Prompto's staring down at Noct's couch.
It's a good couch, surprisingly comfy for how sleek it looks. He's crashed on that couch five times in the past six months, late nights studying and an empty house to go back to not a great motivator for getting himself out the door. He's got nothing against the couch.
It just decidedly does not have the answer he needs printed across the posh, dark fabric. He'd kind of been hoping if he looked long enough, it might materialize.
"Clock's ticking, Prom," says Noct. "We're only getting thirty minutes on the test."
"Re-something reaction," Prompto hazards. "Retention?" He looks at the look on Noct's face – grimaces. "Reaction?"
Noct actually laughs out loud – waves the flashcard at him. "Reaction reaction. That your final answer?"
"No, wait!" says Prompto. "I got this. It's, uh." He stares harder at the couch, still hopeful. "Replacement! Replacement reaction!"
He's proud of himself for all of about five seconds – right up until Noct flashes the other side of the card his way.
"So close," says Noct, and Prompto groans. He flops back onto the couch, its traitorous softness not helping at all.
Double replacement reaction. Why can't he keep that in his brain?
He needs like seventeen of these study sessions to grind it in so it never comes out. Problem is, he doesn't have the time for them anymore. His parents have been out of town for four months already, and okay, maybe he's not great at budgeting. Maybe he ordered out a couple times early on and dropped a stupid amount on green curry from that place down the street, the one that delivers.
He likes nice things sometimes – that's all. Astrals know when he tries to cook, it's either toast or boiled eggs or salad. That, or burn the whole kitchen down.
So, curry. Just a couple of times. Only now his budget's blown, and he's got three months left before his parents are due back. He's done the math, and he thinks that maybe they must not've figured the sum right, cause that's – a couple of nice meals shouldn't have left him three whole months short.
But when his mom or dad call, every other week or so, he doesn't want to bug them by begging for more money. They sound frantic and harried and stressed, and the last thing he wants is to make talking to him even more of a pain. He's got enough to cover rent and utilities and stuff. The important parts are taken care of. And anyway, how're they gonna get him cash from all the way over in Accordo?
So he picked up a part-time job.
It's not even a bad job – it's at the camera shop five blocks down from his place. It's walking distance, and his boss is pretty cool, and he gets an employee discount, so if he ever actually scrounges up enough to afford a camera of his own, he can get a bit of a break.
Only, the hours cut into his study time. And his grades have kind of taken a nosedive. And he's kind of going to fail this chemistry test so, so hard.
"Why is this class the actual worst?" he says, mournfully.
Noct snorts and prods him with the eraser end of a pencil. "Cause you waited for the last minute to cram."
"Yeah, yeah," says Prompto. He palms tiredly at his eyes – makes himself sit up again. "I'm ready. Hit me with the next one."
Okay. So maybe he blew it.
Maybe he should have bit the bullet back in freshman year and told his parents he was short on cash.
Cause now it's a thing. Like, a regular thing.
Prompto's not sure if they've got the amount written down somewhere and use that as the baseline, but he's always running a little behind. And it would be fine – he's got a side job. He's not hurting for the basics, most months. If he eats simple and doesn't go to the arcade more than once or twice, he's got it covered.
Only, when his mom stopped off at home between business trips for a night last month, she said, voice low and apologetic: "Sorry, sweetie. Money's going to be a little tight until next year. You think you could cut back a bit?"
And she ruffled his hair, the way she used to do when he was small, and before he even had time to think it through, he was saying, "Sure, mom. No problem."
So now he's two months into this new, cutting-back version of the budget. And man, does it suck.
The arcade's right out. Taking the train to school's a no go. Lunch money's on the cutting room floor, and breakfast money, too, three days a week.
Even Noct's noticed. He pouted the last couple times Prompto begged off on going to the arcade, so Prompto picked up a midnight shift on Saturday to give himself some pocket change. Gods only know why people want their photos at two in the morning, but Insomnia never sleeps, so he gets stuck with the drunks heading home from the bars.
When Noct asks why he doesn't bring lunch to school anymore, Prompto bats his eyelashes and frames his face with both hands. "And ruin my girlish figure?"
Noct snorts, and shoves at him, and that's that. Easy peasy.
At the start of junior year, Prompto catches some dumb bug that's going around school.
Half the class has been out with it already, a revolving door of kids who are gone for a week and then come back bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Even Noct gets knocked out for a day or two, sending Prompto texts about how bored he is during class time. Prompto shoots back: "it's like your dream vacation dude. you get to nap all day. :p"
He thinks he's going to get off free and clear, right up until the morning he wakes up with his head pounding, feeling like someone took a cheese grater to his throat.
He gropes for the phone on his bedside table – taps out a message to Noct: "you got me sick, you jerk."
Prompto stays home from school that day, half-conscious in bed, forehead hot enough to fry an egg. At four, he remembers he's scheduled to work and drags himself into the bathroom to brush his teeth before pulling himself out the door.
He's at work for all of ten minutes before his boss gets a good look at him, sets a thick hand to his forehead, and frowns. "Argentum," he says. "Go home."
Any other time, he'd be flattered that someone was looking out for him. Honestly, he wants nothing more than to go home, crawl back under the covers, and never move again. But he's got his paycheck to think about, and losing those hours, and how many meals that's going to cut out of the budget.
"I'm good," he says, and tries to smile. "Look at this guy, the goodest good that ever did good."
Prompto's boss rolls his eyes. "You're not even coherent. Go home."
"This is just regular," Prompto protests – but he gets sent packing, anyway.
The next day, he sleeps until two in the afternoon. He thinks about getting up to get some tea or something, then tries to move and finds out everything aches.
"Ow," he tells the pillow.
Then he texts Noct: "being sick sucks."
Noct texts back: "what happened to dream vacation? :p"
And yeah, okay, he probably had that coming.
Whatever the hell he's sick with sets up shop and stays.
By the end of week one, when most of Prompto's classmates have long since recovered, his fever and sore throat have turned into a fever and a cough. It's not a cough that's messing around, either. It's a deep, throaty, smokes-five-packs-a-day cough, which, considering Prompto's never had a cigarette in his life, seems pretty unfair.
Even worse, his boss won't let him through the door until he's better. And that? That's gonna be a problem.
There's zero food in the house, and he's lost half his paycheck, and he's honestly not sure what he's supposed to do about it. He sits up in bed, and he puts a cold washcloth on his head to try and get the fever to stop frying his brain enough for him to do math.
Then he runs some figures.
He runs them again.
He presses his hands against his cheeks, and he puts his head down and tells himself his eyes are only leaking because he's sick. That's totally a thing that happens when you have a fever.
Prompto fishes his cell phone off the bedside table. He opens up his text history with Noct, and he taps out, "hey can i borrow some money? just till next month," probably five times.
He deletes it just as many, and he sets the phone aside.
When he gets it together again, he looks at the bills coming up. Really looks at them.
He can do without the gas. He doesn't cook, and he's got blankets. He can do without power, too, if push comes to shove. He'll just buy one of those battery-run camping lanterns and study by lamp light. He can be like an rpg protagonist exploring the dark reaches of the night. Totally badass.
And anyway – anyway, the money's got to come from somewhere.
So Prompto drags himself out of bed and over to the grocery store. He buys a couple cans of soup and a bottle of cold medicine. There are no lanterns to be had, but he picks up a mini flashlight, the kind that goes on your keychain.
He's got a plan: cut back for a month. Convince his body it wants to function again. Beg his boss for extra hours.
Everything's under control.
Everything's not under control.
Three days later, the soup is gone.
Prompto gets a notice from the power company, and one from the gas company.
It's not until his texts stop going through that he remembers the cell phone bill was coming up, too.
With consciousness comes the realization that he's freezing.
Prompto tries to burrow back under the covers – realizes, belatedly, that at some point he kicked off about 75% of them. They're on the floor; he can see them, a dark shape on the carpet in the dimness of the room.
He stares at them, willing himself to develop telepathy. Wait, no. Clairvoyance? The one where you move things with your mind. He needs that one. But his brain remains stubbornly super-power free, and Prompto's actually shaking in his little blanket cocoon.
So, option two: get up and get the blankets. It seems like it should be easy. It seems like it should take all of about five seconds.
He's still trying to convince himself how quick it'll be when a noise from downstairs reaches his ears.
It's a weird sort of thump, and then another one. Then comes the distinct sound of the kitchen door swinging open.
His first thought is: oh, thank gods, mom's home early. His second thought, when his brain groggily reminds him that the power and the gas are out, is: she's gonna be so disappointed.
Prompto closes his eyes against the sudden stinging at the corners. He waits for his mom's voice to come.
It never does. Noct's drifts down the hall, instead. "Prompto?"
Oh, dammit. Of course Noct would wonder where he was when he stopped texting. So now, here he is, and Prompto – Prompto probably looks like something out of a trash heap. He hasn't showered in days; his hair's a greasy, matted mess.
He opens his mouth to tell Noct that he'll be out in a minute – gets a raspy first syllable before the rest is dissolved by coughing.
"Prompto?" says Noct again. "I'm coming in."
He's there before Prompto can try to tell him no.
"Is your power out or something?" is the first thing Noct says. "The lights in the kitchen aren't working." The second thing, when he gets close enough to get a good look at Prompto, is, "Holy shit, Prom. You look terrible."
Noct presses a hand to his forehead, and it feels like heaven, cool and gentle.
The hand pulls away; an instant later, Noct calls, "Hey, Ignis! Gladio! I found him."
He's aware, in a vague kind of way, that there should be something weird about them being here. He's aware that Noct's advisor and his Shield, way too cool, entirely too attractive older men he's still not sure he's able to quite claim as friends, are about to be in his dumpy little bedroom, looking at his gross, sickness-ridden self.
He wants to protest the very suggestion of it. But there are more important things to worry about, and all that ends up coming out, somewhat pathetically, is: "M'cold."
"Yeah," says Noct. "I bet. I've got my jacket on, and I'm freezing." He seems to notice the blankets on the floor for the first time – frowns down at them and scoops them up. When their added weight joins the one still on top of Prompto, he makes a quiet noise of appreciation.
He closes his eyes again, making to go back to sleep, but an accented voice interrupts. "Not doing well, I take it?"
Ignis' voice comes closer. "Prompto? How are you feeling?"
Prompto cracks his eyes open again to the sight of Ignis, face characteristically somber, looking at him like he's a particularly difficult crossword puzzle. And Prompto tries to answer. Really he does. But that smoker's cough cuts him off halfway, watery and thick and ugly.
"Hm," says Ignis, stepping away. He glances around the room – finds the empty water glass and the bottle of cold medicine. He lifts the pill bottle and twists it open, stern face becoming downright ominous when he upends it and nothing falls out onto his palm.
"Empty?" says Gladio, somewhere behind him.
Prompto thinks there might be more after that. He thinks that maybe Ignis is trying to get him to answer more questions. But the extra blankets Noct piled on are starting to do their job, and his nest in the center of the bed is actually warming up. It feels amazing; he's been shivering for what seems like hours, but now, finally, it slips away.
Prompto closes his eyes again, and he snuggles further down into his pillow.
He's pretty sure he's dreaming about Noct, because he can hear Noct's voice somewhere, and he seems pretty worked up about something.
Then Noct's voice fades away, too, and there's nothing but darkness.
When Prompto wakes up, the world's dim and warm and comforting.
He's buried under a metric ton of blankets, and there's something cool and damp over his forehead. He reaches out for it, groggy and half awake – finds a cold compress and wonders who thought to put it there.
"Wha?" says Prompto, distantly – and no sooner has he made the noise than Noct swoops in like a hawk after prey, just like in those glossy spreads in the nature magazines Prompto always dreams of working for.
Suddenly, there's an arm behind Prompto's back, levering him up. Suddenly, there's the rim of a cup pressed to his lips.
"Drink," Noct says, words oddly intent. "C'mon, Prom, just a little."
He has a little. It's water, cool and so, so good on his throat – but it tastes funny, vaguely medicinal. He tries to pull away.
"S'gross," he mumbles.
"There's aspirin smashed up in it," says Noct. "It'll help with the fever. Drink."
He gets through most of the glass, a sip or two at a time. Noct helps him do it – holds the cup and tells him, "Just a little more," and "C'mon, almost done."
He finishes the rest of it, just to have an excuse to lean against Noct a bit longer. It takes him awhile; the cough keeps interrupting, shaking him until his chest burns and he feels like he's about to snap a rib.
Still, it feels nice. It's been a long time, since someone took care of him while he was sick. Come to think of it, it's been a long time since someone took care of him at all.
The water's gone eventually, though, and Noct eases him back to the pillow.
As soon as his head touches down, it's like his body remembers how tired it is. Suddenly, drinking a cup of water feels like he ran the whole Eastern Insomnian marathon. His eyes droop and start to fall closed, but he fights it, hard, so that he can stay awake long enough to say: "Hey, Noct?"
"Yeah?" Noct's turned away to put the empty cup aside, but he turns back now.
Prompto pulls a smile from somewhere. Probably shaky and weak, but dammit, Noct deserves a smile.
When Prompto wakes up again, he feels almost human.
His head's not throbbing. His throat doesn't feel like he swallowed broken glass. His thoughts are almost clear, the first hope he's had in days that the fever might've broken.
He blinks his eyes open, cautiously – squints against the light and discovers that it's day. He knows because the room's full of sunlight streaming in through the curtains, a single piercing ray that lights up the whole room.
And for the first time, he realizes where he is.
His curtains aren't black. His sheets aren't black. His bed isn't this big, or this comfortable. And his room almost certainly doesn't include Ignis sitting in the chair by his bedside, reading an official report.
Prompto squeaks – tries to sit bolt upright – groans and falters halfway through, dizziness threatening to drag him back under.
Ignis fixes him with a gaze that's cool and even. It's the same look he always gives Prompto – intent and unblinking, like he's peeling away the layers to try and get a look at what's underneath. It makes Prompto squirm.
But all Ignis says is, "Don't strain yourself."
Too late. The aborted attempt to rise brings with it a coughing fit that knocks him flat. He lies there, curled in on himself, shaking with the effort, until Ignis gets an arm around him and levers him back up to sitting.
"Put your shoulders back," he says. "Take a deep breath. There you are."
It helps. It helps more than he thinks it will, and Prompto sits there for a minute, just breathing, waiting for the pain in his chest to subside.
After a moment, Ignis says, "You're due for another dose."
"Yeah," Prompto says. "Sure."
But the pills Ignis hands over aren't aspirin, and the bottle he shakes them from is orange, with a child-proof cap. They have his name on them, Prompto realizes with dawning horror.
"What," he manages, intelligently, and points an accusing finger. "What?"
Ignis fixes him with that searching look again. "You don't recall?"
"Recall what?" Prompto croaks.
"You were delirious with fever, the night we recovered you. Noct had the Citadel doctor come to pay a house call."
A house call?
Okay, first, how does he not remember that? And second, how is he going to pay for that? He can't afford a regular doctor, let alone some fancy doctor for nobility – let alone a house call and however much the prescription was.
"Send it back," says Prompto, trying to press the pills back into Ignis' hand, panic already creeping in around the edges. Is he even going to be able to make rent this month? Are his parents going to come home and find their place empty – or even worse, someone else already moved in?
"I most certainly will not," Ignis tells him firmly. "You have pneumonia. Besides which, it's dangerous to start a round of antibiotics and not finish them."
He can't remember starting the round in the first place – but then, he can't remember the doctor, either. Just how out of it had he been?
"Dude," says Prompto. "It's not like I'm not grateful. Cause, like. Thanks for checking up on me. But I'm fine."
He holds the pills out again. It would probably be more convincing if his hand wasn't shaking like a leaf in the park in late autumn, but this is the best he can do.
Ignis fixes him with one of those long, piercing stares. He makes no move to take the pills. "The Citadel doctor," he says, "is on salary. He does not charge patients for individual treatment." He gives Prompto a meaningful look. "Or for medication."
"Oh," says Prompto.
He feels his shoulders start to relax – sinks back against the pillows, suddenly exhausted. Ignis presses a cup into his hand, and he swallows down the pills with some difficulty.
When he tries to lower the glass, Ignis says, "More," implacably, and watches until Prompto's sipped his way through half. At last he gives a grudging nod, and Prompto sets it aside.
"I'm going to bring you some soup," Ignis says, and it's not a question. "While you eat it, we're going to have a little chat about why your power was out, and why your phone was shut down, and why your cabinets were bare of anything save the dusty imprints where dry goods used to rest."
Prompto feels the blood draining from his face with every word. He opens his mouth to protest, and Ignis holds up a finger.
"In the meantime," Ignis says firmly, cutting off all possible interjection, "you will finish that water."
Then he sweeps from the room like a contained whirlwind, all deadly intent, and Prompto sits there in bed, sipping his water and reflecting on the possibility that Ignis Scientia may well be the most terrifying man to walk the face of Eos.
"Okay," says Gladio. "Just point the way."
"Uh," says Prompto. "On the counter?" He hesitates in his own kitchen, feeling awkward. "C'mon, big guy, let me help. I'm feeling better."
And he is. He feels better than he has in pretty much forever.
He's been holed up at Noct's place for almost two weeks, playing video games and fighting off the chest-rattling cough and catching up on schoolwork. He's had a metric ton of what is legitimately the best soup he's ever tasted in his life – and, as he's recovered, the best oatmeal, and the best sandwiches, and the best omelettes. However scary Ignis is, he sure knows how to cook.
The past few nights, Noct's wandered in from the couch to share the bed with him, and Prompto's woken in the morning warm and content, the sound of someone else's breathing letting him know he's not alone.
He's kind of sad it has to end.
But at least he's going back to his parents' place. At least they still have a place, no thanks to Prompto. When he explained that money was tight for awhile, and then he got sick and missed some shifts, Ignis worked his administrative magic and made all the problems go away. A day later, the rent was paid, the bills were paid, and he'd made arrangements with Prompto's boss and school for the extended absence.
Prompto had promised to pay him back as soon as he could.
In return, Ignis fixed him with one of those looks, flat and blunt like a shark, and informed him, in a tone that left zero room for argument, that it wasn't a loan.
"Nice try," says Gladio, and shifts the bags of groceries in his arms. "Iggy's orders: no heavy lifting. No way I'm crossing that guy."
Prompto feels a smile tug at his lips. It's kind of nice to know that even the future Shield of the King is intimidated by Ignis.
"Yeah," says Prompto. "Can't say I blame you."
Gladio shoves four paper bags full of groceries onto the counter, then turns, awaiting instruction.
"Uh," says Prompto. "Right. Uh. Canned stuff in the bottom cabinet?"
Gladio gets to work – but when Prompto joins in a couple seconds later, unable to just stand and watch someone put his groceries away for him, Gladio doesn't insist he stop.
Instead he flashes Prompto a conspiratory sort of grin. "Hey," he says. "You don't tell him and I won't."
"I'm coming," calls Prompto, toward the knock on the door.
Honestly, he's not sure who it could be. His parents are still out of town; when his dad asked what he'd been up to, the last time they talked, Prompto mentioned he came down with some bug that'd been going around school. His father said to drink lots of orange juice, and that was that.
So he doesn't expect his parents home belatedly to deal with a crisis they don't know about. And Noct – Noct's busy doing official princely things tonight, Iggy and Gladio doubtless in tow.
Prompto really doesn't have anyone else.
So he opens the door with a mild sort of curiosity, thinking maybe a neighbor ordered pizza and the delivery guy got the address wrong. It's happened before.
But no, he discovers, when he peeks out through the open door. It's Noct, after all.
And Gladio. And Ignis.
Noct's arms are full of white boxes, and Ignis has one of those dorky fruit-print reusable cloth bags from the grocery store in one hand. Gladio's just leaning against the wall.
"Uh," says Prompto. "What happened to the meeting?"
"What meeting?" says Noct, and comes in without waiting to be invited.
"The meeting," says Prompto, a little helplessly, as Noct kicks off his shoes, then makes a beeline for the coffee table to set down all the boxes.
Ignis is unpacking his bag, lining the contents up like dominos, edge to edge: that new zombie movie Prompto wanted to see, a jar of unpopped popcorn kernels, a pack of cards, and an absolute pile of board games.
"Cancelled," says Noct.
"Ditched," says Gladio.
"Rescheduled," corrects Ignis, and Noct shoots him a look.
Ignis sighs the sigh of the long-suffering. "But not," he amends, "without good reason."
"Yeah?" says Prompto, still feeling off-balance. "What reason?"
Noct gives him a flat sort of look. "You're an idiot," he says, and hooks an arm around Prompto's shoulders to drag him down onto the couch.
Gladio's already sticking the movie in and fiddling with the remote to get the tv on.
Ignis produces plastic spoons from somewhere and opens up the white boxes scattered across the coffee table. It turns out they're full of take-out; the scent wafts upward, coconut milk and ginger and spicy green chile.
Noct says, "You like the green curry from that place down the street, right?"
Prompto opens his mouth to answer that. He closes it again when he discovers his throat's too tight, sure whatever words come out are going to be embarrassingly unsteady.
He nods instead, a couple of times – waits a minute until he trusts his voice enough to add, "Thanks."
"Hey," says Noct, with a crooked half-smile, as the movie starts up. "This beats some dumb meeting any day."