had known the moment his alarm failed to go off and he'd scrambled from his covers over twenty minutes late. Only for his feet to encounter a freezing floor and chillier than expected air. A busted furnace was exactly the thing he needed with what was predicted to be the worst storm in decades bearing down on Insomnia.

His parents, who'd been due back—finally—after over a three-month absence, suddenly had an unavoidable job extension requiring them to remain another month in the—completely coincidentally-- tropical waters of Accordo.  Which meant it would be up to him to schedule any repairs.  He'd spent his entire school commute alternating between Moogle searches and phone calls trying to find anyone able to come in on such short notice. No dice.

He'd skidded into his seat as the first period bell was ringing, having missed homeroom entirely.  Barely had time to wave hurriedly at Noct across the room before the teacher blindsided them all with a pop quiz.  One Prompto almost certainly bombed, mind occupied with the furnace problem, and the darkening sky, and the fact he'd skipped breakfast in his rush, and lunch money had been rather touch and go this month.

The rest of the school day passed in a blur.  A noisy blur, the entire student body overjoyed at the prospect of a truncated school week, the first flurries of the promised snowmageddon beginning to fall midway through last period.  Hours earlier than forecast.

The start time of his shifts at the café on Tuesdays and Thursdays always required a bit of a scramble to make it on time, even more on bad weather days.  With a thin layer of powder already building up on the road, he wound up ditching the bus and its ever-slowing crawl three stops early, hoofed it the rest of the way on foot.  Even so he was almost a half hour late.

In the end, he shouldn't have bothered.  He'd needed the money, no question. Moreso than ever with no guarantees of how long it'd take for his parents to deposit the necessary funds for furnace repairs.  But barely an hour had gone by before his manager informed him they were closing early, what with the lack of any customers for the past half-hour and the emergency weather bulletin a few minutes prior.

Of course they couldn't have made the call before he'd schlepped all the way over here. Or at least before the buses had stopped running all together. Unsurprising, as the few cars left on the road were struggling in the snow, more than one only partially pulled over and abandoned, buried in the deepening drifts.  Give it another hour and they'd be indistinguishable from ski moguls.

The level of accumulation in even the few short hours it'd been falling was downright ridiculous.  Whoever had pissed off Shiva hadn't been fucking around, apparently.

Watching his manager's back disappear  down the street—lucky bastard lived only a few blocks away—Prompto contemplated the less than trivial walk to the nearest train station, and the even longer trek on the other end near home.

For a moment he stared longingly back into the now darkened café, quiet and cozy contrasted to the winter maelstrom sweeping around him, like he was stuck on the wrong side of a giant snow globe's glass.   

And to think he'd been excited last week, when the first rumblings of this storm hit the news.  He usually loved being out in snow. It was starting to dawn on him how much the element of choice had played into that love.

Prompto had his head bent down, buried so deeply in his parka hood his field of view consisted of just his boots. It wasn't until he nearly tread on a different pair that he registered the sudden human blockade in front of him. A blockade in the form of people waiting to get into the station.

Not being a big station, the stairs down fed almost directly onto the platform—which was obviously filled to capacity and then some, from all the people pushed in tight.  A quick inquiry confirmed the trains were running, just not enough. Not nearly enough.

Prompto groaned into his glove as he tugged it off with his teeth, grabbing for his phone with his other hand.  Snapped a quick photo and shot off a text to Noct with the caption:

[Buses aren't running, no prob. I'll just take the train. Good thing NO ONE else thought of that! T…T]

Because if he didn't laugh about this he'd be crying, and the way tears froze up his lashes sucked.

His phone buzzed less than a minute later.

[Just walk, definitely gonna be faster at that rate.]

Prompto really was going to cry, because he wasn't wrong.

[Yeah, but at least this way, *some* of those two hours get to be spent inside,]  he shot back.    

[Dude, it's one stop down. No matter *how* bad the storm, no way it's gonna take you 2 hrs]

One stop? Prompto frowned.  His phone buzzed again before he'd untangled that.

[Wait, ur not still trying to go get your stuff before coming?]

[…coming where?]

Rather than a text, the next buzz was an incoming call. "Hey, Noct, I—"

"—Here! Duh," Noct huffed impatiently in lieu of a greeting.

Right. Of course. Because that cleared up everything.  "…uhhh…"

"Y'know, like we talked about at lunch?"

Prompto thought back to the rushed break in question. Nope, nothing. What he did remember was spending most of lunch trying to find a place anywhere near his place that had space heaters in stock. Getting the furnace up and running in time was clearly going to be a bust.  That and fighting the urge to just give in and ask Noct to lend him a few crown, cause whatever they were serving for lunch smelled amazing—as more importantly looked filling— as his empty stomach kept reminding him.

"No school, no chance of royal duties getting in the way, just endless gaming hours stretching ahead of us? Maybe even finally beating Exile's Path…any of this ringing a bell?" Noct was still carrying on.  He paused, trailed off. "…unless you…uh, changed your mind?"

Hard to change your mind when you didn't remember making it up in the first place, which was hardly the point. The point was…Prompto paused, let the implication actually catch up…the point was that this was the best news he'd heard all day.

He could trade a long trek home to a cold empty house for a short—relatively—walk to a warm apartment where his best friend was waiting to embark on a video game marathon of potentially days.

It should be a no-brainer…except. Except in the year and a half since he'd befriended Noct, Prompto was always extraordinarily careful not to overstay his welcome.  He was all too aware of just how annoying he could get. And sure, Noct might not seem to mind that much--so far at least-- Prompto knew how all too easily that could change.

Days. Plural. The problem was no one knew how long this storm was going to last. Noct didn't always think things through, probably hadn't registered that once Prompto was over there, he could be saddled with him for waaaay longer than he'd planned for. Braced for.

"Oi, Prom? Don't tell me it's so cold your mouth actually froze?"

Prompto tried to laugh, though it came out more of a shiver. "J-just about."  The few bits of exposed skin on this cheeks and nose felt cold-stiff and wind-burned raw. The crowd waiting on the train platform was steadily growing, with barely any forward progress.  Standing still, his toes were going numb, his legs not far behind. And home wasn't going to be much better.

And Noct was the one offering, Prompto hadn't asked—hadn't let anything slip about the no heat thing, he was sure. Noct wanted him over.

"No, I, um...didn't change my mind. I just was gonna—you know what. Never mind. I'm walking now, be there soon."

"Great!" And Noct sounded genuinely pleased, so there was that at least. "And I'll make sure Iggy has the hot cocoa warm and ready for your arrival!"

"Wait, Iggy's there—" But Noct had already hung up. "—too?...Shit." Okay, so…amazing food guaranteed for the duration of his stay, but on the other hand, one more person whose nerves he had to be careful of getting on.

But…but even so. Prompto's face was frozen enough it actually kinda hurt to smile, but he found himself doing so anyways. The snow was deeper than ever, but dragging his boots no longer felt unsurmountable . The journey was always easier when the destination was desirable .

The mounting concerns of the day melted away. He'd be on his best behavior, no problem. He'd make sure to help out, dishes and vacuuming, maybe go jog up and down the hall stairs if they needed some space from him.  All he had to worry about now was not slipping and falling on the way.

It wasn't until the hand closed around his arm and hauled into the alley that he realized how wrong he could be.

Chapter Text

Prompto blinked dazedly. The phone had not suddenly appeared while he'd been contemplating the feat of standing. Nor had the snow stopped falling or a new parka and gloves magically manifested.

Which meant…which meant he was well and truly fucked. Which he had been telling himself all day—should have recognized Noct's offer as the aberration that it was, not the start of an upward trend.

Noct…who was probably wondering where the hell he was by now. Probably assumed Prom had just blown him off after all.  Shit. Somewhere between a groan and a shout escaped his lips as he shoved himself vertical all at once. Wobbled as he got his shaking legs under him.

Black spots danced in his vision, yin to the yang of the snowflakes whipping past.  Taking a deep breath— ouch, fuck, ribs —he let his eyes fall briefly shut, convinced himself the world was steadier—like a rock…a really wobbly rock—when he reopened them.

He just…he just didn't want to disappoint Noct.  Prompto knew it was bound to happen eventually; he knew himself too well to assume any other outcome. But he was damned if he wasn't going to delay the inevitable however long he could.

It was, what, two more blocks? Three? Prompto could make that. No problem.

Just have to put one frozen block of foot-shaped ice in front of the other.

********

Noct tossed his phone idly from hand to hand, gaze held by the wildly undulating curtain of white dancing beyond the window.   The chair on the balcony had been entirely covered, delicate wire mesh suddenly a plump winter throne.

Noct paused in his throw, slid his eyes to the screen.  Only two minutes since last he'd checked. Eight more and it'd be exactly a hour.  An hour since he'd hung up on Prompto, since Prompto'd assured Noct he was on his way.

A way that normally took maybe fifteen minutes, twenty max, at a leisurely stroll. Running flat out, Prompto could do it in less than seven. A fact Noct knew for sure after a bet last spring over train versus man. Prompto had won that one, no question.  Rush-hour commuters sucked, was Noct's excuse.

So even factoring weather out of the Glacian's worst nightmare, Noct was surprised when the half-hour mark arrived and Prompto did not.  And the where-you-at text went unanswered. As did the call at the forty-minute mark.

Noct glanced at his phone again, dismissed the lock screen this time.  The blinking dot still hadn't moved. They didn't use the app that often, Noct hadn't even been sure Prompto would have it turned on, but the friend indicator marked him about two-thirds of the way here from Prom's last confirmed location, just a couple blocks from Noct's building.

So that checked. The fact that it had been in the same spot for the last fifteen minutes, less so.  Could be a glitch or the storm playing havoc with the signal. Or Prompto had dropped his phone. Only none of those explained why after an hour—fifty-three minutes, close enough—Prompto himself still wasn't here.

Noct threw himself up from the coach. Screw waiting the last seven minutes; it had been an arbitrary deadline anyway.

He'd almost made it to the door, stomping haphazardly into his boots as he went, when a pointed throat-clear had him jumping guiltily.

"Off somewhere?"  Ignis inquired.

"Just, uh, down to the lobby, making sure Prompto has no trouble getting past security."

"And you need your coat for that because…?" The skepticism in Ignis’ voice was matched in expression when Noct glanced back.  

Gladio joined the fray before Noct could formulate a response, wandering out of the kitchen, mug in hand."Blondie finally here? Now we can—where the hell are you going?"

Noct glared. The deal had been he wouldn't get dragged back to the Citadel for the duration of the storm only if Ignis and Gladio stayed with him the entire time.  He was really wishing he'd negotiated better terms right about now.

"I'm going to find him." Noct punctuated the statement with a firm pull of his coat’s zipper.

"You're not going anywhere!" Gladio scoffed. "There's a blizzard going on."

"Which Prompto is out in the middle of."

Gladio dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand. "He probably just stopped in somewhere to warm up."

"For an hour? And didn't think to check his phone in that time? Or find some way to contact me? And there's nowhere good to stop around there!" Noct held up the map on his phone and pointed for emphasis at the dot that still refused to budge. "It's only office buildings on that block. And most of those'd be closed by this time even when there's not a winter storm warning in effect!"

He started to turn back to the door, only for Ignis’ hand on his shoulder to once more halt him. "Noct, I understand your concern.  Let me call down to security, they can check around—"

Noct shrugged off the hold. "Prompto's phone last put him there, so that's where I'm going. "

"Noct—"

"—Gladio," Noct cut him back off, matching annoyed syllable for annoyed syllable.

Ignis sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. "In your room—"

"--I'm not going to my—"

"—I believe there are snow pants in the closet. And best to add a second pair of socks while you're at it." Ignis bent to reach for his own boots. "I'll meet you in the lobby; I have a few things to grab from the car."

It took a moment for Noct to register the implication. He offered a grateful smile before beelining for the indicated closet.  The sounds of continuing argument followed him down the hall.

"You can't be serious!"

"I thought you were looking forward to some snow-inspired recreational activities. Something about a snowball champion?"

"Yes.  After the snow stops coming down. Not chasing after his royal heiny during it!" But Noct knew his shield's grumble well enough to recognize defeat when he heard it.

******

Insomnia never slept; Noct had grown up with the constant hum of the city day or night. But the snow deadened noise, dialed all sound down to low.   Even the crunch of their boots as they stumbled through the drifts was a vibration more felt than heard. The wind was the only exception, a rising and falling wail as it howled down the steel and glass canyon that was 3rd Boulevard.

It was late enough the street lights had come on, giving everything that soft orange ambient reflected glow, a sepia filter placed over the world. Even so, with how the snow hadn't yet let up—falling harder, if anything--visibility was practically non-existent, especially during gusts.

Noct despised the cold. Heat too, if he was being honest. There was an acceptable temperature range of five degrees e. Everything else he'd leave to more adventurous (masochistic) souls when given a choice.

But Prompto was stuck out in this miserable mess, which meant there wasn't one. Noct knew he should have pushed the issue. When the first flurries came down halfway through calculus, he should have insisted Prompto just skip work and come straight back with him; Ignis could've driven them both.

But Noct had hesitated. Had been hesitating to extend the invitation for almost two days.  Even if the moment 'multiple snowdays' had been hinted at, Noct's mind had been made up. No school, royal duties or work getting in the way? Just uninterrupted game time with his best friend? The answer was obvious and easy. Or should have been.

Except it'd taken months into their friendship before Noct had been able to convince Prompto to come over, more before he'd agreed to stay for dinner.  Even the vague suggestion of anything longer and he got super squirrely. They'd had exactly two sleepovers, both times when Prompto accidentally stayed too late and missed the last train.

Noct had been surprised that Prom had said yes so easily when he finally worked up the nerve to ask.  Of course, their last conversation had Noct guessing maybe the only reason Prompto had done so was because he hadn't actually realized to what he was agreeing.

Noct held various theories as to where the hangup lay, first and foremost being all the logistical rigmarole and security hoops Prompto had to continuously jump through just to hang out with Noct.  And then there was their difference in status and income. Most times Prompto seemed as unconcerned as Noct. Skipped the royal treatment entirely, for which Noct was continuously grateful. But occasionally, no matter how he tried to deflect, things got…awkward.

Noct's rank dictated that even a casual suggestion carried a certain amount of weight. A weight Noct had no wish to crush their friendship under, especially unintentionally.  It was a persistent—if usually suppressible—fear one he'd left unvoiced, even to Ignis and Gladio: that Prompto hung out with him less from want, and more from obligation.

But at this point though, Noct would gladly take Prompto's presence in any form, even under possible duress rather than unaccounted for and possibly an icicle.

Flanked on either side, Noct braced against another icy blast. They'd come a little more than halfway to the spot the app continued to indicate when Noct realized Ignis had stopped, gloved hand raised to shield his glasses as he peered off to their right.

"Wait, is that…"

Noct squinted into the gloom, registered the recessed entrance to a Spira bank.  The shadows formed by the building's overhang and decorative pillars took a moment longer to pierce. But…there, pressed tightly into the back corner, under the ATM, was that a foot, partially buried…

Noct lunged forward fast enough he couldn't truly say whether he'd warped or not.

Close enough to have an unobstructed view. It was Prompto. Or—Noct felt cold in his a gut, a freeze deeper than anything the snow and wind and Shiva's stormy wrath could cause—what remained of him.

He was slumped half-sitting against the wall, limbs curled in tight. In the dim light Prompto looked more marble than skin and bone, pale and deathly still, a dark smear across his nose and mouth that Noct only parsed as blood after the fact. Absent were the coat, gloves and scarf Noct knew had been present when Prompto had dashed out of the schoolyard. The wind bouncing about the alcove was the only motion as it gently ruffled a few blond strands.  

"Astrals." Ignis’ soft exclamation overlapped with Gladio's rough, "Shit, is he…?"

Ignoring them, Noct dropped down to his knees, reached out. Tried and failed to stop his hand from shaking.     

It was harder to ignore the light that suddenly kicked on, dazzling his vision as the beam reflected off every ice-encrusted surface.  In the moment it took his vision to recover, the minute tightening of Prompto's features, the slight flinch away from the flashlight's intensity, belatedly registered.

Alive. Noct only noticed the burning in his lungs after he released the breath he'd been holding.

"Prompto!" His attempt to throw himself forward was halted-mid lunge by Gladio's hand on his shoulder.

"Wait."

Ignis dropped down on the other side of Prompto, digging through the bag he'd hauled along. The flashflight had been handed off to Gladio.

Noct glanced impatiently between them. "What—"

Ignis' rifling produced a flask; relief swamped Noct as he recognized the potion for what it was.  "Not gonna ask where you got that but please tell me you have more than one…" . Surprised and grateful to have even that reprieve, but it was already clear this was a lot more than a one-potion situation.

Noct knew all too well how few and far between curatives were in Insomnia these days. A fact he couldn't help feel more and more responsible for, the longer he failed to master the skill while his father's ability to spare any magic for their creation continually waned.

Ignis shook his head, cracked the vial over Prompto.  "One remains, back your apartment. They are intended only in the case of extreme emergencies."

Noct felt the flare of magic as the liquid splashed out, disappearing almost instantly upon contact. Prompto gave a single shiver from head to toe, coughed once weakly, then was still again.  

"Prom? Prompto, you hear me?" No response or further reaction. The rise and fall of his chest as he breathed was barely discernible...if still happening at all. Gladio's grip still firmly in place was keeping Noct from moving forward to check. "Y'know what, pretty damn sure this qualifies as both extreme and an emergency!"

Above him Gladio grunted, an impatient huff.

Right. Emergency for him , only.  Probably breaking some rule, using it on anyone but their royal charge or whatever. "Screw that. Soon as we get back we're using it."

And no question that back was where they'd be heading, their only option.  There'd be no aid in the form of emergency services or anyone else unfortunately, not with the storm still raging full force and the roads a slalom of buried abandoned cars and growing snow drifts. Security had pointed out as much as they were leaving the building, less pleased with Noct's plan than Gladio had been.

His security team's assessment and protests had just made Noct all the more determined.  Gazing down at Prom's still form, he felt beyond justified. The only thing he regretted was how many minutes they'd wasted arguing.

"Get those going." Ignis shoved a case into his hands. Chemical heat packs. Noct fumbled the lid open, began to do as instructed. Meanwhile Ignis had pulled out another pouch, revealing a silvery emergency blanket.

"You just had all this on hand in your car?" Noct exclaimed. Not that he wasn't grateful, or okay, really that surprised; it was Ignis after all, but..

"The predictions for the severity of this winter started months ago."  Ignis looked up, but he was motioning beyond Noct. "Gladio, could you--"

"Got it." Gladio pushed forward, handed off the flashlight to Noct. He sandwiched it absently between neck and shoulder, went back to cracking packs.

"Gently," Ignis cautioned softly as Gladio knelt. Stressed it in a way Noct might have missed if not for Gladio's response, the briefest of hesitations before his grim, "I know."

Noct froze, glanced between them. He recognized the gravitas of that tone, if not its implication in this circumstance. "Know what? "

It was the way neither of them quite met his gaze that he knew it was bad. "Know what?"

"In cases where the core temperature drops too low,  any stress risks inducing cardiac arrhythmia that could trigger arrest."

"Meaning…?"

Gladio sighed, leaning forward. "Shock or even jostling could give him a heart attack."

"Wait, what?!" The ice ball in Noct's gut started expanding again. "But…the potion! That'll—"

"It should help to stabilize him, yes," Ignis confirmed.  "Though its effectiveness in part depends on how much other damage it has to contend with. Considering how little both his face and hand changed, I fear there's even more than the obvious."

Hand? A quick glance revealed scrapes and slight swelling, which, judging by the misshapenness of three of the fingers, would no doubt be significantly worse if not for the cold. Noct hadn't even noticed.

While Noct's eyes raked over his friend, searching for what else he'd missed, Gladio brought a mittened-hand to Prompto's cheek, tapped it lightly. "Hey Prompto. If you can hear me, I'm going to move you."

No response to the words, but as Gladio suited actions to them, Noct thought he made out a slight whimper.  Gladio levered Prompto up just enough to place him prone on the blanket Ignis had spread out, accomplished in one smooth, gentle motion.

"Noct?"

Noct continued to stare, heart in his throat. Took a concerted effort to refocus on the hand extend toward him.  At the snap, he jumped, fumbled the first of the now-hot packs over to Ignis.

As his arm was moved enough to tuck the heat source against his armpit, Prompto’s groan was unmissable this time, accompanied by a flutter of eyelashes.

Noct deposited the last of the activated packs next to Ignis before scooting around Gladio to crouch by Prompto's head."Prom, hey, can you hear me?"

"If you can bring him around, keep him conscious and talking if possible," Ignis added while continuing in his strategic placement of the packs, Gladio mirroring him on the other side.

Noct nodded. Swallowed, pressed his hand feather-light to Prompto's forehead.  "C'mon Prom, wakey wakey." Noct thought that exhalation held a bit more of a moan. "Yeah, that's it, you can do it."

"...N-n-noct?" Noct had lowered his head close enough for his lips to be almost level with Prompto's ears, would have missed the soft, slurred question otherwise.  

Noct pulled back enough to catch a flash of blue as Prompto's lids cracked open."Yeah, it's me. I'm right here."

Prompto blinked, twice. His eyes remained open at half-mast. "D-did—" He coughed weakly, winced. "-I…m-make it?"

Noct shook his head, smiled what he hoped was encouragingly. It felt a bit watery. "Eh, close enough. We thought we'd come out to meet you."

"W-we?"

Gladio paused, leaned into Prompto's field of few.  "We weren't about to let Noct go wandering out alone, let you two have all the fun."

"Oh…" Noct was fairly sure none of that registered, not with the way Prompto's eyes were already slipping shut again.

"Hey hey, you heard Specs, gotta stay awake."

"Prompto," Ignis himself chimed in, gripping Prompto's shoulder gently. Waited for Prompto to drag his eyes open before continuing,  "We're going to tuck the blanket around you. Let us know if any motion hurts overly much."

"…kay…"

Watching their ministrations, all Noct could think was wrapping a burrito—Promrito—Noct felt the hysteria bubbling up, clamped down on it desperately before he could discover if it was going to manifest as a laugh or a sob. Prompto's eyes were already closed again.

Noct gave his cheek another light tap. "Prom, hey? What happened?”

Prompto's face scrunched up, brow creased, in pain remembered or presently felt Noct couldn't say, but either way he itched to have any way to ease it.

"I w-was just…and then they…t-they 'ook my c-coat!" And wouldn't Noct very much like to know who they were.

"We noticed. But there's the blanket now, and we'll get you warmed up soon enough, and—"

"B-but I l-lost it. C-coat you g-gave me, an' I lost it." Prompto's face had fallen and he looked on the verge of tears. Which, join the club, really. Noct had felt that way for minutes now.  

"Noct," Ignis interrupted, motioning him back. On the other side, Gladio had slipped a hand carefully under Prompto's knees. Ignis helped to gently hoist Prompto's torso up, supporting his head, enough for Gladio to slip his other hand around Prompto's back.

"Remember, kiddo, lemme know if anything hurts." And then Gladio was lifting him up. Despite the warnings and gentled motions, Prompto still let loose a thin cry.

"Prom!" Noct jumped forward instinctively at the sound, only to stop again, at a loss.

"Shit," Gladio murmured. "Okay there, Prompto?" He peered down. Head mostly turned, panting into Gladio’s shoulder, Prompto took a moment to nod jerkily.

"Y-yeah. S-sorry. I'm..I'm g-good."  Which was about as far from the truth as one could get. Noct fought another hysterical laugh.  

Finished repacking his bag, Ignis rose as well. "We should make haste."

Noct hadn't realized how much the alcove had been blocking the wind until they stepped back out into the full-force gale.  He halted momentarily, involuntarily. Had to brace before taking the next step. Beside him he could see Ignis and Gladio doing the same, the latter hunched a bit more to shield Prompto in his arms.

But the sooner they faced it, pushed on, the sooner they could be home. And warm.

Noct fell in step beside Gladio, leaned in close enough to just catch the rumbled reassurance."That's it, not much further."

Noct tucked his head down further, buried into the faux fur of his hood. Mouthed his own mantra, knowing the words were stolen by the wind before ever reaching their intended target.  He said it anyway.

"Yeah Prom, not much further, just…just stay with us."

*******

To Be Concluded...

Chapter Text

Huddled in Noct's bed beneath a mountain of blankets, shivering uncontrollably, Prompto was the picture of abject misery. He also looked alive, which was better than could be said less than an hour ago. So, in the grand scheme of things, it could be a lot worse.  A silent reminder Noct had to give himself with each moan or whimper Prompto let slip.

The shivering was a good sign, both Ignis and Gladio had assured, despite the discomfort it was clearly causing.

The second potion had helped. A bit of color had returned to Prompto's otherwise bloodless complexion. And there was a noticeable reduction of the myriad dark bruises that had been revealed as they'd worked to remove clothes frozen stiff with cold. When they'd cleared away the blood, they'd found his nose had stopped bleeding entirely. But Prompto was still a far cry from recovered.

His hand remained a mess—Ignis thought it wise to wait to treat it until Prompto wasn't shaking quite so much—and Gladio thought one of the worst bruises might signal a cracked rib, and he still needed some major thawing. Too bad there was no popping him in the microwave and hitting defrost.

Or dumping him under the faucet, either.  Noct had thought they'd use the bath at first, but Gladio had nixed it, something about dry heat being better. Noct had failed to process further explanation, too busy scrambling for what he could do—digging up hot water bottles, throwing towels in the dryer to warm, hunting down every spare blanket, including the electric one he'd used just the other day and left…somewhere. All gathered at Ignis' calm, if hurried, command.

There were times when Gladio and Ignis knowing pretty much everything about anything was annoying, if not downright maddening.  And then there were times like now, when Noct knew beyond a shadow of a doubt how lost he'd be without them. Trying to do this on his own, he was confident he'd have already managed to kill Prompto ten times over by now.

"Okay, that's it, just a bit more," Ignis coaxed, lifting the mug.  With Gladio on one side and Noct on the other, they'd propped Prompto vertical enough to sip at the hot chocolate. A rapid staccato filled the room, his teeth chattering hard enough to clatter against the ceramic.

"S'r-really good." Finished, the little effort Prompto had been maintaining drained away, leaving him slumped in their hold. "Thankss, Ig-gy."

"My pleasure." But Ignis was frowning, which Prompto no doubt missed; his eyes had again drifted shut.

 Noct reached around, assured the hot water bottle against Prompto's neck was still in place and gave him the lightest of shakes. "No sleeping, remember?"

Ignis clucked agreement as he readjusted the blankets. "How are you feeling, Prompto?"

"B-better." Which of course was when another of the stronger, full-body shudders coursed through Prompto's already trembling frame. Gasping, Prompto only partially managed to bite off the groan as he turned his head, burying his face against Noct's arm.

Bringing up his free hand, Noct brushed his fingers through Prompto's hair in what he hoped was a comforting manner.  His eyes found Ignis' and Gladio's over Prompto's head, pleading.

It wasn't like Noct didn't know they were doing everything they could. The painkillers Ignis had brought along with the cocoa would hopefully be kicking in soon, even if they were just some generic over-the-counter pills. The well-stocked first aid kit's stronger ones, Ignis had regretfully informed them, would have to wait until the hypothermia was no longer a danger.  They were treating everything else to the best of their abilities.

But even so, Noct couldn't help feeling well…helpless. Gladio grimaced; Ignis cleared his throat.

"I believe some food would do us all good." He stood. "Dinner was mostly finished before our foray into the storm."

Noct wanted to protest; was now really the time to be thinking of food? His stomach felt differently, however, gurgling at the mention. Lunch had been a long time ago.

They'd been waiting on Prompto for dinner. Noct had requested Ignis pick up all necessary ingredients needed to make most of his friend's favorite dishes when he'd been out stocking up earlier in the week. The plan had been that if Prompto did agree to stay over, Noct was going to guarantee he had a great time. Really off to a bang-up start here.  

Ignis interrupted Noct's internal war, offered a reassuring nod. "Good for Prompto most of all, burning calories being our main way of generating heat."

As Ignis retreated, Gladio shifted, gave Prompto's shoulder the gentlest of pats. Incongruous though it was to the normal gruff attitude and bluster to which Noct was accustomed, he could find no fault in Gladio's beyond-careful handling of Prompto at every turn this evening. Loosening a tension Noct hadn't even realized he'd been maintaining.

"Hey kiddo, while he's doing that, how 'bout you wake up a bit more, tell us what exactly happened to you?"

"Um…" Prompto coughed, gave another deep shiver before uncurling away from Noct enough to blink up at Gladio. "N-not…n-not much to tell. Wasn't paying attention…g-got jumped. J-just, y'know, random m-mugging."

Gladio's grunt held an edge to it that brought Noct's attention to him, watched his expression darken.  "Taking someone's wallet is one thing; taking someone's coat in the middle of this kinda weather is downright monstrous."

Prompto's squirm could have just been more reaction to the cold, but he suddenly wasn't meeting their eyes. "Well...uh…they did say something about their city being invaded s-so…guess they felt they were just...doing their p-part?"

The little deprecating laugh fell flatter than a pancake, quickly cut off as Prompto realized neither listener was sharing in the joke.

"They're dead wrong," Noct growled. Wished fervently he could make good on the dead part. "You know that, right?"

"…S-sure." But the hesitation was all too obvious.  

"Prompto, look at me."

Unfortunately, Noct couldn't tell if he did or not. Not with the room suddenly enveloped in darkness, a black curtain dropped over the world. The rush of air vents on high suddenly petering to a halt left the room in silence.

"Well, shit."

********

It took Prompto a moment to realize his eyes were in fact still open.  Keeping them so was an ongoing battle he'd been losing more often than not. Gladio's heartfelt curse helped his sluggish thoughts to reach what should have been immediately obvious conclusion: power outage.

One would think that between the metric ton of blankets, the various warm towels, multiple hot water bottles and Noct still pressed close, the loss of Gladio's heat as he slid off the bed would hardly be noticeable. One would be wrong, however.

Prompto instinctually huddled closer to Noct.  Movement of just about any kind seesawed between fairly uncomfortable and breathtaking agony. It was less pain than earlier;  his ribs were more a dull ache than a sharp stab with each inhale.  Prompto would be belting out praise of magical potions as soon as he had the strength to sing—Noct had used royal Lucian magic on him and Prompto wasn't sure if he felt more awed or unworthy at that realization—but for now it still definitely hurt. But worth it for even that modicum of extra warmth as Noct shifted to meet him.

Further sounds of Gladio's progress carried to them, a sharp thud followed by another curse and a muttered, "You could actually clean in here on occasion" before his report came from the vicinity of the window.

"Damn, looks like a large chunk of the city is out. No lights in this area for blocks."

"Greeeat," Noct ground out from somewhere above Prompto's head. "That's just what we need."

"Yeah, I'm going to go check it out. Be back shortly, don't go anywhere." Gladio commanded, a bob of light—cellphone—guiding his departure from the room.

"Where the hell would we even go?" Noct muttered before shifting around. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Prompto watched Noct slide down further under the covers, coming to rest with his face half a pillow length away.

"Don't worry, even if it's out for a while, they've got like, contingencies for contingencies."

Worry took energy and a level of concentration, neither of which Prompto was confident he currently possessed. He had thought the deadening of sensation as the cold crept through his limbs had been bad; but the return of sensation, a million pins and needles stabbing ruthlessly throughout, was the true excruciation. Just as long as nothing fell to him to figure out, he was content to sit in the dark and concentrate solely on becoming something other than a human popsicle.  Though the dark part was making it that much harder to keep his eyes open.

Not wanting to make Noct remind him—again—Prompto reached for any distraction."G-guessing this wasn't exactly w-what you had in mind when you invited m-me, huh?”

Despite only the slightest of light, their faces were close enough Prompto thought he could make out Noct's frown. "Yeah, you could say that."

Obviously. Because having to gear up and battle a blizzard to fetch your dumbass helpless frozen friend was exactly how anyone would want to spend a free evening.

"Dude, I'm—"

With both thoughts and fine motor control of his tongue still slush, Noct beat him by a mile.  "—Fuck, Prom, I am so so sorry--"

"—sorry…wait, w-what? Why?"

Noct snorted. "Oh, I don't know, maybe because you got attacked heading to my place?  Where you didn't even want to come to begin with, and now you're hurt and stuck and I—"

"W-wait, wait…" Prompto knew his brain must still have a long way to go on the thawing front, because none of that made any sense. How was any of this Noct's fault?  "I didn't want to come over? Since when?"

Noct suddenly wasn't making eye-contact, focusing instead on plucking at the topmost blanket.  "I mean…you're always in such a rush to get out of here…"

Well, okay yes. But that had nothing to do with what Prompto wanted and everything to do with what was needed. Prompto swallowed, forced a chuckle. "Eh, c'mon, you c-can't tell me you don't breathe a sigh of relief by the time you can close the door, get me out of your hair."

Noct brow furrowed further. "What in the Six are you talking about?"

Good question. Prompto was becoming less sure with each exchange. "I…I mean, it gets annoying, right? I'm always hanging about, crashing at your p-place, —" Never returning the favor. Because seriously, how could he. C'mon, Noct, lets crash at mine, with our tiny TV, and crappy ancient game system, bare fridge…and oh yeah, apparently intermittent heating.  "—isn't it t-tiresome?"

Noct sighed, eyes still downcast. "Yeah, that's what I...Look, I know I monopolize your time, and I don't mean to steamroll you into it, I just forget saying no may not seem like an option. But it is. Really. So, um, just to be clear, you don't have to."

Prompto didn't think the loss of power would herald that swiftly a loss of temperature. And he didn't actually feel that much colder. But the hypothermia returning would help explain his growing confusion. "D-don't have to what?"

"Hang out. With me."

Never mind, he was feeling cold again. Frozen through, in fact. Noct didn't want him around anymore.  It wasn't like Prompto could even blame him; walking disaster that he was. "O-okay…maybe that's…for the best."

"Astrals!" The loud growl from the door had Prompto jerking back, Noct jumping in surprise beside him. "I wasn't gonna get involved, but this is just painful." Gladio drawled as he strode forward, light bouncing around the room as he gestured with his still-illuminated phone.

"Gladio, don't—" Noct began. He was summarily ignored.

"Lemme make sure I'm getting this right.  Prompto, you think you're some intolerable nuisance, but Noct, he's, what? Too polite to say anything? And Noct, you think Prompto's only hanging out with you ‘cause he doesn't want to say no to royalty for fear of treason or whatever."

Prompto tried to compute, failed.  Noct thought what? Out of the corner of his eye he registered Noct blinking back and forth between Gladio and Prompto.   

Gladio huffed, bent over the bed. "Congratulations, you're both idiots. Friendship made in the heavens. Now that we've cleared that up, we're moving to the living room.  Looks like power's probably going to be out the rest of the night, maybe longer. Ignis is getting creative with finishing dinner prep and I got the fireplace going, should keep us all nice and toasty."

"F-fireplace?" Prompto  asked, surprised. "I t-thought that was just decorative?"  

Noct had sat up, freeing himself from the blankets before beginning to methodically tuck them around Prompto. He wasn't meeting Prompto's eyes. It was Gladio who answered after a silent beat."The wood’s fake, it's gas. But it gets warm enough. Ready?"

It took Prompto a moment to realize the plan. "I c-can walk. "

"Debatable, but even if true, we’re not gonna put it to the test."

Which was probably the right call, seeing as just the attempt to sit up tugged at Prompto’s ribs, set his head spinning like a wobbly top over an uneven surface.  He closed his eyes against the sudden wave of vertigo, nodded in agreement.

A moment later he was scooped up, blankets and all, like he weighed nothing. He'd been too out of it to even register embarrassment earlier. Now he just hid his face and murmured a quick 'thanks'. Knowing how much of an ongoing burden he was still didn't mean there was anything he could do about it.

Between the bluish glow cast by the fire, the scattered beams of several flashlights, and  a slew of candles placed strategically about the room, the living room was downright bright compared to the blackness of the bedroom.

Cozy as well. Especially after Noct threw himself down on the sofa, wedged into the corner; gestured for Gladio to deposit Prompto and his blanket hoard.  Prompto came to rest half sprawled over Noct, check resting pressed against his chest, legs tangled together.

Noct fiddled between the blankets, readjusted a water bottle here, ever so carefully shifted Prompto's aching hand for maximum support and minimum jostling.  Prompto bit his lip, inhaled as deeply as his ribs would allow.

"Okay?"

Prompto trusted the nod would be enough. Finally Noct seemed satisfied, arms coming to wrap loosely around his back.

"Don't get too comfortable," Gladio called out, making his way over to the kitchen island. "Dinner in five."

"Yeah, yeah," Noct answered, then fell silent. The steady thump of Noct's heartbeat filled Prompto's ears, muting the clatter and clink coming from over by the stove.

Noct's throat clear was almost a roar, but the words that followed stayed a soft whisper. "In what universe are you possibly an 'intolerable nuisance’?"

Prompto snorted. "Uh, a sane one? Dude, have you met me?"

He couldn't be sure, but he thought it was a smile Noct was pressing into Prompto's forehead. "One kinda hopes so, seeing as you're my best friend."

As if that wasn't proof enough they were living in some bizarro reality.  Noct was the freaking Crown Prince, regularly surrounded by the coolest, most badass people Prompto could imagine, and yet somehow, Prompto had become not just an acquaintance, or classmate, but an actual friend. Best friend . Such a strong burst of heat for two such simple words.

Beneath him, Prompto felt Noct slowly tense. "I mean, that's how I think of—but, y'know, you don't have to--"

"Noct, hanging out with you is always, hands down, the highlight of my day. My week." Month. Year. His whole life to date.  

Noct's arms tightened their hold, the rest of him gradually relaxing. "So," Noct ventured finally, louder and with a bit more sly confidence, "does this mean you might start staying longer, get some full weekend game marathons going on?"

Prompto couldn't hold back a smile of his own, but knew better than to jump the gun. "Awesome…but only if you promise you'll let me know if it does get to be too much, when I start to get annoying you'll--"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry 'bout that, Blondie." Prompto jumped again, having missed Gladio's approach for a second time.  For someone so huge, he sure moved quietly when he wanted. Placing two steaming mugs on the coffee table, Gladio straightened, smirked down at them. "You'd know when he's annoyed, it's obvious. He gets moody—"

"Hey!"

"—and also whines."

"I don't—"

"It is a state we have endless familiarity with," Ignis' voice floated from the kitchen to affirm, riding over Noct's attempted defense. "One which there's been a marked increase of late, I might add. Coinciding directly with your absences or hasty departures, in fact."

"Specs!" Noct’s tone dripped with grievance, betrayed.

It took a moment, for the implication of the teasing statement to fully trickle down, a rivulet of running water slowly carving through an iced-over channel. When it finally did, Prompto was torn between regretful confirmation—so he had managed to irritate Noct--and immense relief.

What he hadn't managed was to totally fuck this up, not yet at least. Because that sounded an awful lot like not only was Noct okay with him hanging around; he noticed, maybe even disliked it, when Prompto wasn't .

Maybe it was the second mug of cocoa Noct held for him to sip at. Or the proximity of the fireplace.  The anticipation of tasting the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen or Gladio settling into the coach, dropping Prompto's feet in his lap. Whatever combination, Prompto was finally starting to warm up.

The End