Aranea’s parents always liked to tell people about the first time she saw her little brother.
“We were a little worried, of course,” her mother would say, smirking slightly at a scowling Aranea. “You never know how kids’ll react to new siblings. And Nea was always rather grumpy as a child-”
“As a child ?” Her dad would cut in, glancing conspiratorially between her mother and whomever they were relating the story to. “Seems to me that she still is .”
Everyone, of course, would find this absolutely hilarious . Aranea would usually cross her arms at that and glare harder.
" Anyway ," her mom would say, still laughing, “but what happens when we finally are able to bring him home?”
“What?” the listener would ask, leaning forward a little, already anticipating the punchline.
“Why,” her father would cut in. “just as we were kneeling down to show her the baby, she shrieked " Mine!" at the top of her lungs, dashed forward, and snatched him out of our arms!”
“It’s a miracle that nobody dropped him on his head!” Mom would agree, turning to smile at both of her kids.
“Probably would have explained a few things about him if he had been,” Aranea would mutter, cheerfully ignored by everyone else.
“We couldn’t get her to let go for the rest of the night,” Dad would continue to the now-amused listener. “Every time we tried, she just repeated no over and over. When we tried to reason with her, she just said "No! He’s like me , he’s mine. No!"
The listener would then usually ask some variant of what did she mean by that? And Aranea’s parents would look at each other and shrug.
“To this day, we have no idea,” Dad would say. “Bit hard to get answers out of a three-year-old, and of course she doesn’t remember now.”
At this point, the conversation would usually turn to other things, as Prompto would finally look up from whatever piece of tech he was currently fiddling with to look sideways at her in sympathy. The talk never bothered him, she knew, as he still soaked in the love and care that their parents gave as effortlessly as breathing, but he knew that it bothered her, if not as much as she claimed, so he was sympathetic.
And teasing or not, Aranea couldn’t never find it in her to blame her three-year-old self. Even now, it was all too much, some days, remembering a time long past that was now considered religious myth more than historical fact. Even now, even though she had someone else who remembered, who knew , who could confirm that she wasn’t crazy or delusional.
In light of that, she couldn’t blame three-year-old her for latching on the moment she somehow (magic? Fate? instinct?) recognized a kindred spirit.
Even if said kindred spirit was a total dweeb .
She had always instinctively remembered, somewhere down in her subconscious.
There was no “Grand Awakening” - a single moment where she suddenly woke up and realized “Oh shit, I’ve been reincarnated.” Rather it was a slow seep of knowledge, of who she was becoming who she is , with random pieces of knowledge coming to mind as events triggered them.
Usually at the most awkward moment possible. Such as during temple.
Let’s just say that it’s a good thing that her nickname for the King of Light was “pretty boy” and not something more offensive.
Prompto got off easy in that regard, as the adults had thought it adorable when a four-year-old Prompto had called out “Noct!” when looking at a picture during the children’s “Little Lights” class that took place in between temple services and proceeded to insist that it was of his best friend before bursting into tears.
Aranea had been quick to pull him away. She tugged him over to a disused corner and knelt down so that his face was buried in her shoulder.
“I want Noct ,” Prompto sniffed, eyes spilling over with tears as his four-year-old mind struggled to deal with the influx of memories. “And Iggy a-and Gladio , and-“
Aranea quickly shushed him before anyone could overhear, the eyes of the watching adults turning from amusement to sympathy as they saw Prompto’s tears. She could see their teacher speak quietly to one of the helpers, and knew that someone was grabbing their parents from upstairs. She had to placate him quickly, then.
“I know, shortcake,” she murmured at him, rocking slightly. “But you wanna protect Noct, right?”
Watery eyes looked up at her as he nodded vigorously.
“Then you gotta be quiet about him, ok?” Aranea said. “Only talk about him with people like us.”
Prompto frowned, clearly thinking this over. “People who ‘member?”
Aranea breathed out a sigh of relief. “Yes, those people. Otherwise it’s a secret to everybody. Even our parents. Got it?”
Prompto nodded determinedly. “Got it!”
“Good,” she said, turning as she heard footsteps behind them.
Mom smiled at them, kneeling down and gathering Prompto into her arms. She stood up, small hands clinging to her shirt, just as Dad, put a hand on Aranea’s hair.
“Everything alright, Nea?” He asked, as their Mom turned to talk to the teacher’s assistant, the class continuing in the background.
She shrugged, not quite managing to dislodge the hand. “It’s fine.”
Dad smiled at her. “You’re a good sister, sweetheart. We’re both really proud of you.”
Now that caused Aranea to scoff and dart forward, away from her dad, but it wasn’t quite enough to hide the pleased flush of her face.
Prompto liked school. He liked learning new things and meeting new people, and after the constant terror that was the World of Ruin, he even liked the boring, predictable schedule and safe, tedious homework.
But this part… was just weird.
Now, Before, Prompto was fairly certain that there were some sort of laws regarding religion in schools - in an era of sleeping gods, most people weren’t too interested beyond the Oracle. And those that were interested tended to go to special schools or at least send their kids there.
Now, it seemed that not only was Lucianism everywhere, his parents were in fact the type of people to send their kids to religious-based schools.
It was so weird.
He not only had the normal classes he remembered on stuff like literature and math and science, but now also classes that focused on the Cosmology in general, and The Revelation of Bahamut in particular.
Aka stuff about Noct. And Lady Lunafreya. And his friends.
And… himself, he guessed. Some of it, anyway. He preferred not to think about it.
He was literally required to pray to his best friend every day right after class started. Sometimes out loud. Sometimes in front of the whole class.
Prompto swore to himself then and there that Noct would never find out about this .
It was easier if he pretended that he was praying only to Lady Lunafreya - she had always been someone untouchable to him, too wonderful to actually be real.
His prayers to her were the ones he shared with the class.
His ones to Noct… were not.
How do you think the teacher would react if I told her of the weeks you ran around dressed as a video game assassin? Or that you dragged the rest of us to that festival? Ignis was not comfortable in those clothes, dude. I thought that he’d faint from embarrassment. Or I could maybe mention the time you dressed as a part cat?
It’s really too bad most of my pictures were destroyed. I’d loved to see how they would react to the couple hundred pictures I took of their savior falling off his chocobo.
People remember you for all this grand stuff, but so much of the little suff was forgotten. Like all of the broken down cars we helped fix, or the cat that you fished for hours for just so that Monica could make fancy enough cat food. Or tracking down frogs all over Lucis. You always were happiest when you were actually doing something to make people's’ lives better. You really hated politics. You would’ve hated this.
Oh look at that, the photos of you wearing the Cup Noodle hat mysteriously vanished too. Can’t imagine why.
Yeah, best keep those safely locked away in his brain, thank you very much.
So school was weird. Math was math, at least at this level, and science had made some cool new leaps since his time (not as much as he would have hoped though - the World of Ruin had really set civilization back). More books had been written that now were classified as “classics” that he had to read for some reason, but overall he did well in class.
But religious class. If he had thought prayer time was hard, it had nothing on this.
The Fall of the Kingdom of Lucis.
The Covenants of the Astrals.
The Temperance of Sir Gladio.
The Death of Lady Lunafreya.
The Blinding of Sir Ignis.
Lady Iris the Demon-Slayer.
The Final Sacrifice of King Noctis.
When they’d gone over that story in the younger grades, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from crying, overwhelmed by all of the emotions that he had been too numb to feel at the time. At the time, there hadn’t been any need for crying - if Noct was going to have to die, then so would he. There was no question.
But now? Now he can only rage at the unfairness of it all, and his baby brain wasn’t built to handle such emotional upheavals.
(The teachers could talk about symbolism and power and symmetry and ascending all they wanted, but Prompto still had to bite his tongue to keep from saying “ The real story is that the Astrals were dicks who for some reason couldn’t solve their own problems and thus forced my best friend to do it for them. That’s all there was to it.” )
Some of the other kids had tried to tease him about it, but between the teachers sternly rebuking them when they were dumb enough to do it within hearing-range and Prompto’s own ability to fake cheer and laugh it off, the episode was soon mostly forgotten.
The other stories were a little easier, because they were either something he wasn’t directly there for, or something that had healed over quickly.
It… might have helped that they often looked at paintings when learning about the stories. Prompto found those hilarious . Mainly because, among other things, Prompto is pretty sure that Ignis wasn’t half-naked when he’d been blinded.
...but to be fair to the artists, Gladio probably was half-naked while fighting Gilgamesh. That man had been allergic to shirts.
Prize for the most surreal days were the ones where they focused on him .
The Trials of Sir Prompto.
Which was a really polite thing to call that whole hell journey. Prompto personally liked to refer to it as “That Time Ardyn was a Dick. No, Not That One, The Other One; No, the Other Other One; That One, Over There”.
Which was quite the mouthful, but much more honest, in his opinion.
It’s just -
His entire history was on display. Every battle, every decision, every secret that he’d spent a lifetime trying to keep was now common knowledge to every citizen of Eos that didn’t live under a rock.
All up there on the whiteboard at the front of the classroom, shameful secrets carelessly written in cheap black ink, to be dutifully recorded by bored students so that they could be regurgitated on a test in the near future. Yes/no, pass/fail, fill in this blank, color in that circle.
Those classes always left him feeling raw and exposed, with a strong desire to curl up in his bed and never leave again.
His barcode was well-documented, and yes Prompto had been the one to take those photos himself, but they had been given to close friends only in confidence so that they could use it to navigate abandoned Niff bases.
Guess that’s just what happened when a majority of his friends proceeded to die heroically a few years later and the remaining ones had a society to rebuild.
(It probably hadn’t even crossed their minds to dispose of them. The prints were still useful, and what would he care anymore? He was dead . Reincarnation wasn’t a pressing concern of theirs.)
Moogling himself was even worse.
There were scholarly articles written about him, his life, his friendship with Noct, and the religious significance that one of the Chosen King’s Royal Retinue had originally been created to oppose him, but had instead destroyed his creator and gave himself over to the King’s light.
Which - none of it was wrong exactly, not factually, but-
It felt like they were missing the point .
Or maybe Prompto was the one missing the point. He’d never been great at seeing grand designs and machinations. That had been Gladio and Ignis’ jobs. They’d been raised for it, raised for lofty duties and grand visions of the future. Prompto had just wanted to stick by his best friend’s side and make sure that he was as happy and safe as possible.
(He hadn’t even known about Besithia for most of his life, just knew he was different somehow, that the barcode represented something bad -
- the decision to shoot him hadn’t nearly been as hard as the writers made it out to be.)
Sill, Moogling himself led him down a deep dark rabbit hole that he’s not sure that he wanted to follow. (Some people dedicated their entire lives to studying him. Him. Why?!?!? )
...he still bookmarked several sites, just in case.
Never let it be said that Prompto make great life choices.
Aranea didn’t find the classes nearly as weird as Prompto did.
She had the advantage of distance, for one. While she’d certainly gotten to know 3/4ths of the Dork Squad during the years of Ruin, they’d been closer to allies than friends.
She barely knew Pretty Boy at all, other than through Prompto.
And it helped that the stuff written about her was pretty accurate. Fought for the empire, found her line in the sand, left and helped with humanitarian work and relief efforts.
Oh, the books said it in much more flowery language (she certainly hadn’t stared into the king’s eyes and felt her heart begin to change ), but that was the basic gist of it.
The assignments weren’t too bad either. She’d worked for the fucking Empire , she knew how to spew back shit that the higher-ups would like.
Watching Prompto’s ever-befuddled reactions were amusing, though.
“I have to write a paper on the symbolism of my journey through the wastelands of Niflheim,” he hissed, waving his arms wildly around with the assignment clutched in his hands. He kept glancing nervously at the door as though afraid their parents would suddenly burst through and overhear him. “I got pushed off a train because Ardyn was a dick and tricked Noct into thinking that he was me. Then I had to find them again. Or rather, they found me. End of story.”
“I dunno,” Aranea said, laying back on her bed. “The Chancellor was a dramatic little shit. And he was manipulating your little group the entire way. He totally might have made decisions based on aesthetics .”
Prompto paused, grimacing. “Maybe,” he said, recalling some of the taunts that Ardyn had said while he’d been tied up. “So what, to write this stupid paper I need to think like Ardyn ?” Now there was a pleasant thought.
Aranea snorted. “I wouldn’t go that far,” she said. “But what I’m saying is don’t sweat it so much. No one actually cares about the facts. Just treat it like a story. Use different names if you want, then replace ‘em all before you turn in the assignment.”
A… story? Like yeah, he guessed, but...
Getting rather desperate, Prompto proceded to turn to the internet for help.
Among the many scholarly sites was one that he hadn’t expected to find, but on reflection, really should have.
...which...well, they couldn’t be much worse than the official stuff.
He clicked on a link and began to read.
Mistakes were made.
Mistakes were made.
MISTAKES WERE M A D E . . .
(Note that this does not mean that he stopped. )
When he was a senior, the entire class took a weekend trip to Insomnia.
Most of the city was nigh-unrecognizable.
Insomnia had been extraordinarily advanced, far beyond anywhere else in the world (the world just now, hundreds of years later, pulling ahead of it) but so much destruction had taken its toll, and after rebuilding and remodeling in the years since then had made it so that Prompto couldn’t really find where his house had once stood.
The only part of the city that still looked somewhat the same was the Citadel’s district. And as good little followers of the King of Light, Prompto’s class was naturally going to tour the Citadel.
(Prompto desperately wished that he had been in Aranea’s class instead - yes, Altissia sucked too, but it sucked slightly less than the Citadel.)
The Citadel itself was just as chilly and intimidating as he remembered, all cold black marble and steel.
(And now it was not only chilly and intimidating, but contained traumatic memories of not only his death but those of his dearest friends! Yay!)
There were… a lot of true believers there. Including some of his classmates. The offerings and prayers were… fine, but it was deeply disturbing to watch people crawl as far up the dais as they were allowed, muttering prayers all the way.
(Noct would have been so uncomfortable.)
But aside from his long-since-repressed trauma, (Yep! Definitely died about two feet to the left over there! Oh! That’s where Gladio bled to death! Dunno about Iggy - think he was the last man standing) and the usual weirdness of the general public, the tour was like any other old building tour that Prompto had ever been on. Look at all the rooms, listen to the guide drone on for a while, visit the gift shop.
Yes, a freakin’ gift shop . Which had technically existed in Prompto’s time as well, but back then it’d just been the castle gift shop and while you could buy stuff with the Lucis Caelum seal on it (in proper royal black), any stuff about Noct had to be bought online directly from fans.
(He… may have gifted Noct with stupid fan merch for his birthday one year.
Or every year.
There may or may not have been an anime pillow involved.
And maybe he had to hide where he got it from Iggy so that the site wouldn’t be shut down.
Eh. Worth it.)
They sold shards of crystal for outrageous prices (not genuine shards of Bahamut’s Crystal, but shards blessed by the priests and priestesses - Prompto was still kinda tempted to buy one just so he could chuck it into a lake), copies of the Cosmology, books written about the Cosmology and small charms that were dedicated to different religious figures (didn’t look in his section, nope, nope, nope - ...might have bought his friends’, though).
That was just the official stuff - outside of the citadel were tons and tons of unofficial gift shops. They were let loose to explore the surrounding area after the tour, and Prompto gave into his curiosity and looked around a few of the shops.
There was some normalish stuff - home decorations (usually with prayers or lines from the Cosmology on them), dishtowels, soap, carbonated beverages (should’ve sold Ebony - that would have gotten Iggy’s seal of approval), a few “educational” video games (that Prompto had definitely not watched playthroughs of), and clothing (once again with prayers printed on them).
Then there was the… weird stuff. A breath spray that enhanced your belief? Air freshener? Really really weird dolls (that were probably haunted). Gum? A workout video (that honestly didn’t even look that good). 3D glasses (why???)? And statues of popular Cosmology stories where all of the people were replaced by… dogs (honestly, Prompto could get behind that one).
But in general, just - just what the fuck -
Prompto backpedaled out of there very, very quickly. Every time he thought that it couldn’t get any weirder ...
College allowed for far too much thinking time.
He was separated from Aranea for the first time in this life, and he hadn’t realized just how much he leaned on her.
He had never been very good at making friends - in the first life he’d been an overweight, socially-awkward Niff , who had managed to fix the first and hide the second. He still wasn’t sure why Noct, Iggy and Gladio had overlooked the third, but he was grateful every damn day of his life.
Now? Now he was a reincarnated religious(?!?) figure with holes in his heart where people used to be and daemons in his head that he was never quite able to beat back fully. It was hard to connect to people that simultaneously knew far too much and far too little about him, hard to connect to their everyday worries when the only thing he cared about was finding his friends.
He also wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with his life. At least there, he and his classmates were on the same page.
His parents had been concerned when he had moved so far from home, but had accepted his decision when he said he just wanted to experience big-city life.
(He was in Insomnia because he was sentimental and homesick, but his parents didn’t need to know that.)
Aranea had chosen to stay in their hometown and enroll in the local university to study engineering.
“It just feels right,” she had said, shaking her head. “And maybe once I wouldn’t have believed all of that mumbo-jumbo about “following your heart” and “being in touch with the universe” but I saw far too much to dismiss it so easily. Something’s gonna happen here, and I’m gonna be here when it does.”
So he signs up for art classes and photography as well as science and engineering - a decade of learning to repair machines in the Long Night coming in handy in the sunlit classroom - and met with advisor after advisor to try and figure out a plan for the next few years.
But it was in one of his engineering classes that he (re)met Cindy.
They quickly fell back into the easy friendship that they had shared during the 10 Years of Darkness.
They swapped stories of their new lives: Prompto told her about his parents and Aranea and Cindy told him while she lived with her parents this time around, she still saw Cid on a regular basis.
Currently he was in a dispute with the local authorities over some… rather illegal modifications that had been made to Cindy’s car.
“Course, it was me that did it,” Cindy admitted, “but nothing makes Grandpappy happier than arguin’ with people so I let him claim it.”
“Cid never respected authority a day in his life,” Prompto said fondly.
“Prolly why he got along with the royals so well,” Cindy said, propping her chin on her hand. She raised an eyebrow at him. “That family never did like bootlickers.”
“I was respectful to the king!” Prompto protested, feeling a little put out.
Cindy gave him a knowing look. “Was that ‘cause he was royalty, or ‘cause he was your best friend's dad?”
“I can do things for more than one reason,” Prompto muttered, picking up his drink and hiding behind it.
Cindy snorted. “Uh huh.”
Prompto made a face at her.
During his fourth year of college, Prompto got a part time job working as tech support while doing freelance photography on the side.
He didn’t get much business on that front - in a college town, there were more than enough students willing to take pictures “for the exposure” that it was rather difficult to find actual, paying gigs.
Which is why when a rather controversial reporter needed photos done for his next story, Prompto was the one to take the job. Many of the more experienced photographers had shied away, not wanting their work associated with so much bad press (even if so few people paid attention to the photographer).
So Prompto found himself agreeing to meet with one Basilius Lucerna, a very young reporter who had made headlines while he was in college exposing the more… unsavory side of many prominent religious figures.
Which, well, way to make Prompto look like a slacker, Lucerna.
Prompto was playing some dumb mobile game at the cafe where they had agreed to meet when he heard the approaching footsteps. He looked up to make eye contact with the man - that he assumed was Basilius Lucerna - and felt his breath catch in his throat.
Aranea had recognized Prompto at once, when she was only three and the only reason it took Prompto any longer at nearly twenty -three was because he was too shocked to process it.
“...Noct?” He whispered.
Aranea frowned a bit as she opened her brother's text message. Prompto rarely sent them, preferring to either call or just wait to talk in person.
It was a hastily-taken selfie with him and… was that the reporter that he had been going to go meet? Their eyes were both red-rimmed, as if they’d been crying, but Prompto’s smile was as bright as the sun.
Another text dinged a moment later, this one with words.
Hey Nea, found your pretty-boy. I know you haven’t seen him in like, a lifetime, but I’m going to monopolize him for awhile, okay?
Now she was even more confused. Found her pretty-boy? She’d never met this man, of that she was certain. But the only person she’d ever called that-
Her eyes darted back to the photo. The stranger. She… she had seen that smile before, the few times that Iris had been able to stand looking at Prompto’s printed photographs.
The small half-smile that she had figured out was the prince’s equivalent of jumping for joy.
If asked, she would never admit to her hands shaking slightly as she typed out: Looks like you need him more than I do.
Prompto replied within moments. Yeah, I think I do :)