It was strange. Gladio couldn’t make heads or tails of why he couldn’t open his damn eyes. His body was numb, slow, and he couldn’t feel it like he was supposed to, how he knew he was supposed to. If he moved, he didn’t know, but the cold was there again.
Right, his lungs felt like they were on fire with every breath he took.
He needed to breathe. He needed to live if he was going to do what he was trained to do.
Static buzzed in his arms first and then his legs. Finally, forcing his eyes open, Gladio tried to discern where he was. What was going on? What happened?
Where was dad?
Green eyes came into view. Heat flared, burning him. Hands held him? Was he falling? Gladio couldn’t tell, but the world spun, so he focused on those green eyes behind panes of glass instead. Without his consent, his body shivered and slowly the aching from the cold grew till it burned and he could finally hear his own ragged breathing. Too fast. He needed to slow it down, to calm his racing heart.
Why was it racing? Where was his--
“D-Dad?” Gladio didn’t recognize his own voice. It sounded hoarse and broken. Trying to speak gave him a coughing fit that only hurt.
The one with green eyes was saying something, but it was so far away, muffled. Did he have ice in his ears too? Wait, what was he saying? It didn’t sound right? It wasn’t Lucian. What was he saying? He didn’t know what to do with the sound. He needed to get to his dad, to help him fight off the Niffs. Wait, the ring, where was Noct? If his vat was open, Noct would be woken too? Had it not worked? Or had he woken to help his dad?
Gladio looked for his father’s body, but there was nothing in the corner it had fallen to right before Gladio was frozen. Had they managed to overpower the Niffs and this was the future? Gladio couldn’t be sure, but those hands were a boon to his cold body. But fucking Six, what was the guy saying?
“I-I....I can’t understand.” Gladio managed to croak out. “N-Noct, Is he-”
It’s a question? Does he not know about Noct? Glancing around, the room had cracks, and layers of dust and rubble. No, it wasn’t like it was when he had gone in. There were no technicians running around, just him and the man with green eyes. Wait, no there are more, but they are nothing like the rebels who had put him under ice. How long was he asleep?
Gladio’s body grew heavy. Why couldn’t he move when he needed to? Why couldn’t he have the strength to do what he needed to do? Why were the people he loved always in fucking danger because he couldn’t do his job?
The world slowly faded as concerned green eyes watched over him, words were formed, but Gladio couldn’t hear them.
Astrals give him patience, Gladio thought as he groaned. Was that his alarm? No, it sounded off and his body was sore all over. Had he overdone it at training? No that didn’t sound right either. He had fallen asleep with Iris after they hugged. Wait, there was more. Right, he had been escorted to the cryovat. Was this what it felt like to wake up?
Slowly he tested out his muscles. Wiggling his feet a little. Clenching his fists. Focusing on his breath to make sure everything was in check, but there was still that steady beeping. A few moments went by before he realised the sound had a rhythm to it. Opening his eyes, it was easier to focus them this time. First, on the machine next to him, wires sticking out and connecting to his own body, and then to screen that was making that horrible noise. He watched a green line move up and down until he realised it was a heart monitor.
How long had he been under? Opening his eyes more, to take in his surroundings, a gentle hand pushed him back down on the bed he was laying in. He hadn’t realised he was trying to get up.
“Steady there. You’re alright.”
Gladio shuddered at the touch, it was warm. Six, he was still fucking cold. He needed to have a word with whoever took over the cryovat science. Maybe there was no way to really fix the way his body felt so cold, but hell it was worth a shot. Noct was probably having a much harder time, never liking the cold. Wait, shit where was Noct?
“N-No-” Gladio cursed himself as he started coughing. His throat was still hoarse and barely there.
“Noct or Noctis I presume?” the man asked, his green eyes gentle. The guy from before when he first woke up sat there. Gladio nods. “He’s stable. Look to your left.”
Gladio does so and breathes a sigh of relief seeing Noct laying there in a bed next to him. Thank the gods he was fine. His dad would have had his head if Noct was killed after everything they had gone through. Dad....Gladio closed his eyes. He couldn’t grieve for his dad or anyone for that matter. Not yet. Not when there was still so much to do. While he was certainly thankful to the guy sitting next to his bed, Gladio didn’t know who this guy was or if this was still even part of King Regis’s plan anymore. Everything was starting to fall apart.
“Gladiolus? Is that your name?”
Gladio needed a name for the stranger. Seeing the glasses, he decided Specs would be fine for now. At least until he knew the guys real name. He nodded his head.
“Good. At least we understand that much of the lost tongue.” Specs relaxed a little as he sat straight in the chair. “Can you understand me alright, Gladiolus?”
“Then I presume you can.” Specs smiled, but Gladio didn't know why.
“Great! At least we know the chip is working.”
Gladio whipped his head back to the left, glaring at the new voice. A blonde kid, probably around Noct’s age, sat down in a chair. The kid smiled, not wavering at Gladio’s look. Chip? What were they talking about? What had they done? Shit, Gladio tried to get up.
“W-Wait, please. You’ll only hurt yourself. Prompto, please be gentle. They’ve been asleep for quite some time. We don’t want to stress them.”
Gladio can hear the heart monitor now. The steady beating is no longer his, it’s Noct's. His own was pounding much faster and harder. Specs was right about one thing, he was stressed and for good reason. Would the Amiger still work with Noct unconscious? He hoped so because if he had to, he’d pull out his sword and show them a thing to two, but there was no shimmer and no sound to indicate it.
“S-Sorry, Igs...” Prompto shifted in his chair uncomfortably, his hands resting on the seat between his legs, heels hooked into the bars.
“Listen Gladio, we put a chip in both you and Noctis. It’s standard for everyone here to get them when they are little. The chip translates languages for you to understand and in return when you speak you are able to speak the same language. We meant to ask you both first, but seeing as there seemed to be a bit of a language barrier when we brought you both out, we presumed--”
He can’t help but wince as he body protested to him sitting up. They put a chip in him without even checking if it was okay? What the hell? And they did that to Noct too. Shit. His dad really was seriously going to kill him now. Some shield he was being.
“Gladio, please. You’ll only make your recovery longer.” Those hands were on him, gently guiding him back down. If Gladio didn’t have to worry about his arms giving way, he might have actually fought against the guy. “That’s all we did. It’s just a translation chip. I promise, at least to you.”
He glared at Specs, or he supposed Igs, wanting to know what the hell that meant. Seeing where those green eyes were suddenly trained, Gladio tried to sit up once more before falling onto his arm with a cry of pain.
“Gladio!” Igs sighed pinching the bridge of his nose. Prompto hid a grin behind a hand until Gladio glared at him. “Your friend, Noct. He has- or rather- had something called the Starscourge coursing through him. The remedy for that disease was found hundreds of years ago, so we cured him of it. Now he should be able to use whatever power he normally couldn’t. He’ll just need to learn to control it.”
Gladio looked at his prince. Noctis had the Starscourge and no one told him? Did Noctis even know? This was all kinds of fucked up. Prompto sat in the chair, quiet. Perhaps Igs was the better of the two to explain things, but dammit all. He wanted more than just reassurance that they were going to be okay. Dawning on him, Gladio reached into his pocket only to find it empty. Panic settled in once more, the monitor raising in bleeps alerted both Prompto and Igs as they glanced at each other. Shit, where the hell was it?
“Are you looking for this?” Igs held out the Lucii ring. “Thought you might. It fell from your pocket when we were taking you out of the cryovat. I kept it safe.”
Gladio shifted as he held out a hand. “Give it back.”
There, that sounds more like him. Strong and confident and definitely more like the Shield he was meant to be. Still, he wished he could have had some water or something. He was damned parched and his throat was itchy, dry, and hoarse.
Gladio half suspected Igs to keep it or try and put it on himself, but instead, those lithe hands place the ring gingerly in Gladio’s plam. Thank the Six. If Igs had put it on or even knew a fraction of what he held, things could have gone very differently. Everything was so out of place, but at least he hadn’t lost the fucking thing. Leaning back into bed, Gladio felt tired again.
“You should get some more rest. I’ll be here when you wake to answer any questions,” Igs said, eyes gentle.
“W-Water?” Gladio asked, not caring if this was the enemy and if they drugged the water fine. He would probably just fall asleep anyway after he drank a bit.
“Ice chips for you and Noct,” Prompto said, handing Igs a cup full of the stuff. Great, more ice. “Doc says you won’t be on solid food for another week either. So just take easy.”
Gladio nodded. For now, he’ll accept their reassurance if only to bide his time. When he got his voice back he’d ask a few more questions, but for now, he was satisfied with Igs putting an ice chip to his lips.
Gladio woke again, this time there’s more weight on top of him, but he is finally warm. Opening his eyes, he sees the white walls of the room, but the beeping has finally gone away. Did they not need heart monitors anymore? Where they okay now? Gods, he hoped so. Taking stock of his body once more, he was relieved to see that he could move a little better than before and his body was no longer as sore. To his left Noct was still sleeping with Prompto dosing in the chair he occupied the last time. Gladio wasn’t surprised to see Igs sitting in the chair by his own bed either, but rather bemused at Igs’ glasses practically hanging at the edge of his nose and head slumped forward.
How long had he slept this time? He couldn’t be sure. There were no windows here. Which should have concerned him, but at the moment he was thankful. It meant no one could see him and that meant privacy. Maybe they didn’t know Noct was royalty, then again, maybe they did and this was a precaution. But with everyone asleep, Gladio had no one to stop him from thinking. No one to distract him from his thoughts.
Every one of the rebels who had survived since then, now gone.
He doubted any of them still existed. Not even Cor the Immortal could have survived. Right? Astrals take him, he could feel the stinging in his eyes before the tears finally fell. He’d never see any of them again. A gentle hand on his, made him flinch as he took a shuddering breath. Glancing at the hand, he can tell it’s Igs despite his blurred vision. Some shield he was, crying in front of a stranger. Gritting his teeth, Gladio willed the tears to stop.
“Gladio....” Igs spoke softly, if only to comfort him, or keep Prompto or Noct from hearing, Gladio doesn’t know. “It’s okay. You’ve been through a lot it seems and holding it in will only worsen matters.”
Gladio swallowed past the lump in his throat.
“H-How--” he cleared his throat before trying again. “How long have we been asleep?”
“I’m afraid a thousand years, Gladio.”
He choked back another sob. That long? No, it couldn’t be. Why had they stayed asleep for so long? Was that really the plan?
“I....I don’t know exactly how to tell you this, Gladio, but Lucian, the language you tried to talk to me in first, that language has long since died. Niflheim has made sure of that. I work as an assistant to a scientist, who is very intrigued by history and past sciences. Prompto is a friend of mine, who documents her findings and so generally goes along with me when I do research. We happened upon your cyrovat first. It took years to decipher what the words on the screen said.”
Igs repositioned his glasses, but the hand on Gladio’s never wavered.
“When he found out there was another, we immediately searched for Noct. Only when we were certain you two could be brought out of your status without harming you or the structures, we finally started the process.”
“Structures?” Gladio said, interrupting Igs. “What do you mean the structures? And why doesn’t this place have windows?”
The hand on top of Gladio’s squeezed his. “Insomnia as you know it is no longer here, Gladio. Insomnia is now just ruins and I’m sorry, but there is an outpost that was built on top of it. What you might have considered your home is now what we consider the catacombs. When we found your cryovat, the building was sound enough. But Noct, his cryovat was not exactly in the same condition. Some of the building was coming down and there apparently was something wrong with his console. When I read that if one of you was woken the other would as well, we had to take precautions.”
Gladio breathed deep, trying to take in what Igs was telling him. If it wasn’t for the two cryovats connected, it meant that Noct might not have ever been able to wake up. Shit.
“It took another week before you started to --defrost? I suppose that would be the easiest of terms to put it. We monitored your vitals the entire time and ensured you were both stable. But as I dug into the files more and more, I’ve found it rather difficult to decipher some of what was written. Please, why were you put into the cryovat in the first place, you and his highness?”
So they knew. They knew Noct was royalty. The last of his line. The last prince of Insomnia, or what was left of it.
“....Noct and I....we were...” Gladio bit his lip trying to find the words. Igs had given him the answers he had sought, the right thing would be to give him the same answers in return. “King Regis decided it was best to have us frozen. Something about a better future if we were. Dad agreed with him and volunteered me along with him. We were supposed to still have time.” He gripped the sheets tighter. “When I was being frozen, I saw my d-dad....he-...he was struck down and there was nothing I could do for him.”
Igs shifted to scoot his chair closer to the bed, green eyes gentle when Gladio looked at him. Neither spoke, but just having Igs there was enough. Gladio let the tears fall, his body curling towards the stranger, who didn’t judge him. There was no accusation of being weak or being told to buck up. He was allowed to be human. He was allowed to grieve what he had lost even if it didn’t feel like a thousand years had passed. When the tears finally subsided, Gladio relaxed in the bed. He hated this. All of it and he couldn’t even go work out to relieve some of the pressure he felt because he was stuck in the bed.
Gladio blinked, focusing back on Igs.
“Ah, I’ve found you. You were far away. It’s best not to think too much right now. You and his highness have been through a lot and I assure you, no one knows of your actual status. When we told our scientist we had found something of interest, we told her the machines weren’t working. She works for Niflheim, you see. We technically all do, but some of us....well,” he shrugs.
Shit. Niflheim was still at large? Gladio made to move, to try and summon his weapon from the Amiger, but he was in no state to do so and Igs had his hands on his shoulder again. Nothing but gentle touches and concern in those green eyes. Was there still a resistance?
“Gladio, please. Stop trying to make your recovery longer. You are safe here.” Igs relaxed back into his seat, his hands folded in his lap. “The only ones who know you are awake, are Prompto, the medical team, one other person, and myself. But you have no fear there, they have no loyalties to Niflheim either. Finding them was rather difficult and obtaining their help was even more so, but we knew if we brought you out of your cryostasis, we would be dealing with something rather important.”
“Who’s the other person?” Gladio stiffened a little. He still needed to be a shield to Noct.
“A man by the name of Nyx Ulric. Fear not, he is a good man. You’ll meet him soon enough. He’s the one who provided us with the necessary information to create the Lucian translation we are using now. He wouldn’t let me have the necessary books without knowing why.” Igs sighed before going wide-eyed. “Oh dear. Forgive me, Gladio. It seems with everything happening, you know everyone’s name but mine. My name is Ignis Scientia.”
Ignis? So, Prompto was using a nickname, figures. They must really be close then.
“Nice to meet you....I guess,” Gladio said with a shrug of his shoulder. He’s tired again, but he doesn’t want to sleep. He’s afraid. He’s afraid, now that he was more aware, the nightmares would start. They always did. “So, what happens now?”
“Now? We help you two recover. After that, well....it’s up to you I suppose. I doubt you’ll want to turn yourselves over to the empire, but then again, there are other dangers out there now that I’m sure were not there when you were last in your crowned city, Gladio. Perhaps we had best wait until you can move about before talking about what happens next aside from rest and regaining your strength.”
There’s no need for Ignis to hold his hand. There was no reason for Ignis to show him any sort of compassion. Gladio knows that, but he missed the feeling of those lithe hands on his, now slightly colder than he remembered. Maybe now that he was more awake, he was starting to retain his usual body heat. Good signs. He was healing.
Gladio gave a non-committed grunt in response, not sure where else to take the conversation at this point. Watching Ignis fiddle with a watch on his wrist, Gladio couldn’t help but find himself closing his eyes again. Next time, he would keep them open longer. He needed to get stronger for both Noct and himself. Noct would want to take back what belonged to him, but the how would be the problem.