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Ignis Scientia was a guy who kept his cards close to his chest.

Gladio had learned that pretty early on in their friendship, back when they were still just kids. It had taken him months of friendly waves and invitations to lunch before Ignis was comfortable talking to him, and another year before Gladio knew he’d gained the other’s trust. But even then, at twelve and eleven years old, Gladio was the more stubborn of the two of them, and he’d made it a personal mission to befriend the smaller, bespectacled boy.

Ignis hadn’t made it easy. Even when their darkest secrets were nothing more than sneaking out to play in the park at night and nicking sweets from the Citadel kitchen, he had always preferred to ask Gladio questions rather than answer any about himself.

At first, it had upset Gladio. Was there something wrong with him? Was he annoying? Did Ignis not like him? It had hit him like a ton of bricks the day he realized that Ignis wasn’t doing it on purpose. Ignis did like him, and he did trust him. It wasn’t that he was trying to be secretive, or sneaky, or evasive. That was just the kind of guy he was.

Quiet. Reserved. A little cautious.

And there was nothing wrong with that. Hell, as Noct’s advisor, it was probably a good thing that Ignis could keep his mouth shut. Advisors were supposed to observe and listen and, well - advise, not run their mouths.

Still, it was more than a little frustrating for Gladio. Because he wasn’t the type of guy to keep things from his friends. If they asked, he told. Apart from the crown secrets he was duty sworn to take to his grave, he was pretty much an open book. To be honest, he preferred it that way; secrets were more trouble than they were worth.

He’d told Ignis that once.

Ignis had just smiled at him in that way he had, the smile that said, “If you say so, Gladio”.

But maybe his words had finally had some kind of an effect. Maybe, after years of telling his friend that secrets only caused problems, he seemed to have finally left some kind of impression.

Because one night, far later than was usual - or appropriate, as Ignis would probably say - he came to Gladio with a confession, eyes darting every which way as he’d asked to come into Gladio’s apartment.

“I’ve something to tell you,” he’d said, too anxious to sit. He’d paced around the living room, arms crossed over his chest, eyes boring a hole into the carpet.

Gladio had waited, the patient one for once, wondering what could possibly have Ignis so worked up.

As it turned out, it’d been a guy.

A special guy - one Gladio hadn’t known existed before that night.

“Wait, you mean - like, a boyfriend?”

“Yes,” Ignis had snapped, finally turning to face Gladio, brows furrowed. “Is that so hard to believe?”

He must have sounded more startled than he actually had been, for there had some been hurt in Ignis’ voice - well hidden, but Gladio knew him well enough to hear it. His mouth had worked furiously for a second as he tried to come up with the right thing to say, tried to explain that no, he wasn’t surprised, he was just… well.

Surprised.

He shouldn't have been - not really. There were lots of things Ignis didn't tell him even now, and lots of things he didn't ask. 

“You never said anything,” he’d finally settled on, figuring that was the least accusatory of the sentences threatening to burst from his lips.

Ignis had deflated a bit, shoulders hunching as his eyes dropped back to the floor. “No,” he agreed. “I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would last,” Ignis had admitted. “He’s…”

As he’d stood there, trying to describe this guy he liked enough to call his boyfriend, Ignis had smiled. Gladio almost hadn’t recognized him - it was such a soft expression, something gentle and sweet and lovely, something almost intimate, and he felt a little embarrassed at having seen it. That kinda smile wasn’t meant for him - it was meant for one person, and only them. He’d pointedly looked away.

Ignis had gone on to describe the guy - Lexi, that was his name, short for Alexius, Lexi from Crown Avenue Coffee, Lexi who'd noticed Ignis' caffeine addiction and written his number on a styrofoam to-go cup - growing more and more confident with each word. Clearly, the guy made Ignis happy, if he looked like that just from talking about him.

What Gladio wouldn’t give to find someone who made him that happy.

But he was a serial dater, not a serial boyfriend. His flings tended to be short and sweet, short and hot and heavy, and he lost interest before anything more serious could developed. That the kind of bubbling, overwhelming elation he’d felt pouring off Ignis? Wasn't something he was familiar with. And that was okay - plenty of time for that later.

He was only twenty, after all. 

“Gladio, I think - I think I love him.”

Gladio had frozen, unsure of what to say. He hadn’t said anything, for a moment. He couldn’t. He’d been too surprised. Ignis, in love?

He’d had to mentally scold himself for being as startled as he was.

“Shit. That’s… you sure?”

Ignis had given a little laugh, running a hand through his hair and upsetting the carefully combed strands. Gladio had frowned; since when had Iggy done that with his hair when he was nervous? That was something he did. 

Huh.

“I don’t know,” Ignis had replied. “I don’t, I - have you ever been in love, Gladio?”

“Nah.”

“Oh? I hadn’t realized… ah.”

Gladio had snorted. “That so weird?” he’d said.

“Apologies. I didn’t mean to imply-”

“Iggy,” Gladio had interjected, cutting him off before he could really apologize for something so trivial. “You didn’t.”

Ignis had nodded, still looking a bit sheepish, and so Gladio had hastened to start the conversation flowing again.

“So, you love the guy.”

Ignis did. Or at least, he thought he did. He hadn’t been sure at the time, and Gladio wasn’t sure he was sure now. They hadn’t spoken of it much since he’d come to Gladio in such a panic, wondering what this meant for the future. 

That had been the reason he’d come to Gladio that night, as it turned out. He’d wanted Gladio’s advice. He wanted to know what to do.

Gladio hadn’t had anything to tell him, other than to do what he thought was best.

And Ignis, it seemed, wasn’t keen on keeping him informed of how it went. For the better part of a month, Ignis said nothing. Nor did Gladio ask.

Gods, he wanted to. He couldn’t help it - he was curious. Ignis was his best friend, his oldest friend. It was natural to want to know what was going in on his personal life, yeah? But he also didn’t want to pry. He respected the guy’s privacy, and if Ignis didn’t want to give him details, Gladio wouldn’t press him.

No matter how insatiable his curiosity was.

Then, one night, again at a stupidly late hour for company, Ignis had once again shown up on his doorstep, this time with his lower lip between his teeth. Gladio didn’t ask questions; he dragged his friend in by the elbow, gently pushing him down into the closest chair he could find before padding into the kitchen and getting him the drink he looked like he sorely needed.

That wasn't the sort of expression that boded well. 

“I need your advice,” Ignis said, taking the can of beer Gladio pushed into his hands.

“‘Bout what?” Gladio asked. He cracked the seal on his own drink, bringing it to his lips and taking a swig.  

“It’s about… Lexi.”

Gladio snorted. “Don’t got a lot of experience with relationships, Iggy,” he admitted. “You know that.”

“You’ve dated before,” Ignis disagreed.

“Yeah, but not seriously,” Gladio replied. “And I sure as hell haven’t dated anyone long enough to think I might love ‘em.”

“Be that as it may… you’ve more experience than anyone else I know.”

Gladio couldn’t argue with that.

“So what it is, then?” he asked, sitting down across from his friend. “What’s up, Iggy?”

Ignis didn’t speak for a minute, fiddling with the can in his hand. When he did, his voice was quiet. “I told Lexi,” he said. “I told him…”

Gladio didn’t need him to finish the sentence. He knew what Ignis had said. Surprised at the surge of the anticipation that welled up in his stomach, he tried to quash it, focusing on Ignis instead.

Ignis, who hadn’t said anything since he’d made his confession.

“Yeah?” Gladio prompted. “And? How’d he take it?”

“He…”

Gladio frowned, sitting up a little straighter. “Iggy?”

“He didn’t say anything,” Ignis continued. “He just stood there, looking at me… then I said his name, wondering if maybe he hadn’t heard me.”

Gladio's hand tightening around his beer.

“He smiled, and kissed me, and then said something about having to go,” Ignis said. “I’ve hardly spoken to him since.”

“... since?”

“It’s been four days,” Ignis admitted. He cleared his throat, taking another sip of beer. “I think I’ve made a mistake, Gladio.”

Fuck.

It was even worse than Gladio had thought. He didn’t have to be an expert to see where this was going. He barely suppressed a groan, half-wanting to get up and trap his friend in a big, bear hug. Because shit, man, he might not have ever had a serious relationship before, but he had enough experience to know it fucking stung when something ended.

And that was what had happened, right? It was over? Iggy had been dumped?

“Iggy…”

“It’s not - this isn’t the end,” Ignis said suddenly, a new strength to his voice that had been lacking before. “We have plans tomorrow for dinner.”

“... Yeah?”

“Afterwards, we have tickets to see the symphony,” Ignis said, nodding. “I bought them months ago. He wouldn't cancel on me, not now. He wouldn't.” 

“You all still going?”

“So far as I know,” Ignis replied. “I haven’t… I should ask.”

He pulled his phone out, tapping the screen rapidly as he navigated through the interface.

Gladio took the moment to study him, to really look at his friend. He was tense; it showed in the hard lines of his shoulders, in the set of his jaw. His brows were furrowed, bangs falling down into eyes ringed red with what Gladio was sure was lack of sleep.

He grimaced.

What was he supposed to say?

What was he supposed to do?

Ah, fuck. He was no good at this kind of thing.

“There,” Ignis announced, setting his phone aside. “I’ve asked him.”

“Think he’ll text back?”

“I don’t know,” Ignis admitted. “I hope so.”

“What if it’s not what you wanna hear?”

Ignis hadn’t answered for a long minute.

“Well,” he said, finally, “I suppose we’ll get to that if it comes to it, won’t we?”

As it turned out, it didn’t.

Come to that.

They sat there for close to two hours, Ignis nervously tapping his phone every couple of minutes, Gladio trying to keep his mind off things with pointless small talk. It didn’t work, not really. Ignis was too good at not being distracted.

Still, Gladio persisted.

Iggy deserved nothing less.

Then, right as the midnight news report Gladio had turned on changed to late-night television, Ignis got a phone call. He jerked to his feet, grabbing the phone and nearly dropping it in his haste to get it to his ear.

“Hello?” he’d asked, breathless. “Yes?”

Gladio flipped the TV off, tossing the remote to the side.

He shouldn’t listen to this. It was private. He stood, making to go into the kitchen and throw away the beers he’d been sipping on - where he abruptly realized he could still hear each and every word Ignis spoke in the other room.

Shit.

He stood there, uncertain, half-tempted to put his hands over his ears. But it was so quiet, the only sound the soft humming of his air conditioner. His hands wouldn't stop him from hearing Ignis. 

“I see.”

Pause.

“Well, it doesn’t sound like you’re going to change your mind.”

Another pause.

“You know I can’t do that, Lexi, I-”

There was a choked sound, wet and raspy, and Gladio put a hand over his mouth, biting down on finger.

Was Ignis… was he crying?

Fuck.

He’d never seen Ignis cry. Not once. Even when he’d broken his wrist after a bad landing on a back handspring, Ignis had born with it with a grim sort of determination. Some people didn’t even think he could cry. Gladio didn’t believe that, not for a minute. Ignis wasn’t the stoic, emotionless person some seemed to think he was.

This moment was proof of that.

“I - I suppose it is.” Ignis took a deep, shaking breath. “Yes. Yes, it is. I-”

Gladio turned around just in time to see him take the phone away from his ears, staring at a suddenly blank screen.

“Iggy?”

Ignis looked up, blinking. “He hung up on me,” he said absently, eyes flicking back down to the screen. “I…”

He didn’t say anything else, and with in a sickening moment of clarity, Gladio realized he was waiting - waiting to see if the bastard who’d just dumped him was gonna call him back. No, more than just waiting. He was hoping. Gladio could see it in his face.

But the phone stayed silent.

It didn’t ring.

And after another five minutes, it seemed Ignis accepted it as well, letting his arm fall limply to his side.

Gladio took a cautious step towards him, one hand outstretched. “Hey,” he said. “You…”

You what? You “okay?” You “good?” Hell no, he’s not good, Amicitia.

Do better.

But what could he say, when Ignis just looked so… so… so fucking bewildered? So hurt? So damn sad ?

He didn't know. 

"He... he ended it."

He didn't fucking know.

"Said it was best... best not to go further if he couldn't reciprocate my feelings."

Say something - anything. ANYTHING.

"... I should go."

No.

"Thank you, for letting me stay so long. I'm sorry. This whole thing was a waste of time-"

No.

Ignis turned, making for the door.

At the last second, Gladio moved, catching him by the wrist and holding him fast. "Iggy, wait," he murmured. "Are you-?"

Ignis wouldn't look at him, face contorted in pain. He tried to hide it, bringing his free hand up to cover his mouth, blinking furiously.

"Gladio... what happens now? What do I-"

He choked, shaking his head bitterly when the words refused to come.

Something in Gladio broke at the sight of it.