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Dormiens rex De Aurora

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Iris laughed as Gladio choked on his dinner. It was just the two of them, sitting on a couch in their apartment. Nothing glamorous, but it was enough for what they needed. Everyone else part of the resistance was in the same boat, after all, living in abandoned apartments as the Niffs continued closing in their ranks.

The rebellion was all that was left against Niflheim. After the fall of the wall because of the king's failing health, there was little to withstand the onslaught of MTs and sudden daemons at night. The once city that never slept, was slowly becoming the battlegrounds between the last stand of Insomnia's rebellion against Niflheim. The abandoned apartments of Insomnia were perfect for hiding out. The streets and other buildings not being used for residency were useful for urban warfare. The remaining Kingsglaive would give the Niflheim a run for their money, and what Gladio would give to be right alongside them.

Over the course of the years, their numbers waned, and now it was just a handful of rebels left. The worst part of it all, their leader and rightful king of Lucis was killed earlier that week. Moral was low and it was tough trying to keep everyone from sinking. Thankfully he had Iris there to remind him of why he was fighting and why they needed to pull through with this asinine plan. In truth, Gladio should have been with the prince, considering he was the prince’s shield, but things had changed.

“You have a what? Come on, Iris. You’re only now telling me?” Gladio sighed, forgetting about his meal for a moment as mediocre as it was. How could he know anything about a boyfriend when his sister just now decided to tell him that she was seeing someone for months.

“What? I couldn’t have told you till now. You’d go and find him and beat him up, Gladdy. I don’t want that,” she said, smirking. “Besides, you had more important things to deal with.”

Gladio could see it, the unshed tears starting to gloss his sister’s eyes as her smile wavered. Of course, she’d wait till the last fucking minute to tell him about a boyfriend. He wasn't around to really be there for her in the last few months. Not with the Niffs drawing closer and closer and his detail of protecting the prince. Not to mention he and their dad were fighting about the cryofreeze they wanted to put him under in hopes of a better future.

'You are a shield and part of the house Amicitia, Gladiolus. Start acting like it.’

Was his father’s way of saying there was nothing more to discuss, despite Gladio being old enough to make his own choices. But this decision was not coming from his father, it was coming from the head of the Kingsglaive along with the Crownsguard now. It was an order to a soldier and not a son. Perhaps he resented that part of his father, wishing that he wasn’t the head of both the Kingsglaive and Crownsguard, the ones everyone were looking to for hope when the king fell.

The two hadn’t spoken since. Gladio too furious at his own dad for wanting to freeze him because of a prophecy their king had before his death, and Clarus-- well who knew what his dad was thinking.

“Nothing's more important than you, moogs,” Gladio reached over ruffled her hair. “But if he’s not treatin’ you right, you tell dad, yeah?”

She nodded, sniffling. “I-I’m going to miss you.”

“Me too, Iris. Me too. Trust me, if I didn’t have to, I would stay right here.” Gladio rubbed the back of his neck. He hated making his sister cry, or even just on the verge of tears. How was he supposed to protect anyone if he couldn’t even keep his kid sister from crying?

“I-I’ll write letters, and maybe even record something for you. You’ll just have to find it, kay?” Iris said, tears now spilling over her eyes.

She hiccuped before flinging her arms around Gladio and cried. He patted her head and held her. Even if she did those things, there was no telling if he’d actually be able to find them. But for her sake he nodded, afraid his voice would crack if he tried to speak. If only she could have come with him. She would have been able to keep him in check and give him something worth fighting for, but it just wasn’t possible. Instead, it would just be him and Noct. He cleared his throat when she finally let go of him.

“Good. Now, did ya make your favourite brother dessert?”

Laughing, she shook her head with an apologetic look. “No. They didn’t have what I needed…..sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry about.” Gladio pushed his plate aside, no longer all that hungry.  

He hugged her once more, wanting to convey to her how much he loved her and that no matter the time or distance he always would. He practically raised her when their dad wasn’t around and now that things would only get worse from here on out, he didn’t want her to be alone. Holding her, he had a feeling it would be the last time he’d get a chance to do it. She would grow up while he remained a frozen corpse essentially until they woke him up again.

If he was ever woken up. This was more like a suicide mission really, if no one actually woke him or Noct back up. The thought sent a shudder through him. None of this was to his liking, but with his sister next to him, he finally drifted to sleep. They slept like that until Clarus came to fetch his son the next morning.


“Gladiolus,” Clarus said before sighing.

Gladio ignored him as they walked down the corridor that led to the cryovat chamber. They were several floors below the basement of a building that had served as some sort of science tech lab before Niflheim decided to invade. The way he saw it, the making of the cryovat made Gladio wonder if maybe this was a plan the crown had all along, since the beginning of the invasion. To throw the prince into a cryostasis because they fucked up too much to actually win. He knew he was being bitter and didn’t care.

“You know why you must be the one.” Clarus put a firm hand on Gladio’s shoulder, who was ready to all about shrug it off, but didn’t when he looked up at his dad. “Noct knows you. Your vats are synced up. If he wakes up, so do you and he’ll need you. Along with this.”

Clarus held up a ring. It was small in his father’s large hand. The metallic black held the image of the royal seal of Lucis. In the middle of the seal was an icy blue crystal. Gladio took it gingerly. The only way his dad could have gotten a hold of the ring was to be with King Regis when he died or sought the body after he was killed. Or had King Regis given Clarus the ring before he was killed? So many questions and there was hardly any time for answers. Whatever the answer was, he just hoped that Noct wouldn’t ask him later.

“That is the ring of Lucii and very important if you are going to help his high- his majesty win back the war later.” Gladio could see the pain behind his dad’s eyes. Noct was technically king now, not that the kid acted like it. Not yet anyway, but Gladio would help him. “Everything has been put in place, except your willingness to go.”

“Can you blame me?” Gladio asked shrugging out of his dad’s grip. He glanced to his dad as they made their way into the room that held the cryovat.

“No.”

Gladio sighed, stuffing the ring into the pocket of his pants, much to his father’s chagrin. The air in the room was chilly, but he knew in moments he would be much colder. People flitted about, working on machines he couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Not that it mattered. He didn’t really want to know what the hell they were doing; Gladio preferred the weight of metal in his hand or a good book. Would they have books when he woke up? He sure as hell hoped so. Maybe they should have packed some gear or something and left it in the room for them? Not like his dad actually told him the plan for how they were supposed to wake up aside from the fact they were going to wake up.  

“I’d rather stay and fight, but if Noct needs me fine. I’ll do this.” Gladio stripped himself of the jacket he wore and shirt, knowing that the pants and the shoes were about the only thing coming with him.

The tattoos he got when he joined the Kingsglaive and then later the Crownsguard were revealed. Nothing new to him and Clarus, Gladio could feel the technician’s gaze on his arms. The feather tattoos had been Nyx’s idea, and Gladio had to admit they were pretty nice to look at. What would the future think of his tattoos? Not that it mattered, they were more for him in the first place, just like his father had a pendant of his usual broadsword hanging around his neck. The technician applied pads to his chest when Clarus cleared his throat. Gladio distracted himself by looking at his dad.

“J-Just….keep everyone safe. Kay? And make sure you check on Iris every once in a while, she misses you.”

And I won’t be around to pick up the slack anymore.

“I’ll do my best Gladio.” Clarus came forward with quick strides when the technician was finished hooking Gladio up. He could feel his dad’s love through the hug, strong and a bit hesitant. Neither of them wanted this, but it was the only way to secure the future. Gladio just hoped he and Noct didn’t fuck it up. If they couldn’t do it now with his dad and Cor, he wasn’t so confident they could do it in the future either.

“I’ll do my best too...dad,” Gladio said, a lump forming in his throat.

“Time to--”

Sirens blared to life. Shit, Astrals take him, those fucking Niffs had somehow gotten into the cryovat building. Gladio made to grab for his clothes, screw being put into the cryovat. He would fight alongside his dad. They could put the ring in the cryovat alone for all he cared.  But Clarus held out a hand and shook his head.

“I’ll make sure they don’t get this far. Get into the vat, now.” Clarus assumed his role as head of the Kingsglaive and the Crownsguard. Gladio didn’t want to part like this, but the order was there and he had been raised to follow orders. “Please... So they can start the process. And Gladio….no matter what happens, I’m proud of you.”

Gladio bit back the tears, watching his dad walk away. Niflheim would pay for what they had done and going to do. Letting it all go, Gladio turned his attention to the machine that would be his home for an insurmountable time. It was large and rather crass compared to some of the tech Insomnia had produced in the past, but then this tech was still fairly new. The large chamber released small puffs crystalized air as it was opened. One of the techs helped him inside, hooking up the remainder of the cables to the machine. When everything was good, the door closed. It took all of Gladio’s will to push down the sudden fear of the enclosed space.

This wouldn’t be the end. He would get woken up again. He had a job to do and he was going to do it. Wait for Noct to wake the fuck up and then kick some ass. A cold crept through him as the air around him began to crystallize as if Shiva herself was freezing him. He watched outside the little window from the vat. He could see the technicians scurry this way and that, shouting something or other. The lights flickered, but the power to the vat stayed the same. Gladio wanted nothing more than to rip open the door, but when his hand went to feel for the handle, he quickly realised there was none. He was trapped until someone would open it for him.

Panicked, he tried to steady his breathing, but it hurt. Gods did it hurt. His breath came out in short bursts of crystallized air. Slowly his body began to shiver and after another minute or so, he couldn’t even feel his legs anymore. He didn’t dare look down at them, panic and fear making him wish he had never set foot in this damned thing. Instead, he focused on the commotion outside the window through his ragged breathing.

Right as his hands started to go numb, he saw it, his father come barreling through the door. Someone had pushed him. Rage and anger filled him, seeing his dad get tossed by some Niff trash. The old man had better get up. Some of the technicians pulled out weapons of their own, coming to his dad’s rescue. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to move his hands to bang on the door of the vat, calling out to his dad.

It was just so damn hard to keep his eyes open.

Fucking Six.

It was just too damned cold.  

Chapter Text

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.

Pain.

Right, his lungs felt like they were on fire with every breath he took.

In.

Out.

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?

Dad.

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-”

“Noct?”

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.


Beep.

Beep. Beep.

Beep. 

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?

Fuck.

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?”

“Gl-Gladio’s fine.”

“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--”

“W-What?”

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.

“Here.”

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.

Dad.

Iris.

Crownsguard.

Kingsglaive.

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.

“--Gladiolus.”

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.

Chapter Text

Gladio regained his strength and retained his body heat without needing extra clothing or the thermal blankets after the second day. The moment Gladio was given the go-ahead, he started his usual routine of stretching and limbering out his stiff body. A thousand years certainly had not been kind in that regard, but after the third day, he was feeling at least somewhat better. Ignis brought him clothes, showing him to a shower they had brought the second day Gladio was more fully awake. They warned him about taking too hot of a shower before leaving him.

The clothes, while not exactly his usual Crownsguard uniform, were comfortable enough. Supple leather pants and a fitted shirt accompanied by combat boots and a set of boxers and socks. Well, it was better than what he had before. His Shield tattoo peaked out where his shirt stopped, but that didn’t bother him. Not really. It was meant to be seen and meant to warn people to step the hell away from him or anyone he was with. Every shield from the Amicitia family had gotten something either a tattoo, a pendant, badge, whatever to show exactly who they were. Though the Amicitia genes probably did more for him than the tattoo. Even his father had a tattoo of the bird with wings wide open on his shoulder. Apparently, his old man had worn more sleeveless shirts than even Gladio. Slicking back his hair, he noticed at least he didn’t need to cut it for a while, guess being frozen had some perks. Though, it looked like he could do with a bit of a shave. Maybe he could ask Ignis for some stuff.

The week passed in a flurry of trying to get his body back into condition and watching over Noct. Ignis and Prompto were in and out throughout the week, making sure the pretense they had come up with was kept when it came to their scientist. Gladio still wasn’t sure about all of this, but he was going to be damned if he was going to stay in this room for one more day. Aside from sitting still, he hated having to hide like this. The four walls around him were starting to get rather cramped, but he couldn’t leave with Noct still asleep.

No one said what they speculated, but Gladio was starting to worry if fears of Noct ever waking up were going to be confirmed one day. The prince was known for napping, but this was getting ridiculous, but then there had been that one time. Gladio shoved the thought away as he straightened his form a bit and focused on his push-ups. He had worked up a decent sweat and working on a cool down.

“Good afternoon, Gladio. I’m glad to see that you are able to move around without too much trouble,” Ignis stood in the doorway, shifting his glasses. Gladio noticed the slight twinge to the assistant’s cheeks but figured it was from walking here from the city. Apparently, Ignis had explained earlier that week, the climb from cryovat building to the city was a bit of a distance. “Have the doctors finished clearing you?”

‘Yeah, perfect bill of health. More than I can say for sleeping beauty though.”

Gladio knew he was being bitter and irritable, but he couldn’t help it. A week in a room without windows, or any sense of what was going on outside of the room was really grating on him. He still couldn’t pull his sword from the Amiger, so he was forced to continue to strengthen his core. Without some form of protection, Gladio knew he would need to be ready to protect Noct with his own body for when he finally woke up. Still, he couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t get access. Was it because of Noct, or was it because of King Regis?

“That’s not fair, Gladio and you know that,” Ignis said with a sigh.

“Fair or not, I’ve been stuck in this room. Noct hasn’t woken up, and I’m damn tired of just standing here doing nothing.”

Gladio practically prowled the room he was confined to. Ignis could have compared him to a behemoth if he hadn’t felt a twinge of guilt. The medical team had already alerted him to Gladio’s foul mood. Perhaps it was time he let Gladio see what the outside world looked like now after a thousand years. He bit his lip, wondering if he really should let Gladio go out. They would have to go through Insomnia first and foremost and then come back down through Insomnia to get back here. Was Gladio ready to face that?

“Gladio would you--” he stepped closer to the Shield, putting a hand on the other’s shoulder. “Would you join me for a walk? You’ll want to put on the jacket, it’s rather cold out there and we can’t have someone recognize you’re not from here because of your skin.”

“My skin? What’s wrong with my skin?” Gladio was not in the mood for half baked truths today and frankly, he didn’t give a damn about hurting Ignis’s feelings at the moment either. He shrugged out of the comforting hand to face him.

Gladio was taller, but then he was used to towering over people. He was an Amicitia after all. Still, Ignis wasn’t small by any means and if the grip he felt the past week and the way he had gotten him out of the cryovat, Ignis wasn’t weak either. But if Ignis thought they weren’t going to be butting heads or Gladio was just going to follow everything Ignis wanted, he had another thing coming. Gladio didn’t follow blindly.

“If you haven’t noticed, Prompto and I are both fairly light skinned. When Insomnia fell, according to history, so too did daylight. The nights grew longer until there was no sunlight. Since then, people have had to make due with artificial light. When it comes back, we will all have to adjust to the actual sunlight again. Since you’ve been frozen, your skin has not had to go through the lack of sunlight. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb, I’m afraid. And while I trust our little city, there is always the chance that someone loyal to the empire will spot you.”

There was no sunlight? Ignis and Prompto had never seen a sunset or even a sunrise? Their world was just dark? “W-Wait, what do you mean? Why is it night? Wasn’t that connected to the Starscourge?”

“It was and still is. Gladio, we haven’t solved the problem of the Starscourge completely. We've only been able to reverse the effects of those who are infected but not yet turned.” Ignis leaned against the wall, watching Gladio. “Why don’t we continue this while we head to the city. Talk like this scares the medical team and I dare say you could do with a bit of fresh air.”

Grunting in response, Gladio grabbed the jacket he supposed would have gone knee length for most, but only to his own waist. It covered up his tattoo and skin. Ignis handed him a pair of leather gloves and a hat. Gladio didn’t like hiding. He wasn’t a spy, he wasn’t some outlaw, and yet he here he was. He technically was supposed to be dead and the only place he could even think to call home was supposedly gone. Begrudgingly he put on what Ignis gave him and then followed him out of the room.

Unlike when his father had taken him down, Gladio found there were broken down stairs they used instead of the elevator. Who knew if the elevator was still operational? Or maybe, just maybe, they didn’t know how to use it? You needed a code to get it working, especially to come down here, but the stairs worked too. He could use the exercise honestly.

“The Starscourge, did you ever figure out what it truly was?” Ignis asked, shifting his glasses as he led Gladio through the building.

“We didn’t. All we knew was the Oracle had the power to cure it. If King Regis or anyone else knew, they didn’t tell Noct or me.” Gladio grunted. His legs protested a little as they started their incline. At least he was moving now, he could focus on the way his body moved instead of how helpless he was in the room.

“Right.” Ignis seemed accustomed to the climb making Gladio wonder how many times had he come down here? “The Starscourge is actually an organism which takes away the light. People have described it as “drinking the light” away. I don’t think they’re wrong necessarily, since many of the victims, start showing signs of darkening and black skin, along with a black fluid coming from the body. Once the scourge takes over the body completely, the person turns into a daemon.”

Ignis glanced back when he didn’t hear the familiar sound of Gladio’s boots. The Shield had stopped, staring at him with his mouth agape.

“Are you kidding? Those things? Those creatures were human once? How the hell--” Gladio ran a hand over his face. Ignis frowned, unsure of why such news would come as a surprise. “You said the cure you have doesn’t actually reverse this, right? So, with no daylight and you telling me about the daemons, then it means that you still have issues with it."

Ignis nodded, eyes working towards the conclusion that Gladio and the others from Insomnia had fought daemons but knew nothing of their origins.

"Great. Another thing to add to my growing list of shit to worry about.” Gladio started walking again. Just another damned thing to mull over until Noct woke up.

Ignis hummed. “You won’t have to worry about daemons until you leave the city. For some reason, Insomnia is one of the few places daemons dare not to venture after it’s fall. We’re still not exactly sure why though.”

The way Ignis spoke, Gladio knew he couldn’t fault the guy. They were just part of two different worlds. Insomnia was his home and standing strong before he was put on ice. Ignis was trying to spare him, Gladio could tell, but the way Ignis spoke, it was clear Insomnia was just history. Insomnia was just a pile of ruins. But nothing could have fully prepared Gladio for what he saw when they stepped through the front doors of the cryovat building and into the streets of Insomnia.

What Gladio remembered and felt was just yesterday, was nothing to what it was now. Standing at the entrance of the building, all he could do was stare. He had grown up on these streets. Played and goofed off with others. He drank with the Glaives at certain bars. He even picked up his sister from some dance studio a few streets away. All of it. It was just all gone. Where once tall buildings stood, with streets winding this way and that to connect all of Insomnia, lay in ruins. Even the more crowded areas he could remember where the Glaive stayed, or the barracks of some of the Crownsguard, it was all different. There was no music coming from the streets and vendors he used to frequent. No car engines purring as they drove past. There was no sound of the wall guards or anyone he knew. It was deadly silent, save the humming of the large floodlights that illuminate the path Ignis wanted them to take.

“Gladio....if you need time--”

“We should keep moving.” He would have to face this some time or another. Now or never, so he could start to move forward. “Insomnia fell, and it won’t be coming back the same way. Not when you said something was built on top of it.”

Ignis stayed quiet but kept close as he followed the floodlights. Gladio was grateful, not really wanting to talk about the Starscourge or Insomnia anymore, not when his home looked like this. Mostly though, he just didn’t trust his voice not to break. Not when he saw all the destruction Niflheim had done to his home. What the Starscourge had done to the people he loved.

All of this was just too much for the Shield, but if he just shoved it down, at least for now, everything would be okay. But this wasn’t just someplace he didn’t know. This was his home. Some of the roads were still there from what Gladio could see in the pitch black of night and the black structure that was built overhead. As they walked there were pieces of buildings and craters in the streets, things they had to avoid. The way Ignis took them, it was to one of the main roads that would lead out of the city. Overhead, he could barely make out a distinct dome structure thanks to the floodlights. It was solid, yes, but what was it made out of? How would Noct react to all of this? Gladio barely took it in because of how dark it was and focused on anything but who might have lived there or if he recognized a storefront at all.

“.....Fucking, Six.” Gladio’s breath hitched at seeing the remains of his own home thanks to a floodlight.

Breathe.

In.

Out.

His fucking home was half destroyed and in ruins. Iris. Jared. Talcott. Shit. He couldn’t keep it together. The tears started again as he sank to the ground. Ignis turned when he heard the curse. Staring in the direction Gladio looked, he pursed his lips.

“Gladio....” Ignis reached out but let his hand fall. How was he supposed to comfort the Shield? There was nothing he could say, no consolation that might provide some hope. This happened a thousand years ago. “Gladio, it’s best not to dwell on this. At least not yet.”

The Shield looked up at Ignis, eyes filled with confusion before his brows knitted together and Ignis knew he had said the wrong thing.

“Not dwell on this? Shit, Ignis! Yesterday I was fucking around with the Glaives and making plans to go out drinking at the bar that was just down the road from here.” He stood, clenching his fists, but Ignis didn’t move. “That house--That’s my house. How can I not dwell on it! My family is gone. My home is gone! How the fuck should I feel?”

Ignis looked away from Gladio lips a thin line. He expected Gladio to crack, but now he had to choose his words carefully if he was going to get the Shield to come around again.

“Gladio, grieve all you like, but it won’t change the circumstances. If you dwell on this, put the blame on yourself or the empire, or whoever, you’ll spiral deep to a path you’ll not come away from unscathed. Revenge does things to a person. His highness needs you when he wakes, but not someone who is bent on only revenge and doesn't think with a clear head.”

“If he wakes,” Gladio said through clenched jaws.

“Gladiolus! Listen to your--”

“I wouldn’t say another word Ignis.” Gladio drew up to his full height, eyes narrowed. “You won’t like what happens next.”

“Is that a threat? For fuck's sake.” Ignis sighed. He rolled up his sleeves, staring at Gladio from above his glasses. “You won’t listen to reason, will you? No, you’re the type that needs to be reminded you aren’t at the top of the class.”

Gladio clenched his fists. How dare Ignis think he can lecture him. Neither of them knew shit about each other.

“If that’s how you wish this to go, Gladiolus. Just remember, I did not want it to come to this. But it seems you think I don’t care. When I know what it’s like to lose those close to you. I might not understand what it must be like to see your homes in ruins like this, but then I’ve never really had a place to call home.”

What? Gladio let go of the breath he seemed to have held without him realizing. Ignis watched him, rather unimpressed, but Gladio relaxed a little. What the hell was he doing? Ignis had done nothing but try to help him and this was how he returned his thanks? He rubbed his hand over his face, letting out a long sigh, the anger was suddenly gone.

“I....I’m sorry,” he said, not looking at Ignis. “I just--”

“It’s a lot to take in. I understand that much, Gladio.” Ignis seemed satisfied with Gladio’s lack of rushing at him to step closer again. “Listen, you can grieve and you can yell and be mad at the world, but it won’t change what has happened. But you and his highness obviously have something you must do otherwise you wouldn’t have been put into the cryovat. You have a job, Gladio.”

He nodded. Of course, he had a job to do. Gladio wiped the tears from his eyes. He didn’t know how to really come to terms with all of this, but Ignis was right. It was the duty of the prince to keep moving forward and Gladio would have to do the same.

“Walk tall....”

“Excuse me?” Ignis asked, rather confused.

“It’s what his majesty would say so those who left to go on a mission. He’d tell them to walk tall.” Gladio gave the man a half smile. “I shouldn’t have....threatened you like that. You’re only trying to help.”

Ignis nodded. “Then we should best be on our way. There are makeshift stairs from where this road leads out of Insomnia. The city is just above us, where we can find Nyx.”

Gladio followed Ignis’s lead once again. Though he couldn’t help but glance back at his home.

Missing a step, he realized that he needed to go back to his house. At least once. There would be the family armoury there. If he couldn’t summon anything from the Amiger, at least he’d have a weapon to defend himself from daemons. He didn’t care if Ignis thought they were safe here if it was perpetually dark, no place was safe. Besides, Ignis was right, he had a job to do. Protect Noct and in turn the people who were left to the fate of Niflheim and for that his resolve strengthened.

“Hey, Iggy? C-Can you just talk about something? Anything’s fine. Just something.”

“If you’re sure,” Ignis said, continuing on the road, careful of a small crater. Gladio stared at Ignis’s back so he didn’t have to look down in the crater and see something that might trigger more memories. “Well, since you’ve been asleep for so long, why don’t I talk to you about the city a bit.”

“Sure.” He could see the muscles pulling and straining of Ignis’s back as they made the steady climb up towards where the old wall of Insomnia still held in parts.

“The history between Insomnia and the creation of the city that started as a small outpost is hazy at best, but from what Nyx and I have gathered, it seems the city is where the current resistance started. We had no idea about Insomnia bellow it’s depths, but we found that the area was free of daemons. As I've stated before we don't know why, but we took it as a sign that this place would be safe.’ Ignis glanced back. “I say we, but I mean the people who started the city almost 800 years ago.”

Gladio nodded, trying not to look at the buildings they passed. "What about before the outpost? Was there any sort of rebellion then?"

"I'm afraid, I can't say. Our knowledge of history isn't that clear during that time frame. Apparently, before Tandem was founded, there was only Lestalum that remained from the original towns of Lucian territory."

If he focused on Ignis's voice, everything didn't feel like it was crushing around him. Not to mention he caught Ignis looking at him with those concerned green eyes of his.

“The world was plunged in darkness, Niflheim included, but they were prepared for the daemons and anything else that might have happened as if they were aware of it. Regardless, the city started off like any other, just trying to protect it’s people. Now though, it is the unofficial start of the Daemon Hunters. They protect the people when they can, but mostly they are considered hunters of the daemons.”

Gladio furrowed his brows. Start of the hunters? "Wait, Ignis. There were already hunters when Insomnia was...well you know. What happened to them?"

"Hmm. We weren't aware that there were. I did say our research had holes and gaps. Perhaps something happened to the original band of Hunters.”

The two came upon the man-made steps Ignis warned of. Looking up, Gladio took a deep breath. It would be a bit of a climb and his legs were already starting to hurt from just the trek here. He really needed to get back into training his tired muscles. He nodded for Ignis to continue when the other glanced at him as if calculating if Gladio needed a break or not. The steps were made from clay, but they were well used, meaning Ignis and the others came down here pretty frequently. Did they check Insomnia as someone would ruins? No, he didn’t want to think about that right now.

“--Nyx always did say that they served a purpose here.”

Shit. Ignis had kept talking. “Um...What about you? Are you part of the Hunters?”

“Me? Gods no. I’m a man of the sciences, not of a man to go traipsing about after daemons. No, I’ll leave that one to Nyx. He’s much better suited that I am.” Ignis gave Gladio a smile. “But I do know the signs, and I do help them when they need something.”

Gladio didn’t believe that for one minute. Ignis was ready to tussle with him earlier as if he were confident enough to know he could beat Gladio in a fight. There was no way someone confident enough for that didn’t go out and help the Hunters with fighting daemons, but Gladio said none of this. If Ignis didn’t want to tell him everything that was fine, so long as it didn’t hinder Noct and the mission they were on, whatever that mission now was. His legs hurt, muscles he supposed that haven't been used for a thousand years and encased with ice, he couldn't expect his body to react the same way it normally would.

“Signs?” Gladio could tell Ignis was slowing down to match Gladio's steps for his sake, to which he was eternally grateful.

"Yes, the Hunters have certain signs to show where their loyalty lies. Those who wear certain badges or who make certain gestures are loyal to the resistance. I did mention the resistance started here. Over the last two hundred years, we have certainly expanded, but we’re still without a way of bringing about the dawn. But now that we know you and his Highness are here, I’m sure the Hunters will have a different outlook.”

Ignis waved his hand to dismiss the comments, but Gladio could see the hope behind Ignis’s glasses. They had all been fighting to preserve themselves without any real promise of finding the answer to the empire and the Starscourge. Gladio looked away, not sure if Noct and he would even be able to provide that. They didn’t know any secrets that might help and if the Astrals knew, they were certainly quiet about it all.

"Hasn't the empire caught on to it?" Gladio asked, trying to find some badge or way of knowing that Ignis was part of the resistance.

"Gladio, we've been around for two hundred years, we know how to hide things well enough. Do you see the symbol on my back? Within it, and only if you look closely and know where to look you will find a crest the resistance first found in some book. Nyx said it was from the Kingsglaive? But perhaps you would know better than us." Ignis shrugged out of his lab coat as he came to a stop. He pointed out the crest in the symbol.

Sure enough, Gladio recognized the crest of the Kingsglaive. Insomnia might have been in ruins, but it’s people weren’t. That much was clear when he traced the pattern of some symbol that’s on the labcoat Ignis was wearing. The motif of Insomnia was there even if it was combined with that of Niflheim. He wondered if Ignis knew? Where there other signs of Insomnia still out there now? Catching Ignis watching him, Gladio looked down at the ground, his cheeks burning.

"Did you know what they did?" Gladio asked, as he handed the coat back to Ignis and they continued walking.

"I'm afraid not. We know they were an organization, but other than that nothing. Much of Insomnia's history before the fall was either burned or left in rubble." Ignis watched Gladio's face twist in discomfort, but at least the Shield was holding on.

"The Kingsglaive were a group of people who were....outlanders as some called them. They were from Lucian territories whose homes were destroyed by the Niffs. They sought refuge in Insomnia and a lot of them went into the service of the Kingsglaive for various reasons. They used the magic the king offered to them to be able to warp and use magic themselves, but they had to learn how to. Drautos was the head of them." Gladio supposed if he couldn't access the Amiger, he doubted any of the Glaives could have accessed that power either if there were any. With what Ignis told him, he doubted they had, perhaps Niflheim had gotten rid of them all.  

"Magic? Fascinating. Do you possess this power as well?" Ignis asked, pulling out a little notebook from one of the pockets on his lab coat.

"Not at the moment. I think since freezing, that power is supposed to pass on to Noct, but since he hasn't touched the crystal or worn the ring, he doesn't have that power yet." Gladio wondered if they would get that power back if Noct wore the ring. 

"I see. Well, let's hope we can wake his highness. I'd very much like to see this magic in action. Though, if the crystal is involved somehow, then there might be a problem. The crystal lies in Niflheim." Ignis watched Gladio, waiting for him to grow in despair, but the Shield only sighed.

"If that's the case, then we have a long road ahead of us."

Gladio's breathing was laboured by the time they reached the top of the stairs with a thin layer of sweat settling on his skin.

"Though, I honestly can say I don’t understand much about magic. I was only part of the Kingsglaive for a short period of time before I was put at the task of being the Prince's Shield. I had different lessons to learn then."

Ignis hummed as he punched in a code on a panel to make the metal door before them open, letting in a cool breeze that felt wonderful against his flushed cheeks. Motioning for Gladio to go through first, the Shield stepped up and into the night sky and open land.

Instead of the barren lands surrounding Insomnia, Gladio found that bits of forestry had started to reclaim the land again. Perhaps the fall of Insomnia meant that the land could repair itself from the harm that the Lucians and Niffs had done to the land. Seeing the trees, and feeling the breeze for Gladio felt like the first time in a long time. Sure they wind and breezes in Insomnia, but there was just something about the outdoors like this that really helped to relax the mind. He loved camping, and his father had taken him a few times, it was nothing like this. Those times were orchestrated and in special environments.

"Enjoying the view?" Ignis asked, closing the door. "We keep it sealed with a code only we know so that no one else can get in."

Gladio nodded, still drinking in his surrounding. "Though I gotta ask. How are the trees still alive? Don't they need sunlight?"

"From what I've read, and heard, the plants of somehow adopted. Though we're not completely without sunlight, more like the miasma from the daemons seem to block out the sun. Many have speculated the Starscourage lives within the miasma and that's how people are infected."

Ignis smirked, knowing the Shield had not even turned around yet. When Gladio did, the awe in his turned into complete and utter surprise.

"What the--" Gladio smacked Ignis on the arm, sending the poor man pitching forward. "Iggy, you said this was supposed to be a city. This almost as big as Insomnia!" 

There were plenty of buildings, though none of them had the same regal appearance as Insomnia once held. These were more crudely built, but safe enough to house in. Lights illuminated the city from the middle to the outside with floodlights, probably to keep the daemons and other creatures at bay. Smoke rose above the structures, sending wonderful smells of food that Gladio hadn't had for a week. Oh, they were going to hit a vendor or two before they headed back down to Noct. There was some music, but the biggest difference Gladio loved about this place, there were people. Laughter, conversations, yelling, everything! It wasn't deathly quiet, or silent to leave him with only his thoughts. This place was alive. The world had succumbed to the darkness, but the people were still very much alive and thriving.

Iggy laughed, a sound that had Gladio stare at him. He straightened his glasses, watching Gladio.

"It is an outpost. A rather large one, at least on a map. Not everyone needs to know just how large we've gotten over the years. Forgive me, I thought you might enjoy seeing it for yourself instead of me trying to describe it to you. The less Niflheim knows the better. Come on, we need to get through the residential area before we get to Nyx." Pulling out a phone, Ignis texted Nyx now that he had reception. "By the way Gladio, why are you calling me Iggy?"  

Chapter Text

Cup noodles, read the sign that Gladio stared at for a solid minute as Ignis went on about some of the functions of their “little outpost", named Tandem. When was the last time he had cup noodles? He couldn’t remember, but after everything that happened within the last week, it seemed ages ago. Iris had cooked the last real food he had eaten, and before that he was on a pretty strict diet because of his training. To have cup noodles, well it was a treat, to say the least. He really felt like he could use a comfort right now and cup noodles just sounded amazing. Not to mention the heat it would bring.

Despite what Ignis told him about the outside being cold, Gladio didn’t get it. Insomnia was never really a cold place, just during the winter months where there might have been a few passes of snow if any. But other than mild weather, it didn’t get that hot either except the few weeks in the summer months. Those were almost unbearable. With the excitement of finding Tandem being nothing like what he was imagining, Gladio could feel the cold. The bodies in the streets and the vendors with various foods, cooking helped with the heat, but he could still feel the cold. Without the sun to heat everything up, Gladio guessed the world had gotten a bit colder. He shifted the coat Ignis had given him a little as he read the sign again. Yeah, cup noodles really did sound amazing right now.

“--assign groups that way,” Ignis said as he stopped. It was only then he noticed Gladio had stopped walking to stare at the sign. He tsked realising what it was before sighing. “Gladio, would you like to grab a cup before we head to over to Nyx? They did say you could have regular food.”

“Can we?” Gladio lit up, reminding Ignis that even if Gladio looked formidable and older, the Shield was still just in his early twenties. The Shield was human just like everyone else. He supposed the break down earlier should have proved that, but the way Gladio had picked himself up, Ignis was worried.

“Of course. You can eat it along the way.” Ignis shifted his glasses but made for the stand that sold the dish.

“Wait, do you still use gil? Shit, do I even have--”

“No need to fret, Gladio. Yes, we still use Gil, or when we can we tend to barter for what we need. Hunters are rather good at procuring things we normally can’t get in exchange for food or other necessities.” Ignis checked the menu, giving the vendor a polite nod.

“Ignis, it’s good to see you.” The vendor, a middle-aged man with greying hair leaned over the counter. He made few symbols with his hand on the counter, but his eyes never looked away from Ignis. “Listen, can you do me a favour? Can you put out another request on the hunter board for me? I’m running out of ingredients and the last man I asked hasn’t come back yet.”

“Oh? I can see what I can do.” Ignis seemed to sign something back, but Gladio couldn’t make heads or tails of what they were supposed to mean. He guessed that was the point, but if this place was for the resistance, why did they need to resort to signing the way they were? “Gladio?”

“Hmm?” Gladio said, mouth starting to water.

“Order whatever you wish,” Ignis raised an eyebrow, concerned if Gladio was going to end up spiralling again.

“One, Gladio. Order one cup noodle.”

“Yes sir, Marshal,” Gladio responded on reflex snapping to attention.

His body went rigid, eyes wide at the realization that the voice he just heard was actually there. It wasn’t some memory from before, scolding him on how much cup noodles had become his diet if he was too busy to cook. That voice had come from right behind him. But that meant--

Gladio turned around staring down at the man he had trained under since he could remember. Tears threatened to spill as he hugged the man he considered as a second father to him after his own. It was none to gentle by the way Cor gasped, but he returned it tenfold. Cor's usually stern face shifting slightly, giving way to the pressure of being the Marshal for once as hope once again filled his eyes that there would be a dawn. To see such a familiar face that wasn’t sleeping, it was almost too much for Gladio. Cor chuckled and it rumbled through his chest as he patted Gladio’s back. He was real.

“Yeah, yeah. Me too big guy. Now, hurry up and order your cup noodle. Ignis, never tell Gladio he can order what he wants, you’ll end up with double of everything,” Cor said, slipping out of Gladio’s hold the smirk now replaced with the usual serious grim expression. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too, Marshal.” Gladio ordered just one ultimate cup noodle before turning to Cor again. “Did you get put in a cryovat too? Or are you really that immortal?”

Cor flinched at the question, guilt flashing in his eyes. The older man sighed, turning to Ignis. There was a silent question there, but Gladio didn’t care. He knew the Marshal. Whatever passed between him and Ignis, Gladio was not going to question. If it was something he needed to know, Cor would tell him. Instead, Gladio was going to enjoy is cup noodle and the revelation that Cor was still very much alive. Giving his mentor a once over, Gladio noticed that the man didn’t look a day older than when he had last seen the man. If anything, he looked just the same. The only difference he could spot were the clothes he wore were slightly different from the general Crownsguard uniform he wore, his usually tanned skin was much paler, and the katana he normally carried around was different.

“Gladio....” Cor shifted his weight uneasily. “His Majesty decided that you and Noct would need a few people to help you with whatever awaited you two for the future. Obviously, he was right with the state of the world being what it is, but he didn’t tell us. I was just shoved into the thing, clothes and sword and all.”

There was a hint of bitterness towards the end. Had the sword not made it? Probably not, it would have been brittle and fragile from all the cold and the ice. It was why most of the Glaives only used ice as magic through their gloved hands instead of on the blades unless it was tempered to handle the cold. Gladio wasn’t too sure if the katana Cor used was tempered in that way. The only other reason Gladio could think of why Cor was bitter was simply because he had been with King Regis through thick and then and then to suddenly shoved into a cryovat-- Well, Gladio could understand the feeling.

“Who else was frozen?” The vendor handed Gladio the ultimate cup noodle as Ignis paid for it. Gladio eyed Ignis, wondering why the man had kept silent about finding Cor, or the fact that he looked to be awake a lot longer than Gladio had been.

“Not sure. There was another cryovat hooked up to mine, like you and his highness, but Ignis said there was no one. So I don’t know. Could be that the person it was meant for never got there in time.” Cor shrugged. “Where is his highness? Still sleeping?”

Gladio nodded. “He’s been asleep since they started treatment, according to Iggy and Prompto.”

“Yes. We can’t seem to arouse him, as much as we’ve tried. Come, we should get to Nyx. While it’s safe here, I also don’t want prying ears.” Ignis signalled them to follow.

The streets were filled with people. Many were dressed in just simple shirts and pants, but there were those among them that wore what Gladio did. Ignis whispered it was to protect themselves from being interrogated by the local enforcers of the empire. Gladio hated hiding and the amount of clothing he wore now was starting to get irritating. He was used to open shirts, short sleeves, and showing off exactly who he was unless he needed to be in his Crownsguard uniform, but even that was stifling. At least with the uniform, he was able to move freely. The leather jacket Ignis gave him was supple enough, but it was slightly too small for him, meaning his arms made the fabric pinch in places that were just plain uncomfortable. Not that he would openly complain.

As Ignis wove them through the crowd, Gladio enjoyed his ultimate cup noodle. He sipped at the broth when he could and just let the comfort of having Cor and some actual food chase away the thoughts of Insomnia below. If Tandem could have looked like Insomnia, well Gladio could have slipped into thinking everything was fine again. But they weren’t. It was clear when he saw the way people looked at Ignis and the small party they were. Hands went to weapons and a strange look came across their faces. If Ignis knew about it, he didn’t say or do anything unless someone asked him specifically for something.

“So this is what you meant, earlier. Helping when you’re asked,” Gladio said after another vendor handed Ignis a paper that clearly had a request.

“Yes. While my employer certainly doesn’t care about Tandem, I do. At the moment it’s the only place Hunters are able to move freely enough since the empire could not be bothered with helping the locals. They’re only here to keep face. If they weren’t paid, I’d doubt any of them would stick around.” Ignis said, nodding in the direction of a group of small buildings and tents lined up to the left of them. “That is Hunter HQ. We have a board were one can find work, and inside is where you’ll find hunters who are either prepping to go or just coming back from a mission.”

“Nyx just came back from one about two hours ago.” Cor offered up as they drew closer.

The buildings were roughly the same size, but with their layout, the building Ignis seemed to be taking them to would no doubt be the official front of the hunters. The one closest to the tents was probably where supplies were kept and with the few men Gladio saw posted as guards, he supposed that was where weapons were stored as well. What the last building was used for was anyone’s guess.

“I spoke with him earlier. The man is a beast, I’ll give you that. If we could just access the king’s power--”

“Wait, you can’t do it either Marshal?” Gladio asked, eyes wide, staring at the Marshal. “Shit, I thought it was just me.”

“No. I couldn’t access the amiger at all and I don’t feel the usual magic either.” Cor glanced around them. “Until we get access to it again, you had better find yourself a weapon you will be fine with carrying on your person.”

“So my usual probably won’t be that great of an idea.”

Cor nodded. Ignis turned to the two rather amused.

“It seems you two are unaccustomed to having your weapons on hand?”

“Nothing like that, Iggy. We’re just used to pulling them from a pocket dimension of sorts. Or at least I am. You pretty much just carry your sword around when you're allowed, right, Marshal?” Gladio smirked, watching those green eyes go wide with curiosity.

"Something like that." Cor shrugged.

“Actually, I was wondering. Do you mind if we stop by my home before we go back to Noct? I want to see if the Amicitia vault is still there. It should have plenty of weapons, and whatever I don’t use, I’m sure dad....he’d want the hunters to use them too.” Gladio watched Ignis falter in his steps.

Ignis pursed his lips. Gladio knew the man had seen him at his worst just from seeing the building the way it was, but Gladio was driven by a force now to make sure Noct stayed safe. Cor was here too, so his mental state was a bit better than before. He would deal with the pain the grief later. He needed to take action and Cor was right about needing a weapon.

“If you insist. Though Gladio, will you be okay, to go to your house?” Ignis asked, not sparing Gladio’s pride it seemed.

Gladio stiffened but nodded. With a sigh Ignis nodded, relenting. Gladio would be okay because he had Cor and Noct to look after. He would be okay because for what it was worth, Ignis would be there too. He could handle looking through the house to get something he needed to protect what mattered at the moment. He wasn't going to hide behind duty, but he sure as hell planned on using it to push forward.

“Very well, but now let's move before Nyx grows impatient with us. I’m sure someone already ran off to tell him about our coming,” Ignis said as he opened the door to the first building in the group of three.

Inside was just as busy as the streets Ignis led them through, but this was a familiar kind of busy. Gladio felt more at ease here than anywhere else so far. People were bustling around, calling out orders, trying to get people into groups. They were running between boards, putting up new papers and others grabbing ones that were already pinned. Some of the hunters were laughing, others were just sitting around waiting. He could feel the hum of excitement about a new hunt, and the dread and loss of others. But it never escaped him that he knew what this felt like because he had been part of this not too long ago. This was what it felt like to be among the Crownsguard and even more so the Kingsglaive.

It was amongst the throng of people, he saw one man in particular. He wore a simple tank top and pants that were tucked into boots, but the way he moved about, Gladio knew the guy had seen a battle or two. His hair was swept back in a manner much like Gladio’s but with braids at the side of his head coloured with blue feathers and beads. He was giving orders to the different men, but Gladio could tell it was putting him slightly at unease until those blue eyes caught sight of the three of them.

"Nyx," Ignis said, nodding as a few people parted to let the small group go through.

"Hey, Igs," Nyx said before turning to a group to his left. "Make sure you clear the pathway. If you don't, the refugees are going to come into contact with the daemons and they're mostly kids."

A round of 'yes, sir' came from the group before they headed off, leaving Nyx to entertain Ignis. Gladio noted that the two were roughly the same height, but where Ignis was lean and lithe, Nyx had more muscles and a bit more of a presence too. He would have done well as a Crownsguard or even a Kingsglaive if he had been around when Insomnia still stood.

"Glad you finally came back. I’m tired of giving these guys orders. Though, by the look of these two I don’t suppose you’ll be sticking around huh? I know Cor, but who's the big guy?" Nyx asked, a grin on his lips as he looked up at Gladio. He reached out a hand, which Gladio took. For a moment they, in turn, increased their grip until Nyx laughed. “Not bad.”

"This is Gladiolus Amicitia. He was one of the two we found in the cryovats. May we speak somewhere else?" Ignis asked.

"Sure," Nyx said with a shrug. "We can talk in my office."

Ignis nodded and followed. When they passed by one of the boards that held the offers to the hunters, Ignis paused to put a few of the flyers he had received up. One he kept in his hand. Cor seemed at ease among the hunters as they walked through the main room towards a corridor that was lined with doors. The hunters stepped out of their way, easily ignoring them to get ready for whatever it was they needed to. A few of the hunters waved or greeted the Marshal though. Gladio figured if Cor had been awake longer and already with a sword, the man had already helped some of the hunters out. Gladio could only hope that he would be just as useful in the coming days, but first, they needed to get Noct to wake up. Whatever the Astrals were thinking at this point, it was beyond Gladio's comprehension. Nyx led them to a room somewhere in the middle of the hallway and opened the door to usher them all in.

Inside was just a desk and a shelf that held a few books. The light in the room lit everything, but it was still an unsettling, unnatural light. Gladio was starting to miss the sun. Cor made for one of the walls and leaned against it. His katana hung at his hip as he crossed his arms and his expression just as serious as it always was. Ignis went to one of the chairs, putting the remaining flyer on the desk before easing back. Noticing that Gladio wasn't really sure where to be or what to do, Ignis pointed to the chair next to him. Sitting down, Gladio noticed the bags under Nyx's eyes when he sat behind the desk, but he smiled putting Gladio at ease.

"So, another one for you and Prompto?" Nyx asked, glancing at the paper. “Fuck, are you sure you can actually handle this?”

“Ye--”

"I thought you didn't help the hunters that way?" Gladio asked before Ignis could properly respond.

"He doesn't. Prom and Igs are on their own level, though I’m pretty much up there with them. You didn't tell him?" Nyx grinned slyly. “No, of course not. You’re too humble for that.”

"Tell me what?" Gladio glanced between Ignis and the Marshal. "Alright, I'm tired of being in the dark. I was shoved into a cryovat without so much as asking what I wanted. I wake up, don't get told much and then you keep Cor a secret too? Come on, give me a bone or something. I’ve been pretty patient"

Cor shifted but said nothing. He only pointed his chin toward Ignis, who was certainly calling the shots here much to Cor’s chagrin Gladio was sure. Glaring at Ignis, Gladio was starting to hate the way the guy seemed to be so calm and collected the entire time. Even now, with Gladio glaring at him, the man didn't seem all that phased.

"My apologies Gladio. I would have told you about Cor, but honestly, when you woke, he was helping a few hunters. I figured it was best to tell you when he was back, but then I didn't know he had gotten back until now," Ignis said. He shifted his glasses. "And yes, I don't help the hunters out unless they need me to. Otherwise, Prompto and I get requests for jobs that require a small team and something the hunters don’t necessarily offer."

"The vendor who was signing something with his hand," Gladio concluded with a huff.

"Precisely." He pointed to the paper. "Normally it involves the empire. That request is not to get ingredients, though I'm sure he is waiting for a truck. What he's talking about are those who are enslaved by the empire for being Lucian."

Gladio could feel the anger from Cor and then start to boil in himself. Even after a thousand years, the Niffs were still making life difficult. He balled his first up, trying to count backwards. Even if Ignis refused, they had to--

"Gladio, I know what you're thinking." He smiled gently. "As much as I appreciate the sentiment, Prompto and I can handle getting the Lucians free. You have to focus on helping his highness."

“Yeah, but if these people need help, I don’t think Noct would want us to ignore them either. And I know Cor has been helping, so let me help too.” Gladio wanted to be useful. He needed to do something other than just waiting for Noct to wake up.

“Gladio, Prompto and I are perfectly capable of handling things.” Ignis easily crossed his legs.

“Igs and Prom can use magic. They’re the only ones around here that can aside from the MTs that the empire sends, but that’s not truly magic. At least I don’t think it is,” Nyx said quietly, glancing around the office. “From what Cor told me, you and he are pretty used to that amiger stuff and magic right? Well, here you don’t have that. Instead, you get nothing but the skin on your own back. Igs and Prom can use some elemental magic, but it’s nothing like it should be, by Cor’s standards anyway.”

“....But magic was given only--”

“Exactly, Gladio. There’s something going on. I don’t know if its the Astrals or the damned crystal the empire has, but things are different. Our first priority is his highness. After that, I really don’t care what you do.” Cor gave Gladio a steady look that dared him to try and challenge what he said.

“So, that’s who you have holed up down there? Royalty?” Nyx barked a laugh. It was an attempt to break the silent battle of wills, Gladio was sure. “Should have known. You were always so quiet about who you found, but now I can understand. So, where is his highness? It’s obviously not this guy.”

Gladio scoffed, but let Ignis speak.

“Still asleep I’m afraid. I was wondering if perhaps you had any ideas as to why his highness might not wake up from being in a cyrofreeze? His vitals are fine, and everything about him suggests that he should have woken up like Cor and Gladio here.”

Nyx rubbed at his face, thinking. “Have you tried smelling salts or something else like that?”

“Yes, from smelling salts to anything I could think of”

“He was always prone to sleeping,” Cor said, eyes flicking between the three men. Gladio nodded. “His father had a hard enough time trying to get him to meetings and even go to school. Him sleeping might just be his body trying to cope with the cryofreeze?”

“But a whole week, Marshal?” Gladio asked. “It ain’t like him to sleep this much without at least waking up for food or even something to drink.”

“.....The only time he had this kind of trouble was before you met him, Gladio.” Cor stepped off the wall, arms falling at his side as he sighed, clearly tired. “He was in an accident, and a coma resulted from it. His Majesty said it was only by the Astrals help that Noctis was able to wake up. He never elaborated on that though.”

Nyx leaned back in his chair, a thoughtful expression. “The Astrals? No one has seen them or even felt any of their usual presences in this world in quite some time. Maybe they’ve finally given up on us.”

The four went silent. Ignis and Nyx held dark expressions on their face that Gladio couldn’t even begin to understand. When Gladio turned to look at Cor, his heart sank at seeing the defeat in Cor’s eyes, as if he knew something about the Astrals that none of them did. But before he could ask the Marshal about it, Nyx jumped up and out of his seat.

“But that does give me an idea. Igs, take these two back down to his highness. I’ll meet you down there. I think it’s time a new hero stepped into the limelight, don’t you?”

“Beg pardon?”Ignis looked just as confused as Gladio felt. “Nyx, where do you--”

“Just do it. Hopefully, I can find it. Give me two hours tops.” Nyx grinned as he practically bolted out of the room.

Gladio watched the man go before turning to Ignis. “He hasn’t lost it, has he?”

“No,” Ignis said quickly. “At least....I don’t think he has.”

“Well, then we better do as he says. Besides, we need to get Gladio equipped. I guess it’s back to Insomnia then.” Cor straightened. Gladio almost didn’t see the dark cloud in Cor’s eyes. Had he already seen Insomnia?

“Yes. Nyx has never let us or the hunters down. If he says he knows a way, then he does. Come along then. We’d best make haste to your house, Gladio.” Ignis stood up, his knees popping a little. Gladio wondered just how old Ignis was. He didn’t look much older than Gladio, but then who knew what to expect in this new future.


 

It turned out Cor had not seen Insomnia since the fall. Apparently, his cryovat had been taken some place else after he was frozen in it and Ignis had the foresight to hide the cryovat when they found Cor. So when they had gotten through the metal door stopping anyone from going into Insomnia, Cor had frozen. Gladio was afraid he would break down just as Gladio had, but instead, Cor had squared his shoulders and started leading the way back into Insomnia without a word. The trip to Gladio’s house was uneventful and the three hardly spoke, at least not until they reached the half caved in house.

“Where exactly is this vault at, Gladio?” Cor asked, moving aside a slab of concrete to allow them access into the house.

“In my dad’s room,” Gladio said as he helped Cor with positioning the slab. “I just hope it’s not under more of this shit.”

Cor grunted but followed Gladio through the house, helping where needed. Ignis brought up the rear, but didn’t offer any words. Gladio thought it weird, but then he watched as the guy gingerly ran his fingers on the spins of books or wiped the dust off pictures. Gladio didn’t bother to look at those things, keeping his eyes where they needed to be before he broke down again. His dad and sister might not be here anymore, but they were still with him in subtle ways. He would defend Noct to his last breath and damnit all if he wasn’t going to help bring back the dawn.

They found the door to the vault locked up tight behind another broken slab. Thankfully, it seemed no one had gotten in. Gladio held up his hand to where he knew the magic would be to unlock it. Within moments, there were gears turning and the door slide back. The inside was spacious, letting Gladio and Cor in while Ignis waited outside, rather enthralled by the mechanics of the door. There were weapons on racks and some hanging on the wall. There was even a broadsword Gladio would have liked to take with him, but without the amiger, it would be too much to carry around all the damn time. So he opted for a small buckle shield with the Amicitia crest on it and a single-handed blade. With the shield on his back and the sword at his hip, he went back out. Cor took quick stock of the weapons before rubbing at his chin.

“Ignis, come here. You use a polearm and daggers, yeah?” Cor called out as he checked the wall.

“Yes, though my weapons are--”

“Use these until I can get into the Crownsguard weapons room. These are better than what you have.” Cor handed Ignis a pair of daggers and the hostler for them. “Don’t refuse them like an idiot, you’ll need them to survive.”

Ignis nodded, holding them close as he stepped out. Gladio didn’t mind, knowing that each of the weapons here were going to people who needed them. The more people who could protect themselves and survive another day was another victory for them. Ignis quickly switched out his pair of daggers, holding onto the old pair.

“Keep them by the door for now. We can give them to someone else. Actually, Gladio, you head back with Ignis to his highness. I’m going to head to the Crownsguard vault and grab a few other things. I’ll meet you when I’m done. There might still be some vehicles we can use to haul this shit back up top too.”

Gladio smirked at seeing Cor take charge instead of Ignis, but the other didn’t seem to mind. While Ignis knew about the world above Insomnia and what had happened, Cor was still older and had experience. He also knew Insomnia just as well as Gladio did if not more so since he knew the ins and outs of the Citadel. For what it was worth, Gladio was glad to have the Marshal with them. Cor hadn’t taken anything else out of the vault, but then Gladio’s father had never been one to really use something like a katana. Broadswords were just something that ran through the family it seemed.

“I leave him in your care, Ignis.” Cor gave a curt nod before heading out of the house.

“Of course, Marshal,” Ignis said, giving a slight bow. He turned to Gladio. “Shall we head out?”

“Yeah....let me just see about one last thing.” Gladio went back to what would have been their living room. Aside from grabbing his favourite book, he pulled a picture out of a frame and folded it up. He slipped into the book. He didn’t want much of a keepsake since he wasn’t sure he would be able to carry things with him for a while, so a picture and his favourite book would do. The small paperback fit into one of his pockets. “Ready when you are, Iggy.”


 

“Igs!” Prompto smiled brightly as the door opened and revealed Ignis and Gladio.

“What? No greeting for me?” Gladio eyed the kid, who only smiled even brighter.

“Welcome back, Gladio! Did you guys figure out what to do about Noctis?”

Gladio gave a grunt, but the bright smile was a bit contagious. He took off the coat and other accessories Ignis had given him before they left. It was refreshing to say the least to have his arms free again. Before he put the coat away, he slipped the book out, holding it close. If Prompto saw, he kept quiet as he stayed neared Noct.

“Nyx has an idea, but we’re to wait here for him.” Ignis came over to sit next to Prompto ruffling his hair.

“He always has ideas. I just hope that it works this time,” Prompto glanced at Ignis. He fidgeted a little with his hands, shifting a sweatband around his wrist. “There hasn’t been anything new with Noct. Sleeping like always.”

Prompto leaned against Ignis, resting his head on the other’s shoulder. Ignis didn’t seem to mind as he crossed his legs and settled in to wait for Nyx. Gladio brought over another chair, wishing that Noct would just wake up and they didn’t have to just sit there. He set his book aside and brought his sword out of the scabbard and started to take care of it. After a thousand years, even with magic the sword still needed some looking after.

“Prompto, it looks like we have another request,” Ignis said softly as they waited. “This time it’s Lucians.”

“This time?” Gladio looked up, hand pausing as he sharpened the blade with a whetstone he grabbed from the vault.

“Yup, Igs and I help anyone who needs it. There were some prisoners from Galahd that we saved just last month, with Nyx’s help of course. And last week we were able to save a few that came from Tenebrae.” Prompto kept listing the amounts of people they saved on his hands and the time frame until Ignis patted his knee. “R-Right, sorry. But yeah, Igs and I help where we can. Not like we can be everywhere, but we do what we can.”

“Yeah, about that. Can you two really use magic?” Gladio asked as Ignis stiffened. He looked away as Prompto sat up, clearly following Ignis’s lead on this. “Look, it’s fine you can. It’s just a little weird that you can is all. Back where I’m from.....magic was only used by those granted by the crystal. So knowing there are people who can do it without that, well--”

Gladio shrugged. He just wanted to learn more about the world around him, what to expect, and what to tell Noct when they woke him up. Prompto shifted uneasily in his seat, as if he was holding back answering before Ignis sighed, nodding his head. With a delightful glee, Prompto stood up and away from Noct.

“Yeah, we’re not really sure why. I mean we’re not even Lucian, or at least I know I’m not.” Prompto pulled out a pistol, setting Gladio on edge until the kid took out the round that was in the barrel. “Here, it’s a magic bullet. Since there are so many daemon around, its filled with light. I call ‘em starshells and light the whole area we’re fighting up with them. After that I just use whatever rounds I think will penetrate their armour. Igs is the one that can use magic way more than me.”

Gladio took the shell and examined it. Sure enough, he could feel the thrum of magic within the small object, but it felt slightly different from what he remembered the crystal’s magic to be. Was this just another effect of the thousand years that passed, or was it something the Niffs were doing that allowed people to start using magic without being connected to someone like Noct? Turning to Ignis, the man held out his hand and produced a flame, which crystallized into ice and then shattered into rain droplets as electricity hummed.

“Fucking Six,” Gladio muttered.

He had never been adapt at the magic. He could barely warp without feeling the need to upheave whatever he had eaten prior. It was why he wanted to use the broadsword in the first place. Cover more ground with his swing and be more menacing than anything else out there if he could be. Noct on the other hand, he excelled at warping, but only after he figured it out, which took a quite a bit of time.

“What does it feel like? To use the magic, I mean. I never got the hang of it,” Gladio asked as Ignis shook his hand a little.

“Feel like? Hmm....no one has ever asked me that before.” Ignis shifted his glasses, a nervous tick Gladio decided. “If I had to describe it, it feels like I’m pulling the energy from all around me, but also from Eos itself. As if the power wasn’t necessarily mine, but granted to me in some fashion. There are times when I'm able to sense danger before it happens or sometimes in the complete darkness. But those instances of being able to use a sort of magical sense, if you will, are rare and far between. It takes a great deal to muster up the mental strain it takes to use more than just a handful of any element so far, but Cor has reassured me that when his highness wakes and the power restored, those with magic or bestowed with magic would find it easier.”

“Yeah, okay. That’s kinda how the Glaive used to describe it. Noct would probably understand--”

The door slammed open, revealing a rather tired and smirking Nyx. “I found it. Had to go digging, but I finally found it.”

In his hands was a small, wooden, object. It took Gladio a moment before he realised it was a carbuncle. What the hell was that going to do for them? Cor came striding in after Nyx, as serious as before.

“I’m sorry, Nyx, but to put it into terms Gladio used earlier, I do believe you’ve finally lost your mind.” Ignis stared at the little wooden figure. Shaped like a fennec fox, painted a turquoise colour with a ruby set on its forehead.

“Nah, just didn’t think about it until now.” Nyx stepped up to Noct and set the little figure on Noct’s chest.

Noct didn’t stir.

“Nyx....buddy, I don’t know what you were expecting,” Prompto said when the hunter sighed.

“Look, I know this is what’s supposed to happen. Ten years ago I was still in Galahd and there was this massive storm. I went outside and found it. That night, I had a dream. It wasn’t from the Astrals, or at least I don’t think since no one has seen ‘em, but whoever they were, they told me to keep this. They said someone who had fallen deep into sleep would need it. I’m assuming they meant him.”

Gladio would have laughed. He wanted to, but he couldn’t. This was Noct after all, and while everyone around Noct had said he was blessed by the Astrals, Gladio didn’t know if that was really a good thing or not at this point. Cor didn’t say anything as he leaned against the wall, a rather familiar katana at his hip. So that’s what Cor was doing, getting some things he felt more comfortable with. Gladio couldn’t fault him for it, but why the hell wasn’t he saying anything about Nyx’s so called solution?

“Look, you said the Astrals were gone, so why would you think this carbuncle--”

“Just because the Astrals aren’t here right now, doesn’t mean their messengers aren’t. Ignis don’t argue with me on this one.” Nyx said, staring at Ignis who had opened his mouth. “How else do you explain why this place as been free of daemon attacks and why things are fairly peaceful around here? It’s not by coincidence and you know that.” Nyx sighed as he stepped back.

“No one blames you, Nyx.” Ignis watched Nyx, who pouted. “We just simply might have to resign ourselves to wait till he wakes up on his own if ever.”

“.....Igs, come on,” Prompto said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I trust Nyx.”

“I do too, b-but this--” Ignis turned to Cor and Gladio. “I’m sorry. It seems this is just another one of Nyx’s plans that just didn’t--”

Gladio watched those green eyes grow and Ignis’s lips hung slightly agape before he turned to see what had shut him up. There on the bed where Noct was sleeping now held a very much groggy but awake prince. He rubbed at his eyes tiredly, the carbuncle tumbled into his lap. Blue eyes surveyed the room, as eyebrows scrunched together confused until they fell onto Gladio.

“This isn’t my room. Where are we, Gladio?” Noct asked, clearly not fully awake.

It took the room a few moments to find their voices again. The sudden onslaught of ‘I told you so’ from Nyx and Prompto bouncing around just happy to see Noct awake was more than enough to make Noct scrunch his face. Gladio burst out laughing and Ignis looked absolutely stunned trying to get Nyx to calm down. It wasn’t until Cor stepped up that the room fell once again to silence.

“Your highness.....or rather Your majesty, you’ve been asleep for a thousand years. It’s about damn time you woke up.”

Chapter Text

Cor brought Noct up to speed, though the prince furrowed his brows after a point, not looking at anyone in particular as he listened. In his hands was the small carbuncle, which Gladio still couldn’t believe actually worked. Ignis filled the gaps Cor left. Gladio found Noct was taking things by stride, and a lot better than Gladio had initially. Or was this just Noct trying to put up a front because of all the people? In the past, seeing the way Noct had certain mood swings and how he had grown up, Gladio half expected the kid to break down about it all. Ignis seemed to have prepared for that as well, though he chalked up to Ignis just being prepared for just about anything. Prompto, on the other hand, seemed to fidget. First, it was wringing his hands, picking at a sweatband on his wrist, swinging his legs a little on the seat, and then not sitting still in his chair at all. Gladio was starting to get thoroughly distracted, but Noct beat him to pointing it out.

“Dude, relax,” Noct said, yawning.

“Y-yeah, sorry.” Prompto froze in mid-fidget, not looking Noct in the eyes. He stiffened for a moment opening his mouth to stutter out the words, “y-your maj-esty.”  

“Uh...Thanks. For watching over me and stuff,” Noct said with a shrug, not really looking at anyone in particular. He continued when Prompto looked at him confused and cocked his head to the side. “Ignis said you stayed when he couldn’t. So yeah, thanks and Noct is fine.”

That brought a smile to Prompto’s face, much more relaxed as he nodded. “No problem! Been watching over you and the big guy for a few weeks. I gotta admit though, you were a lot less scary than him.”

“Hey!” Gladio huffed as he crossed his arms.

Noct laughed a little as he looked up, finally. An actual reaction aside from the disinterest. The relief Gladio had felt on seeing Noct awake though faded at seeing Noct bite his lip. The kid wasn’t as well composed as some might have thought, but then a lot had happened in his short life that the others didn’t know about. The only other person who knew him maybe better than Gladio was Cor, who had taken to leaning back against the wall.

“You okay?” Gladio asked as he leaned back in his chair.

Noct shrugged.

“Noct.” Gladio watched Noct flinch a little before the kid sighed.

“What about you? Are you okay?” Noct asked. The underlying question was there and Gladio knew. Too bad the kid wasn’t getting out of this.

“Fair enough. I had my moment, I’m good.” Gladio glanced at Ignis who gave nothing away. “Not sure if Cor had his though.”

“Don’t need one,” Cor grunted. “Seen enough shit as it is.”

Noct seemed to relax at the familiarity. Good. Maybe they shouldn’t have had Nyx, Prompto, and Ignis around for this. Gladio was glad to have Ignis there to explain things when he first woke up, but that was all before he knew that Cor was still alive. He would have much rather had someone he knew tell him shit than a total stranger. Gladio hid the discomfort the thought brought; Ignis had just done what he thought was best.

“I’m good, too….I guess.” Noct shrugged again.

“Do you want to talk alone?” Gladio offered, hoping the others would understand.

“Maybe? Look, I-I don’t know Gladio.” Noct stared at him, his usual blue disinterested eyes full of emotions Gladio couldn’t even distinguish one from another.. “I….I don’t….know.”

Gladio nodded. “Hey, Iggy, Prompto, Nyx. Can you give Cor and me a minute with his highness?”

The three nodded promptly leaving the room. Prompto left last, but not before offering Noct a glass of water muttering that he looked like he needed it. Noct had taken it, but instead of drinking, he only held onto it, grip tight. The room suddenly quiet, Gladio could hear the buzzing sound of the unnatural lights above them. None of them spoke for what seemed to be minutes until Cor shifted.

“Your majesty--”

“Cor, I’ve known you my whole life, just please….call my Noct.”

“Noctis,” Cor said a nod of his head. His way of bowing, Gladio had come to find out. “From what I’ve gathered Insomnia is actually below a city called Tandem. It’s just about as big as Insomnia, and they didn’t know there was something underneath them until the last few months. And there were others who were put into cryovats, like yourself and Gladio. They’re in different locations, but I’ll be heading out soon to go and check on them.”

“You too?” Noct asked, before smirking. “Or is that just your immortality?”

“Don’t be an ass,” Cor grunted. Noct stuck his tongue out making Gladio shake his head with a chuckle. Things almost seemed normal, if it wasn’t for what Cor was actually talking about. “As I was saying, I’ve been awake longer than you two. There are hunters, and skilled people to defend the cities, but Noctis…..there’s no sun.”

Gladio watched Noct’s expression smooth out from the playful banter. He had been this way ever since the accident with the Marilith, before Gladio had even known him. He was only told that Noct had been different by people like Cor and King Regis before the attack. Apparently a sweet kid, who was a lot more open than he was being now about how the hell he was doing.

“No sun…..Right, how do I….fix that?” Noct asked, biting his lip again.

“How do we fix that,” Gladio corrected, giving his charge a grin. It was returned if only a little. Gladio was his shield and he wasn’t going anywhere unless it was by Noct’s side.

“I’m not sure. Regis never told me specifics on that part, but I don’t even know if he knew. All we know is that the crystal choose you as it’s king.” Cor sighed. “A fine mess this all is.”

Gladio hummed.

“Yeah… Those guys, they helped?” Noct asked, nodding in the direction of the door the three had left from.

“Who? Iggy and Prompto? Yeah. They made sure you and I were safe when we came out of the freeze.” Gladio glanced at Cor, who shrugged but kept his mouth shut. So much for learning about his experiences. “Nyx is someone I just met.”

“He’s part of the hunters, almost a leader among them even if he hates it. They gave him the nickname ‘Hero’ if that means anything to you, Noctis. If your father was here, he’d probably try and get him to join the Glaives. Certainly would have the aptitude for it.” Cor shrugged again. If there was anyone else noteworthy of praise, Cor kept silent about it.

Noct scooted a bit in his blankets as if moving to sit at the edge. Gladio half-stood to stop him, but Noct kept moving, setting the glass on a small table, untouched.

“I’m fine. Really. Nothing hurts and stuff. I think….the messengers helped with that.” Noct picked up the little carbuncle he had set aside when Prompto gave him the glass. “I saw him in my dreams.”

“Yeah?” Gladio asked, looking at the carving.

“Sorta. I was dreaming a lot, or maybe not so much. I don’t know. Umbra was there though. He kinda led me around and we met up with Pryna. They showed me what Insomnia looked like….after the fall.” Noct brought a knee to chest, hiding. “We got separated though and that’s when he showed up.”

“The carbuncle?”

Noct nodded.

“You know your dreams--”

“Yeah, I know, Gladio” Noct said. “I don’t get them like everyone else does. He said someone was trying to keep me from waking up. There were daemons, low leveled ones, but just like before. Guess that means the guy behind the attack is still around.”

“Ardyn Izunia,” Cor supplied. Noct shivered and Gladio had to fight the urge to pull the kid into an embrace.

“Yeah…him.”

Gladio ran a hand down is face with a sigh, scratching at his beard. If Ardyn was still around and kept Noct from waking, this guy was something beyond just a guy wanting power or the fall of Insomnia. A thousand years was a long time to wait and plan, not to mention how the hell had he lived that long? He had the crystal now, maybe that had something to do with it, though that reminded him of the ring he still had. If Ardyn didn’t have the ring that meant he couldn’t access the crystal’s power, or? Gladio hated how little he understood of the magic. He never really had the aptitude for it. Still, maybe the ring would be the difference they needed to maybe change the tides. He stuffed his hands into his pocket, feeling the ring. Better late than never. He pulled it out, glancing at it before looking to Noct.

“Hey…” Gladio held out the ring. “Dad….he gave it to me before he put me in the cryovat. It’s yours now.”

Despite the object being small, and seemly so unimportant if it wasn’t in the hands of royalty, Gladio knew the weight it held. Noct almost dropped the thing before fumbling with his hands and held it close. Blue eyes grew wide until the sheen over his eyes spilled the tears Gladio was sure Noct had kept in till now. The reality of their situation finally settling onto those small shoulders. He could hear the sad attempt to hold back a sob as Noct’s shoulders shook. They had time. Another few hours without light was fine.

Neither Cor nor Gladio moved to hold him. Noct either wanted contact or didn’t. He was more like a prickly cat that way. If he did want contact, he had grown to reach out for it, at least with Gladio. The last time Gladio tried to hold him before Noct had a full-on panic attack, Noct had nearly broken his nose because he just didn’t want to be touched. So Gladio didn’t move even if he wanted to.

“.....Cor.”

The voice was small, broken.

“Yes?”

“.....I can’t…. wear it.”

Gladio sighed. Cor finally pushed off the wall and stepped closer to Noct. Gladio could see the hesitancy, but the Marshal laid a hand on Noct’s shoulders, who flinched, but didn’t uncurl from himself.

“You have to.”

Gladio almost didn’t catch the words. Those three words were heavy in the air. If Noct didn’t wear the ring, they would never gain access to the armiger or the Lucian magic they needed to protect Noct. But it hit Gladio like a ton of bricks suddenly. He knew what he was fighting for, or rather who he now needed to serve and actually live for. Noct….he didn’t have the same type of duty as Gladio or Cor did. Noct lived for the people, or at least that’s what his title was supposed to be.

“Fuck…..”

“Indeed, Noctis,” Cor said. He moved to get by Gladio so that he was in front of Noct. He knelt down, putting a hand on Noct’s knee. “You need to wear it. Gladio and I will continue to serve you as we have always done. There are still Lucians, Noctis. You have a duty just as we all do.”

Noct looked up then, blue eyes rimmed with purple for a brief moment of anger before it vanished and there was nothing but sadness. Gladio almost had to look away. Cor didn’t want to soften the blow and he certainly seemed just fine with saying exactly how things were. Not that Gladio envied that position in the least bit. Cor would have to take the brunt end of the blow up that was bound to happen now.

“A duty….To what Cor? A ring that failed to save my father? A crystal that couldn’t even hold the wall against the daemons and Niflheim? Why the hell would I have to do anything?” Noct held the ring close to him, but made no move to put it on. “ This is all I have left of my dad, Cor. A stupid ring, a fallen city, and a prophecy that essentially left the three of us alone in the fucking world.”

Cor didn’t flinch at the words. He just crouched there. Gladio might have imagined the way Cor’s breathing seemed slightly different, but he hadn’t been around the Marshal that well to know. Noct, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care. He held out the ring to Cor.

“Take it. I don’t want it.” Noct glared at the floor.

Before Cor spoke, Gladio stood. Grieving was one thing, but to ignore his duty, Gladio wasn’t going to stand for that. No. Noct had to learn that he could mourn, but he wasn’t going to turn his back on everything that happened. Instead of facing problems head-on, as he should, Noct always pushed everyone away into isolation or avoided the problem altogether. They didn’t have that luxury. Gladio grabbed Noct by the collar of his shirt and forced the kid to look at him.

“Noct, you know we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this, or giving you a ring that didn’t belong to you if we could help it. You better man up because let me tell you, the world’s changed. You’re gonna have to deal with the pain and with the grief just like we have, just not like this.”

“Let me go.”

Gladio didn’t. He knew his charge. If he let go now, Noct would only retreat more into himself. He could see it into those blue hard eyes. The self-pity would engulf Noct just as it had almost taken him before Ignis set him straight. He wondered if he had given Ignis a similar expression. Seemed Ignis was on the right track about some things though and how to deal with Gladio. He only hoped the same method would work on Noct. When the boy set his mind to something it was hard to get him to change it.

“No. You need to hear this just like I did.” Gladio brought Noct closer.

“Like you?”

Gladio loosened his grasp a little but didn’t completely let go.

“Yeah, bud. Me too. I got yelled at just like I’m yelling at you know. Insomnia is through those doors. We’ll be walking through what’s left of our home. Everyone risked their lives to get us into those damned things and the three guys outside, they risked everything to get us awake.”

He let Noct fully go, who seemed a little too intent on straightening his crumpled shirt than to listen further, but Gladio knew the kid could get moody even at the best of times.

“Look, before things went to shit we had a plan right? Stopping the Starscourge so that Luna wouldn’t have to keep trying to fix shit. We had the peace talks to end the war and hopefully sent people back where they wanted. Well, you still have people who need you Noct.”

“....I…. I can’t,” Noct said. Hands in his lap as he sat there with the carbuncle and ring.

“There is no ‘can’t’, your majesty,” Cor said, patting Gladio on the shoulder. “You are the only one who can bring about the dawn. You need to do your duty, otherwise, this was all for nothing. Do you want their deaths to be all in vain?”

“....”

Stand up , your majesty.”

Gladio couldn’t help but stand a little straighter at the commanding voice. Noct glared at Cor, but when the marshal glared back, the kid finally stood up. Shoulders tense, and the glare still there, Gladio could see the dried tear tracks. There was so much riding on Noct, it wasn’t fair, but there was no turning back now. They had to keep moving forward.

“Can’t and won’t are two different things, your majesty. You choose not to wear the ring and deny your rightful claim of the throne. You are putting not only yourself at risk but those around you who care like Gladio and the three standing outside. They’ve waited a thousand years for you. Now, straighten your back, and walk tall, as your father would have wanted you to.”

Noct stared at Cor, hands dropping to his side. Only King Regis had ever said those words ‘walk tall’. It was a running joke of sorts, but a lesson all the same. Never look back at the decisions made and always move forward. Noct didn’t want to move. Everything was too soon and too fast, but Gladio didn’t know how much time they had before the world would know of Noct’s return. Not when it had already been a thousand years of no sun, people would cling to any hope. Chin dipping, Gladio watched Noct wrestle with his emotions. They were subtle, with the tightening grip on the carbuncle, to the way his shoulders tensed and relaxed. Gladio felt for him, really he did, but they had to keep moving forward.

“.....I’m not ready to wear the ring. Not yet,” Noct finally said. “Just give me--”

A loud siren sounded as the lights flickered and then shut off. On instinct, Gladio stood in front of Noct, watching the door. He reached for his usual broadsword, feeling the armiger for the first time in what seemed forever. The blue light flashed and there it was in his hands, broken ice blue shards danced around him until they faded along with the light they provided. Grinning widely, Gladio turned to Cor. He could hear shouting on the other side of the door, no doubt Ignis ordering people around.

“Guess we have our arsenal, Marshal.”

“Only when we’re near his majesty until he puts on that damn ring.”

Ignis opened the door, his phone used as a flashlight. Gladio could hardly make out his features thanks to the harsh light, but Ignis’s voice gave way to the small panic. Something was terribly wrong.

“You three had better come along. I’m afraid we no longer have a minute to spare.” Ignis held the door open for them as Cor and Gladio formed a bit of a protective perimeter around Noct, who had summoned his own one-handed sword from the armiger.

“What’s going on, Iggy?” Gladio asked, putting the broadsword back into armiger. It was too big to brandish around inside the building.

The medical team were rushing about, files under their arms and medical devices being hauled by several at a time. Prompto held the door open for them, seeming a little more at ease than he had a few minutes ago. He barked a few orders at some who were trying to move a machine that was clearly going to need more than the two people there.

“Daemons.”

“I thought you said--”

“Yes, I know what I said Gladio. But that alarm we just heard and the lights going off means Tandem is in trouble. We haven’t had a lights out like this since we first had the power lines connected.” Ignis ushered the group through the door, Prompto following. “Now, please, I would like to get a move on. If there are daemons around, then I’d rather be up in Tandem instead of down here in Insomnia. We have a better chance of getting the lights back on there.”

“Where’s Nyx?” Cor asked, picking up a paper that fell from one of the hands of the medical team, handing it to the poor woman who was frantic.

“Out there. He’s making sure no one gets hurt. He is our residential hero after all,” Ignis mused. “We’ll get you three out of here--”

“No offense, Iggy, but you might want to let the Marshal lead on this one,” Gladio said as they came to the steps. “Careful going up, Noct.”

“I’m fine, big guy,” Noct said, trying to give Cor more room, who was having a bit of trouble moving around with his katana in the tight space.

“Whatever you say, Princess.” Gladio kept one eye on Noct as they climbed the stairs.

“Yes, alright. Marshal, I’ll let you lead. You are the more experienced fighter,” Ignis seemed to find that hard to swallow.  

Gladio just patted the man on the shoulder as they continued to go up the stairs and then out of the building. Noct tensed as they stepped through the door. The lights leading out of Insomnia that Gladio remembered from earlier were dark. The city itself now no longer illuminated felt dark and isolated. He couldn’t even see the dome overhead anymore. What he did see were a few spots of glowing orange and shades of red.

“Marshal….”

“Yeah, I see it. Shit,” Cor said, frustration clear on his face. “ Listen up, Ignis, Prompto, those daemons coming--”

“Red giants, yes. We know Marshal. Though we honestly have not been able to take one down before.” Ignis directed a few of the medical staff, clearly taking note where the red giants were. “As much as we wish, we don’t have the power to actually kill one.”

“Then we better get out of here. I have a truck loaded with shit to bring up, but not enough room for everyone.”

The truck Cor pointed to was parked on the streets. Sure enough, what Gladio could make out, it was filled with different weapons and gear no doubt for the hunters. They could fit Prompto in the back maybe, but otherwise what more could they do? Gladio glanced around, trying to find anything when he spotted it.

“Hey, Marshal? I see my bike I used to get here when we were first frozen. I can take Iggy with me. Noct would be better with you than with me.” Gladio jogged over to where he brushed off some dirt, rather shocked the bike was even still here. The key was still in the ignition, the last time not having time to actually take the keys with him thanks to his father. He just hoped to the Astrals that it would still work.

“Then get going.” Cor turned on the spot looking for Tandem’s hero. ”Nyx!”

“Sir?” Nyx called out, shoving a dagger into a small goblin who had appeared in front of some of the medical team. He came jogging over with a grin. “What can I do for you, Marshal?”

“Stand by for a sec.” Cor turned to Noct. “Can you warp?”

Noct stood there, rubbing his arm a little. His weight shifted to one leg. “I...I don’t know. I can try?”

“Your majesty….” Cor pinched the bridge of his nose. “ Now would be a good time to try, please.”

Noct nodded, concentrating. He tossed the blade in his hand to where the truck was. He could feel the magic, a familiar pull. The ring he had stuffed in his pocket vibrated with the magic too, but Noct ignored it. Instead, his eyes followed the dagger and found himself grabbing for the handle. He could feel the rush and slight nausea from warping, his body breaking down and resembling with the same shards as Gladio’s sword had appeared in. He had done it.

“Good. Your majesty….Noctis, I need you to warp with Nyx and get out. He can get the hunters organized and get the lights back on. Not to mention they can keep you safe until we get there or deal with the Red Giants.” Cor was not going to have Noct argue. Not when it involved his safety. “And if things go horribly awry, you’ll be outside and have places to run.”

“B-But, Cor…..I can’t throw the dagger that far.” Noct looked toward the road. “It would make more sense to drive.”

“Noctis! Use your head a little. The buildings, get to the roof and if you get tired of throwing, having Nyx do it for you. We can’t have you on the road with us, there’s no room.” Cor stepped up to the truck. “We’ll be your diversion. They’ll focus on us and you can get out of here.”

Noct looked around him. Gladio started up the bike, handing the helmet he had to Ignis as the two quietly spoke. Prompto moved a few of the things in the bed of the trunk before hoping up. Nyx threw another dagger towards a goblin that had gotten too close. Could Noct actually warp enough to get him and Nyx up there? He didn’t even know where he was going really.

“I get that you two are having a moment, but you know I did come here with my own ride, right?” Nyx pointed to a bike similar to Gladio’s, hidden from sight initially. “I might have….looked around down here once or twice and found the keys for it. I can take his majesty with me.”

He shrugged, twirling the keys in his hand.

“....Why the hell didn’t you say so?” Cor groaned.

“You two looked like you were having fun and I had some goblins to take care of,” Nyx said. He laughed a little heading over to his bike.

“Whatever, Noct, stick with Nyx. Gladio, you ready?” Cor watched Noct make his way over to Nyx.

“Sir!” Gladio revved the bike, Ignis holding on tight to him.

“Prompto, those bullets from earlier, think you can fire them while I’m driving?” Cor asked, striding over to the door of the truck as Nyx got the bike ready. He handed Noct the helmet just as Gladio had given Ignis his.

“Yeah, I’m a pretty good shot.” Prompto took off the safety of his gun and grinned. “Leave the distracting to me.”

“Nyx, get his majesty out of here. That’s your priority after that get the hunters dispersed.” Cor slammed the door shut as he turned on the truck. “Gladio, follow my lead. If you can distract one of the giants, fine, but safety comes first.”

“You got it, Marshal.” Gladio swiveled his bike a little to get the engine warmed up. “Iggy, hold on tight. Don’t want you to fall off.”

Ignis’s response was to hold onto Gladio just a bit tighter. Nyx waved before he took off with the bike, Noct holding on to him. Prompto loaded up his gun as he settled into the bed of the truck. Cor followed Nyx, Gladio riding behind for a moment until there was space to pass and he was upfront with Nyx.

Chapter Text

The wind swept through his hair, pulling at his shirt, but Gladio wouldn’t trade it for anything. He finally felt like he was doing something again. Moving forward as he drove the bike through the abandoned streets of Insomnia. Cool hands were wrapped around his waist, only gripping tighter when Gladio turned corners. He had taken people before for bike rides, normally just his sister, but this was vastly different. Eyes watering slightly, Gladio only had the light of the bike and the red giants to guide him. If it wasn’t for the constant threat of daemons, Gladio might have enjoyed having Ignis hold on to him as they eased into another corner.

To the side of him, he had Nyx and Noct, the prince holding onto Nyx for what looked like dear life. If Gladio didn’t know better, Nyx was having fun weaving through the dark city as if it was the most natural thing. Then again, Gladio had to remind himself that Nyx was more acclimated with the dark than he was thanks to there being no sun.

The Marshal brought up the rear, with Prompto letting loose another starshell at a red giant that had somehow gotten behind them far too quickly. If only Noct had put on the damned ring, they could have easily taken down one or two of those giants between Cor and himself alone. But Cor called the shots and he had told them all they were heading out of the city post haste. If the daemons followed they would fight he supposed, but they had more pressing matters. They had to get the lights back on in Tandem.

“Iggy!” Gladio glanced over his shoulder. The helmet nodded. “I’m going to get in front of one of the giants, want to try your magic?”

With Noct being so close, well, Ignis was going to be in a bit of shock with just how well his magic was going to work. From what the guy had told him earlier, the magic worked, but it was hardly as potent as it could have been.

Ignis shifted so he could hold on to Gladio a little better, but a free hand crackled with a bit of electricity. Smirking, Gladio revved the bike a little before cutting into an alleyway, having seen the blazing fire of a red giant ahead. Nyx didn’t know the streets like Gladio did, but Noct would. He was sure the prince would give directions when possible, so Gladio did his best to keep the immediate daemons off of Nyx to keep the directions simple enough.

Cutting off the daemons path, it roared in protest at the sound of the engine but didn’t turn its attention to them until Ignis threw the electricity right at it. The air crackled around them, sending Gladio’s hair to stick up a little as white lightning spread throughout the space, temporarily lighting up the buildings and street lamps only to have the bulbs shatter from the pure power. Glass rained down, not exactly an intended side effect, but Gladio didn’t care. He had a tight grip on the bike, righting it when the flaming sword came crashing down on the streets shaking the ground. A few pieces of fallen buildings and abandoned cars shifted or were tossed around by the sword, none of it hitting either of them. The daemon was now following them. Ignis held a little tighter after that as Gladio sped through the alleyways big enough for the bike and the daemon. Divide and conquer.

“We’ll have him follow for a bit then we’ll lose him,” Gladio said, keeping the bike just ahead of the sword. He could feel the flames licking at the bike, his legs, and boots. The heat warmed his skin, but Ignis blocked most of the extra fire with ice, droplets of rain hissed in protest against the hot pipes of the motorcycle sending rivets of steam up from the metal. “Try not to tire yourself out, Iggy.”

Gladio put a bit more distance between them and the sword. Heart thudding hard in his chest, this feeling, the adrenaline, was familiar. Maybe not playing cat and mouse with a daemon necessarily, but driving and outmaneuvering the daemon was more than he had done in the past week. He didn’t need to think about which buildings belonged to who, or who might have have been spared in other cryovats. All he needed to do was focus on getting out of Insomnia with Ignis and the others. A pat on his shoulder brought his wandering mind out of deciding which road to take next and try to focus where Ignis pointed.

A few blocks away, another starshell was released in the sky. Seemed the Marshal was having just as much fun as they were if the gunfire was anything to go off. Yet, that wasn’t where Ignis was pointing at. No. It was to a motorcycle on the main road, almost to the gate. Good, that meant they could finally ditch their daemon and get going. Gladio nodded.

Sadly, ditching the daemon at their heels was a lot harder than Gladio originally anticipated. The red giant didn’t care for the buildings or what he crushed in its path as it pursued them. The small alleyways Gladio started to take were actually only hindering him when the red giant would plow through the buildings and start causing them to collapse. It made poor conditions for Gladio to swerve out of the way of some of the falling windows and escape ladders, or the occasional dumpster that threatened to crush them against brick and mortar.

“Change of plans, Iggy. Hold on,” Gladio shouted as they came back to the main road leading out of Insomnia. They would just have to outrun the daemon. If they could do that perhaps it would just drop the chase.

Taking a deep breath, Gladio turned off the light to his bike. Cold hands tightened slightly, the only indication that Ignis did not like what Glado was doing. Too bad for Ignis that Gladio knew this street like the back of his hand and had driven on this street more times than he could count. There were no potholes, or death traps, just cars that were littered along the road. They would be easily ignored and it wasn’t like they were completely in the dark. The flames of the red giant were still providing a sliver of light for them.

Ahead of them, Gladio could hear rather than see the truck that Cor had taken. It only dawned on him then that there were stairs leading to the top, how the hell were they supposed to get the truck up and out to Tandem.

“Shit. Iggy? Is there another way out of here?” Gladio asked.

Ignis shook his head.

“How are we going to get the truck out of here?”

Gladio glanced back to see the red giant falling further behind. Good, that would give them a few minutes time when they reached the steps to figure out something. For the first time since Ignis had climbed behind him, he flipped the visor up and drew close to Gladio’s ear so he could be heard.

“There’s a lift of sorts. It was how we got Nyx’s bike up and down here. He’ll have it ready for the Marshal,” Ignis said.

A shiver ran through Gladio at the breath against his ear. Only Ignis would think to lean in closer instead of just shouting whatever he needed to say. Shaking his head and laughing, Gladio could only hope that Ignis didn’t question him about his reaction. The further along the road they went, the further away the glowing red and orange danced around them. They had finally given the red giant the slip it seemed, or perhaps the daemon had just grown tired of pursuing something for so long.

“Guess we gave the red giant the slip. Let’s go see about handling whatever is going in Tandem,” Gladio said.

He was rather proud the way things were handled and felt a little better about having Ignis around too. The man could hold his own, and suddenly he wondered what would have happened if they had actually fought. As they drew closer to the steps, Gladio slowed the bike until he could stop. He turned it off, letting Ignis get off the bike first, a little wobbly on his legs it seemed, but he said nothing. With the helmet no longer intruding on their form of communication, Gladio eased off the bike.

“So where’s the lift?”

“Over here. I didn’t think we would actually need it for anything other than Nyx’s bike and some of the books he had gathered the first time he was down here.”

Ignis stepped to the right of the steps he brought Gladio the first time. Sure enough, behind the steps was a shaft of sorts, though it was much larger than he originally thought. Cor was already pulling the truck onto the lift, Noctis helping to direct him with a bit of light from lightning in his hand to give the space some much-needed light.

“Is Nyx already at the top, your highness?” Ignis asked.

“Yeah, he dumped me on the stairs and then went straight to the lift.” Noct folded his arms, clearly perturbed, but Gladio only smirked.

“Guess he loves his bike more, princess.”

“Hardly, I’m sure he’s just making sure it’s safe for us up top,” Ignis said to quell whatever retort Noct was about to say. “Prompto, I hope you didn't give the Marshal too much trouble.”

The kid was still in the bed of the truck, fiddling with his gun. When Ignis addressed him, he beamed up at Ignis. Was the kid just quiet? Or was it simply because Prompto didn’t know them that he kept pretty quiet unless Ignis spoke to him. It unsettled him a little, but he’d just have to figure it out later.

“Nope! Totally saved the truck once though. Those red giants are faster than they look.” Prompto said looking over at Cor who grunted but didn’t dispute what was said.


“Alright, put your back into it!” Nyx shouted before he pulled on the rope to the pulley system of the lift.

All six men were pulling at the rope trying to get the truck filled with gear to rise from the depths of Insomnia. Sadly, because the power was out, so too was the motorized lift, they had to pull the car up with their own strength. At least with the pulley system in place, it was better than trying to lift the damned thing by itself, but Gladio was going to make sure to give Cor a piece of his mind about the whole truck. Next time they were in a pinch, he would just have to tell him the weapons and gear could wait. But having seen what people were carrying earlier and what Ignis said, the hunters could use this stuff.

Muscles strained, and all six were huffing and grunting at the exertion of pulling on the rope. Nyx was at the front with Ignis and Cor right after. Prompto was behind Ignis and Noct came up next with Gladio, the tallest and broadest, in the rear acting as the anchor. He had the rope pulling against his back and hips a bit as the rope bit into his shirt and jacket. The rope was wound around him and his left hand as they all pulled.

“Noct! Dig your heels and dig deep, buddy,” Gladio grunted as he saw the prince start to falter. They needed everyone to get that fucking truck up top.

“Sure thing, Gladio. Let me just--oh I don’t know, suddenly grow as tall as you and the muscles to match.”

Gladio could hear the eye roll in Noct’s voice even if he couldn’t see it, but the prince dug into the ground a little deeper. At least Noct hadn’t changed, not too much anyway. None of them had time to dwell on shit for too long. So long as Noct could still make a sly comeback, things would be okay in the end.

“Yeah, how about some magic?” Gladio said in return.

“Would if I knew one that could help.” Noct was being serious now.

“Less talking and more pulling,” Cor grunted.

“Sir,” Noct and Gladio said, pulling harder at the ropes.

The car was up and safely secured after another ten minutes of pulling at the rope. Noct had taken to sitting on the ground, a hand rubbing at his lower back. Prompto was right by his side, looking concerned. Ignis was rubbed at his hands, a grim frown on his face. Gladio went to Ignis first, seeing as how Noct was already getting attention.

“You okay?” Gladio asked, stepping up to Ignis. “Let me see.”

Sure enough, the rope had cut right through the gloves and left Ignis’s hands a bloody mess. Without so much as blinking an eye, Gladio pulled out one of the many potions stored in the armiger. It came with a flash of blue shards.

“W-What was that?”

Raising an eyebrow, Gladio smirked. Putting the panicked voice from earlier out of mind, Gladio was glad to see the guy had more than just stoic reactions to everything. “It’s called the armiger. It’s where we store things. Right now, so long as we’re near Noct, we can access it. We meaning the Marshal and I. Later, anyone who Noct allows can access it or even their own little pocket armiger. Now, hold still.”

Gladio gingerly took off the gloves Ignis wore. He noticed Cor and Nyx briefly looking over but didn’t bother to check on them. Cor more than likely told Nyx it was nothing, but Gladio had to smirk at seeing Nyx turn his body slightly toward Ignis. While he listened to Cor, Nyx was obviously still protective. He was beginning to understand why they called him hero. He and Nyx probably shared the same sort of feeling about protecting Noct, no doubt.

“Alright, watch the magic happen.” Gladio broke the bottle with one hand over top Ignis’s hands, holding them in place gently.

The same coloured blue from the shards of the armiger seeped out of the cracks of the bottle and splashed onto the wounds. It was cool and felt weightless as it touched Ignis’s skin. The liquid turned quickly into particles, floating around as the wounds glowed a bright ice blue. But much like how anything from the armiger had come and gone, the particles faded and left behind nothing but unbroken skin. Ignis had watched the wounds close up and heal as if time had been reversed. Gaping at the closed wounds Ignis gingerly touched where his skin had been torn open, Gladio chuckled. There were still spots of drying blood, but otherwise, Ignis’s hands were fine now.

“You guys don’t have potions?” Gladio asked, handing Ignis back his gloves.

“No. We usually just bandage them up and live with the pain.” Ignis slipped the gloves on, though what good they would do now was beyond Gladio. “You shouldn’t have used the potion on me. What if you needed it for something far worse than just rope burned hands?”

“Easy. We just make more. Now that we have access to the armiger a lot of things are more possible.” Gladio shrugged and stepped back a little to give Ignis space.

“What if we don’t have the necessary ingredients?”

“Iggy, calm down. It’s fine. We have bigger worries and there are plenty still in the armiger. We’ll figure out how to get the supplies and then show you how to make ‘em too. That way you can teach others.” Gladio patted Ignis on the shoulder, hoping to reassure the guy. If they had lost the ability to make potions, they would figure it out later. “Besides, we still have more work to do and you can’t exactly throw any magic or use your daggers if your hands are hurting.”

“Yes…..thank you,” Ignis said. He smiled a little, cradling his hands as if they were still in pain.

“Igs? You okay?” Prompto latched onto Ignis’s arm, glancing at the hands. “Shit, were the gloves not thick enough?”

“I’m fine.” Ignis showed Prompto his newly healed hands.

Noct came up, looking miserable, far more than usual as he slumped against Prompto. The three were a sight, but if Noct was already comfortable around Prompto, that was good. Something felt right, fighting alongside these two with Cor and Nyx. Part of him knew he shouldn’t get too comfortable with having them around. When this was over, Noct would end up deciding their next move, and who knew what that would be or where it would take him.

But right now, he had Noct to worry about. If it was his back, it could only mean that being frozen had certainly done more to him than Noct had originally let on. He hated it when Noct didn’t tell him things like this, but there was nothing he could do except hope they made it through the attack in one piece.

“Noct, is it bad?”

Noct shook his head. “I can manage. But um...after everything is done, I think we need to start up my stretches….again.”

“Yeah, alright.” Gladio nodded. He shifted his weight to one foot, crossing his arms. “Just warn me if it’s something I need to worry about on the battlefield.”

“Yeah.” Noct nodded his head before blushing at the sudden pair of eyes on him. “Umm...it’s an old injury. My back just hurts a bit.”

“The cold must have aggravated--”

“Hey you four, get over here. We need to get going.” Cor glared at them. “The daemons might be stumped by stairs and a locked door for now, but the ones up here aren’t.”

Heading over to Cor and Nyx, Gladio noticed Nyx was better equipped now. He had on an old Glaive jacket and a set of kukri knives at his side. Cor gave Ignis and Prompto Crownsguard jackets and handed Gladio his usual fatigues.

“Where--”

“Don’t ask. I found it and that’s all that matters.” Cor went back to the driver’s seat. “We need to get moving and bring the rest to the hunters. After that, we need to figure out our attack plan if they haven’t already.”

Nyx nodded, hopping into the bed of the truck, trying to make room for some of the others. Prompto easily slid into his place from before, Crownsguard jacket on. Noct found space next to him shifting uneasily as if trying to find the best way to sit without hurting his back before deciding to lean against Prompto. Ignis sat up front with Cor worrying his lip as he glanced at Gladio. Before Gladio could find a spot, Nyx tossed him a set of keys. The others held on to some gear now that they weren't being chased and needed speed. 

“Take my bike. You drove yours pretty well, so I can trust her to you. ‘Sides, you and me both know there’s no more room.”

Gladio grunted but took the helmet he saw Noct wearing earlier before getting on the bike and starting it up. It would be better this way, honestly. He could protect them from any daemon this way instead of on the back of a truck. He was not about to take offense to what Nyx had said. When they were all settled, Gladio gave the sign that he was ready to go.

Ignis must have steered Cor through the Tandem. While they had to take the main road into Tandem, Gladio felt a little unsettled at seeing all the lights off. It felt way too similar to how Insomnia did below and he wasn’t sure if he could lose both places today. They didn’t take any of the main roads when they reached Tandem, so he followed Cor’s lead, watching their backs.

There were people on the streets, but most stayed out of their way, too busy helping each other get someplace they deemed safe. Wherever that might have been, it was clear there were protocols in place, no doubt thanks to Ignis. There were a few shouts and yelling near the market Gladio first met Cor, but there was a rush of hunters already on the scene. He distinctly heard the word ‘goblins’, meaning daemons wouldn’t be too far off.

“Ma’am, follow those two over there. They’ll show you were to go,” Ignis called out to a woman with three children huddled near the doorway of one of the buildings. She seemed utterly lost and when the two men Ignis pointed out looked back, they quickly rushed over to help.

Gladio drove a little closer to where Ignis had his window rolled down. “You still want to tell me you don’t run the place?”

“Now is hardly the time, Gladio.” Ignis pointed Cor to another alleyway to avoid an oncoming crowd. “Gladio, why not go ahead and let the hunters know we’re coming with some supplies. Have them initialize the blackout protocol. Those who’ve remained will wait for us.”

“Sure thing, Iggy.”

Gladio weaved his way in and out of the crowd, finding his way if only because he had the main road to glance at in alleyways to guide him. He didn’t stop to help anyone, as much as he wanted to. Right now the fastest and best way to help was to get the power back on, but for that, they needed to regroup and go over strategy before just blindly going in. Running from the daemons was one thing, but protecting a city of mostly civilians was another thing.

He saw the pitched tents before the three buildings. It was so strange to think the hunters found solace in them instead of in an actual building. But then all he had known growing up was his own home and the barracks of the Glaives. It was there he realised the sensation of the armiger was no longer there. He supposed without Noct being near he would be left with the sword at his hip until Noct was close enough again.

The hunters themselves were all gearing up by the stern looks on their faces. Some were shouting, others were forming groups. When they heard the bike, a few waved only to stop mid-air. They seemed confused at first, Gladio couldn’t blame them. They were probably looking for Nyx, their hero, not some guy who had just suddenly shown up. He came to a stop when a few the of the hunters blocked his path. Taking off his helmet, Gladio rested his feet on either side of the bike so the bike could cool for the moment.

“Who’s leading you right now?” Gladio asked. A few of the hunters were reluctant to answer.

“Libertus and Crowe. Come on, I’ll take you to them. Is Nyx alright?” The man had messy brown hair, but behind the stern look on his face, Gladio already knew he liked the man.

“Yeah, he’s in a truck with supplies. They should be here in a bit. Kinda hard to maneuver a truck through the streets with all the people around. I came ahead. Igg-Ignis gave me some orders. Gladio,” he said offering the man his hand.

“Pelna. If Ignis gave you orders you best tell Libertus and Crowe, they’ll get people moving. You can leave the bike here. Tedd will make sure it’s put where it needs to go for Nyx later.”

Gladio nodded. He turned the bike off before sliding off of it and handing the keys to Tedd. Gladio didn’t know the hunters that well, but Pelna seemed like someone he could trust for now. The relief that flooded the man’s face at hearing that Nyx was still alive made Gladio wonder just how much respect Nyx really had from these people.

Pelna guided him through the tents and to the building Gladio had met Nyx in first. Inside was just as packed as the outside had been, full of hunters and a few civilians who wanted to offer their help. Hunters were running everywhere, calling out numbers and locations. Honestly, Gladio wished he could understand more of it to help, but he just didn’t know the area yet. What he couldn’t understand was why there were so many people here instead of out there protecting the people and the city.  

“Crowe! Lib! I got some good news. Hero and Ignis are okay. Ignis gave some orders to this guy,” Pelna urged Gladio forward to pair of hunters. “Go on.”  

One was a woman, hair tied up and shouting at a few of the hunters. Gladio had never seen a woman instill the fear like she was in a hunter. She wasn’t afraid to get physical either when she hit him over the head before shoving him back into the crowd. The hunter quickly rushed off to do whatever Crowe had told him to do. The other hunter was built a bit more than Nyx. It was clear that both Crowe and Libertus were not afraid to yell or tell people off. Libertus only glared at Gladio, clearly not impressed with the Shield.

“Crowe,” the woman said with a nod. “That’s Libertus. What did Ignis say? And what took him so long?”

“We were underneath Tandem when lights went out. He said to use protocol blackout.” Gladio was glad at least one of them didn’t question him or even the orders he gave them.

“Thought so. We already started it. Nyx was with ya right? He better get his ass here. I swear, that man is never where he needs to be.” Crowe sighed. “Can you fight, big guy?”

“Me? Yeah, but--”

“Good, fall in line with the hunters, I’ll find ya a group.”

“Uh, Crowe, I got a group already. Though they’re not hunters. They’re coming with Ignis and Nyx.” Gladio smiled a little, as he rubbed the back of his neck.

“Oh. Well good. Hope they can fight too because we’re going to need to it. Pelna, how’s the group of techs coming?” Crowe turned her attention back to the man who was talking into a radio.

Taking the moment, Gladio stepped back against the wall to let others give Crowe and Libertus what they needed to know. He felt useless leaning there, but his duty was to Noct at the moment. If Noct decided to help, which he was sure he would, then fine. The whole ordeal left a rather sour taste in his mouth, as he thought back to the Crownsguard and the Glaive. He wished he could do more.

Gladio overheard Pelna say the group of techs were ready but they needed a guard detail if they were going to make it into the powerplant to fix whatever was broken. Among the hunters, no group spoke outright to volunteer. There were sure to be daemons and after hearing Ignis say it was difficult for them to handle one daemon alone, let alone a sudden attack like this, Gladio could partly understand. For the hunters, it was a suicide mission and without Ignis or Nyx around to instill a sense of morale, Gladio could see the hunters shift their gazes as Crowe and Libertus waited for some sign.

The familiar feeling of the armiger in the back of his mind came back, letting him know Noct was nearby. It took a few long minutes of the hunters avoiding Crowe and Libertus trying to rouse a group, before Gladio saw the familiar black hair. Cor and Prompto were on either side, Ignis and Nyx were leading the charge. A few of the hunters were ready to grumble at Ignis and Nyx for bumping into them as they tried to make their way to the center of the room where Crowe and Libertus were, but the threats died when they realised who it was. Gladio motioned with a jerk of his chin to Crowe and Libertus when Noct gave him a questioning look.

“Come on! We know the dangers, but someone has to go.” Crowe groaned. When no one spoke up she glared at the hunters. “Cowards, the lot of you!”

Understanding dawned the prince’s eyes as he nodded to Gladio. Smirking, Gladio was glad Noct and him were having the same thoughts.

“My group will do it, Crowe,” Gladio said pushing off from the wall. “We can handle the daemons. Cor also brought supplies, so anyone without a weapon or proper gear should see him before heading out.”

Crowe gave him a suspicious look, but spotted Nyx and the others. The nod from Nyx was all she needed. Libertus looked like he was about to protest, but a sharp hit in the rib shut him up.

“Good, get ready and meet outside in five. We have work to do!”

Nyx rushed up to Crowe, no doubt getting details and figuring out where to head himself. Ignis went straight to Gladio. Noct and Prompto stayed with Cor right outside the hunters. Gladio smirked, knowing that Ignis was not happy about Gladio volunteering, but something told him that Ignis was not going to just let Cor, Noct and him go without helping.

“Come on.” Ignis sighed after glaring at Gladio for what seemed a straight minute. He wasn’t going to back off or take back his volunteering. Ignis turned back to the three waiting for them.“Prompto, we’re going with these three. You’re a tech too after all. So much for a quiet evening.”

“Nothing like a little excitement. And just think, you’ll be able to use more magic.” Gladio grinned at the glare Ignis gave him. “Cor, you staying with us?”

“You just volunteered me to hand out supplies,” Cor grumbled. “I’ll follow afterwards, but you’re taking the truck. It will hold everyone.”

Gladio took the keys from Cor and pocketed them for now. “Well, you are the only one who knows what you brought.”

“Shut it.” Cor rolled his shoulders as they made their way outside. Gladio was glad to see Cor was just as wound up as him about the whole ordeal. “Just make sure you stay alive till I get there.”

“Cor...seriously? You trained Gladio and me. I think we can handle a daemon or two,” Noct said. He waved his hand dismissively, but Cor’s eyes only narrowed at the flippant response.

“Your majesty , need I remind you that you were just complaining about your back? Not to mention you’ve been frozen for quite some time. Do not take this situation lightly.”

Noct stiffened a bit, but otherwise looked anywhere but at Cor. The Marshal sighed before ruffling Noct’s hair, not saying a word. Noct let him, knowing he was being scolded because Cor cared.

The truck was right outside the main building, a few hunters were hanging around it looking at some of the gear Cor brought. Ignis ushered them into some sort of order, as Gladio, Noct, and Prompto followed Cor’s orders of how to separate the stuff. Cor brought weapons, almost a small arsenal it seemed, mostly daggers since they were small enough to load a bunch into the bed of the truck. After that it was just some standard Glaive gear, from gloves to coats and other accessories like belts with pouches and some holsters for the daggers. It took a good twenty minutes to get everything finished and in that time, Penla had come back with a group of techs and one other hunter.

“Where did you get all this stuff?” Pelna asked. Cor had given him a pair of daggers.

“Do you guys even know that Tandem is built over a city?” Noct asked, hand on his hip and eyebrow raised.

“I-I mean, yeah, but we never….” Pelna holstered the daggers and sighed. “Ignis never really liked us going down there. Nyx was about the only one he let roam free and we just never thought to really check out the buildings. Though I’ve read some of the books Nyx brought back.”

“Well, there’s plenty more where that came from. When we get the lights back on, we can make regular trips and start getting geared up to beat the daemons instead of just trying to survive,” Cor said. He handed another hunter a pair of gloves and a dagger. “But that won’t happen if you all just stand around. Get going.”

“Sir.”

As if they had done it for years, Gladio couldn’t help but chuckle at the way Ignis, Prompto, and Noct easily found a spot for themselves in the truck. Ignis settled into the passenger seat, Noct and Prompto were in the bed of the truck. Gladio could hear them talking a little about weapons and the use of magic through the little window. If Gladio didn’t know better, people would have thought the two were best friends instead of having only met a few hours ago. The techs Pelna brought quickly sat into the bed of the truck. Pelna and the other hunter piled in after them. Gladio couldn’t remember the names of the techs, but the hunter beside Pelna was introduced as Axis.

Gladio the driver’s seat. He started the truck when Noct hit the window twice letting him know they were ready to head out. He took directions from Ignis. Why he wasn’t driving had struck Gladio as odd, but then perhaps it had simply been because he had the keys. The power plant itself was apparently a little ways away from Tandem, but not too far.

“The power plant itself was too loud for some, so when we started to build onto our outpost, we ended up building it a little farther away.” Ignis kept it his eyes on the road, hands neatly folded in his lap. “We normally have guards posted there.”

“And you’re worried about them?” Gladio asked, not having to look at Ignis to see his hands clench a little.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Don’t worry about it. You care for others.” Gladio shrugged as Ignis hummed. “Seriously, Iggy. Relax. We’ll do what we can.”

Gladio glanced through the rearview mirror to make sure Noct was okay. Prompto was good to have around it seemed. None of the hunters or techs really bothered Noct. Without Cor, Gladio was all Noct had for protection. He hoped that Ignis and Prompto would understand that when the fighting started. Being careful about the bumps in the road, Gladio had to slam on the breaks suddenly, sending everyone pitching forward.

“What the hell, Gladio!” Noct grumbled. Leaning against Prompto had resulted in Prompto hitting his back hard.

“Sorry about that princess, but we got bigger problems.”

The power plant was starting to come into view, but so was the appearance of a daemon who was coming out of a pitch black tar pit that appeared on the ground.

“Damn those things,” Pelna shouted, hopping out of the truck with Axis in tow. Prompto and Noct followed. “Prom, stay in the truck with the other techs. We can’t lose you. Tell Gladio to keep driving.”

“Ain’t happening,” Gladio said. “We stick together.”

Gladio had already shut off the truck and gotten out. He slammed the car door closed. This was not up for debate. Noct hopped out of the back and walked up to Gladio’s side, a little too stiff for Gladio’s liking, but they pulled out weapons from the armiger. Gladio his usual broadsword, and Noct his engine blade. Prompto stepped up to Noct’s free side, his gun locked and loaded with no doubt more starshells. Ignis stood to Gladio’s free side, a dagger in one hand and crackling lightning forming in the other.

“Hey, Igs, where the hell did you find these two?” Pelna laughed taking out his daggers, the ones that Cor had given him earlier.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.” Ignis smirked. “Quickly now, we need to get to the plant. Gladio--”

“I’ll take point, if you’re gonna use magic, warn me.”

Gladio took a deep breath to calm himself before charging at the daemon. This was what he was trained to do. Blood pumping and heart racing. There were no flames to light them up, but out here, where there was no sun, it was still brighter than down below in Insomnia. He could see the metal, the sky not nearly as pitch black as one would think.

Blocking the sword the daemon carried, Gladio’s body shook from the feeling, arm going numb. It didn’t stop him from pushing back, knocking the blade to the side to get in a swing of his own. It nicked the side of one of the daemon’s knees, spraying black ichor. Gladio didn’t stop though. He wanted to keep the daemon’s attention him, letting the others get in their own shots if they wanted. Side-stepping an attack, Gladio readied his sword for another large swing.

“Gladio!”

Without needing to look, Gladio knew that shout, he turned his blade so it was flat. He waited till he felt the weight on his blade, a maneuver he and Noct had used countless times. Noct warped on the flat of the blade before Gladio launched the prince right at the daemon. Noct swung down with his engine blade, ichor dripping from the fresh new cut. But the force wasn’t enough to cut clean through the bone of the daemon. Noct tsked, but left the blade in the daemon, using a dagger instead to warp out of the way of the daemon.

A starshell blossomed in the daemon’s face as Gladio saw Ignis jump up and use the embedded blade as a way to vault himself up into the air. Instead of his daggers, he had a polearm in his hand. Lightning crackled from it, leading to Gladio’s hasty retreat. Ignis drove the polearm down on top of it’s head, spinning his body to gain some more force. The sword the iron giant held clattered to the ground as it staggered. Ignis still on it’s head, trying to keep his balance.

“Jump, I’ll catch you.” Gladio shouted as the daemon began tumbling backwards.

Ignis did as he was instructed, jumping off the daemons head toward Gladio. He tossed his blade back into the armiger and caught Ignis in his arms, sending them both to the ground. The daemon sunk into the same black tar from where it came. The polearm and engine blade joined the daemon’s sword on the ground. Breathing hard, both Ignis and Gladio stayed on the ground to catch their breath, Ignis on top of him. Gladio was the first to bubble with laughter, Ignis soon following.

“Ignis!”

“Gladio!”

Prompto and Noct were at their sides in meer moments, looking at the two of them as if they were utterly insane. Ignis got off Gladio, brushing off some dirt as he straightened. He helped Gladio to his feet.

“We’re fine, your majesty,” Ignis said as he sat up. “That was--”

“Amazing. Haven’t felt like that in a long time,” Gladio stretched, muscles protesting. “Anyone hurt?”

“Nah, I think we managed to avoid getting hit this time around thanks to you, but is your arm okay? You blocked that blade remember?” Noct asked, poking at the arm in question.

“It’s a bit numb,” Gladio said with a wince. “But I’m used to it. Things will be fine after a bit. The other two hunters okay?” Gladio glanced over to see Pelna and Axis staring at them.

“Yeah, they’re okay, big guy,” Prompto said, grinning. “I think they’re just a bit shocked that the four of us just took down an iron giant.”

“Nice shooting.” Noct held out his arm slightly raised, waiting for Prompto to bump fists. Noct frowned as Prompto just looked at the arm confused. “Dude, come on. We made a pretty good team.”

“Uhh…”

“Like this, Prom.” Gladio showed him what Noct was waiting for. Once the kid saw, he was eager to return the prince’s fist bump. “Iggy, where did you get that polearm?”

“I borrowed it from Axis.”

Things would be calm for a bit, but Gladio knew they had to get moving again. They needed to get the lights back on. Ignis retrieved the polearm, handing it to Axis who checked the weapon for damage. He then picked up the engine blade, returning it to Noct, who just sent it back to the armiger.

“Why did you leave it in the daemon?” Ignis frowned at Noct.

“I couldn’t get it to go through and didn’t want the ichor all over me. So I left it in,” Noct shrugged as Gladio chuckled rubbing his nose.

“Don’t look too deep into it, Iggy. He’s used to switching weapons and honestly, if you hadn’t used it as a foot hold, I might have.” Gladio slung his arm around Noct’s shoulder, who protested by trying to push Gladio’s arm off his neck. “We trained him so that he would be able to create openings like that since he can warp the easiest among the Crownsguard.”

“Linked attacks. Come on, Gladio. My back hurts!” Noct complained, pushing Gladio off of him.

“Yeah, yeah. Try and stretch it a bit. I’m gonna move the sword out of the road before someone else ends up running it over then we’ll head to the plant.”

Gladio, along with Axis and Pelna moved the sword. The three quickly got to talking strategy and how it took only four of them to take down the iron giant. He wondered what they would say if Gladio mentioned that Cor and himself could take down one or two daemons without Noct? When he glanced back at Ignis, Gladio frowned. Something was up, but he couldn’t quite place. He’d have to ask later.

It wasn’t that big of a deal for Noct to leave weapons for others to use. Or maybe it was simply because the prince had joined the fight? Gladio didn’t want to assume anything. Noct he could read like an open book most days, but Prompto and Ignis were another story altogether. He had only known them for a short period of time. They fought well with each other, but nothing to the extent that Gladio had with Noct that only came with time, experience, and trust.

“That was pretty cool. Can we warp like that too?” Pelna asked, getting his dagger ready to throw as if by simply mimicking Noct he could do it. They were heading back to the truck.

Noct shrugged, stepping near Prompto. “Umm….not exactly. It’s something only Gladio, Cor, and I can do right now. Though Gladio can’t stomach it.”

“Hey! I lost my lunch once. I just don’t like running around and warping all over like you.” Gladio huffed, but ushered their group back to the truck.

“Right now? Does that mean we can in the future?” Pelna grinned.

“....Maybe?”

“Pelna, don’t bother the kid. It’s obvious he doesn’t know the answer, whoever he is and Gladio to boot, I don’t care. So long as we make it through this gods forsaken night,” Axis said tapping on the window to let Gladio know they were ready.

“Sorry….Nyx let me read some of the books, and I sometimes get a bit excited. But guess we owe you one. Maybe, a lot of ones when this is over and done with.” Pelna leaned against the bed of the truck.

Gladio watched them, carefully. All Noct had to do was put on the ring and give them access. They would be able to fight just as freely as Gladio and Noct did, but the kid was putting off his duty. Running away…..again.

He started the truck back up and headed to the power plant. If he had known following Noct as his shield would lead to so many headaches and moody hormones, he might have picked a different path in life. But the hand on his shoulder, and an understanding smile from Ignis righted his world. Noct would learn he needed to do things he didn’t want to in his own time. Gladio just had to be there to help him.  

Chapter Text

The rest of the way to the power plant was quiet. Any other daemons that showed up were generally too far away or easily outrun thanks to the truck. Ignis directed Gladio to stop at the guard station that was supposed to be manned when they arrived on a long stretch of road that lead to the powerplant.

“Be careful, Iggy,” Gladio said as he kept the truck running.

He didn’t like the fact Ignis was going alone, but if things were truly as bad as Ignis suspected, they might have to quickly regroup somewhere else. Prompto must have had the same feeling because Gladio heard the distinct sound of him undoing the safety. Good, Gladio thought, knowing that he would not be much help behind the wheel if something attacked ignis. Watching Ignis walk up to the station, Gladio could see part of his reflection in the window. Those green eyes grew wide, probably at whatever he saw beyond the window pane. Gladio didn't need Ignis to voice what he saw, his white face and green eyes were enough. Gladio just hoped the others didn't the same reaction as he had. 

Ignis gave them the all clear. 

“What do you think it means, Igs?” Prompto asked from the bed of the truck. “I know the guys who were here, they wouldn’t have just up and left.”

“You’re not wrong, but there is no indication that anyone has been here for quite some time. There was dust on the panels.” Ignis climbed back into his seat. He turned to the group in the bed of the truck. His face having returned to its normal complexion. Whatever he saw, Gladio was thankful it wasn't the mauled bodies of the guards, but that might mean the daemons were getting a bit bolder or there was a monster or two loose too. “This power plant must have been compromised before even now. We should stay alert and at the ready.”

There was a round of nodding heads. The techs didn’t exactly look happy, but then Gladio couldn’t blame them. This could mean any of their deaths.

“So where to? The front of the power plant?”

Ignis nodded. “It’s best we get there as soon as possible to assess the situation.”

“Right. Noct, you sure you’re up for this with your back?” Gladio asked, looking at his prince through the rearview mirror.

“Yeah. Just no crazy stunts,” Noct said as he took out a pair of daggers from the armiger.

Gladio put the car back into drive and sped to the front of the power plant. The plant itself was a rather large building with different thick cables running in different directions. Some followed the path towards Tandem, others to the north and east. For a moment Gladio realised there might be other cities or outposts like Tandem that would be without power. While it seemed Tandem could certainly hold it’s own, others probably wouldn’t be that lucky. They really needed to get the power back on.

“Hey, Gladio, watch out up ahead. I think there are some goblins running on some of the lines.” Noctis pointed to a few of them, though Gladio couldn't tell where exactly they were.

“Should I take them out?” Prompto asked as he readied his gun once more. It reassured Gladio to know they had someone who could do distance attacks like this. It made fighting that much easier.

“A waste of bullets I’m afraid. If they ambush us later, we’ll deal with them, but let’s save as much ammo that you have for what’s truly inside of the power plant,” Ignis said tapping his hand on his leg.

Gladio could feel the nervous tension coming from him, but there was nothing he could say or do to really relieve that. No, they would need to get the power plant back up and running for that to be a thing. It took another two minutes for Gladio to pull up and park the truck before they were at the front steps of the power plant.

“Right, let’s go over some tactics before we--”

Gladio glared at the sudden ringtone that went off. Ignis fumbled with his pocket, giving the shield an apologetic look. Gladio shook his head, as he turned back to the others. Whoever was calling, it had to be important if Ignis took it. 

“Noct and I are best fighting together. Though with the looks of the powerplant, I don’t think it’s going to be wise for me to use my sword, so I’m going to use my shield for the most part Noct.” Gladio patted the buckler on his arm. “You’ll be taking up point then.”

Noct nodded, switching the daggers for his engine blade. “Got it.”

“Pelna, Axis, you two know the power plant as much as Ignis. How many ways to the centre are there?”

“Three in total, though we already passed one. So two now.” Pelna pulled out a map for Gladio. He used a small flashlight he clipped to his shirt earlier to read it. He pointed to one spot and then another. “These two here.”

“Good. We’ll split into two groups--”

“What? Bloody hell. Tell her that Nyx is better used in--Yes, I’m well aware of her position--”

Gladio glanced over to Ignis who started pacing. It was clear things were not as easy back in Tandem as it had seemed. Pelna shrunk a little seeming to know exactly who Ignis was talking about. Giving the hunter a questionable look, Pelna only shook his head. Best not to know at the moment. Right, they had a mission to do after all.

“Anyway, we’ll split the groups. Noctis and I will take Prompto for sure. You take Ignis with you and the rest of the techs.” Gladio scanned the map, trying to remember all the turns they would need to take in case Prompto wouldn’t know where to go. "You'll need more protection with the added techs."

“With all due respect, take Ignis with you. We’ll take the safer route here with these three techs. You take that one, the more dangerous path because we’ll need both routes cleared anyway,” Pelna said. He was glad to be back on the topic what they were doing here rather than on Ignis.

“Why?” Noct asked, staring at the moment.

“For one thing, buddy, we need access to this hallway here and that one. Once we get the core of the power plant running again with Ignis’s magic, we’ll need to reboot the system. It’s why we have more than just one tech with us.” Prompto pointed at the three and then back to himself. As much as techs were technically vulnerable, they were important when it came to running the power plant.

“I see. And how are we going to stay in contact? Because I’m not waiting around for you in case something happens.” Gladio shifted his weight.

“Or the other way around. Just because you fought the daemon earlier, doesn’t mean that we’re not just as capable. You forget, we’ve survived this long without you around,” Axis said, matching Gladio’s stance, almost sizing him up. “We don’t need some hero suddenly. That I can promise you.”

“Nah, you already got one of those.” Gladio was glad to see Pelna and Axis still ready to fight.

“Damn straight. Just give us your number, we’ll just keep in contact in case there is something that happens.” Axis pulled out his phone.

Shit, would their phones work? They were all set up with Insomnia in mind and with Insomnia in ruins, Gladio pulled out his phone. Pointless really, the thing was dead. Probably died within a month of being frozen. Shit. Noct shrugged. Gladio wondered if Noct had tried to use his phone earlier.

“Uhh-”

“Just get in contact with me Axis,” Prompto said with a bright smile. “You got Igs’s number too.”

Gladio relaxed a little, glad to have the blonde along. Prompto winked.

“I apologize for that,” Ignis said as he rejoined them. Irate was one of the words Gladio would describe Ignis, but beneath that there was something else there too. Whatever, so long as Ignis focused on the battle, Gladio would help him deal with the phone call later. “Now, do we have a plan?”

“Yup. You and me are going with Noct and the big guy. We’re taking this route while the others take this one.” Prompto beamed up at Ignis. How the hell the kid could be so happy about this sort of situation was beyond Gladio. But then Prompto had been cheerful most of the time he saw him. Maybe it was just the way Prompto was. Not a bad thing to have around, especially with how dark the world seemed now. 

“Alright, then. Whenever everyone is ready.” Ignis patted Prompto’s shoulder, giving him a small smile.

It didn’t take long for Gladio and Noct to delve up some of the potions from the armiger, explaining how to use them. Ignis didn't seem pleased by the action, but the others at least thanked them for a means to heal each other if the need arose. While the others wouldn’t have access to the armiger to store things, the potions were still valuable and worked without Noct needing to be nearby. The techs carried more than Axis or Pelna, but then the techs would be more for support rather than for fighting it seemed, sort of the way Prompto acted, though none of them had guns. Gladio didn’t worry too much about how they were going to fight, more he was steeling himself for whatever they might find in the power plant if the goblins above them were anything to go by. Shutting off a whole power plant was not something mere goblins could have done. They would find something else inside. He would stake his Crownsguard badge on it. 

“Hey, Gladio?” Noct asked as Prompto double checked his ammo. The two were sitting on the edge of the truck bed.

“Yeah?” Gladio came over, crossing his arms. It was clear as day that something was eating at Noct.

“....You’re not going to give me hell for not wearing the thing?” Noct looked anywhere but at Gladio, who sighed.

“Noct, I can’t make you do something you don’t want. You get about as stubborn as Garula. So, no I’m not going to give you hell.” Gladio could tell this was more than just about the ring. Noct was never really good at talking about shit, but Gladio was patient. Not always, but sometimes. Eventually, whatever Noct wanted to get out would.

“Even if you’re right?” Noct glanced at the two hunters ushering the techs in the direction they needed to go. Prompto glanced up, but was wise enough not to say anything.

“If you feel guilty, do something about it. Decide. Either put on the ring and give them access to the armiger and magic, or don’t. I’m not going to make you feel better about not doing something you should. And I’m not going to make you do it either for the same reason.”

He could see Noct biting his lip. The kid was smart and could play games, but this was one Gladio was not going to entertain. Not this time. There was more at stake than just some pastry he didn’t get or training that he skipped. No, Noct was playing with lives. He needed to do the right thing and he would have to do it on his own. Six forbidden they would get separated and Noct would have to make some decisions on his own. Gladio just hoped Noct would be ready if it ever happened. These sorts of decisions made or break the kind of king of Noct would become. If they actually restored him to a throne.

“.....” Noct opened his mouth a few times only to close it.

“Better hurry before they’re gone and out of range.” Gladio stared at his prince, hoping for once he would just do his duty. Even if these hunters were not Lucians from Insomnia, they were still here.

“Axis! Pelna! Wait.” Noct turned to face them. “Ignis, Prompto, you too. T-There’s something we need to do before we head out.”

Gladio could see his shoulders shaking. Letting Pelna and Axis access to the same magic meant revealing who they were and honestly, he didn’t much care. Ignis had called Noct his highness a few times already. If the hunters thought it was just a nickname, well they were in for a treat. Noct and Gladio were in a weird position anyway and the more allies they had the better.

“What is it Noct?” Prompto asked, practically hopping over.

“Yeah, we got a job to do kid.” Axis raised an eyebrow, as he and Pelna came back over.

“...Remember how you asked me if you could learn to warp?”

The four nod.

“There is. I just…..What I tell you can’t get out. At least not yet,” Noct said as he shrugged. “Prom and Iggy already know, but I’m actually from Insomnia. The city that’s beneath Tandem. I was frozen along with Gladio in hopes of securing a future my father didn’t think was possible then. But that’s not all. The reason we’re able to use magic and conjure weapons is because of the armiger.”

Gladio put a hand on Noct’s shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. They were doing the right thing. He wasn’t sure if there was a way to terminate the connection once made, but if they needed to cross that bridge they would figure it out. For now, he just had to help Noct get through this.

"With the exception of Prompto and I, we don't have this armiger," Ignis clarified when Axis glared at them.

“I can give you access to it. The armiger, it will make your magic stronger,” Noct held up a ring looking at Prompto and Noct. “If I put this one and keep wearing it, I can give that power to others." This time he looked at Axis and Plena. "Their own armiger and their own magic. It’s all tied back to this crystal that the empire has, but since we’re still able to use it, the crystal is still very much there and somehow, I still have access to its power. So, I ask. Do y-you want me to give you that power?”

Silence filled the air as the four stood there. Ignis broke it first.

“Your majesty, as much as I appreciate the gesture, it’s clear you’re not ready to accept that burden. Being close to you and able to use the magic as I have is enough for me.” Ignis nudged Prompto who nodded.

“Yeah! When you’re ready we can do all that magic stuff, but only then.” Prompto held up his arm like Noct had shown him before. Noct gave his arm a bump and returned the smile before turning to Axis and Pelna. It was hard to gauge what those two were thinking, well perhaps more so Axis than Pelna.

“I’m with Ignis. We don’t want you to do something you don’t want, but umm...why did you call him ‘his majesty’?” Pelna stared at Noct as if the kid had suddenly grown another head or something. Gladio couldn't help the small chuckle. 

“That is because he is the prince of Lucis. Or I suppose king now,” Ignis said without missing a beat.

“K-King? Fucking Six, Axis, we’ve been--”

“Yeah,” Axis glared at Ignis and then at Noct. “What about this guy?”

“Me?” Gladio asked, scoffing. “I’m just a shield.”

“Gladio!” Noct glared. “You’re more than just that. Geez. Anyway, what about you, Axis?”

“I don’t need some foreign king’s power. No, I’ll be fine. We all will.” Axis turned away from Noct, who flinched at the words 'foreign king'.

That was how this world saw Noct. He was a foreign king to them. Things were different. Maybe restoring the throne wasn't going to be something they could do. Gladio thought about the reason for them having gone through the cryofreeze in the first place. Axis stopped short only to look at Noct. “

You shouldn’t offer that kind of power to just anyone. You don’t know who you can trust just yet, right?”

“Axis!” Pelna rushed after Axis, who simply left after giving that piece of advice.

Noct let out a long sigh, probably from the relief of having not being pressured into wearing the ring. Gladio was actually surprised none of them wanted to use the magic that only the king could offer. But more than that, that they all seemed to think of Noctis as a person. It dawned on Gladio that these people had survived years without a king, or a prince for that matter. These people didn’t know what it meant to be connected to a king and the crystal, like Cor and he was. Maybe, they didn’t need to use the crystal power, because maybe they didn’t need to restore the monarchy. They still had to take down the Niffs, but their futures after that, well it was just as open if they survived that long.