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Takka’s Diner isn’t the quiet restaurant it used to be, five years before the sun was blotted out. It’s mostly a gathering place for those that are still surviving through the long night; generally a headquarter for hunters. Still, it’s one of the only safe places left, perfect for a reunion that has been a long time coming.

Prompto approaches the place, well-lit and secure, and he wishes it were a bit more like coming home, but home is only where the heart is, these days. And his heart is always roaming.

Little over a year ago, when Ignis had finally gotten sick of Gladio’s constant anger and fighting with even those who cared the most for him, the adviser took off on his own in the night. Prompto wasn’t quite right for a month after that, the grief of losing Noctis still a gaping wound; waking up to find Ignis gone, no note, no explanation, had been too much.

Gladio’s response to the departure was a growl of “that’s his prerogative,” and going on as though nothing had changed. He wasn’t exactly empathetic towards Prompto’s sorrow.

Prompto could have gone off on his own to find Ignis, but there was an enormous part of him that knew if he left Gladio, it would make him the last of the Shield’s friends and family to abandon him. If Prompto did that, though he was ashamed to admit it even now, it would hurt a lot more to lose Gladio.

Gladio had allowed a certain amount of intimacy as they traveled together, but only at the end of the “day”, when they had found shelter and a bed to share. Never a moment of softness while they roamed the continent, disposing of the unending rampage of daemons under the darkened sky.

It had been a huge blow, six months ago, when Prompto awoke alone. Another unannounced absence.

If the loss of Noct is now a dull ache in his guts, and Ignis’s departure is a sharp jab to the spine with every thought of the adviser, Gladio’s abandonment has become an agonizing wound in his chest that will not heal, bleeding sluggishly with every heartbeat.

It is an enormous surprise when Prompto’s phone buzzes with a text from Gladio, asking him to meet up at Takka’s place. It takes Prompto the better part of a week to get there from the Cape on foot, and Prompto keeps texting back to assure that Gladio is still there, and that Prompto is still on his way. He never receives a response. Pushes on, regardless.

The Diner is only partially warmed by ten tiny space heaters spread out around the floor, the dead of winter bringing a significant chill even to the desert of the Lucian continent. Takka, looking worse for wear, stands at the counter and nods a greeting as Prompto pushes through the glass doors. The place is unusually empty, and Prompto’s eyes land on the dark brown hair pulled back in a half-ponytail, the bottom half fanned out over broad shoulders, seated in the furthest booth from the front.

Prompto’s heart contracts painfully, his breath stolen. Despite Gladio reaching out, it still hurts to remember the morning he rolled over to a cold pallet, grasping for a man that wasn’t there. The pain grips his throat with sharp claws, and Prompto hesitates to advance, until he sees twin streams of steam rising from two coffee cups in front of Gladio.

Pulling the ragged pieces of himself together, he closes the distance and slides into the booth across from his friend.

“Hey,” Prompto says, quiet, as though Gladio will startle and dart away like a deer.

Gladio’s eyes are just as gorgeous as Prompto can remember; amber, and reflecting darker shades of brown in the low lighting; warm and peppered with long, dark lashes. For a rather rugged man, his eyes are always so pretty. Prompto misses them.

“Hi,” Gladio offers, and it’s with a rough, raspy drawl that Prompto doesn’t remember.

Prompto doesn’t have anything ready to discuss, had just assumed that Gladio would be taking the lead on this one, as he usually would, so the silence between them extends and settles awkwardly over their shoulders as they drink their coffee and fidget in their seats.

“I, uh,” Gladio begins, finally, his eyes downcast toward his cup, the steam rising gently around his face. “Six, I don’t know how to do this. I’ve been rehearsing it in my head for weeks and now everything sounds stupid.”

“I’m an expert in sounding stupid,” Prompto smiles sadly, knowing how hard any emotional vulnerability is for Gladio. “I won’t judge.”

Gladio’s eyes meet Prompto’s again, and there’s massive guilt in their depths. “I’m sorry, Prom.”

Prompto should be angry, should be throwing his hands in the air and cursing him for a fool, but he doesn’t have it in him. Just this small apology is enough to forgive this man, who was his brother in arms, and then the only thing getting him through the loss of the light and their King.

“I’ve been alone for a while now,” Gladio continues, rubbing a hand through his lengthened facial hair. “Which is what I should have been from the start, I think. I shouldn’t have taken out my anger on you and Ignis. I finally realized… I’m angry at Noct, not you two.”

“Noct?” Prompto repeats, the confusion hooking his expression into a hard knot above his eyes. “How can you be angry at Noct?”

“Sorry,” Gladio says, holding his hands up in surrender. “I was angry at Noct. I’m not anymore. I guess I blamed him for not fighting hard enough, for letting Ardyn take him away from us.”

“That’s unfair, Gladio,” Prompto begins, his body tensing for a fight.

“I know,” Gladio says, gripping the edge of the table in both hands, his fingers going white with effort. “It wasn’t rational, but that’s what happened. I was stuck in the Anger stage, and I couldn’t get out, not with you and Ignis trying to pull me out of it.”

Prompto feels that accusation like a punch to the gut. What had he done? Other than be there for Gladio, let Gladio use him as a verbal punching bag, let Gladio lose himself in Prompto’s body.

“Someone had to try,” Prompto says, cold. “But you broke even Ignis’s patience.”

“I know,” Gladio nods, his arms folding over his chest, not in his usual cocky way, but in an expression of defense. “Not yours, though.”

“Not true,” Prompto sighs. “I didn’t stay with you because of patience, it was desperation.” Prompto looks down into his own mug, studying the reflection off of the dark mirror. “Losing you, it was the last thing I thought I could handle. I wasn’t going to give you up without a fight. I failed.”

“No,” Gladio insists, reaching across the table to grab Prompto’s hand, but thinking better of it just before making contact. He drops the arm, his hand settling inches away from Prompto’s. “I’m the one that failed. I… fuck.” He runs both hands through his hair. “I can’t imagine how you felt when you woke up the next morning.”

Gladio is probably right. He probably can’t imagine that Prompto laid there, in the back room of the rest area, crying and aching for the better part of two days before he got up and finally packed their things - his things - and left, but only because his stomach clenched with hunger. That the emotional pain was entirely too physical, his chest burning and tightening with his continued tears and anguish. That he’d fallen and rolled his ankle because he was too wrapped in his grief to notice a pothole in the road, and it had almost cost him his life when he had to fight some imps all by himself for the first time ever. That he rolled into a ditch for cover and contemplated not getting up. That after weeks of struggling all alone, he wondered how quick it would be if he simply pointed the gun at his own head instead of the daemons.

The darkness blanketing the world had nothing on that moment.

“Why did you leave?” Prompto asks, instead of offering any insight.

“I knew if I stayed, I’d destroy you,” Gladio answers. “And you of all people didn’t deserve to be ruined by me.”

“Hm,” Prompto sighs and folds his hands under his thighs. “You made a miscalculation, buddy.”

“I know,” Gladio acknowledges. “That’s why I’ve been travelling around, trying to make it up to the people I’ve disappointed. There’s only two left. And I need your help to find the final person.”

“I haven’t seen Iggy either,” Prompto blinks down. “He’s been avoiding me. I think he knew that if he’d asked me to go with him, I’d have said no. And I’d guess he’s feeling pretty betrayed by that.”

“You really think Ignis could be angry with you for that?”

“For choosing you over him? Yeah, I can.”

“There’s more to it than that, I’m sure of it,” Gladio’s foot bumps Prompto’s. “But I want to find out for sure. Any ideas where he could be? Or if someone could help us find him?”

“Cindy might have some idea,” Prompto shrugs. “She’s the contact for hunts out this way. Though she’s usually pretty tight lipped about where she’s sending people. Doesn’t want to cause any clashes between parties. Hunters have gotten rather violently competitive lately.”

“I’m sure you could convince her,” Gladio says with a smirk.

“Whatever that look is implying is way off-base,” Prompto says, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t know if you know this, but Cindy’s married to her work. And I’m pretty much taken already.”

“Oh,” Gladio’s eyebrows raise as well, in surprise. “Sorry, I hadn’t heard any rumors.”

“Yeah, well, he’s kind of an ass and ditched me a while back,” Prompto rolls his eyes. “I should probably give up on him, but I can’t seem to.”

“Prom…” Gladio begins, a pitying look on his face. “I know we used to-”

The rest of Gladio’s words are lost to the drumming of Prompto’s heart in his ears as the wound in his chest is ripped completely open. The messy filament of his hopes and dreams tangle like fishing line, strangling him. He’d thought… when Gladio had texted ‘I need to see you’, that it meant he was ready to make up, to get back together, but there never was a together, was there? It had been Prompto absorbing the pain and anger and grief of Noctis’s Shield, not a mutual mourning between friends and potential lovers.

He is alone. Will always be.

Without a word, Prompto gets up, mid-sentence spewing from Gladio’s lips, and makes his way to the door, the muffled shout of Gladio’s voice following him out into the parking lot, until a hand reaches out and grabs his arm.

On instinct, Prompto draws his gun, pushes the barrel into Gladio’s chin, draws back the hammer and says nothing, his shaking hands and tired, angry eyes saying enough to force Gladio’s hands in the air.

“Prom-”

“Don’t contact me again,” Prompto says, his voice just as wavering as his entire body. “You came back here to get my forgiveness? Or to use me to find Ignis? How much more can you use me, Gladio?”

He wants to be embarrassed at the crack in his voice as the dam in his eyes gives way, but he’s too full of anger to feel shame.

“It’s not like that,” Gladio says, calm and still as stone. “I just didn’t want you to think I came back for… more.”

“My mistake,” Prompto says, putting his gun back into the armiger. “See, I thought that what we’d done before was something different. But all I was to you was a hole, a warm body in a cold land. Everything we did meant nothing?”

“Not nothing,” Gladio says, stepping forward, and Prompto backs up, his hand itching to bring his weapon back. “But it wasn't right.”

“Glad we’re clearing this up, finally,” Prompto spits, storming away, wishing he’d taken the time to hunt down a chocobo when he passed by the old Wiz Ranch, so he could make a quick getaway. He eyes the dirty, rusted motorcycle leaning on its kickstand near the caravan. Wonders if he could hot wire it fast enough. “Might have been nice about a year ago, so that when I was wandering the continent I could have had that closure. Instead of racking my brain for what I could have done differently to make you stay.”

Knowing he is about to come apart at the hasty stitches of his patchwork heart, he jumps on the bike and finds that the key is still in the ignition. He fires it up.

“Prompto,” Gladio barks at him, the familiar anger bubbling up under the surface of his expression. “Don’t-”

Prompto doesn’t wait to hear Gladio’s excuses, jams the throttle and spins out, screaming out of the gate and down the highway toward Galdin Quay, the only place he ever feels a sick sort of comfort. He passes tens of rising daemonic clouds of energy with barely a care that if he were to be flung from the bike, he’d certainly die without a helmet or any protective gear.

Prompto’s phone buzzes against his leg, but he doesn’t read the message until he’s on the docks of the Quay.

shield: That was *my* bike.

Prompto laughs sardonically. “Mine, now.” He jams his phone back in his pocket and hangs his legs off the side of the dock, staring back at Angelgard with all of his life in pieces.

A long night, indeed.