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Ignis lay in bed the next morning for longer than might be considered typical of him. Perhaps longer than might be considered reasonable of anyone but Noctis. He wasn't pretending to be asleep, exactly, though Prompto and Gladio took care to get up more quietly than they would otherwise.

He was still recovering from the effects of the Ring, no doubt, and he ached in new ways since yesterday's sparring session with Gladio, but he certainly wasn't incapacitated.

There just seemed to be little point in getting up.

It was raining. He could hear it pattering against the windows, smell it somewhere under the scent of soft, old wood. It meant he would not be able to walk or train outdoors. All of them would be inside, stepping on each others' toes. It would be impossible to stay out of the way.

He kept reaching for his phone to check the time, before remembering that he couldn't.

Eventually the rush of the wind against the walls died down, the tapping of rain against the windows slowing to only an occasional drop. He was was still telling himself that he would get up shortly when there was a rustling in the next bed. Noct, coming awake with a yawn and a stretch. Ignis immediately regretted lying about for so long.

"Ignis?" Noct asked abruptly. Understandably concerned.

"Good morning," Ignis said, as cheerfully as he could manage, hoping that it was indeed still the morning. "Do you have the time, by any chance?"

"What?" Hesitation, movement, a click. "It — it's almost eleven. Are you okay?"

"Fine," Ignis told him, sitting up.

Noct made a small, incredulous sound, but said nothing else.

"It's possible I'm still feeling the effects of — my injury," he managed.

Noct let out a breath, frustrated. After a long moment, he said, "You need any help?"

He needed to recall where he'd left his clothes last night, and he needed privacy in which to put them on. "No, but thank you."

Another frustrated breath. "You need a shave?"

The fact that he'd felt the need to ask suggested that the answer was yes. Ignis felt at his jaw. "I suppose so." He could likely last another day without looking entirely slovenly, but if Noctis was concerned, then he must be noticeably unkempt.

"Where's your stuff?"

"Should be in my bag," Ignis told him, trying to remember where that was.

"Got it," Noct said after a moment.

"I'll just get dressed, first," Ignis said.

"Fine," Noct said, handing him the bag. "Just shout when you're ready."

It was something of a struggle trying to dress himself quickly, so as not to keep the prince waiting, while being reasonably certain that everything was properly aligned and correctly fastened.

He set the razor out and lathered himself up, taking care this time not to miss anything. Then rested his hands on the sink and breathed, for a few moments. Perhaps he should shave himself and just ask Noct to check his work.

No. He was waiting. Ignis opened the bathroom door, finally. "Apologies. Do you have a moment?"

"Coming," Noct said, his voice muffled. His footsteps approached the bathroom and his hands rested on Ignis's arms, guiding him into position. "Here, just. There."

He was backed up against the sink, again. Trapped. He should have roused himself hours ago and asked Gladio to help him instead. "Do try to remember that I need my nose," he said lightly. "To hold my glasses up."

Noct let out a snort, barely amused. "Lucky they didn't take that, too."

Ignis laughed, startled.

"You missed a spot," Noct said, though Ignis was certain he hadn't. Noct's fingers brushed at the lather, just under Ignis's jawline. Then he leaned past, rinsing the razor, and said, "Here goes."

Noct moved the blade slow and firm, his breath warm and closes. "You sleep okay?"

Ignis cleared his throat. And when he could, said, "Quite well. The workout certainly helped."

Noct breathed out. "You look even worse this morning."

Ignis tried to swallow a laugh and was only partially successful. "I must be quite an eyesore, so to speak."

Noct was not amused.

Ignis felt as though he should apologize, but wasn't sure what exactly for, and wasn't convinced it would be well-received. "Perhaps I should consider covering up with some bandages?"

"Huh?" Noct muttered. "You're not... oozing or anything."

"Glad to hear it," Ignis said dryly. And then, "I'm afraid I don't have a sense of precisely how... unsettling my appearance is."

Noct sighed impatiently. "It's not — you're not, like, gross."

"Oh, good," Ignis said, mildly startled by the sudden catch in his throat.

"It could be worse," Noct said hastily. After a moment he added, "A lot worse."

Ignis held still for the next pass of the razor, oddly relieved he didn't have to answer that.

"Your eyes are kind of... uh, startling."

Oh dear. "Are they?" Ignis's eyes had always been one of his better features. It would be... rather distressing if they were white with scar tissue or — otherwise disfigured in some way.

Noct cleared his throat. "The, uh, the irises are a different colour. Kind of a bright, bright blue."

Ignis thought of the blue flames, burning at the edges of his vision. "Like the royal warp magic?" he asked, and immediately felt absurd.

"Yeah, actually," Noct said, startled. "A lot like that."

"Fascinating."

Noct was silent, for a long minute, and then said, "Did it hurt?"

Ignis wasn't sure how to begin answering that. It was more excruciating and more exhilarating than anything he'd ever felt, or suspected he would ever feel again.

"Putting the Ring on," Noct specified unnecessarily.

Taking it off had hurt more. "Yes," he said, unwilling to lie to Noct any more than he already had. "But my memories of the whole event are rather hazy."

"Hm," Noct murmured. "Guess I'll find out soon enough."

Ignis took that in. Had not considered until now how he'd preempted Noct, wearing the Ring and using its power before the Chosen King ever had the chance. Ignis waited until Noct was rinsing the razor before saying, "I'm sure it was entirely at odds with what the Ring's rightful owner would experience."

"Let's hope so," Noct said darkly.

"I'm certain of it," Ignis said.

"Yeah, well, I'm not so sure I should be taking advice from someone who'd do something this stupid."

Ignis felt himself flinch.

"Careful," Noct growled.

Ignis tried very hard to remain still. As soon as Noct pulled back he said, "I assure you it was a calculated risk."

"That's even worse, Ignis!" Noct snapped.

Ignis drew a breath, trying to steady himself. "You were unconscious, as was Ravus, and Lunafreya was bleeding severely. The —"

"I don't care," Noct argued.

"Then I don't understand why we're arguing about it," Ignis sniffed.

Noct laughed, dark and disgusted. "It's not like we can fight it out."

Ignis considered that. "Certainly not in such a small space."

Noct snorted in spite of himself, and went back to shaving Ignis in sullen silence.

Ignis didn't realize it was finished until he felt Noct's hand on the side of his face, Noct's thumb sliding at the edge of his scars. Quietly, Noct said, "Luna and her mom healed my back. I know she can fix this."

Ignis's mouth was dry, his thoughts scattered.

He heard heavy footsteps out in the bedroom. "Iggy? You in there?"

Noct's fingers finally left him, and Ignis could breathe again. "Gladio," he managed.

"Everything okay?"

"Fine," Ignis said, not sure why his pulse was pounding.

A skeptical silence. "Alright, well, Dustin's making lunch. You seen Noct?"

Noct let out a breath, but said nothing.

Ignis paused. "Not for a few days," he said dryly.

Gladio heaved out a sigh, irritated. "Smartass," he muttered, and left.

Noct reached around him, rustling in Ignis's grooming kit. "Maybe take a break from the training today," he suggested. "You look like a punching bag."

"I'm fine," Ignis told him.

"Oh, is that why you stayed in bed all morning?"

As if he would be any more effective out of bed than in it, at this point. "I was simply following your example," Ignis said, trying for good humour. "Resting and recovering."

"Right," Noct said, impressively sarcastic, even for him.

Ignis sniffed. "I'm beginning to think you only offered to help this morning as an excuse to lecture."

"Learned that from you," Noct said grimly.

Whatever reply Ignis might have made was lost when Noct reached up to style his hair.

"Hold still."

Ignis did.

After lunch, Prompto pointed out that the weather had cleared, and offered to clean up so that the others could do some work in the garden. Lunafreya insisted that she was well enough to help with some of the late-season planting.

Somehow this led to a passive-aggressive remark from Gladio about Noct's work ethic, which led to another exchange of unpleasantries between them. At least this time there was no physical altercation. Only growling, storming off in opposite directions, and slamming of doors.

Ignis attempted to help with the cleanup, but Prompto repeatedly insisted that there was no need.

Finally Ignis went out for a walk. He circled the house, feeling his way around the largest puddles, and then challenged himself to find his way to the lighthouse, to make up for the morning's lost time.

It was difficult to say how long it took, with only the sound of the surf and snatches of conversation from the gardeners to mark the passage of time, but he was nonetheless pleased when he reached his goal.

It was when he turned around to head back that he finally made a false step, reaching for a railing that never materialized, and ended up tumbling into the grass.

Startled but unharmed, he jumped to his feet as quickly as he could, face burning, and was immensely relieved when no-one came rushing to his aid.

He tried to brush himself off, but only succeeded in tranferring mud from his hands to his trousers and back again.

Marvelous.

He sighed, taking a step, and only then did he realize that he was entirely disoriented. Staying as calm as he could, hoping that no-one was watching, he did his best to find his way back to the stairs. It took only a few rounds of a slowly-widening circular pattern before he walked directly into the railing that had betrayed him before.

With the rough metal under his fingers and the sound of Lady Lunafreya's laughter on the breeze, he reoriented himself, and slowly, doggedly made his way back to the house.

He'd finally made it inside when he heard the sound of someone sniffling, obviously upset. Talcott? No, he was outside in the garden with Iris. "Prompto?"

A thump and an, "Ow!" Definitely Prompto. Sitting at the table, from the sound of it. "Oh, hey, Iggy!" he enthused, voice wavering. He cleared his throat. "What's up, you need anything?"

"No, but thank you," Ignis told him. "Are you alright?"

"Me? Of course, I'm always — uh, whoa. Were you helping out in the garden?"

"Yes," Ignis said firmly.

"Oh. Cool. I was just looking at some photos," Prompto said, his tone almost entirely steady again. Easy to forget how convincing a performer he was. "From on the boat before we left for Altissia." A quick, broken little laugh. "Seems like a lifetime ago."

Ignis drew a breath, and felt his way into a seat at the table. "Did something happen?"

Prompto let out a laugh, short and sharp. "You mean besides you and Lady Lunafreya getting hurt and Altissia getting trashed and Noct and Gladio getting in a fight? Nah, can't think of anything."

Ignis opened his mouth. "I'm... sure you're aware," he began, "but we're quite fortunate that none of us were killed."

Prompto snorted, bitterly. "Oh yeah, I'm way aware. Way too aware, come to think of it. Is, um, 'aware' your way of saying 'terrified'?"

Oh dear. Ignis took a breath. "All of us will understand if you... wish to remain here."

"What? No!" Prompto protested.

Ignis waited for more, and finally said, "You're not a soldier, Prompto. You're not duty-bound to do anything that you're afraid of."

"I'm --" His voice was oddly muffled. Hard to tell if he had his head in his hands or if he was wiping at his eyes. "No, I know. That's not --" He let out a breath, frustrated. "I'm in this, okay, and I'm sticking around as long as you guys will let me."

"I'm glad to hear it," Ignis said, faintly startled by his own sincerity. He'd been admittedly concerned, after the news of the invasion, that Prompto might become a liability. But he'd proven himself capable, quick-thinking, and eager to help. If, on occasion, obnoxious enough to invite justifiable homicide.

Most of all, he had a rare and precious talent for making Noct laugh. More than a talent, really: a skill, honed by long hours of practice and a great deal of trial and error.

"Thanks," Prompto said weakly. "Just — everything's so messed up."

Ignis took that in. He wasn't sure how best to respond, so instead he waited. Convincing Noct to talk about what bothered him was often an exercise in frustration. Convincing Prompto was simply a matter of patience, and silence.

Seconds later, Prompto said, "I wish we could go back somehow, you know, just -- reload a save point or something."

Ignis sighed. "That sort of thinking is never fruitful. The only reason to revisit the past like that is to learn from one's mistakes, and you did nothing wrong. In fact, Gladio tells me you handled yourself extremely well, in a very difficult and dangerous situation."

"I slowed him down," Prompto said miserably. "If we'd just got there a little sooner --"

"Then you might have been injured or taken hostage, or worse."

"Well, yeah," Prompto said. "If anybody was gonna get -- taken out, it should've been me." Another bitter laugh. "I mean, it would suck, but I'm pretty sure you guys could get by without the comic relief."

He said it so matter-of-factly. Ignis's throat ached. "I disagree."

Prompto sniffled, drawing short, shaky breaths, while Ignis gathered his thoughts.

"You speed, your aim, and your ingenuity have saved us all more than once. When Noct pushes himself too far, you're always there to pull him back. You've lifted his spirits more times than I can count, and made this entire journey far more... fun... than Gladio or I could ever manage. Noct needs you, Prompto. Your friendship and your support mean more to him than you know. And he would never forgive himself if anything happened to you."

Prompto snorted. "And you think he's ever gonna forgive himself for what happened to you?"

Ignis felt slightly taken aback. What could there possibly be to forgive? "I'm a servant of the Crownsguard. It's my duty to protect him."

"So?" Prompto asked, half-laughing.

"So..." Ignis tried. "My injuries are my own doing. Noct isn't responsible for them, any more than he's responsible for the fall of Insomnia or the destruction of Altissia."

"You seriously think he believes that?" Prompto said incredulously.

"It's fact," Ignis argued.

"Aren't you supposed to be smart?" Prompto demanded.

Ignis grit his teeth. "I beg your pardon?"

Prompto let out a sort of... explosive, frustrated huff. Ignis imagined him throwing his arms up in wordless, overdramatic dismay. "If you think Noct doesn't feel responsible for -- for what happened to his dad, or what happened to Luna, or what happened to you, then you really don't know him at all."

"I know this --" Ignis bit out, but Prompto cut him off.

"He said it himself. He's supposed to be some fancy king of prophecy, the Chosen One, and he can't even protect the people he loves the most."

Ignis's argument fell apart in his mouth. "Are you —" He stammered, trying to — to move past that. "If you're suggesting that there is anything he could have done —"

"No!" Prompto insisted. "No, of course not! Noct is — Noct has been dealt just about the shittiest hand ever, his whole life. And he's still standing and still amazing. But he takes this stuff personally. And s-seeing you suffering is... It hurts him. Bad."

Ignis opened his mouth to answer that, reaching for words, but his mind gave him nothing.

"It hurts all of us," Prompto said softly. "I know it's the worst for you, I just... I can't stand it. And I can't stand watching Noct beat himself up over it."

Ignis took a steadying breath, tugging at his cuffs and wincing when he remembered the mud on his hands. "Indeed. Noct has nothing to forgive himself for. If anything, I should never have left his side."

"Me neither," Prompto said. "We should have told the Secretary to take her deal and shove it."

Ignis sighed. "She and her Guard were a great help, and she sacrificed much for our cause."

"She saw a chance to get the Empire off her back and she took it," Prompto argued. "It's not like there was nothing in it for her."

"Of course not," Ignis said. "She's an excellent leader to her people, and that means putting their interests above all others. But you're right. We should never have left him alone."

Prompto sniffled, and when he spoke again there was a quaver to his voice. "I'm really sorry you got hurt, Iggy."

"Thank you," Ignis said firmly, "but I am not. Protecting Noct was well worth the price."

Prompto swallowed. "What are we gonna do? Without you to drive and read the map and make amazing food?"

Ignis's chest tightened, his eyes stinging. Once again, he found himself immensely grateful for the sunglasses. "I'm afraid..." he started, and had to stop to steady his voice. "We'll have to get more thoroughly acquainted with the value menu at the Crow's Nest."

Prompto's laugh was a miserable, broken thing. "Don't forget Cup Noodles."

"I wish I could," Ignis managed.

Prompto's laugh was slightly less strangled this time. "I'm really..." His voice was nearly a whisper. "Really gonna miss your cooking."

Ignis took a breath. "That I am sorry for," he admitted.

"And your backflips," Prompto went on. "They looked super cool on camera."

Ignis snorted in spite of himself. "Somehow, you will have to carry on without them."

"I - I mean," Prompto stammered. "I know it's just — just for a while. Luna's gonna fix it."

"She is going to try," Ignis said carefully.

A moment. "I think she can probably do pretty much anything she sets her mind to," Prompto said.

"I certainly hope so," Ignis said, too tired to feign any real conviction.

Prompto took a shaky breath. "I'm really glad you're still here though."

Ignis swallowed. "Thank you," he eventually managed. "I am as well." That sounded even less convincing, though it was mostly true.

Prompto shifted, sighing. "Do you think Noct and Gladio are gonna be okay? I know they usually give each other a hard time, but this is... really bad."

Ignis sighed. "Gladio's anger is understandable, and hardly unexpected —"

"Well, yeah," Prompto snorted. "The guy's pretty much only got two emotions to choose from."

Ignis swallowed a laugh. "Now now, let's be fair. He has at least four."

"Do Hungry and Horny really count as emotions, though?"

Ignis laughed, hard and startled.

"Sorry," Prompto said. Hearing the grin in his voice only served as a reminder that it had been largely absent since Altissia. "You were saying?"

Ignis cleared his throat. "Why he's chosen to direct that anger at Noct, of all people, is beyond me."

"Well, the only the other option's to aim it at himself," Prompto said, "and that's no fun."

Ignis had suspected it was something to that effect.

Prompto huffed, his chair creaking. "I think he just needs to be mad at someone who'll fight back."

"Might I suggest the Empire, then?"

"Sure, and maybe if they were here he'd be taking it out on them instead of us."

"I am also capable of fighting back," Ignis pointed out.

Prompto's answering silence was thick with pity. "I, uh, don't think beating up on you would be quite as satisfying," he said eventually.

"Perhaps not for Gladio," Ignis said, distantly aware that he was speaking carelessly. "But I would certainly find it gratifying. And I'd much prefer it to letting him carry on tormenting Noctis."

"Yeah," Prompto sighed. "I mean, it might be good for Noct to stand up for himself a bit more, but... I'm worried one of them's gonna say something they can't take back, y'know?"

Ignis opened his mouth to give some reassurance, but none presented itself.

"I just want everybody to stick together and be okay," Prompto whispered.

"You're not alone in that," Ignis said, as kindly as he could manage. "I'm sure that once we begin moving forward again, they'll simmer down."

"Yeah," Prompto said hopefully. "Being stuck here waiting around is probably making everything worse. Not — I mean — not that we need to be in a hurry or anything, just —"

"I'm as ready as I'm able to be," Ignis lied. "We're simply waiting on the Marshal before we decide on our next course."

"And you're coming, right?"

He said it like it was a foregone conclusion, rather than an ongoing argument. Ignis felt almost unbearably grateful. "Certainly," he said. "I don't... know precisely how helpful I may be, but at the very least I'll be an extra set of ears."

"You'll be way more than that, dude. I mean, think about it. You don't need to see to nag Noct about his veggies."

Ignis let out a soft snort. "It might be difficult to tell whether he's actually eaten them."

"The gagging noises'll be a giveaway," Prompto pointed out. "And hey, maybe you can teach the rest of us a few recipehs."

Ignis swallowed against the ache in his throat. "I'd like that."

"Cool," Prompto said happily. "I'm really glad you're coming, Iggy. And so's Noct, even if he kinda sucks at showing it."

Ignis swallowed his doubts. "Thank you for saying so." He drew a breath. "Which photographs were you looking at?"

"Huh? Oh! Yeah, I was just on, um, the one we took when we first got on the boat."

Ignis arrested the urge to nod briskly and move on. Instead, he forced himself to ask. "I don't entirely remember that one. Can you describe it to me?"

"Y-yeah, of course! Okay, Cid's in the front, looking really cranky and old and short and like he wishes we'd get off his lawn. Gladio's in the back with his arms up and this goofy look on his face, like he thinks he personally conquered the boat in mortal combat. I'm doing some kinda sea captain salute thing, and my hair's kind of a disaster but I hear that look is hot right now. You're over to the side with your sleeves rolled up, all ready to navigate the hell out of the ocean. Your hair's even worse than mine. And --"

"I think I would remember that," Ignis cut in.

Prompto ignored him. "Noct's leaning on the railing next to you, trying to look cool instead of super excited to get out on the water and go see Luna again, but really he just looks sort of sleepy."

Ignis knew that look well.

There was a click, presumably as Prompto moved on to the next photograph. "The next, like, thirty shots are pictures of waves and cool islands and stuff, let's just skip through those." A great deal of rapid clicking, and then, "Oh! Here's the gate leading in to Altissia! Remember how pretty it looked at night, and how it was like, rocks, rocks, more rocks, boring cliffs, and then whoa! Lights and cool waterfalls and fancy arches and stuff?"

"Truly stunning," Ignis agreed.

"Waterfalls." Click. "More waterfalls. Cid cussing out some guys in a gondola after almost running them over. More waterfalls. Statues of ladies pouring water out of big jugs --"

"Presenting offerings to the Tidemother," Ignis informed him.

"What, she doesn't have enough water as it is?"

Ignis laughed. "Traditionally, gifts of wine and blood were poured out of ceremonial vases to beg Leviathan's blessing and ensure a good haul of fish."

"...Human blood?" Prompto asked, horrified.

Ignis snorted. "Perhaps in the distant past. In modern times the blood of fish, or of beasts defeated in Totomostro, serves as a substitute."

"No wonder she's so pissed, then," Prompto muttered. "Might as well be tossing tofu in the water."

Ignis laughed, crossing his legs and settling in to listen.

"Oh, nice, this next one's that border guard you flirted with to sneak us into the country."

"I did no such thing," Ignis insisted.

"I tried to catch him checking you out but I wasn't quick enough. The next one's our first gondola. And then Gladio jumping into the gondola and almost swamping it, and then the gondola guy --

"The gondolier."

"-- sorry, the gondoleah yelling at him to sit down. The next one's an awesome selfie of you and me gettin' our gondola on --"

"I beg your pardon?"

"And the next one after that is Noct jumping in, and the next one is him and Gladio wrestling in the gondola, and the one after that is us getting kicked out of the gondola."

Ignis sighed. "Thank you, Prompto, I had nearly succeeded in forgetting."

Prompto laughed, delighted. "Oh man, this next one's really good. Okay. Let me set the scene for you."

"By all means."