“Morning!” Prompto calls out as he barges into Noct’s room like he owns the place. It’s way, way too early for anyone to be that cheerful, but Noct’s kind of used to it by now. He even manages to grunt in response, which he figures is a pretty impressive effort.
“Dude, you’re still in bed?” Prompto says. Noct puts the pillow over his head and tunes out the sound of Prompto clattering around the place. He’s almost back to sleep when suddenly someone plucks the pillow away, letting in accursed daylight. Not only has Prompto stolen his pillow, he’s also opened the blinds. Who does that, seriously?
“Is Ignis coming over soon?” Prompto asks.
Noct – busy trying to shield his eyes from the blinding evil that Prompto has brought into his life – doesn’t answer the question. In fact, he doesn’t really understand it. Or anything. Why is he awake? Why is he alive? Why is Prompto so damn happy all the time?
Prompto shakes his shoulder. “Noc-tis,” he sings. “Is Iggy gonna be here, or what?”
“Uh – yeah,” Noct says. “He’s usually here to make brunch on Saturdays.” He’s pretty sure Prompto should already know this, but whatever.
“Yessss,” Prompto says. Noct sighs and gives up on fighting the inevitable. He opens one eye.
Prompto’s sitting cross-legged on the floor by the bed. In his lap is a colourful box.
“What’s that?” Noct asks.
Prompto beams. “It’s a RotatoTM,” he says.
“A... what?” Noct says.
“A RotatoTM!” Prompto says. “It peels stuff. Like, potatoes and stuff. I saw it advertised on the Shopping Channel a couple of days ago, and man, it can basically do so much cool stuff. So I thought it’d be perfect for Iggy, you know. Because he cooks, and stuff.”
Noct opens his other eye. He frowns at Prompto. “Peels stuff?” he says. “So it’s like – a knife?”
“No way!” Prompto says. “This is way cooler. Like, super high-tech. The ad was amazing. Iggy’s gonna love it.” He hugs the box to his chest and grins at nothing, then at Noct. “Right?”
Noct wants to tell him that he doesn’t think Ignis will love anything that has TM in its name. And he wants to ask him why he’s buying Ignis presents in the first place. But Prompto looks so happy, and it’s honestly just too early in the morning to deal with any of this.
“Sure,” he says, and pulls the covers over his head.
By the time Ignis arrives, Noct has more or less managed to extract himself from the bed. Well, extract himself is maybe a bit of an overstatement, since Prompto was definitely doing a lot of the running on the whole extraction operation. Not that Prompto isn’t usually upbeat, but he’s practically bouncing off the walls this morning. Noct loves Prompto, but he really could do with him being a little less Prompto right now.
“Highness,” Ignis says, looking surprised to see him. Or maybe just surprised to see him out of bed before midday. “Prompto. I’m glad you’re here, I thought I’d try something new today.”
Prompto bounces to his feet and throws a ridiculous salute. “Always happy to be of service,” he says, beaming.
Ignis looks a little taken aback by the enthusiasm of Prompto’s response. Noct decides to be extra unenthusiastic just to balance out the universe.
“I hope your something new doesn’t have vegetables in it,” he says.
Ignis sighs heavily, and Noct congratulates himself on a job well done. He yawns and scrolls through his phone, not really reading anything, just – scrolling. Mornings are hard. He’s sort of aware of Ignis making noise in the kitchen, and Prompto’s disappeared off somewhere, which means–
–Noct remembers about Prompto’s gift for Ignis just as Prompto reappears out of the bedroom with his hands behind his back and a bright smile plastered on his face. Noct sits up a little. He’s not sure exactly what’s going to happen when Prompto gives Ignis his – fancy knife replacement, but he hopes Ignis isn’t too hard on the guy. He should have told him just to can the idea, instead of taking the coward’s way out and agreeing with him. Shit, Noct’s a douche sometimes.
“So, uh,” Prompto says, approaching the counter, where Ignis is peeling a carrot, for all the world like he’s planning to put it into Noct’s food. Ugh, come on, Ignis.
“Hm?” Ignis says, glancing up.
“I see you’re peeling vegetables,” Prompto says.
Ignis looks confused for a moment, then clearly recognises that something is up. He lowers his paring knife. “How very observant of you,” he says.
Prompto beams. “Then have I got the product for you!” he says, and Noct can almost hear the cheesy Shopping Channel fake-tan cadence in his voice. He brings the box out from behind his back and presents it to Ignis. “Ta-da!”
Ignis frowns at the box, then frowns at Prompto. “What is that?” he asks, sounding confused.
“It’s a RotatoTM!” Prompto says. “It does the peeling so you don’t have to. It can peel anything! It’s super high-tech!”
He holds it out towards Ignis with a hopeful smile. Ignis, still holding a carrot in one hand and his paring knife in the other, makes no move to take it. Prompto shakes the box slightly.
“Go on,” he says. “It’s for you.”
Ignis stares at him for a long moment, and Noct braces himself. Then Ignis sets down his knife and wipes his hand on his apron. He reaches out and takes the box. He stares at it for a moment, lip starting to curl. Noct resists the temptation to close his eyes.
“You bought this for me?” Ignis asks.
“Yep!” Prompto says. “Just for you. I saw the ad and I just knew it’d be perfect for you!”
Ignis opens his mouth. And closes it again. He stares at the box in his hands. The air feels weirdly itchy, like before a thunderstorm, and Noct has to restrain himself from shouting something nonsensical just to relieve the tension.
Then Ignis looks up at Prompto. “What a – thoughtful gift,” he says.
Prompto, somehow, manages to smile even wider. Noct starts to worry he might do himself an injury. “You can use it to make brunch!” Prompto says.
Ignis’ face takes on a pained expression. “Ah. Well, I’m afraid I have largely finished peeling vegetables for brunch,” he says. He puts the RotatoTM down gingerly on the counter, as if afraid it might explode, then wipes his hands on his apron again.
“Oh. Well, next time!” Prompto says. “It’s got a warranty, so feel free to really put it through its paces. And it juices lemons, too!”
“Does it?” Ignis says. He sounds faint. Noct feels kind of the same way. “How – ingenious.”
“I knew you’d love it!” Prompto says. He turns and comes over to the couch, flinging himself down beside Noct. He looks stupidly delighted. “I knew he’d love it,” he says.
“Uh,” Noct says. He’s looking at Ignis, who’s staring at the RotatoTM with a hand pressed to his mouth. He doesn’t understand why Ignis didn’t just – tell Prompto what he really thought of it. Brutal honesty is generally one of Ignis’ strong suits.
Prompto jumps up again. “Can I help with brunch?” he asks, exuding eagerness from every pore.
Ignis’ shoulders relax. “Certainly,” he says. “I always appreciate a helping hand.”
He throws Noct a pointed glance, and Noct shrugs. Helping with brunch is not his thing. Anyway, he’s too busy trying to figure out who replaced Ignis with a person who would accept a – a RotatoTM without immediately breaking it or throwing it out of the window.
Prompto starts humming as he chops carrots. Ignis is definitely planning to put them in Noct’s food, Noct can feel it. And Prompto’s been being even more obnoxiously cheerful than usual and Ignis has basically been replaced by a pod person.
Noct groans and throws his arm over his eyes. This. This is why it’s not worth getting up before midday.
After that, Noct doesn’t think about the RotatoTM for a few days. Not, in fact, until the following Tuesday, when he’s hanging out on the couch playing King’s Knight while Ignis cooks dinner. Gladio’s validating his manhood by doing one-armed push-ups on the floor, and Prompto’s not there because he’s got this part-time job during which he is definitely not supposed to be playing King’s Knight with Noct (but he is, because hey, royal decree, or whatever). So everything’s pretty normal until Ignis suddenly swears. Not that Ignis never swears, but when he does, you know it’s time to sit up and pay attention.
Noct sits up and pays attention. Gladio pauses, arm fully extended, and looks up.
“Iggy?” he says. “Problem?”
Ignis is standing behind the counter with an expression of pure loathing on his face. “This – device,” he says. “I suspect it’s cursed. And if it is not cursed, then I intend to curse it. Very thoroughly and very soon.”
Gladio stands up, frowning, and walks around the counter so he can see what Ignis is looking at. Noct doesn’t bother: he already knows what it is.
“What the hell’s that?” Gladio asks.
“It’s a Rotato,” Noct says. “Tee em.”
“A – what?” Gladio looks up at him. “A potato?”
“Rotato,” Ignis says, biting the word off with a vicious snap of his teeth. “Some mid-level marketing executive’s amateurish idea of a pun, as if the infernal machine weren’t bad enough by itself.”
Gladio blinks at Ignis in bewilderment. It’s fair: the last time Ignis was this infuriated was when a concerned citizens’ group suggested that Ebony should be reclassified as a Schedule C narcotic. Ignis, though, is just glaring at the RotatoTM, so Gladio looks over at Noct.
“You got any clue what this is about?” he asks.
Noct shrugs. “It’s supposed to peel stuff,” he says. “Vegetables and stuff.” He makes a face, just in case Ignis is watching.
“What – like a knife?” Gladio asks.
Unfortunately, this causes Ignis to lose his shit.
“A knife is a perfectly good implement with multiple functions and a long and honourable history!” he says. He’s actually holding a knife, as it turns out, and he waves it in the air as if to demonstrate one or more of the multiple functions, which has Gladio backing away quickly. “This – item is not fit to be compared to a knife.”
“Take a chill pill, Specs,” Noct says (but only because he’s well out of reach of the knife). “Just don’t use it if you don’t want to.” He’s honestly not at all sure why Ignis is trying to use it in the first place. Although he always has been a bit of a masochist.
“Right,” Gladio says, sounding a little shaken. “Just use a knife. Why the hell do you even have a – Gotato, anyway?”
“Rotato,” Ignis says under his breath, like it’s the filthiest word imaginable.
“Prompto gave it to him,” Noct says. “He saw it on TV.”
Gladio stares, then smirks. “He doesn’t know you very well, does he?” he says.
“He knows me perfectly well!” Ignis snaps. “It was a very kind thought!”
Gladio raises his eyebrows and looks at Noct. Noct shrugs again. Ignis is really weird about the RotatoTM. He doesn’t get it any more than Gladio does.
“OK, Iggy,” Gladio says, using a weird soothing voice that Noct’s only heard before when Iris is having a mega-tantrum. “Why don’t we just put the weird peeler thing away and you can just use a knife, all right?”
He picks up the RotatoTM and stuffs it in a cupboard, closing the door firmly. Then he straightens up and turns around, standing in front of the cupboard like he thinks his body might shield Ignis from any harmful Rotato RaysTM.
“OK?” Gladio says.
Ignis glares at him – no, through him – for a couple of seconds. Then he sighs. “Well, perhaps I need to read the instruction manual again,” he mutters. He picks up a potato and starts peeling it, looking – almost normal.
Noct shakes his head. Who reads instruction manuals, seriously? And why would Ignis want to try again with the thing that just almost converted him into homicidal maniac? Ignis is super weird lately for some reason.
But apparently peeling potatoes is, like, Ignis’ zen or something, because he doesn’t shout at anyone for the rest of the evening and even eventually stops glaring at nothing. Noct assumes that’s the end of it, and that the RotatoTM will be quietly trashed while Prompto isn’t looking. But the next time Noct opens that cupboard (accidentally, while looking for snacks), the RotatoTM is still there, and someone’s cleaned it very carefully.
Two days later, Gladio stubs his toe on a barbell, and growls, “Ah! Fucking – Rotato.” So something useful does come out of the whole RotatoTM incident, after all.
It’s a beautiful day in Insomnia, and unfortunately Ignis is at Noct’s apartment, which means all the blinds are open and the sun’s streaming in. Noct had been pretty happy before Ignis arrived, sitting in the dark looking at his phone, but apparently it’s ‘deleterious to his mental health’ and also (according to Gladio) makes him an ‘emo loser’. To be honest, Noct doesn’t really care about his mental health or what Gladio thinks, but Ignis got all huffy when he tried to put the blinds down again, so he figures he’ll just leave it. He’s just about got readjusted to the level of light and noise and the fact that he’s upright and awake when Prompto comes bursting through the door, still wearing his work clothes.
“Iggy!” he says. “You’re here!”
Ignis looks up in surprise. “Indeed,” he says. “So are you, it seems.”
“The one and only!” Prompto says, spreading his arms with a huge grin. “Hey Noct, Gladio.”
Noct half nods. Gladio barely looks up from his book. But Prompto doesn’t seem to mind. He bounces up to the kitchen counter and leans on it, fluttering his eyelashes at Ignis.
“What are you making, Iggy? Huh? Making something good?”
Ignis looks a little bewildered by the attention, and – is it Noct’s imagination or is he a little flushed? Eh, it’s pretty warm with the all the sunlight and all. Noct’s pretty sure Ignis is wrong about that mental health thing, too.
“Grilled fish and egg salad,” Ignis says.
Ugh, shit, Ignis said the s word.
“Did you say egg salad?” Prompto asks, latching on to completely the wrong part of the phrase egg salad and for some reason looking like he’s just won the lottery.
“Yes,” Ignis says. “I thought you were rather fond of eggs. Did I misremember?”
“I love eggs!” Prompto says. “And – I got you this.” He reaches into his backpack, and, with a flourish, produces a small oblong box. He whistles a fanfare, like it’s a prize in some quiz show or something.
“Ah,” Ignis says. He suddenly looks uncomfortable. “Prompto – you certainly don’t have to keep buying me–”
“It’s an egg slicer!” Prompto says, still with that holy crap I won a million crowns look on his face. “You use it to slice hard-boiled eggs.”
There’s a brief, pained silence, then Gladio snorts. “What, like a knife?” he says.
“Uh, no way, dude,” Prompto says. “This is way better than a knife. All the slices are the same thickness and you only have to cut once to do the whole egg! And it’s got an ergonomic grip.”
Gladio’s smirking now, looking up from his book. “Do you even know what ergonomic means?” he asks.
Prompto flushes slightly. “It’s like – super grippy,” he says. “Way grippier than a knife. And way more ergonomic! It’s, like, the knife of the future!”
Gladio opens his mouth again, but Ignis interrupts whatever he was about to say, reaching out and taking the box from Prompto.
“I’m sure it’s – very special,” he says, shooting a quick glare at Gladio. “Thank you for the kind thought, Prompto.”
Gladio looks kind of stunned, and even more so when Ignis makes a show of unpacking the egg slicer. It seems like Ignis loses his nerve when actually confronted with it, though, because he just stares at it like he’s not sure he believes it’s a real object that truly exists. Noct figures it’s just some kind of cosmic revenge for him opening all the blinds. That’s the kind of thing the Astrals would get up to, right? Right.
“Have you got an egg?” Prompto asks. “For the salad?”
Ignis blinks. “Well, I–” he says, and then pauses, casting around like he’s trying to figure out how to deny that he was ever making egg salad, or maybe that he even knows what eggs are.
“Here’s one!” Prompto sings out. “Go on, I wanna see.”
Ignis sighs heavily. Then he slices the egg.
“Woo!” Prompto says, raising both arms in the air. “Look at those even slices! You did the whole egg at once!”
“Yes,” Ignis says weakly. “It’s very – efficient.”
“Definitely not something he could have done with a knife,” Gladio puts in.
“It’s gonna save you so much time,” Prompto says, reaching over like he’s about to give Ignis a victory punch in the arm, and then stopping suddenly and pulling back, grin becoming briefly fixed and kind of manic. Noct, meanwhile, is working on his pod-person Ignis theory again. The trigger for Invasion of the Ignis-Snatchers is definitely weird kitchen gadgets, but why?
“Oh, man,” Prompto says. “How many eggs have you got to do for the salad? I wanna watch! It’s totally satisfying watching you slice eggs.”
Gladio makes a noise that is somewhere between a laugh and a cough, but neither Ignis nor Prompto looks at him. Prompto is beaming at Ignis, and Ignis (definitely flushed now, serves him right for all that ‘mental health’ bull) is staring at him like he’s forgotten how to talk. There’s a brief silence, then Prompto’s smile dims slightly.
“Iggy?” he says. “You OK?”
Ignis’ mouth snaps shut. “Oh – is it?” he says. “S– Satisfying?”
Prompto’s smile brightens back up. If anything, it becomes several notches brighter. Noct considers going to find his sunglasses. “Totally!” Prompto says. “Go ahead and slice, Eggster!”
Noct’s mouth falls open. Even Gladio looks kind of shocked. But Ignis – doesn’t do anything. Doesn’t even say anything. Nothing. He just reaches for another egg, and slices it.
“Look at that,” Prompto says, leaning his chin on his hands and sounding kind of dreamy. “You and the egg slicer are a perfect match.”
But Ignis doesn’t cut Prompto’s head off with the egg slicer. He doesn’t even try.
He just reaches for another egg.
About a week later, Noct is sitting on a wall in the Citadel garden petting a cat when his phone buzzes. He pulls it out and discovers a text from Prompto. It’s a picture of a TV screen, which is showing an image of a man standing over a weird-looking plastic object. what do u think abt this? the text reads.
Noct stares at it for a few seconds, trying to decide what he thinks about it. Then he texts back. not ur best work.
haha im serious, comes the response.
Noct sighs. serious abt what? what is it?
its a dumpling maker! for iggy! Prompto responds.
Noct looks again at the picture. He doesn’t see how it could have any relationships to making dumplings. And, like – isn’t making dumplings pretty easy?
isnt making dumplings pretty easy? he asks.
noooooooo dude all that stuffing and folding, Prompto replies, followed by a string of emojis that suggest that stuffing and folding dumplings makes people throw up and then lie down, possibly in a coma, accompanied by three eggplants for some reason. Honestly, Noct hasn’t really thought about making dumplings before. He’s never made one himself, but he’s definitely never noticed Ignis throwing up or falling into a coma while making them (and definitely no eggplants, because he would have noticed that), so he’s pretty sure Prompto’s wrong. More to the point, Prompto’s – weird.
why do u keep getting kitchen stuff 4 specs? he asks.
There’s no reply for a couple of minutes. Noct occupies himself trying to tempt the cat to sit in his lap. Eventually, his phone buzzes.
just saw it n thought hed like it, the text reads.
Noct rolls his eyes. u need 2 stop watching shopping channel, he texts. he doesnt need all this stuff.
Prompto doesn’t text back.
Noct doesn’t see Prompto again until a couple of days later. He goes down to meet him after his shift, and they head off to the arcade. Prompto seems – pretty much like a cheerful, doofy nerd, which is no different from usual. Except there is something different from usual. Noct can’t quite put his finger on it, but – something. Like, Prompto’s too cheerful? But not in the way he’s too cheerful when it’s before noon and Noct needs everyone to be very quiet and preferably somewhere else. More like – it doesn’t seem quite – natural.
Noct’s probably imagining things.
They’ve just lost a lengthy round of Justice Monsters V, and Noct’s fumbling for tokens to start another one, when Prompto starts talking.
“Hey,” he says, “uh–”
“Yeah?” Noct asks, still trying to figure out where the hell he put his tokens. He has way too many pockets. Or – are they in the armiger?
“You know how – the other day – you said – about the, uh – the dumpling maker?” Prompto asks. The sentence takes so long to finish that Noct loses the thread of it, too busy trying to produce tokens from thin air. (OK, they’re probably not in the armiger. Or if they are, they’re never coming out again.)
“Huh?” he says.
“The dumpling maker,” Prompto says, and something about his voice makes Noct look round. Prompto’s half turned away, like what he’s saying is extra-super-casual, except it kind of makes Noct feel like the opposite. It makes him feel like maybe he should be paying more attention right now. Even so, takes him a moment to remember what dumpling maker Prompto’s talking about.
“Uh, yeah,” he says. “What about it?”
“I was just thinking,” Prompto says, scratching the back of his head. “Like – I mean, you said Iggy doesn’t need this stuff, so – does that mean – do you think he didn’t really want the other stuff I got him? The egg slicer and all that?”
Noct opens his mouth. Then he closes it again. The answer is pretty obvious. The truthful answer, anyway. But Prompto looks – miserable. His shoulders are hunched and he’s gripping one wrist with the other hand. Noct hates that.
“Why are you always giving him stuff, anyway?” he asks. He’s not avoiding the question, really. Well, maybe a little bit. “He can get his own stuff.”
“Yeah, course,” Prompto says. “But – I don’t know. He does so much for us. For me. Like, all the cleaning, and he cooks all the time for us. I feel like – it’d be good to give something back, you know? To show I appreciate him. I mean, uh, it. To show I appreciate it.”
Noct frowns at him. “You know he’s not doing that stuff for you, right? He does it for me. It’s his job.”
“I mean, yeah, obviously,” Prompto says, flushing a little. “But – he’s really good at it. And – I just wanted to – I don’t know, help him out. It’s not like I can cook, so giving him stuff to make cooking easier just seemed like–”
He trails off. Noct stares at him. He remembers how obnoxiously happy he was about the RotatoTM. And suddenly he feels – kinda bad for telling him not to buy the dumpling maker.
“I mean – do you think he only said he liked that stuff to be polite?” Prompto asks, shoulders hunching further.
And Noct – is a total coward. A total coward who tries to think of a way out for a long moment, and then gives up and says, “No, man. No way. I’ve seen him using that Rotato thing even when you’re not around.”
It’s true. It’s definitely true. It doesn’t count as lying at all. And not only that, it results in Prompto lifting his head and looking at Noct, an expression of hope on his face that kind of makes Noct want to go back in time and smack the phone out of two-days-ago-Noct’s hands.
“Really?” Prompto says.
“Really,” Noct says. “And you know, Ignis really isn’t that polite. I mean, to other people, yeah. But not to us.”
“Huh,” Prompto says, visibly brightening. “Yeah. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Yeah,” Noct says. “So like – don’t sweat it, OK?”
“Yeah, but – what about what you said before?” Prompto asks. “About the dumpling maker?”
Up until now, Noct’s cowardice has been pretty harmless. But now, if he takes the path of least resistance, he’s pretty sure it’s going to end up with Ignis getting another piece of aggravating kitchen equipment. That’s a pretty douchey thing to do to a friend.
“Oh, that?” Noct says, taking the path of least resistance. “I was just worried about you spending so much money, that’s all. I know you’re saving up for that camera stuff you want.”
Prompto is suddenly beaming, and Noct decides that least resistance is the best of all paths.
“No, man, it’s totally worth it,” Prompto says. “I swear, it has all these cool features – and it’s really not that expensive. Like, deep-discounted, that’s what the girl on the infomercial said.”
He smacks Noct on the shoulder in his excitement, and Noct shakes his head. Then Prompto produces the tokens – fuck, that’s right, Noct never had them in the first place – and everything goes back to normal. Even more normal than it was before, because Prompto doesn’t seem weird and off any more.
Three days later, when Prompto shows up at his apartment with the dumpling maker, Noct does feel a little bit guilty.
But only a little bit.
“And then you just push this button, and it folds and seals the dumpling for you!” Prompto says, leaning way over the counter of Noct’s kitchen.
“...I see,” Ignis says. He sounds super neutral. Like, the kind of neutral that he gets when he’s working really hard to not start yelling at someone who’s being an idiot. Noct has the urge to cover his eyes. And he also has to keep crushing down the voice that tells him that this is his fault. Because it’s really not. Well, it kinda is. But it’s not, because – it’s not like Noct made Prompto buy the dumpling maker, right? And anyway, literally anyone should be able to see that Ignis hates it. Prompto’s usually pretty good at people stuff, so – there’s no way Noct could have predicted that this would happen. Right?
“Not that I’m not enjoying this, but someone should really tell Prompto to stop buying Ignis Shopping Channel shit,” Gladio murmurs to him.
Noct swallows. “Yeah,” he mutters.
“Oh, man, how come it didn’t work?” Prompto says, looking crestfallen. There’s a pile of shapeless dough on the counter underneath the slot in the dumpling maker. It’s surrounded by fragments of pork and vegetables.
“Perhaps it’s–” Ignis says, and then pauses for way longer than anyone should pause in the middle of a sentence. “–a faulty model,” he finishes at last, like it kind of hurts him to say.
“No way,” Prompto says. “That can’t be it! It looked real simple on the infomercial, but I did watch it three times to make sure it would be something you’d like, so maybe it’s just – takes practice or something? Here, let me–”
He skirts around the counter so he’s standing on the same side as Ignis, then leans over him to grab a circle of dough. Ignis leans back. He looks – really red. Not saying what he really thinks must be killing him.
“OK, so I think – if I spread it out like this–” Prompto frowns in concentration, sticking the tip of his tongue out as he arranges the dough. Ignis stares at him like he’s grown another head. Which makes sense, because seriously, Prompto trying to instruct Ignis in cooking? And Ignis just... standing there? What the hell?
“OK, pork me, Amadignis!” Prompto says, gesturing at the dumpling maker with a flourish.
Gladio snorts. Ignis – doesn’t do anything. Like, literally nothing. The only thing that happens is that his mouth drops open a little.
Prompto holds his pose for a second or two, then frowns and turns to look at Ignis. “Iggy?” he says. “The, uh – the pork?”
Ignis doesn’t do anything. It’s, like, blue screen of death. Noct wonders vaguely how you go about rebooting an Ignis.
Prompto’s frown deepens. He punches Ignis lightly on the arm. “Dude, Iggy,” he says. “You OK there, buddy?”
Ignis’ mouth snaps shut. “I’m sorry, what?” he says. “Did you say something about... pork?”
“Yeah, exactly!” Prompto says. “I need some pork all up in my dumpling. You wanna help me out with that?”
Gladio suddenly doubles over, making a noise like he’s dying. It’s enough to attract the attention of both Ignis and Prompto.
“Huh, you OK, big guy?” Prompto says, starting in the direction of the couch.
Ignis, though, looks furious, and grabs Prompto’s wrist, pulling him back.
“He’s fine, just – extremely childish,” he says. Then he pauses, looking down at his hand on Prompto’s wrist. Prompto looks at it, too. Ignis abruptly lets go and clears his throat.
“You were – showing me the operation of the device,” he says.
Prompto coughs. He looks red, now, as well. Noct wonders if they’re both getting sick. “Yeah – uh, yeah! Right!” Prompto says. “We need to put the pork in. Let me watch you do it.”
Gladio wheezes again. His face is buried in his knees. Noct rolls his eyes. Trust Gladio to somehow read innuendo into a completely non-sexual situation.
Ignis picks up a ball of filling and reaches over to place it into the middle of the dumpling dough.
“Like this?” he asks.
“It doesn’t look quite – hang on–” Prompto says, and then he reaches out and uses Ignis’ fingers to readjust the shape of the dough. “There.”
Prompto withdraws his hands. Ignis doesn’t. “Are you – sure it’s right?” he says in a strangled-sounding voice. (Yeah, he’s definitely getting a cold.) “You don’t want to – adjust it again?”
“Nope, it’s perfect!” Prompto says. “Push the button, maestro!”
Ignis pushes the button. The dumpling maker snaps shut with a burp. A moment later, a perfect dumpling drops out onto the counter.
“Yesssss, woo hoo!” Prompto says. “We are dumpling-maker kings! High five!”
He high-fives Ignis, and for a second after, Ignis cradles his hand to his chest, like Prompto hit him way too hard or something.
“Man, I am so looking forward to these dumplings,” Prompto says. “This is gonna save you so much time over the normal method! And it’s pretty fun, too!”
Ignis swallows and takes off his glasses, which look like they’ve got pretty steamed up.
“Yes,” he says. “I enjoyed myself.”
And he’s getting good at the whole act like I don’t hate this with every fibre of my being bit, because if Noct didn’t know better, he’d say he was telling the truth.
A few days later, Noct gets back to his apartment with Gladio to find Ignis already there. That’s not particularly unusual. What’s unusual is that the kitchen is a mess. Not, like, the kind of mess it was the one time Ignis was sick and Noct tried to cook (an incident which Ignis made him promise never to speak of again). Not even the kind of mess that Noct would normally consider pretty tidy. But for Ignis? A mess. There’s several lumps of dough on the counter, some of them with chunks of asparagus embedded in them, which makes them look even less appetising. They’re lined up, and the one closest to Ignis is squashed flat like someone brought their fist down on it.
Meanwhile, Ignis has a smear of flour on one cheek and a significant number of strands of hair out of place.
Oh, it’s bad.
“Specs?” Noct says, at the same time and in the same concerned tone as Gladio says, “Iggy?”
Ignis raises his eyes to them. His expression is one of despair.
“I’ve broken it,” he says.
“Huh?” Gladio says. He’s moving towards the kitchen, and Noct follows. He sees the dumpling maker, looking – definitely broken. Part of it is hanging loose at an angle that Noct can tell isn’t right.
“What happened?” Noct asks.
“The blasted thing – I can’t make it work right,” Ignis says. “I don’t know how he did it.”
“So – you broke it?” Gladio asks.
“Not on purpose!” Ignis says. But he looks – kinda like he might be lying. Then he starts feverishly trying to reattach the hanging part. “Help me fix it before he gets here,” he says.
“Oooor we could just – let it stay broken,” Gladio says. “Is it really worth the hassle?”
Ignis stares at him like he’s just suggested going naked in all aspects of their daily lives. (Which is actually something Gladio might suggest.) “What will Prompto think?” Ignis asks. “How could I possibly be so rude as to destroy a gift?”
“Well, looks like you’ve pretty much already been that rude, so–” Noct says. Ignis looks stricken, and Noct realises that maybe wasn’t the most tactful thing he could have said. “Anyway, Prompto’s not gonna hold it against you,” he says. “He’s not, like, uptight or whatever.” He decided not to mention how thrilled Prompto was to find the dumpling maker in the first place. It’s not Ignis’ fault it’s a piece of crap.
“Iggy,” Gladio says then. “Go wash your face. We’ll clean this up and then figure it all out.”
Ignis just kinda – stares at him. Gladio puts a hand on his shoulder and gently but firmly steers him in the direction of the bathroom. He watches him go, shaking his head.
“We gotta get that kid to stop buying him this crap,” he says. “Noct, next time you see him, tell him to stop.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t work,” Noct says.
Gladio raises his eyebrows. “You already tried?” he asks. “What happened?”
Noct opens his mouth, then closes it again when he remembers just what did happen. “Uh – he kinda – ignored me,” he says. No reason anyone needs to know about the whole path of least resistance thing.
“Well, he won’t ignore me,” Gladio says, pulling out his phone.
“No, man, just–” Noct says. He doesn’t want Ignis getting – ruffled, but he also doesn’t want Prompto feeling like his gifts are unappreciated, especially not now Noct’s told him they are. Shit, if Prompto realises Noct lied to him, this is all gonna get even worse. “There’s gotta be a way we can figure this out without making him feel like shit.”
At that moment, Ignis reappears from the bathroom. His hair’s back in place, face clean, and he looks a lot calmer. “Figure what out?” he asks.
“Just thinking about how to get Boy Wonder to stop buying you crap before you stroke out,” Gladio says, still looking at his phone.
“No!” Ignis says. It’s sharp enough to make Noct jump, and both he and Gladio turn to stare at Ignis.
“...no?” Gladio says.
Ignis clear his throat and smoothes down his apron. He pauses for a second, then takes a breath. “I just – agree with Noct,” he says. “There’s no reason to make Prompto feel bad. His gifts are harmless.”
Gladio raises an eyebrow. “Apart from that thing where you smashed one of them up because it offended your sense of – everything,” he says.
“I did not do that on purpose!” Ignis says. Then he clears his throat again. “And anyway, I very much appreciate the thought. No-one else has ever shown me such appreciation.” He glances at Noct. Noct shrugs. He’s pretty sure Ignis doesn’t want him to start buying useless gadgets, so he’s not sure what the issue is.
“Seriously, Iggy,” Gladio says. “There’s gotta be a better way to deal with this thing with you and Prompto.”
Huh? Noct thinks. What thing? Then he realises Gladio must just be talking about the whole Prompto buying Ignis gadgets thing. Ignis has gone weirdly red, though. Ignis is just – generally weird, lately.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ignis says. Which is good, because Noct doesn’t know what Gladio’s talking about, either. “And I assure you, I am quite capable of managing my own affairs.”
Gladio sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “This is stupid,” he mutters. Then he picks up the broken dumpling maker and starts striding towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Ignis asks. “Where are you taking my dumpling maker?”
“I’m going to get a replacement” Gladio calls back over his shoulder. “And you owe me, Iggy.”
Ignis stares after him, then closes his eyes.
“I do, at that,” he murmurs. Then he turns to the kitchen and starts to clean up.
Noct feels – pretty confused, actually. But he’s glad Ignis seems to be back to normal, and Gladio’s figured out a way to fix the problem without upsetting anyone else, so – yeah. Things are probably OK.
Noct’s training with Gladio when he figures it out. Not straight away, because it’s pretty subtle and complicated, but by the time the training session’s over, he’s on top of things. It’s been bugging him for a couple of days, now, the issue of why Ignis is so insistent that Prompto should keep on buying him stuff, even though the stuff itself throws him into fits of either rage or despair, depending on the day and sometimes even the minute. Even with his own experience of the downsides of trying to get Prompto to stop, he doesn’t think that could be enough to explain what Ignis is doing. And Ignis is acting weird in other ways, too. Like, sometimes he seems weirdly – emotional. So, yeah, it’s been bugging Noct.
“Hey, I think maybe something’s going on with Ignis,” he says to Gladio when they’re taking a break.
Gladio looks over at him and raises an eyebrow. “Ya think?” he says.
Right. Gladio’s noticed it, too. In fact, Gladio kind of implied he might know something about it the other day, even though Ignis clearly disagreed.
“Do you know what it is?” Noct asks. “Like – you think you know more about this than I do, right?” Not that Gladio doesn’t think that about most things.
Gladio laughs. “I definitely know more about this than you do, Your Inexperiencedness,” he says. Then he shakes his head. “Don’t worry, this shit just happens sometimes when people get super horny. Especially when they don’t have the sense to just jump each other’s bones.”
Noct blinks. Horny? Ignis doesn’t even have a girlfriend. He’s never had a girlfriend, as far as Noct knows. Which is good, because even the idea of Ignis having a girlfriend makes him feel – kind of pissed off, to be honest. Is that stupid? No, he’s pretty sure it’s not stupid. Because – Ignis is his advisor, right? His employee. So – it’s important to him that Ignis is focused on the job, and not some – girlfriend that he doesn’t even know.
But Ignis doesn’t have a girlfriend. Does he?
“Does Ignis have a girlfriend?” Noct asks.
Gladio turns and stares at him. He looks completely astounded. “...a what?” he says. “Are you serious right now?”
OK. So Ignis doesn’t have a girlfriend. But Gladio just said he was horny, so – Is there someone he wants to be his girlfriend? And what does that have to do with accepting stupid gifts from Prompto and trying to, like, actually use them, anyway? And how–
Wait. Oh, wait. Wait a second.
He frowns. He looks at Gladio. Gladio’s still staring at him like he’s just announced he’s going on an all-vegetable diet. But he thinks he’s figured it out.
“Hey, this is gonna sound kind of weird, so just hear me out, OK?” Noct says. “Do you think – maybe Ignis is into Prompto?”
Gladio blinks. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he says.
Ha! So Gladio didn’t even figure it out. So much for Noct being the inexperienced one.
“It totally makes sense,” Noct says. The more he thinks about it, the more it does. “Like – that’s why he’s doing that – thing with the Rotato, or whatever.”
Gladio puts his head in his hands for a moment and mutters something that sounds like how is this guy the prince of anything more complicated than a children’s party? Then he lifts his head.
“You know what, I think you might be onto something,” he says, but his tone’s, like, super-sarcastic for some reason. “I’m totally impressed with your observational skills. And by the way, I do not want to know about what thing Iggy’s doing with the Rotato.”
Noct nods, not really listening any more. Like, it’s a totally weird thought – Ignis being into anyone, really – but for some reason it doesn’t bother him like the thought of Ignis with someone he doesn’t know. Because Prompto’s, like, his best friend, and Ignis is his – Ignis, so it makes sense that they’d be attracted to each other, right? After all, they’ve got something in common. And also, he likes the idea that they could make each other happy, because then they’d both be happy. Not like Prompto’s not always happy, obviously, but – it feels right. And it’s not like them spending more time together would be a bad thing, since he’d be there, too, obviously. So he’d get to spend more time with both of them. Huh. OK.
Then he realises there’s a fly in the ointment.
“Hey – do you think Prompto likes Ignis back?” he asks.
Gladio groans. “Why don’t you tell me, o great sage of the human condition?” he asks.
Noct settles back in his seat. Prompto definitely likes Ignis, but does he like like him? He has no idea. There’s the thing with all the gifts, but Prompto explained that to him, and OK, it didn’t make total sense, but it did make a Prompto-y kind of sense, so. He’s not sure. He definitely thinks Prompto should like-like Ignis, though. That’d make everything so much easier.
“Hey,” Gladio says, smacking his shoulder. “We training, or what?”
“Yeah, coming,” says Noct, getting to his feet.
So he hasn’t solved all the questions. But at least he gets what’s going on with Ignis, now. And he figured it out by himself, too, so. He’s definitely not as oblivious as Gladio sometimes says he is.
Suck it, Gladio.
Noct and Prompto are heading to the arcade when Noct suddenly realises he’s alone. OK, not alone – it’s Insomnia, after all, there are plenty of people around – but Prompto’s not at his side any more. He turns sharply, looking back the way he came. It takes him a couple of seconds, but he catches a flash of blonde hair, and makes his way over to find Prompto with his face practically pressed up against a store window. Noct turns to see what he’s looking at, expecting that it’s going to be some kind of camera thing, but it’s... not. Noct isn’t sure what it is, but he’s sure that you couldn’t attach it to a camera. Unless maybe you wanted to turn the camera into a weapon.
“Oh, Noct,” Prompto sighs. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
Noct blinks. “Uh,” he says. He guesses it really depends whether you’re into sharp objects or not. “What is it?”
“It’s a Thermomix RoboshredderTM,” Prompto says. Noct has really got to ask him how he does that weird pronunciation thing some time. “It does everything. Slicing, dicing, mixing, blending. Man, if Iggy had one of these it would save him so much work.”
Noct winces. He looks at the Roboshredder. Ignis might actually like it, but to throw at opponents, not to cook with.
“You’re not gonna get it for him, right?” he says, trying to think of a way to really subtley persuade Prompto not to.
Prompto sighs, but this time it’s less of a dreamy sigh and more a disappointed one. “No, man. Have you seen the price tag on this thing? I can’t afford it.”
It hadn’t occurred to Noct to look at the price tag. He looks at it now. It doesn’t seem like that much money, but then, he knows Prompto isn’t making that much at his job, and he guesses it must cost him some money to rent his apartment.
“Never mind,” Noct says. “I’m sure Specs will manage without it.”
“Yeah, at least until I can save up enough,” Prompto says. He brightens up a little at the thought, and Noct realises that when Prompto said he wasn’t going to get it for Ignis, he meant he wasn’t going to get it today. But – isn’t Prompto already saving up for that camera stuff he wants?
“Aren’t you already saving up for that camera stuff you want?” asks Noct.
“Huh? Oh, that,” Prompto says. “Yeah, defnitely! I mean, I did save up, like, half. But that’ll put me so much further towards buying this, so – and then I can save up again after for the lens kit.”
OK, this is not ideal. Even though Ignis is apparently into Prompto, and apparently his being into Prompto manifests itself as some kind of kitchen-gadget-related masochism, Noct’s pretty sure even he wouldn’t want Prompto spending his camera-stuff-money on a Robo-thermo-shredder-mixer-tm. But also, the fact that Prompto even wants to means–
“Hey – do you like Ignis?” Noct asks.
“Huh? Yeah, dude. What kind of question is that?” Prompto says, barely looking up from his contemplation of the Shredder Robot.
“Yeah, but I mean – do you like like him?” Noct asks.
Prompto does look up, then, sharply, and immediately flushes. “What? No. Dude, no. What? No, definitely not.”
Huh. “Oh,” Noct says. “It just – kinda seemed like maybe you did.”
“No!” Prompto says, hunching his shoulders and looking away. He looks really red now. “Does everyone think that?”
Noct shrugs. “I dunno,” he says. He’s pretty sure Ignis doesn’t think it, otherwise presumably he’d have done something about it by now.
Prompto blinks rapidly and stares at something on the sidewalk. “Well – anyway, it wouldn’t matter if I did, right? So...” he says.
“Huh?” Noct says. “Why not?” He definitely thinks it would matter. He’s kinda bummed Prompto’s not into Ignis, to be honest, because he doesn’t like the idea of Ignis being disappointed.
Prompto looks up at him, eyebrows rising in surprise. “Uh – because – it’s not like I’d have a chance with him, right?” he says. “I mean, come on, Noct. He’s – super hot, and really smart, and like – the most organised person in the entire world, and he’s even really nice about all the stupid stuff other people do. And he’s a great cook, and just watching him chop vegetables is like – hypnotic.” He sighs, but there’s a tiny smile on his lips and he looks like he’s watching something Noct can’t see. “He’s way out of my league,” he says, but weirdly he doesn’t even sound that unhappy about it.
Noct frowns. He doesn’t think Ignis is really nice about all the stupid stuff other people do. Unless by nice, Prompto means bitingly sarcastic. “It kinda sounds like you do like-like him,” he says.
“Can’t a guy just appreciate another guy without it being weird?” Prompto asks.
Noct’s actually not sure. He definitely thinks Prompto’s appreciation of Ignis is a little weird, though. “Anyway, I don’t think he’s out of your league,” he says. He’s not sure exactly how to make Prompto less down on himself. It’s like – Prompto’s a great guy, he’s funny and kind and always happy, and Noct doesn’t get why he thinks Ignis wouldn’t be interested. But he’s not sure how to say all that, so he just shrugs.
“Are you kidding?” Prompto says. “Dude. I mean, I’ve got a decent bod, but – that’s pretty much all, right? I mean, compared to him. I’m not saying I’m a total loser, but – I’m definitely kind of a loser. And Iggy – really isn’t.” He shrugs. “It’s not a big deal, anyway, since I’m not – I don’t even know why we’re talking about this. Aren’t we going to the arcade? C’mon.”
He takes off down the street, and Noct stares after him. He feels – kinda shitty, to be honest, and he wishes he’d never brought the whole thing up.
“I don’t think you’re a loser at all,” he mutters.
Then he hurries to catch up.
After that, Prompto doesn’t buy Ignis anything new for a little while. Noct can’t decide whether it’s because of what he said – like, maybe Prompto’s feeling so hopeless about his chances with Ignis that he doesn’t even have the heart to buy him stuff any more – or because he’s just saving up for the Shredder Robot. Neither option seems like a good thing, so even though Noct’s been looking for a way to get Prompto to stop for a while, now he actually has stopped, Noct can’t even enjoy it. Also, even though he definitely doesn’t want Prompto wasting all his money on the Shredder Robot, he really hopes it isn’t option one, because the idea of Prompto feeling that bad about himself makes Noct feel like shit. If he’s honest with himself, the whole thing is basically a mess. And he’s not entirely sure it isn’t his fault.
The worst part about it is, Ignis doesn’t seem happy. Even though Noct’s seen Prompto’s gadgets drive Ignis into incoherent rage more than once, somehow, now that they’ve stopped coming, Ignis just seems – down. It’s not like Prompto’s never around, or anything like that, so Ignis still gets to see him and talk to him. Noct doesn’t get it, he really doesn’t, but it’s undeniable. Prompto’s gadgets make Ignis crazy, but the lack of Prompto’s gadgets makes Ignis sad, and Noct’s surprised to discover that it’s pretty easy to decide which of those he likes least.
Apparently, Gladio agrees, because one day he comes and flings himself down on the couch next to Noct when it’s only the two of them at Noct’s apartment, crosses his arms, and sighs a really frustrated sigh.
“Fuck, this is stupid,” he says. “Those two are just – such morons.”
Normally, Noct would either ignore Gladio or ask him who he meant. Today, though, he doesn’t need to.
“Can we do something to make Ignis less – uh...” he says instead. He’s not sure what he wants Ignis to be less of, but he knows it’s something. Definitely less.
Gladio shrugs. “Buy him a blender and pretend it’s from Prompto?” he says. “It’d have to be a really stupid blender to be believable, though.”
“We could – try and get Prompto to start giving him stuff again,” Noct says.
“Nope,” says Gladio. “I am not encouraging that shit. It’s too stupid. Anyway, why’d he stop?”
“Dunno,” Noct says, feeling guilty.
Gladio looks at him, eyes narrowed. “You say something to him?” he asks.
“No!” Noct says. “I mean – not really. I just – asked him if he liked Ignis.”
“Yeah?” Gladio sits up, looking interested. “What’d he say?”
“He said no, but – I don’t know if he was being totally honest,” Noct says. He shakes his head. “Can’t we just get Ignis to make a move, see what happens? Or – we could like, send Prompto a message and pretend it’s from Ignis, maybe?”
Gladio snorts. “Please,” he says, “that’s tween drama bullshit. They may be acting like idiots, but they gotta figure it out by themselves. I just hope like hell it’ll be soon, because I can’t take much more sad Iggy.”
At that moment, the door opens, and sad Iggy himself makes an appearance. It’s weird, because he’s really not acting any different. He’s not even saying anything different. There’s just – an intangible sort of melancholy about him.
Noct really doesn’t like it.
“Good afternoon, Noct, Gladio,” Ignis says, with an air of refined gloom. He takes the bags he’s carrying over the kitchen counter and starts unpacking them. “I hope you’re both well.”
Noct and Gladio glance at each other.
Ignis, meanwhile, is going through a drawer, and after a moment or two comes up with Prompto’s egg-slicer. He gives it a wistful look, lays it aside, and continues looking for whatever it is he’s looking for. It’s – kind of unbearable, actually. And also stupid. Gladio was right, it is so stupid.
Noct opens his mouth to say – something, just anything at all – when suddenly the door bursts open and Prompto appears, grinning like a lunatic.
“Hey, you’re all here,” he says. “Hi Noct. Iggy, are you cooking?”
Ignis looks round, then summons up a smile. “I do seem to be,” he says.
“Great!” Prompto says. He bounces over to the counter. “What are you making? Are you making something tasty? What am I saying, everything you make is tasty. Buuuuuuuut are you making something you can stir?”
Ignis looks somewhat taken aback by the sudden eruption of energy into the room. Taken aback, but also – pleased?
“I was thinking a roast, actually,” he says.
“Oh,” Prompto says. His face falls a little. “Guess you’re not gonna stir that, are you?”
Ignis stares at him for a long moment. Then he seems to shake himself.
“Did I say roast?” he says. “I meant risotto. Quite similar – consonants. Foolish of me.”
Prompto brightens. “Risotto? That’s the one with all the stirring right?”
“A great deal of stirring, yes,” Ignis says. He sounds off-hand, but his eyes keep going to Prompto’s messenger bag.
“Then have I got the time-saving device for you!” Prompto says, beaming as he reaches into the bag and pulls out a box, holding it out to Ignis with a flourish.
Noct’s half-expecting the Shredder Robot, but it’s too small to be that. He can’t read the writing on the box from the angle he’s sitting at, though, so he has to wait for Ignis to take it and read it out. And – Ignis does. Without hesitation. And he definitely looks pleased.
“Robo-stirrer,” he says, looking at the box. “How ingenious.”
“Totally!” Prompto says. “It does the stirring for you! No more stirring!”
“Very impressive,” Ignis says, somehow managing to sound warm and happy about – about a stirring robot. Noct feels – kind of like everything he thought he understood about the world is wrong. But then he looks at the way Prompto’s smiling so wide it’s almost painful to witness, and he gets it. He really thinks he’s starting to get all this Ignis-and-Prompto stuff.
“This is stupid,” Gladio mutters beside him.
“Better than the alternative,” he mutters back.
Gladio doesn’t argue.
“Hm,” Ignis says. He’s peering at the instructions for the Robo-stirrer. Prompto stands on tiptoes, trying to read over his shoulder.
“It’s real easy,” Prompto says. “They demonstrated it on the infomercial. I can show you.”
“Indeed,” Ignis says, “although you will have to wait for me to produce something to stir first.”
“Oh, yeah,” Prompto says. He stands back and spreads his arms, as if to encompass the entire world and all the potential stirrable material in it. “Produce away!”
Ignis turns to look at him, and his face suddenly takes on a slightly frozen look, like he’s just noticed the headlights of a truck barrelling towards him.
“Iggy?” Prompto asks. “You OK?”
“Yes – yes, certainly, I’m very well,” Ignis says. “Er – Prompto, I wonder if I could ask you a favour?”
“Of course!” Prompto says. “Anything for you. Uh, I mean--” He coughs, blushing slightly. “You know. How can I help?”
“The – stirring device requires batteries,” Ignis says. “Could you get some for me? I don’t want to abandon--” He gestures at the oven, which isn’t switched on, and then mumbles something which ends in …might burn.
“I thought the batteries were included?” Prompto says. “I definitely remember them saying--” He takes a step towards the counter, where the Robo-stirrer box is lying on its side. Ignis takes a quick sidestep, putting himself between Prompto and the box.
“I’m afraid not,” he says. “I checked quite thoroughly.”
“Oh. Man, I’m sorry, if I’d known I would have got some,” Prompto says. “I’ll go now – be back in no time!”
And he grabs his messenger bag and almost runs out the door.
The moment it closes behind him, Ignis darts forward, grabbing Noct by the arm.
“Noct, I require your assistance,” he says. “I need you to get me the ingredients for a risotto.”
Noct blinks at him. “Huh?” he says. Like he has the first idea what to put in a risotto.
Ignis stares at him for a long moment, unblinking. There are beads of sweat standing out on his forehead. Then, abruptly, he turns to Gladio.
“Gladio--” he starts.
“Oh, no way,” Gladio says, raising his hands. “I’m not getting involved in this stupid shit. You wanna pretend you’re making risotto, that’s your bag, but it’s not my fault if you suck at lying.”
Ignis takes hold of Gladio’s shoulders. “Gladio,” he says, with that intense look he gets sometimes. Noct feels a shiver run down his spine. Ignis is usually so calm and restrained, but every now and then he gets that look, and it’s like seeing a whole different Ignis.
Apparently, Gladio agrees, because he glares at Ignis for all of three seconds before making an exasperated noise.
“Fucking – dammit,” Gladio says. He pushes Ignis away, gets to his feet and storms towards the door.
“I’ll email you the recipe!” Ignis calls after him.
The door slamming is the only answer he gets.
Some time later, Ignis and Prompto stand with their heads close together, peering into the risotto pan.
“See?” Prompto says. “It rotates like that and it causes – convection!”
Ignis raises his head, looking confused. “Convection?” he says.
“Yep!” Prompto stands back, beaming. “Convection! Right? It’ll just – convect away by itself and you can relax.” He gestures at the couch, and then, seeing it’s occupied by both Noct and a still-sulking Gladio, gestures at an armchair instead. “You can do so much relaxing! Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you relax before.”
Ignis eyes the armchair. “Mm,” he says. “But perhaps – I could get a head-start on some other kitchen tasks--”
“Ah-ah, no way,” Prompto says. He grabs Ignis by the shoulders and steers him towards the chair. “What’s the point of getting you a time-saving device if it doesn’t actually save you any time, huh?”
Noct raises his eyebrows. He looks at Gladio, who manages to stop sulking long enough to raise his own back. Since when has Ignis allowed himself to be literally pushed around? Wow. Noct suddenly realises that this – whatever it is that Ignis has for Prompto is more of a big deal than he’d thought.
Prompto gently but firmly pushes Ignis down into the chair, flashes a brilliant grin at anyone and everyone, and then practically bounces away towards the bathroom, singing a victory fanfare as he goes. Gladio goes in for an epic eye-roll. But Ignis watches Prompto over his shoulder, and then, the moment he’s out of sight, launches himself to his feet and flings himself towards the stove. He grabs a spoon and shoves it into the risotto pan, stirring with what Noct is pretty sure is an unnecessary amount of energy.
Gladio snickers. “Convection not working too well, huh?” he says.
Ignis doesn’t even spare him a glance. He only has eyes for the risotto. “Convection doesn’t work like that, as you know perfectly well,” he says. “Besides, as far as I can tell, this – object merely rotates in place, which is certainly not going to accomplish the necessary agitation.”
“Doesn’t work, huh?” Noct says. Then the toilet flushes, and Ignis straightens up sharply, hiding the spoon behind his back.
A moment later, Prompto saunters back into the room, and pauses when he sees Ignis.
“Huh,” he says, frowning a little. “Aren’t you meant to be chilling out?”
“Ah,” Ignis says. “Er--”
There’s a brief, breathless pause. Then Ignis adjusts his glasses.
“Do you know, watching the stirring device is really quite – hypnotic,” he says. “I’m finding it very relaxing. Not to mention fascinating.”
“Oh,” Prompto says. He looks confused, then pleased. “Really?”
“Certainly,” Ignis says. From behind his back, a lump of sticky risotto rice falls to the floor with a quiet splat. Ignis’ face remains completely straight. “If you don’t mind, I feel this may be the best way for me to chill out, as you so eloquently put it.”
“Well, uh,” Prompto scratches the back of his head. “Sure! I mean, if it’s really relaxing.” He takes half a step towards Ignis. “Maybe I should--”
At that point, Noct jumps to his feet and grabs Prompto’s elbow. “Hey, you remember that game I was going to show you?” he says. “It’s in my room. Come on, let Specs zone out in peace.”
“Uh, oh, OK,” Prompto says – not that he has much choice in agreeing, since Noct is now physically dragging him across the room. “Enjoy, Iggy!”
Noct half-shoves Prompto into his room, and follows him in. When he looks back, he sees Ignis franticly stirring the risotto. He closes the door behind him, then realises he’s going to have to actually come up with something to show Prompto. Shit.
Still, at least he saved dinner.
On the Saturday after what Gladio’s now started calling the Risotto Incident, Noct is woken up by Ignis. This isn’t weird at all – Noct would probably need more than two hands to count the number of times in his life he’s been woken up by something other than Ignis, but not that many more. Ignis is just like that. He’s the guy who wakes Noct up. It’s Ignis’ thing. One of Ignis’ things.
Today, though, it’s not a hand on his shoulder or a phone call or even the slow, sleepy, dawning awareness of someone being very frustrated in his general direction. Instead, Noct is woken up by the sound of Ignis shouting. And that’s weird, because Ignis doesn’t really shout. He does the whole icy calm I’m not angry, just disappointed thing. He’s super good at it. It’s another of Ignis’ things.
Noct reluctantly opens his eyes and stares at the ceiling. His apartment is pretty well made, and the doors and walls are heavy and solid, so although he can hear Ignis shouting, he can’t make out the words. There’s a rumble in between, though, which is definitely Gladio. Gladio’s not shouting, but Ignis is. It must be Opposite Day. Prompto’s probably going to show up in a minute and bring everyone down.
Noct sighs. He guesses he ought to get out of bed and see what Ignis is shouting about. It must be almost time for brunch, anyway, which is presumably why Gladio is there.
He hauls himself out of bed, goes through his morning hygiene routine (check mirror for drool trails, scratch any itchy parts, call it good), and then pushes open the door.
“Morning,” he says. “Why are we shouting?”
Gladio turns towards him, rolling his eyes. “Rotato mood,” he says. Gladio’s been naming a lot of things, lately.
“Excuse me?” Ignis says.
Noct thinks about it and decides neither of them has ever actually used the term Rotato mood in front of Ignis before (or Risotto Incident, for that matter). Ignis doesn’t look like he likes it very much.
“You know,” Gladio says, gesturing at the counter. Noct sees that both the RotatoTM and the Robo-stirrer are out. Oh shit. Double Rotato mood.
“No, I do not know,” Ignis says. He’s stopped shouting and is doing the icy thing now, but Noct’s not sure it’s an improvement.
Gladio rolls his eyes again. “When you try and actually use one of these pieces of crap and then you get all crazy,” he says. “Rotato mood.”
Ignis stares at him, then at Noct. He adjust his glasses. “I do not get crazy,” he says.
Gladio snorts and glances at Noct. “This guy serious?” he says.
“You really do,” Noct says, wondering if there’s any food yet.
“Nonsense,” Ignis says. “I am perfectly calm.” There’s a sort of screeching noise as the can of Ebony he’s holding in his hand collapses. Apparently Ignis is white-knuckling it today.
“Yep,” Gladio says, then shakes his head. “Listen, Iggy, just – if you want into Prompto’s pants, why don’t you just ask him out or something? Save us all the headache.”
“Excuse me?” Ignis says again. He’s still going for the ice-queen thing, but his cheeks are suddenly flushed. “What on Eos makes you think I want into – that I am attracted to Prompto?”
“Ifrit’s fiery asshole,” Gladio says, throwing his hands up. “You really think you’re fooling anyone? Just make a fucking move, Iggy, before you have an aneurysm!”
“Even if I did want--” Ignis starts, and then turns sharply back to the RotatoTM. “Can’t someone just appreciate a gift given out of pure generosity without it being – tawdry?”
Gladio snorts. “Listen, Ig,” he says, “I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that Prompto would be very happy for things to get tawdry any time now. You think he’s buying you this shit just because you’re friends? You don’t see him buying me shit, do you?”
“It’s not shit,” Ignis says, leaning over and fiddling with the RotatoTM. “Prompto’s presents are very thoughtful.”
At that moment, the avocado that Ignis is apparently trying to use the RotatoTM to peel (why???) slips sideways and lands on the floor with an unappetising wet thud. Ignis stares down at it, fists clenched.
“Yeah, I can see they’re working out great for you,” Gladio says.
Ignis’ jaw clenches. Noct swallows. He can’t believe Gladio’s antagonising Ignis while he’s in a Rotato mood. He takes a step backwards towards his bedroom, feeling the air start to turn greasy, wondering if he should duck and cover.
“Of course they don’t work!” Ignis snaps, rounding on Gladio. “They’re not supposed to work! They’re supposed to part foolish people from their money! That’s why they advertise them on late-night television, because drunks and the sleep-deprived are more likely to make poor decisions!”
Noct feels – actually kind of relieved that Ignis has finally lost it. He hates waiting for that shoe to drop. Well, he feels relieved up until he sees Prompto standing in the doorway, anyway.
Ignis is still glaring at Gladio, but Gladio’s noticed Prompto and is looking like he has no clue what to do. Prompto, meanwhile, is standing with his hand still on the door, face frozen in a smile.
“Prompto--” Noct says. His voice comes out in a croak.
Ignis stands very still, facing away from the door. Prompto visibly swallows.
“Hi,” he says, voice cracking. “Guess I’m – early, h- huh?”
Ignis turns. His expression is kind of painful to look at, but Noct doesn’t want to look at Prompto either. He ends up looking at the avocado, still lying mushed on the floor.
“Prompto,” Ignis says. “You didn’t – I didn’t mean--”
“Heh, no, it’s fine,” Prompto says, and even though Noct’s not looking at him, the tremor in his voice hurts anyway. “It’s fine, I, uh – I just – I remembered I’ve got to--”
“Prompto!” Ignis says, but then the door slams. Noct tears his eyes away from the avocado to see Ignis darting forward, dragging the door open, running out into the hall. He calls Prompto’s name again.
But Prompto’s gone.
By the time Ignis gets back into the apartment, he’s already got his phone out and is jabbing his thumb at the screen. A moment later, he lifts it to his ear, face intent as he listens. Noct can just about hear the tinny sound of ringing, and then it cuts off, and he can hear Prompto’s voice on the edge of his hearing, telling Ignis to leave a message.
“Prompto–” Ignis says. He pauses and clears his throat. “I’m sorry about – what you heard. It wasn’t what you thought, I promise. Please, I must explain. Please call me so that I can explain.” He swallows. “Please call me, Prompto.” Then he ends the call and lowers the phone. He blinks, staring at nothing, and briefly presses a hand over his eyes. It kinda makes Noct’s chest hurt. That’s not cool.
“Hey,” Gladio says, putting a hand on Ignis’ shoulder. “It’s gonna be fine, Iggy. You just gotta explain it to him, and then–”
“Yes, well, rather difficult to do that when he’s not answering his phone,” Ignis snaps.
Gladio doesn’t look offended, or get angry back, like he always does when Noct snaps at him. Instead, he just pulls out his own phone. “Let me try,” he says, lifting it to his ear. But he ends the call almost immediately. “He’s turned it off,” he says.
Ignis closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. “How could I be so thoughtless?” he mutters. Oh, Noct’s chest hurts more now. He doesn’t know what to do about it. He wants to help Ignis, but he has no clue how.
“Look, Prompto will get over it–” Gladio starts, and then raises his hands when Ignis glares at him. “Don’t yell at me yet, Iggy, hear me out. Prompto will get over it enough to turn his phone on, and then you’ll explain and everything’ll be cool. Just give him half a minute to cool down.”
“I don’t want to give him half a minute,” Ignis says. “I don’t want to give him a single second thinking that I think he’s – That I–” He shakes his head. “And how can I explain? I’ve been so–”
Noct thinks maybe Gladio will point out that he said this was a bad idea from the start. But Gladio doesn’t. He just puts an arm round Ignis’ shoulders and looks at Noct.
“Go and see if blondie went home, all right?” he says.
Noct nods. That’s good, that’s something he can do.
“Yeah,” he says, already heading for the door. He looks back before he leaves, though. “Hey – Specs. Gladio’s right. We’ll figure this out, all right?” He feels weird, comforting Ignis. He doesn’t really know how to do it, for all the times he’s seen it in reverse. He’s pretty sure he’s doing a bad job.
So he leaves.
Prompto isn’t at home. Noct tries the arcade, the store where Prompto works, the park where he likes to run and take pictures. No Prompto. It’s mid-afternoon – and Prompto’s phone is still off – by the time Noct gives up and heads back to his apartment. Hopefully Ignis is feeling a little better by now.
When he walks in, the place smells – amazing. Ignis is nowhere to be seen, but the counter’s covered in packets and jars, and the oven’s lit up, something on a tray inside that’s presumably making the amazing smell. On the couch is Gladio, arms crossed over his chest, frowning. On the table are the Rotato, the egg-slicer, the dumpling maker and the stirring robot. They’ve all been cleaned to within an inch of their lives and are gleaming like they’re brand new.
Noct pauses just inside the door, looking at Gladio.
“What’s going on?” he asks.
Gladio shrugs. “Baking,” he says.
At that moment, Ignis pops up from behind the counter, where he must have been kneeling looking into a cupboard. He’s got flour in his hair. Ignis. Has flour in his hair.
“Oh,” Noct says. “Uh – for when Prompto comes back?”
Ignis doesn’t seem to hear. Gladio’s frown deepens.
“No clue,” he says.
“Right.” Noct looks around the apartment. Someone’s cleaned it while he’s been out. No prizes for guessing who. “Prompto wasn’t home.”
Ignis glances up at that, then goes back to peering into a bag of sugar. Noct goes over to the counter. He should say something to make Ignis feel better. What should he say? He’s pretty sure Prompto would know what to say, but he finds himself drawing a blank. What does Prompto always say?
“What are you making?” he asks.
Ignis gives him a distracted look, then glances around at the ranks of baking supplies. He frowns.
“I’m not – actually sure,” he says, as though he’s only just realised that it’s an issue. He stares at a bottle of vanilla essence for a moment, then turns sharply and grabs a book from a shelf. He holds it out to Noct. “Why don’t you pick something?”
Noct takes the book. Ignis is acting super weird. It makes him feel kinda nervous. He opens the book and flips through till he finds something he doesn’t think Ignis has ever made before. Maybe a challenge will help take his mind off things.
“This looks good,” he says, holding it out.
Ignis glances at the page. “Not that one, Noct,” he snaps. “I can’t make that.”
“Oh,” Noct says, trying not to flinch and not quite succeeding. “Uh – OK.” He takes the book back, but he doesn’t know what to do next. Should he choose a different recipe? What if Ignis gets pissed off by the next one, too? What’s the problem with the one he picked? “Um, can I ask why?” he says.
Ignis flings an arm out, indicating the counter. “I don’t have the ingredients,” he says.
Noct stares at all the baking stuff that’s piled high on every surface. It looks like Ignis has the ingredients to make every recipe in the world. “OK,” he says. “Well – I don’t know which ones you do have the ingredients for, so–”
Ignis rounds on him, eyes snapping. Then, suddenly, all the fire seems to go out of him. “Never mind,” he says, holding out his hand. “Give me the book.”
Noct does, gladly. Then he takes a couple of steps backwards. “I’m just gonna – uh...” he says, and makes a break for his room. Once safely inside, he drops down to sit on the bed. It’s been made. The room’s spotless. Not that Ignis doesn’t tend to just clean stuff anyway, but– Ugh. Noct feels really bad.
The door opens a moment later, and Gladio slips through. He comes over and sits next to Noct on the bed. Neither of them says anything for a moment. Then Gladio sniffs the air.
“You smell really bad,” he says, turning to Noct. “Did you even shower today?”
“Yeah, thanks, Gladio,” Noct mutters. He runs a hand through his hair. “Is Ignis going to be OK?”
Gladio shrugs. “Yeah,” he says. “He’ll work it out. He’s just mad right now. We gotta let him get on with it.”
Noct sighs. He wishes he could do something to make Ignis feel better. As for Prompto, he doesn’t even want to think about him, because that – yeah, that sucks. “What should I do?” he asks.
“Don’t get in his way,” Gladio says. “And take a shower, seriously.”
Noct rolls his eyes.
Then he gets up to take a shower.
The next day, when Noct knocks on Prompto’s door, it opens.
Noct’s actually kinda surprised. He can’t remember when exactly Prompto’s shifts at the store are, but he didn’t want to go there anyway because he figures trying to talk to Prompto about the whole Ignis thing at work is not going to go well. But he’d definitely kind of assumed Prompto would be at work. He’d only really knocked so he could go back and tell Ignis he tried.
“Hey,” he says.
Prompto looks – tired. He’s got bags under his eyes and he’s wearing sweatpants. His feet are bare. Noct wonders if he just woke him up.
“Oh, hey, Noct!” Prompto says. He offers up a smile, which looks like it took a lot of effort. “Man, I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Yeah, well, your phone’s off, so I couldn’t tell you I was coming,” Noct says.
“Huh?” Prompto says. “Oh – uh, shit. Yeah, it, it – the battery died and I – haven’t charged it, so...”
Noct sighs. “Can I come in?” he asks.
“Uh, the place is kind of a mess…” Prompto says, but Noct shoulders his way past him.
“Yeah, you’ve seen my place, right?” He says.
“Yeah, but you’ve got Iggy to–” Prompto starts, and then stops. He takes a breath, then pastes on another smile. “So, uh – soda?”
“Prompto,” Noct says. He hadn’t expected Prompto to be home, so he hadn’t really figured out what he should say once he actually saw him. But he’s here now, so he’s going to have to come up with something. Anything that’ll make Prompto look less – bruised. “Listen, about Ignis–”
“Hey, no,” Prompto says. “You don’t have to – don’t worry, I got the message. Loud and clear.”
“No, listen,” Noct says. “What Ignis said–”
“Seriously,” Prompto says, sounding kind of sharp now, which is so weird for Prompto that Noct’s momentarily surprised into silence. “I don’t need it explaining to me, all right? Can we just – talk about something else?”
Noct stands in the middle of Prompto’s living room, trying to figure out what to say next. Well, it’s not really a living room – Prompto’s apartment is a studio, so it’s more of a living-dining-sleeping kitchen. Not that that helps Noct with his problem.
“Ignis loves all that stuff you got him,” he says at last, figuring if he can just get the main message out before Prompto cuts him off, he’ll have a chance to get through to him.
Prompto, head in the fridge looking for soda, turns and looks back at him with an incredulous expression.
“OK,” he says. “I mean, I know I’m obviously pretty gullible, but you don’t have to lie right to my face, Noct.”
“I’m not lying!” Noct says. “It’s just – it’s complicated. Please, would you just listen?”
Prompto closes the fridge door and turns to face him. He wraps his arms around his chest and hunches his shoulders.
“All right,” he says. “I’m listening.”
“OK,” Noct says. Now he has to really get it right. But he’s pretty sure he’s going to fuck it up. He wishes Ignis was here. Although that might not actually improve things, given the current situation. “OK, so – yeah, all right. The stuff you got him – it didn’t really – work, mostly. And the thing is, Ignis – he doesn’t really need stuff like that anyway. Like, he can peel a potato pretty fast, you know? He doesn’t need a machine to do it for him.”
Prompto’s jaw clenches, and Noct realises he’s focusing way too much on the wrong thing. “But he really appreciated that you wanted to get him stuff,” he says, talking a little too quickly. “Like, really.” It feels inadequate, but he’s not sure what else to say.
“Oh,” Prompto says.
OK, definitely inadequate. “Oh, what?” Noct asks.
Prompto shrugs, looking at the floor. “I mean, it’s the thought that counts isn’t really what I was going for when I bought him all that stuff, so–”
“No, come on, it’s not like that,” Noct says. “He seriously – he was really happy you got him stuff, like, that you thought that hard about something you thought he would want, even if it wasn’t always – Really, Prompto. Every time you got him something, he was just – weird and happy about everything. And he made a ton of comments about how it would be nice if other people appreciated him as much as you do. Like, really, an unnecessary amount of comments.”
“He didn’t look very happy yesterday,” Prompto says.
“Yeah, well–” Noct tries to figure out how to explain it. The problem is, he’s not totally sure he understands it himself. “The gadgets – kind of drive him crazy.” Prompto’s face crumples a little, and Noct hurries to try and fix the mistake. “But he loves them, because – because you got them for him.”
Prompto stands in silence for a moment, still staring at the floor. Then he looks at Noct out of the corners of his eyes. “Really?” he says.
“Really,” Noct says. “The only reason he got upset yesterday was because he was trying to use the Rotato and it wasn’t working. And the only reason he was using the Rotato was because it was a gift from you.”
Prompto swallows and hunches his shoulders a little more. “He’s not – mad at me? I mean – for being an idiot and giving him stupid stuff that he hates?”
“Fuck, no, Prompto,” Noct says. “He’s not – you really walked in at the wrong time. Specs is losing his mind right now because he’s so worried about having hurt your feelings. He doesn’t think that about you at all.” He shakes his head, because Prompto still looks miserable. “No-one thinks that. You’re not an idiot, no-one thinks that. And he doesn’t hate that stuff. I told you. He loves it.”
There’s a silence – one of the most awkward silences Noct’s ever had to deal with. Then Prompto takes a deep breath.
“OK,” he says.
Noct stares at him. “OK?”
Prompto nods. He even smiles. But it’s like the smiles before, plastered on. “Listen, Noct, thanks for coming by, but I gotta get to work, so–”
“Did you even listen to what I just said?” Noct asks. He really doesn’t want to let Prompto go off to work on his own when he’s so – when he’s being like this.
“Yeah, I listened.” Something a little more genuine seeps into Prompto’s smile. “Thanks, buddy. I just gotta – I need some time to – figure it out, all right?”
Noct wants to say that it’s not all right, that Prompto needs to figure it out right now so he can be happy and then they’ll go and make Ignis happy, too. But he doesn’t say that. He just shrugs.
“Yeah, OK,” he says.
Prompto stares at him. Noct stares back. And then realises he’s supposed to be leaving.
“Oh – right,” he says, and heads towards the door. When he gets there, though, he looks back. “Ignis really – thinks you’re great,” he says. “Just – turn your phone back on soon, all right? Or even just – I mean, he’s been baking like a crazy person since yesterday, and there’s so much cake. We really – it’d be really good to have someone to come help us eat it. You know?”
Prompto nods. “OK,” he says. “I got the message.”
Noct slips out and closes the door behind him.
He really hopes Prompto got the right message this time.
After Noct leaves Prompto’s studio, he goes back to his apartment and surveys the situation. There’s a lot of cake. Really, a lot. Also pastries, little tart things, muffins, and some kind of layered yoghurt-fruit-jelly thing that Noct thinks he’s seen once or twice at official banquets. Ignis is hard at work at the counter, making something else. Noct is pretty sure there can’t be anything left in the cake book that he hasn’t already made, except maybe the thing he doesn’t have the ingredients for.
“Hey, Specs,” Noct says, exchanging a look with Gladio, who’s been parked on Noct’s couch since the day before. “More cake?”
Ignis looks up and pushes his glasses back up his nose. “Baklava, actually,” he says.
“Cool,” Noct says. He stands by the door for a minute, wondering what to do next. “Uh – I’m not sure we – really need any more, though?”
Gladio looks over at him and shakes his head. Ignis glances around the room, frowns a little as if it’s the first time he’s noticed that every flat surface is covered in dessert, and then looks back at Noct.
“I don’t suppose Prompto was in?” he asks. If he’s trying to sound casual, he’s not managing it. Although he’s probably not even trying.
“Uh, yeah,” Noct says. “Actually – yeah.”
Ignis straightens up. “And?” he says. “I hope you apologised on my behalf.”
“Yeah, I – I did,” Noct says, trying to remember if he did. “And I told him – you know, about how you’re totally weird about all the infomercial crap.”
Ignis looks horrified. “I certainly hope that you didn’t phrase it in such a dismissive manner,” he says.
Noct tries to remember if he phrased it in such a dismissive manner. “Look, I think – I mean he said he needed time to think about it, but – I think – maybe he got it? Like, I told him a bunch of times that you really appreciate the – uh, the cooking stuff, so – that should be cool, right?”
Gladio groans quietly, then pulls out his phone. He puts it to his ear a second, then shakes his head. “Still off,” he says.
Noct’s stomach sinks. “He’s at work,” he says, even though they all know that Prompto doesn’t turn his phone off at work.
Ignis stands very still for a moment. Then he nods.
“I see,” he says, and goes back to his baklava.
It’s a long and extremely sucky day. All of them have shit to do, and they go away and do it and then come back and resume their previous occupations of sitting on the couch worrying (Noct), sitting on the couch pretending not to worry (Gladio) and distracted baking (Ignis). It’s already past dinnertime, and Noct’s starting to feel like maybe cake for every meal isn’t as cool an idea as he thought it was when he was a kid, when the apartment door opens.
“Uh, hi,” Prompto says. He stands in the doorway, looking unsure of himself. “Is it – are you guys – busy?”
Ignis raises his head, eyes widening. “Prompto,” he says, and then just stands there with his mouth half open.
“Yeah, we’re super busy,” Gladio says. “Got a lot of sitting around to do. Close the door, you’re ruining the ambience.”
Prompto comes fully into the room and closes the door. He glances briefly at Ignis, then looks around the room. His gaze falls on the kitchen gadgets, occupying pride of place on the only surface not covered in cake. Ignis cleaned them again this morning, and they’re gleaming in the light from the lamps. Prompto stares at them for a moment, then looks quickly away.
“You’ve been baking,” he says.
Ignis utters a slightly hysterical-sounding laugh. “Yes,” he says. He makes a gesture towards – everything. “Would you like some cake?”
“Sure,” Prompto says. He approaches the nearest plate, piled high with jam tarts, and inspects it, but doesn’t take anything.
Ignis draws in a breath. “Prompto–” he starts.
“This looks great, Iggy!” Prompto says, grabbing a tart and grinning broadly. “Wow, you really made a lot, huh? Who’s gonna eat all this stuff?”
Ignis looks a little taken aback by the sudden change in Prompto’s attitude. Noct kind of feels the same way. It’s weird, because he’s used to Prompto being – Prompto, but right now it kind of feels like Prompto pretending to be Prompto, and that’s – not really what Noct wants to see.
“Well – I rather hoped you might help,” Ignis says. He pauses, then takes another breath. “Prompto, I must apologise–”
Prompto shoves the jam tart in his mouth. “No problem, Noct told me all about it,” he says, spraying crumbs on the pristine floor. “It’s cool. Wow, this is amazing! Noct, have you tried these?”
“Uh – no,” Noct says. “Not those ones.”
“You have to try one,” Prompto says. “Man, you guys are gonna have to roll me out of here!” He grabs a jam tart, bounces over to the couch, and shoves it into Noct’s hand with a little more force than is really necessary.
Gladio glances at Noct and raises his eyebrows. But Noct doesn’t really know what to do. So he eats the jam tart, even though he’s really kind of had enough dessert today already.
Ignis stands at the counter, looking at the jam tarts. Then he glances around the rest of the room. Then he sighs.
“I suppose I should make dinner,” he says.
For a while after that, things are weird. Noct finds it hard to put his finger on exactly what’s weird, but nonetheless, something’s definitely off. Prompto turns his phone back on and breezes into Noct’s apartment every day all smiles, just like always. Ignis comes over and cooks and cleans, just like always. Gladio’s the only one who’s obviously behaving kind of differently – he does a lot of sighing and rolling his eyes for no apparent reason, but Noct mostly ignores him. But still. It doesn’t feel right.
One obvious difference is that Prompto doesn’t buy any more gifts for Ignis. Another is that Ignis’ baking binge has apparently kickstarted some kind of primordial baking urge – he’s stopped filling up every part of Noct’s apartment with cakes and pastries, but he’s started baking something new every day. Sometimes two new things. Not that Noct objects – everything Ignis bakes is amazing – but it’s still… different.
One day, about a week after the whole thing where Prompto turned his phone off, Ignis sighs and closes his recipe book.
“Well, that’s the end of that,” he says. “I suppose I’ll need another one.”
Noct’s about to tell him that (a) he doesn’t mind if he makes the same cake more than once, and (b) there’s this whole internet thing that you can get recipes from these days, when the door opens and Prompto bounces in. And, just like whenever Prompto shows up these days, Noct feels like something’s – off.
“Hey Noct, Iggy,” Prompto says. He turns towards the couch and makes a weird little bow. “Gladio-hoh.”
Gladio rolls his eyes without even looking up from his book. Ignis, though, straightens and produces a tray of cupcakes from, like, literally nowhere. He’s like some kind of cake wizard or something.
“Prompto,” he says. “Would you like one of these? Fresh from the oven.”
“Would I?” Prompto says. He grabs one and takes a huge bite. “Delicious, as always,” he says. There’s something weird about his smile, though, and when Ignis smiles back, he manages to somehow look kind of sad.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm, as always,” Ignis says, sounding kind of stiff. Like, stiffer than usual.
And that’s how it goes. Prompto and Noct play video games, and they eat dinner and more cake, and everything’s fine and normal, except – not. It makes Noct feel weird and itchy, and after Prompto leaves for the night he frowns at the door, trying to figure it out.
He gets distracted by Gladio, who flings down his book with a frustrated sigh the moment the sound of Prompto’s footsteps has died away.
“Fuck’s sake, Iggy,” he says. “If you’re not gonna actually talk to him, at least try and behave like nothing happened. You’re driving me insane with all the puppydog looks.”
Ignis frowns at him. Any trace of the soft, sad look is gone now, replaced with irritation. “I have no idea what you mean,” he says.
Gladio makes a face that maybe is supposed to be wistful but actually looks kind of terrifying. “All of that,” he says. “And all the – being polite, offering him cake like he’s a guest or something.”
Ignis purses his mouth and adjusts his glasses. “I do aim to maintain some kind of standard of hospitality, even if the rest of you behave poorly towards guests,” he says.
“Wow,” Noct says. “Uh, Prompto’s not a guest. He’s Prompto.”
“Exactly,” Gladio says. “And since when, anyway? Don’t remember you treating him with kid gloves before you told him how stupid you think he is.”
Ignis’ eyes widen. Noct turns and stares at Gladio. “Wow,” he says again.
Gladio, though, just folds his arms in front of him. “Seriously, Iggy,” he says. “What do you think he thinks, when every time he comes round you roll out the freaking petit-fours? When was the last time you asked him to help you cook? Or talked to him like he’s your friend and not your great-aunt Sylvia?”
“Specs talks to everyone like that,” Noct points out.
Gladio doesn’t even look at him. “Shut it, Princess.”
“I am trying to earn my way back into his good graces,” Ignis says.
“Well, you’re doing a shit job, and it’s pissing me off that I have to watch,” Gladio says. He gets to his feet. “I’m going home.”
He stalks out, and he doesn’t slam the door but he doesn’t exactly shut it quietly, either. Ignis and Noct both stare after him. Then Ignis sighs and turns away.
Noct doesn’t really want to get in the middle of – whatever this is. But he definitely agrees with Gladio – watching whatever this is going on is painful. He chews his lip.
“Is that true?” he says. “You’re – being super polite to Prompto to try and make him feel better about what you – about what he heard?”
Ignis looks briefly pissed off. Then he just looks tired. “I suppose you have an opinion on that, too?” he says.
“Uh, yeah,” Noct says. “I think – maybe you should not do that.”
Ignis takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “I think I might call it a night as well,” he says. “Busy day tomorrow.”
Noct doesn’t miss the subject change, but he doesn’t really know what to do about it. He hates how tired Ignis looks. Not that Ignis never looks tired, but this is – different somehow.
“Good night,” Ignis says on his way out the door.
“Yeah, night,” Noct says.
The next day, Noct finds a recipe for brownies on the internet and emails it to Ignis. He looks for something to send to Prompto to make him feel better, too, and eventually settles on a video of a baby chocobo hatching.
Prompto responds within seconds with a string of nonsensical characters followed by about a billion emojis, most of them variations on hearts and little birds. Noct decides that was a success. Ignis doesn’t respond at all, though, and Noct worries a little bit about that until he gets back to his apartment in the late afternoon to find Ignis pulling a tray of brownies out of the oven.
Ignis raises an eyebrow at him as he comes through the door. “Dropping hints, were we?” he says.
Actually, though, Noct wasn’t. “Just thought – you know, you’ve finished your cake book, but there are recipes on the internet,” he says.
Ignis’ mouth twitches slightly. He looks – a little less sad. Noct thinks he does, anyway. Could be wishful thinking, though. “Did you think I wasn’t aware of the internet?” he says.
Noct decides he’s better off not answering that question.
Gladio arrives a little later, still looking kinda pissed off. Prompto arrives last, and at first it’s just like every other day for the past week – everything normal on the surface but weird just underneath. But then – then everything changes.
“Ah, Prompto,” Ignis says. He’s been antsy since Noct got back, jittery like he gets when he’s had way too much Ebony, but now, suddenly, he’s very still. “Would you like–” he turns towards the plate of brownies, and then stops, only half-way turned. There’s a silence that’s definitely long enough to be awkward, and then Ignis abruptly turns back. “–to help me with the cooking?” he asks, sounding like he’s slightly out of breath.
“Sure,” Prompto says, already smiling. Then his eyes widen a little, as though it took him a second to hear what Ignis actually said. “Uh – I mean – yeah, sure!” he says. “Do you want me to?”
Ignis’ face suddenly takes on an expression of fragile hope that’s kind of painful to look at. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,” he says.
Prompto smiles – and it’s a real smile, the most genuine one Noct’s seen on his face in way too long. “Awesome!” He bounds over to the counter and gestures at himself. “How do you want me?” he asks.
Gladio makes this weird laugh-cough noise. Ignis tries to glare at him, but his expression has suddenly gone all soft and happy, and he doesn’t seem to be able to make it do anything else. In fact, the sight of it just makes Gladio cough even harder, until Noct starts to worry he’s actually choking and not just being a dick.
“Hey, you know that thing we were talking about, Iggy?” Gladio wheezes when he’s mostly pulled himself together. “Told ya so.”
But even that isn’t enough to wipe the smile off Ignis’ face as Prompto comes to join him behind the counter.
The next day is Saturday, and Prompto appears at Noct’s apartment way too early. It’s a while since he’s done that, and Noct spends at least ten minutes trying to figure out whether he’s pissed off (it’s ten am, for fuck’s sake) or happy (Prompto’s normal Ignis is normal everything’s getting back to normal). In the end, he plumps for intermediately surly and leaves Prompto cooing over the chocobo vid while he goes to take a shower and attempt to regain some semblance of humanity.
When he comes back out, Prompto is flicking through Ignis’ cake book. “You know, I think Iggy’s made every single one of these,” he says, without looking up. “Is he going for some kind of record? Not that I’m complaining.”
Noct drops down on the couch beside him. “I think it was just – something he had to get out of his system,” he says.
Prompto glances over. “Like a cake itch?” he says.
Noct shrugs. “I guess. And yeah, he’s made everything in there now. He was saying he needed a new book.”
Prompto gives him a kind of speculative look. “Huh. Really?”
“Yeah,” Noct says. “Hey – are you OK? I mean, lately you’ve kind of been like – uh, like you’re not – um–”
“Me? I’m totally copasetic,” Prompto says with a grin. “I mean – now that Iggy’s over the whole thing with the – where I messed up. It’s all cool.”
“What?” Noct says.
“Yeah,” Prompto sits back, flipping through pages of pastries. “Yesterday he asked me to help him with dinner. You saw that, right? Man, I wish I could make it up to him, though, show him I’m not a total waste of space.”
“You’re not a waste of space,” Noct says. “Seriously? That’s not – that’s ridiculous.”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t mean it like that,” Prompto says. And really, it’s weird, because he seems not to be unhappy at all, even with what he’s saying. “But like – I just want to show Iggy I can get it right, you know? I wanted to get him something he would like, and I messed up. So now it’s like – every time I think of something I could maybe get him to make up for it, I think – shit, is this another thing Iggy’s going to hate? I don’t know. I thought I was kinda good at the whole gift-buying thing, but–” he shrugs. “Guess I kinda suck.”
“No, dude,” Noct says. “Come on. That’s not – none of that’s right, seriously.”
“Yeah, course,” Prompto says. “I get it. But listen, what can I get for Iggy, though? Like, what’s the right thing?”
Noct shakes his head, feeling like he’s being steamrolled somehow. Then, he has the idea. The amazing idea that just goes to show that Noct is totally not an idiot about people stuff, no matter what Gladio says.
“Hey,” he says. “Why don’t you get him another cake book?”
Prompto looks back at the book in his hands. “Yeah?” he says. “I mean – do you think he’d like that? Like, really like it?”
“Sure,” Noct says. “You should get him that.”
“Huh,” Prompto says then. “Wait – he hasn’t made this one, though.”
He shows Noct the picture, and Noct shrugs.
“He said he hasn’t got the ingredients,” he says. “You should still get a new book for him.”
Prompto closes the book with a snap. “Yeah,” he says, starting to sound a little more enthusiastic. “Yeah, OK.”
“He did really like all that other stuff you got him, though,” Noct says, because he really doesn’t like Prompto feeling bad about himself.
“Yeah, I know,” Prompto says, already on his feet and headed for the door. “Laters, dude, I gotta go shopping.”
Noct sits back on the couch and contemplates taking a nap. He’s not totally happy with Prompto still thinking bad things about himself, but overall, he thinks that was a pretty successful piece of diplomacy on his part. Gladio seriously knows nothing about Noct’s people skills. Noct may look kinda awkward sometimes, but he can pull it out of the bag when he needs to.
It’s kind of exhausting, though. Maybe he will take that nap, after all.
Ignis is acting weird.
It’s not immediately obvious when Noct gets back – Ignis is baking, but that’s normal these days, and he’s maybe a little jittery, but he’s Ignis, so. Noct figures he’s probably had too much Ebony or he’s freaking out about how little Noct’s read of the reports he’s been shoving at him hourly. (He’s read the executive summary of at least two, OK? He’s an executive, right? That’s what he’s supposed to do.) At least, he figures that right up until Ignis drops a bowl full of cake mix on the floor, where it breaks into three pieces.
“Ifrit’s genitals,” Ignis says, dropping to his knees even as Gladio surges to his feet.
“Iggy?” Gladio says, striding over to the kitchen and kneeling down himself. “Something up?”
“This blasted–” Ignis says, and then covers his eyes for a second and takes a deep breath. “Just a momentary lapse in concentration,” he says.
“You sure?” Gladio says, before Noct can say it. He doesn’t remember Ignis ever just – dropping something before.
“Quite sure, thank you,” Ignis says. “Although now my schedule is–” He shakes his head.
“Uh, schedule?” Noct asks. As far as he knows, it’s evening, which means no more schedule, at least not today.
Ignis glances up at the clock. “I’d better get on,” he says, producing a dustpan and brush from somewhere and shoveling it full of cake mix and fragments of bowl.
It’s not really an answer. But it’s all that Ignis says.
So, Ignis is acting weird. He keep on acting weird all evening: when he’s making the cake, and when the cake’s in the oven, and after it’s out of the oven. He’s somehow – intensely focused and weirdly distracted at the same time. And he swears a lot. Really quietly, so that Noct can’t actually hear what he’s saying (probably a good thing, considering Ifrit’s genitals, which somehow sounds way ruder than any of the graphic stuff Gladio comes out with), but still. The tone of voice is clear enough. And it’s weird.
It’s after the cake’s out of the oven, though, that Ignis’ weirdness starts going into overdrive. Noct thinks maybe it’s because he doesn’t have anything to concentrate on – which is also weird, because if Ignis has a talent, it’s finding things to concentrate on – but whatever the reason, he starts – fidgeting. Of course, Ignis is Ignis, so his fidgeting takes the form of plumping cushions (which Noct is sitting on, thank you very much), sweeping up imaginary crumbs, running his fingertips along the edges of shelves. It’s like normal fidgeting, only somehow a lot more annoying. Also, Noct’s hungry.
“Hey, are we having dinner?” he says. It’s definitely dinnertime. Past dinnertime, really.
Ignis glances at the clock. “Prompto’s not here yet,” he says.
Noct shrugs. “We’ll save him some,” he says. Sure, Prompto shows up before dinner most nights, but it’s not like they have an arrangement not to eat without him.
Apparently, though, Ignis doesn’t agree. “He should be here by now,” he says, looking at the clock again. “Has he been in touch with you?”
Noct frowns and pulls out his phone. The last text he has from Prompto is from a few hours before. It says gotta go to work and is followed by several emojis which include a boat, a bag of money, and a flower.
“He’s at work,” Noct says, showing Ignis the message.
Ignis stares at it. “He doesn’t work in the evenings,” he says. “What is this supposed to mean? The boat?”
“That’s just emojis,” Noct says. “Prompto just uses random ones.”
Ignis frowns at him and opens his mouth to reply. Before he can, though, the door suddenly bursts open, and Prompto all but falls through, gasping for breath. He slams the door behind him and presses his back against it, seeming like it’s taking all his effort not to sink to the floor. He’s soaking wet and his hair’s plastered to his head, but when he sees them all staring he beams at them.
“Hi guys,” he says. “Is there dinner?”
“What the fuck?” Gladio says, getting to his feet. “You all right?”
Noct’s getting up, too. Prompto’s smiling, but he feels kind of freaked out by his entrance anyway. “Prompto?” he says. “Did something happen?”
“Well, you see–” Prompto starts, but then Ignis interrupts him.
“I got you a gift,” he says, his voice sounding weird and strained.
Prompto blinks, straightening up a little and staring at Ignis. Noct stares at Ignis, too. Ignis pushes his glasses up his nose. His back is so straight it looks kinda painful.
“I apologise,” Ignis says. “You were – speaking?”
“A gift?” Prompto says.
Ignis opens his mouth. Or – maybe it just falls open. It looks kind of involuntary. Shit, Ignis is acting weird.
“Iggy?” Prompto says. “You OK?”
Ignis’ mouth snaps shut. He turns sharply towards the kitchen, takes three jerky steps, and reaches to pull something out from under the counter. It’s a gift. Oblong shaped and wrapped in tasteful-yet-shiny paper. With hospital corners and ribbon.
“I hope–” Ignis says, apparently to the gift. Then he turns again, steps forward and holds it out to Prompto.
Prompto steps forward and takes the gift. He looks down at it, then up at Ignis.
“For me?” he asks, like he doesn’t really get it.
Ignis gives a short nod. Prompto looks down at the gift again.
“Shiva’s tits,” Gladio says. “Open it, or I’m gonna open it for you.”
“It’s so – neat,” Prompto breathes. “I don’t want to ruin it.”
“I swear, you let this play out one second further and that paper is getting ripped to shreds,” Gladio says.
“OK, all right,” Prompto says. He unwraps the gift very carefully, managing to not tear the paper at all. And when he sees what’s inside, his eyes widen.
“Iggy,” he whispers.
“I hope it’s right,” Ignis says. His cheeks are red. The rest of his face is white. It’s a weird kind of effect. Noct cranes his neck to look at the gift and sees a familiar image on the box. It’s the camera stuff – the lens kit, the one Prompto’s been saving for. Or not been saving for, since he’s been spending all his money on stuff for Ignis.
“Fuck,” Prompto says. “Oh em gee, Iggy. I can’t believe it! You seriously got me this?” He raises his head, his face pretty much glowing with happiness. “You’re the best! You’re so – amazing!”
Ignis’ face goes from white and red to just red. And also glowing. Noct wonders if he should just turn the lights off. It’s not like they need them at this point.
“You like it?” Ignis says.
Prompto hands the box off to Noct, takes two steps forward, and flings his arms around Ignis. Ignis stands frozen, mouth open. His arms are just starting to creep around Prompto when Prompto steps back. Ignis’ arms immediately snap back to his sides.
“Uh, huh, sorry,” Prompto says, scratching the back of his head. He still looks delighted, though. “You just – man, Iggy, you’re the greatest.”
Ignis blinks at him. “You’re soaking,” he says.
“Oh, uh, yeah, funny story,” Prompto says, and laughs. He glances at the box in Noct’s hands and then shakes his head. “Shit, I can’t believe – listen, I got you this book–” He produces a book from his messenger bag and holds it out. “And now I feel kind of stupid because your gift is so much better and I – and anyway, you didn’t have to get me anything, I mean, seriously, Iggy. You do all this stuff all the time, so–”
Ignis takes the book and stares at it. Then he smiles. “What a thoughtful gift,” he says. Noct cranes his neck again, and sees the front cover says 100 Recipes for Microwave Cakes. Beside him, he hears Gladio facepalm.
“–and anyway, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing, but then Noct said – and I thought – and I know this guy from work, he’s kind of shady, haha, and I asked him – he’s got this friend – anyway. So I went to meet him in the Twelfth District, which, by the way, is pretty much exactly as scary as in all the movies, and his friend gave me this but then he wanted twice as much money as we agreed and I kinda – didn’t have it, so I punched him and ran, and it was raining so I got pretty wet.” He laughs again, sounding half-hysterical. “I’m pretty sure I lost him, like, two miles back, but, uh, you have guards on this place, right?”
Noct stares at Prompto. “What?” he says.
“You went to the Twelfth District to buy a cookbook?” Gladio says.
“What?” Prompto says. Then he blinks. “Oh. No! Shit, I forgot, uh–” He fumbles in his messenger bag and brings out an object wrapped in brown paper. He unwraps it carefully. “Noct said you couldn’t get the ingredients, and I – I really hope this is right, because I spent all my money on it and – uh–”
He holds out the object to Ignis. It’s a small bottle full of clear, yellowish liquid. Ignis frowns and takes it. He unscrews the lid and sniffs it. Then he screws the lid back on and sets it down very gently on the counter.
“Prompto,” he says, “this is essence of tomyllis flower.”
Prompto makes a relieved noise. “Thank fuck,” he says.
“You got this for me?” Ignis asks.
“Yeah,” Prompto says.
Ignis closes his eyes. Prompto’s smile fades.
“I mean – shit, it’s wrong, isn’t it? I checked the recipe and then I looked it up and the internet says it’s been super rare since the Niffs invaded, but–”
Then Ignis steps forward, grabs Prompto’s face between his palms, and kisses him.
And Prompto stops talking.
Gladio nudges Noct pretty hard in the ribs. Noct nudges back. Gladio beams at him.
Then Ignis stops kissing Prompto. He steps back, looking breathless and flushed. Prompto doesn’t even move, just stares at him, eyes wide.
“–the fuck?” he whispers.
Ignis looks suddenly horrified. “Oh,” he says. “Oh – I’m terribly sorry – I shouldn’t have imposed–”
“No – no, shit, Iggy – impose away,” Prompto says. His voice sounds croaky and it’s like he can’t tear his eyes away from Ignis. “Please – please, impose all you want. I just – never thought a guy like you would want to kiss a guy like me.”
Ignis frowns. “Why would you think something like that?” he asks.
“Uh, because – you’re so smart and put-together and – um, hot, and I’m really not the kind of–”
Then Ignis kisses Prompto again – grabby-face, the whole bit. And this time, Prompto sort of melts into it, closing his eyes and putting his hands on Ignis’ shoulders.
“Guess that flower stuff is pretty rare, huh?” Noct says to Gladio.
Gladio puts an arm around his shoulders. “All right, princess,” he says. “We’re out of here.”
“What?” Noct says. “But – it’s my apartment! And what about dinner?”
“We’re eating out,” Gladio says, steering him towards the door. “And it’s not your apartment right now. Not for the next hour or so, anyway.”
Ignis, turned away from them and still very occupied with Prompto’s mouth, raises two fingers.
Gladio coughs. “OK, make that two,” he says, smirking even more than usual. He shoves Noct out the door. “You know what, let’s just make an evening of it.”
Noct turns back to try and argue, but Gladio is already through the door and closing it behind him.
“What are we going to do?” Noct asks.
“Well, first of all, I’m going to find someone who will sell me a really gigantic beer,” Gladio says, putting an arm round Noct’s shoulders again and steering him towards the elevator. “And after that, it’s your lucky night.”
“How come?” Noct asks.
“Because you and I are going to try out that new Cup Noodle-style ramen place that Iggy will never let me go to,” he says. “And you’re paying.”
Later that evening, while they’re at the ramen place, Prompto sends Noct a text that consists entirely of a string of hearts and eggplant emojis.
Noct saves it so he can show it to Ignis to prove that Prompto’s emojis really are just random.
When Noct gets back to his apartment that night (way later than he’d planned, because Gladio keeps ordering more food at the ramen place and then drags him to a bar), he finds the place empty and silent. And clean. He doesn’t notice the last part until he slumps into bed (at last!) and realises that the sheets have been changed. They smell fresh and clean. He wonders sleepily why Ignis did that, and decides it’s part of his general obsession with cleaning stuff, even stuff that doesn’t really need cleaning. He changed the sheets two days ago, after all.
Just before he falls asleep, it occurs to him that Ignis changed the sheets because he and Prompto had sex in Noct’s bed. He feels like he should be kind of grossed out and/or offended by that. But being grossed out and/or offended seems like it’s going to be a lot of effort, so he decides not to bother, and just goes to sleep instead.
In the morning, Noct finds a note on the counter. Thank you for your forbearance, it says in Ignis’ perfectly formed cursive.
Noct shrugs and puts the note in his pocket. He turns on his phone to discover Prompto’s sent him a text made up of smiley faces, champagne, hearts, and eggplants.
“Whatever, Prompto,” he says.
But he’s glad they’re happy.
When he comes home that evening, Ignis is already in the kitchen. He’s been mysteriously missing all day, but now here he is, doing something with a bunch of mugs.
“Hey, Specs,” Noct says, dropping his bag on the floor and going to slump down on the sofa. He pauses in his steps, though, when Ignis looks at him. Because Ignis has this expression on his face. It’s like a smile, but – OK, it’s definitely a smile. But it’s not like Ignis’ normal smiles. It’s all – soft and – weird. Noct stares at him, but Ignis doesn’t seem to realise how weird his face looks.
“Good afternoon, Highness,” he says. “I trust you’ve had a pleasant day.”
And then, still smiling, he goes back to his mugs.
Noct sits down and frowns. After a couple of seconds’ thought, he pulls out his phone. Hey, Specs is being weird he texts to Prompto. Did something happen last night?
Prompto sends him an eggplant and three beaming faces.
Noct gives up.
An hour or so later, Ignis starts humming.
It’s not that Noct isn’t pleased about the fact that Ignis is apparently happy. He is, he really is. Ignis being sad was the worst.
But Ignis is humming.
“Hey,” Noct says, after about five minutes, when it becomes clear the humming isn’t just going to go away. “Did you know you’re humming?”
Ignis looks up from the microwave. “Hm? I’m what?”
“Humming,” Gladio says, without raising his eyes from his book.
“It’s weird,” Noct says. And not only because he’s sure he recognises the tune Ignis is humming, but he can’t quite place it.
“I don’t see why,” Ignis says. “I’ve always enjoyed music, after all.”
Gladio doesn’t look up. He does smirk, though.
Ignis waits for a moment, as if to see if there’s any further objection. Noct tries to think of one, but can’t. It’s not bad, anyway. It’s just – disconcerting. Ignis raises an eyebrow at him, then produces a duster and starts dusting the collection of kitchen gadgets that have apparently now taken up permanent residence on the table. Noct gets a kind of nervous feeling in his stomach.
“You’re not – going to use those for anything, are you?” he asks. Ignis humming is strange and disconcerting, but Ignis being happy is nice, and he doesn’t want it ruined by a Rotato Mood.
“Hm?” Ignis says, glancing up from his contemplation of the stirring robot. “Oh. No, they’re just decorative.”
Gladio raises his eyebrows. “Decorative?” he says.
“In the sense that I enjoy looking at them,” Ignis says, and smiles, apparently at the egg slicer. “Decorative.”
Noct’s not sure how to respond to that, but then the microwave pings and Ignis straightens, turning to open it. He produces a mug from inside and brings it over to Noct.
“Try this,” he says.
Noct peers inside the mug. There’s something solid and yellow inside. It looks like cake. He takes the spoon Ignis hands him and digs out a spoonful. It tastes – actually pretty good. Not the most amazing cake Ignis has ever made, but still. Surprising, considering he’s not sure Ignis has ever even opened the microwave before.
“This is good,” he says, spraying crumbs on the couch.
Ignis adjusts his glasses. “Well, I did alter the recipe a little,” he says. “Still, I feel there are certainly more improvements that could be made.”
He goes back to the kitchen and starts examining the microwave carefully. After a few seconds, he starts humming again. Noct finally recognises the tune. It’s the theme to Justice Monsters V.
Like Noct said. Disconcerting.
Prompto, meanwhile, is irrationally cheerful. But that’s not all that unusual for Prompto. Still, the point when he shows up at Noct’s apartment at 7.30 am – having apparently learned a new song where the lyrics seem to consist entirely of Gooooooood moooooorniiiiiiiiing! – is the point where Noct starts to wonder if he should invest in earplugs. And maybe an eye mask. Or a soundproofed sleep pod. He should ask Ignis to do some research on how long it would take to get something like that installed in his apartment.
“Why,” he mutters into his pillow.
“Because you have some kind of thing this morning and Iggy told me to make sure you get up,” Prompto says, dragging the cover off his bed.
Noct whimpers and keeps his eyes closed. If he can’t see Prompto, that means he’s not there, right?
“Goooooooood mooooooorniiiiiing!” Prompto sings.
Soundproofed sleeping pod. Surely it would be possible?
“What thing?” Noct asks, still keeping his eyes resolutely closed. “Why didn’t Specs come and wake me up himself?” Not that getting woken up isn’t painful regardless, but Ignis at least is a little less obnoxiously cheerful about it.
“Because I volunteered so he could have an extra half hour in bed,” Prompto says.
That has Noct opening his eyes and sitting up, frowning at Prompto. “What’s he want that for?” he asks. He can’t even really imagine Ignis in bed. Plus, that means Prompto was at Ignis’ house really early. Or – oh. OK, it’s early, and Noct’s brain isn’t really in gear yet.
“You’re the guy who’s clinging to a pillow,” Prompto says. “You seriously gonna tell me you don’t understand the point of sleeping in?”
Noct opens his mouth to protest that he isn’t clinging to a pillow, then realises that he is. Hugging it, even. He drops it quickly. It was just a reflex, anyway. Ignis, sleeping in?
“Sleeping in?” he says, and then, “What thing am I supposed to go to?”
Prompto shrugs. “Something super important,” he says. “Iggy’ll be here soon.” And then he dances off to the living room, singing his stupendously terrible new song. Noct makes a note to ask Ignis if he’s allowed to ban particular pieces of music from Insomnia. No, fuck it, from all of Lucis.
By the time he gets out of the shower, hair dripping, Prompto is ensconced on the couch, tapping away at his phone with a huge grin on his face. A moment later, he looks up at the door.
“Wh–” Noct says.
Then the door opens and Ignis comes through. And he’s smiling, too. It’s one thing Prompto smiling, what with him being Prompto and whatever, but Ignis – Ignis looks so different when he smiles like that. He looks – super happy in a way that Noct had never even realised he might not be.
Noct is totally weirded out.
“Iggy!” Prompto says, leaping to his feet and bouncing across the room. “See, I woke him up for ya!”
Ignis touches Prompto’s arm and smiles at him in that soft way. “I’m very grateful,” he says. “It’s truly a monumental task.” He looks at Noct, then, but it’s like somehow he can’t quite manage to look sarcastic like he usually does at this point in their daily interactions. Instead, he just smiles at him in that soft, fond way. Noct feels bewildered. But also kinda – OK about it? He didn’t know Ignis had so much softness in him, but apparently it was just waiting to get out this whole time. And it’s – nice. In a disconcerting way.
Ignis takes Prompto’s hand briefly, then slips past him, skirting the table with its collection of decorative kitchen gadgets. “Well, then. Breakfast.”
“Oh yeah?” Prompto says, going to lean over the counter. “Whatcha making?”
“I was thinking miso soup,” Ignis says, opening a cupboard. “Ah.”
“No miso?” Prompto says, looking like he’s trying really hard not to smile.
“It appears there’s only a little left,” Ignis says. “I suppose I shall have to–” he turns, and then stops speaking. Prompto, grinning all over his face, is holding out a jar of miso paste. The kind Ignis always buys.
“Got a gift for you,” Prompto says.
Ignis’ expression dissolves into that soft look. “How did you–?” he asks.
“Checked last night for anything that was running low,” Prompto says. “I ran here so I could stop at the store and still get Noct up in time. I didn’t know what you were going to make so – I got you rice vinegar and sylleblossom oil as well. Guessing you can’t put those in the soup, though, right?”
“I’m sure I’ll find a use for them,” Ignis says. He takes the jar from Prompto, then just stands there for a few seconds, smiling at him in this strange, stupid-looking way. Noct has never seen Ignis look stupid before. It’s like seeing a unicorn.
“Uh, breakfast?” Noct says, because he feels – kinda weird about sitting here watching them, at least when Ignis has that expression on his face. It shouldn’t be weird, because it’s Noct’s apartment, after all, but – yeah, it’s weird.
Ignis suddenly flushes, clears his throat, and then ducks to kiss Prompto on the forehead before turning back to the kitchen. Prompto flushes in turn, beams at Noct, and then skirts the counter.
“Can I help?” he says. “I won’t break anything this time, promise.”
“I’d be delighted,” Ignis says. He hands Prompto a chopping board, and for a moment or two, there’s just the sound of the two of them making breakfast. Then Ignis starts humming. After a second, Prompto joins in.
And that’s when Noct decides that maybe the humming is OK after all.