Ignis sat on a bench outside the house, doing nothing but listening to the distant surf, feeling the sun on his face, and trying very hard not to loathe every moment of it.
The steady footsteps making their way down the stairs from the house did nothing to improve his mood. Lady Lunafreya was a perfectly lovely woman. A skilled orator, a talented diplomat, a determined and dedicated humanitarian. She was well-read, well-spoken and justly well-loved. What was more, she was obviously and exceedingly fond of Noctis, suggesting that she had excellent taste and an eye for his admittedly well-hidden charms. She would be a splendid match for Noct.
It was just that for some reason her kindness, her help and her healing — particularly while she was recovering from her own injuries — made Ignis want to hide from her like a guilty child.
"Good afternoon, Master Ignis."
Ignis straightened up, ignoring the rather childish urge to pretend that he was deaf as well as blind. "Good afternoon, Your — apologies. Lady Lunafreya. Can I help you?"
"I hope so," she said pleasantly. "Will you walk with me?"
It was a request, from the Oracle, the Princess of Tenebrae, and Noct's fiancee. Blind or not, a refusal would be unforgivable.
"I'm not very familiar with the grounds," she said apologetically.
He summoned a smile. "I'm afraid I won't be a very effective guide."
"But I'm sure you'll be excellent company," she countered. And before he could object, "Noctis and Prompto are in combat with some sort of purple octopus."
It took far too long for Ignis to realize she was referring to a game of King's Knight. "Oh," he said, defeated, forcing himself to stand and hold out his arm. "You could hardly interrupt such a decisive battle."
"Indeed," she said happily, taking his arm and leading him. "And I could hardly remain inside on such a lovely afternoon."
"You're not pushing yourself too hard, I hope," Ignis tried, stepping carefully. "By all accounts, your injury was grave. Noctis was particularly concerned about the possibility of blood poisoning." At the very least, he was once Ignis alerted him to the risk.
"My heritage lends me some immunity to such afflictions," she told him, "and Noctis's Potions are truly miraculous. How are you healing?"
Drat. "It's difficult to say," he offered. "But your blessings have done much to ease the pain."
"Good," she said softly. And before he could change the subject, "The healing. Is it painful?"
It took him some time to form an answer. "Not physically. And the result is well worth —"
"That's a yes," she said, her calm, clear certainty cutting through his equivocation. "In what way is it painful?"
Caution and cowardice clutched at his tongue, but he owed her as honest an answer as he could give. "It gives me hope," he said finally. He meant to elaborate, but his throat was suddenly tight.
"And you feel it's in vain," she concluded.
He halted. "Lady Lunafreya, there is no question that you are a truly gifted Oracle and a healer of enormous talent. But I will be frank. I suspect that even if my injuries can be healed, my sight will not be restored. I have accepted the price I've paid. Noct, however, has not."
His voice caught. She said nothing while he steadied himself.
"Your healing gives him hope," Ignis said softly. "And when — if — that hope should fail, he will be wounded."
She squeezed his arm, briefly, before leading him on, towards the sound of the surf. "He loves you very much."
Ignis's tongue tripped and tumbled over itself until he said, "We are... o-old friends," sounding utterly inane and entirely uncertain.
Another squeeze, but this time she was warning him of a step up. "It gladdens my heart to know he has such good friends caring for him."
"I am grateful for your presence in his life as well." Ignis had often imagined meeting Noct's lady love. In those imaginary introductions, she was kind and courteous, and Ignis in turn was warm but respectful. At no time did he picture himself meeting her and turning into a blithering idiot. "You've brought him a great deal of happiness these past twelve years, and a great deal of hope for the years to come."
"You're too kind," she murmured. And, after a moment, "I understand your doubts about my healing. In my darker moments, I share them. I want so desperately not to fail him." A pause, the closest she'd come to losing her composure since they'd met. "But I know this as well: Noctis's presence lends me strength. The Oracle and the King of Light share two halves of the same power. It is our destiny to lift the world out of darkness, and I believe that we can do the same for you."
Ignis wet his lips, hope kindling again in spite of him. He turned his mind to the task of snuffing it out. "My blindness is not a symptom of the Starscourge," he said, as delicately as he was able. "It's a debt that has been paid, no more and no less."
"And the power it purchased for you was impermanent. Is it so hard to believe that the blindness might be just as fleeting?"
Hope, again, scraping in his chest like flint on steel. "You misunderstand," he said, before he could bite his tongue. The effort — of navigating in darkness, arguing with her, and smothering the flame she refused to stop stoking — was making him incautious. "I did not bargain for power. I bargained for Noct's life."
"If that were truly the case," she said, terribly gentle, "the Kings would accept no less than a life in return. You asked only for the strength to save him then and there. Had you asked for any more than that, assuming they accepted your offer at all, they would have taken more than your sight."
Ignis's stomach felt hollowed out. "You can't possibly know that," he tried.
"I knew the Glaive who wore the Ring and woke the Old Wall," she said simply. Past tense, of course, because he'd died. "And I imagine that you and I have read the same histories."
Ignis latched on to that. "I had rather limited access to the ancient texts while behind the Wall, unfortunately. I've meant to ask you: how much do you know about Noctis's destiny?"
She let out a breath, sounding frustrated for the first time. "I know the words of the prophecy like I know my own name. I know the history of the Oracles and the lore of the Lucian Kings. I know the sacred names of the Six and the songs and rites to wake them." She led him on, towards the cool wind coming off the sea. He'd walked the path along the fence edging the cliffs once, while they waited for the royal vessel to be made seaworthy. The view, as he recalled it, was breathtaking. "I know that the Ring, the Crystal, and the King of Light are the keys to dispelling the coming darkness." She paused. "And none of that knowledge prepared me for the attack on Insomnia. Nor did it help me protect King Regis, or save my brother from his own folly. For all my years of study and communion, it feels as though I know very little."
Ignis snorted in spite of himself. She didn't ask, only waited, until finally he explained. "Unfortunately, I can relate. For all that I did my best to make ready for Noctis's ascension, I've felt woefully unprepared since the moment we stepped outside the Wall."
Her laugh was warm and welcoming. "At least now we're all lost together."
"The blind leading the blind, one might say."
She laughed, much to his relief.
"What do you know of the Starscourge?" he asked.
"Not enough," she said. "Would you like the practical answer or the comprehensive one?"
He blinked. "It might be best if you shared the comprehensive answer with the group. Noctis, at the very least, needs to hear it, and I imagine the Marshal will be interested as well."
"Of course," she agreed. "I know it's a contagion, originating from the Meteor, carried by daemons. I know that it infests, and multiplies, and that where it takes hold the daemons will thrive alongside it. Infected beasts and humans become fearful and hostile. If the affliction is untreated, they will eventually flee their homes and seek solitude in the wild before being consumed completely. How soon death follows after flight is unknown, as remains are rarely found."
Well. Fragmentary as that was, it was a great deal more information than the rest of them had managed to gather. "Has no-one had the opportunity to contain the infected for the purpose of observation?"
"Never for long. As the sickness progresses, they develop an unnatural strength."
"Rather horrifying," Ignis remarked. And then, not at all certain he wanted to hear the answer, he said, "We've fought more than a few daemons in the course of our travels. I would expect Noctis to have some innate resistance, but are the rest of us at any risk?"
"If you were, you'd have sickened long before now," she said. "He may not be aware of it, but I imagine Noctis is providing you some protection."
Thank goodness for that.
"Still," she said. "We must take care to cleanse and purify any daemon-inflicted wound immediately."
He would have to keep that in mind. Gladio, in particular, hated to pause for healing in the middle of a battle. "And you have the power to cure the afflicted?"
"If caught in the early stages, yes. But the further the infection progresses, the harder it is to heal."
"It's spreading," Ignis prompted.
"Quickly," she admitted. "When my mother was alive, she treated a single case every few months, a small outbreak perhaps once a year. But the war has brought the contagion to every corner of our star. I have neither the time nor the strength to turn back the tide." She halted, briefly, and when she spoke again her voice was ragged. "Every day that I spend here, doing nothing to help, more of my people are lost."
Her people. "Is it particularly severe in Tenebrae?"
"Not to my knowledge," she said uncertainly.
Ignis took a breath. "Forgive me if I sound cold, but every day that we spend here, more and more are lost to the war as well. It can't be helped. There's nothing to be gained from weighing yourself down with such guilt. It's imperative that you save your strength for the battles to come."
She sighed. "I spent twelve years teaching myself that lesson, only to forget it as soon as I stepped back into the world and came face to face with so much suffering." Silence, but for the distant rush of the surf and the cries of the sea birds. "It was easier when I had the Covenant to forge and the Ring to deliver. Retaking the Crystal will not be so easy, and..." She faltered, and when she spoke again it was a confession. "Being with Noctis makes me want to stand still."
She sounded very much in love. Ignis swallowed past the ache in his chest, cleared his throat and said, "He does make napping seem awfully appealing."
She laughed, easy and pleased and unmistakably fond. "Despite everything, these past few days have been the happiest I've known since we were children."
I'm so sorry to hear that, Ignis did not say. "Seeing you has made Noctis very happy as well."
"And —" She broke off, tried again. "More than that. All of you have been so warm and welcoming. And funny. When I woke up this morning my face ached. I thought I was getting ill until Monica told me it was from laughing."
Ignis felt an abrupt and terrible surge of pity. Last night had been fairly unremarkable, all told. Noct and Gladio had forced them all to play a board game with the rules modified to allow for full contact, and Iris and Prompto had re-enacted an animated musical film, complete with songs and improvised costumes. Though Noct's deadpan description of the action for Ignis's benefit had been rather brilliant.
He reminded himself that the Lady Lunafreya had been more or less living alone with Ravus. A week in a Sabertooth's burrow would be a pleasant holiday in comparison.
Nonetheless, it occurred to him for the first time that she was, perhaps, not entirely prepared for the experience of travelling with four... males... of their respective ages and maturity levels.
"That's... very good to hear," he managed. "Noctis is firmly of the opinion that when fighting a war in which one is astronomically outnumbered, it's important to take time to relax and remember what's at stake." Paraphrasing, of course. The original quote was something to the effect of, We just took out a base yesterday. Gimme a break. Or perhaps the more succinct, Do what you want. I'm going fishing. Ignis cleared his throat. "Though there is a certain amount of inertia to overcome before one can rejoin the battle."
"It will be a relief when the Marshal arrives and we can move forward," she agreed.
"While we wait," he told her, "there's no shame in taking the time to rest and enjoy each other's company." And then, more carefully, "Monica has provided us with an additional tent, but once we resume our travels you may find the opportunities for privacy rather few and far between."
She laughed. "Having a tent all to myself is more than enough," she said, "but thank you."
"I strongly recommend investing in some earplugs," he said, aware that he was giving unforgivably intrusive advice to the Blood of the Oracle and unable to stop himself. Slowly, horribly, it was dawning on him that in his current condition he would have no way to know precisely how unclothed Gladio was at any given moment. "And perhaps a blindfold."
She laughed, as though it were a joke. He would have to beg Lady Iris to speak to her frankly. And remind the others to pitch her tent at a respectful distance. Perhaps half a mile away. But it was important that she not be too far, in the event that Noct should decide to join her.
"...Are you unwell?" she asked.
"No," he said, much too quickly.
"Forgive me. I forget that you're recovering from your own injuries. Let's turn back. I'd like to do another healing, if you'll allow it."
"You're too kind," he said faintly, letting himself be led back to the house.
When they stepped inside, Noctis and Prompto were at the table, speaking in hushed tones. About either Ignis or Lunafreya, judging by how abruptly they stopped.
"Specs?" Noct asked. "Luna? Where were you?"
"Out for a stroll," Lunafreya informed them.
"Talkin' about Noct, am I right?" Prompto asked.
"Among other things," Ignis sniffed.
"Is... everything okay?" Noct asked.
No. Noct's engagement was in grave and immediate danger. "Everything's fine," Ignis said, not in the least convincing.
Lunafreya spoke. "Did you vanquish the purple octopus?"
"Oh! Ultross!" Prompto realized. "Hell yeah, we kicked him right in the... weird... head-bulb thing. No Obsidian Runestone though, sorry buddy."
"Runestone?" Lunafreya asked politely.
"Iggy just needs one more to upgrade his Runestaff," Prompto helpfully explained.
"Ah," Lunafreya said, as if that were in any way comprehensible. "If you're finished, Noctis, will you join us for a healing?"
"Yeah, of course," Noct said, getting up.
"You kids have fun now," Prompto told them. A thump and an "Ow!" followed, as if perhaps Noct had kicked him on the way past. Unintentionally, of course.
Noctis's footsteps moved towards the stairs, leading them up. "Did you, uh, have a nice walk?"
"We did," Lunafreya told him. "The sound of the surf is so soothing."
"Yeah." They moved into the bedroom. "And you... had a good talk?"
"Indeed," she answered. "I can see why you value your advisor's council so highly."
Ignis let out an incredulous laugh before he could stop himself, then tried to cover it with a cough.
"Uh, yeah," Noct said, dragging a chair across the floor. "Don't know what I'd do without him."
The ache in Ignis's chest that had been his constant companion of late twisted briefly into a new shape before settling in again.
"Besides starve, I mean," Noct finished.
"Do you cook, Master Ignis?" Lunafreya asked, guiding him to one of the beds to sit.
A few days ago, he would have had to bite his tongue to keep from saying, Not anymore. But twice, now, he and Noct had made breakfast together, warm and close in the small kitchen, and each time the result had been unpolished but entirely edible. Ignis could not bring himself to answer the question one way or the other, so he busied himself getting comfortable on the edge of the bed.
"Yeah, he's really good," Noct said with enthusiasm, sitting down heavily, his knee pressing into Ignis's leg. "He makes this salmon thing with a sauce that's like Kenny's Special Recipe, but way better. Once he's all healed up, you'll have to try it. "
Ignis had no idea Noct was so impressed with that particular dish.
"I'd love to," Lunafreya said, indulging him. "May I touch your face?"
It took a moment for Ignis to realize she was speaking to him, and not Noct. She asked, every time, as though he had any choice in the matter. "Of course," he answered, reluctantly pulling his spectacles off.
"Do you need me to do anything?" Noct asked her.
"Just be near," Lunafreya answered, putting her hands to Ignis's temples. "A patient who is relaxed and happy is much more likely to respond well to a healing."
Was she mocking him, or did she honestly believe that letting Noct witness this was in any way relaxing?
Of course not. It was an excuse. She wanted him near for her own sake.
"Holding his hand might help as well," she added.
"Sure." Noct took Ignis's bare hand, prying it loose from the edge of the bed.
Ignis swallowed and was still, trying to concentrate on the Lady Lunafreya. There was warmth on his face, blooming gently under her hands.
"The Lucian Kings have their own power to heal," she explained, her voice low and soothing. "It complements that of the Oracles. I still remember when my mother and I were healing your wounds so long ago. Our sessions were especially beneficial when your father sat with us."
"...Yeah," Noct said with a squeeze of Ignis's hand. No doubt involuntary. "He never had much time to teach me that part. He showed me how to make potions, but we didn't get much further than that."
"Working with a catalyst is easier on the healer," she said, "though not always as effective as direct contact."
As if to illustrate, she leaned in, touching her forehead to Ignis's, whispering a prayer: something soft and melodic and very, very old. Noct's hand was tight around his.
An eternity later, she finally pulled away, but left her hands at his temples. "When did you first take up cooking?" she asked.
Ignis swallowed. "I can hardly remember, it was so long ago."
"Seriously?" Noct asked, his hand warm around Ignis's fingers and his knee nudging Ignis's leg. "You don't remember the macaroni episode?"
Ignis sighed, and quietly resigned himself to enduring this gentle torture. "Ah, yes. How could I forget."
"I must have been what, six or seven? And I woke up in the night with a serious craving for macaroni and cheese."
"So naturally, your first course of action was to wake me up, as well."
"I was hungry!"
"Perhaps you wouldn't have been if you'd actually eaten your dinner, rather than smuggling it out of the dining room in a napkin."
"Can you blame me? Attoreo was always trying to feed me mashed peas."
"Truly a crime against vegetables," Ignis agreed.
Lunafreya's laugh was low and musical. "And how was the macaroni?"
Noct laughed. Ignis said delicately, "I learned at an early age that cooking without a recipe is not for amateurs."
"And that pasta expands when you cook it," Noct added. "Who knew?"
"It sounded so terribly simple," Ignis said. "Only two ingredients. How hard could it be?"
"We ended up eating some little cakes we found in the fridge," Noct finished.
"Which turned out to have been mille-feuilles, set aside for a royal function," Ignis sighed. "The flaky pastry left something of a trail of breadcrumbs leading directly to the culprits."
"I'd never seen Attoreo so mad," Noct laughed. "I thought his last three hairs were going to fall out."
Ignis gave an indignified snort. "I have a great deal more sympathy for him now that I've had the experience of cleaning burnt pasta off the bottom of a pan. Not to mention making a mille-feuille."
"Yours was better," Noct said simply.
Ignis's chest hurt all over again, but it was a background ache, its jagged edges worn down. Having no reply to that, he returned to the original question. "My first successful culinary effort, if it can truly be called an effort, was a grilled cheese sandwich." And Noct's wide, sudden smile on taking his first bite had been bright enough to burn away the shame of that first failure entirely.
"Still a favourite," Noct said.
Indeed, though without access to the broad selection of fine cheeses in the royal pantry, Ignis could no longer make it exactly as he once had. Even if he learned to cook by touch.
"It sounds delicious," Lunafreya said, finally pulling her hands off his temples and taking the warmth with them. Ignis's eyes and face prickled and itched as if feeling the aftereffects of Noct's potions. "Thank you for your help, Noctis."
"Uh, sure, anytime," Noct said, releasing Ignis's hand at long last. "Don't know that I did anything."
"More than you know," Lunafreya said warmly.
Ignis pulled his spectacles back on and stood, intending to give them some privacy. And then nearly lost his balance when the blood rushed to his head.
"Whoa, hey," Noct jumped up, grabbing his arm, making him sit again. "You okay, Specky?"
"Tired," Ignis admitted. Exhausted, if he was honest, though he'd no idea why.
"Well, take a load off," Noct told him. "We'll clear out."
Ignis crawled under the covers, and realized as he let his head rest that this wasn't his bed. The pillowcase smelled faintly of Noct.
He fell asleep.
Noct was in the middle of arguing with Prompto about what they should name Luna's chocobo once they got her one, when the door opened and she walked in, one hand on Ignis's arm like they were an old-timey couple out for a stroll. She led him over the threshold, easy and graceful and somehow not needing to warn him about the crooked floor or the step down.
Once they were in, she spotted Noct and smiled at him, warm and bright. Noct's chest did this weird fluttering thing, like he'd had too much coffee.
It wasn't until they got closer that Noct noticed how pale and stiff Ignis was. "Specs? Luna?" Did something happen? "Where were you?"
Prompto shot him a look, like maybe he'd sounded weird. Or jealous. Or freaked out.
"Out for a stroll," Luna said calmly.
Prompto grinned. "Talkin' about Noct, am I right?"
Noct's stomach clenched up. They probably were.
"Among other things," Ignis sniffed.
The hell did that mean? "Is... everything okay?" Noct tried.
"Everything's fine," Ignis said, in that tone of his that meant, No, nothing is fine. He used that one a lot. It could have meant anything from, No, Magitek Troopers are headed this way, to No, I burned the fish.
"Did you vanquish the purple octopus?" Luna asked politely.
Noct stared at her. Looked over at Prompto.
"Oh!" Prompto said suddenly. "Ultross! Hell yeah, we kicked him right in the... weird... head-bulb thing." He glanced at Ignis. "Still no Obsidian Runestone though, sorry buddy."
"Runestone?" Luna asked.
Prompto nodded a few times. "Iggy just needs one more to upgrade his Runestaff."
Noct bit his lip so he wouldn't laugh, but Ignis looked unhappy. Prompto was probably just rubbing it in that he couldn't play, even though the whole reason they'd done the Ultross fight again was so they could have some good loot to give him next time he logged in.
"Ah," Luna said, hiding a smile. "If you're finished, Noctis, will you join us for a healing?"
"Yeah, of course," Noct said, getting up. Didn't know that he could actually help at all, but... it was nice that she was including him.
"You kids have fun now," Prompto said, so Noct kicked his ankle on the way past. "Ow!"
Noct started up the stairs, Luna and Ignis following. "Did you, uh, have a nice walk?" he tried.
"We did," Luna told him. She sounded quietly happy, in a way that made him wish he'd gone with them instead of playing King's Knight. He would have, if they'd asked. "The sound of the surf is so soothing."
"Yeah," Noct agreed, heading into the bedroom. "And you... had a good talk?"
"Indeed," she answered. Of course they did. They probably had a lot to talk about, like... plans and strategies and politics and stuff. Not just Noct and the fact that he hadn't put the Ring on yet. "I can see why you value your advisor's council so highly."
Ignis let out a sharp little laugh, then tried to cover it with a cough.
"Uh, yeah," Noct said, sharing a grin with Luna. He grabbed a chair for her, pulling it over to one of the beds. "Don't know what I'd do without him. Besides starve, I mean."
"Do you cook, Master Ignis?" Luna asked Ignis, sitting him down on the bed, across from the chair.
Noct blinked at her, letting himself sit next to Ignis. "Yeah, he's really good. He makes this salmon thing with a sauce that's like Kenny's Special Recipe, but way better. Once's he's all healed up, you'll have to try it." She knew Ignis cooked, though. He'd talked about it in the notebook all the time. Even talked to her about it in the last few days, sitting close and trying not to break down while it spilled out of him how fucked up everything was.
"I'd love to," she said warmly, but she was watching Ignis. He was holding himself still, but not in the usual way where they were being improper and he didn't know how to deal. His eyes were hidden by the sunglasses but his scars weren't, and he just looked... miserable. "May I touch your face?"
"Of course," Ignis said, perfectly polite and calm, the same way he'd said Everything's fine. Lying through his teeth.
God damn it. Noct took a breath and turned to Luna. "Do you need me to do anything?" Please, he didn't say. Please let me do something.
"Just be near," she said simply, putting her hands on Ignis's temples. "A patient who is relaxed and happy is much more likely to respond well to a healing."
"O-oh," Noct managed. Wondered if he should point out that Ignis wasn't either of those things. He wasn't even sure Ignis could relax, especially with Noct around being his Duty.
"Holding his hand might help as well," she said.
"Sure." Noct reached out and took Ignis's hand. His fingers were cold.
"The Lucian Kings have their own power to heal," Luna said, her voice calm and quiet. "It complements that of the Oracles. I still remember when my mother and I were healing your wounds so long ago. Our sessions were especially beneficial when your father sat with us."
"...Yeah." Noct did kinda remember that, but he'd never really put two and two together. Just thought he felt better because his dad was there. "He never had much time to teach me that part. He showed me how to make potions, but we didn't get much further than that." And now they never would.
"Working with a catalyst is easier on the healer," Luna told him, "though not always as effective as direct contact."
If that was true — if Noct's power really did work like that — then maybe he could help Ignis. Just by touching him. It sounded too good to be true, but if anybody would know it was Luna.
He wrapped his fingers around Ignis's and held tight, while Luna leaned in to touch Ignis's forehead with her own. She whispered a prayer that sounded like a piece of song. One that used to get stuck in his head when he was lying in bed at the Citadel, looking up at the moon and missing her.
He shut his eyes, and prayed to his dad, to Luna's mom, to the Astrals and the goddamn Kings and anyone else who'd listen. Please, please help Iggy. Noct should've been the one broken by the Ring. Not him.
But listening to her voice, he saw light blooming behind his eyes, and couldn't hang on to the darkness. Instead he remembered his dad coming home, stepping out of the car to sweep Noct up in his arms. Remembered his hands, big and warm and calloused, wrapped around Noct's while they worked together to make a Potion out of a glass of chocolate milk. Remembered Luna's hands in his while she helped him out of his wheelchair to stand on his own two feet. Thought of lying with Luna in a field of flowers, talking about how someday they were going to save everyone.
He remembered Ignis, small and serious and teaching Noct to tie his shoes. Ten years old and lying next to Noct on the roof of the Citadel, drawing constellations in the sky and telling Noct the stories behind them. Sixteen and still just as serious, touching Noct's forehead to feel for a fever. Or a few weeks ago, leaning against the table at their campsite, smiling down at Noct in the firelight while they talked for hours.
Eventually Luna's light dimmed, setting like the sun and taking the warmth with it, and he heard her voice. "When did you first take up cooking?"
He opened his eyes, blinking.
It took Ignis too long to answer, and when he did his voice was rough. "I can hardly remember, it was so long ago."
"Seriously?" Noct demanded. "You don't remember the macaroni episode?"
Ignis sighed. Of course he remembered, he just didn't want to embarrass himself in front of Luna. "Ah, yes. How could I forget."
Noct grinned and launched into the story.
"Thank you for your help, Noctis," Luna said, finally taking her hands off Ignis's temples.
"Uh, sure, anytime," Noct said, remembering to let go himself. "Don't know that I did anything."
She smiled at him. "More than you know."
Ignis got up slowly, and then swayed, staggered. Noct had to jump up and grab him before he could fall, make him sit down again. He looked pale and shaky and worse than ever. Noct felt panic pushing at his throat. "You okay, Specky?"
"Tired," Ignis breathed out.
Tired. Ignis's tired was anyone else's exhausted beyond belief. "Well, take a load off," Noct ordered. "We'll clear out."
Ignis murmured some sort of thank you, working his boots off and crawling into the bed. Didn't even make a big deal about bowing to Luna or giving her the verbal equivalent of a three-page thank-you note.
He was asleep before Noct and Luna were out the door.
"What — what was that?" Noct asked, as soon as he shut the door. "What did I do?" What if he'd stolen some of Ignis's strength, instead of lending him some of Noct's own? Like he always did.
Luna took his hands, held them, looked him in the eye. "Nothing wrong, Noctis. Remember how often you fell asleep during our sessions?"
"...Yeah. Yeah." Luna and her mom were so kind and soothing, and most of the time he was warm and safe in his dad's lap. "S-sorry. It's just — I've never seen him like this." Maybe once or twice, when he was really really sick, but even then he was more frustrated than miserable.
"No doubt he's still recovering from the power of the Ring," she said. "Give him time. We made good progress today. Did you feel it?"
"Maybe?" He wanted to.
She smiled, squeezing his hands. "You lent both of us your strength."
Noct let out a breath. "You sure? Doesn't feel like I have a whole lot of that to share."
Her face fell, just a fraction, and he wanted to bite his tongue. She was trying so hard to help. "You have more than you know, and you give more of it than you realize."
She sounded so certain. He squeezed her hands, forced a smile. "Th-thanks, Luna. For everything."
Her smile was so warm he wanted to just... stand there and soak it in for a while. "I might take a rest," she said. "Perhaps you should as well."
"Y-yeah, that's... sounds good." There was this moment, where it felt like she was waiting for him to say something. "Thanks."
She smiled and let go, heading down the stairs and back to her own room.
Noct turned around and opened the bedroom door again, slow and careful and quiet. Stepped inside and shut it quietly behind him.
Ignis was asleep in Noct's bed, his breathing shallow. He looked pale and scarred and vulnerable, one hand bare and the other still wrapped with gauze, but at least the bruises Gladio'd given him had faded.
Noct took a breath, carefully lifted the covers, and climbed in behind him. If he woke up, Noct could make a joke about him being in the wrong bed.
He didn't wake, though. Stirred and shifted a little, then settled in again, his back warm against Noct's chest. Noct slipped an arm around him and had to tell himself not to squeeze too hard. Closed his eyes, instead, and let himself feel Ignis breathing. In, out, here and alive and not going anywhere.
Noct fell asleep with that piece of Luna's song playing quietly in his head.
When Ignis awoke, he was not alone. There was someone lying at his back, snoring softly, with one arm around him. Unmistakably Noctis. Napping, quite naturally, in his own bed.
Ignis was effectively trapped, but was startled to realize that he didn't mind. Noct was safe and sound and asleep, and Ignis had nothing more important he could be doing.
He felt like he'd slept far more than just a few hours, but he couldn't have. There was still daylight in the room.
That was all there was: the same hint of light he used to see with his eyes closed in bright sunlight. But it was more than he'd seen in weeks.
He held his breath, closed his eyes and opened them again. There was a difference. The brightest area must have been at the end of the room with the largest window.
It didn't necessarily mean anything. Perhaps he hadn't been properly paying attention until now, or perhaps his nerve endings were gradually adapting to the darkness. He had little understanding of what, exactly, had happened to his eyes to render him sightless, so there was no way to predict how his body might compensate. Perhaps this was natural. Perhaps this was as much light as he would ever see again.
Or perhaps the Lady Lunafreya was right.
Cautiously, quietly, Ignis listened to Noct's breathing and let himself hope.