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It started, Ignis thinks, in high school. 

 

She’d been one year younger than him, so one year older than Noctis and his quirky new friend, Prompto. Ignis hadn’t really noticed her at first—his focus in school was to show up, make good grades, and then leave and tend to his prince. It wasn’t until his senior year, and her junior year, that they’d been paired together for a project in an elective free visual arts class—and then Ignis discovered that maybe letting the common masses into his inner circle wasn’t so bad after all. Well. Her, anyway—not much could be said for his other classmates, save for Gladio, who’d been one year ahead of him. She was all laughter and light on most of the days that Ignis had known her, and even after graduation, they’d kept in touch—one small outside friend, all his own. One person who wasn’t Regis or Noctis or Clarus, a council member, a glaive, a guard, Gladio. 

 

It’s a funny thing, Ignis thinks—he’d always resigned himself to a life devoid of romance, figuring that quick romps, or friends with benefits at best, would be his only option. He was, after all, Noct’s chamberlain, in every sense of the word. His budding adviser, his future Hand. The prince was his world, his sun; Ignis’ life simply revolved around Noctis, even as he managed an online college degree in international politics and communication. He kept Noct’s house, attended council meetings with him, cooked for him, drove him to and from school—the Citadel—his apartment, honed his body to peak physical condition so he could be yet another barrier between Noctis and a potential assailant. Noctis, Noctis, Noctis. 

And yet, strangely—her, at the strangest of times, Ignis thinks of her; of her smile, her easy way of speaking, her honesty, her selflessness, her eagerness to learn. She’d wedged her way under his skin in a very subtle yet pervasive way. If Ignis said he couldn’t hang out, he had to cook for Noctis—she was there in an instant, like she too belonged in Noct’s kitchen, prepping the vegetables and setting the table. If Ignis said he was too swamped with council reports, she’d show up at the Citadel and sit in his tiny office and do her own thing on her own computer, simply content to be in his presence. She’d bring him coffee; she’d send him pictures of cute dogs she saw in the city; she’d even gone so far as to rub his shoulders as he poured over piles of paperwork. 

It fascinated Ignis. It perplexed him. He had a friend who enjoyed his company; and she, his. Or so Ignis hoped. 

 

And then, four months before Noct’s scheduled departure for Altissia to wed lady Lunafreya Nox Fleuret and secure a peace between Lucis and Niflheim, Gladio had handed Ignis a Crownsguard application, smirk spreading across those tanned, handsome features. 

The two of them had been holed up in Cor’s office all day, processing applicants, running background checks, and the like. Ignis is dead tired, knowing that Noctis will inevitably be a bump on a log when he gets out of meetings all day with his father; Ignis will probably have to draw a bath and wash the surly young man himself, if Ignis could wrench Prompto away from him first. 

“What’s this?” asks Ignis, running the fingerprints of another random citizen through Cor’s database. He takes the stapled papers from Gladio and peers at them over his silver glasses, eyes growing wide when he sees the name. 

Gladiolus chuckles. “That’s your little girlfriend ain’t it, Iggy?”

“Excuse me,” Ignis quips. “She is nothing of the sort. Just a friend, that’s all.”

“Sure sure,” says Gladio, waving a hand absently, despite Cor shooting him a stern look. “Anyway, looks like she passed the first round of tests. Apparently she’s very skilled in elemancy, like you and Noctis.”

Cor perks up. “You mean Miss ________ ________?” He actually smiles a bit. “The king and I were highly impressed with her magical abilities. There was even talks of her joining Noctis on his way to Altissia.”

Ignis’ eyes grow wide. “Is that so?” he breathes, hoping his cheeks aren’t as pink as he thinks they are. 

“Damn good healer, too,” says Cor, shuffling through more applications, hands stilling as he uncovers yet another one. “Gods, you gotta be kidding me.”

“What now?” asks Gladio, turning. 

Cor rubs his jaw and holds up the paper. “Prompto Argentum.”

Ignis smiles. “I can personally vouch for that one,” he says. “He’s a proper wizard when it comes to firearms.”

“Huh,” says Cor, setting the application to the side. “I’ll call him in tomorrow and see what he can do.” The Marshal nods to the application still bunched in Ignis’ gloved hand. “What about your friend, there? Think she’s good enough for a second interview?”

Ignis glances at __________’s name on the application and has brief flashes of thought her pressed into sharp fatigues with wild eyes, defending Lucis—defending his prince—and he suddenly gets hot under the collar. “I believe so,” he manages, tongue weighing heavy in his mouth. 

Gladio shoots him a knowing glance, but Ignis just rolls his eyes. 

 

______

 

It starts, Ignis thinks, when they’re on their second dungeon of the day and Prompto’s fallen down an ice slide, captured by a naga, and screaming for rescue. When _________ is the first one into the lair, hands heated up in powerful ice magic, scared to death but determined to slay the fierce daemon and save their unfortunate gunner. 

 

It starts when __________ is all too eager to accompany him to the Lestallum markets, pressed closed to his side amid the throng of people in the thick city heat, pulling him to various booths and vendors full of exotic trinkets and cuisine. It starts when Noctis says his knee hurts and she massages it until he passes out on the lumpy hotel mattress. It starts when Ignis sees her with her hair down in pajamas at a haven, sleepy in the morning and stumbling towards his breakfast table for cheap coffee.

It starts when she beats him at blackjack at 3 am when no one can sleep and Noct’s having nightmares and they can hear the roar of Imperial dropships overhead. It starts when Ignis has had three glasses of wine and he sees just a hint of too much luscious, curved thigh when her shorts ride up as she’s doing light strength training with Gladio. 

It starts—and continues—when Ignis can’t help but curl himself around her when they’re all huddled in the tent and pressed for space, face just inches away from her neck; when he breathes deep and inhales the lavender-mint shampoo they all share because they’re all long past the concept of personal belongings, save for clothes—when he breathes deep and gets that light, sweet scent that underneath the detergent and the deodorant and hair product, is purely her, the same scent that had buried itself in his brain back in high school. Starts and continues when Gladio starts talking about his historical fiction and the tangled web of romances therein, and she sighs wistfully because she’s never been kissed, and Ignis can’t for the life of him figure out who wouldn’t want to kiss the gorgeous creature that’s on this doomed mission with them.

It starts when Gladio nudges him in the ribs and whispers in his ear and Ignis has to shoo him away before she overhears. It starts when Prompto suggests that ___________ go out with him and Noctis to the dive bar in Lestallum so that maybe they can get lucky and Ignis shoots him down a little harsher than intended. 

 

The thing is—Ignis used to think that he pinpointed the exact moment he started to fall in love with _________; but there have been so many starts, and no stops—it’s pretty hard to narrow it down. And yet: he’s so caught up keeping them alive, being the tactician, being the glue, being the driver, being the chef, being the steadfast bulwark for Noctis...so caught up in being everything for everyone else that Ignis thinks that they’ve run out of time for him to be thinking of silly things like love.

 

_______

 

They’re back in the Malmalam Thicket, and Noctis had been so eager to get to the royal tomb and clear it that they hadn’t paid attention to the position of the sun—it’s nighttime by the time Noct collects the Scepter of the Pious and they claw their way back to the surface, and that’s just a convenient-ass time for a herd of imps to materialize, isn’t it? 

Prompto shrieks and fires a warning shot into the thick of them, scattering the chittering creatures and allowing them to group and form up in their usual battle positions. Ignis is thankful that he’s recently cooked a meal that granted the party Resilience, and he smirks at the imps closing back in on them, eager to draw them into their close-combat tactics—they’re particularly weak to daggers, and Ignis is more than ready to exploit that soft spot and get this whole thing over with. 

The battle is a pretty routine one, with Prompto picking them off from the outskirts and _______ alternating between Blizzard and Cure, pulling ethers from the Armiger to keep herself going. Noctis swaps his engine blade for the mythril knives they’d picked up at the Taelpar Rest Area; Gladio summons a shield instead of his broadsword and goes on the defensive, sweeping low and launching them into the air for Noctis to warp-srike into, cutting them down. With the others working in tandem, Ignis has a cluster of the ugly little brutes all to himself, but he readies himself and allows the imps to charge at him so that he can dance around them, one by one, and split them in half with his daggers. 

 

With one opponent left in his sights, Ignis doubles down on the offensive and lunges, trusting his long, lean legs to do their usual work for him—only this time, something goes wrong, and sudden shroud of green mist catches him off-guard and makes him choke and gag, stumbling back, his field of vision greatly reduced—there’s a swipe at his ankle, warm trickle of blood, and the last thing Ignis remembers is the brilliant night sky and __________’s voice shouting at him as he goes down. 

 

When he wakes, they’re at the campsite—he’s shirtless, which immediately has him flustered—his dress slacks are rolled at the ankles, and he vaguely registers the rough scratch of bandage and an aching tendon. He grunts and tries to rise, but a hand stops him, pushing him back down onto his bedroll. 

“Nuh-uh, mister. You stay right there.”

Ignis dares to crack an eye and look up at _________; the twisted concern on her face drags sharp claws across his heart. He glances to the side and sees that the tent flap is open, the rest of the guys peering in periodically. 

“Hey, Iggy’s alive!” Prompto, ever the plucky optimist. 

“I told you he was, dummy,” says Noctis lazily—but he makes eye contact with Ignis anyway and grits his teeth. 

It’s Gladio who rises from stoking the fire and kneels at the tent’s opening. “You took quite a fall, Iggy,” the shield says, rugged face soft with emotion. “You okay? You had us worried.”

“I feel like utter shite,” says Ignis lucidly—and then he feels heat creep up to his ears. He’s not one to curse, not even in the typical company of his male companions. What has gotten into him? 

Gladio guffaws, easy. “You look like it, pal. Luckily our pretty little nurse has been at your side for the last few hours.” He winks. “You just take it easy. We ain’t goin’ anywhere until you’re all healed.” Gladio rises and goes back to his camping chair, and—to Ignis’ horror—his Cup Noodles. 

“I take it you all had that sodium-laden cardboard for dinner,” Ignis drawls, feeling like there’s a weight on his chest he just can’t place.

_________ chuckles and takes his chin in her hands and bids him turn to her. Her wide _____ eyes search his for signs of—of what? “Sorry to say, Iggy, none of us could do much better. Though, I did manage to buy some daggerquill breast and some Leiden peppers from a passing hunter. Thought that once you’re better you could make us that peppery rice that I like so much.” 

“I would make you anything you requested of me,” says Ignis, unable to stop himself. Gods above, what is wrong with him?

__________ blushes and continues to fuss over him, changing the splint on his ankle and rubbing more ointment into the bruises on his torso. “Yeah? That’s really sweet of you, Iggy. Though, it’s Prompto’s favorite, remember. I’m sure he’ll be excited, too.” 

“I couldn’t give a dualhorn’s arse what Prompto likes right at this moment,” Ignis continues. He pauses, whipping his head to the side to look out to the campfire—but Noctis and Prompto are engrossed in their phones, most likely King’s Knight. He hadn’t heard, then. Perfection. But despite Ignis thinking that Prompto’s meal preferences are on the back burner of his brain, he still doesn’t understand why he actually voiced his opinion. He swallows thickly, trying to remember the imp battle. The last one left he’d been fighting—he’d lunged after it, but then—smoke? Green vapor surrounding him, the sharp swipe at his ankle, falling and hitting his head on the nearest…

__________ is staring at him curiously, obviously as in shock as he is at his unfiltered monologuing. “Ignis,” she says. “Tell me a lie.”

Ignis just stares. A lie. Easy. He’s been lying to politicians for years, a facade he’s built up by sheer skill. He opens his mouth, and—nothing. “Erm,” he says. “Forgive me, I just…perhaps I require a moment.”

“Tell me my hair is blue,” she says quietly. 

“Your hair is the most beautiful shade of ______ I have ever laid eyes on,” says Ignis instantly, as if it would kill him to say otherwise. He slaps his hand over his mouth and squints his eyes. “Bloody fuck.”

“Status effect,” says _________ simply. “A truth spell, if I had to guess.”

“Please don’t ask me any more questions,” Ignis groans. He’s said too much already, but his longtime friend is thankfully the peak of professionalism. His namesake is broiling under his exposed skin; Ignis feels very near to spontaneous combustion. Just the wrong set of words from those plump, kissable lips would have him spilling seven years’ worth of lewd thoughts, and that’s a fall from precipice that Ignis would never dare recover from. The pull of the daemon’s magic is strong—but Ignis Scientia is a gentleman, and he’s determined to be stronger.

 

She leans down to wipe the blood and the dirt from his brow, holding his head so tenderly in her warm, soft hands that Ignis thinks he might actually combust. 

Taking the hydrogen peroxide and pouring it on a cotton ball, she dabs it on the cuts that Ignis acquired during the imp fight. He’s biting his tongue, trembling. She’s touching him so gently that Ignis, usually in control of his emotions, feels like crying. But he can do this, surely. All she has to do is remain silent. If she doesn’t ask him a question, he won’t be forced to tell the gods’ honest truth. 

 

“Am I hurting you?” she whispers, mistaking Iggy’s flushed face for possibly the hint of a fever, his trembling body for barely-contained pain. 

Dammit, didn’t he say not to ask any questions? And all of Ignis’ carefully-laid plans go straight to Ifrit’s hell, because the status effect doesn’t just allow him to say “no.” 

Ignis blurts, “I would dash my head upon a boulder a thousand more times if it meant that I could feel your touch.”

 

Gods. Fuck. Shitting hell. There’s no two ways around it. _________’s eyes go wide and she audibly swallows but says nothing for several long seconds, only continuing to clean and dress his head wounds. 

“That’s a no, then. I’m not hurting you.”

Oh, the practicality of it all. Ignis wants to scream. But the repeated question draws a more simple answer from his lips. “No, you’re not hurting me.”

“Okay, good.” She finishes tending to his wounds and sits back on her haunches, sighing, whole body sagging with fatigue. There’s no telling how long she’s sat here, fussing over him. “Um. I’m not sure how much longer the status effect will last. I’ll try to brief the guys. You, um. Wouldn’t want to inadvertently hurt their feelings, y’know.” 

Ignis bites his tongue and nods, blessedly suppressing a reply. 

“Get some rest, Iggy. I’ll leave you alone.”

And the now-dead imp wins out yet again, because Ignis says, “I don’t want you to leave me alone.”

 

Which is how Ignis ends up drifting off to the feel of ___________’s short fingers stroking his sweaty brow, humming the little tune that Prompto sings when they ride chocobos. His dreams are nice—hazy, weird, full of good feelings and warm embraces—he wakes up with minimal pain, and somewhere in the back of his foggy brain he surmises that there must have been a potion involved at some point. He’ll have to scold _________ later; he’d rather save potions for his Highness. 

He cracks an eye and registers early-morning light...he’d slept all night, then. Brilliant. He groans and sits, embarrassed that he’s still shirtless. He fumbles for his glasses and a tank top and nearly trips over himself trying to crawl over Gladio and go outside. 

 

__________ is already sitting there with a can of Ebony, snacking on one of Gladio’s protein bars. She looks up at him immediately--and Ignis doesn’t miss the pink that worms its way across her sleepy face. 

“Mornin’, Iggy,” she says, smiling softly. “You slept all night, so that’s good.”

“I suppose it is,” says Ignis. Huh. He feels mostly normal. Is the curse gone? There’s only one way to find out. He opens his mouth in an attempt to lie, but _________ beats him to it. 

“Tell me a lie,” she whispers painfully. 

Ignis swallows hard, taking gentle steps to the camping chair beside her. She looks like she barely slept at all. “_________, I…”

“Tell me everything you mumbled in your sleep wasn’t true, that you were just dreaming.” 

Ignis’ world grinds to a halt. “Mumbled in my sleep...I’m afraid I don’t understand?” That’s definitely not a lie—Ignis remembers passing out to the sound of her humming and the feather-light stroke of fingers across his forehead; nothing more. 

She chokes, nearly, but coughs and recovers. “Uh, in your sleep. You were...well you were pretty graphic.”

Ignis flushes. “I’m afraid you’ll have to enlighten me, darling. I truly remember nothing.” 

___________ avoids his gaze and grips the coffee can hard enough to crush it. “You were saying things like—like sexual things. Things you wanted to do. Things you wanted to try.”

“Is that so?” asks Ignis tightly. 

“Yeah, uh.” She takes a deep breath. “You were um. You were talking to me. Or, um. About me.”

“Fuck,” says Ignis, and if that’s not a raw truth, then nothing is. He must still be under the spell. “________, I truly must apologize if I have offended you—I seem to be very much not myself. If you would please just bear with my loose lips for just a short while longer, I...”

A sniff, a sob: Ignis glances to the side and sees his friend with her head in one hand, wiping away tears. “Yeah, no, of course, Iggy. It’s not—it’s not your fault. Um. I should. I should go for like. A walk, or...or something.” She moves to stand, placing the half-full Ebony in the cupholder.

 

Ignis rises and grabs her wrist, pulling her flush to his bare chest and crashing his mouth against hers. He senses her buckling knees and he grips her tighter, snaking his arm around her curvy waist. She goes limp under his touch, moaning softly as Ignis eagerly explores her mouth with his own. He only pulls away when he registers her shaking and crying again. 

“Love,” he breathes, pressing his forehead to her own. “Whatever spell I’m under, know this—everything I have said, despite its crude release, has been nothing short of the truth. I have been in love with you for quite some time.”

“Tell me a lie, Iggy,” she sobs desperately. 

“Never,” says Ignis, and kisses her again. 

 

When he pulls away, his heart feels light, and his head feels clear, like a thick fog has been lifted from his inner psyche. 

“__________,” he whispers, reaching up to thumb her tears away. “I must confess. Your hair is the loveliest shade of azure.”

_________ laughs and buries her head into his chest, making Ignis shiver. “Did true love’s kiss break the spell?”

“Perhaps,” says Ignis, reveling in the light drag of her fingers down his bare back. “Now, why don’t we take that walk, and you can tell me everything that I unwittingly confessed in my sleep?”