A plate of grilled barramundi appeared in Noctis’s lap, and the delicious smell of char and buttery fish coaxed him to earth. He looked up to see Ignis smiling down at him with an eyebrow raised.
“I hope you are present enough to eat, Noct,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Noctis replied. “Thanks.”
Ignis didn’t press him further. He usually didn’t. But today Noct wished he would. His mind was stuck trudging through an endless bog of questions, and he was sinking fast. He would’ve liked...no, he needed Ignis to talk him through it.
The problem was everything he had been trying to press down since before the trip even began. With the added burden of the invasion, Noctis had only become more confused about what was to become of his future...and Luna’s. He barely knew her anymore, but she was going around meeting gods and risking her life, and he wasn’t sure if he was still expected to marry her or not, but he probably had some kind of divine royal duty related to her and it was scaring him the more he heard from Cor or Cid or even Ardyn about what in Eos he was supposed to be doing this time.
At Ignis’s behest, though, Noctis took a bite of the fish. Like a lifeline, the perfectly salty, buttery goodness pulled him up from the mire a moment and filled him with warmth. Ignis had definitely known that this was one of his favorite foods. He was being thoughtful, as he always was.
Noct had to talk to him. But with everyone around? It wasn’t that he didn’t trust them--they were the most important people in his life! He knew he could talk to Prompto about anything or get his stress out by training with Gladio, but with something this confusing, it would be easier to talk to just Ignis. He was ever calm, understood the most about the incidents that followed them as tirelessly as the robotic magitek soldiers, and he was the most likely to have answers.
But amidst the party’s campfire dinner and cards, Noctis couldn’t find a moment with just the two of them. So the worries were left to cloud his mind over the next night and day.
It wasn’t until the night after in a motel that Noctis caught his opportunity. The four had divided themselves into two beds and it was Prompto’s turn to suffer through Gladio’s snoring. Which fortunately left Ignis with Noct.
After a warm shower late that night, Noct curled up under the blankets opposite Ignis, who lay still with his back to him. Noctis could hear Gladio snoring and Prompto’s soft breathing so they were probably well asleep.
“Ignis?” he said, the name barely leaving his mouth. It spread through the dark with no answer. “Ignis?” Just a little louder, turning in bed to face his back. “Are you up?”
“Nearly wasn’t,” Ignis mumbled, turning onto his back with a deep inhale in testimony to his sleepiness.
Noctis didn’t apologize very often, but he wanted to. So he mumbled one, because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to be heard or not.
“What’s the matter?” Ignis said, eyes still closed. He almost looked like another man with his hair laying flat on the pillow and his glasses removed. He was softer and somehow younger. Noct figured with some guilt that Ignis ought to have as many years as he could get.
Noct inched his head closer to Ignis’s so he wouldn’t have to speak up. “I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know when I could,” he said, the words so quiet they had hardly any intonation. It embarrassed him, speaking like this and being so close to Ignis, but he didn’t want to disturb his already sleeping friends.
Instead of griping about how Noct couldn’t wait until morning, Ignis shifted himself even closer and tilted his ear towards Noct, eyes still closed. “What’s wrong, Noct?” he asked in the warm voice he used to speak to Talcott or Iris or his chocobo. Or Noct when he was young; he recalled a faraway memory of a calm, gentle Ignis who would take his hands, listen to all of his problems, and help him figure out how to solve them. It was an Ignis who, though only a few years older and a few inches taller than him, had always seemed wiser and more comforting than any grown-up.
It was exactly the Ignis he needed right then.
“I’ve been worried,” Noctis started. He thought about how to word it, and Ignis merely waited for him to speak. He moved his head closer still and shifted so he wouldn’t be speaking right in Ignis’s ear. Wrapped in the same blankets, Noct could feel how warm Ignis was, could smell that same crisp, cool shampoo Ignis had been using for as long as he could remember. Definitely one of the most familiar and comforting scents he knew.
Sorting through his thoughts of Ignis and his previous anxieties, Noctis started, “I’ve been worried about Luna. But, not in the way Prompto thinks I am.”
“Of course,” Ignis said, without any judgement.
Encouraged, Noct continued, “I’m worried about what’s going to happen. She’s always been so devout and self-sacrificing, I’m scared of what she’ll do because she thinks it’s the right thing. And I don’t want to lose anyone else. I can’t even imagine it.”
He continued after a thought. “And I’m scared of what she might be like now. We write sometimes in the book, but not a lot, and we haven’t known each other since we were kids. Back then she was like my older sister, teaching me all these neat things about the kings and the gods. But she’s had to go through so much, being the Oracle. I’m worried about her, and that I won’t know who she is.”
Ignis hummed in acknowledgement.
Noctis knew he had to get it all out. “And this isn’t the thing I’m most worried about, but--and I don’t think I have to marry her anymore because the treaty’s been broken off, but--I don’t, I never did want to marry her, I just thought I had to, but now my dad’s--and I just don’t understand but whatever I’m supposed to do with her is all wrapped up in my future, which scares me like hell, ‘cuz, Ignis, I mean you know, you know I’m not a king. Not right now.”
Ignis inhaled and exhaled in the pause after. Noct’s spoken fears rose into his eyes and burned. He was grateful for the dark and a childhood skill: he could cry without a sound. The tears wouldn’t stay in his eyes or return to where they’d come, so he let them fall across the bridge of his nose and stain his pillow. He held his breath so he wouldn’t shudder.
After a moment, Ignis shifted onto his side and opened his eyes to look at Noct. To Noct’s embarrassment, he realized that if anyone could tell he was crying it would be Ignis. Because without a word, Ignis brushed a gentle thumb across the bridge of his nose and combed through his messy hair in a rhythm that, to be honest, he wanted to last forever.
“Thank you for telling me, Noct,” Ignis whispered. “You’re not alone in your worries. But you’re not alone in facing them.”
Ignis’s warmth was even closer now, and Noct definitely wanted it to stay that way until he fell asleep. The weight of Ignis’s hand on the side of his face was a comfort he felt in his aching chest.
“Perhaps it would be best to have a frank conversation with Lady Lunafreya when you see her?” Ignis offered, his quiet voice drifting towards Noct. “You could become reacquainted with one another’s lives, explain your worries, share what you would like to happen or not happen. She might feel similarly to you.”
Noct mumbled in agreement. The vibration of it traveled to Ignis’s hand.
“And as for your future as king, I am always here to aid you. You need not alter yourself, but I, and all our friends, will help you however you need, so that when you are ready you may become the king you wish to be.”
“I don’t know if I do wish though.”
Ignis paused. He had always been one to search for the perfect words. “I don’t know either. But I know that I am with you and I have no regrets. And I know that you have done wonderfully thus far to assist others and prevail against many daemons. You are strong, Noct. And it’s been a pleasure to see you come into your own.”
“You’re embarrassing me, that’s not even true.”
“It is more than a bit true,” Ignis smiled. “And I’m not alone when I say I am proud of you. We shall go forth together.”
Noct couldn’t find a single word to answer that, so he hugged Ignis and buried his face in his chest. Covered only by a cotton T-shirt rather than the layers of a suit, Noct could feel how warm and broad it was. He decided: this was how he was going to sleep. Like Ignis said (right?), he was still himself. No need to grow up now.
Ignis, more awake, gave a chuckle that Noctis felt, pulled the blankets up to Noctis’s shoulders and continued to brush through that ever-messy blue hair.
“I remember this,” Ignis whispered.
“Me too, but don’t tell anyone,” Noct answered against Ignis.
“Mum’s the word.”
Noctis did remember now. When he was a child and had nightmares about the magitek soldiers, Luna being stolen away, his legs breaking, and losing his father in so many different magical accidents, every time Ignis would come with a glass of water and hold him, rubbing his back until he stopped crying. With his familiar calm, Ignis could soothe him sooner than anyone else.
The memories stirred something fond and forgotten in Noctis’s chest. Though he could not voice it right then, he wished to memorize how important Ignis had always been to him.
Let the new day come, Noctis thought. He could still be himself, and Ignis would be with him. Tomorrow, he promised, for the sake of a dizzying number of years spent leading him out of the mire and into Ignis’s arms, Noctis would find a way to express his burning gratitude.