Ignis Scientia slid his fingers against the counter, letting hmself thumb a circle around the coffee mug ring that long ago worked its way into the wood. He pulled the rag out of his apron, carefully running it over the spot, but nothing happened.
He looked around the empty shop for a moment, at the black stormclouds out the window, before sighing and slapping the rag down. There was absolutely nothing short of divine retribution that was going to get the rings out of the wood, and Ignis knew better than to get into a battle he would sorely lose.
Instead, Ignis reached out to grab two glasses. Cold coffee sloshed up and onto his hands, but he didn't mind. It was hardly the worst thing that Ignis had felt that day.
The man shuddered as he remembered the feeling of squishy dead mouse between his fingers. Even though he had kept the pink latex cleaning gloves on, he couldn't quite forget the scene he had found that morning.
Of course, it was his own damn fault, Ignis knew. He had chosen the spot for Memory Lane in Block B of Lower Insomnia mostly for its friendly, homely atmosphere and its family-orientated clientele. It was the perfect place for a cafe, especially for the price.
Well. Maybe not, especially considering the mice that found themselves crawling through the crevices in the floor and through the electrical wiring. It was absolutely nothing like the sleek strip malls closer to Block A or D, where all those who had money to burn found themselves walking around, tossing money at terrible cups of coffee with that bloody Chocobucks insignia on the front.
It wasn't even coffee; it was a sin against nature and all that was holy. But... Chocobucks could definitely afford a mouse-free space.
Ignis... Ignis was lucky he could make the rent, even on a good month.
If he were honest with himself though, he wouldn't have changed it for the world. Well, maybe he wished that he had beaten out Lunafreya for the coveted corner shop on the main street, though she certainly made sure to bring lovely bouquets of flowers for Memory Lane in exchange for a cup or two of Ignis's coffee.
Still, being on the downturn meant that sometimes the mice found their way into the shop, and... well...
What could Ignis do? Other than laying out mouse traps and hoping that if he killed enough of them they would recognize his cafe as a place of death, Ignis was all but at his wits end.
Ignis sighed as he looked out the window of the shop, the consistent pitter patter of the rain against the glass, shutters blowing faintly against the side of the cafe bringing him little peace of mind. Of course, the storm meant that there would be no customers, but it also meant that Ignis could close down the shop with little fanfare. He could lock up and make another batch of his mother's long lost Tenebraen tarts, and Ignis would make more notes in the small red book for a recipe he could only remember in his dreams.
They never were quite right...
Ignis rinsed out the glasses and set them to dry on the rack, reaching over to grab the clean dishcloth from the wall.
The crack of thunder made Ignis wince, but thankfully it was gone in just a moment. The light still flashed in his eye, like a half-developed photograph.
Yes, he was certain. There was no way he was going to get any more customers. It wouldn't be a bad night to clock out early, and being his own boss was certainly a plus in that department. All he had to do was lock the door, hang the little sign saying, "Closed" and that was that.
Ignis looked around the shop, to the freshly-cut flowers in the vases, the mix-matched chairs and decorative pillows, even the absolutely bizarre pottery that Ignis would never admit to having made in his university days, long before thoughts of making a cafe fully came to fruition in his mind. Bookshelves and coffee tables were littered with books on the histories of Insomnia, the Wall, the fables his mother taught him of the King of Kings so many millennia ago.
And the walls...
The walls were decorated with pictures of places beyond Insomnia, places that Ignis could barely think about outside of his books, but his friend Prompto had found himself trekking through for his wildlife magazine.
Of course, Ignis regretted not accompanying his friend, but it was best to stay. Ignis never felt very comfortable with leaving the city, especially after the accident, and places like Ravatogh and Duscae were harsh enough even for someone like Prompto, let alone himself. His eye would have slowed them down, maybe even gotten them hurt... or worse.
Ignis couldn't help but reach up to his left eye, running his fingers across the scar. His sight had been saved in his right eye, but his left eye... Well, he was lucky to keep it, even though it stayed shut most of the time.
Ignis could count his blessings where they were, and having one good eye was better than none at all.
So, he stayed. He stayed in Insomnia and cooked and made coffee after coffee as his best friend went around the world, meeting new people and seeing new things.
But Ignis was okay with that; he wanted the quiet life that Block B brought, with his little cafe with the rickety windows. Even the mice were tolerable, albeit only so.
Ignis turned back to the kitchen, reaching for the recipe book he kept there, when a slight chime from the front door pulled away his attention. The gust of freezing-cold air rushed through the shop and Ignis had to bite back a wince as the hollering from the storm intensified for a moment before the door closed again.
The man standing in front of the door was more like a drowned rat than a person. Soaked through to the bone, from head to foot, he must have been fighting against the storm for a fair amount of time. He breath came in pants, accentuated by the sound of shivering and sneezing. The black sweatshirt was soaked through, and what once would have hidden his sleight body only accentuated his thinness. In fact, the only thing that gave away his gender was his shivering face behind sopping-wet black hair.
"Are you quite alright?" Ignis grabbed the rag from the table and walked over to the man. He reached out to hand the small towel to him.
The man reached out with shaking hands and accepted the towel.
"I... I'm sorry. M—my cat..."
Ignis looked expectantly at the man, who had yet to look up.
"Was your cat lost in the storm?"
The man nodded and wiped his face with the towel, pushing back his hood with the other hand. Now that Ignis could get a better look at him, the man looked... familiar.
Very familiar, though Ignis was not sure where he knew the face from. It was a similar feeling to the way that he felt when he first met Prompto in university, or how he felt when Lunafreya and her older brother introduced themselves for the first time when he moved in. It was even similar to the way Ignis felt when Gladio, the guy who owned the tattoo parlor down the road, came in to get whatever monstrosity of diabetes-laced mocha he could get his mitts on.
There was something else to it, and Ignis could not quite put it to words, but when his eye met the man's blue one, he felt something deep inside his stomach. It was... it was...
The man moved back a bit, and Ignis realized that it must have been the scars; a lot of people were quite unsettled by them, at first.
Ignis blinked for a moment before realizing—oh. The cat. Right.
"Well, I'm sure if your cat has any self-preservation instincts, it has found its way into a dry, warm place by now."
Ignis looked at the man, at the little beauty mark on his chin, at his red nose and near-blue lips, and the way he was dripping half the storm onto the wooden floors and the throw-rug in front of the door.
"She, then," Ignis acquiesced.
"And she hasn't got any self-preservation instincts. She jumped out the window this morning. Just... flew out, hit the ground, and ran. She's been that way all her life."
"Where did you manage to find such an animal?"
"She tried to attack the gardener's lawn mower. I think she probably would have won, too. Ever since, Ardyn's been a pain in my ass."
Ignis had to bite down a laugh. "You... You named your cat after the Accursed?"
"No, I named her after the pain in the ass First King of Lucis, who I am sure would be less difficult than my cat. Probably."
For a moment Ignis stood there, looking at the man and his trembling lips and his dark hair, and then he laughed.
It felt good, it felt natural. It just... it felt right. Even standing there in the middle of his cafe with a man he didn't know (but didn't he? no...) dripping water into the floorboards, it was the first time that Ignis felt normal in—
A long time.
"Here, please. Come in. I can get you something to drink, maybe a bigger towel?"
The man with his blue eyes and familiar face looked around the cafe for a moment, then patted at his face against with the now-dripping towel. "Oh, man. You don't have to do that for me. I should keep looking for her. She'll probably get her head stuck in a pipe again.”
He shrugged and stepped forward to hand the towel back to Ignis. "Yeah. Like I said, King Ardyn the pain in the ass."
"I assume she does this fairly often?"
"You can say that again."
Ignis found himself wanting to continue questioning the wet man, to get him to tell a little more about the cat, to have a seat and to stay for a while.
"At least have a cup of coffee, wait until the worst of the storm is over." Ignis tossed the rag into the sink and hit a button on the coffee machine next to it. It came to life with a soft purr.
He leaned up against the wooden counter, looking over the man for a moment. "I'm sure she can't get herself into more trouble, and it wouldn't be courteous of me to let you leave half frozen."
"Um... I guess?"
"Then you can take off your shoes and I'll get you a towel. Give me just a moment? I live just up there."
If it were any other customer, Ignis never would have talked so openly about himself, about how he lived just above the cafe. He never would have invited another person into the shop after deciding to close for the day, and he certainly wouldn't have been digging out towels and a simple t-shirt and pair of sweatpants from his drawer.
But the man, the one whose name he didn't know and yet felt like he did, was simply there and Ignis was loathe to admit that there was something peculiar about the feeling in his stomach.
He didn't particularly enjoy the sensation, but...
It felt, oddly enough, right.
"Here," Ignis said when he returned from his upper apartment, handing the towel and the clothes to the man. "They may be a little large, but they should work for now. You can change in the bathroom over there. There should also be some plastic bags for your wet clothing under the sink."
"Um, look. This is really nice of you, but you really don't have to do this for me—"
Ignis waved it off. "You're dripping all over my floor, and I am sure King Ardyn would be distraught to know that her human has caught a cold due to her behavior."
"She'd probably just choke a hairball on me," he grumbled, causing Ignis to smile again.
"Perhaps. But it is best not to find out."
I just want these boys to be happy.
Ignis turned to the coffee pot, happy to see that it was full to the brim with steaming coffee, and he took great care to pull down two of the mugs, filling his own up to near the lip, while leaving the other man's only halfway-full. He seemed more of a white coffee type of guy, and Ignis was quick to pull out the whole milk and pot of sugar syrup, laying them out on the table next to the cup.
There was a slight sound as the door to the bathroom opened and Ignis couldn't help but quickly glance up.
Ignis was right that the clothes were a little larger than what may have been comfortable, but the man didn't seem to mind. He had the towel wrapped around his shoulders, stopping the rainwater from his head from dotting his now dried clothes.
The man.... the man was wearing his clothes and Ignis didn't even know his name.
"Ah, you can put your clothes over there by the door."
The man nodded and gently placed the clothes near the umbrella stand.
"I'm Ignis, by the way." He busied his hands with adding a spoonful of natural sugar to his coffee. He didn't want the man to spend too much time looking at him, if he were honest with himself. And he certainly didn't want to be caught sneaking looks at the stranger.
"Uh, Noctis. And really, thank you for the, uh," he gestured to his shirt, "clothes."
"My pleasure. Please, make yourself at home. There's a cup of coffee there, though if you prefer something else I'm sure I could manage."
Noctis nodded his head, "No, no. coffee sounds fine."
Some of the blue of his lips was already beginning to fade, though Ignis could still see his hands shivering.
"It'll warm you up, at least."
"Yeah. Really, thanks. This is way more than you needed to do."
And Ignis knew that was true, and he was pretty sure that had it been anyone else that came into his doors at closing, he probably would have locked them out and tapped on the closed sign. But there was something about Noctis and his cat named after a long ago king that made Ignis want to help.
It certainly wasn't because the man was attractive, even when he looked like a drowned rat.
"It's my pleasure, I assure you."
Ignis finally managed to get the computer from under the counter out, fiddling with the touchpad for a moment to wake it. "I don't think the storm was supposed to last long," Ignis told Noctis.
"I dunno, I kinda just ran after her. I didn't realize she could get so far so fast."
"How far, exactly?" Ignis asked as he entered his password and waited for his Mooglebook to load up.
"I live over in Block A."
"That is quite a feat."
Noctis hummed. "Especially since she's only a few months old."
Ignis looked to to Noctis's face, glad to see that the cup was clutched between both his hands as he leaned forward onto the countertop. "That is quite young. I do hope that you are able to find her."
"I saw her come toward this street. But..." Noctis raised the cup to his lips, resting it there for a moment.
Ignis looked up from the computer screen, feeling Noctis's eyes on him. "But?"
"She turned around the corner and was just... gone."
Ignis could see that there were small lines drawn around Noctis's mouth, his eyes downcast, as though his coffee would be able to tell him the fate of his beloved cat.
"I'm sure she's fine. There are many small roads and tunnels around here and no predatory animals. Perhaps she even wandered into one of the cellars. I'm sure she'll wander up after the storm, none the worse for wear."
Noctis scrunched his face. "It's my fault. I should have shut the window. Or taken her out for a little while. Ardyn gets bitchy when she's cooped up."
Ignis could only imagine what it must have been like in Block A, surrounded by all of the high-rise buildings and constant traffic. Even the King's Palace, the one that stood for nearly five millennia as a testament of Insomnia's strength and perseverance, could be imposing for such a small animal.
"I'm certain it is not your fault. These things happen."
Noctis made a small sound, one that Ignis was not sure was affirmation or denial, before lifting the coffee mug to his forehead.
"Yeah... I guess."
Ignis had to pull his gaze away from the man and back to his computer. "They say the storm should be passing within the next hour. You can stay until then.
"I assure you, it's fine. And I haven't had many customers today."
Noctis smiled at him in that moment, and Ignis felt that bizarre tugging deep inside of him, but he pushed it away.
He was being absolutely ridiculous, that much he knew.
Absolutely, undeniably ridiculous. This entire thing.... this was Ignis just being silly.
Because of that, he tried to hide the occasional glimpse he sent to the man in his clothes, drinking his coffee from his cup. He also tried to deny how right it felt in that moment, like it hadn't since...
Ignis couldn't remember a time before that moment that felt right, that felt like things had clicked perfectly into place. He wasn't a big believer in fate or coincidence, but Noctis wandering into his shop felt as natural as breathing.
That feeling ate away at his nerves, and it made it easier to smile when he caught Noctis's gaze when the man had been staring for just a moment too long.
"Uh, thank you. For the coffee. It's really good."
"Glad to hear, Noct."
Noctis blinked at him, once, twice, before smiling.
And as naturally as breathing, Noctis replied, "Noct, huh? Well, okay, Specs."
Ignis lifted his hands to his face, as though he were expecting glasses to sit on the bridge of his nose, but there was nothing there. The feeling, though... The feeling remained, like a slight weight against his skin.
Noctis shrugged and took another gulp of his coffee. "Felt right."
Yes, Ignis realized. It did.
"I really should get going.... but maybe I can wait until the storm stops."
"Yes, it would be dreadful for you to soak through another set of clothes."
There was something in the way the man spoke, how he smiled, in the way he sat there swishing his coffee mug around after the first, then second, and then third cup. Ignis wanted to say that it was something in what they talked about that seemed to open the treasure trove of knowledge about the man sitting at his counter, wearing his clothes and drinking his coffee.
And he certainly had learned a lot in the time that Noctis had sat there, slowly drinking his coffee as the storm passed outside. He spoke of how his father was involved with the government, how his mother liked baking, and about how he had grown up in a loving, albeit weird, family. When Ignis inquired, Noctis only shrugged his shoulders. "It's a long, complicated story. There's drama and political intrigue, but mostly people having sex with people they shouldn't be having sex with. How about you?"
Ignis had opened up about his childhood shuttled between Tenebrae and Insomnia, his parents' death when he was a teenager.... but he didn't open up about the car accident, not really. He barely even spoke to Prompto about it, but his best friend had always been understanding that his silence was there for a reason. Sometimes... Sometimes it was harder to think of the past than stare into the present.
Even looking forward to the future could give Ignis a headache, and he tried to avoid it whenever possible.
"You can ask, if you'd like."
Noctis had hummed, cocking his head to the side. Ignis waited for a question about his eye, about what had happened, but instead he simply asked, "So, your mom is the one who gave you the recipe?"
The question wasn't what he was expecting, and Ignis had to look down at the little tarts that were cooling on the rack, the crusts perfectly crisp on the top, a light golden brown that reminded Ignis of times long passed. There was just a dash of confectioners sugar sprinkled on top, reminding Ignis of snow across the fields of his childhood.
"Well, yes. But you have no other questions?"
Noctis raised his eyebrow. "Well, I guess I was gunna ask if I could have one. They look really good."
Ignis was used to the questions and the comments about his eye. How much could he see? How had it happened? Was it with his parents when they died? There was always the rubbernecking over someone else's tragedy, and no matter how handsome Noctis was, with his hair that had gradually fluffed out like chocobo feathers every which way and his blue eyes that spoke to part of Ignis he hadn't ever really understood, he was still a person.
He was used to it.
Ignis nodded his head, barely so, and waited for another question.
But the questions never came. Instead, Noctis leaned forward and snagged the nearest tart, happily shoving it into his mouth. A little of the berries and chocolate gushed out and over his mouth, making its way down his chin.
Noctis looked absolutely ridiculous, and it was hard for Ignis to not smile. He had to resist the urge to lean forward and wipe away the mess.... which was a peculiar feeling.
Ignis had his share of lovers, of one night stands, of people who found his conversation intellectually stimulating enough that they forgot for a short while about his eye. And, with the lights off, Ignis knew that his skin felt just the same as any other man. But they would always leave in the morning with a half-hearted farewell, and Ignis was always left with that open feeling in his chest where he knew someone fit, but they weren't there. Not yet, anyway.
Maybe he wasn't meant to have a love, one that people wrote about in books and devoted their lives to explaining in song.
But the way Noctis closed his eyes and savored the taste of Ignis's pastries, licking the chocolate and berries that ended up on his chin....
Ignis busied his hands, grabbing one of the pastries for himself before Noctis looked back at him.
"Holy shit, Ignis. There are really, really good."
Ignis lifted the pastry to his lips and took an experimental bite, looking down at his teeth marks imprinted into the cake.
He waited a moment, chewing thoughtfully, before putting the tart back down on the cooking rack, taking out his pen from his apron.
"Not quite right. It just... there's something missing. Coconut, maybe?"
Noctis made a coughing sound and Ignis quickly looked up, worry pulling at his mouth. "Are you quite all right?"
"These are the best snacks I've ever tasted, and you're standing here telling me they aren't right?"
Ignis felt a hotness at the tips of his ears. "Well, I'm trying to recreate my mother's recipe. Unfortunately, it was something passed down from generation to generation. She never wrote it down, so... I'm trying to do it from memory."
And he was absolutely pants at it, if Ignis was honest with himself. But still, seeing the earnest look from Noctis as he shoved another bite into his mouth was flattering all the same.
"You're crazy. These are so good."
Ignis reached down and grabbed another, then turned to pull a plate from behind him. He placed the second one in front of Noctis. "Well, then.... I'm sure another couldn't hurt."
Ignis couldn't help but watch Noctis again, but this time as Noctis went in for another bite, the front door to the cafe opened, a half-closed umbrella nearly catching on the window sill.
"Holy Hells, I thought I was gunna die," Prompto exclaimed as he knocked his umbrella against the floor before slotting it into the umbrella stand. "I got some really cool pics, but that storm's not gunna be giving up anytime soon. Nearly drowned my camera, Iggs—"
Prompto blinked from his place in the dooryard, his rainboots dripping in a steady rhythm. "Oh. My bad. You got a customer! In this rain?"
Noctis wiped the crumbs off with the back of his hand and Ignis realized, belatedly, that his face had gone a bit pale. "Uh. Sorry. Yeah. Storm."
"Nah, totally okay, man. It's killer out there. Better you in here than out there; it's raining cats and dogs. I'm gunna go take a shower. Storms get into your bones and all that." Prompto pulled off his rainboots, leaving them haphazardly against the door before lifting up his arms and stretching slightly before turning to Ignis's tarts.
He snatched one from the rack as he quickly gave Noctis a pat on the shoulder, then turned and ran up the stairs, two at a time.
"Apologies for him. I'm lucky he's housebroken, albeit lacking basic table manners."
Noctis's mouth pulled tight and he dropped the tart against the plate. "Uh, boyfriend?"
Ignis could see it in the way that Noctis's words seemed so much quieter than before Prompto had interrupted.
He had to hide the snort.
"Prompto? Oh, hardly. We've been friends since university. Anyone who would date him would be driven mad within a fortnight. Living with him has its perks, though—never have to set an alarm, as he's up at unholy times in the morning."
"Early chocobo catches the worm!" Prompto hollered from above, then there was the tell-tale slam of the bathroom door and the jingle of the lock before the sound of the hissing water pipes.
Noctis's face seemed to relax, and Ignis could feel his heart pulsing in his chest.
"Seems like a nice guy."
"Until he begins snoring. I keep telling him he should sound-proof his room. Alas," Ignis said with a soft sigh, and was rewarded with a real smile.
Noctis rubbed his fingers together before looking out the window. "Well, he was right. It doesn't look like the storm is gunna let up. I really should keep looking for her."
What Ignis wanted to say was that Noctis was welcome to stay the night at his apartment, but that was even too forward to himself. Of course, there was also the reminder that Noctis had come looking for his cat, even though he had been side-tracked.
"Perhaps it would be best for you to go home. Animals have an acute sense of home. Your King Ardyn is likely to turn up there."
Noctis looked for a moment as though he would deny it, but then he only gave a brief nod before standing. "I didn't bring my wallet—"
Ignis waved his hand. "The shop was already closed when you came in. Consider it a gift for the young man who cares for the Accursed in feline form."
Noctis smiled and then tucked his head down for a moment.
Ignis turned and tried to steady his nerves as he reached out and grabbed one of the nearby business cards and a pen from the misshapen moogle mug he tried to make back in university. He quickly jotted down his personal number on the back of the card before handing it over to Noctis.
"So you can update me on the whereabouts of your cat," Ignis said, though he was sure his shaking hand betrayed him.
Noctis looked at the back where Ignis had delicately scrawled his number then to the front. He seemed to be thinking of something as he bit down on his bottom lip, before putting the card in his pocket. He quickly reached down to grab the pen, and then Ignis's hand.
The touch sent a jolt through both men, and Ignis had to remind himself to breathe as Noctis quickly pressed the ball-point pen onto his palm. It was amazing what the zap felt like when Noctis's fingers touched his skin.
Ignis couldn't get enough of it.
The pen skipped and Noctis winced. "Uh. If you see my cat." He went over the 9 again. "You can... yeah. You can call me. Yeah. Um. Ignis. And to get your clothes back."
Noctis let go of Ignis's hand and tucked the pen behind his ear for a moment before pulling it back and slamming it on the counter. "Don't want to take that."
Ignis wanted to tell him that he was more than welcome to take all the pens he wanted, but he could see the red already high up on Noctis's cheeks. The last thing he wanted to do was scare away the man.
"You can use Prompto's umbrella, if you'd like. And don't forget your clothes."
Noctis swallowed and nodded his head as he took the umbrella and slipped his shoes back on, sliding from one foot to the other as he stared down the door. He reached down and grabbed the plastic bag of his clothes
Ignis had to resist the urge against to ask him to stay when Noctis lifted his hand to the door. He knew it wouldn't have been appropriate, though.
Noctis turned and smiled again, and Ignis couldn't help but return it.
"Thank you, Ignis."
"You're welcome, Noctis."
And just like that, Noctis was gone.
Ignis didn't bother to do the dishes, instead sitting them in the sink to do in the morning. He was careful not to rub his hand on anything, and when he arrived to his bedroom he was quick to shut and lock the door. Ignis held his hand out, staring down at the little numbers as though they were a lifeline and he were drowning.
By the gods, he was ridiculous, but... There was definitely something there, something that Ignis didn't know the name to but felt like a jolt through every bit of him.
He quickly jotted down the number and then, just to be sure, saved the number into his phone. Just for good measure.
It was unlikely that he would ever see Noctis again, but if nothing else... that night would stay with Ignis, the unknown comfortable way they had come together was something Ignis had never experienced before. That easy connection... it was luck, and Ignis's luck never did really last for too long.
If only Ignis knew that only a few hours later he would be woken by hysterical screaming as Prompto banged on his door and dragged him down the stairs to the cafe, he would have known that there was more involved than just intuition and good luck.
The morning light trickled in through the window and Prompto, voice nothing but the mimicry of a high-pitched keening of something in its death throes, pointed at the kitchen sink.
Some time in the night, the coffee mug Noctis drank his white coffee from had been knocked down. Droplets of dried coffee splattered up the side of the sink and across the countertop, reminding Ignis of the blood splatter from a horror movie. But, more horrific than that, were the two dead mice, belly-up, in the sink. And their murderer was there, too.
A small white and brown kitten with a little red bow around her collar sat behind them, letting her claw tap-tap-tap against the dead mice, as though they were toys. Her fur was soaked with what must have been mud, rainwater, coffee, and whatever entrails she hadn't eaten, and Ignis could almost make out the letters —DYN on her tag.
When the kitten looked up from her two long-ago perished mouse friends and let out the most pitiful mewl Ignis had ever heard, he realized that maybe...
Maybe this was something completely out of his hands.
Ignis pulled the store phone from the cradle and looked down at his hand, at the dark lines that stood out stark against his palm.
It only took two rings for Noctis to pick up, though the yawn from the other side was louder than words.
"Hello? Noctis. This is Ignis, from last night."
"I—Ignis? I... didn't expect you'd call."
"I didn't expect to be calling you so soon either. But.... I believe I have found King Ardyn."
Ardyn let out an even louder mewl when Prompto got too close. She sent one of the mice hurtling into the air in an arc toward Prompto, where it landed with a definitive plop in front of his foot.
"Yeah.... That definitely sounds like the daemon bitch from hell."
"Oh, good. I would recommend hurrying. She's launching dead mice at Prompto."
"Be there soon."
Ignis didn't tell the man he looked forward to seeing him again, as he was far too busy ducking out of the way of the other mouse, but... he hoped that Noctis knew already.
"I'm terribly sorry for interrupting your morning, but I thought it best I call immediately."
Noctis, whose bags seemed to have gotten just a touch darker, only smiled wider, his teeth catching on his lower lip. "Nah, nah. I couldn't really sleep anyway. My place is really quiet when she's not there."
Ignis looked down at Noctis's arms and at the hissing, spitting cat. Ardyn looked miserable; it was, of course, Ignis's fault.
"I thought it would be best so give her a bath before you arrived, to make her presentable."
The truth was that there was no way that Ignis was going to return the blasted animal covered in mouse guts and coffee. It would have set a terrible tone to their meeting, and Ignis felt the intense need to not make a fool of himself. A few cat scratches and a soaking wet pajama top was the price he paid, but he was already blind in one eye. A cat, even furious and mewling as though her bath was killing her, could hardly do the same amount of damage.
When he told Noctis this, he chuckled and looked down at his shoes. He ran a hand through his hair, and Ignis realized that it looked quite different than it had the day before. Where it had stuck to his head and fluffed out as it dried yesterday, today it was spiked. It was clear that this was, of course, in no way Noctis's purpose. He seemed more of the type to roll out of bed and hope for the best.
Ignis coughed into his hand as the cat made another pitiful sound as Noctis rubbed her belly. She was clearly a happy, well-loved, well-fed cat. Noctis had even brought a small feather toy hidden in his pocket, which he produced and shoved right into Ardyn's mouth.
The pitiful cries silenced as a small bell rattled from the chew toy.
"Really, you didn't have to do that. I'm sure she'll just jump in a puddle or something on the way home."
"I thought you would bring a crate."
Noctis shrugged as he scratched behind Ardyn's ear. "You've met her. You think a pet crate can hold her?" Noctis's voice went just a little higher as he lifted his arm up a scant amount, speaking right at the cat. "You're a little shit, aren't you? Aren’t you? My little shit." Noctis looked back up, a flush rising in his cheeks. "Uh..."
"It's quite alright. I'm just happy that I could be of service and help unite you two."
"Did she do anything before I got here?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle."
Or, rather, nothing Prompto couldn't handle. Ignis, you see, had his hands far too busy with dirty cat. It was best if Prompto picked up the mouse insides this time. Of course, there would be an unlimited supply of mice carcasses in the near future, especially with the winter slowly peaking its head.
"You seem pretty capable. But still, really. Thank you so much for finding her."
Despite her evilness, Ignis could see that Noctis did quite care for the little fluff ball. Ignis wondered, though, if Noctis was used to having dead mice launched at him as a weapon, which he asked.
"Uh... No. But now that she's done it to you, I can only expect she'll do it to me, too." Noctis shuddered. "Gross."
"I certainly agree, though I'm sure she'll manage to on-up herself. She seems to be a catastrophic little minx. Though I'm sure you'll be feline her wrath for some time yet."
"Did you... did you just—"
Ignis immediately regretted his choice of words for a brief moment. Of all things, a ridiculous and, frankly, terrible cat pun? Not even just one, but two? This was how his world ended, and no doubt Noctis would throw away his business card and make sure that he changed his number. Hells, even Prompto could only stomach one bad pun a day before threatening to move out and leave Ignis to the rent by himself.
But Noctis was silently shaking, and then he wheezed and Ardyn, distracted from her toy mouse, batted at Noctis's arm.
"Are you quite alright?"
But there were tears streaming down Noctis's face, and for a moment Ignis was worried until he took a gasp of breath, his laughter only getting louder and louder. It was like an explosion, and Ignis nearly jumped back.
"It... wasn't even that good," Ignis commented but that only sent Noctis into deeper, heavier laughter.
It was infectious, and Ignis found himself smiling and chucking, reaching up to press his palms through his hair once, then twice.
"Well, it is good to know someone appreciates my puns."
"They're horrible. I love it."
Ignis nearly swallowed his tongue, but managed to keep his face straight, though when his hand went up to run through his hair again he accidentally scratched his forehead. It wasn't enough to bleed, but Ignis knew that it must have been blinding red. But still, he said nothing.
"Glad to have amused you so," he finished, and Noctis nodded and shifted Ardyn from one arm to the other.
"Well, really. Thank you for helping me with her. I.... I wanna make it up to you. I know whatever she must have done will probably leave you a bit emotionally traumatized."
Ignis tried to make his face look less eager than the heart pounding in his chest made him feel. "Oh? How so?"
"Um. Hadn't gotten that far. Maybe... coffee?"
"Noctis," Ignis deadpanned. "I feel obligated to inform you that my establishment is, in fact, a coffee shop."
Noctis's mouth dropped open and he let out another bark of laughter. "Guess you wouldn't want to go to Chocobucks for a pumpkin spice latte?"
"I'd rather allow your cat to make a meal of me."
Noctis lifted up the cat. "I think she likes you."
But Noctis hadn't seen Ardyn that morning, wielding her claws against Ignis's upper arms.
"I'm certain she has a taste for my blood, yes."
Noctis was not deterred. "Okay. So.... coffee is out. Then at least let me take you out ? Maybe like.... a lunch? You know, if you're not busy. I mean—you own your own coffee shop, I'm sure you're busy. This really is a great place and your coffee was really nice. I am sure you get a lot of customers, and customers that actually pay and not just drink your coffee and eat your cakes and then bail and maybe it would be fun, y'know? And I really owe you for helping find her and not skinning her, because—"
Ardyn batted at Noctis's arm, and only that stopped Noctis from rambling.
"Well. I certainly wouldn't be opposed to lunch." Getting lunch with Noctis .... No, Ignis was certainly not opposed to it. Not in the least. "In fact, I think it would be a grand idea."
Noctis paused. His eyes were a little wider than necessary, and Ignis had to bite back the temptation to lean forward and slide his finger under Noctis's chin. Having his mouth open so wide.... Surely something would fly in there.
"Though today may not be best. I am sure King Ardyn will need to get home, and I do, as you said, own my own coffee shop. But—"
"How about tomorrow?"
Ignis knew that Wednesdays were busy, but Prompto would probably be willing to man the shop. After all, he owed Ignis.
"It... It's a date, then."
"Uh. Yeah. Uh... a date."
Ignis looked himself over in the mirror again before sighing and adjusting his button-down shirt for what must have been the twentieth time in just as many minutes. He knew he should have been busy doing something else, anything else, that would have been in some way productive. He could have been reorganizing his sock drawer, dusting the pottery in the corner, or hells—even making sure to rewrite his mother's recipe for the thousandth time, even if he knew that he would never be able to quite make it the way she had.
But he also knew that the little war his stomach was waging at that moment would only revolt faster if he even thought about food, despite that being the entire purpose of the date he was going to be having with Noct.
No, no. Just lunch.
A lunch. A lunch date.
Oh, gods. What had Ignis gotten himself into?
He had allowed Noctis to make the plans, opting to trust Noctis when he said he knew a few decent restaurants. Ignis couldn't even pretend like he spent much time outside of Block B and the little neighborhood he called home. Even Prompto, who would occasionally find himself in the swankier parts of town, probably wouldn't have known any places other than the local Chocobucks. That, in and of itself, was an insult enough to make Ignis end the conversation right then and there. But still...
Ignis sighed as he adjusted the collar for the tenth time, wondering once again if he should add the jacket and tie. The purple leopard print was probably just a touch too much, but it was something that Ignis found in a local shop and nothing could have parted him from it. It was something that made Ignis feel just the slightest bit content, like he was putting on something that he hadn't seen or felt in a long time. It was almost the same way the tarts felt....
Or the way Noctis felt.
There was just something about him, in his open smile and his earnest face that made it hard for Ignis to breathe.
Breathing. Ignis needed to remember that during the date... lunch.
"Just a simple lunch," Ignis reminded himself as he rolled down his cuffs before turning his elbows toward the mirror. He judged the hem for a moment before rolling his one good eye. By the gods, he was being ridiculous.
He rolled the sleeves back up.
Then he adjusted his hair for the third time.
"Oh, come on Iggy! It'll be fine. You look good—he'd have to be blind to not notice you."
Ignis looked into the mirror, making sure that his best friend could see the scar across his face as plain as day.
Prompto winced. "Okay, bad choice of words," he admitted. "But just think of it! You're going to be to go on a super nice date with a hot guy. And you won't have to pay for it!"
"Why in the world are you under the presumption?"
Prompto shrugged. "Asker always pays. It's the rule."
"Perhaps I am not fond of the rules."
"Well, that's your choice. But it's a time-old tradition, and you really should let him buy. Especially after —well—"
"The Ardyn incident?"
"I was gunna say after his cat chucking dead mice all over the shop." Prompto's laughter was loud enough to unsettle the birds outside the window. "But if you wanna be all fancy with your words." Prompto shrugged and shoved both hands into the pockets of his apron.
"Aren't you supposed to be downstairs?"
Prompto hummed and backed away, pulling out his hands and shaking them in front of him like a shield. "Don't get snippy with me just 'cause you're nervous."
"I am not nervous."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay. Sure. Uh huh. Just keep telling yourself that."
By the time Noctis arrived at the coffee shop, signaled by Prompto running back up the stairs, Ignis was halfway to the point of worrying a hole straight through his shirt. He didn’t even have time to unroll his cuffs one last time. Instead, Ignis chose to just quickly run his hands over his hair, trying his best to make it so the hairs fell across his ruined eye.
There was no reason that his face had to ruin a perfectly good… lunch. Date? No. Just lunch.
It wasn’t really a date. Not really. Just a nice lunch for helping saving his monstrosity of a cat.
Ignis wasn’t obtuse. The feeling of Noctis’s hand against his own, the sound of his voice, the way his mouth curled up at the corners when he tried Ignis’s pastries…
Ignis may have been half blind, but he wasn’t stupid. There was something about the man that made Ignis’s heart leap straight into his throat.
“Dude, chill. I’ve got the shop. Enjoy it. Live a little.” Prompto gave Ignis a thumbs up before bolting back down the shop stairs.
Ignis closed his eye, taking in a measured breath from his nose. He let it slowly filter from his mouth, trying his best to keep his heart from beating out of his chest.
No more fiddling with the shirt. It was just lunch.
But when Ignis saw Noctis in the middle of the cafe, his black jeans and soft gray sweater rolled up to his elbows, it was difficult to think of anything other than how much Ignis wanted to press himself up against the other man. He wanted to feel that soft fabric against his hands, smell his cologne. He may have even wanted to bend down his neck, just enough, and press a kiss against his lips. There was something that made it seem like the most natural idea to pop into his head, despite the fact that they had only known each other for a day.
Oh, what would his mother say if she could see him all but falling over himself at the handsome man in the middle of his shop.
Someone made an obscene sound—a wolf whistle from across the coffee shop—that reminded Ignis that he was standing in the middle of the room blatantly staring at Noctis.
"Um, I'm on time? Right?"
"Yes, yes." Ignis tried to cover up his nerves by coughing ever so slightly, sending a glare into the corner of the room toward one of the patrons. Of course it was Nyx. It was always Nyx.
"I have, uh. Your clothes. Um. Here."
Ignis tried his best not to wince as Noctis handed over the clothes, especially when he could feel the eyes on him—especially that of Nyx.
Give in an hour, maybe two, and everyone and their neighbor was going to be talking about the man who came into Ignis's coffee shop with a bag of Ignis's clothes. He wasn't going to hear the end of it for a long, long while. Just imagining what gossip Nyx would run off with, Ignis could only surprise that it would end up with a dozen tags on his social network and curious looks for the rest of the year.
Block B, for all its beauty and serenity, was a closely-knit area. And drama always, always, stunk up the place.
"Thank you, Noctis." It wasn't Noctis's fault that people would come to their own conclusions. And, if Ignis were honest with himself, he would have been happy for it to have been true. "Let me just—"
But he was cut off by Prompto rushing up and grabbing the bag, pushing Ignis gently toward Noctis. "I got it! Just go, you guys. Enjoy, enjoy!" Prompto waved his empty hand toward them. "Go enjoy the day."
Noctis pushed his now-empty hands into his pockets. "Yeah. I, uh, know we were talking about Block A, but when I was walking over here I saw some good restaurants. Maybe we could stick around Block B? It's really nice and cozy."
Ignis wanted to tell him no, that staying in Block B was likely to get them about a thousand well-wishers and curious stares, but there was a look in Noctis's eyes that made it hard for him to say no. There was something so earnest in the way he smiled, in the way his fingers seemed to be thrumming in his pockets, at the peculiar shade of blue of his eyes.
So, Ignis only smiled, hoping that his fear wasn't as obvious across his face as it felt. Inside his head he could hear his heartbeat louder than a train.
"If you insist, I am sure we can find something. Shall we?"
Ignis almost wanted to reach out to take Noctis's hand, but instead accepted the quick nod of the head as Noctis turned toward the front door. He even made sure to open the door for Ignis. The bell's chime was soft, a reminder of the first time Noctis walked into his shop. It was so amazing what a day could do.
"A true gentleman."
Noctis winked. "I can try sometimes."
"I'm sure you can."
My soft, sweet boys. On their first date. Give them love!
From the moment the front door of Memory Lane Cafe shut, Ignis knew that their lunch would be different. They didn't take hands, didn't walk down the street staring at one another with stars in their eyes. No; that would have been ridiculous and far too forward. But somewhere in Ignis’s mind, he knew he kind of wanted to.
Instead, Noctis smiled to him and dug his hands deeper into his pockets, looking up the street then down. "Where do you think would be a good place?" There was a pale red suffused to his cheeks, probably from the slight wind that nipped at them, but he still smiled wide.
"Well, it depends on what you like." Ignis knew that there were many types of great restaurants within walking distance, though the food really mattered little to Ignis at that moment. "Is there anything off the table?"
"Beans," Noctis replied immediately. "And carrots." He screwed up his face, scrunching up his nose. "Actually, vegetables in general. Never liked the taste."
"Really? No vegetables?" Ignis opted to not tell Noctis that beans were not, in fact, a vegetable only because he could imagine the panic that would erupt. He wondered if he was also aware of potatoes....
"Yeah. Can't stand 'em. But fruit's okay.... sometimes."
Ignis let out a bark of laughter as he gently laid his hand against Noctis's shoulder. The feeling of electricity bit through the shirt, like an static shock. Ignis was quick to pull back his hand, though the loss of contact was what truly bothered Ignis.
Noctis seemed to miss the brief touch as well, but instead of voicing their unfortunate luck, he instead knocked his shoes together. "Uh. Yeah. Anyway. Food. You like steak?"
"Steak sounds lovely." It wasn't often that Ignis indulged in red meat, but today.... well, it certainly couldn't have hurt. "There's a Galahdian restaurant a few blocks down the road. What do you think?" Of course, Yama’s would have its fair share of familiar faces. It didn’t really matter, Ignis realized. The news of his date—lunch—would spread no matter the place they went, as long as it was in Block B.
And Ignis wasn’t embarrassed by Noctis.
"Sounds like there's a hunk with my name written on it. I mean, steak. Steak.” Noctis paled, then went red from his hairline down his throat, hidden by the gray sweater. “Let’s pretend I didn’t just say that,” he whispered through a mortified, vacant expression.
“Said what?” Ignis hopes that his face and voice didn’t sound as forced as he knew it felt.
Okay. Maybe a little embarrassed, but it was no worse than his own articulations the day before.
If it was, Noctis never let on.
Ignis led the way and Noctis followed, though they kept at the same pace. After a moment of quiet, Ignis began to speak, and Noctis, still red, answered back.
It was easier to talk with Noctis than anyone he had ever spoken with. It felt almost silly to admit it to himself, but Ignis knew that it was the truth, even if he didn't exactly like it.
Well, that was not completely truthful; in fact, if Ignis were honest with himself, it was the most natural thing that he had ever experienced with another person. The instant understanding that he thought they experienced the other night hadn’t been just in his head. Words came like water, and Ignis found his mouth opening and an entire lifetime of stories spilling out between his lips. And it felt good.
He was sure that Prompto would have been absolutely furious that all it took for the walls Ignis had erected around him to come crashing down was a man with a mess of black hair and soft smile, who had been brought into his life by good fortune, a bad storm, and an evil cat.
By the time they arrived at the restaurant, whatever awkwardness had already disappeared and in its place was a conversation about the local zoo and a nearby museum. Noctis wasn’t much of a fan of the museum, but had volunteered as a ticket attendant at the zoo when he was a student.
“I got to pet a coeurl,” Noctis explained with an awe that Ignis could hear deep inside him. “It was like touching… I dunno. An Astral.”
“An Astral? I never would have assumed Astrals to be prickly,” Ignis mused.
Noctis grabbed the door handle and swung open the door, holding his hand out. It was the picture of politeness and grace, which was exactly the opposite of what Ignis had come to expect from the other man.
“Like I said. Politics.” Noctis made a face, but his posture was nothing short of impeccable.
“You will have to fill in the details,” Ignis admitted. “I’m more familiar with Tenebraean politics.”
Noctis groaned. “No politics on the first da—“
Ignis’s heart hit his teeth, but whatever Noctis was about to finish his sentence with was overshadowed by the sudden chorus of Ignis’s name from the staff.
“Nyx just texted us—“
Ignis may have had only one working eye, but he was sure the glare he sent to Crowe, Libertus, and Yama would have made even ivy wither.
Yama, knowing when to not push his luck, acquiesced.
“Get the boys a table!” Yama yelled over the commotion, slamming his tongs against the table. His bald head glistened under the lamps. “Don’t be such nosy little shits! I ain’t payin’ you ta piss off my customers.”
Noctis, Ignis noticed, shrunk back from the noise. It was just the slightest movements backward, of how his eyes traced over the walls and the faces of the employees, and Ignis wondered what possibly could have caused such a response. But the response wasn’t important.
It was instinctual for Ignis to rest his open palm against the small of Noctis’s back, letting his hand gently press against the man’s sweater.
Instead of pulling away this time, Noctis let out the breath he had been holding and leaned back, ever so slightly, into the touch. In less than a moment Noctis was already pulling himself away and toward the table set off near the window, but that acceptance…
Maybe, just maybe…
This really was a date.
Yep. It’s a date. Definitely a date.
"—and yeah, that's how I learned how to fish."
"You are telling me that at the age of seven you went onto the roof of the Citadel, cast a line, and caught someone's bloody hat?"
Noctis shrugged before picking up his drink. "Well, I mean, when you say it like that... It wasn't like the roof-roof. Just the roof of the residential quarters."
But Ignis couldn't stop the laughter from overflowing. He could just imagine the young boy and his unmanageable hair on the roof of the oldest building in Insomnia, sitting on the overhanging as he tried to catch the edge of one of the ridiculous ceremonial Glaive hats. He could just imagine the Glaive refusing to move as his black monstrosity lifted into the sky, as if an invisible ghost wished to abscond with it.
"But yeah... that's kinda what it was like growing up in the Citadel." Noctis swirled his drink around for a moment before putting it down. "I, uh, hope that doesn't bother you?"
"That you have a penchant for stealing headwear? I assure you, the only thing you will find on my head is a scarf."
Noctis shook his head. "No, not that. The... well, the dad thing."
Ignis picked up his fork and knife, slowly cubing his meat. "Unfortunately, I am not much for politics, but as far as I am aware your father has done very well as the President of Lucis."
Of course, there was more to it than just that; Ignis knew just a fraction of the scandals that were involved in Insomnian politics, and Noctis no doubt knew, as well. There were whispers that the Caelum family were somehow descended from the King of Kings, but Ignis had ignored the commentary. The rumor were just old tosh thrown around by tabloids looking to ignite some speculation and drama to improve circulation. There had been quite a bit of drama regarding Aulea Caelum, who had been President before her husband was sworn in after her third term. But, of course... none of that was any of Ignis's business, and certainly not talk for a date.
But it seemed to be a sore spot for Noctis, and so Ignis was careful to remark his opinions on what tabloids really were like. Noctis only managed to give a thin-lipped smile.
"You'd be surprised by how many people think it's true. People've been saying my father wants to restart a dynasty."
"Well, does he?" Ignis raised his fork to his mouth before pointedly looking toward Noctis, whose cheeks were rather flushed.
Noctis shook his head. "Oh, man, if we were.... could you imagine me as a King? Oh, King Noctis—you're named after our King and Kings and Savior! Oh, King Noctis—lower taxes and make sure that we instate Vegetable Day!"
Ignis put down his knife and fork and inspected the pile of untouched vegetables in the corner of Noctis's plate. One limp, sad carrot dangled off the side, touching the table. "I would imagine that would be quite troublesome."
"Seriously. I can barely even keep my cat from jumping out the window—who thinks I can rule a country?"
"I'm certain that you could do anything if you put your mind to it."
Noctis cocked his head to the side as Ignis took another bite. "You think so?"
"Well, then.... I mean, if I put my mind to it..." Noctis leaned a little closer, and Ignis could count the freckles on Noctis's nose. It was a little intimidating for the man to be so close—if Ignis could see the little hairs on Noctis's chin, then no doubt Noctis could see the morbid curiosity that was his eye. "Maybe..."
"Maybe you wouldn't mind sharing a sundae?" Ignis asked, hoping his nervousness came off more as casual that terrified.
Noctis backed up just a little, a smile worthy of the gods flashing over his face. "Oh, on Sunday? Well, I mean... I'm not busy or anything."
Ignis could feel the corners of his own lips pulling up, and he found himself wishing that the space was gone and he could just be in the same world as Noctis. "Are you asking me on a date, King Noctis?" Ignis teased.
"Well, you're the one who asked for a Sunday, and yeah. My next Sunday is definitely free."
"Are you quite sure? After all, future kings are required on weekends. Or... so I would imagine." When Noctis shook his head, Ignis pulled back even though he wanted to close the distant. "Well, then. It's all sorted out. Sunday it is. Though it is unfortunate."
Noctis's brows furrowed as he pulled away, accidentally elbowing his plate. The lone, sad carrot took a dive straight onto the tabletop with a sad, defeated plop. "Uh, what's unfortunate?"
"It seems that I will have to eat a sundae on my lonesome. This restaurant may be well-known for steak, but their true expertise is in ice creams and other confectionaries." Ignis looked over to Crowe on the other side of the room. "Is that not right, Crowe?"
Crowe didn't even pretend to not be listening in on their conversation, instead blowing a bubble with her gum as she tapped her pen on the counter. "You know it."
Noctis's ears turned rather pink, and Ignis wondered just how much of their conversations would be laced with soft jokes and misunderstandings. In all of his life, never had Ignis met someone who seemed to fit so well into his brand of humor, even when Noctis rolled his eyes. "Oh, heh. Yeah. I guess you're right, yeah. These are your stomping grounds, so... I guess I'll trust you."
"Well, I mean. If you eat decent ice cream, I guess we could share."
"And you seem rather the type who would forgo the formalities of bowl and simply dig in with a spoon."
"Got me there." Noctis held up his hands in defeat. "I'm not the biggest on sharing, but I'm sure we can manage."
Ignis tapped his fingers against the table, enjoying the way Noctis looked at him. "Hm... You strike me as a chocolate chip mint sort of fellow," Ignis mused.
"Yeah, but I like—"
Ignis reached out and picked up the fallen carrot from the table, holding it out in front of Noctis for a brief moment. "Carrots on top?"
The look of disgust that crossed Noctis's face was worth the uncomfortable feeling of cooked carrot between his fingers. "That's not even funny. That's offensive to ice cream."
Ignis put it on the side of Noctis's plate, knowing that there would be no way that Noctis would be touching any of his vegetables. "No, not carrots then. I would say—fudge?"
Noctis looked impressed. "Yeah. And I bet you like coffee ice cream with something fruity. Berry sauce?"
"Yes. I prefer raspberries, though they're missing a bit of a tang I rather enjoy."
Noctis nodded. "Yeah, I can see that. Then, well... I guess we can split a sundae. But only if you keep your fruit on your side of the bowl."
"But Noct, what do you think are in those pastries I made?" When Noctis didn't answer, Ignis continued, "I think you would very much enjoy it. At least give it a try."
"Well... I guess... Why not?"
Ignis didn't bother to turn to look back at Crowe, instead only saying, "When you're quite done gawking." She didn't even have the decency to be ashamed.
"Guess people really like you here."
Ignis could see that Noctis was nervous from the way he pushed up his sleeves, then quickly pulled the down. They were quite alike, it seemed.
"More like they enjoy gossip. But I promise, to them it is all in good fun." Ignis could only imagine what it must have been like for Noctis, who was no doubt used to the paparazzi following him to and fro. "If you wish for me to speak with them, I will."
Noctis rubbed at his mouth with the back of his hand. "No, it's... it's cool."
But Ignis was thankful that the restaurant was rather quiet, the lunch rush finished and dinner not set to begin for another hour.
"Well, then for Sunday I'm sure I can find a place outside of Block B that we can enjoy... without so many prying eyes."
"I... I think I'd like that."
When the sundae came after their lunch plates were cleared, Ignis used his spoon to gently coax the cherry on top toward Noctis.
"Since you refuse to eat anything healthy, perhaps a little fruit wouldn't hurt?"
"If you insist," Noctis laughed. "Who am I to turn down a cherry on top?"
These dorks make me happy. I would consider their first date a success.
We see a friend we have most certainly missed...
The walk back to Memory Lane Cafe was almost uneventful, if not for one little thing. At first Ignis hadn’t even realized, too caught up in Noctis’s raucous laughter after he had scooped up the check before Ignis could even try to pick it up. He put down the black credit card, snapping it closed with little fanfare except wagging a finger at Ignis, mouth pulled up in a full, toothy grin.
Ignis really liked that grin. He liked the ghost of a blush across Noctis’s cheeks, the mirth in his cloudy blue eyes, the muscle in his left dimple that twitched just so. Ignis liked the way the other man carried himself, still half slouched, to pay. The nonchalance was forgotten when Ignis noticed that his head would turn just enough for him to send almost secretive looks toward Ignis, who was busy sending secretive looks towards him.
The both of them were absolutely pathetic…
And Ignis loved every moment of it.
It was only after he left the restaurant with Noctis that he realized that for the last hour, not once had Ignis even thought about his eye.
The realization hit him like a freight train as he paused on the sidewalk, Noctis only managing a step or two forward before doubling back.
“—did I say something? Did you forget something?”
Ignis shook his head, still dumbfounded by the realization. His blindness in his eye had been a sore point for years; it was what had changed his future, what had taken him off the path he had always wanted to follow. It was something he dreaded and loathed, something he had looked into the mirror every morning to see staring back at him.
Not once during the entire date had Noctis so much as mentioned it, and not once had Ignis felt even a moment of insecurity.
"Ah, no. My apologies." Ignis shook his head, allowing the thought of his eye to fade from his mind. Now wasn't the time to be thinking about it, to ruin what was thus far the best date Ignis had ever been on. "I do fear that Prompt has burned my establishment down to the ground."
Noctis snickered. "Oh, don't trust the roomie with the coffee?"
They continued the slow, leisurely pace through the winding main street, the soft breeze and the memory of ice scream still on Ignis's tongue.
"Certainly not. Prompto is better than he is with a camera than a carafe. This is the same man who assumed if you added water to a glass of milk it would make it low-fat."
"Tastes that way."
"That's exactly what Prompto said." Ignis laughed, thinking of his dearest friend. "I'm sure you would get on wonderfully with him."
Noctis gave a soft smile and pulled out his hand from his pocket and reached forward to grab hold of Ignis's hand. His sweater brushed against Ignis's knuckles before he could feel skin. "I think I get on wonderfully with y—"
It was heat and ice and lightning all at once, and for a moment Ignis did not know what was air, what was life, what was sun. The feeling was nothing like the static electricity he had felt when he laid his hand on Noctis's back, or when they had touched when they exchanged numbers. This was almost palpable, and now... Now Ignis knew that it wasn't just him.
But despite the uncomfortable feeling flashing over the nerves in his hand, Ignis and Noctis only gripped tighter.
"That's kinda weird."
Ignis hummed. "But I am ex-static to know that our chemistry is electric."
Noctis winced. "One pun a sentence, Specs."
"I'm sure your utterly de-lighted by my charms."
"Ow, that one was pretty flat. You should almost be ashamed of that one."
Ignis didn't know what overcame him in that moment, and perhaps he never would, but standing in the middle of the street while holding the president's son's hand in his own was the most exhilarating moment Ignis had ever experienced. Maybe it was the ice cream, or perhaps it was the way their hands seemed to perfectly match, or maybe it was the promise of a date on Sunday.
For whatever reason, Ignis couldn't help but lift Noctis's hand to his mouth to press a kiss against his knuckles. He could feel the almost magical way Noctis's skin felt against his. There was almost a trance-like, perhaps even dream-like, quality to the feeling of just how natural and right their skin felt against one another. It was almost as though Ignis and Noctis's bodies knew something, some sweet secret, that neither of them were quite aware of.
This attraction, this almost immediate comfort... What was it?
Noctis wasn't breathing, but Ignis wasn't, either.
Ignis lowered Noctis's hand from his lips, but when he tried to let go of the other man's hand, Noctis tightened his grip.
"I," Noctis said breathlessly, "I think you're gunna have to hold onto this for me. At least until we get to your shop."
Ignis only nodded, feeling a constant and content warmness as he allowed his fingers to twine with Noctis's.
"I think that's a good idea."
When they arrived back at Memory Lane Cafe, it was almost as though they had never left.
"Well, he didn't burn down the place," Noctis mused. For a moment Ignis thought the man would let go of Ignis's hand, but instead he only tightened his grip. "I, uh... guess this is where I say goodbye?"
But Ignis didn't want to say goodbye. He wanted to hold onto Noctis's hand until the very last moment, because the loss of the feeling of the other man's skin against his almost seemed to be a punishment.
"Unfortunately, it seems so." With great reluctance Ignis untwined his fingers from Noctis's feeling the connection between the two seem to break. The feeling that had been racing through their veins since the moment they touched faded back into his skin, but Ignis still knew it was there. It was just lurking now below the surface, waiting for another chance to come roaring back up. Ignis wanted it to come back.
"Yes. I felt it, too."
"So.... it's not just my brain playing tricks on me because I think you're incredibly handsome and funny?" Noctis's mouth pulled down into a frown.
Ignis swallowed. "I certainly—"
Noctis shook his head before reaching out again to grab Ignis's hand. The feeling returned with a vigor, and it was even harder to let go the second time. "Yeah. Okay. That is really weird. But.... I kinda like it?"
Ignis couldn't deny it to himself, either. Not when his hand shook and and his skin tingled. "Perhaps we are allergic to one another?"
"Gods, I hope not."
Ignis looked into the window of his shop, noting that several of the patrons were openly gawking at the pair outside—led by Prompto, who had forgotten to stop pouring the coffee into the cup in front of him and now had a small stream of coffee gliding down the counter.
"What do they want, a bloody show?"
For a moment, Noctis just stared at him before slowly, cautiously, leaning up to press a brief kiss against the corner of Ignis's mouth. "Kinda like that?"
Ignis could feel the heat growing on his cheeks, the same flush that spread across Noctis's face and down his neck, under the neckline of his sweater. He wondered, almost idly, how care the red went down Noctis's chest. He had to pull both his mind and his wandering eyes from those thoughts, instead looking back into Noctis's wide-eyed stare.
"I guess that would just whet their appetites. I'm sure they expected more."
"I don't go past first base on the first date."
Ignis had to fight the smile threatening to overtake his entire face. "How about on the second date?"
"I guess... we'll see how it goes on Sunday?"
That, of course, was how their second date was meant to occur. It was meant for them to meet again on Sunday afternoon in Block A to go to a local museum. Yes, it was more likely that people from Insomnia would see them an maybe the paparazzi would take a few photos, but Ignis wasn't particularly worried about any of that. He had the opportunity to have another date with a wonderful man, and no matter his family's political aspirations, he liked Noctis for who he was. There was such a joy in the way Noctis smiled, in how he talked, in how their hands touched and the way they had so innocently kissed in front of his shop.
Ignis wanted—no, needed—more. He needed to understand Noctis and the strange, electric feeling between them.
He imagined that they would explore more into their strange, chaste feelings like any other couple would. Were they even a couple? It was only after one ate, yes, but to Ignis it felt like one of thousands upon thousands of dates. How did he know Noctis so well? How did he feel so comfortable with the other man?
They would find out more on Sunday, or so Ignis thought.
Of course, that wasn't what was meant to be.
Ignis knew that someone or something was throwing a wrench in his plans that night after he crawled into bed and turned off the lights. Snuggling in his bed, warm and comfortable and so very safe, Ignis thought about Noctis's smile and his dark hair and warm skin.
Ignis blinked for a moment before rustling in his bed—no.
Ignis wasn't moving at all, but something... something was.
The something settled next to him, and there was a moment of dead silence before—
Ignis dove from his bed and towards the exit, grabbing hold of his door as he smashed his palm into the switch. The lights to his bedroom flickered on and the harsh overhead light nearly blinded him. It took a moment of blinking before he managed to scan over the room and his bed with his one good eye. Heart hammering in his chest, he could only hear that for a moment before—
There, nestled in his sheets, was the small, tell-tale mane of a small brown and white cat, red bow tied around her neck and the unmistakable body of a very, very dead bird trapped between her teeth.
Ardyn Izunia looked at him for a moment before, with the grace and finesse of a monster ready to pounce on unsuspecting prey, slinked up to his pillow and dropped the dead bird where Ignis's head had been just a moment ago.
Well, things didn't go quite as planned for Ignis and Noctis. Thanks, Ardyn.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"I am so, so sorry about this."
Part of Ignis wanted to laugh, and the other part of him wanted to cry— just a little. It was ridiculous, he knew, but this entire situation was so very surreal. After all, meeting Noctis the first time was just luck—or, perhaps, bad karma turning good. It wasn't like King Ardyn Izunia had known who he was. It was just coincidence that the little feline had managed to squeeze her way into Ignis's basement, then up into the kitchen sink. It was perfectly a coincidence that her owner managed to stumble into his little cafe shop, just off the main road. It was just... a happy accident. A coincidence, really.
One time, of course, was a coincidence.
"I think your cat may be stalking me," Ignis admitted as he rolled up the sheets and yanked on the cover to his pillow with a forceful tug. At first, he had thought that maybe, just maybe, all he would need to do was change one pillowcase, but when Ignis managed to get a look at his bed...
"I'm sorry my cat committed bird homicide in your bed. I swear, I will buy you new sheets. A new pillow. I'll even buy you a new bed— do you need a new bed? Because the offer is really there. Gods, Ignis. I am so sorry about this."
Ignis looked up at Noctis, who had managed to pull on a sweatshirt over his pajama pants before rushing over to Memory Lane Cafe, but Ignis couldn't deny that he wished Noctis was wearing a little less, maybe even a lot less. If he was crawling into his bed instead of standing awkwardly at his bedroom door while holding his hellspawn of a cat, it would have been all the better.
Ignis wondered whether or not Noctis was wearing a shirt underneath that sweater, and he found his answer when Noctis adjusted the cat in his arms, flashing a puppy trail of dark hair across his stomach.
Ignis would have swooned if he was a swooning type of man. But he wasn't.... much.
"Don't even fret about it, Noctis. I assure you—it's nothing a little bleach can't handle."
Noctis furiously shook his head. "Dude, no. Iggy—just throw them out. Throw them out right now, and I'll get you a new set. There's no way you're getting birdie blood off those things."
"Noctis, while I understand your desire to help, I promise that I can clean them up. I just wish that your cat had decided to do it tomorrow. These were the only clean sheets in the house." Ignis folded the sheets the best he could before sliding them into the plastic bag, tying it off with a simple knot. A stray bloody feather stuck to the rubber gloves on his hand, and he could see that Ardyn was staring at it longingly.
No more bloody birds, quite literally.
Ignis wasn't sure if he had glared at the beast or if Ardyn was just touchy. Noctis tightened his arms around the cat and if Ignis hadn't known better, he would have assumed that Ardyn was glowering at him. Directly at him.
"But I'll make due. It's fine, really."
"Does your friend Prompto have any extra that you can borrow for the night?" Noctis asked.
Ignis managed to withhold his wince, just barely. "I'm almost certain that man hasn't washed his sheets since he moved in."
"When exactly was that?"
"Well over two years ago."
Noctis shuddered. "Oh, ew."
Ignis shrugged one shoulder before snapping off the gloves and tossing them into the trashcan next to his bed. It was probably for the best; he really needed a new pair, anyway. After all of those mice, a bird was merely the icing on the rodent death cake.
He needed more bleach, preferably the kind that would remove the memory of tiny dead things from his head.
"I think your cat may be a serial killer," Ignis mentioned as he stared at his stripped-down bed, crossing his arms in front of himself. He felt almost naked in front of Noctis, exposed and weak. This was not how he wanted Noctis to see his bedroom for the first time. It was not what he wanted at all. If it had been up to him, Noctis would have been sitting downstairs drinking a nice cup of coffee while Ignis wrangled the cat from the room. But, as it was, Ignis had tried to get the cat to come down from where it had perched itself on his ceiling fan, but even the broom against the roof hadn't worked.
Only Noctis could control her.
"I guess it's one more thing to add to the Accursed's resume." Noctis scratched behind the small kitten's ear, getting a soft purr in return. "Caused disease and death and famine, killed lots of people, caused the so-called Time of Darkness, then got reincarnated as a monster cat to pay for his sins."
"I imagine she agrees with you," Ignis replied.
"Either way." Noctis lifted the cat in his arms and looked from Ignis to his empty bed, then back to Ignis. "I can't let you sleep on a bed without blankets, especially since my cat went full-daemon on them. I've got way better manners than that."
"Well, it isn't as though I can sleep in your bed."
Ignis wished he could suck up the words back the moment they spilled out of his mouth, but it was already too late for that.
Thankfully, or unfortunately, depending on what part of his body he asked, Noctis only laughed. "Yeah.... sneaking you into the Citadel. I'm sure that wouldn't get me and, by proxy, you, printed on every magazine in the country. I can just see it—president's son sneaks good-looking man and cat into the government's highest-secured building in the country. Sources say he owed the handsome stranger a new set of sheets. More details on page 9." He gave one last snicker. "It would be worse than your friends."
"Oh, yes. That truly sounds like a wonder. And how exactly where are you going to sneak me into the Citadel, anyway? It isn't as though I can just walk right through the front gate, not at this hour." Now that Ignis mentioned it, Noctis had gotten here rather quick... "How did you manage to leave so late? And wearing... well, that?"
"Not like I'm locked inside. I drove here."
Ignis frowned. Before the accident, he had loved driving...
A light must have gone off at that moment because Noctis rolled on the balls of his feet. "I can bring you somewhere to go get some new sheets."
"It's almost one in the morning."
Noctis shrugged and adjusted Ardyn in his arms. "I drove by a 24-hour Behemoth-Mart on the way over. I'm sure they've got to have something that can pass as bedsheets, at least for the night. Then I'll ChocoEx you something better. It's the least I can do." Noctis quickly turned toward the door, making a gesture with his elbow. "Just—uh. Could you get the front door?"
Ignis blinked owlishly at the man in front of him, the same man who was wearing nothing but a pair of pajama pants and a sweater. "Are you expecting to just waltz into Behemoth-Mart at one in the morning with your cat attached to you?
Noctis looked down for a second before nodding. "You're right. Normally I wouldn't do this, but you've given me no choice. I can't have you sleeping on a nasty, dirty mattress—" Ignis had to bite down a comment about his mattress was certainly not dirty— "and anyway, I can just do this." Noctis lifted the cat away from his sweater and then in a neat, swift moment, the cat was inside the overlarge pocket of his sweater. "She'll be fine. I do this all the time. Sometimes she even climbs in there on her own. C'mon. Let's go."
Ignis expected a lot of things for his second date with Noctis, but driving to Behemoth-Mart at one in the morning with the windows rolled down in one of the most beautiful cars Ignis had ever seen, a soft rock song playing in the background, wasn't something he had put on the list.
It could work.
Two dates in one day? Yes, please.