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“Counselling kinda sucks,” Noct mutters from his place on the couch, and Ignis’ attention immediately zeroes in on him.

Ignis stays quiet for a full five seconds. It’s an attempt to give Noct space to expand on whatever feelings he has about the sessions he’s been going to, but it seems like the prince doesn’t want to say anything more. Ignis turns off the element on the stove and rests a lid atop the simmering Garulessa meat. Extra time would do it wonders even if Noct hadn’t opted to speak.

Heart beating just a little bit faster, he eyes Noct. The prince is slouched back, looking at his phone and perhaps aimlessly flicking through whatever site he’s currently on; carefully, Ignis moves out from behind the counter, wiping his hands on the tea towel along the way, before approaching Noct with less haste than he wishes.

Noct shifts when he gets closer but only to draw his knees up to his chest to give Ignis room and Ignis gingerly takes the offer, seating himself quietly and neatly beside him.

"You've not made any complaints about it before," Ignis says quietly, not quite looking at Noct just yet. Instead, his gaze stays on the pot he's abandoned even though every sense he possesses is currently attuned to the one sitting right next to him.

"Didn't wanna talk about it." Noct mumbles the words out. Ignis catches each syllable clearly.

He inhales. "Did you... wish to talk about it now?"

There's a pause. Longer if only because of the sounds of a video quietly playing from Noct's phone. Ignis waits patiently.

"Kinda," Noct admits. He shifts again and Ignis feels his gaze on him, yet when he glances over Noct's looking at the floor before them, phone balancing haphazardly on his knee. "I mean, if you're alright with it."

Ignis feels a soft shift in his heart, a quiet ache. He hadn't wished to give Noct the impression otherwise at all. Ignis smiles very gently despite Noct not being able to see it. "Anytime, Noct."

"Alright," Noct says, and draws in a deep breath. "It's just... can't speak to them. Not really."

"Ah." Not a surprise. Ignis has heard talk. The reports themselves were confidential, of course, though Ignis would have access to them if he'd asked considering his current role. Out of respect, he'd not.

"Dad told me you never look at what they write," Noct says suddenly, as if he's read Ignis' mind. "Do you?"

"No, Noct," Ignis responds immediately, reassuringly. "If you wished to say something, then you would say it. I've no desire to creep behind your back to read things you've said in privacy, as well as... likely inaccurate statements about you from another's perspective." He adds the last notion with a slightly indignant tone. Not that he has proof but no one would know Noct like he does. Perhaps it's egotistical of him but... well. He won't apologize for it.

At least it draws a chuckle from Noct, albeit mostly mirthless. "Yeah. They, uh... they tend to prod. Then prod some more if I don't wanna say anything. Gets—kinda annoying."

Ignis sighs. He'd dearly hoped whatever therapist Noct had been seeing wouldn't fall into such a stereotype. Perhaps his side ventures of studying in psychology have not been for naught after all. "You've not requested a change? You're allowed to do so if they make you uncomfortable."

"That's the thing, though," Noct mutters; he rests his head back on the couch and closes his eyes. Tired, perhaps, to the outside eye. Ignis knows it goes deeper. "Roeas isn't—she's not terrible. She's nice. Gentle. Motherly 'nd stuff. But that's—... can't. Do that." It's choppy, the way Noct speaks, and Ignis hears his breath hitch slightly when he struggles to say it all. It makes Ignis' limbs ache with fierce protection with just as much helplessness. "Don't really have the heart to say I don't want her. It'd be—uh." Noct shrugs.

Ignis stays quiet for a moment, turning the words over in his mind, and he shifts so that his back meets the head of the couch. Perhaps he should talk to King Regis about this. At the very least, it would give Noct's father some perspective on what's going on. Ignis rather doubts Noct's been telling the King on his own, not when... not when his health has begun to whither with each passing day. "Noct, would you... perhaps it would be beneficial to take someone in with you." He's heard of that. Read about how it can help.

"I—dunno," Noct says uncertainly. He opens his eyes. Looks at Ignis and their gazes meet for a moment before Noct looks away again. "I'd kinda—I'd be..." He makes a small noise. Another shrug lifts his shoulders half-heartedly.

"Think about it," Ignis urges softly, "if nothing else, it would be for support. They need not comment. Perhaps it can be someone you trust and who'll not judge you." Ignis thinks through the possibilities. Noct's made a few friends. Close ones. He's spending more time with Gladio  and the blond photographer. Prompto, Ignis is sure his name is, and opens his mouth to suggest as such before Noct abruptly looks at him.

"Like you?" Noct asks flatly.

Ignis tries not to be affected by the lack of enthusiasm in his tone. He certainly had considered himself but perhaps Noct would find his presence overbearing. He doubts he would help. Still, he cannot help the slight hunch in his shoulders at the response, the shift in his seat, and lets his head shake. "Not I, Noct. I thought perhaps other, closer friends you've made. You seem to spend a large majority of your free time with your classmate Prompto so he could—"

"So you wouldn't wanna?" Noct seems to curl into himself a bit more and Ignis, immediately, starts to curse up a storm inside his mind. Had he misinterpreted Noct's tone before for disdain on bringing Ignis, the one who constantly nags him, along?

"I would not mind," Ignis says carefully, watching him. "I would be—honoured if you chose me." He's not lying. He would be glad to accompany Noct to his sessions. There's nothing else he would rather do than support Noct through everything he's currently going through.

“Yeah,” Noct mumbles, “honoured sounds ‘bout right.” He looks away. Picks up his phone again.

Gods, can Ignis get any worse at this? He frets though he keeps it internal, knowing if he lets it show then it will make things tenser. This is quite the touchy subject, after all. He should be better at this, not accidentally steering Noct back into his shell. He’s studied psychology in his own time: behavioural therapy, cognitive therapy, mental illnesses, counselling, psychiatry. He’s excelled at them all and only a portion will be for his degree in the first place. Noctis’d given Ignis the opportunity to help him and, by the Six, Ignis will make certain not to waste such an offer.

“Noct, I realize how that sounds,” Ignis says quietly, watching the prince as he unlocks his phone and swipes aimlessly through media content. “Please believe me when I say I want to help you. I only wish for your happiness and health. I promise.”

Noct mutters surly, “’cause that’s your job.”

Ignis feels a cold hand clamp around his heart but he shakes his head. “Because you’re my friend, Noct. My oldest friend, and I care for you as such.”

Noct inhales. He glances at Ignis before he looks back down at his phone. His motions have stopped. “Haven’t been acting like it,” he says quietly, and Ignis feels his eyes burn.

“I apologize,” Ignis whispers, because he knows that to be a truth. “I know I—I take my duty seriously. I’m aware of that. But I’ll do better to be here for you. I swear it.” Gods, he hadn’t meant to. He truly hadn’t. Not when everything he does when he’s away from Noct is mostly for Noct.

“I get it, Specs,” Noct says, sighing. “I do. You have all this work to do. Can’t always be around and you gotta put your foot down when you have to. I get it.”

“That’s no excuse.” The prince looks small and fragile before him. Hunched into himself. A shadow of the excitable child he used to be. Ignis remembers him so clearly. But then, it’s the same person before him, the same boy. He just has to coax him out again. “You always take priority, Noct. Always.”

“Yeah.” Noct’s gaze flickers to him and fixates at his collarbone. “Just—I missed going out like we used to. To see the stars ‘nd all.”

“I’ll schedule nights immediately,” Ignis says softly, swallowing the sudden lump in his throat. “I’ve—missed our outings sorely as well.”

There’s a very faint quirk of Noct’s lips. “Will you stay over too?” The query is quieter. Ignis leans in slightly just to catch it. “Like—like you used to. As well.”

Ignis nods. Those were quieter nights in the midst of Insomnian winter. Nights that grew sparse come summer but they always found a quiet place on the balcony to spread out blankets and bean bags. But that had been when they were younger. If Noct wishes to do so again then Ignis would have no qualms setting things up.

“Yes. If you’ll have me.”

He’s rewarded with a smile. It’s a tiny, hesitant one, but it’s a smile nonetheless and it makes Ignis’ heart swell with warmth.

A moment’s hesitation is given before his mind is made. He extends an arm smoothly in a verbal offer. Noct’s eyes follow the movement, confused at first, before there’s a small noise escaping his lips in realization. It’s a vulnerable sound and Ignis smiles encouragingly, wholly wishing to give even just this to Noct.

Slowly, Noct puts aside his phone and crawls to Ignis’ side of the couch. He seats himself against Ignis, arm snaking behind his back, head tucking against Ignis’ collarbone, and Ignis draws him in as close and as comfortingly as possible. His forearm settles along Noct’s own and, after a moment, Noct entangles their fingers tightly.

Ignis’ breath leaves him at the gesture, but he squeezes back, shifting himself for Noct to relax more. His back already aches at his own awkward positioning but it’s bearable. So long as Noct is fine and able to be soothed by his presence and embrace.

“Gonna come to the sessions with me, Specs?” Noct mumbles beneath him. Ignis can imagine his eyes drooping shut as they always do whenever he gets into a good position. His speech sounds slightly slurred with sleep.

“Of course. Whenever you want me,” Ignis says quietly. His other hand reaches over to briefly thread gently through dark strands.

Noct makes another sound. A small, pleased one. “Okay,” he says simply, and curls tighter against Ignis.

Closing his eyes, Ignis leans back and listens as Noct’s breaths slowly start to even out. Good thing he turned off the stove.