His eyes were heavy and his body felt as if he’d gone ten rounds with one of the Kingsglaives, which didn’t make any sense since Ignis had cancelled his training session today because it was Noct’s 18th birthday. The fancy, royal celebration had taken place the night before and this evening’s activity was a reward for Noct’s enthusiastic participation in it. Massaging the back of his neck, Ignis rose from his seat. He needed another mug of Ebony if he was going to survive the evening’s activity, especially when he had no idea what was happening. Gladio had insisted on planning it and despite Ignis explaining in great detail why it was important that he know what was going to happen, all Gladio had done was clap him on the shoulder, grin that annoyingly confident grin of his and told Ignis not to worry.
“Nothing will go wrong,” Gladio had said, his muscles rippling as he crossed his arms across that wide chest. “Not with me in charge.”
And then, he’d called him Iggy.
Ignis really needed that mug of Ebony now. In the kitchen, he glanced up at the clock. There was a little more than an hour before he had to be at the Citadel which he could use to work on that paper he had due. The mug of hot Ebony in his hands, Ignis was feeling a little calmer. Back at his desk, he pulled out his textbook on International Relations and settled into his chair. There were another four hours before Ignis had to be at a royal meeting. Four hours that he could put to good use.
Ignis was never one to be late for anything, so despite getting only 3 hours of sleep the night before, he arrived at the Citadel with time to spare. But of course, Prompto was already there, sitting on the stairs and playing with his camera. His head popped up as Ignis approached and he lifted his camera, snapping a quick shot.
“Hey Ignis!” Like a puppy, Prompto came bounding over to him. “You’re all ready?”
“Gladio said to pack an overnight bag.” Ignis lifted his bag, opting not to tell Prompto that he’d packed a little more than an overnight bag.
“What’s that other one?”
Ignis looked down at the other bag at his feet. “That’s Noct’s overnight bag.”
Prompto actually pouted a little. “Aw. I thought that the plan was a slumber party at Noct’s. Guess I’m wrong.”
“Gladio said to pack a bag for Noct, so yes, I guess you’re wrong.” Gladio hadn’t actually asked him to pack a bag for Noct. He’d simply assumed, then chided Ignis for babying him. Ignis tried to point out that he wasn’t babying Noct but left to his own devices, Noct would probably forget a half-dozen things he would need. In response, Gladio had muttered something under his breath, shook his head and left.
Rocking back on his heels, Prompto tilted his head and stared at Ignis. “You know what is happening, don’t you? Did Gladio tell everyone except me?”
Ignis pushed up his spectacles and sighed. “It’s not difficult to guess. What is it Noct likes best?”
“Sleeping? No wait - fishing!”
“Exactly,” said Ignis. “And this is Gladio’s plan -”
“Oh right! We’re going camping.” The disappointment in Prompto’s voice made Ignis smile.
“Come on then. Let’s get the birthday boy.”
Despite being Gladio’s plan, Ignis found himself behind the wheel. He’d made suitable complaining noises about it to the grinning Gladio, but was inwardly pleased. Driving, even when he was exhausted, gave him control and Ignis liked control, especially since Gladio was insistent that they would camp outside the wall. Ignis thought it was a foolish risk to take, something he had expressed quite firmly to Gladio, but had been summarily overruled by the other three. Prompto especially, had been very eager to see the what was beyond the wall. Flicking on the navigation system, Ignis sighed then started the car.
He had to admit that the place Gladio chose was gorgeous. Lush greenery surrounded a crystal clear lake. And with the sun dipping, the area was painted a warm orange. It had been a while since Ignis had had the time to appreciate the wonders of nature.
“Well,” said Ignis. “Shall we set up camp? I doubt Noct or Prompto will be helping us.”
“You spoil him.”
Ignis decided to just roll his eyes. It was an argument that often came up between them, during the rare moments they spent together. Gladio was a big believer of what he called “tough love”. Ignis felt that it was more an excuse to avoid his duties. He walked to the car, popped the trunk and took out the tent.
Gladio was standing behind him, much closer than Ignis anticipated so when he turned, they were practically chest to chest. He could smell Gladio’s woodsy scent and feel the heat from his large body. As it was wont to do when Gladio was near, his heartbeat sped up and a flush crawled up his body. Gladio was an incredibly annoying man.
“You’re in my way.” The words came out cold.
Gladio’s eyebrows rose and he stepped back. “My apologies.”
The tent in hand, Ignis walked to the haven. Focusing on getting the tent up would hopefully get him back in control. He dropped the equipment onto the ground and got started. He half expected Gladio to offer to help - he was the expert after all. But when he looked up after he’d staked down the corners of the tent, he saw Gladio leaning against a tree, arms crossed, eyes hooded as he watched him. Ignoring the jolt that went through him, Ignis returned his attention to the tent, inwardly annoyed that Gladio didn’t even bother to offer a hand.
“For a man who rarely camps, you’re pretty good at this.”
“For a man who isn’t helping, you have a lot of opinions. And when I do something, I like to do it well.”
Gladio’s laugh was a sharp bark. “I had just one opinion and it was a compliment. If you wanted help, you could have asked. Anyway, speaking of things you do well, I brought something for you.”
The idea that Gladio had brought something just for him gave Ignis a strange feeling in his stomach.
“I was not aware we were supposed to bring gifts.”
“It’s not a gift. Not really,” said Gladio as he pushed himself from the tree. “I just didn’t think you’d like surviving on cup noodles.”
Had Gladio brought him a bento box? And while Ignis appreciated the effort, he cringed at the thought of cold, stale food. He watched warily as Gladio walked to car and from the trunk, extracted a large item that was far too big to be a bento box.
As he walked past Ignis again, Gladio threw Ignis a grin over his shoulder. “You’ll like this. Prompto probably will too. I’m good with my cup noodles but I wouldn’t want to deprive you of the chance to cook.”
It was a bloody portable stove. The exhaustion that his last mug of Ebony had kept at bay licked at the edges of his mind at the thought of having to cook. None of them would complain about having cup noodles if Ignis insisted on it, but it seemed churlish to refuse to cook after the effort and expense that Gladio had gone to. He leaned against a tree, feeling the rough bark against his back as he watched Gladio set the stove up. His muscles flexed as he unpacked the stove, then Ignis found his eyes drifting to Gladio’s ass when he leaned over. It was, if Ignis was honest, a pretty good ass as asses went.
Unaware of Ignis’s thoughts, Gladio took a step back, arms akimbo and looked at his handicraft. Smugness threaded through his voice as he said, “Look at that beauty. Come and look at it, Iggy.”
Iggy again. He pushed himself from the tree and walked to where Gladio was. And even though he was more prepared this time, again, his body reacted once again to the closeness, much to his irritation. Whatever his body felt about Gladio, Ignis’s mind completely disagreed.
And Ignis always listened to his mind.
“Very nice.” And it was indeed very nice - top of the range and Ignis couldn’t resist running his hand over it. It might not have everything but it had enough for Ignis to prepare a decent meal tonight. In fact, the challenge of doing so under the stars “And the food?”
“Got that covered too.” Gladio walked away, then returned with a large brown bag. He dropped it on the stove. Curious, Ignis peered inside and saw a decent variety of spices, vegetables and meat. A lot of meat, actually. And four cups of noodles.
“Figured it was his birthday.” Gladio shrugged, his arm brushing against Ignis’s, sending a warmth through him. “So what do you think you can cook up tonight?”
Ignis eventually cooked Grilled Wild Barramundi since Noct and Prompto returned, full of cheer, with the fish in their hands. Prompto spent most of dinner telling them, in great detail, what the two of them had been up to, his eyes shining with delight. Noct contributed the occasional anecdote, mostly to preen about his fishing but spent most of dinner scoffing down the fish.
“Let’s go fish some more,” said Noct, after he cleared his plate. “Come on, Prompto. There will be different fish after dark.”
“Hey!” Gladio stood and called after the two of them. “You can’t -”
Ignis shook his head, regretting it immediately when his headache returned. “Leave them.”
“Should have made them wash up,” said Gladio as he picked up a mug.
“It’s his birthday.”
“It’s not Prompto’s. You spoil the both of them.”
Ignis sighed, as his headache started to build. “Let’s not do this again. I’ll wash up.”
“You do too much,” said Gladio as he picked up the dirty plates. “And you let Noct get away with too much as well.”
“Why do you care? Is it affecting his physical training?” He was being snappish but he couldn’t help himself. He was tired, he had a paper due that he’d barely worked on and he didn’t need Gladio’s constant comments about how he did his job. “What do you know about being an adviser?”
Gladio practically threw the plates into the tub of water, causing the water to splash onto Ignis. “Nothing, apparently. But I know that spoiling him rotten isn’t going to do him any good. He needs to be able to stand on his own two feet.”
“And you think yelling at him is better?” He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. For all of Gladio’s swagger and easygoing attitude, Ignis knew that Gladio took his responsibilities as the shield seriously.
With a scoff, Gladio grabbed a rag and walked over to the stove. “I yell at him because you keep spoiling him. He needs to take on more responsibility. If he can’t be responsible for himself now, how will he be responsible for the country?”
His head throbbed and Ignis barely heard Gladio’s words, but he definitely felt the emotions behind them. “So it’s my fault?”
“It might damn well be. If you keep doing everything -”
Ignis scrubbed at the plate he held harder. “Don’t tell me how to do my job and I’ll give you the same courtesy.”
“Says the guy who left a set of articles on nutrition and fitness in my locker.”
Ignis’s face heated up. “It was just a suggestion.”
“Felt like you were questioning -”
Footsteps and laughter alerted them to the arrival of Noct and Prompto and whatever Gladio wanted to say died on his lips. Which was very much for the best because despite how much Gladio annoyed Ignis at times, they had to get along well enough to be of use to Noct.
“Catch any fish?” Gladio asked, his tone containing no trace of any tension.
“Nah. There was some old dude fishing there and we decided not to bother him. Hey, let me help with the cleaning up. Noct?”
Noct lifted his eyes from his phone. “Yeah, ok.”
The two of them did a piss poor job of cleaning up, if you asked Ignis but no one did and, honestly, Ignis was just glad everything was packed away.
“Up for a game of King’s Knight?” Noct sat down and dug out his phone.
Ignis wasn’t really, but he couldn’t say no when the others seemed so eager. Pulling out his phone, he opened the game and logged on.
“Ha!” Gladio pumped his fist in the air, probably an hour later. “You’re all welcome!”
Noct shook his head. “You were just lucky.”
“Yeah,” agreed Prompto. “Luck.”
“Iggy looks like he’s going to collapse,” said Gladio, much to Ignis’s surprise. He started when Gladio put a warm hand on his shoulder. “Let’s call it a night.”
“Just one -” Prompto’s words faltered when Gladio turned his gaze to him. “Yeah, it’s late anyway.”
“Prompto and I can keep watch,” said Noct.
Gladio’s eyebrows lifted. “Keep watch, not play on your phone.”
“Yeah, yeah. C’mon Prompto.”
On the few occasions they had been camping, Gladio and Ignis took up the edges of the sleeping mat with Noct and Prompto in between them. But without the two of them, they ended up lying side by side. Lying on his side, facing away from Gladio, Ignis tried to sort through the various thoughts in his head - the paper he needed to write, the fact that he suspected Noct still hadn’t done the reading of Lucis’s constitution for the meeting the next day, which would mean that Ignis would need to do a summary for him. But the most intrusive and the most annoying thought for how unimportant it was, was thoughts of Gladio - his constant judgment, his easy confidence that whatever he did was the right thing and his surprising perception.
“You think too much,” muttered Gladio, so close to Ignis that he could feel the rumble of his words, causing Ignis’s heart to speed up. But Gladio clearly wasn’t as attuned to Ignis. “Go to sleep. You’re going to have to get up in a few hours to take over them.”
Squeezing his eyes shut, Ignis shifted slightly, moving further from Gladio. He concentrated on his breathing, recalling the instructions from a book he’d read about meditation. But Gladio shifted as well, his leg brushing against Ignis’s. It wasn’t unusual - certainly, Prompto was often curling into whoever had the misfortune of sleeping next to him, yet it made Ignis stiffen.
“Astrals, you’re as stiff as a spear.” With barely any warning, Gladio was suddenly sitting up, his hands suddenly on Ignis’s back, his fingers digging into his shoulders. “Come here. My dad used to do this when I was younger, after training when my muscles would be all tensed up.”
“Gladio.” The word came out harsher than Ignis wanted and immediately, the fingers stilled. The silence stretched and for once, Ignis was at a loss of what to do. Should he apologise, move away -
“Sorry.” Then, Gladio turned away.
For a brief moment, Ignis felt bereft. But exhaustion quickly claimed him before he could think too much about his feelings.