Depending on how far back you look, you could pin the crumbling of Ignis Scientia on multiple events.
Ten days ago, the Regalia broke down on the side of the road.
Exactly a week ago, Ignis noted that Noctis was having a little too much fun slaying beasts and beginning to dodge conversation about Altissia and his betrothed.
Three days later, their credit cards and cellphones stopped working, an ominous and unexplainable event.
Five days ago they arrived in Galdin Quay, several days late and low on Gil and met an untrustworthy stranger that appeared to know who they were.
Less than four hours later, Ignis entered their shared hotel room to discover His Highness in Gladio’s lap, the two of them with their foreheads pressed together and their ragged breathing filling the room, drowning out the sound of Ignis as he scrambled backwards and shut the door.
The following morning, Ignis went downstairs to fetch a newspaper and sit on the deck, hopeful that the endless ocean horizon may help center him, allow him to process the information about Gladio and Noctis, when two bold words jumped at him from the page.
Every careful plan Ignis developed quickly dissolved in his shaking hands where he gripped the edges of the newspaper. Ignis stared down at the headline for over an hour, and every time he thought he had a spark of a plan, it would fizzle out. There were too many unknowns, and if the headline was correct, the implications were so huge that Ignis could barely begin to formulate a solid plan. Numbly, his feet carried him back to the hotel room where he had to deliver the news to a boy he knew was not ready to be a King.
It was Prompto that came up with the only plan any of them could agree on.
Four days ago, they climbed into the Regalia and Ignis pointed the car back the way they came.
Three days ago, they found the Crown City barricaded beneath Niflheim warships.
Three days ago, they confirmed King Regis’ death.
Three days ago, they declared war.
Though they managed to put together the skeleton of a plan, Ignis still feels like he doesn’t know what to do. He is stunned into stasis, unable to access his tactician brain beyond two flashing red lights blaring EMERGENCY in his mind, like a sinister pair of eyes in the darkness.
He defaulted to the very basic care he can give the group. He prepares them three meals a day on a camping stove, he insists on being the one to drive as they crawl from haven to haven, and he pretends to be calm and collected and hopes desperately he will formulate a solution soon.
Ignis sets down his coffee mug, his shaky hands sloshing hot liquid over the rim to scald his fingers. The combination of a lack of sleep and too much caffeine is getting to him. They've been camping in the cover of brush since infiltrating Keycatrich Trench and anxiety and hard ground are keeping Ignis up at night.
He stirs the potatoes, and then because no one else is awake, he allows himself a few moments to lean on the folding table, stare down in the blackness of his coffee, and swear under his breath.
Ignis jumps, looking up in surprise. Prompto creeps towards the table, head down fussing with the camera in his hands. Much like Noctis, his friend often avoids eye contact, and so Ignis does him the same favors, bringing his attention back to his cooking and giving Prompto the room to talk.
“What are you doing up?” Ignis asks him, but after several moments of pushing sizzling potatoes around the pan, Prompto hasn’t answered, so Ignis steals a glance at him.
Prompto has set his camera down on the table, though his hands still linger on it. He is actually looking right at Ignis, studying his face and Ignis looks back at him, noticing for the first time that Prompto’s eyes are violet, not blue.
He realizes dully that maybe he's the one who hasn't been making eye contact with Prompto. He has always been tangibly familiar with his liege’s best friend, but Ignis hasn't paid him enough mind to try to befriend him himself. He chastises himself softly, but things are different now. With a pang of sorrow for the uncertain fate of his Uncle, Ignis knows his circle of allies has been nearly depleted. He can use all of the friends he can get.
“I’m not sleeping much either,” Ignis finds himself admitting aloud.
Before he can overthink the oversharing, Prompto smiles softly at him and it quiets him. Ignis studies his face a moment longer before returning to his potatoes.
“Smells amazing,” Prompto says, leaning over to sniff the pan. Ignis swats him away with a spatula.
“Don’t get in the way.”
That evening, Gladio and Noctis disappear into the woods after dinner “to go fishing.” Ignis watches them leave with disdain. He has not yet found an opportunity to address the implications of Gladio and Noctis’ sexual relationship. The Crisis of Insomnia looms impossibly larger than that, but all he can do is internally harp on their reckless behavior, how they are allowing themselves to become distracted, to slip even further off their path.
“Can I help?”
Ignis is shaken out of his thoughts and pauses his mechanical scraping of dishes into the trash. He looks up at Prompto, whose face and hair shine orange in the flickering firelight against the pitch black night.
“You work really hard,” he says. “How can I help?”
Ignis stares at him for a moment, and then his eyes dart around his kitchen, looking for a task to delegate out of a process he usually completes himself. He lifts a plastic tub and hands it to Prompto.
“You can go get some water so we can wash the dishes,” he tells him.
“Can do!” Prompto says cheerily, grabbing the basin and taking off for the river.
“Prompto!” Ignis calls out, stopping him in his tracks. He points behind him, where he knows the river curls around the campsite in the opposite direction the King and his Shield have slithered. “Go this way.”
Prompto shrugs and does as he’s told.
They next morning, Ignis rises with the sun. He cracks open a can of Ebony and drinks it while he listens to the radio, but he is gifted no useful information. Just as he is about to stand and begin preparing breakfast, Prompto emerges from the tent.
Through a yawn, he asks, “How can I help?”
“I’m impressed,” Ignis tells Noctis as he puts down a herd of Garulas with his new axe and a handful of clean warp-strikes.
“What can I say?” Noctis asks smugly and Ignis watches him exchange a look with Gladio while the two men bump fists.
As the days pass he waits for the opportunity to chastise the men on their temerity, but all he sees is improved fighting from his liege and increased devotion on behalf of his Shield. So he continues to ponder them quietly, and does not interfere.
Prompto quickly makes it a habit to help Ignis prepare breakfast in the mornings and scrub dishes in the evening. Ignis finds that he grows comfortable in his presence almost immediately. Prompto is helpful but unobtrusive. He asks questions when he's confused and he laughs when Ignis plays with words. He is more helpful than Noctis and less insufferable than Gladio, who gets in the way and won’t wait until he’s finished cooking to try the food.
He and Prompto seem to move around each other easily in the kitchen, but then again, out here there are no walls.
“Never pinned you for an early riser,” Ignis says conversationally.
“Up with the sun!” Prompto says cheerily. “I used to get up and run in the mornings… but I’ve gotten a little lazy since the trip began. I figured I was getting enough exercise hunting! I hope…”
“Certainly sneaking extra portions isn’t going to keep you thin,” Ignis teases, pinning Prompto with his eyes while the other man pops a sausage into his mouth.
Inexplicably, it doesn’t bother him when Prompto indulges.
“Anyway, I wake up when you leave the tent,” Prompto tells him. “And then I smell your cooking and I can’t help but join you,” he says, stuffing a few more pieces of sausage into his mouth.
“My apologies,” Ignis says. “I try to be quiet.”
“I don't hear you,” Prompto explains after he swallows. “I wake up ‘cause my right side gets cold.”
By midnight, Noctis stretches out on the backseat of the Regalia, his head in Gladio’s lap.
They do not have the Gil for a camper, and there are no safe havens in sight. They have decided to drive through the night, the road being the best place to fight if any daemons were to descend upon them.
By two a.m., Gladio gives in and Ignis watches him in the rearview as he falls asleep with his hands in Noctis’ hair.
Prompto stays up with him, quietly asking Ignis about the new ingredients they’ve found or if he’s discovered any interesting recipes in his new cookbook. He leans over and shows him some of his favorite snapshots when Ignis is able to spare a glance from the road. When conversation dies off, Prompto hums and sings under his breath until he begins asking Ignis questions about Duscae and Royal Tombs, about Titan and the Astrals, about the Oracle and Niflheim, and while Prompto doesn't have anything particularly insightful to say, Ignis finds it easier to map his thoughts when he is speaking them aloud
“What would we do without you?” Prompto asks.
They talk until sunrise and Ignis doesn’t realize how tired he actually is until Prompto falls silent, suddenly slumbering in the passenger seat, the rising sun breaking across his freckled face.
The group sits around a dusty plastic table outside of a camper beside the Chocobo Post. A day of racing and leisure have Noctis and Prompto giddy and the two manage to drag Gladio and Ignis into a relaxed evening of King’s Knight.
“I wanna be on Ignis’ team,” Prompto announces.
Noctis scoffs, “ugh, come on, man!”
“Aw, why don’t ya wanna team up with me?” Gladio asks him.
“Mix it up once in awhile!” Prompto encourages.
“Are you afraid we’ll beat you?” Ignis asks him.
Noctis rolls his eyes and drags his chair next to Gladio’s.
By the fourth round, Ignis and Prompto have beaten Gladio and Noctis yet again. Noctis slaps the table in defeat, swearing loudly and earning a squawk from a nearby bird.
“Easy, Noct,” Gladio chides, but there is amusement in his voice.
“Aha! Losers! This deserves a celebratory round, don’t ya think Iggy?”
Laughing, Prompto jumps to his feet, slapping both of his hands heavy on Ignis’ shoulders. Prompto squeezes him firmly and jostles him in his grip before releasing him and waltzing his way to the cooler.
Ignis can’t remember the last time someone touched him, and he is thankful for the dim lighting for he can feel the burn of blush in his face and Noctis glares directly at him from across the table, his eyes narrowed and thoughtful.
He has only barely caught his breath, his heart still beating loudly in his chest, when Prompto returns with a second beer for each of them.
Ignis does not drink it.
The next morning, Ignis reads the newspaper at the cafe with a cup of black coffee and waits for the rest of the guys to wake up. Prompto, as he has grown accustom to, is the first one to join him.
“Give me some good news!” Prompto says grinning.
Ignis looks back at him, folding the newspaper.
“There is no good news,” he says.
Prompto chuckles to himself.
“It was a joke, guy” he says, leaning across the table and laying his hand briefly on Ignis’ forearm. The server approaches and Prompto pulls away just a moment later, but it is long enough for Ignis to find his heartbeat demanding attention. Gladio and Noctis join them, but Ignis is fixated on Prompto, one singular thought distracting him for the duration of breakfast: he wants Prompto to touch him again.
It is… an unexpected desire.
Ignis watches him across the table. Objectively, Prompto is very attractive, canary hair framing a round freckled face, a clean jawline beneath his thick pink lips, violet eyes set almond beneath his sharp brow and a sunny smile that never seem to leave his face.
It’s oddly liberating to accept that he finds Prompto attractive but it takes some adjusting to. For so many years he viewed the younger man solely as Noctis’ friend, and therefore, associated Prompto with many of His Highness’, well, less attractive qualities. His gaze slides briefly to Gladio and Ignis wonders if Gladio hasn’t told him about him and Noctis because he’s embarrassed.
Prompto bumps his foot against Ignis’ under the table and Ignis’ snaps his attention back to him. Prompto is smirking, but Ignis has missed the joke and the rest of the table laughs without him.
With a little time getting to know Prompto, Ignis has learned that he is nothing like the Prince and he has come to recognize Prompto as his own man. An intelligent, artistic, caring, troublingly attractive man who is smiling at him across the table and announcing,
“We all know nothing compares to our Iggy.”
Several days later, they have a slow morning at a campsite a few hours outside of Lestallum.
“Shall we make for the city?” Ignis asks, packing away his cooking supplies in their wooden case for the day.
Noctis stands at the edge of camp, flames in one hand and white light flickering in the other. He brings the elements together with his bare hands before pressing them into a glass orb and disappearing it into his ether. Prompto snaps pictures while he does, still fascinated by the process.
“Garrett has a few more gigs for us,” Noctis says.
Ignis does not respond; it's Noctis’ decision after all. He continues to clean up, but he packs for another night under the stars rather than to reload the car.
Gladio comes up beside him, taking a crate of supplies from Ignis’ hands.
“Thirty-six days,” Gladio says to him, his voice low so it will not carry.
Ignis turns his inquisitive gaze on Gladio, who is unmoving where he stands watching their King.
“Since we left Insomnia,” Gladio explains.
Ignis chews on the inside of his mouth and admits aloud, “I’d lost count.”
“Nice one!” Prompto calls to Ignis as the adviser puts the last strike into a beast Prompto had knocked to its knees. Ignis turns around to acknowledge him and finds Prompto winking at him where he blows smoke from the barrel of his gun. Gladio squats beside a steaming corpse and pulls a knife from his boot.
“I could just keep doing this,” Noctis says.
“Doing what, exactly?” Gladio asks, passing his blade through the body of the Spirecorns and collecting filets of tradeable meat.
“Hunt, fish, eat, sleep, repeat,” he answers, casually swinging his sword around the battleground.
“But you can't,” Gladio says evenly, pausing his work to share a look with the advisor.
“Altissia awaits,” Ignis reminds him. They are already inexcusably behind… in fact, they are so far behind that it hardly matters… any plans Ignis once drafted have long been abandoned…
“Luna awaits,” Gladio says, suddenly standing and facing him.
Noctis reels back from Gladio’s words, his sword vanishing from his grasp. He crosses his arms defensively over his chest and backs away so Gladio may not loom over him.
“It doesn't matter!” Noctis suddenly explodes, eerily echoing Ignis’ own thoughts, casting into public view what apparently had been a private argument between the two.
His Highness storms away from the battlefield, warping until he is in stasis, where he leans against a rock a hundred meters away. Gladio sighs and returns to his cutting without looking at Ignis, though Ignis searches his body language for clues.
Prompto claps a hand on Ignis’ back, coming up beside him. He nods towards Noct in the distance.
“I should go check on him.”
The gunslinger takes off at a jog. Ignis watches him go, the echo of his touch still present through his blazer.
Noctis demands to drive, presumably disinterested in sitting beside his Shield in the backseat of the Regalia. Ignis takes his place and Gladio buries himself in a book. The trip is quiet, and Ignis is the only one to answer Prompto the few times he turns around to share with the group an observation.
They collect a decent bounty that does little to improve Noctis’ mood and they retreat to the fields to set up camp.
Ignis doesn't feel like cooking so they have cup noodle for dinner. He's too busy thinking about Noctis’ wayward behavior and admiring the way Prompto looks in the firelight. Noctis is present but not talkative, and across the camp from him Gladio reads. Prompto sits beside the fire between them and engages the both of them in occasional conversation. Despite their moods, they don't seem to mind responding to Prompto’s need for attention, and Ignis is further charmed by the conscious and careful way Prompto seems to lift his companions’ moods when they're feeling down.
In the midst of an approaching nightfall, Prompto feels somewhat like a sun. The illusion further emboldened by the way the flames flicker over the planes of his face, making him appear shifting and shapeless against the darkness.
And then suddenly Ignis feels like there was a surprising wisdom about Noctis when he demanded they bring Prompto along and it causes a sudden trust to bloom through him, like there is something particular about this team that still gives them a chance to succeed.
“I have a headache,” Noctis grumbles. He stands and approaches Gladio, lays a hand on the back of his neck. Wordlessly, the two of them retreat to the tent. Prompto shrugs and watches them go and Ignis wonders if he realizes what he’s accomplished. He shifts seats to take the now unoccupied chair beside Ignis, smiling at him over his beer.
Maybe he knows exactly what he's doing.
As the days continue, they will have to combat Noctis’ urges to stray from the path. Gladio, at least, seems dedicated to the mission despite the development of their recent intimacies. Ignis is hopeful that perhaps their relationship will give Gladio the reasoning power Ignis does not have over the young King.
At this point in time, Ignis could not even think of the words to say to him. Every possible map of their path he can envision eventually plunges beneath thundering storm clouds and suffocating darkness in his mind. They stand on the pavement, and facing the road one direction offers sunset drenched landscapes and campfires beneath the stars, the other direction a future Ignis is all but blind to.
Some tactical advisor he is. So far gone from the Crown City, rid of ritual and routine, Ignis sometimes feels like another person entirely.
“Give it a rest,” Prompto says to him. “I can see your gears turning.”
Ignis faces him and they look at each other for a few silent moments. Prompto’s face is thoughtful and concerned where he studies him in the firelight.
“You're not going to find an answer tonight,” Prompto tells him. Ignis makes a noncommittal sound in his throat and looks back into the flames.
He lets Prompto distract him for the rest of the evening, chatting lightly about camera settings and the difference in light between a sun setting versus when it is rising. He leans over the arm of his folding chair, thrusting his camera into Ignis’ space as he flips through the photos. Ignis cannot focus on them, too preoccupied by Prompto’s face hovering mere inches from his.
They are finally forced into the city the next afternoon, when Noctis uses their last four potions in a particularly sloppy assault on a pack of Voretooths they aren't even being hired to kill. He bites his tongue on chastising his liege, grateful enough that Noctis has at least agreed to go into town and sell the bristles they’ve collected.
They acquire a room for the evening and have lunch at the cafe outside.
“I'm going to take a nap,” Noctis announces when he's finished, the rest of the men only halfway through their meals. He stands and walks back towards the hotel and Ignis watches him drag his hand along Gladio’s bicep as he goes. Gladio finishes his meal in a few more bites.
“Oughta check on him,” he says, excusing himself from the table.
“How come they're the sleepy ones when we’re the ones getting up to cook every day?” Prompto prods, and Ignis shakes his head at Prompto, unwilling to put words to the situation even with Prompto’s acknowledgement.
“I'm not tired,” Prompto announces, easily changing the subject. He gestures grandly at the bustling streets behind them. “Not with a new city to explore!”
“I’ve heard talk of an impressive farmer’s market,” Ignis agrees. “I'll join you on your exploration, if you'll have me.”
“It's a date!” Prompto declares.
Ignis leaves his jacket with the doorman.
Prompto is enthusiastic about his craft and Ignis finds it terribly endearing. They walk the entire perimeter of the city so he may shoot photos and Prompto reacts to every new view like it is better than the one before. Though Ignis does notice the poorly tended infrastructure and litter in the streets, it’s hard not to appreciate the city through Prompto’s eyes. Ignis is well-traveled, his education funded by the Crown from a young age; it is easy to feel jaded to new locale. But Prompto has spent his entire life behind the walls and his child-like wonderment at each new sight gives Ignis the unshakable desire to show him the world.
They pause in the shade of a building so Prompto can make space on his memory card and Ignis takes the opportunity to push his sleeves to his elbows, open a few buttons on his shirt so he may catch a breeze. Prompto deletes fewer photos every time he combs through the limited space of his collection. Prompto’s skill has already improved greatly in the month and change they’ve been on the road, and Ignis is confident about his ability to succeed on the career path, when they're all beyond this. He watches over his shoulder as Prompto flips through the camera roll, listens to the voice in the images, tries to read the story Prompto is trying to tell.
“When you snap a picture,” Prompto muses, “you get to, for a moment, freeze everything so that it's perfect. Keep it exactly the way it should be.”
He steps out of the shade and suddenly turns the lens on Ignis, snapping a photo before he can protest.
“When we look back, we’re just gonna see the good times, ya know?” he says, lowering the camera and looking at him.
“At least, I'm going to do my best to make it that way,” he adds a moment later.
Constantly shifting, ever-aware, Prompto lets the poignancy of his statement dissolve into a light-hearted grin.
“Come on,” he says brightly. “I don’t have enough photos of you in here. Let’s find a scene.”
Ignis follows along beside him. He has found himself inexplicably overwhelmed and unable to speak. Every time Prompto’s elbow bumps against his, Ignis’ heart jumps in his chest.
He is in the very process of admonishing himself for this crush, and he even finds the word difficult to think when Prompto speaks.
“This is it!” he says. “An attractive view, only made more attractive by a Good-lookin’ Guy!”
Ignis stares back at him for a moment before he manages to get into position.
“Smile, Guy!” Prompto cues, and Ignis finds himself capable of doing so.
Satisfied Prompto swings his camera onto his back and pats Ignis on the shoulder as he strides off. Ignis still isn’t used to the frequency he is being touched and he brings his own hand up to rest over the place where his hand had been.
“Alright,” Prompto says, glancing around the mouths of several alleyways before them. “Let’s go find that market. This city feels like a maze…”
Other than suggesting the center, Ignis is also lost to the location of the market, so he follows Prompto as they wind through the sultry alleyways. He feels like he’s been uncomfortably quiet for the duration of their excursion, but Prompto doesn’t seem to mind, filling the silence with a amiable chatter. Ignis is too lost in his thoughts to converse, considering things like attraction, and dates, and all of the possible negative outcomes of acting on the first desires for intimacy he’s felt in years.
And Prompto does nothing to help matters by being handsome and charming and he lets Ignis gaze right into his violet eyes until his smile grows too large and his round freckled cheeks squeeze them shut.
Eventually, they do find the market, the smell of cooking meat drawing them down the right path.
“Wow, exotic,” Prompto says, peering at the vegetables displayed on the first booth they stroll past.
“Actually, most of the things here would have been available in the Crown City,” Ignis says. “There are similar agricultural tendencies in this region.”
“Still new to me!” Prompto says, leaning forward to sniff a round fruit that Ignis tests for ripeness carefully in his grip. “Ate a lot of fast food back in Insomnia.” Prompto points at a stack of long yellow squash and Ignis adds a few to his basket. “Since my tastebuds met your cooking, you’ve opened a whole new world up to me, Iggy!”
Ignis smiles to himself while he pays the vendor. Prompto takes the basket from him, a silent offer to carry it while they peruse the next stand.
“It’s not like I wanted to eat fast food,” Prompto continues. “But I can’t cook. I’m worried you’ve spoiled me for when I don’t have you around all the time. Definitely gonna have to start running again.”
Ignis steals a few glances at Prompto’s profile, admire his jawline and the pale expanse of his neck where it disappears beneath the collar of his shirt. Prompto takes the free sample a vendor offers him, taking thoughtful bites from the kabob while he juggles Ignis’ purchases in his other arm.
“What is your favorite flavor?” Ignis asks him.
“Spicy!” Prompto answers him. “I like it melt your face off hot.”
“You must be enjoying the city then,” Ignis chuckles but, personally, he isn’t sure if the heat crowding his cheeks should be blamed on the steam stacks or his own snake in the grass attraction to the other man.
“Let’s gather some ingredients,” Ignis tells him. “Tomorrow at camp I’ll teach you how to cook something. Easy, healthy, spicy.”
“Okay!” Prompto beams at him.
Ignis lists aloud a recipe from memory and Prompto enthusiastically hunts out the ingredients. Even after they leave the market and begin to cross town to the Inn, Prompto continues to ask Ignis seemingly endless questions about when he learned to cook and what are his favorite types of dishes to prepare or what recipes he’s found challenging in the past. Ignis talks about himself for longer than he can ever remember and not once does Noctis’ name come up in the conversation. It is a surprise, because while cooking is a true passion of his, it evolved from the Prince’s need, and to spend the better part of an hour talking about his hobby without having to consider the His Highness’ preferences or particularities is incredibly satisfying event.
He looks at Prompto, and the effervescent presence finally seems to be winding down, yawning into his shoulder as he carries bags of groceries back to the hotel. Prompto smiles at him when he catches him looking.
Ignis notes with reluctant surprise that all of his favorite moments on this catastrophic trip circle around not his brothers, but the sunny tagalong whose attendance Ignis had originally argued against.
He will admit that he had been wrong.
Ignis comes to a stop beside a large fountain. The sunset reflects in the water and Prompto seizes the opportunity to capture it, setting their purchases on the ledge so he may reach for his camera. Ignis watches him fondly while he contorts to seek the right angle, and does not rush the artist at work.
“Prompto,” Ignis says when he is finished.
“Huh?” Prompto asks, still admiring the fountain before him.
This time it is Ignis that lay a hand on Prompto’s shoulder. The shorter man turns to smile up at him. For the first time in over a month, Ignis feels like he’s starting to come back together where his composure has cracked and while Ignis still hasn’t decided if Prompto knows what he’s doing, Prompto is the one to thank.
“I had a good time today,” Ignis tells him.
“Me too,” Prompto agrees and he brings his hand up to rest over Ignis’ on his shoulder. His touch burns where their skin makes contact and once again, Ignis sees Prompto as the sun, reflected back on the water as the city slips into to dusk.
Despite the heat and humid air, Ignis finds himself drawn into his warmth. Ignis leans down and presses their lips together.
Prompto yelps and scrambles backwards, a hand clamped over his mouth. His eyes are wide and shocked where they stare back at Ignis from over his fingers. Prompto stumbles on the edge of the fountain and Ignis has to grab him by the upper arm to keep him from tipping backwards into the water.
“I-- I--” he stammers, withdrawing himself from Ignis’ grip. “Shit, I don’t--.”
The words do not come. Prompto’s mouth hangs open and he shakes his head in the absence of explanation. Quickly, Prompto gathers the bag of groceries against his chest, turns heel, and runs. Ignis stands stunned in place, the memory of Prompto’s soft lips still a tangible sensation on his.
With horror, Ignis realizes he had been wrong.
The attention, the touches, conversation.
He had been wrong.
Compliments, eye contact, toothy grins.
He had been wrong.
Mortification pumps through his veins, sour and toxic as he watches Prompto disappear from view.
He had misinterpreted friendship for something that it was not, something that should never be. In this moment, Ignis knows for certain that they truly have fallen from the path, Altissia is nothing more than a misty suggestion in the future, and Ignis let the concept of Gladio and Noctis taking ownership of their desires get to his head.
Ignis lets out a shaky sigh. He is not a King, nor is he his bound Shield. Nor is he a free man with free will. Amongst the chaos of tragedy, he simply forgot.
Too ashamed to return to the room, Ignis paces Lestallum into the early hours of the following day. The city does not sleep, and it is easy to blend into crowds of people as he aimlessly wanders. He allows himself to think of nothing but his King and the oaths they’ve taken and he spends the starless night devising hazy plans to move forward despite the unknowns.
It is nearly three a.m. when Ignis drags himself to the hotel room. Prompto and Noctis are asleep in the same bed, and Ignis isn’t sure if the change to sleeping arrangements are his fault, or Gladio’s. The sight of Prompto brings back the self-loathing he had spent the last several hours tamping down and Ignis lays on top of the bedspread without getting undressed, knowing sleep will not come.
For three days, Ignis avoids Prompto. It is surprisingly doable, simply directing his instruction towards either of the two remaining men. Prompto remains quiet and lingers on the edge of the group, occupying himself with his camera and avoiding Ignis’ eyes. Time, he decides, is the only thing that will cure him of his mortification and so he does his best to ignore Prompto’s presence until they both manage to forget about the entire incident.
They hit the land after a night in the city and Prompto and Noctis keep to themselves, playing aggressive rounds of King’s Knight or wandering away to take pictures. Gladio helps Ignis prepare dinner when he notices Prompto isn’t.
On the other side of the fire, Noctis swears loudly and chucks his phone skittering across the ground in disgust.
“Not fair!” he groans. “It’s rigged.”
“It’s totally fair,” Prompto laughs, fetching his phone and checking it for damage before handing it back to his friend. “Try to chill out man, you’re overthinking it.”
Gladio sighs audibly.
“What am I going to do with him?” the Shield bemoans.
“I can’t have this conversation right now,” Ignis tells him and Gladio turns his curious face towards Ignis while the Advisor busies himself on the chopping board.
The tension amongst the group is palpable on their hunt the following day. No one can agree on the approach or order of strikes. Eventually, they break into groups of two, Ignis and Gladio swinging blades on the front lines, with Noctis and Prompto launching their assaults from atop boulders and stone overhangs. They fight poorly, and the battles are longer and more expensive than they should be, but he’s afraid to suggest they stop hunting for the day, lest they turn their weapons on each other. Noctis spits vitriol whenever his companions miss and he baits Gladio into repeated shouting matches. Prompto fusses quietly with his guns, stone-faced and quiet in moments where his optimism is desperately needed.
This is why, Ignis thinks with despair, you don’t kiss within the Crownsguard.
By the early afternoon, they give up and return to make early camp. The four men do their best to avoid each other, and several peaceful hours pass wherein Ignis sees no one. Still, he cannot entertain himself with the new volume of his cookbook, the idea of meal preparation somehow reminding him equally of Noctis and Prompto, so he walks slow and careful spirals away from and back to the haven, combing the land for edible flora. Longing for distraction, Ignis finds himself repeating aloud several of the oaths to the Crown he had memorized as a teenager, the flowery language permanently burnt into his mind.
When he returns to camp, Ignis is surprised to see Gladio and Noctis sitting beside each other. Noctis has started a fire, and he pokes at it with a stick. A novel lay open across Gladio’s lap, but he speaks to the King, his words lost behind the crackle of kindling. They look stable enough and so mechanically, Ignis takes his place in the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Ignis so doesn’t expect Prompto’s company in the kitchen that his greeting causes Ignis to jump, and he sighs, pressing a hand to his chest as his heart knocks back against it.
“Sorry…” Prompto says, wincing. He looks at Ignis through his eyelashes, his face pointed towards the ground. Ignis tries his best to avoid looking at him, but despite the pain of rejection, it’s a losing battle.
“Can we uh, talk… before you start cooking?”
Ignis sighs. He preferred the idea of just waiting out the awkwardness, but he supposes with Noctis and Gladio’s current volatility, it is the smarter decision to have this discussion with Prompto now so they can put their tension behind them as quickly as possible. Prompto fidgets with his clothes while Ignis sets down his cooking implements and covers the food he laid out on the table.
He follows Prompto away from the kitchen. They don’t go far. At the edge of the protected haven, Prompto suddenly wheels on him, no more than a foot between their bodies when Ignis has to stop short. Prompto looks up at him and, very slowly, places his hand on Ignis’ shoulder. Ignis searches his violet eyes and thinks he can see his own image reflected back in them.
“Can I kiss you?” Prompto asks.
Prompto looks stunned, like he had been so certain Ignis would say yes. His hand falls away from his shoulder and he takes a step backwards.
“I-I… I want to, man…”
“You didn’t want to three days ago,” Ignis says matter of factly, still defensive.
Prompto looks down at his feet while he shuffles, bringing a hand up to fidget with the hair at the back of his own neck. Even now, he is the same gently burning sun, formless and constantly shifting before Ignis’ eyes, and as much as he does want to kiss him, there’s information he needs to gather before he’ll open himself up to further humiliation.
“I just hadn’t considered it! Not even just… with a man but like…I mean that too, I always sorta thought boys were cute but I never-- well it’s not just that, it’s more like I-I never considered myself an… option. So, you kissed me and I panicked! I thought somehow… I’d made a mistake! I don’t know, that sounds stupid.”
“What do you mean, you didn’t consider yourself an option?” Ignis asks, trying to decipher his distress.
Prompto looks up at him then, and his eyes are ruby rimmed and brimming with tears. He scrubs at them, but it is fruitless and only makes him appear more upset.
“I never thought anyone would,” he pauses, hesitant, “want me.”
It doesn’t make a lot of sense, Prompto’s logic is practically backwards, but Ignis feels a shred of relief at the idea that Prompto’s jumbled signals are just as confusing to their owner as they are to him. Prompto is a particularly complicated person for Ignis to have feelings for, but Ignis does enjoy the satisfaction of solving puzzles. He sighs, digging an unused handkerchief from his pocket and handing it to Prompto, who studies it for a moment and then gently presses the material against his eyes.
“So, why now? After three days of ignoring me.”
“You were ignoring me!” Prompto says into his hands, not removing the napkin from his face.
“I was hurt,” Ignis tells him.
Prompto sighs and lowers his hands then, frowning at Ignis.
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I just had to figure out my shit.”
Ignis laughs once and bites his tongue. He folds his arms over his chest, but he does find himself smiling softly back at Prompto. It is incredibly hard to hold a grudge against him.
“Well, I talked to Noct a bit ago and he said--”
“You told Noctis?” Ignis asks in horror, his eyes wide, the grudge instantly returned.
“O-of course I told him!” Prompto stammers in surprise. “I couldn’t keep it in anymore. He’s my best friend! Of course I was going to tell him about my first kiss!”
“Your first kiss,” Ignis repeats a little dizzily, and then with embarrassment he admits “I misread the situation” and then a little bitterly he points out, “you called it a date” and then finally he sighs, resigned, “His Highness didn’t need to know.”
“He wasn’t mad or anything!” Prompto assures him and then a moment later, almost to himself, Prompto says, “if anything he seemed… sorta pleased? Anyway he and Gladio said--”
Prompto shrinks slightly.
“He was nearby, I guess. I didn’t know… but he heard us talking and barged in to give me his two-cents.”
“Which were?” Ignis asks sharply, agitated deeply by the idea of the three men speaking about him behind his back, feeling embarrassed and targeted and overall displeased with the whole situation. His eyes skip back towards camp, and he finds both Gladio and Noctis sharply looking away from him, caught.
“That if I didn’t want you, that you’d be okay, and if I did want you, that I should show you.”
Ignis hums to himself, not sure how interested he is in taking romantic advice from a man that chose to sleep with his employ. He looks down at his own hands and tugs at the wrist of one glove, seeking the sensation of his fingers settling snugly in their sleeves.
“He also said,” Prompto continues, “that we deserve to be happy.”
That makes Ignis face him and Prompto stares back, still fussing with the handkerchief in his hands, rocking from foot to foot. His eye skip over Ignis’ face before settling on his lips. Ignis tries to consider the notion of happiness amongst all of this turmoil and destiny and the same brief feeling settles over him that he felt when he had decided to kiss him the first time-- in a life where every step had been, and must continue to be, carefully decided, Prompto would perhaps be the one thing he’d misstep for. And for Gladio, a man who will most certainly sacrifice his life for their liege one day, for Gladio to suggest that they all deserve a chance to be happy, before this is all over…
“Can I kiss you?” Prompto asks again. His voice is soft and uncertain, but he also sounds a little exasperated, like he knows as well as Ignis does that they both want to.
With one step, Ignis closes the distance between them. He takes Prompto’s face in his hands and kisses him. Their lips slot together, soft and unfamiliar for several wonderful seconds before a wolf-whistle breaks through the air.
They both turn to face camp. Gladio is laughing, his fingers still poised by his mouth when Noctis shouts, “get a room!”
Ignis rolls his eyes and grabs Prompto’s thin wrist.
“Come on,” he says.
He drags Prompto off of the rock base so they may be granted a little privacy beneath the haven walls.
“I suppose it makes sense,” Ignis muses, “that they’d want us paired off.”
“What?” Prompto asks, looking dazed. A moment later, clarity graces his face and his eyes go wide as he gasps, “Ohhh! Wow. Huh, yeah. Makes sense. They aren’t exactly hiding it,” he says, suddenly able to see what he’d been looking past.
Ignis cannot help but laugh. It seems that perhaps, Prompto has been less aware than Ignis had assumed all this time. He doesn’t think any less of him for it. Ignis is beginning to understand that Prompto is disconnected from the own ability to see his value, despite how apparent it is to the rest of them that Prompto is a necessary member in their group.
If anything, the fact that Prompto’s talent for cultivating happiness seems to be a natural impulse instead of a learned practice heartens Ignis further. Prompto, bold and bright, who warms and nurtures the group, Prompto, who demands attention and roars where he burns but still feels alone hanging in his sky, Prompto, who is emotion and energy and so many of the things Ignis himself is lacking, Prompto, who might just be the fire his name had promised he would one day find.
It is the only logical next step, so Ignis kisses him again.
This time, Prompto brings his hands up to lay on Ignis’ waist and he tilts his head to curiously open his mouth against Ignis’. At his request, Ignis kisses him deeper. Between their bodies, Ignis fumbles out of his gloves so that this time, when he cradles Prompto’s face in his hands, he can feel his warm cheeks against the bare skin of his palms. Prompto pushes up on his toes and Ignis gasps against him when Prompto boldly presses his tongue between his teeth.
They kiss for a long time, deep and slow and Ignis does his best to memorize his taste, sweet and faintly minty. Promptos hands are still on him but he presses firmly, his fingers bunching the slippery material of his shirt. Ignis lets his hands slide gently down Prompto’s face, the sides of his neck and over his shoulders, so he may wrap his arms around him and pull him closer.
The sensation of their hips and stomachs pressed together surprises both of them, and they have to break the kiss to catch their breath, looking back at each other as night fully engulfs the landscape.
“Wow,” Prompto says after a moment. “I like kissing you.”
At his declaration, Ignis softens into a relief so all-encompassing, he only now realizes how torn up he’d been over the idea of losing Prompto’s affections. He brushes a piece of blonde hair from his forehead and watches his eyes fall shut.
“It feels good to be touched,” he says without opening them.
“Indeed,” Ignis concurs, Prompto’s hands still laying on his waist, holding onto him. And then, softer, he says, “yes, yes it does.”
From above them, a royal decree.
“I’m getting hungry!”
Prompto smiles, patting his hands on Ignis but seemingly unready to let go, his eyes locked on the place where their bodies make contact.
“Come on,” Prompto says, “you said you’d teach me how to cook.”
Ignis pointedly bans both Gladio and Noctis from the kitchen, and Prompto is an ideal student while they roast chili peppers and grill the t-bone steaks they harvested earlier in the day. For a side they prepare the squash that had caught Prompto’s eye in Lestallum. Prompto tells Ignis three days worth of bottled-up observations and thrice Ignis has to bite back laughter when he impersonates their young King’s recent tantrums. Towards the end of cooking, Ignis is able to simply stand and watch, Prompto competently flipping the steaks and dressing them with the spicy glaze Ignis specifically prepared for him.
Around the fire, the group of men sit in two pairs and Prompto passes out the food. Ignis studies the group and ponders their curious situation. There should be some ground rules, at least, but overall Ignis expects it to be a positive change.
The steak is melt your face off hot, and Ignis knows immediately it is too spicy when he starts coughing after his first bite. Noctis yelps.
“I can’t eat this shit!” he whines, dragging his tongue over the back of his hand in an attempt to stop the burning.
“It is a little hot, guys,” Gladio agrees, making a face while he throws back his beer.
Prompto shrugs, smiling sideways at Ignis.
“Just the way I like it," Prompto grins. "Think of it as payback for keeping secrets."
Noctis and Gladio make instant noodles and Ignis and Prompto eat twice their share.
“That was too much food,” Prompto moans, carrying their dishes to the wash basin.
“We’ll go for a run in the morning,” Ignis promises him.
There is no knowing what darkness tomorrow may bring, but for now, Ignis can’t help but find comfort in the promise of his own never-setting sun.