“Um… Gladdy,” a small voice said over the sizzling of a massive dualhorn steak on the griddle.
“What, pipsqueak?” he scowled, though his voice carried little irritation really. He adored Iris.
“Don’t panic, but Ignis Scientia is here.”
Gladio blinked, if he’d been given a live octopus to eat whole, he couldn’t have looked more terrified. “Ignis… Freaking… Scientia is here? In my steakhouse?”
“Fu-” A loud clatter of pans cut his curse off like a santoku knife through fresh tuna. “Prom, you ok?”
“Yup!” he said, picking up the pan and moving to the sink with it. “Sorry chef. But did I hear you say Ignis Scientia was here?”
“You did. Fuck. Ok. Iris, you’re in charge in here now. And get Noct. Tell him to have a wine ready to pair with whatever the fuck Scientia wants, ok?” Adrenaline coursed through every cell in his body, but he bit it back, breathed deeply, smoothed his apron down, and stepped out into the restaurant.
Sitting at a secluded table in the corner, a pale dog curled demurely at his feet, was a tall, slender man, with iron grey hair swept back of his face, and his trademark eye-shield wrapped around his face. Ignis Scientia was a name that could instil fear in even the cockiest chefs right across Insomnia. His scathing reviews had shut places down, and sent chefs and restaurant owners into early retirement.
And now he was here.
At Gladio’s simple steakhouse.
And he was gorgeous too.
Fuck. You’re not here to ogle the man, Gladio snarled at himself as he approached. He was fit, and so despite his size his footsteps were usually quiet, but even above the hubbub of his busy restaurant, Ignis Scientia’s hearing proved itself to be as sharp as his tongue and taste buds.
And his nose, apparently. “You must be Gladiolus,” he said as Gladio drew to a halt at his table. Ignis inclined his head ever so slightly, his nostrils flaring.
“Never seem to be able to shake the aura of the kitchens,” he grinned, trying to hide his nerves behind that affable nature that so often won people over. “It’s a pleasure to have you here at the Citadel Steakhouse.”
“So far, it’s a pleasure to be here,” he said. “Your front of house staff have been most accommodating to me and Pryna here.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Would you like to choose from our menu, or would you like me just to bring you something instead.”
The cold politeness in his tone made Gladio swallow thickly. “Can I bring you a drink while you wait?”
“Very well. A wine?”
The barest nod of his head.
“Leave the rest to me.”
Drawing out his phone from his pocket, he quickly Moogled the food critic’s favourite wine and nearly collapsed when he realised he didn’t carry anything so fine. Fuck. Noct was really gonna have to pull one out of the bag for this.
Noctis, already pale-skinned, blanched. “You mean… the Restaurant Reaper is here?”
“Yup,” Gladio laughed, slapping the young man on the back. “You gotta impress, kiddo. Get him something to be going on with until we’re ready to go with his steak, yeah?”
Noctis brought him their finest, dry Altissian Tidemother Sparkling and served it with some homemade breadsticks to keep him going. There was none of the cutting remarks, the frigid personality he expected. The blind man accepted the drink, listening hard as Noctis set it down in front of him, and again as he set the small glass of breadsticks beside him, listening quietly as Noctis told him what he was about to drink. Noctis didn’t bother to describe the palette of the wine. He would know a bloody Tidemother. Everyone in the food industry knew a good Tidemother.
He simply thanked the sommelier, and waited until he was left alone with his drink and his lovely dog once more.
Noctis headed straight into the cellars once Gladio had told him what he was preparing for the restaurant critic, and trailed along the dusty shelves until he found something he didn’t even know the origins of. The bottle was an unusual shape though. He uncorked it, sniffed the cork on the end of the screw, swirled the deep red wine in the glass, inhaled, pouted, set it down, and stood in front of it as though it was going to speak to him. Finally, when it had had a little chance to breathe, he brought it to his lips and tasted it.
When Gladio saw him emerging from the cellars a while later, he looked up from the sizzling pan in front of him, and bellowed, “Oi, Princess, you find something?”
“The fuck is this?” Noct yelled back over the din of the kitchen, brandishing the bottle high for a moment.
“No idea. It’s corked?”
“No, it’s fantastic. We’ll split it after he’s gone.”
“We’re gonna need it,” Gladio chuckled, “Make sure you know what it is though…”
“It’s some kind of Galahdian red…”
Gladio frowned. “Check the inventory.”
Finally, in relatively little time, the meal was prepared, and the entire staff of the small, family-run kitchen held its breath as Gladio backed out through the doors, winked at them, and said, “Here goes nothing, gang.”
Ignis was delicately snacking on the last of his delicate parmesan torinesi while he waited. The guide dog was still curled politely at his feet, but she did look up as Gladio arrived, sniffing hopefully.
“Are you always so speedy with your service?” Ignis asked him before he’d even opened his mouth.
“We try, though when Ignis Scientia walks through your door, you don’t hang about.”
“I appreciate the honour. I’ve heard wonderful things about Citadel. I have just never found the time to come here myself.”
“Well, if you don’t like it,” Gladio blabbed before he could shut himself up, “Your gorgeous dog looks interested. You can always toss it to her.” His golden eyes went wide in horror and he bit his lip.
A smile played around the corners of Ignis’ lips, clearly fighting laughter. “It smells far too good to give to her, no matter how well she does her job.”
“I leave that to your judgement. Anyway,” Gladio blushed, clearing his throat. “This is a 137-day, Tenebraean whisky-aged garulessa rib-eye,” he said, setting it down with trembling hands on the table in front of him. “With truffle chips, and roast tomatoes on the vine.”
“Thank you.” Ignis said. He picked up his cutlery, only faltering slightly, but in no time had worked out what was where on the plate, and was beginning.
Gladio left him to it, but if Ignis had had sight, and if he had looked up at the circular holes in the kitchen doors, he would have seen a tiny blond face staring out with wide eyes, a slightly taller black haired sommelier looking nervous too, and behind them all, already starting on the Galahdian red, a six foot five wreck of a behemoth, pale beneath his hearty tan.
“I can’t believe I said that to him,” he muttered disgustedly into his wine. “Feed it to your dog if you don’t like it. Fuck.”
“Gladdy?” Iris laid a hand on his arm. “It’ll be ok.”
He smiled, nodded, and turned back to his kitchen. “Well, we got other customers who ain’t gonna be much more pleased than him if we keep ‘em waiting.”
He almost forgot about Ignis Scientia sitting in a quiet corner of his restaurant as he set himself back to work.
“He’s done,” Prompto squeaked a while later.
“You wanna go get it, chocobo?” Gladio asked, without looking up as he set the final garnish on another garulessa steak.
“What? Me? No way. No freaking way,” Prompto whimpered, backing away from the door. Noctis caught him before he toppled into the deep fat fryer.
“I’m kidding. It’s my name on the restaurant… even if we’re only a humble steakhouse…” Wiping his hands on his apron, he looked down at it and decided to take it off this time.
He approached the table again, amazed as Ignis’ ear locked onto him in seconds, and chuckled. “So, what’d the dog have to say? She like it? She coming back?”
That dangerous, steel-sharp smile suddenly gave way to a deep, baritone laugh, the remainder of the Galahdian red swirling elegantly around the glass in his hand. “It was excellent. I do wish people wouldn’t walk on eggshells around me. I’m only ever truthful.”
“Phew,” Gladio said, half staggering. “Gotta say, it’s mighty intimidating cooking my great-grandad’s favourite steak recipe for Ignis Scientia…”
“I hope to come back to sample more of his recipes,” he smiled.
“I’ll get someone with a little less mouth to serve you next time perhaps,” Gladio said, picking up his plate.
“Oh no,” Ignis said, sipping the remnants of the wine. “No, I hope not. I like your sense of humour.”
“He likes my cooking and my sense of humour?” Gladio mused aloud, before screwing his eyes shut in horror.
But that almost cheeky smile was still there on his handsome face, no less handsome for the fairly extensive scarring around his eyes.
“I’ll, erm… leave you peace now.” But he couldn’t help turning to the dog and saying, “Sorry girl. Maybe if you talk real nice to him, he’ll let you have a treat when you get home, yeah?”
Ignis’ resonant, musical chuckle lingered in his mind for the whole of the rest of Gladio’s night, and when the place finally closed and the floors were swept, the tables wiped, everything tended to, and the kitchen quiet, the four friends sat at a table, glasses in hand, and toasted a success.
“If Gladio could’ve kept his trap shut,” Noctis snarled, “We might have stood a chance against the Restaurant Reaper.”
“As it is,” Prompto intoned in a voice of melodramatic horror, “We’re doomed!”
“Oh Prompto,” Iris chuckled. “Don’t be so pessimistic. He laughed! He never laughs!”
“And he said he liked it,” Gladio added, stretching his long limbs out and leaning back with a grunt. “Shit, that was a fright I didn’t need tonight though. Ignis Scientia…”
When the review came out a week or so later, they all crowded around Prompto’s phone, squabbling over who read it first.
The Citadel Steakhouse represents the pinnacle of everything a good steakhouse should be. The service was friendly without being overbearing, it was accessible, the atmosphere warm, inviting, and of course, the food was sublime. Excellent, honest, traditional food with a contemporary twist here and there – the truffle chips an excellent example of this. The Galahdian red which was paired with the long-aged garulessa steak was exquisite, and I will be in touch with my contacts in Galahd to source a case of it for myself. I will gladly make this one of my regular haunts so long as Gladiolus Amicitia and his team are at the helm.
“Yeah!” Prompto whooped, throwing his fist in the air and somehow hi-fiving Noctis at the same time. Iris threw her arms around both of the younger boys, while Gladio stood, immobile, a tear trickling down the rough scar that slashed down his handsome face.
“Oh Gladdy,” Iris laughed fondly. “Look at you.”
“I’m proud of you lot,” Gladio grinned, looking down at them. “Not that we aren’t that good every night, but I think we surpassed ourselves…”
“Pops would be so proud of all of us,” Iris added.
Ignis Scientia became a regular face at the restaurant, but it wasn’t until a full year later that he asked Gladio to join him at his table, and another two months before he reached his hand out tentatively over the table and caught the chef’s larger hand in his own. “Gladio, coming every Friday has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life.”
“Happy to cook for you, as always,” Gladio replied, heart hammering in his throat. Was this really happening? The man he had first been terrified of, then enamoured with for over a year, was actually gripping his hand with surprisingly strong fingers.
Ignis bowed his head slightly, and if Gladio hadn’t known better he would have said the restaurant critic, the Restaurant Reaper, the man who had crippled any number of establishments in Insomnia, was nervous. But of course, he couldn’t be. Could he? “Gladio, it’s not just the food.”
And he raised Gladio’s scarred, rough knuckles to his lips and kissed them.