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Web of the Heart

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Ignis could face saberstusks, eternal night and the prospect of his own death without flinching. But when it came to Aranea Highwind, he was a total mess. Losing his sight had been terrifying, but nothing close to what losing Noctis had felt like. His life barely made sense without his prince and friend, but the dragoon came along, bringing with her the feelings held back from that time in Steyliff grove, when they had gotten stuck for two days and three full nights in this maze of falling bridges and damp, slippery stones.

Noctis and Prompto had ended up on their own after a giant daemon struck the floor and sent the advisor and mercenary to one side, the prince and the gunman to the other. Regrouping had been a nightmare. The humidity had ruined half their phones, the signal was inexistent thanks to the depths and the darkness threatened to swallow them whole.

Ignis clearly remembered catching her when she’d slipped, pulling her back too hard as he’d notice the hole in the floor, losing his own footing and driving her against the nearest wall for balance. Her armor digging into him, her chest rising just a tad too quickly under his arm, the way his other arm was hooked around her uncomfortably, and her hands gripping to his shirt, stabilizing him. They’d slept a bit, taking turns, but neither of them wanted to stay in the same place for too long, considering the daemons that could pop out of thin air at any moment and the fact they really needed two people to take them out. He was too tired to think straight, too confused and worried, but still finding it in him to look out for the damsel on the team.

“Ignis… Can you answer one question?”

“That’s quite the conundrum, since you just asked me one question,” he retorted cheekily.

She didn’t smile, her hands fisting the fabric of his shirt, keeping him close to her as they both slowly looked for their breath. Their anxiety was slowly rising, and the polite distance had been dropped after the first 12 hours of looking out for each other’s back. They were comrades now and while he barely knew her, Ignis had the sentiment he would grow mad if she was to die here.

“If you knew you were about to die, what would be the last thing you’d want to do?”

“We are not going to…”

“Humor me, Scientia. What does a stuck-up guy like you…?”

Her jab didn’t anger him as much as it had riled him up. It might have been the closeness, or the need for human contact, or the fact her silver hair and stormy eyes had been stuck in his head since the very first fight against her. There was no chance for anything long term here. Not with someone who was loyal only to money. But for once, he just needed to feel alive. Ignis caved in to instinct, lifting her chin with one hand, his eyes asking her permission for a few seconds. He kissed her, tasting sweat and dry blood on her lips. It was rough but warm and he forgot the danger as her hands slipped up his neck. She was so small despite the armor, despite the high-eels of her boots, he had to bend his neck and lean down. He had half a mind to push his body against her, to hook her legs around his waist and linger until his reason would come back to life.

She swore out loud when he finally pulled back from her.

“Well, that’s a side of you I hadn’t expected, Scientia.”

“What’s your goal here, Highwind?”

“If you’re going to push me against a wall, I’d rather enjoy most of it.”

Their exchange was cut short by a daemon and later in the day, Aranea admitted the closed off spaces and caving floors and walls was getting to her. Just a comfort thing. Ignis had wondered if she’d indulge in comfort if she’d ended up with Prompto or Noctis but didn’t dare ask her. On the second night, they’d abandoned any sense of propriety, snuggling close to keep each other from freezing over. She would sit in his lap after taking off her shoulder pads and pointy gloves, slipping her hands and even her arms inside his jacket as they shivered against each other, teeth clattering. His hands instinctively touched the exposed skin of her stomach, stroking her arms and back, and even her sides if she asked for it. Their combined supplies were thinning and clinging on to one another helped. On the third night, they were famished, but warmer, having found a flight of stairs that were mostly intact and managed their way up to drier stones.

Ignis found himself wanting more than warmth and tested the waters, not sure if he was thinking straight anymore. But she didn’t push away the hands sneaking up her shirt, his long fingers drawing shivers from her.

“I should tell you to save your strength,” she observed. “Or to use that flask you’re hiding in your jacket to break down a couple of walls and lead us out of this darn place.”

“That flask can’t take out walls. It’s a healing spell.”

“What are your hands telling me, Scientia?”

“That I’m losing my mind.”

“You should loosen your belt first, silly man. If we do this, I don’t want you distracted. We need to keep an eye on our surroundings.”

Her suggestion meant a weird, unnatural position, because Ignis, while not collecting conquests like Gladiolus, had some experience -just not of the kind he couldn’t easily kiss the woman in his arms or move like he intended to-. It was hard to tell which of them noticed the flashlight in the distance first or if it was only a reflect of the light, a subconscious impression of shame… They’d parted before finding relief, sharing mere pants and light tremors of pleasure throughout the discomfort of wet clothes, uncompromising leather pants and the dirt on them both. Meeting up with Noctis and Prompto a few hours later, the strange adventure had left a bitter taste in Ignis’s mind.

 Then there had been Quezacoatlz and the sparks that seemed so easy to create between them had sputtered out, the mercenary leaving without a second look. A comfort thing it had been, nothing but a comfort thing and Ignis accepted to live with that, even though it was distressing thinking he could settle for something so basic.

His dreams nagged him and while he wouldn’t admit it, he wondered about the dragoon lady and whether she’d found someone else’s arms for comfort. Or was she thinking of him too? Wondering if that comfort thing couldn’t have been any more comfortable.

Altissia happened before Ignis could straighten his thoughts, the ordeal stripping him of most of his confidence, a good part of his dignity and his entire eyesight.

Shuffling around in the dark, Ignis found himself wishing for the support of someone else than his friends, maybe just her hand on his arm, or her head on his chest as he sat in his camping chair. He remembered her fingers on his thighs, the way she’d sown up a cut on his arm when they’d run out of potions, the endless teasing and bantering and the way she breathed when she fell asleep. He wasn’t sure he wanted to meet with her, but those memories reminded him that he didn’t only amount to Noctis and his royal line. Because now he knew what waited for his prince and he was struggling to put one foot in front of the other knowing every step of the way meant bringing his friend, his brother a little closer to his death.

Crossing the mines and getting attacked on the train had been nerve-wrecking. His body was lost in all the dark space around him, the sounds and environment were foreign, he felt clumsy and inept, a shadow of himself. Gladiolus’s excessive worrying was only getting on his nerves and Noctis was hurting too deep to fully realize what his advisor was going through. Not that Ignis minded. The less people showed him sympathy, the faster he would get over himself and back on his feet. But losing Prompto was a low blow, because the gunman’s genuine desire to help was the one thing he looked forward to and now that was also gone. Not only blind now, he had to go guideless, almost friendless considering how both Noctis and Gladio were wallowing in their own pain.

Little to say, meeting Aranea in Tenebrae had been a shock, recognizing the sound of her boots on the ground and then her voice.

“What did you do to your eyes? Can you see anything?”

Permanent damage, permanent damage, no way this guy can hold you up against a wall now, I can barely locate walls.

They stayed for the night, Gladiolus hitting the bars, Noctis needing time alone, surely sitting down in the sylleblossums with Umbra and remembering the princess he would never hold. Ignis sat on a bench further away, trying to enjoy the night air and these new foreign sounds. A few people talked about his scars. He could imagine children pointing at him and wondered if his clothes were mismatched or not.

“Mind if I join you?” a voice asked him, making him jump ever so slightly.

How come he hadn’t heard her walking up to him?

Realizing her mistake, she started apologizing, only to be cut off by the advisor.

“Have a seat, Aranea.”

Her name sounded strange on his tongue and he realized with a start it was the first time he’d used it.

“Your voice is good,” she commented.

He furrowed his brows, trying to angle his head toward her and not sure he was leaning the right way for their eyes to meet. He hated how uncivil his handicap made him, he hated not being able to detail the look on her face. The way her lips twitch as she held back a smile or a sigh. The little line between her eyebrows and the glint of the moon in her hair.

“For a blind man I mean. Your voice hasn’t changed. And you sit just as straight as ever. Those burns look like they hurt.”

His throat felt too small and he wondered why she would even sit with him, considering how quickly she’d run.

“You don’t have to be nice with me,” he told her.

“If it’s free of charge, you don’t want it?”

Her question surprised him once again, but not as much as the feel of her breath in his ear as she leaned closer. His body almost recoiled, but he stilled himself, willing his limbs to remain motionless.

“Can you really hold on for the rest of the prince’s ordeals with the state you’re in?”

His eye blinked and he winced as his melted eyelid pulled on the skin. He still had to fight against the reflex and the few muscles still working made the pain last without end. Was she going to shatter what little pride he had left?

Her hand touched his knee, in a gesture that felt familiar and not as threatening as her words.

“The nights are growing longer. Think we will get interrupted this time?”

He should have said no, he was in no state to receive any of her comfort, he would break in her arms and wake up lost and alone when he needed to hold on just as long as Noctis needed his support.

“What are you looking for? Never had sex with a blind man?”

His own bitterness surprised him and Aranea let out a short sigh.

“While it is true, I have never slept with a blind man, I’m not working on a pity case. I’ve seen enough people dying to tell your prince is our only chance. I don’t have the heart to beat sense into the big guy, but I think I can lift your spirits somehow. I can be your comfort or your outlet for tonight. And… I could use strong arms around me for a few hours. Unless you tell me you didn’t only lose your sight.”

It was a very clumsy attempt at humor and Ignis held back a grimace, raising one hand which slowly found hers.

“More comfort? How many guys get that excuse from you?”

“Only the pretty ones.”

His eye kept blinking as he followed her to her airship and her bunk bed. The mattress was relocated to the floor and Aranea proved to be fierce with him, testing his limits, making sure he wouldn’t feel pity from her. Instead, he felt passion and impatience and something tender too underneath, because this time, she let him explore her to his heart content, and somehow, the fact he couldn’t see her made him a much more attentive lover.

Raw with sensations, starved for caresses and kisses and all the gasps and moans she could utter, Ignis realized just how much he’d missed her. He doubted any woman could have make him feel that way. There was a strange connection, something that went beyond words or rules when it came to Aranea. She was rash and restless, but she complimented more than she clashed with him. Her hands on him felt right, be it on his waist, down his back, squeezing or stroking or making him pant until he was a shuddering mess of nerves and desire. She didn’t seem to have any limits, while he always limited himself, straining himself until he reached a standard or to maintain it, but never breaking his unspoken rules.

Ignis never screamed, but Aranea brought out sounds of him, sounds he’d never uttered in his life. When she took control, her roughness faded into something soft, as though she was afraid of breaking something between them. He pleaded for his name on her lips and when she started using it, it seemed she couldn’t stop her voice.

Why did he feel something so deep inside as they moved and did their best to keep the sun away for just a little more of each other? How could it feel so right when he barely knew her past, only remembered the food she liked from the rations they used, when he remembered the smell of her sweat and blood better than the feel of her clean skin against his?

You’re blind, the sensations are heightened by it, you never got to taste her for real before, it could be anyone, anyone… But I want her, I want her, no one else would do, no, remember this won’t last, can anything last with a woman like her?

In between the kisses and the shuffling of skin and desperate rushes of lust, Ignis found himself talking to her, stroking her hair, reaching for her hands, and the greatest part of all, Aranea answered him.

She told him of how surreal Tenebrae looked, describing the sights he would never see, the floating islands, the mist and the clouds and the trees. She told him of the calm before the storm, of the wind and cold lands of Nifelheim, of the training that killed most of the recruits, of the books she used to read as a teenager.  And she had questions for him, what were the reasons for this scar on his ribs, what food did he miss the most, if he wanted to learn Braille, if he knew any songs by heart and if so, why?

It was a strange way to discover each other, but Aranea wasn’t used to traditional relationships, not after being raised in a military camp, between soldiers, seeing daemons in her ranks, losing friends to the blight and slowly hardening her heart to the mess that it was today.

Ignis didn’t dare to ask how many men had held her. But he did wonder why she asked him so many questions now, to which she retorted. “I always knew you were interesting. I’m confirming it.”

In the morning, he wasn’t broken, but he wasn’t fully himself either, because a soft and warm body was pressed against his and a part of him wondered how good it could feel to wake up this way every single day. But it had been a comfort thing yet, pretending otherwise was refusing to look at the reality and while blind, Ignis wanted to stay grounded. He gathered his clothes and managed to pull on his shirt and pants before to feel her hands on his shoulders.

“Alright, Scientia. This was one of the best nights of my life. And if the sun never comes back… I do hope you’ll do, at the very least.”

“To make sure this wasn’t a one-time performance?” he retorted cockily.

She punched him in the shoulder, hard enough to hurt, and he couldn’t express how grateful he was for this limit she set.

“So, you don’t like nice girls either, huh?”

“What?”

“I’m trying to determine your type.”

Ignis hadn’t expected vulnerability from her and instinctively wrapped his arms around her, laying her back on the mattress for a mind-shattering kiss.

“What type are you?” he asked her, not sure how dangerous that question might be.

“The type who doesn’t know when to quit. You’re going to get late if you don’t hurry.”

It was far from a confession or a promise, but could Ignis even think something like “like” could be addressed with how they had gotten here? He was grateful for the brief moments of clarity he’d shared with her, for the roller coasters of sensations and the illusion he was held back by someone he might not lose. But she was Aranea Highwind. Fleeting like the wind, too strong to tame, as calculative as him when it came to open up. He knew more than he once did, but was it enough to even hope for something more?

“When I come back…” he turned hesitant at that, and Aranea pushed against his shoulders with her hands, her knees raising to push on his hips.

“Start by leaving and don’t go making promises you can’t keep. We can talk when you do come back. If you can find me that is.”

Ignis wanted to ask her where she would go, but Noctis was calling for him by then and his sense of duty was stronger than his sense of adventure.

Coming back from Nifelheim with Prompto and Gladiolus had been a nightmare. By the time they finally reached civilization, Ignis had honed his fighting skills and could kill the smallest daemons despite being blind. He could also kill the voices in the back of his mind, telling him that Noctis might not come back and even if he did, the trip back to Lucis would destroy him. Hearing Prompto being hopeful and voicing hope to support him was torture.

Even if it’s just for a day or a week, he will need you, he reminded himself.

Finding Aranea took time, almost a year in fact, because she kept herself busy and Ignis was training to be considered a full hunter, missing her passage in Lestallum more than a few times. When they finally met, she shocked him once more by grabbing him by the collar without so much as a “hello” and dragging him to the nearest bar. They sat and drank and talked for hours. In fact, they talked so late into the night they were nearly kicked out of the place along the drunk patrons.

It took a week before Aranea even invited him to her hotel room, and this time, Ignis decided he needed things cleared up between them. He still followed her into the room and waited until the door was locked, leaning his back against the hard surface.

“Are we really going to remain… friends with benefits?”

He noticed how the sound of her breathing changed at that, he could almost taste the new tension in her. But her voice was cool and perfectly controlled when she pointed out, “We started out as comrades in arms with benefits. And don’t go believing I’d part my legs for just any guy.”

He winced and Aranea snorted, making him wonder what her face could be looking like

“Don’t make that face,” she warned him, “you were fine with comfort back in Tenebrae. And I’m not looking for a charity case, I just… know I’m too much of a hassle for something more complicated than… whatever is going on between us…”

Ignis frowned at that.

“If we can’t even put a name on it, I think we need to talk things out.”

The world was in shambles, but it didn’t mean their whole life had to be that way too. Aranea’s silence made him wonder if he wasn’t going to lose what little connection they had, but after a whole minute of pondering, she accepted and invited him to sit on the bed with her.

She didn’t describe the room for him to better walk around it, but he followed the sound of her breathing, one hand finding her shoulder without trouble and as he sat, she brushed his thigh through the fabric of his pants, as though she didn’t know how else to welcome him.

“The sex and the cuddling are good,” she started, making him chuckle weakly.

“And your dry wit never ceases to amaze me. But I’m back now. I’m blind and my cooking still needs some refining before fitting with any of my standards. A lot of things might never be what they used to be again if I’m honest with myself.”

“Ignis, you don’t have a monopoly on being broken. You’ve felt my scars. If you’d seen me as a teenage girl, I don’t think you would have recognized me today.”

Her voice sounded so dark and Ignis squeezed her hand, feeling protective and sorry for things he couldn’t change. He remembered asking about a few of her scars and the shuddering “no” that made him understand how fragile she could be beneath her armor. He’d mapped her body in his head, from her head to her toes, the virgin skin and each irregularity that made her unique. His memory wasn’t quite sure, because one night wasn’t enough for a trustworthy map, no matter how much he’d hold on to the touches he remembered. The scars that crisscrossed her lower back. The marks on her ankles. The bumps hiding under her hair, outlining one ear and one or two intrusive surgeries.

“You don’t have to tell me everything,” he told her.

“But if I let you in, how long until you insist on knowing?”

“I might insist on a lot of things, but not that.”

Not when there are so many things about myself I can barely share.

Like what wearing the ring did to him. Why he even did it in the first place and the visions of the future, the nightmares where the Chancellor killed Noctis, over and over and the reason why he would wake up gasping and kicking off his sheets in a cold sweat. The lone nights studying until he’d fall asleep on his books in Insomnia, his pathetic attempts at a love life, resulting too often in disappointment because his duty and his work took all his time…

That thought made him wonder if he wasn’t looking for a new obligation. Something to replace the duty and work he’d lost when Noctis stepped into that damn crystal.

“Eos to Ignis,” Aranea told him. “Am I that boring you need to rush deep inside your mind?”

“I’m sorry, I… I think too much.”

The admission hurt him, because he used to believe one person could never think too much.

“Didn’t I tell you those very words in my airship?”

“I think you did back in Steyliff grove too.”

She stiffened at that, which surprised him.

“It was a strange way to begin, wasn’t it? I don’t usually throw myself at strangers.”

“And I don’t tackle girls to cave walls to kiss them senseless,” he told her. “We were both on edge.”

“Do you think that will ever stop?” Aranea asked him.

With the way their world was working right now, or not fully working, it was doubtful.

“Does it matter? We’re not trapped in a dark ruin at least.”

Her sad laugh and the way her fingers brushed the star-shaped scar on his face made it hard to breathe. He wasn’t over it yet, it was hard to tell if he could ever be fully over it.

“What do you want from me, Ignis?”

“I’m not sure yet. What would you want?”

Turning his face toward her was nerve-wrecking, because while still having a sense of self, he was starting to forget what his expressions might look like. Not seeing anything gave him the false impression people couldn’t see him, and that illusion made him feel more exposed than he’d ever been. He didn’t know what his smile looked like, didn’t know whether his face let out more than he was ready to show.

“The men who got that far with me weren’t really interested in what I wanted,” she confessed, her voice a bit higher than her usual. “And I don’t do dates or… normal.”

“Well, that last part is good to hear. I suck at dates. We could devise something that fit for us instead. Homemade dinner and long talks with wine.”

She mmmmd her approval, blinking too fast as she realized how easy it was to picture herself with him. Not for rushed physical comfort, although that would have to be a bonus, because they fit too well together.

“I sure like talking with you. Even with the bad puns,” she paused, before tugging on his shoulder and adding on a lower tone, with a hint of vulnerability. “Lie down with me?”

He was happy to oblige.

“You’ve yet to tell me what you want,” Ignis insisted.

“Exclusive access to your ass,” she declared, laughing as he gasped at her bold phrasing. “Let me say it less crudely, Scientia. I think I’d like… a few nights of your week. And mornings where we can sleep in.”

“That’s easy…”

“That’s where you’re wrong. We’re still going to leave on hunts and fight daemons and the rare imperial patrols dropping here and there. And if I invest myself any more, I doubt I can…”

Her right hand turned into a fist against his chest and he held her closer, as though he could hide her and protect her from all the hurt and losses she was holding back. He wanted to tell her he wouldn’t die until Noctis came back but was too afraid of the potential questions. He’d been faced with them a few times already and he still lacked the answers he needed back then.

If you were to choose between the prince and I, it would be him, wouldn’t it? You’d rather keep your duty than your heart.

My duty is my heart. And now it’s a gaping void, threatening to devour me as I wait and despair…

“What else, Aranea?”

“I’ll need time. If you insist too much, I might grow greedy.”

But he’d already sensed how she refused to be indebted to anyone. How she played fair, be it on the battlefield, when she dealt a new contract or when their bodies mixed. On impulse, he kissed her jaw, her hair and let her voice guide his lips and fingers as he looked for the familiar shivers and those hands reaching for him.

Even in his never-ending darkness, where sounds, smells and touches were hints and threats, Aranea had a way of giving him everything he craved. She was gentle and rough, she made him feel like a whole man, not just a shadow of the one he used to be.

“Iggy…!”

The nickname almost made him weep as they came undone together. And thus begun their waltz around each other. It was hard to find a balance, because while they comforted each other, Ignis felt cemented to his friends and Aranea needed space. He stayed over her place two nights a week, than three, and while Lestallum’s population was overtaxing the city, they slowly accepted to live together, in between the hunts and the few missions Cor gave her. When Gladiolus finally understood what was going on, much to Ignis’ surprise, he congratulated him, while Prompto asked how he’d miss it with shock in his voice.

His friends’ instant support and the fact they didn’t resent him for having something they didn’t themselves meant the world to him. He felt awful whenever he wondered what Noctis’s reaction could be, considering he had lost Lunafreya in such awful circumstances. Would he see it as a treason from his oldest friend? Was he simply trying to replace his duty and the missing parts of his heart with someone that made him feel useful? No, that would be plain wrong, and he didn’t want to undermine all that Aranea meant to him. The initial crush and desperate chemistry had shifted to full affection, and after four months living with her, Ignis knew his heart was gone once more. He’d never felt so at home before, or that twitch of worry if she came a few days later from a mission. Not to mention the relief whenever he could simply be around her.

Aranea was quick to point out what a good influence she was on him.

“Why? Because you’re making me selfish?”

“Precisely.”

 Among their activities, Ignis and Aranea had taken cooking, training, hunting and scavenging. The cooking was nice, Ignis teaching her most of his recipes and finding a few tricks as to cook on his own and not only with someone’s supervision. The time it took for something to roast, the scents and sounds helped and while Aranea wasn’t the most organized woman, she did respect his need for perfect order in their small kitchen.

“I couldn’t find garlic this time,” she explained, an apology in her voice, despite how much she tried to sound casual.

Ignis mentally went over the spices he had left. Supplies and resources were growing rarer every week. The market had shrunk down and soon, rations would be handed over to every resident. Currencies might plummet, and it had only been one and a half years since Noctis had entered his crystal sleep as Prompto had started calling it.

It was a nightmare for the jurisdiction and Monica wanted Ignis sitting on the council on a weekly basis now. The weight of that responsibility scared him. Gladiolus only took rescue and hunting missions, refusing to touch anything political and Prompto had been left mostly alone, focusing on hunting and the construction efforts all around Lestallum. Lights needed to be repaired, houses and apartment blocks were erected, with soldiers and hunters keeping a constant guard. The city was desperately growing, a beacon of light in the darkness. And Ignis was ashamed by the fact he didn’t mind not seeing the harsh reality with his own eyes.

“It’s getting hard to grow anything… The green houses were attacked again.”

“At this rate, we’ll lose more people from the lack of sun than the daemons,” Aranea sighed.

Her usual combativeness seemed temporarily gone and Ignis carefully walked up to her. She tried pushing his hands away at first, only to accept his warm hug after meeting his preoccupied expression.

“Are you scared?”

“You might say it’s my natural state of mind,” she mocked herself.

“That won’t do. It’s only garlic, after all.”

She really wanted to snap at him but ended up laughing, only to feel his arms wrapping her in a stronger embrace.

“I can surely find a way to change your “natural” mindset.”

“You would undo 31 years of conditioning? I know you like challenges, but… You’re already putting up with me almost every day.”

“You can’t expect me to like the idea you’re almost constantly scared, Aranea.”

“I wish I could take those words back…”

“Please don’t… You don’t have to be strong all the time.”

“And you really shouldn’t be this sweet all the time,” she shot back, pushing him just far enough so she could tug on his collar for a kiss.

Ignis knew by then, but the words on his heart couldn’t come out yet. Living together and being known by their neighbors and friends as a couple was asking a lot out of Aranea. She had to go over her fears of being abandoned, over her fear of getting hurt beyond repair, and from all the times he’d woke up to her screams and nightmares, he knew how deep the scars ran.

He did wake her up too, an awful lot at that, and they usually teased each other about it, as they both wanted to dismiss the pain each of them was carrying.

It was on a quiet night, as he lied on his side, one arm lazily wrapped around her waist, Aranea reading him a book, a tradition slowly settling with his cecity. She halted in the middle of a sentence, shuffling until she could see his face. He blinked his eye, letting her know he was still awake and guessed she was smiling from the way her hand followed his jaw and the very light stubble he’d really meant to shave before she got home.

“What is it?”

“It hit me, just now. Promise you won’t laugh.”

“Aranea…” he started, worry lacing into his voice.

“I love you, Ignis.”

He had expected a lot of things, but not those words. A part of him wasn’t sure why she even felt the need to say them. She had let him into her life, into her bed and her house already.

“It hit you? Like a revelation?”

The chuckle in his voice made her roll her eyes.

“I know it’s stupid and unlike me. But lying in bed with our clothes on, just snuggling and reading some adventure fiction…”

“This is one of the best series ever written,” he objected to her dismissive tone.

“Iggy!”

The fear in her voice didn’t go unnoticed to him and he kissed her temple for an apology.

“I’m sorry for cutting you off,” he added. “I’ve loved you for a very long time now. It just never seemed like the right time to say it.”

She looked at him in silence for a long time and his nerves soon refused to take it anymore. His hands cupped her face, his fingers gently tracing her lips, the curve of her nose and the shape of her eyebrows as he tried to piece together her expression. He didn’t do it often, Aranea usually chiding him for invading her space when he simply had to ask. This time, she welcomed the touch, kissing his fingertips and the smile he’d deduced was confirmed by her laugh.

“You were afraid I’d run?” she asked him.

“That was a good part of it.”

It sounded silly now that he admitted it out loud, because there weren’t many places where people could live with the state of the world. Accordo had fallen, so had Galdyn Quay and the last bastion of humanity outside of Lestallum was Hammerhead.

“This is going to sound crazy, but I was afraid of you running more than a few times myself.”

“We had better drop this attitude. You’re not getting rid of me this easily.”

She snuggled a little closer to him, wondering when her mind had accepted to let her life shift into something this comfortable.

“I’ve never dreamed I could have anything like this. Thank you for showing me better.”

Words came to mind, but Ignis found it hard to speak. To think he could show her things when he had the impression it was always her guiding him, always her holding him in the dark.

“If you want anything more, you only need to ask, Aranea.”

She was content with their life this way, despite the constant fear, the fact every night spent in each other’s arms might be the last. During the following months, they slowly found a new rhythm, how the little attentions made the eternal night brighter, how they could cheer each other up after a long hunting trip or more bad news from the council.

He helped her with her wounds, while she supported him as the responsibilities slowly piled up on his shoulders. From a simple advisor, he was slowly becoming Monica’s right-hand man and a full-time voice on city council. Lestallum had expanded to the point every refugee had a roof above their heads and the green houses were finally holding up, the food supplies not a problem unless the city was under a massive attack. Gladiolus had gotten himself a more serious girlfriend than his usual one-night stands, while Prompto seemed to gather his nerves and find the courage to actually flirt with Cindy.

“There’s been a crazy idea in my head,” Aranea told him as she set the last dirty dish on the counter.

“What type of crazy?”

“Domestic crazy. At least I think…”

She sounded terribly unsure and even after hearing more about her past, seeing her wounded and tired and holding her through the aftermaths of a hundred nightmares, Ignis had to say, he wasn’t used to her being unsure. Furrowing his brows but carefully keeping his expression neutral otherwise, he leaned his head forward, hoping she would go on.

“It’s pretty selfish,” she warned him.

“Aranea, I told you before. If you want something, you ask.”

She almost refused the gifts he would offer her on her birthdays, even if they were extra simple. He could almost hear her worrying her lower lip and crossed the space between them. She held back his hands, but refused to step between his arms, facing him with a serious expression he couldn’t see at all.

“I’m not sure what sort of domestic idea could get you so worked up… I’m not going to panic…” he tried reassuring her.

“I’d like… I think I’d like for something more. I might not be mentally ready for it, but my body will grow older and at one point, it won’t be possible anymore… I know this apartment is small and would get smaller from it…”

His logic drew conclusions, but his heart and mind weren’t sure he could follow. She saw the change on his face, the hesitation and doubts slowly creeping.

“What if we had a child, Ignis?”