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here i drown

Chapter Text

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.

“Let me.”

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.

“No beans.”

“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.

Chapter Text

Ignis needed a break. Right at this moment, he was sitting at the conference table, alone since the rest of the royal council had left, his head buried in a stack of documents. Now and then, he would lift a hand to rub his forehead, then rifle through more papers. So engrossed he was in his work that he hadn’t noticed Gladio leaning in the doorway, watching him. Not that Gladio minded too much. Watching Ignis hard at work was a bit of a recent guilty pleasure. Guilty because Gladio didn’t think that he had ever worked half as hard as Ignis. And a pleasure because Ignis in the throes of work was like one of those gleaming marble statues that decorated some parts of the city, even more so when the warm, evening sun poured through the large window, bathing Ignis in it.

One more stifled yawn and Gladio decided enough was enough. Pushing away from the doorway, Gladio walked into the room, dragged out a chair and sat down.

“Gladio.” Finally, Ignis stopped looking at the papers on the table, turning his attention to him.

Ignoring the way Ignis stiffened, Gladio dug up a grin. “Iggy. School work or nation work?”

Slowly, Ignis took off his spectacles, carefully placing them on the table. “Both, actually. Why are you here? This isn’t your usual domain.”

“Noct told me you were working too hard.”

That earned Gladio a slightly arched eyebrow. “Did he, really?”

Gladio shrugged. “I have to patrol the wall tonight.”

“Since when do you do patrols? Isn’t that what the Glaives are for?” The spectacles went back on.

He shrugged once more. “Guess they wanted more hands.”

“The rumours must be true then,” said Ignis quietly. “Will your father be going?”

“No. He won’t leave King Regis’s side. Or Noct’s.” Gladio shifted, leaning forward. “Thought you might like to join me. Stretch those legs of yours, brush up your rusty fighting skills.”

“You’re baiting me.” The words were accompanied by a smile and a slight relaxation of his body. “I’m impressed. It’s very effective.”

“I’ll see you in an hour, then.”

As Gladio closed the doors to the conference room, he caught a glimpse of Ignis pushing up his spectacles, then lifting a document to read. The guy worked too hard. Gladio had always known that Ignis was diligent, but when King Regis had made a throwaway comment about Ignis looking tired last month, Gladio found himself paying more attention to what Ignis had on his plate. It was, to put it simply, an enlightening experience. In fact, this whole invite to patrol the wall was his attempt to get Ignis to rest and relax a while before he burnt out. There was no way Noct could survive a day without Ignis, and Gladio had no desire to take over Ignis’s duties, or learn to work with someone new.

Gladio was a punctual man. Even then, Ignis was already at the courtyard of the citadel, dressed in crisp clothes that highlighted the lines of his body. They had been with Noct since childhood but aside from the occasional meetings and debates about Noct and the kingdom, Gladio hadn’t paid all that much attention to Ignis. It wasn’t as if Ignis had been chomping at the bit to be his friend. In fact, at times, Gladio thought that Ignis didn’t like him all that much.

But Gladio had started paying attention the past few weeks, after King Regis’s comment, and disconcertingly, Gladio found himself quite enjoying what he was observing. Adjusting his grip on his sword, Gladio walked over to Ignis and draped his free arm across Ignis’s shoulders. As usual, Ignis tensed, before he very deliberately made his body relax. It grated, sometimes.

“C’mon. Let’s go. I’d suggest filling you in on the rumours but I suspect you already know.”

And Ignis did. In concise, precise terms, Ignis outlined then dissected the situation. “Considering these factors, it feels like this isn’t some random occurrence and it’s not difficult to imagine who would have the power and know-how to even do this.”

“Niflheim.”

Ignis nodded. “It appears that they have moved on from their catch and release strategy. Perhaps if we encounter some of these daemons tonight, we can get a sample to examine.”

They approached the wall, the shimmer of magic clear in the darkening sky. Behind them, the towering buildings of Lucis rose, the bright lights enough to deter the daemons. In front, darkness beckoned them. Some of the Kingsglaives were already pacing along the border and upon seeing the two of them, called out greetings.

“Any sightings today?” Gladio called out to one of the glaives.

“Seems like a quiet night.”

Gladio laughed as he caught the disappointment on Ignis’s face. “Let’s venture further from the wall. We might be able to see one then. There’s a haven just beyond the wall in that direction.”

The glaive was right. It was a quiet night. Gladio wasn’t bothered. If there were no daemons for Ignis to work out the stress that made his shoulders so stiff, then a whole night of doing nothing would work just as well. Plus, a quiet night would give Gladio a chance to get to know Ignis a bit better and after watching Ignis over the last few weeks, Gladio was quite keen to find out just what was under his tightly controlled exterior.

It came out of nowhere.

A large iron giant wielding a flaming sword descended on them. Lifting his own sword, Gladio blocked the first hit. The force of the hit rippled through his body and he staggered, only barely managing to keep his balance. It looked like the iron giant was about to land another blow when it swayed to the side. Almost as quick as Noct, Ignis attacked, his daggers flying into the iron giant, keeping him off balance sufficiently for him to pull out his polearm. Their eyes met and with a slight nod, they rushed the iron giant.

The ground trembled as the huge daemon came crashing down. Gladio ducked and pulled Ignis with him, his breathless thanks as they rolled away from the daemon a light tickle against his neck. Hearts pounded in sync as did their harsh breaths, and Gladio tightened his hold around Ignis’s waist, vaguely registering how lithe he felt.

“It’s getting up,” said Ignis, pushing himself from Gladio and brandishing his daggers again. “And it has company.”

Gladio smirked as he got to his feet to stand next to Ignis. “All they have on us is numbers.”

The three ice bombs floated towards them as the iron giant rose to its full height, seemingly none the worse for wear.

“I like your confidence. Shall we?”

“The giant is mine.”

“It’s weakest at the joints,” said Ignis.

“Thanks for the tip.” Lifting his sword up, Gladio lunged. From the corner of his eyes, he could see that Ignis had done the same. With the same preciseness with which he spoke, Ignis attacked the ice bombs.

At some point, Ignis slammed into his back, causing Gladio to stumble and they tumbled onto the ground in a heap. Gladio huffed when Ignis fell onto him, the force of his weight pinning Gladio down and sending his sword flying out of his hand.

It wasn’t unpleasant.

But there was an iron giant about to bring a fiery end to them. Ignis rolled off him and threw a dagger at the giant, giving Gladio just enough time to reach for his sword and land the final blow. That foul black miasma filled the air and Gladio collapsed back onto the ground. Ignis did the same, lying on the ground next to him.

“Yeah! We worked well together,” laughed Gladio, turning his head to look at Ignis. Ignis’s chest rose and fell as he steadied his breathing. The dim moonlight deepened the shadows on Ignis’s face, highlighting the angles of his face. Ignis’s eyes closed, his eyelashes lying against his skin and for some reason, Gladio found himself unable to look away.

Then, Ignis opened his eyes, his gaze locking onto Gladio’s. Silence stretched between them until Ignis cleared his throat.

“Not so rusty, after all,” he said, looking up at the sky.

“No,” agreed Gladio. “We should train together.”

“Perhaps,” said Ignis, ignoring Gladio’s suggestion, “we should head to the haven. As invigorating as that battle was, I think it’s enough for tonight.”

Gladio stood, then reached a hand to help Ignis up. The hesitation was slight but noticeable, then Ignis placed his hand in Gladio’s. Ignis’s hand was firm, warm, slightly calloused but not as rough as his own. And for some reason, even after Ignis got to his feet, his hand remained in Gladio’s.

Just for a moment.

Perhaps it was the cold air, or the bond that develops when two people survive a difficult situation, but it felt that they were walking closer than they usually did, their shoulders brushing as they made their way over. With each brush, Ignis would stiffen yet he didn’t move away. Gladio darted glances at Ignis as they approached the haven, the light from it giving him a much better view of Ignis’s face. For some reason, Gladio had the feeling that Ignis was trying very hard not to look at him and, for some reason, it irked him.

“You’re quick with your daggers.”

“Yes.” Ignis didn’t even deign to glance at him.

“I knew you trained, but skills like that - you have talent. King Regis should have put you in the Crownsguard.”

This time, the only hint that Ignis had heard him was the slight movement of his shoulders.

Gladio shut up. It was clear when he wasn’t welcomed. He rubbed at his chest, as if that would soothe the annoyance in him. People liked him and he generally liked people. And he had always thought that Ignis was okay with him. So what was up with Ignis?

Sure, he and Ignis weren’t the best of friends but they had known each other for what seemed like ages, both their lives orbiting around Noctis since childhood. And yes, perhaps there had been the occasional arguments, either over what was best for Noctis or Ignis’s constant subtle attempts at telling him how to do his job, but Gladio didn’t think that made them not friends. They’d just fought pretty smoothly together, with an easy rhythm that Gladio was aware wasn’t usually present between people who didn’t regularly fight together. For Ignis to pointedly ignore him now felt like a slap to his face.

There were a handful of sabertusks prowling near the haven which the two of them dispatched easily. After that, they gathered up some wood and Gladio built a fire, to ward off the cold, the darkness and silence that grew in the space around them. Ignis stared into the fire as if deep in thought, the light of the fire dancing across his serious face. Above them the stars dotted the sky. With a sigh, Gladio lay down onto the cool rock so he could look at the stars and ignore the strange emotions that swirled in him. Back in Crown City, with her skyscrapers and bright lights, looking at the stars was like a game of hide and seek, but here, the sky lay naked for him to savour. He should bring Iris out here, he thought. She would love it although he’d have to make sure that she could take care of herself first. Perhaps more training sessions. It wasn’t as if she had anything -

“You’re very skilled as well,” said Ignis, interrupting Gladio’s musings, apparently deciding to continue the conversation from earlier. “Very - competent.”

Gladio pushed himself onto his elbows, looking through the fire at Ignis, who sat ramrod straight. There had been a strange note in Ignis’s voice and, perhaps it was just the reflection of the fire, but it looked like his cheeks were flushed.

Odd.

But before he could contemplate further, his eyes noticed something. “You’re hurt. Your arm.”

Ignis glanced down at the blood that bloomed on his sleeve. “I didn’t -”

“Let me have a look.”

“There’s no need -” Ignis’s words faded as Gladio made short work of the distance between them.

As usual, Ignis held himself stiffly as Gladio wrapped a hand around his wrist.

“Relax,” growled Gladio. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I didn’t think you would.” The words were clipped, like they were forced out of Ignis.

Biting down on a retort, Gladio pushed Ignis’s sleeve up, exposing the wound. As he did so, his fingers brushed against the smooth, pale flesh. Gladio was sure that he heard Ignis suck in his breath. His lifted his gaze and they tangled with Ignis’s. The air between them changed, became heavier with anticipation.

Ignis licked his lips. “It’s just a scratch.”

“Fuck this,” said Gladio.

He lifted his hand from Ignis’s sleeve and brought it to his face, hesitating just a little so Ignis could pull away if he wanted to, but he didn’t. As Gladio’s hand touched his cheek, Ignis’s lips parted slightly and his breaths came out harsh and sharp. This time, he shivered instead of stiffening and Gladio couldn’t help the smile that bloomed in him.

“Iggy,” he said, his lips barely a breath away from Ignis’s.

It was Ignis who closed the gap, Ignis who pressed his lips against Gladio’s, Ignis who lifted his hands to cup Gladio’s face.

Electricity buzzed through Gladio’s veins and he vaguely wondered how long he’d been thinking of doing this. Definitely since he started paying more attention to Ignis the past few weeks.

Their teeth clacked and their noses bumped. But all it took was for Gladio to tilt his head a bit more for their lips to settle against each other. It felt like an explosion - sudden, bright and completely overwhelming. The scent and taste of Ignis, coffee and that cologne he liked, surrounded Gladio, swamping his senses. He curled his fingers into his palm, not wanting to demand too much, allowing Ignis to control the kiss, afraid that Ignis might stop. Ignis’s fingers threaded into his hair, pulling Gladio closer as their kiss deepened, with Ignis’s tongue sweeping across Gladio’s lips and into his mouth.

Then, it was over and now they sat, chests heaving. Ignis’s face revealed nothing while Gladio suspected that his revealed far too much. He ran a hand across his face and broke the increasingly uncomfortable gaze.

“I guess competence is rather sexy.” The roughness in his voice was enough.

Gladio’s eyes snapped back to Ignis’s face. “I can’t say I disagree.”

This time, it was Gladio who moved closer.

The stars were probably the same stars he’d been looking at earlier, but they seemed brighter now. Ignis lay next to him, only their hands touching. Just barely. By now, their breathing had returned to normal and a companionable silence blanketed them.

“Sometimes,” said Gladio, “I think that you don’t think much of me.”

“As you can see, that is hardly true.” There was a long pause before Ignis continued. “Sometimes you frustrate me.”

“Sexually?”

Ignis chuckled, then shook his head and cleared his throat, something that made Gladio’s insides soften. “I admit that I was - am attracted to you. And perhaps that has affected how I act around you.”

Gladio smiled, turning his head to look at Ignis. “So what happens now?”

“Sleep seems to be appropriate considering the time.”

“Iggy.”

Removing his hand from Gladio’s to adjust his glasses, Ignis sighed. “This isn’t a good idea, Gladio. We weren’t thinking earlier.”

The hand didn’t return to his. “I don’t -”

“Noct.” Ignis said the word with a decisiveness that suggested Gladio should be able to glean the meaning behind it.

The problem was, Gladio did. There was no need for Ignis to say the words. The part of him that had always gotten him into trouble wanted to challenge Ignis, push him so that Gladio could get what he wanted, only he wasn’t quite sure what it was he wanted. Ignis was a good looking man and the kiss had been hot, and Gladio was open to more but that was hardly reason enough to upend the status quo, especially when that might affect Noct.

Duty always came first.

Gladio knew that. It had been ingrained in him since young.

Duty came first.

Noctis came first, whether that twerp deserved it or not.

“So we just forget about this?” His words came out harsher than he wanted, but Ignis’s lack of reaction dispelled any guilt that might have stemmed from that. Instead, Gladio felt a familiar stir of anger, one which he pushed aside.

It took a while before Ignis looked at him. A while more before Ignis answered, accompanied by a light touch on his arm. “I won’t forget this, Gladio, but -”

“I know.” He swallowed. “Friends?”

Even in the darkness, Gladio could see Ignis’s smile and nod. 

"Let me see your wound."

Chapter Text

The bright lights of Lestallum were still at least a full day’s drive away and the sun was setting. If his map was right, they would be passing a haven soon. Ignis glanced at the back seat, about to ask Noct if he was agreeable to spending the night there but it was clear that he was fast asleep. Next to him, Gladio stared out of the car, a book on his lap. So Ignis made the decision on his own, drove to the haven, then parked the car.

Prompto looked at him, a question in his eyes, but his usual chattiness had disappeared.

“We should rest. There is no need to drive through the night.”

Behind, Gladio grunted. “I need to know if Iris is safe.”

Ignis turned, wanting to touch Gladio, to offer a measure of support, of sympathy. “She is,” he said quietly. “You spoke to her earlier. We’ll get to Lestallum by tomorrow.”

Gladio snapped his book shut and got out of the car, without even a glance at Ignis. In silence, he took out their camping gear, then made the trek towards the haven. Leaving Prompto to wake Noct up, Ignis followed behind Gladio, worry and stress building up in him. Despite all the things he was carrying, Gladio kept up a good pace and without breaking into a jog, Ignis was unlikely to catch up with him. So he settled for reducing the distance as much as possible. He looked back to see that Prompto had managed to wake Noct up.

The news of Crown City’s fall had been unexpected and devastating. He remembered waking up much earlier than the others and wandering out of the hotel room to grab some breakfast for Noct and the others. Then his ears had picked up the hushed, panicky whispers among the smattering of guests who were up early. And moments later, when his eyes had seen the large headlines splashed across the newspapers strewn on one of the tables, his heart had plummeted. He could still recall the look on Noct’s face when he broke the news.

They had all lost something that day but for most part, they had focussed on Noct’s loss - of his kingdom and his father. Gladio was already busy setting up the tent, so without a word, Ignis picked up the portable stove. A decent hot meal would do them all good.

“They’re asleep,” said Ignis. He rubbed his face then sat down on the chair next to Gladio. “Gods, what a day.”

Gladio nodded. “I’ll keep watch. You should get some rest.”

“You didn’t sleep much last night.”

The laugh was soft and biting. “I don’t expect to sleep much tonight either. Get some rest, Iggy. We’ll need your brains to work out this mess.”

Ignis turned his head to look at Gladio. The light of the campfire illuminated Gladio’s face, starkly highlighting the tension and despair that hadn’t left since the news broke. His eyes were dark and he stared unblinkingly into the fire. Aside from a few mentions of Iris, Gladio had said nothing about his family. The newspaper had made no mention of Clarus but Ignis knew that if Regis was dead, then so was Clarus.

The urge to provide comfort rose in Ignis, but he was unsure what to do or how it would be received. Since that night when he’d patrolled the wall with Gladio, they had, more easily than Ignis had expected, drifted into a companionable partnership. They still clashed over Noct, but the conflicts were less personal. And if Ignis sometimes still brought out the memory of Gladio’s lips on him, no one needed to know.

He leaned forward. “Gladio -”

“What about you? You lost people you loved too,” said Gladio as if reading Ignis’s thoughts, his eyes never leaving the fire. “Your uncle -”

“He was more an uncle in name than anything else.”

“He fed and clothed you.”

Ignis smiled faintly. “For a while, until King Regis took over. I am, of course, devastated at the destruction of Crown City, but Noct - and you - are safe, in a manner of speaking.”

Silence met his words, leaving Ignis to think about his uncle. He hadn’t thought about him much since they left Crown City. He remembered sending a postcard from Hammerhead, out of duty. All is fine, he’d written, then scrawled his name at the bottom. They’d been back to Hammerhead since and there was never a return postcard. Ignis didn’t dwell on it. There were more important things to worry about, more important people to worry about. He rubbed his chest. His uncle was gone. The same way his parents were gone. He was, for all intents and purposes, the only one in his family left.

“Stop being so selfless, Ignis,” murmured Gladio, his eyes closed. “You’re allowed feelings too.”

It’s not a precursor to one of their arguments. Those usually begin with Gladio making a remark about Ignis spoiling Noct. This is just one of those offhand comments Gladio usually makes, accompanied by a squeeze of his shoulders, or a clap on his back, taking the sting out of the criticism. There was none now, and Ignis let out a cold breath. Gladio thought he was being selfless, but he was really being selfish. Because indulging in his feelings did nothing but make him useless. And there was nothing more painful to Ignis than being useless.

“He would have gone down fighting,” said Gladio suddenly, breaking into Ignis’s thoughts. “His duty to King Regis was absolute.”

“If he had to choose a way to die, it would be to die protecting the King. He was a brave man.” The words sounded empty to Ignis but he pushed them out anyway.

Gladio ran a hand through his hair. “He was supposed to be invincible. I mean, not the way Cor is.” His laugh was weak and his hand dropped to his lap. “I’m not a kid anymore -” The words were punctuated with a bitter laugh. “He practically raised me and Iris on his own, taught me everything I know about being a shield. Iris - she sounded fine on the phone but -”

Ignis had no idea what to say to that, so instead, he reached over and covered Gladio’s hand that rested on his knee with his own. Gladio’s hand jerked away from his but before Ignis could properly react to it, he felt the warmth of a hand, fingers sliding between his. Then a slight squeeze. He was sitting in an awkward position, practically perched at the edge of his seat, leaning far forward that a gust of wind might just send him toppling into Gladio.

He glanced at the tent. There was no reason to think that anyone besides them were awake. What was he doing? Touching Gladio this way, as if they had some sort of relationship, as if any potential hadn’t spluttered out that night. And at a time like this, when his attention should be focused on Noct and what lay before him.

But he couldn’t pull away.

Gladio, clearly unaware of the multitude of thoughts that was running through Ignis’s head, lifted his head to look into Ignis’s eyes. His gaze dropped to their joined hands, then went back up to Ignis. The tension around his lips softened and he nodded.

“Thank you.”

Ignis didn’t want to tell Gladio that the touch eased the ache in his chest as well, so he simply stood. The chair wobbled as he did so, tilting precariously because their hands were still joined. His tug was light, certainly not enough to disentangle their fingers and Gladio made no move to ease his grip. So with his hand still in Gladio’s, Ignis moved closer to his chair. In front, the fire burned, sparks dancing before dissipating into the night. Ignis moved his free hand to Gladio’s shoulder. This time, Gladio didn’t flinch under his touch. In fact, Ignis thought that he felt the muscles in Gladio’s shoulder ease slightly. The skin under Ignis’s hand was warm and smooth, and the inappropriate thought of pressing his mouth to it sneaked into Ignis’s head. The idea lodged itself into his brain, refusing to leave.

“You should get some sleep,” said Gladio again, standing as Ignis’s hand slid off his shoulder.

And yet, he continued to hold onto Ignis’s hand. They were facing each other now, not much closer than they would normally stand on other occasions. Gladio blinked, and for the first time, Ignis saw the sheen in his eyes.

“Gladio -”

Ignis had whole sentences planned - about not holding his emotions in, about not always having to be strong, but before he could even say anything more than Gladio’s name, Gladio’s lips were on his. It was a sloppy kiss, all teeth and saliva and no real rhythm. Ignis wasn’t even sure Gladio knew who he was kissing, but he wasn’t bothered, not really, because Gladio’s desperate kiss and bruising grip on his waist seemed to have dislodged something in Ignis. Black, thick grief poured through him, like a dam had broken. He dug his fingers into Gladio’s scalp, returning the kiss, his teeth scraping against Gladio’s bottom lip. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed himself into Gladio.

Later, how much later Ignis wasn’t sure, they drew apart, foreheads resting against each other, their breaths harsh in the quiet night. He should pull back now, just take a step back so his hands weren’t wrapped around Gladio’s neck and their hips weren’t pressed together. Instead he cupped Gladio’s cheek, running his thumb across his damp skin.

There was no question this was a foolish decision, spurred on by emotions neither of them seemed to want to confront. But for once since the news about Crown City, Ignis was feeling something. This time, they moved slower. Gladio kissed him, then moved lower to nibble along his jaw and then place hot, wet kisses on his neck. That grief that had coloured the earlier kiss had faded, replaced by a growing desire in Ignis. From the hard length that pressed against his thigh, Ignis was pretty sure that Gladio was feeling the same way. His head dropped back, giving Gladio access to his neck as he moved his hands down the bare, wide chest in front of him, feeling the thump of Gladio’s heart. A low groan rasped in his ears as he dragged his hand down to trace the skin just above Gladio’s waistband. Then, strong fingers grabbed his wrist, stopping Ignis from moving lower.

“No. I don’t want to talk,” said Ignis, before Gladio could say anything. “You told me to be less selfless -”

Gladio didn’t let Ignis finish. He muttered something Ignis couldn’t make out as his hands pulled out Ignis’s shirt from his pants, then slid one warm palm up his trembling stomach. The other hand, Gladio wrapped around Ignis’s waist, then yanked him even closer, grounding his hips against him. Pounding filled Ignis’s ears as heat rushed through his body. Lifting his hands, Ignis framed Gladio’s face, pausing a moment as they looked at each other. Hunger shone in Gladio’s eyes, something Ignis had never experienced before and something he realised he wanted to experience again. Then, they were kissing, or more accurately, Gladio was devouring him. His cock was painfully hard, and so was Gladio’s and pressed against each other, the feeling was amazing.

Cold air across his bare chest made Ignis realise that his shirt was now open. Vaguely, he hoped that Gladio hadn’t lost any buttons. It would be a pain to fix. But teeth against his jaw brought his thoughts back to more important matters. Inspired, he reached for Gladio’s pants, making quick work of his zipper, shoving it down and reaching inside.

Gladio’s hiss was sharp and Ignis’s lips swallowed most of it.

“Alright?” asked Ignis.

In answer, Gladio covered Ignis’s hand with his, urging him to move, to tighten his grip. Ignis curled his fingers around Gladio’s cock, feeling the heat and the smoothness. With his thumb, he swiped at the wetness at the tip, using it to ease the glide of his hand along the length.

“Fuck,” said Gladio, his own hold on Ignis’s hand loosening until it rested lightly on Ignis’s waist.

Ignis watched Gladio, watched as his eyes slid shut, as the flush that started across his cheeks spread and as his lips pressed together tightly only to open on gasps. He worked his hand faster, desperate to see what Gladio would be like when he came. Every harsh breath of Gladio’s only sent blood rushing through his veins right to his groin, making hims thrust against his own hand. His other hand explored Gladio’s chest before trailing up to curl into his hair. Gladio’s hips started to trust wildly into his hand and he bent towards Ignis, catching his lips in a sloppy kiss, his hand tugging almost painfully at Ignis’s hair.

And then with a shout, Gladio shuddered, his come coating Ignis’s hand. His head dropped to Ignis’s shoulder, his breath hot and wet against Ignis’s skin and for a moment, they stood there. Slowly, Ignis removed his hand and took a step back.

What would happen now, he wondered.

It was a question quickly answered as suddenly, Gladio let go of Ignis. But before any thought could form in his mind, Gladio was on his knees and his hands fumbled with Ignis’s pants.

“What are you doing?” Ignis asked, his voice unsteady and pitched a little too high.

A grin spread across Gladio’s face as he looked up. With one hand, he easily took out Ignis’s hard cock and nuzzled it with his nose.

“What do you think I’m doing?”

Then, as Gladio slowly licked the full length of his cock, all the while looking directly at him, Ignis could no longer think of questions to ask.

They sat next to each other in front of the fire, close enough that occasionally, their shoulders brushed. Despite the space between them, their hands remained clasped. They hadn’t said anything since Ignis had come, spurting all over Gladio’s chin, neck and chest. In silence, they had cleaned themselves up, rearranged their clothes then settled into their current positions. It was Gladio who had taken Ignis’s hand.

He supposed they should talk about what had happened and how they couldn’t do this again. But words, even carefully chosen, Ignis suspected, would ruin it. And selfishly, Ignis didn’t want it ruined. So he said nothing, and neither did Gladio.

Chapter Text

Stars littered the dark sky, hinting at worlds beyond. Perhaps worlds in which the Astrals lived, from where they looked down upon their subjects and tortured them as they deemed fit. Gladio stared up at the stars, trying to remember the constellations he’d been taught as a child, but his mind simply wouldn’t focus. And so, giving up, he closed his eyes and listened to the soft breaths beside him.

What Gladio really wanted was to leave the haven, walk just those few meters to where the daemons were and swing his sword, tire himself out until he no longer had those images in his head and those emotions in his heart. But he couldn’t leave them, not now. He couldn’t fail them again. So he sat, cross-legged, in front of the fire, staring into the flames. He watched the flames dance in the light breeze, focused on the rhythmic breathing beside him and tried to empty his mind.

He was as successful at it as he had been the past two weeks.

His head pounded and he rubbed his temple in an attempt to ease the tension, but it was of no use. It hurt to try and forget, and it hurt when he remembered. Even now, as he stared at the fire, he could feel the images at the edges of his mind, pushing their way in. Ignis unconscious on the ground, blood crusted on his face. Noct lying on the ground, pale and lifeless. Ignis unconscious in bed, thick bandages covering his eyes and a doctor who had no answers. Noct lying in bed, unresponsive. The ring on the ground. And poured on top of all his feelings of helplessness, fear and anger was a layer of guilt. It was the guilt that was choking him.

He turned to look at Ignis, sprawled on the hard ground beside him, his chest rising and falling. With his eyes closed and his usually styled hair soft, he looked young. Far too young to be so grievously injured. Sometimes he thought they were all far too young for what they had been through, for what they would be going through. His hesitation lasted but for a moment before he brought his hand to Ignis, pushing away the hair from his forehead. His gaze went to the scarring around Ignis’s eyes and he felt the weight of guilt again. Sighing, he pulled away his hand, the thought that Ignis would probably not welcome his touch anymore refusing to leave his brain.

It wasn’t as if they were together or anything like that. They just found comfort in each other’s bodies. Or more accurately, Ignis found comfort in his body. In the dark nights, when Ignis fretted over what the next day would bring them and when Gladio worried about Noct’s readiness to be king, they came together, silently, hurriedly and above all, secretly.

Gladio was beginning to hate it, but not enough to welcome the past two weeks of limited contact.

Beside him, Ignis groaned and shifted. It wasn’t a groan of pleasure. Those, Gladio was intimately familiar with. Unthinkingly, he reached over and touched Ignis’s arm. Immediately, Ignis turned towards him. Gladio could see a frown on his face and tension in his shoulders.

“Iggy,” he breathed, smoothing his fingers over Ignis’s forehead. He brushed away he hair, musing about how such tenderness could only be expressed under the cover of darkness, while Ignis slept. His fingers ran over the rough skin near his eyes, and Gladio’s heart clenched. “How could you, Iggy?”

The moment the words left his lips, the familiar weight of guilt sank its claws into him. Ignis had kept his eye on their duty, doing what Gladio could not. He’d kept Noct safe, been his shield while all Gladio could do was yell at Ignis over the radio.

A hand curled around his wrist, stopping his movements.

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” A tight smile graced his face. “Fine, all things considered.”

Ignis moved, trying to sit up. Immediately, Gladio slid an arm around him, his heart doing a little hop when Ignis leaned into him.

“You’re tense,” murmured Ignis, his hands running across Gladio’s chest to his shoulders, before rubbing them. “Do you expect danger?”

“No,” said Gladio. “The haven is secure."

In response, Ignis sighed, his posture relaxing. As was usual, silence fell between them. It was the first time since the events in Altissa that they were alone like this, without the constant flow of doctors and nurses and concerned people. Gladio sat there, his shoulders occasionally brushing Ignis, bursting with questions about what had transpired in Altissa. But he didn’t want to push Ignis and some part of him worried that he wouldn’t be able to handle the answers. Instead, he willed himself to treasure this moment, when there was a measure of peace and Ignis was relaxed enough to be out here with him. And for a while, he found that peace and the guilt that had been threatening to choke him subsided. He would grab whatever he could, store them in his brain. He didn’t need to have Ignis’s intelligence to realise that they were hurtling towards the end of their journey.

“Tell me,” said Ignis suddenly, his hand finding Gladio’s, “how do you imagine this will all end?”

Gladio slid his fingers between the spaces of Ignis’s. “We will find the crystal, end this war with the Astral’s help once and for all, drive out the darkness.”

It was the first time he’d actually said this out loud and in the still night, the words sounded foolish. Would it really be that easy? That straight-forward? This started out as a trip to bring Noct to his nuptials. And now, they were in the middle of a war. He sighed.

“And after that?”

“We rebuild,” said Gladio calmly. He might not know exactly how they were going to succeed, but he had a clear idea of what needed to happen after that. “There will be a lot of politics, wouldn’t there? Treaties that need to be negotiated, relationships that need to be rebuilt.” He chuckled a little, imagining a sullen Noct ploughing through all the documents, with Ignis standing by his side, gently urging him on. “Noct would hate it. And you’ll take on most of the work.”

“And you? Would you not be involved in this rebuilding?”

“In a more practical sense. We will start with Crown City, of course, and then Lestallum, but with peace, we can work out how to build up the places outside the wall. Can you see it, Iggy, what it would be like? The freedom that peace would give us? And maybe, when things are coming together, we can do things for ourselves, be a little more selfish.”

“Selfish?”

“Yeah,” said Gladio. “Start a family. Get some hobbies. Not follow Noct around every hour of the day.”

Ignis’s laugh warmed his heart. “You’ll make a good father.”

“I’ll try at least. Don’t you want a family too?” Gladio was fishing, he realised and he was glad that Ignis couldn’t see the flush on his cheeks.

Ignis made a non-committal sound. “It is a possibility.”

But there was a strange note in his voice.

“What is it, Iggy?”

Gladio turned to look at him. The fire was dying but there was enough light to see the tension in his face and the slight furrow of his brows. Fuck. He’d been insensitive, going on about the future when Ignis was still adjusting to his blindness.

“Sorry –“ he faltered. Apologies never came easy to Gladio, and he wasn’t sure what to say.

“I told him not to go on.”

The words tumbled out of Ignis’s mouth in a rush. Then his lips pressed tightly together, as if he’d said too much.

“Who? Who did you tell?” Gladio dropped Ignis’s hand, twisting so that he could look into Ignis’s face directly.

Ignis swallowed and turned his face away. “I told Noct. I told him that he could give up.”

He heard the words, but they made no sense to Gladio. “You told Noct that he could give up?”

The nod was slight, barely noticeable.

“Damn it, Ignis!” Gladio jumped up, his hands curling into fists by his side. He felt like someone had electrocuted him, leaving him stunned. “Noct can’t give up. Not now. You know that!”

He stalked to the other side of the haven, where he’d stockpiled the extra firewood. He needed to do something before he lost the miniscule control he had. Grabbing an armful of wood, he walked back to the fire, kept his eyes on the flame as he fed the wood to the fire. One log, then another and then another. If Ignis wasn’t blind, Gladio would swear that he could feel Ignis’s eyes boring into his back.

“He will die, Gladio.”

Gladio was too close to the fire and the heat was making his eyes sting.

“Noct will die if he continues,” said Ignis.

Gladio wanted to break something or failing that, punch something. He settled for kicking a twig. It did nothing to soothe the emotions swirling in his stomach.

“How do you know?”

“I saw it – in Altissa.”

What the fuck did that even mean? Ignis saw Noct die in the future? Gladio turned back to look at Ignis, then bitterly realised that he couldn’t find any answers in his eyes.

“You might be wrong.”

“I’m not,” said Ignis. Then he let out a breath and his whole posture slumped, making him look small and alone in the wide wilderness. “I’m not wrong. That’s the only way to bring about peace. He has to die.”

Gladio swore. Then he swore again. Because that was the only thing his mind was able to do. And then, when his mind finally calmed down enough to process what Ignis had said, he collapsed beside Ignis.

“You’re wrong.”

Ignis reached towards him, but he dodged the touch.

“And even then, this is his duty!”

“His duty is to die?” Ignis hissed.

“His duty is to bring us peace. And maybe there’s another way. Whatever it is, it is not to give up! What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking about saving our friend.”

Gladio choked out a laugh. “By sacrificing the world?”

“You would rather he die? He’s your friend too.”

“Don’t act like I want him to die, Ignis. But sometimes duty demands sacrifice.” Gladio had seen it in his family so many times, tiny sacrifices, larger ones. How many times had his father taken them stoically, instructing him and Iris that they had too as well? “Fuck, Ignis. So many people have lost, have died because they believe in their king! You! You’ve lost your eyesight for this!”

“It doesn’t matter. He turned me down.” Exhaustion laced Ignis’s words. Exhaustion and despair.

Gladio dropped his head into his hands. “Does Noct know? About the dying?”

“I don’t know,” said Ignis.

This time the silence that stretched between them was not comforting, not to Gladio. He didn’t want Noct to die, but if that was the price to pay to stop whatever it was that was happening to the world – damn, Gladio didn’t know. His fingers curled around a loose stone and he tossed it into the fire. And Ignis. He’d believed that they shared the same sense of duty to the kingdom. Ignis’s morals and sense of right and wrong was part of what drew Gladio to him. He depended on Ignis to make the right decisions and the right choices. It was human, of course, to want to protect those you cared about. There was nothing truly wrong with what Ignis did. And Noct had persisted on, despite it all. But Gladio couldn’t help the sense of betrayal he was feeling.

And the guilt returned, stronger than ever.

“I yelled at Noct in the train – accused him of shirking his duties. If he knew that – if he knew that he was going to die …” He swore once again. It was like the only thing he knew how to do now.

When Ignis reached towards Gladio this time, he didn’t move, allowing Ignis to touch his arm, then slide his hand down to cover Gladio’s hand. But he didn’t turn his hand around and he didn’t entwine their fingers together.

Chapter Text

"Gladio!"

Swallowing the piece of meat he'd been chewing, Gladio swiveled on the diner stool to see Talcott walking in.

“What's up?”

“I know you just got back but I was hoping that you're alright enough to go on a search and rescue.”

Truth be told, he was feeling the effects of the hunt he'd just finished but this was Talcott. Wiping his hands down his jeans, he hopped off the stool.

“Coordinates? Who am I looking for?”

“Group of prospectors.”

Gladio groaned. Foolish, greedy people who thought that they were born under a lucky star.

"And they didn't bother to hire a hunter?" He ran a hand through his hair, loosening his pony tail, which he retied quickly.

"Unfortunately. I suppose they thought that since they weren’t venturing far …”

“Yeah, yeah. You’d think they would have learned after the last five years of this. Damn fools. How many more have to die before they get it into their fucking heads that running around, barely skilled in the dark wilderness for some scraps of ore …”

Talcott nodded, having heard Gladio’s rant before. He tugged on his cap and shifted his weight from foot to foot. Gladio’s lips quirked up as he noticed Talcott’s body language. He tapped the bill of Talcott’s cap.

“Seen Iris lately?”

“Yes. She’s back in Lestallum.”

“Running her shop?”

“Among other things.”

Gladio laughed. “Guess she’s still hunting with Cor then? Man, how old is that guy now? Think I’ll pop down to see her soon.”

“She’ll like that.”

“Yeah. So wanna tell me where those fools are? I’d better get to them.”

He’d barely made it to the gate at Hammerhead when he saw him. The brief flare of hope was just as quickly extinguished by the more realistic side of him. Still, he paused and waited for him to approach.

“Ignis.”

“Gladio. I didn’t – it’s nice to, well, see you.” Ignis’s lips softened into a slight smile.

+

There was something about being in Gladio’s presence. Perhaps it was his sheer size, but Ignis never failed to feel a measure of comfort with him, even when things were weird between them. And things were definitely weird between them now. Yet, he could feel the familiar warmth build in him, just from hearing that voice say his name.

“Heading off?” He tried to sound unaffected but friendly. It came out more like he was choking.

“Yeah, some damn fool prospectors need help.”

Ignis nodded. It wasn’t an uncommon situation. “Take care out there.”

“Always do.” Ignis was about to continue towards the diner when he felt a slight touch on his arm. “Uh, look. It’s been a while and – well, don’t suppose you want to come along?”

“Sure," he said, the word escaping his lips before he could really think about it. He lifted his shoulder in what he hoped looked like a careless shrug. “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”

The weight of an arm fell on his shoulders and he could hear Gladio’s smile. The scent of burnt wood and sweat tickled his nose and sent an arrow of desire shooting through him, straight to his groin. It'd been so long.

His voice, low and gentle, tickled Ignis’s ear. “C’mon then. It’s not far off.”

The casual touch was enough to bring back years and years of memories, wrapped in layers of unsaid words, regrets and loss. How long had it been since they had last fought together, just the two of them? On and off in the past eight years since Noct’s disappearance, they’d teamed up with Prompto on a few of the bigger hunts and quests, often pulled together by Cindy. But mostly, they had been on their own, each dealing with what had happened in their own way. There was no doubt that the three of them would come together when Noct returned – Ignis was sure it was only a matter of time – but for now, it seemed easier for each of them to go their separate ways. It had been a huge adjustment for Ignis at least. Learning to deal with his blindness was one thing. It was being on his own that Ignis found the most difficult to bear. His life seemed emptier, without someone to look after, without people around him at all times, needing him and some days, when he lay alone on a mattress with barely any springs, he missed Gladio.

Gladio’s arms slipped off Ignis’s shoulders much to his disappointment. Then, his ears picked up the sounds of rustling. He drew in a deep breath, the smell of daemon was slight but enough for Ignis to know they were in the vicinity. The air was warmer than it should be and he paused.

"You ready?"

Ignis nodded. “How many?”

“Just three. Ereshkigals.”

With a quick flick of his wrist, Ignis tossed his dagger. He listened to it slice through the air and then then thin scream told him he’d hit his mark. Beside him, Gladio laughed.

And then the fight started.

He stabbed the last Ereshkigal, listened to the satisfying sound of it melting into the air, then leaned against a rock to catch his breath. A moment later, Gladio was next to him, his harsh breaths filling the air.

“Almost like we never stopped.”

Ignis smiled. He was pumped with adrenaline and his skin felt too small for him. There was an energy in him that was expanding, making his limbs fidgety. It wasn’t just the effects of a successful fight – he’d had many of that over the years. He refused to think about what the real reason was. He had plenty of time later for that.

“The prospectors should be nearby. Let’s go.”

There were three of them. Two men and a woman, all overwhelmed by the Arachne swarming them. Gladio jumped straight into battle, muttering under his breath about foolish people. Once again, Ignis smiled. He didn’t think he’d smiled so often in the past eight years. Pulling out his lance, he launched himself at the Arachne behind him.

“What the fuck were you thinking,” growled Gladio at the prospectors once they’d cleared out all the Arachne.

“Gladio.” Ignis followed his voice, then placed his hand on Gladio’s shoulder.

Thankfully, all three of them could walk, albeit slowly and with difficulty. One of the men appeared to have injured his arm badly and the woman moaned with every step she took. But potions were a rarity nowadays and with none of them appearing to be on the brink of death, Gladio had nixed the idea of using any on them. Ignis suspected that Gladio was trying to punish them a little as well. Perhaps this time, they would learn their lesson, but Ignis doubted it.

As they got closer to Hammerhead, the energy that had buoyed Ignis slowly dissipated, leaving him with an emptiness in his chest. He knew what would happen next. They would reach the diner, maybe grab a drink together to celebrate the success of their quest, then either him or Gladio will offer up a weak excuse to leave and they would be alone again. He would be alone again.

“Any damage?” Gladio asked as they entered the gates of Hammerhead?

“Just the usual scratches.”

“You’re amazing, you know? It’s almost like you can see.”

“It’s nothing.”

Gladio’s arms was around his shoulders again, and his bark of laughter vibrated through Ignis. “Let’s get a drink.”

One drink led to another, and then to another. Ignis was feeling pleasantly buzzed. Their conversation was light, a sharing of various hunts that they’d been on. Gladio talked about Iris and although he grumbled about her hunting, Ignis could hear the pride in his voice. Then, Gladio yawned.

“You’re exhausted.”

“Two back-to-back hunts will do that to you,” said Gladio with another yawn.

“Are you going to stay in the caravan?”

“Nah. Think I’ll head to the nearby haven. You hanging around here for a while?”

“I’ll be here for maybe a day or two. That is the plan at least.”

Ignis heard the cheap cushion squeak and he curled his fingers into his palms. This was it. He wondered when he’d meet Gladio again.

“Hey Iggy.”

The use of Iggy made his heart stutter a little. He turned his head to where Gladio stood beside him.

“Wanna go camping together?”

Gladio insisted on pitching the tent on his own, then they spread out their bed rolls and slipped inside. Ignis could feel Gladio’s heat next to him and the temptation to turn and seek out that warmth was strong. He wasn’t sure why he’d agreed to this, why he was putting himself through this. Things between them had strained a little after Altissa and then, before they could sort it out, everything else happened.

The first touch, Ignis thought was an accident. It was just a brush of Gladio’s hand against his. He tensed and held his breath. For a while, there was nothing. Then, another touch. This time, Gladio’s hand lingered, and when Ignis did not withdraw his hand, he felt Gladio’s fingers wrap around his.

“Gladio.” The word scrapped against his throat, leaving it rough and raw.

“I’ve missed you, Iggy.”

Ignis pressed his lips together, not trusting what would come out of his mouth. His heart swelled with want and need and he shuddered.

“We shouldn’t …”

“Do you miss me?” Gladio’s fingers tightened.

“Gladio.”

There was a sigh, then the hold on his hand disappeared. “Good night, Iggy.”

Ignis counted to a hundred, then backwards from a hundred. He listened to his heartbeat and Gladio’s. As Gladio’s heartbeat slowed, as his breathing became slower and deeper, Ignis finally answered the question.

“I miss you, Gladio.”

He heard movement, the sound of a zipper, and then Gladio was looming over him. Ignis could smell Gladio, feel his warmth even through his bed roll. A hand cupped Ignis’s face and a thumb smoothed over his bottom lip. Ignis swallowed, his breaths became shallow and lust engulfed him. How long had it been?

“I miss touching you, Iggy.”

That whimper was probably Ignis. Slowly, he lifted his hand, making contact with the rough stubble on Gladio’s chin. Gladio wrapped his hand around Ignis’s wrist, bringing Ignis’s hand up to his lips. The kiss against his palm was light but it was enough to send shivers through Ignis. Another kiss was placed on the inside of his wrist and another one on the inside of his elbow.

Ignis brought his other hand up, wrapping it around Gladio’s neck and pulling his head towards his. Their lips met and while lust and desire jostled for primacy, it was a sense of rightness that settled over Ignis and he hoped that Gladio wouldn’t notice the dampness on his cheeks. One of them unzipped Ignis’s bed roll, and Gladio slipped in, covering Ignis with his body. Ignis let his hands roam, reminding himself of what Gladio looked like, his imagination and memories filling in the gaps. He remembered how Gladio looked when flushed with desire. He remembered how his eyes darkened when Ignis took him in his mouth.

But now, without his sight, Ignis found himself paying more attention to the soft panting sounds Gladio made, the way his callused hands felt against his bare skin and the thud of their hearts. Reaching down, Ignis fumbled with the drawstrings of Gladio’s pants. He slipped his hand inside, cupping the hard length, smiling when Gladio let out a hiss and jerked into his hand. Almost immediately, Gladio covered Ignis’s lips with his, teeth nipping Ignis’s lower lip. The taste of Gladio filled Ignis and he strained towards him, wanting more. Gladio rocked against Ignis, their cocks lined up against each other, Ignis’s hand trapped between their bodies.

For a while, that was all they did, kissing and rubbing against each other. Ignis breathed in deeply, inhaling the smell of Gladio. Then at some point, it wasn’t enough anymore. Gladio pushed Ignis’s pants down and pulled out his cock. He wrapped his hand around both their cocks, pressing them together and he stroked, moving his hand up and down their shafts.

“Ignis,” groaned Gladio and Ignis could feel him trembling. “Iggy, I’m going …”

“Yes. Please.” Ignis thrust his hips up, pressing his cock into Gladio’s. He reached down as well, covering Gladio’s hand wih his, urging it to move faster. “Please.”

Hot come spilled over their linked hands, and Gladio relaxed into Ignis, pressing a clumsy, wet kiss on his eye. It took a moment, but Gladio pushed himself off Ignis, but not before kissing Ignis again. Cliched but Ignis felt alone suddenly. He thought Gladio would return to his bed roll but instead, he felt Gladio return to his side, then a damp cloth was on his stomach, wiping him down so tenderly that a lump formed in Ignis’s throat.

“Stay.”

Gladio didn’t reply but he put the cloth away, then he got into bed roll next to Ignis. It was a tight squeeze and Gladio ended up half on Ignis, not that Ignis minded. Ignis buried his face into Gladio’s neck, nuzzling the rough skin there. Within moments, he was asleep.

“You’re leaving,” said Gladio.

He was up earlier and sitting outside the tent when Ignis came out.

“We can’t stay here forever.”

Gladio’s chuckle made Ignis smile. “You know what I mean.”

“We shouldn’t …”

“Explain it to me,” said Gladio, his voice calm. “Why can’t we be together?”

“Noct …”

Ignis heard Gladio stand up.

“Noct isn’t around.” This time, there was tension in his voice. “I think you’re afraid.”

It was Ignis’s turn to speak coldly. “Afraid, Gladio? You’re thinking of the wrong man. And Noct isn’t dead. Not yet so we still have our duty to fulfil.”

“Fuck duty. Do you think I’m not scared? It’s darkness all the time now. I don’t know when Noct is going to come back, or even if he is going to come back at all. And when he does, he is going to die. So maybe, in all this darkness, I just want something that makes me feel good, gives me hope.”

“And that’s sex? You can get it from anyone.”

Gladio snorted. “You think that I’m that shallow? Really? I want you, Iggy. Just you. You make me feel good.”

It was like fireworks had gone off in his stomach, a mix of excitement and pain. And Ignis had no idea what to do. It wasn’t something that he was used to.

“Whatever, Ignis. I’m gonna go now. I’ll see you around, I guess.”

Ignis listened as Gladio gathered up his things. With every item that Gladio picked up, Ignis felt his heart get tighter. In his head, Gladio’s words repeated themselves. He should let Gladio go. This was just an interlude, a moment stolen, not something that had a future. The thought was uneasy in his head.

“Gladio,” he said.

“Yes?”

“I want something good too.”

+

Ignis was due back in Hammerhead in a few hours, then they were going to head to Lestallum together to visit Iris. That would give them a good two to three days together and Gladio was looking forward to that. They were back to that in-between relationship that they had before Altissa and they never spent more than three days together. But at the same time, it felt different.

Gladio lingered at the gate until he caught sight of Ignis. He grinned, then walked towards him, grabbing him in a hug when they reached each other.

Chapter Text

Ignis nodded and made the appropriate noises, but really, Lord Fordham was not contributing anything new to the discussion. It was hardly a surprise considering he hadn’t contributed anything useful in a whole year. Ignis felt Monica shift, clearly as frustrated by Lord Fordham’s loquaciousness as he was. If Monica had her way, Lord Fordham would be nowhere near the Rebuilding Committee, but he was one of the few remaining nobles, and even if everything seemed to have been destroyed, history and tradition still provided a measure of comfort to many of the citizens. 

And so here they were.

Monica cleared her throat, jumping in as Lord Fordham paused. "Thank you, Lord Fordham. Perhaps we can now go on to last item on the agenda?"

Ignis tensed. 

"It's been a year since King Noctis's sacrifice and we want to honour what he has done. At the same time, we want to do something that will boost the spirits of our people. They have worked hard to rebuild the place.”

"Noct would love a festival. He wouldn't want something too formal." Prompto, who had been quiet through most of the meeting, spoke up. 

"This should not be a celebration! It should be serious and solemn. To remind the people all that he did for them. To remind them what their hardship is for." Disapproval dripped from Lord Fordham's voice.

"Noct wouldn't want that! And life has been hard for so long. What's wrong with a little fun?" Ignis could imagine the stubborn line of Prompto's lips and the narrowing of his eyes.

"I agree," said Ignis. "There is a time for formality and ceremony, but this isn't it."

The scrape of metal against carpet meant that Lord Fordham had now jumped to his feet in protest. He did that a lot, notwithstanding his age. Ignis was going to be late, he realised as a dull throbbing took up residence in his head.

Although it never seemed like it would, the meeting finally ended. As usual, he waited for everyone to leave the room before standing. 

"Ugh, that Lord Fordham." Prompto, as usual, was by his side. "Thankfully only Belchan was on his side. Can you imagine Noct being happy with a drab sullen affair? He'll hate it so much."

"He would probably not enjoy a celebration either. The formal trappings of court was never his cup of tea. And I do think that having it assassin themed might be pushing it a little."

Prompto laughed. "I'm glad this meeting is over. I still can't believe that I'm part of the Rebuilding Committee."

They walked to the large doors and Ignis placed a hand on Prompto's shoulder. "The people love you and your work in publicity is top notch. You've won the hearts of many."

"It's just photos." In his mind, Prompto shrugged and possibly flushed a little. "It's nothing like what you, Monica or the others are doing. Anyway, it's the weekend. I hope you don't plan to spend it all working."

Ignis's smiled. "Some of it. The elections are coming and everything needs to be in order."

"I never thought I'd see this day. An election. Kind of signals that the Lucis line is completely gone." Sadness tinged Prompto's words and Ignis himself felt the usual tug of regret. Then his voice softened. "Noct would approve though, wouldn’t he?”

"I do think he would be very proud of what is happening," said Ignis. 

He felt Prompto’s shoulder bump lightly against him. “I still think you should have run for President. You’d be brilliant. Miles better than Lord Fordham anyway.”

“I doubt that Lord Fordham will win the vote. I’m flattered by your confidence but I think that perhaps it is time for me to take a step back.”

Prompto made a disbelieving noise. “Right. Look, I gotta go.”

“The orphanage?”

“Yep. I’ll call or something. Maybe you can cook me dinner this weekend.”

Then he was gone in a flurry of light footsteps. Ignis smiled slightly. Hopefully, if his plans went well this weekend, he wouldn’t be available to cook Prompto dinner this weekend or the next. Unthinkingly, his hand pressed against his stomach, as if trying to soothe the churning in his stomach as a little voice in his head mockingly reminded him that it might all be too late anyway. 

The train station was buzzing with people. Conversations and announcements mingled in the air, and Ignis could feel the press of people around him. Several times, as he made his way to the platform, people jostled into him. Talcott had volunteered to drive him so that he could avoid the crowds, but the slow train ride would give him the space and time to think. He wanted to arrive well prepared, his thoughts and feelings all sorted out, because, as uncharacteristic as it was, this trip was something of a last-minute decision. 

The announcement for the train to Lestallum blared across the station and Ignis heard the train pull up. He fingered the ticket in his pocket, picked up his bag, then walked the few steps to the train. 

“Need help?”

Ignis turned his head to the conductor. “I’m fine, thank you.”

He spent most of the train ride turning over various scenarios in his head and working out his responses to each of them. He also tried to quiet the guilt that gnawed at him. With all that still needed to be done in Crown City, he really shouldn’t be – Ignis immediately stopped himself. This was important. In anticipation of it, he’d already stayed up late the past few nights to get ahead of his work, plus he’d brought some of it with him should things go south.

It’d been over two months since Ignis had been to Lestallum. He had, of course, received weekly updates but it wasn’t quite the same as seeing the city for himself. Beside him, the young couple chattered excitedly about all the changes and improvements in the city and Ignis couldn’t help the swell of pride in his heart. Sure, he’d helped with the drawing up of plans but this was all Gladio’s sweat and tears. Then, he remembered why Gladio had decided to remain in Lestallum and his heart shrank a little, and he began to second guess himself again.

"Lestallum," chirped the train announcer brightly. 

Tension coiled in his stomach but behind that tension was the light flutter of hope. He retrieved his bag from the overhead rack, stood and slowly made his way off the train. 

“Ignis.”

Surprise made Ignis stumble and immediately, strong hands grasped his shoulders, steadying him. He’d missed this touch so much and he had to will himself not to lean into Gladio, to absorb his strength and his warmth.

“Why are you here?” He hadn’t expected Gladio to meet him at the train and his presence had not been part of Ignis’s plan, making his words come out clipped.

The hands dropped and Ignis heard the slide of skin against denim. 

“I should be asking you that. I checked my emails and messages. You didn’t say you’ll be coming.”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

Gladio chuckled and then he was closer to Ignis again as he pressed a kiss to Ignis’s cheek. The scent of his shampoo teased Ignis’s nose and he bit back a moan. He had missed Gladio so much and all the reasons that he’d given for their separation suddenly seemed rather insignificant. 

“That you did. When I first heard that you were on the train, I thought it would be some surprise visit to check on how things were going here – you know, to see if my reports were accurate.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” said Ignis, his heart clenching at the thought that Gladio thought Ignis didn't trust him.

“I realised that when I thought about it.” He felt his bag being taken from him. “C'mon then. I assume you’re staying with me despite the lack of forewarning?”

Despite the light teasing tone, Ignis still felt the fingers of guilt squeeze his heart. “I did book a room at the Leville.”

“Right, now I’m insulted,” said Gladio, slinging an arm across Ignis’s shoulders. “Did you think that I wouldn’t allow you to stay with me? I might have a temper, but I’m not that petty.”

Ignis leaned into Gladio, resisting the urge to breathe him in. The words forced themselves through his tight throat. “You might have had other visitors.”

“Ah.” That was all Gladio said but that one word was enough. Their last face-to-face conversation loomed in Ignis’s mind, one he’d replayed multiple times since. He was sure Gladio was remembering it too, and although his arm still rested on Ignis’s shoulders, a subtle tension settled over them.

The journey to Gladio's place was completed in silence, accompanied by the light jazz that drifted from the radio. Ignis itched to say something, but despite his preparation on the train, he couldn’t think of anything that would ease the tension. So instead, he listened to Gladio, the slow, even breaths, the brush of denim when he moved his legs as he drove. 

"Here we are." The car slid to a smooth stop. 

Ignis got out of the car, pleasure snaking through him when Gladio took his hand. Unfortunately, the narrow stairwell meant that Gladio had to drop his hand. They walked up, Ignis counting each step as a matter of habit. At one point, Gladio stopped, Ignis assumed to check that he was still following, and Ignis had walked into his back. His palm rested on the leather jacket and he imagined he could feel the warmth of Gladio's skin seeping through and the most unbecoming feeling of want tore through him, making him suck in a breath.

"Alright there?"

"Yes," he said. "Another one more storey?"

"Yeah, sorry. Lift hasn’t been working for a while. It’s a bit shit honestly."

Ignis smiled. "You know you could move into government quarters. Working lifts, staff, the works.”

"Maybe if I had a family. It's just me and Iris spends more time in Insomnia anyway.” There was the jingle of keys and the creak of a door. “Ah, here we are. Take a seat, Iggy. I’ll get you a drink. Want some Ebony?”

“That would be perfect,” said Ignis. He’d been in Gladio’s small apartment several times. There were probably some of his things still in the apartment, assuming Gladio hadn’t tossed them. And yet, he sat perched on the sofa, feeling as if he didn’t belong.

He listened as Gladio clattered around his kitchen – a tiny one with barely enough space for one man to turn around if his memory was correct. Then, the sofa sank and Gladio’s shoulders brushed against his. A cold can was pressed into his hand and he took it with a smile and a nod.

The silence that had accompanied them in the car took up residence again. Ignis brought the can up to his lips and took a large gulp. Perhaps the cool liquid would calm his nerves.

“I’m glad you’re here,” said Gladio suddenly. “It’s been a while.”

“It has.” 

Gladio’s soft laugh sent goosebumps across Ignis’s skin. And when Gladio cupped his face, brushing his thumb across Ignis’s lips, Ignis sighed almost with relief. This, they were good at. The knot in his stomach eased as he sank into the rhythm of the kiss. Gladio took the can from Ignis. The kiss was light at first, soft and tentative. Memories of many nights in front of a fire, enjoying such kisses swirled in Ignis’s mind and he could feel the prickling of tears. If Gladio was kissing him with such tenderness, then surely his trip was not in vain. Then, Gladio deepened the kiss, his tongue licking off the taste of Ebony, before parting Ignis’s lips.

“I’ve missed you, Iggy. Didn’t think you’d come around again. Didn’t think I’d get a chance to be with you till after the elections.”

“Too long a wait,” muttered Ignis as he tangled his fingers through Gladio’s hair, pulling him towards him as he leaned back into the sofa. It didn’t take much urging for Gladio to cover Ignis’s body with his.

They spent a long time just kissing, nipping at each other’s lips, inhaling each other’s breath. Ignis thought he could do this forever. He’d missed this intimacy and tenderness, the way Gladio could make him feel, all hot and needy, like he was about to burst out of his skin. Then, Gladio shifted so that his hard cock pressed against Ignis’s thigh. 

And just like that, the leisurely kisses were no longer enough. The desire that Ignis had kept in check burst into flames, flowing like lava through his veins. With a groan, Ignis slid his hand under Gladio’s t-shirt, dragging his fingers lightly over his flat stomach, then further up, pausing a while to feel the familiar heart beat. Gladio sucked in a breath and his stomach tensed as he pressed harder into Ignis’s thigh.

“Fuck, Iggy. You need to wear something with fewer buttons.” Gladio pulled his shirt from his pants, then fussed with unbuttoning it. 

Ignis grazed Gladio’s ear with his teeth. “I am perfectly capable of sewing the buttons back.”

Cool air met Ignis’s bare flesh as he heard thread snap and buttons clatter to the floor. A small price to pay for Gladio’s sigh of pleasure and warm hands smoothing down his chest and stomach until they reached his waistband. Then, it was Gladio’s lips on his neck, his shoulders and suckling his nipples into hard points. 

Ignis pushed his hips up, needing the contact and the friction, letting out a moan when Gladio moved his hips in return. Their bodies fitted together, their cocks side-by-side as they rubbed against each other. With every thrust, Ignis could feel the orgasm building in him, gathering momentum, about to break.

But it was too soon. He wanted this to last.

“Get naked,” gasped Ignis in between harsh breaths. “Now.”

Ignis felt Gladio’s cock twitch at his words, and he could hear the grin in Gladio’s low growl. “My pleasure, Iggy.”

He whimpered a little when Gladio moved away but quickly took the chance to shed his own pants and boxers. 

“Gladio?” Damn, he sounded needy but how long did it take Gladio to take off his pants?

A finger ran up his thigh, making Ignis laugh and squirm.

“Gladio …” The words died on his lips when the finger was replaced with Gladio’s mouth, licking and sucking his way up Ignis’s thigh. Every touch of Gladio’s wet, open mouth sent his desire spiralling higher and higher. Ignis’s hands reached towards Gladio until he brushed against his thick hair. His finger slid through the corse strands, digging into Gladio’s skull, trying to urge his mouth closer to where he was aching, to no avail.

Instead, Gladio lifted his head and laughed. His hand continued to stroke Ignis’s trembling thigh.

“What do you want, Iggy?”

“You,” breathed Ignis, “you. Now.”

“How do you want me?” Gladio’s hand moved higher, resting on Ignis’s hip.

“Gladio …”

Another laugh, then the tenderest kiss was placed on his lips.

“I want you to fuck me, Iggy.” Ignis felt the words against his lips more than he heard them. His hips jerked into thin air. “Do you want that?”

Ignis was surprised that he was even able to answer.

 


 

Ignis lay on Gladio’s large bed, his body wrapped in Gladio’s arms. Lightly, he traced where he remembered Gladio’s tattoo was. It’d been years since he’d seen it in all its gloryHe could tell from Gladio’s breathing that he was in that space between being wakefulness and sleep. The arm around him tightened and he felt a kiss pressed to the back of the head.

“Should’ve known you didn't come here for the sex.”

“What are you talking about?” They had one round on that cramp sofa in the living room, then a slower round of mutual masturbation during the shower after. Sex was all they had done. 

“I can hear you think, Iggy. Hope you’re not having regrets.” Gladio stifled a yawn and pressed his face into Ignis’s neck, his warm breath fluttering across his skin.

Ignis squeezed the arm slung around his waist. “Of course not. But we need to talk.”

“What for?” Gladio sighed, then eased himself away from Ignis. “Seriously Ignis. I think we’ve talked enough over the years. Nothing ever changes. So how about we get some sleep instead?”

“Indeed. This is not a conducive time for a discussion.” Ignis knew his words were clipped and he knew he had no right to feel this way yet he couldn’t help the hurt that blossomed with Gladio’s dismissive tone.

Gladio’s only response was a grunt, leaving Ignis lying alone with his thoughts. And invariably, when he failed to keep his mind occupied, he thought about their last meeting and the disaster that it had been. Doubts crept into his head and his heart.

Ignis had no idea when he’d finally managed to fall asleep. He’d spent most of the night lying in bed and working on what to say to Gladio, but the words kept getting jumbled up in his head, inadequate and unconvincing. The smell of coffee tickled his nose, waking him up. Then the bed sagged.

“Shit, you must be exhausted. It’s almost noon. Here, it ain’t Ebony but it’s coffee. Iris bought it for me the last time she visited. It’s not too bad if you asked me.”

Pushing himself into a sitting position, Ignis accepted the steaming mug of coffee. He inhaled the strong scent before taking a sip. Gladio pushed his hair from his face. Ignis’s heart wobbled at the gesture.

“You look so young with your hair all soft like this.” Gladio had barely finished his sentence before he was threading his fingers through Ignis’s hair and pulling him into a kiss. “Shower then you wanted to talk?”

“That sounds good.”

“Go on then.”

 


 

What did Ignis want to talk about? The question swam in Gladio’s mind as he made his way to the kitchen. There, he pulled out the frying pan, bread and eggs, all ready to make some French toast as he waited for Ignis to finish his shower, born more from a need to keep busy than hunger. Hope kept trying to escape from that compartment in his heart that he’d banished it to since their last meeting and as he fried the bread, he tried to keep it under control.

He’d just plated the toast when Ignis emerged from his room, his damp hair the only thing out of place. He wore a buttoned-down shirt, one which still had all the buttons. Gladio smiled at the memory of the previous night.

“That smells delightful,” said Ignis as he moved towards the kitchen. “Soon, you’ll rival me in the kitchen.”

“That day will never come, Iggy. Here, sit down.” Gladio placed the plate of toast on his small dining table and pushed it towards Ignis. “So, what was so urgent that you made this trip? You could’ve texted me.”

“It’s not a conversation I wanted to have via text.”

“Serious stuff huh.” Gladio shifted in his seat, his eyes lingering on Ignis, whose hands were clasped on the table, back ramrod straight. “Out with it then. You’re making me worried.”

Ignis sucked in a breath, then somehow sat up even straighter. “I regret our last meeting.”

Gladio stomach tightened at those words as he desperately tried to keep a lid on that flutter of hope. He hummed in acknowledgement, not trusting himself to speak while waiting for Ignis to continue.

“I was consumed by focusing on what I believed was my responsibility to Noct and the kingdom. Last week, I managed to finalise the election legislation, after months of hard work. It was supposed to be my crowning glory. I should feel like I was on the top of the world.”

Ignis reached for his mug and Gladio nudged it towards his hand, but kept his eyes on Ignis, watching with concern at the tension in his face. Had something gone terribly wrong with the election preparations? But Ignis would never run away from a problem.

Ignis lips pressed together, frowning slightly before he continued. “I went out for drinks, to celebrate. But all I felt was emptiness. They were happy, hopeful but none of them really understood what this all meant …”

“Iggy.” Gladio reached out and covered Ignis’s hands. “You could have called me. I would have understood. You know I would.”

Ignis slipped one hand over Gladio’s. “I know that and that is what makes it worse. You’ve always been the one who understood the most. And you weren’t there, because of my own fears and foolishness.”

The loathing and bitterness in Ignis’s voice pierced Gladio’s heart. He squeezed Ignis’s hand and waited.

“I was wrong, Gladio.”

Gladio thought his heart might pop out of his chest. “Wrong about what?”

“Us.”

“What are you saying, Iggy? Because after all this time, I need you to spell it out for me.”

“I want to be with you.” Ignis swallowed.

“For the sex?”

“For everything.”

Words that Gladio had dreamed of hearing since the first time he’d kissed Ignis. It seemed like a lifetime ago and with every time Ignis refused anything more than a friends with benefits arrangement, that dream faded, until he’d almost completely given up on it.

But now, those two words gave that tiny bit of hope a new life. Yet, he felt completely paralysed, as though if he moved, the potential of anything more with Ignis would disappear into a puff of smoke.

So immersed in his thoughts, Gladio didn’t notice that Ignis had pulled his hands away.

“I’m sorry.” Ignis stood, the chair dragging noisily against the floor. “I believe that there is a train …”

Gladio’s arm shot out and he grabbed Ignis, pulling him into his lap. It was an impulsive, possibly a fucking foolish thing to do when he knew how Ignis hated being manhandled, especially since he’d lost his sight. But aside from a moment’s hesitation, Ignis settled on Gladio’s lap.

“Why? Why now? The last time we spoke about this, you were still adamant it wouldn’t work out. You said you needed to focus on the kingdom. Any relationship, you said, would take away from your responsibilities.”

“You were right,” said Ignis. “I am an expert at multi-tasking. I’ve done it for years. I should be able to manage my responsibilities and a relationship with you. If you want one still, that is. Why now? Because as I said, I’ve only now realised that it’s all meaningless without being with you.”

“I guess you’re not that smart after all.” Affection laced Gladio’s words.

“No, I suppose not.” Ignis tangled his fingers with Gladio’s.

Gladio blinked, emotion surging through him.

“Iggy,” he breathed. “My Iggy.”

All the tension in Ignis’s face disappeared and a smile started to blossom. His free hand came up to cup Gladio’s face.

“Can I assume that I am not too late?”

Gladio brought his lips to Ignis’s, unable to stop his own smile from widening. “No. Not at all.”

 


 

Fireworks lit up the sky, accompanied with gasps and sighs of the gathered crowd. Another explosion and a large chocobo filled the darkness. Beside Gladio, Prompto squealed in delight, his camera shutter going at a quick pace.

“Ignis didn’t tell me there would be chocobo fireworks.”

“I imagine he wanted it to be a surprise. You’ve been a bit down, haven’t you?”

“Yeah.” Prompto lowered his camera and leaned against the railings. “I miss him.”

“Me too,” said Gladio.

Noct’s face, large and smiling, in the sky marked the end of the fireworks and the end of the memorial. Staring at it, Gladio felt the usual pang and tears stung his eyes. Slowly, the crowd dispersed until it was just him and Prompto, both looking into the sky, consumed by their own thoughts.

Arms slid around Gladio’s waist and a soft kiss was placed on his shoulder. With a smile, he turned so that he was face to face with Ignis.

“All done?”

“Yes.”

“You alright?”

Ignis squeezed Gladio a bit tighter and pressed his face into his shoulder. Gently, Gladio rubbed his back, trying to ease the tension he could feel in it. He knew of a better way to get Ignis to relax, one he’d used on several occasion, but he would have to get Ignis back to their apartment first.

“Shall we get some supper?”

Ignis drew back and smiled at Prompto. “I would like that. Unfortunately, overseeing the event didn’t give me the opportunity to get anything to eat.”

“Iggy,” said Gladio dipping his head to whisper in his ear.

“Don’t fuss,” muttered Ignis. “I’m fine.”

Gladio shook his head. He looked at Prompto and smiled. Yeah, we can tell our worst stories of Noct.”

Prompto grinned. “Person with the most boring story pays.”

Gladio slung his arm across Ignis’s shoulder, pulling him tight against his side. “Well, I’ve some really good ones, so you and Iggy better start thinking.”

“Surely you know by now that you shouldn’t underestimate me,” said Ignis.

“I would never.” Then, Gladio dipped his head and kissed Ignis, deepening it when Ignis didn’t make any attempt to disengage.

“Ugh, get a room, you two.”

Gladio broke the kiss. “We will, after you’ve bought us supper.”