Ignis had his suspicions about the mysterious ‘hunter’ that Holly had sent into the plant ahead of Noctis.
Well, to be more accurate, he had his hopes.
Hopes that were quickly assuaged when, hours later, two heavily-outfitted figures emerged from the building, pulling off their helmets to reveal Noctis, safe and sound, accompanied by Gladiolus, new scars marring his face and chest, but whole.
It had been too long since he’d left them. To be exact, according to Ignis’ count, it had been ten days, fourteen hours, and thirty-six minutes, and every second of it had felt longer than it was.
And from the look of Gladiolus, he seemed to echo the sentiment.
Noctis and Prompto were flitting around the man, teasing and poking fun, expressing how much they’d missed him in their own way, but Gladiolus’ lack of his usual joking back made Ignis study him a bit more closely, noticing the exhaustion and tension hidden under a quite forced smile.
“Perhaps we find some lodgings to get some rest?” Ignis finds himself saying, “Noctis, Gladiolus, you both must be quite worn out from clearing out the facility, and while I am unsure about you, Gladiolus, but we were traveling all day before arriving.”
Noctis perks up at the mention of rest, nodding decisively before turning to Gladiolus with a mischievous smirk.
“Bet I could beat you to the Leville.”
“Hah. Like you beat me to Galdin Quay?” Gladiolus snorts. “You’re on. Loser has to sleep with Prompto.”
Prompto snickers from Noctis’ side, and Ignis sighs, starting to say, “Unfortunately, that isn’t-”
“Deal.” Noctis interrupts, taking off immediately, Gladiolus cursing as he sprints after him, quickly catching up and overtaking the prince.
“Y’know, I’d be a little hurt that Noct’d agree to that so easily if he hadn’t lost every race with Gladio so far.” Prompto laughs, starting to stroll after them with Ignis.
“Yes, well, he’s not one to be deterred so easily, is he?”
They strolled in relative silence the rest of the short distance away to the hotel, Prompto idly taking pictures along the way, arriving at the hotel to find Gladiolus sitting on one of the couches head tipped back as he breathed, while Noctis chats with the hotel clerk, clearly trying to bite back a smile.
“Who won?” Prompto chirped, moving over to Gladiolus and poking his sweaty cheek.
“Me, of course.” he grunted, swatting Prompto’s hand away lazily.
“Bad news, guys.” Noctis says, “Clerk told me they’ve only got single bed rooms left.”
Ignis frowns at him, seeing the clear delight the prince was trying to hide, while Prompto perks up a little and Gladiolus opens his eyes to stare him down.
“Any havens nearby?” he asks, to Noctis’ head shaking no.
“Not unless you wanna drive about a mile.” he explains, and before Gladiolus could reply, adds, “Plus, the rooms are right next to each other, and I’ve already paid.”
Gladiolus scowls at him, and Ignis sighs, stepping in to stop the argument before it could begin.
“I suppose nothing can be done about this now then. The rooms are next to one another, so we would be able to hear if anything would go awry or anything else of the sort. And if it does, I daresay you and Prompto would be able to fend for yourselves for long enough until Gladiolus and I could come to the rescue, eh?”
Noctis and Prompto both look a bit offended at the statement, but before either could say a thing, Ignis plucked one of the keys from Noctis’ hand and started for the stairs, calling after him, “Gladiolus, are you coming?”
“Yessir.” is the rumbling reply, and Ignis, despite himself, smiles.
He’d missed Gladiolus’ steady gravelly voice, a comfort he didn’t know he’d grown used to over his lifetime as Noctis’ aide and friend until Gladiolus had left, somehow associating the sound of the other man’s voice with the assurance that everything would be alright, leaving him a bit on edge the entire ten days, fourteen hours, and thirty-six minutes he’d been gone.
And from the looks of it, everything had been assuredly not fine on his end of things.
Ignis entered the room assigned to them, leaving the door open for Gladiolus behind him as he set down his pack, pretending to rummage through it as he listened to the other man enter and shut the door behind him.
“It is your name, correct?” Ignis replied, resisting the urge to turn into him when Gladiolus put his (large, steady, warm ) hands on his hips.
“Well, yeah, but it already took me so long to get you down to just ‘Gladio’. What’d I do to get demoted to the full name again?”
“Nothing, I suppose. Just slipped back into it.”
A sigh. Gladiolus knew him so well. “Don’t bullshit me, Ig. Hey, look at me. Is it because I left?”
“No.” Ignis replies, turning in Gladiolus’ arms. “You’re an adult, you’re welcome to do as you please. I daresay we’ve all had our own adventures this trip, and possibly have more coming.”
“Then what?” Gladiolus’ stare was was intense, searching, a bit pleading, and Ignis had missed him, his anxiety over the time he’d been gone still tight in his chest.
“I...we…” Ignis purses his lips, suppressing a groan as he lets his head fall onto Gladiolus’ shoulder. “It’s-”
“C’mon, spit it out. Aren’t you supposed to be the words guy?” Gladiolus hums, one of his hands drifting up to mess with Ignis’ hair.
Ignis half-heartedly pretended to swat at the other man, hand falling instead to rest on the new scar across his chest.
“I had begun to think...you never called- ”
“Shit.” Gladiolus interrupts, catching on. “I never meant to-I meant to, I did, but the Proving Grounds don’t exactly get reception-“
At the mention of the place, Ignis pushes away from Gladiolus, eyes widening, the anxiety that had begun to dissipate growing tight once more in his chest.
“You went where ?”
“C’mon, I did mention I wanted to get stronger-“
“So, you decided to go to to the one place where everyone but one man has died, a place where your own father refused to go-“
“I’m still here, aren’t I?” Gladiolus asks, spreading his arms as if to emphasize his point, and Ignis wanted to hit him.
“That’s not the point , it’s-you could have died , and where would that have left m- Noctis , what were you thinking-“
He realizes rather belatedly that his voice is rising, wavering a bit, and he stops himself before it could get worse, before he could let his emotions show even more than they had already.
Gladiolus was watching him, face softening, and Ignis pulls off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to stop tears from building.
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Gladiolus finally says, and Ignis can hear him sit down on the bed. “If I’d felt like I was in over my head, I’d have turned back. Or the Marshall’dve dragged my sorry ass out. I wouldn’t leave you like that, Ig. I swore I wouldn’t.”
“You swore you would protect Noct.” Ignis argues, taking a deep breath to calm himself.
“Yeah, and when we left, I swore to do the same for you and Prompto.” Gladiolus is smiling at him, Ignis can hear it in his voice, blast him to pieces. “We’re in this together, babe.”
Ignis shakes his head and rubs his eyes, refusing to give into the fond smile that threatens to emerge on his face, but steps forward anyway, running his fingers lightly over the new scar on his forehead. “You stupid, stupid man.”
“Didn’t even feel it.” Gladio shrugs, answering his unasked question.
“And this?” Ignis replies, gesturing to the long, awful gash on his chest.
Gladiolus shakes his head, reaching for Ignis once more, and Ignis lets him, sighing again.
“You know it.”
Ignis presses his lips to the new scar, trying to be as gentle as possible as he allowed himself to admit, words barely a whisper, “I missed you, Gladio.”
The answering smile is enough to loosen the tight knot of frustration and anxiety in Ignis’ chest, and he tilts Gladiolus’ chin up to kiss him properly.
“Never again, you hear? Those two are impossible to handle alone.” Ignis says, smiling back at the other man as he laughs.
“They finally sort themselves out?”
“Yes, and the amount of affection that I’ve had to watch since is almost nauseating.”
Gladiolus laughs again, pulling Ignis even closer, and after an eye roll, Ignis obliges the silent request and climbs into his lap. “I can only imagine.”
“I do hope you’re not aiming to have sex after everything you must have been through the past week, last night included.” Ignis grumbles at him, Gladiolus’ answering snort coming from where he’d buried his face in Ignis’ neck.
“Just wanted to be close.” He mumbles, pulling Ignis down to the mattress. “Missed you too.”
Ignis kisses Gladiolus’ hair, smiling. “Rest up, then. I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
There’s a mumbled response, and lips pressed to his collarbone, and Ignis curls a bit closer, content.