Physical training came later in Ignis’ employ with the crown, considering the priority for his position was placed on political knowledge, administrative support, and general caregiving for the future king. The reverse was true of his colleague, Gladiolus, and Ignis was immensely grateful for it.
Initially, it was from a practical standpoint. Gladio would act as his counterbalance in Noctis’ life while their duties would be firmly aligned. Ignis focused on his daily needs and the larger picture with exacting attention while Gladio ensured his physical safety and readiness to protect himself if needed. Either one could be entrusted with the duties of the other to an extent, but their specialization improved their combined performance.
And then Ignis reached puberty.
Gladio had always been handsome, of course, but Ignis had never realized quite how handsome until he spotted the Shield training with Glaives in the summer sun. Late afternoon would have been the practical time to train, but they sought to build their resistance to unbearable circumstances and went out in the hottest point of the day with full sunlight.
Ignis simply happened to be passing by at the time. Gladio’s tank top highlighted defined muscles working through a rigorous routine that he met with a self-assured smile. He hadn’t grown in his stubble quite yet, as this was in their early teenage years, but he was still rather easy to look at. As sweat soaked through the front of his shirt and clung to his form, Ignis did indeed look. Stared, you could say. Then he cleared his throat as he freed himself from the hypnotic display. He had duties to attend to and did his best to put those thoughts from his mind for that purpose.
An ongoing task that Gladio made all the more difficult as their work brought them together more and more often over the years, bringing to light a shared understanding of the honor and burden of their duties. Whether they needed to take pride in their responsibilities with a like-minded peer or have an outlet for frustration at Noctis’ sporadic and immovable stubbornness, they needed only to find each other. This evolved into having odd-hours meals together, the pleasant discovery that they read much of the same literature, and then a professional respect became friendship. A driven man in all regards, Gladio seemed determined to be attractive to Ignis on several levels.
His appeal had only grown over time, and those thoughts followed Ignis to yet another routine sparring match against his partner in service to Noctis. In their late teenage years, Gladio’s trimmed stubble emphasized his strong jawline that became especially evident as he matured. His brown eyes had taken on a warmer quality and although he was not as openly expressive as he had been in his youth, those expressions were refined tools of his innate charm. Now, he turned a honed version of that very same self-certain look to Ignis with training greatsword in hand.
Ignis held rounded twin daggers meant only for sparring, finding them his preferred weapons against Gladio for their maneuverability. He circled in the opposite direction of his training partner’s strides to maintain distance while planning his strategy.
“This isn’t chess, Iggy,” Gladio began to lecture him, a habit which Ignis had noted Noctis never mentioned occurring during his own training. After, of course, but not once during. “In a fight, you’ve got to keep what motivates you in mind so when it gets ugly, you don’t dare back down.”
With a speed belied by his musculature, Gladio swiped towards Ignis, who kicked himself back in turn with experienced grace. Too much of that in conjunction with the circling, though, and his reflexes would suffer for it.
“As Shield, my duty is to protect the king. That's what drives me to fight no matter the odds.” That fact was hardly news to Ignis, who communicated as much with a slight narrowing of his stare. The smirk he received in return suggested Gladio knew he was wasting this information on him—and yet he continued. Their wordless understanding had been cultivated over the course of their work for Prince Noctis, but it was clearly not above being entirely disregarded in favor of Gladio’s own motives. “You just gotta do the same, Iggy.”
Ignis sighed and nearly considered calling the match if this was to go on. Only he knew well how that ended: Gladio would take advantage of the break in his guard, pin him down, and restart the match at best 3 of 5 rather than 2 of 3. With the direction his thoughts were currently headed, Ignis dared not risk that. “I’ll thank you to give practical advice.”
“Alright, how’s this? Training with you isn’t about protecting Noctis. You’re the one learning from me right now,” Gladio taunted, an effortless confidence layering the rumbling bass of his voice. Ignis insisted internally that he was not irritated at catching himself distracted, but at the fact that his colleague was correct. While his progress was remarkable since they began training, if Ignis did say so himself, he was a far cry from the Shield himself in terms of skill. “That means I need a new reason to stay motivated.”
“Is that right? Duly noted.” Gladio was familiar with the crisp, terse enunciation that Ignis used when offended, and he utilized that familiarity well here. He didn’t have the sheer strength to compete with Gladio, but Ignis was not one so easily dismissed. Their circling continued all the while, though the distance between them was closing. That could be to Ignis’ advantage if he planned his attacks carefully. At a closer range, that greatsword could not adapt like daggers could. All it would take for the strategy to work was letting Gladio talk a moment longer and perhaps even relax just so.
“Don’t be like that,” he teased, nodding companionably at Ignis despite his guard never dropping for a second. “Tell you what, I’ll think of something to get you fired up too. Like...”
Gladio had the same strategy, it seemed. He attacked with a downward slash and Ignis deflected the blow to redirect that momentum into his own evasion. Smoothly, he used that window of opportunity to throw a dagger at Gladio and narrowly missed. Close enough would not suffice in battle, however. “If I win this round, I take you out on a date.”
The stutter in his mind evidenced itself in a slight waver of his remaining dagger before he regained his composure. Very clever, Gladio—if a bit underhanded. There was no possibility Gladio that was aware of Ignis’ attraction to him, given the efforts he’d taken to conceal it. Ignis reviewed their recent interactions in his mind and could think of nothing that would betray what could be called a crush if he bothered to give those feelings a name. Balancing that analysis with his combat strategy was soon proven to be too much and Ignis pushed it aside for the time being.
“Very well.” It was too late to take it back once he’d said it. Ignis felt a flicker of anxiety, but it was dwarfed completely by his ambition. If there was even an ounce of seriousness to Gladio’s proposal, then Ignis fully intended to make him earn the right to his scarce free time. He didn’t often smile during training, but Ignis made an exception in this case. “Your terms are fair.”
The training greatsword dropped to the ground with a dull thud, Ignis standing breathless and proud over a fallen Gladio. He held the innocuous dagger point in the face of his defeated partner purely for the theatrics of it and pushed his glasses up with his other hand. This was his chance. Though the tables had turned on the original deal, Ignis had already committed to what was possibly his first spontaneous decision in years.
“I will still,” he paused to catch a spare breath, “Take you up on that date, I believe.”
“Those weren’t the rules, Iggy.” Gladio’s smile was patient, perhaps a touch self-conscious. What a rarity that was indeed. He offered a hand instead of the dagger and helped Gladio to his feet—another gesture made mainly for the principle of it. “I’ve got to earn it.”
The sudden wave of courage continued on its own momentum, as instinctive as the combat tactics Ignis had ingrained in his mind. He kept Gladio’s hand in his after he stood and held eye contact as well.
“Then consider it my reward instead.”
“Your reward, huh?” The smug aura radiating off Gladio was unmistakable in the easy grin and examining once-over he gave, but Ignis would not easily relent in this new arena of combat either.
“Now, Gladio,” he chastised and closed in, kissing Gladio in the way he had shamelessly imagined at the end of many especially trying days. Ignis lost himself in the coarseness of beard hair under his touch, the tension dissolving from them both as the kiss deepened and Gladio’s hand found its way to the small of Ignis’ back. There was too much inexperience to live up to the fantasy, but the intimate honesty of reality outstripped the daydream. With some reluctance, Ignis broke the kiss and met Gladio’s gaze. “The loser is not allowed to gloat.”
“Tastes like coffee.” Absent-minded and unfocused—two traits Gladio never displayed before this moment to the best of his knowledge. That was a new discovery shared between them, another area where their lives intersected. In Ignis’ case, that commonality was where his feelings for Gladio had taken root to begin with.
A distant part of his mind shouted for him to consider his actions: what would happen if the date went poorly, if a romantic relationship grew between them but did not last, if Noctis did not approve, plus the great number of other hypothetical scenarios that held Ignis back before the adrenaline rush of victory apparently seized control.
Yet with the warmth of Gladio’s softened smile and loving gaze lingering on him while the hand on his back pulled Ignis in as surely as gravity… He could tune it out. If only for the one idyllic moment.
“I suggest you acquire a taste for it.”