“Iggy,” Noct bursts into his adviser’s office, breathless and red-faced.
Ignis looks up from his paperwork immediately and rises. “Noct, what’s wrong?”
“She isn’t here—I can’t find her—not answering messages—no one else has seen her—”
“Ssssshhhh, Noctis, love,” Ignis coos as he rounds his desk and embraces the frazzled prince.
Noctis balls his fists into Ignis’ shirt and buries his face in Ignis’ broad, soft chest. “She’s gone,” he chokes out.
“Who’s gone?” But Ignis doesn’t really have to ask.
“_____________,” he cries. “Maybe you were right—maybe I came on too strong—was physical too fast—now she’s gone and I didn’t even say goodbye—“
“Noctis,” Ignis’ clear, calm voice cuts through the turmoil in Noct’s head. “You’re saying that ___________ isn’t at the Citadel today.”
Noct shakes his head roughly.
“There must be some explanation. Surely she’s not gone.” He pets his prince’s hair and guides him to the couch.
Noctis draws away, still sniffling. “Can you—check? Somehow, I don’t know, but...”
“I will,” Ignis promises, cupping Noct’s cheek. “It’s going to be all right.”
Noctis nods and exhales slowly as Ignis rises and goes back to the computer. After a few minutes of typing and clicking, Noct hears an “Aha!”
“What, what?!” he calls.
“According to the electronic time card system the employees use, she never clocked in this morning, as you so accurately observed. However, ten hours of sick time have been filled in next to her name.”
“She’s—she’s sick?” Noctis sniffs back his tears and jumps to his feet. “I have to go to her—I have to help, I...”
“And risk getting an illness yourself? I think not,” Ignis replies, closing out of the employee time sheet program. “I am sure she is capable of taking care of herself. Surely she’s taken medicine and has eaten nutrient-dense foods to keep up her immune system.”
“Yeah, but—she's alone, and hurting, and...” Noctis sniffs again. “Please let me go, Iggy. Please.”
Ignis sighs. He’s so weak, and this is where he’s gotten himself after a decade (and then some) of indulging Noct’s whims. He rubs his eyes beneath his glasses and sits again, opens the Citadel employee database, and texts Noct his lover’s address.
Noct checks his phone when it chimes and he nods, slipping it back into his pocket. “Thanks Iggy.”
“If I hear so much as a cough when you return, I’m going to be quite cross with you.”
Noctis nods and holds up two fingers. “Prince’s honor,” he says as the door to Ignis’ office opens again.
“Hmph, prince’s honor, huh? How much is that worth?” Gladio’s deep voice cuts through their chatter.
“Oh, fuck off,” drawls Noctis. “Move. I have to go.”
“I hope you mean that you’re going with me right now to train.” Gladio folds his big, beefy arms and levels his gaze at his prince.
Noctis groans. “I can’t, Gladio. Tomorrow I’ll do double, I promise.”
“What’s more important? Please, enlighten me, your Highness,” Gladio grits out.
“_____________ is sick,” Noctis says quietly, puppy dog eyes looking up at Gladio with pain. “I’m going to go take care of her.”
Gladio’s gaze softens instantly, and he looks across the room to Ignis. “You’re letting him do this?”
Ignis sighs. “I don’t think I could talk him out of it if I tried.”
“You don’t try at all, Iggy. You baby him too much.”
“I’m a grown adult,” groans Noctis, “and you guys are mean.” He wipes his eyes.
“You been crying over this?” Gladio steps close to his prince and thumbs moisture from his cheek.
Noct’s face reddens. “No, I just—I thought she was gone because I couldn’t find her,” he mumbles.
“He was quite distraught,” Ignis confirms.
“How come no one told me she had to call out sick?”
“Highness,” Ignis says gently. “Do you really think the supervisor of the janitorial staff is going to bother you with the details of who’s not at work today?”
Noct shrugs. “They don’t think I care?”
“They know you don’t care.”
Noctis huffs. “Maybe I should start caring,” he mumbles.
Ignis grins. “Maybe you should. Now, I’ll call a car down.”
“I can walk.”
“Noctis, she lives halfway across the city.”
“I’ll drop him off,” sighs Gladio. “And you—” he points at Noctis— “better be at training tomorrow. Your little girlfriend better be worth it.”
“She is,” says Noctis without hesitation.
Noctis waves goodbye to Gladio, who says he’ll stay in the neighborhood until Noct’s finished. The prince is standing in front of a four-story apartment complex that looks as though it’s way past its prime. She lives at the end of the first floor—lucky for Noctis, he didn’t feel like taking the stairs today anyway. He gazes up at the rest of the balconies—most of them have clothes on a line, drying in the afternoon sun. There are about a dozen more that have little grills out on their landings, exotic sounds and smells wafting down to his nostrils. The prince is enthralled by the common community of it all. Children in bare feet with dirty knees run en mass past him as he approaches the building, kicking around a half-deflated soccer ball. A few of them slow to a halt, give Noctis a once-over, and bow messily, whispering reverent “Your Highnesses” as they run to catch up with their friends. The little girls blush and giggle; Noctis smiles and winks at them.
He knocks on the door, double-checking his phone to make sure he’s at the right unit. There’s no answer at first—he has to bang three more times before he hears the click of the lock on the other side.
“Who is it—” ___________ manages to croak out the words; but by the time she’s cracked the door and has seen her prince on the other side, her eyes get wide and scared and she grabs him by the bicep and yanks him inside. “Ifrit’s balls, Noctis! What the hell are you doing here?” Her voice is raspy and biting.
Noctis says nothing as he pulls her into a hug. She’s sweaty and greasy, looking like she’s slept fitfully, heavy bags under her swollen eyes.
_____________ is feverish and hot and appalled at having Noctis so suddenly in her home—but she can’t help but melt into the prince’s arms. Noctis holds her for a long time before finally letting go.
“I was so worried about you,” he says quietly as he cups her round face in his hands. “I cried—I thought you had left me forever, I thought I had overwhelmed you and made you quit—”
“Highness,” she breathes, and Noct can’t even hate his title right now. “I would never leave you. I just had to call off sick.” She wiggles out of Noct’s grasp. “You shouldn’t be here—if someone sees, I...”
“Do kids count? Big group of them playing soccer outside,” Noctis laughs. “A couple of them bowed. Little girls all giggly and stuff, you know how they are.”
“Oh shit. Noctis, you have to go, you shouldn’t have come, I—the place is a wreck, and I...” She bites her lip and looks down. “I never wanted you to see where I live...”
Noctis looks around and focuses on the inside of the apartment. The walls are a mixture of drab off-white and dull wood paneling. There’s popcorn ceilings and ugly shag carpeting. Still, it’s clean, for the most part. There are overflowing shelves of books and manga and video games, some collectible action figures on the shelves, cheap posters on the walls. Despite her protests, Noctis moves to inspect the tiny kitchen, surprised to see the washer and the dryer right next to the pantry; he wanders into the little dusty bathroom, and then her small bedroom.
_____________ trails him the whole time, trying to explain everything away, getting more and more embarrassed as the time goes on. He stops in front of her bed and sits.
“Noct, please,” she croaks out, and pulls a blanket from the foot of the bed and wraps herself with it. “I’m embarrassed, you should go—I'll get better soon, you don’t have to worry, I’ll be okay—”
“Do you think I’m judging you?”
She clamps her mouth shut and shakes her head. “I never said that, I just...I...”
“I love you no matter where you live, no matter where you come from.” Noct looks up and smiles warmly. “Your apartment is cute. Very you. I like your posters.” He looks around—there are more along the walls in the bedroom, almost wallpapering out the drab, dirty white of the walls.
She sighs and bites her lip. “Heh, well. This complex is technically subsidized by you, after all.”
“It’s government housing, Noct. The state pays for more than half of it. I make too little to live anywhere else.”
Noctis files that information away for later. He looks at his cleaning girl. “You should take a hot shower,” he says. “What have you eaten? Do you have medicine?”
She nods. “I've just been sleeping all day. I’m sorry, that’s why I didn’t answer any of your messages...I didn’t mean to make you worry. I’m so sorry.” She covers her mouth and coughs. “The neighbors made me some soup and brought it over. I had some cold medicine but I took the last of it early this morning. I’m out.”
Noctis rises. “Gladio dropped me off; he’s staying close by. You go shower and we’ll go out and get you what you need.”
“No, no, you don’t have to do that! Really, Noct, I—”
“Hey,” says Noct, firmly. “You take care of me all the time. Please, let me do this for you, okay? I love you and I want to help you.”
_____________ sighs in defeat and nods. She stands on her tiptoes to kiss Noct on the cheek, and drops the blanket and begins undressing.
Both Gladio and Noctis come back half an hour later with the healthiest pre-made food they could find, along with almost every type of cold and flu medicine, vitamin C caplets, vitamin C drink powder, cough drops, an essential oil diffuser, a humidifier, and three new throw blankets from the pharmacy down the street. Gladio orders her to sit at her kitchen bar with Noctis—there’s no table—while he takes it upon himself to heat up the organic vegetable soup and clean her apartment from top to bottom. Noctis joins Gladio in helping until the evening; and as much as he wants to stay, his shield finally drags him off, scolding him when Noctis tries to bend his neck and get a full peck on the lips.
A week later, Noctis tries to unsuccessfully hide his cough from Ignis, who puts him on house arrest, much to a very dismayed ____________, who goes over to his high-rise after her shift at the Citadel and returns the favors.