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In the aftermath of the accident, when all seems like it will never be okay again, and it seems like almost too much effort for Ignis to open his eyes in the morning only to see the same blackness from before, Gladio moves into his apartment.

The doctors say it’s for the best. For someone newly adapting to a disability, they say, it can be easier for a person to have a companion. Someone who can do all the things for them that they now have trouble with – someone who isn’t ‘hampered’. Obviously, they say, until the person learns to manage on their own. Ignis almost snaps at them that he doesn’t need a nursemaid, but Gladio’s hand on his shoulder silences him. Prompto and Noctis are also silent; he takes a private moment of self-pity to feel glad that at least he doesn’t have to see how they’re looking at him.

The case is settled. When Ignis goes home, Gladio comes with him.

The next few days are hectic, boxes and things being moved around to open clear walkways, easily navigated without tripping. Gladio’s things are brought over; Ignis has to learn to manage around an extra chair in the living room, but other than that, he manages to fit a surprising amount into the before-now nearly-unused guest room.

Things are odd, living with another person. Ignis has always, at least in his private life, been a solitary creature. At first he objects – respectfully, because Gladio is his friend, and it’s not Gladio that he’s angry at, that he objects to – and objects often. He will learn to dress by touch, to navigate his house, to use the (secretly hated, secretly appreciated) cane. He doesn’t need anyone else treating him like a child, thank you very much. Gladio takes it in stride. Ignis is secretly grateful – and, over time, less secretly so.

The first time he attempts to cook again, he can’t even start boiling water or pick up the knife before he finds the tears coming. He used to say that he could navigate his kitchen blind, everything has such a precise place, but he can’t, and he’s angry. He’s so angry, angry, not sad, not upset, not devastated that all the things he was good at, he can’t do anymore, and when Gladio comes home, he finds him, sitting at the table with a knife in his hands and tears on his face. It takes a long, frantic moment to explain, to assure his friend that he wasn’t going to hurt himself.

Somehow, Gladio’s worry only makes it worse – but somehow, it also makes it just a little better.

It takes encouragement, but he finds himself stepping back into the kitchen again. Gladio is there, and his voice is calm and it helps. ‘You know where everything is,’ he says. ‘You can do this.’

Slowly, carefully, he finds the right knife. The right ingredients. He finds that Gladio, while he wasn’t paying attention, has labeled all the dials on the stove with raised numbers and different shapes. He refuses to cry, this time. Gladio’s hands – massive, powerful, yet somehow surprisingly gentle – are on his as he takes the first motions with the knife. He’s making something simple, a simple soup, something that should be easy, almost second nature. A few times through the process, he almost quits. Gladio’s soothing voice leads him through the process.

It doesn’t taste quite right. He used a little too much pepper. The meat and celery were chopped unevenly. Gladio swears it’s the best thing he’s ever eaten, and Ignis imagines the man’s smile.

It’s a start.

Over the next month, he keeps trying. He practices. He still can’t make much more than a simple soup, good sandwiches, but his old skills are returning. He tells Gladio, jokingly, that he’ll try the oven next. He learns to measure ingredients by texture, to judge fineness and coarseness as he runs minced vegetables through his hands. He remembers old motions.

He only cuts himself a few times; Gladio is immediately there, clucking like a nervous hen, every time. Never once does he say to stop – never once does he utter a discouraging word. That means a lot to Ignis, more than he is sure he could put into words of his own.

Two months later, they invite the boys over for dinner. Noctis brings his new bride. Though he can’t see any tears, he hears Prompto’s sniffles over the chili he made especially for him, and allows himself a smile. Luna compliments him on the food, and his smile widens. Noct tells him that nothing’s changed, that he still uses too many vegetables, and he, too, begins to mist up a little. Everyone’s voices are thick with emotion by the end of dinner, and as they leave, he’s exhausted, but satisfied.

‘Nobody’s been together since the accident,’ Gladio recalls, and Ignis realizes, startled, that he’s right. He takes a moment to lean against his friend and admits that that needs to change.

The next thing he dedicates himself to is reading.

He’d given up on the written word when his eyes were taken from him. It seemed like yet another cruel joke to play, and his first attempts at Braille had been unmitigated disasters. The depression that had held him deep and long had taken all the joys of his life from him. Cooking satisfactorily back within his grasp, he turns again to his first love – the page.

It’s hard.

He can’t count the nights when he’d get frustrated. His Braille coach has taught him letters, and the letters should form words, and he comes home, and tries to study, and the words just slip away. It’s a struggle, and he can’t tell how many times he just stood up and angrily walked away. He’s never been one to rave or rage, but it tries his patience, not being able to read.

He begins to enlist Gladio to help him, to listen as he haltingly spells out words from letters and sentences from words in what he feels, sometimes, to be a freakish parody of language. They take to reading the same books, indulging in a shared passion. When Ignis’ fingers fail him as they trace, haltingly, across the raised bumps and dots, turning letters into other letters or losing the thread of a sentence, when he wants to quit, Gladio takes up the slack. He finds the passage in his own book, and his rich voice fills the room, weaving stories and characters and life and death.

Slowly, Ignis’ fingers fail him less and less – but Gladio reads aloud more and more. Braille is another skill that Ignis masters, as he has mastered everything else in his life, but Gladio’s voice narrating tales is a joy he had never expected to discover. He often reads aloud himself, sometimes, to pass the time, and as time goes they start challenging each other, taking turns, building bonds out of words by the heat of Gladio’s little heater.

Slowly but surely, Ignis’ world adjusts.

Blackness as he opens his eyes in the morning slowly becomes just another facet, another aspect, of life. He reconnects with friends, and the four of them hang out in their own ways. He can no longer go to movies, or participate in the small contests at games played on TV screens or mobile phones, but restaurants, parks, drives into the countryside, all of these he can participate in. Noctis brings Luna along; she has fun, and unlike several of Prompto’s steady stream of girlfriends, she never once treats him differently for his blindness.

Of course, it isn’t always easy. For every triumph comes a failure. The world isn’t built for those who can’t see, and all too often Ignis runs headlong into walls that those with sight might avoid. Too many of Prompto’s girlfriends have lost control of their tongues, somehow forgetting that blind doesn’t mean ignorant, inattentive, deaf. To Prompto’s credit, they have always been sent packing, but their attitude is present in all too many other people. And for all his successes at regaining hobbies he had before his eyes were lost, a few things are forever denied to him.

As Noct drives away in a car that, at one time, had known Ignis’ hands at her wheel more than her owner’s, that reality is brought home to him. For the rest of that day, he’s in a foul mood, picking fights with Gladio over things as silly as the touch-labels used on almost everything in the apartment to his roommate’s fondness for instant noodles. Finally, he just goes into his room, slams the door, and loses his composure.

Not long later comes a knock at his door and, after he mumbles a ‘come in’, the smell of hot coffee, just the way he likes it. The coffee is pressed into his hands and a weight settles onto his bed, and neither of them say anything at all. After a long moment of silence, strong arms wrap around him, and that’s all that needs to be said. Gladio understands; Ignis loses his composure once more.

It is, most likely, at that point that things begin to change between the two of them. The change is slow, slow enough that neither of them notice it, at first. They’ve always been at ease around each other, and the change in living situation, of course, meant changes in how they interacted. They have shared more secrets than usual since moving in and perhaps this feels like an extension of that. Still, things are different. After a while, the small touches Ignis has learned to use to navigate his surroundings become more frequent; Gladio’s hand on his back or shoulder as they navigate crowded places becomes… a little bit something more. It lingers longer than is really necessary, now that he can navigate most places on his own; it is softer and more insistent at once. Gladio’s defense of him in the face of stares or the insensitive becomes just a hair more vehement; the way he waits for his roommate to return home becomes, perhaps, just a little more keen.

Somehow, it is easier to talk with, laugh with, live with, Gladio, than with other people, for Ignis. There is a bond there that he hasn’t felt with others. It’s not as though he isn’t still friends with Noct and Prompto, it’s not as though he isn’t still Noct’s advisor, or that he feels any differently towards all of them. It’s that he does feel differently about his friendship with Gladio, and at first he doesn’t understand what that means.

In some ways, it worries him. They’re spending more and more time together, even though they live in the same house; even though Gladio’s presence is no longer needed. That keeps him up at night, as well, the thought that his friend might leave, now that his duty is essentially over. Gladio hasn’t dated since shortly after he moved in – too much to do, he’d say with a wry, ironic smile. Ignis wonders if, perhaps, he’s been an undue burden, a thing he has always strived not to be to anyone.

When he approaches Gladio with a tentative apology, he can’t see the surprise on the man’s expressive face, but he can hear it in his voice when he asks why Ignis would ever think that. There’s something else, there, too, as he pauses, a long, thinking pause, and finishes with ‘Never.’

Never.

There’s something to that word that Ignis doesn’t really understand, yet. It is weighted, heavy with unspoken meaning, and feels like a gift given to him to carry. ‘Never.’ He isn’t sure how it can be the truth – certainly he’s been enough of a burden to himself to know what it must be like for Gladio to have to take care of him like this. Still, he accepts the word.

Noct and Prompto notice the change before they do. Noct knows better than to tease, knows how to mind his own business, but Prompto has never been capable of keeping quiet. He shows admirable restraint, but can’t resist a snide elbow to the side here, a snide-toned ‘roommates’ there, complete with air quotes Ignis can hear in his voice even if he can’t see the motions of his fingers.  After a while, though, Prompto sits down with him for a ‘serious talk’ and mentions he’s glad that Ignis seems so happy. Even in his capacity as the prince’s friend and confidante, Prompto says, it’s been quite a long time since he’s seen Ignis genuinely smiling. He tells him not to wait too long. He tells him to act.

Ignis… isn’t quite certain of what Prompto is trying to say, but by now, he has noticed the change, and that ‘never’ is sitting heavily enough in his mind – and, dare he think it, his heart – that he has an idea. He’s not sure how he feels about that idea, but it’s an idea.

Moreover, it’s a start.

When he and Gladio next go out for groceries, he’s suddenly keenly aware of the large hand at his back, and the man’s voice reading out food labels as though it’s second nature. At this point, maybe it is. That thought both saddens and comforts Ignis – when had this routine become so normal? He remembers the days when he swore he would never get used to his blindness, never stop striving. He’s come so far, but… he wonders if it’s a good thing.

‘I think so,’ is the response he receives back. ‘You’re still growing. It’s just not what you thought it’d be. But… I mean, is it ever?’

No, Ignis found himself agreeing, it never is.

If it’s okay that he can get used to his blindness, he finds himself thinking later, is it oka for him to get used to how much other things have changed? It’s a thought that maybe gives him a little bit of comfort. He’s still not really sure where things are headed, what the changes are going to turn out to be, but the idea that he would get used to him, that that’s okay… it’s a nice feeling, he realizes, to be certain in his uncertainty.

He wonders if Gladio feels the same.

Suddenly all the little things that the two do for each other seem to have a kind of weight to them. It’s as though he’s been speaking a foreign language, and suddenly realizes it for the first time. There is a code here, he thinks, and it’s one he likes. Every gesture, every thought, every sound, feels right at home. It’s a little scary, but it’s also nice. For the first time, he relaxes into the uncertain future.

It’s not long after that he trips.

Tripping is a thing that happens even to people with sight, so it’s not at all unusual for iIgnis. It happens much less often, now that he has the hang of moving with the cane, but it happens all the same. Some kind of bump in the pavement he doesn’t catch, a person or object suddenly ending up in his radius without warning, and he stumbles. Sometimes he tumbles, instead, and then there’s no living with Gladio for a few minutes.

This is one of those tumbles. A child playing in a nearby yard loses control of their ball, and before either of them can react, Ignis is falling over it. Not the most dignified of circumstances, but unavoidable in his present state. Once, it might have angered him, but he takes it in good stride. The child’s mother sounds mortified as she scolds and apologizes in the same breath – how could her son not pay attention to a blind man, she absolutely does not say, but means with every word – and Ignis simply shakes his head and waves it off. Before she can swoop in, the child asks about his eyes and for a moment, things go still. He still hasn’t gotten the chance to get up off the ground, the glasses have tumbled away, and the scar is out there for everyone to see and the boy asks.

Ignis tells him the truth. Something bad happened to his car; he lost control, and he hit something. He hit his head; the scar will always be there. He can’t see anymore. Gladio is silent, and Ignis puts a hand out to stop him from whatever he is going to say – this is just a child, he doesn’t understand – but suddenly instead of a pants leg, the hem of his jacket, his hands are catching large, strong fingers that are squeezing his. That silent comfort is surprising, though it shouldn’t be, not anymore, not after all they’ve been through. Ignis allows Gladio to help him up, that must be the reason Gladio had taken his hand, after all, but the larger man doesn’t let go, and Ignis doesn’t either.  When he retrieves the cane, it’s with his free hand; a moment later, he feels the dark glasses being settled on his face, comforting in their familiarity.

When they make it back to their apartment, their fingers are still twined.

Holding hands is a new development for the two of them. There have always been casual touches, always been the sorts of things good friends did with each other, but never something quite like this. It’s nice, though, and they like it, and they find themselves doing it more often. The questions of why and what do this mean go unspoken; neither of them, it seems, wants to breach the silence and be the first to venture into that territory. Still, it continues – as they head out to go shopping, as they go about their daily business. Gladio will briefly take Ignis’ hand in passing where he might once have given a light touch to the shoulder to inform him of his presence.

Ignis isn’t really sure what to make of it. Though no questions are spoken aloud, they turn over and over in his brain, twining around each other and a single word, ‘never’, in the back of his mind like fingers twining around each other. He wonders what to do about it – if anything should be done. He decides that more of the same is okay, for now. Still, he begins to take the initiative more often. The first time he reaches out to grip Gladio’s hand, ostensibly for guidance, on a crowded street, the surprise evident in the ensuing moment of sudden stillness brings a smile to his face. The first time he does it at home, the long breath between gesture and answer almost worries him, until large, callused hands fold around his with a delicacy that makes his heart skip oddly in his chest.

It’s strange, how much the feel of an object can mean to him now. It started with the cooking, the feeling of finely-chopped green things in his fingers to determine shape and uniformity, but it’s everything. The labels on his stove and his clothing and his knives and his and and and; the slightly-rough surface of the handle of his cane. Gladio’s hands. He explores them one evening, when they have little else to do, under the pretext of practicing reading objects with his fingers. Large and rough, with heavy calluses from carrying heavy equipment, weaponry for self-defense and the defense of their royal friend, moving boxes, everything. Gladio sits patiently and lets him do it, and he wonders what sort of emotions might be crossing his friend’s face that he no longer has the eyes to see. When Gladio grips his hands in his, exploring the slender bones and long fingers with their own (fading, slowly fading) calluses from gripping pens for too long, he also doesn’t object. Gladio wonders aloud what it’s like to see what Ignis sees now, to live in this world he’s been thrust into, and he doesn’t know how to answer. The question seems genuine, and curious, and Ignis tries, haltingly, to explain the world as he sees it now, a world defined by touch and sound and even smell.

He realizes this is the first time since the accident, six, eight, ten months (was it really almost a year? Was it more? How could he have lost track?) ago that he’s actually opened up to anyone about what it’s like to be blind. This is the first time he’s managed to get the words out. He talks about the darkness surrounding his every waking moment. He talks about the struggle he goes through, painstakingly, to remember what colors are like. He talks about the fear he has of one day waking up and realizing he can no longer remember his friends’ faces, because he hasn’t seen them in so long. And then, because Gladio listens to all of the bad, all of the pain, he starts to open up about other things. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also rewarding. He talks about the strange sensation of seeing by touch, the way textures and patterns stand out to him almost like colors used to. He talks about how much you can learn about a person by listening to the sound of their voice, taking in their scent. He doesn’t say how much every little touch, every stabilizing hand or guiding sound, means to him. He feels that Gladio already knows.

Gladio simply holds his hand, gently but firmly, in his and lets him get everything out. When he’s finished, his eyes are moist and he rubs at them, hand gliding quickly over scar tissue that still makes him uncomfortable. He hadn’t meant to let his guard down this much, and yet somehow, it’s a relief. He would feel self-conscious, crying in front of anyone else in the world; in front of Gladio, however, showing his true self comes naturally. It’s a strange feeling.

Even stranger is the sensation of his hand being brought, slowly, to his friend’s lips, and the rough-but-soft, damp feeling of those lips being pressed to the back of his hand.

For a long moment, there is silence.

Not complete silence. Two bodies, alive, in the same room, generate noise. They’re both breathing, though that breath is irregular to Ignis’ sensitive ears. He can hear his own heart, beating, pounding, in the stillness. Somewhere in the house, a clock ticks away the seconds, and his mind, dazed, counts them off. Then Gladio begins to speak.

He tells Ignis how he admires him, and always has, from the moment they first met. He talks about resolve, and overcoming. He talks about how none of that even matters, because Ignis is a person. A good person. A friend. He talks about his worries, and how every moment, watching Ignis stumble through life, he wanted to swoop in and stop it. How every moment, he knew that if he did, it would be the last thing Ignis needed or wanted. He talks about the strength Ignis has, and has needed, in order to get through everything. After a moment, he talks about grace, and poise, and how much they impressed him, then, and now. He talks about friendship, and duty, and how those things could’ve been left by the wayside. He speaks, haltingly, trying out new words and concepts, about nights spent by a space heater, reading together as the light faded, about home-cooked meals – about partnership, and what it meant not to be lonely.

Ignis listens. Gladio had done the same for him, so now he does it for Gladio. He finds the words calming, soothing, embarrassing in turn. Everything he spoke of was so minor – things he’d done for one reason or another that became habits, that stuck. He realizes, suddenly, that this is the point; this tis the routine that they’ve made for themselves, ironed out, smoothed into a well-oiled ritual that means as much to both of them as it does to each other, without either of them being any the wiser. Once again, Ignis finds his hands tracing calluses, whorls, the edges of large fingers. A part of him, irrationally, wishes he could feel the difference between Gladio’s skin and his tattoos, wishes he could remember the shapes of them. Those wishes are forgotten as slowly, gently, those hands pull out of his grasp. One of them reaches up, and a rough fingertip traces a star-like pattern across the left side of his face.

For a moment, he almost pulls away.

He wonders if Gladio senses it, because not a moment later, he finds his own hand pressed to a cheek, the scratching feeling of Gladio’s beard against the heel of his palm distracting him before Gladio gently repositions his fingers, and he finds himself tracing a harsh, indented line over one of the man’s brows. He’d almost forgotten – Gladio’s own scar. There is a new one, he realizes, one he hadn’t seen, traveling horizontally across his forehead. He realizes he doesn’t know how Gladio received either. He realizes he wants to know.

‘Our scars don’t make us who we are,’ Gladio says, and it sounds like a quote from somewhere, but it isn’t one Ignis recognizes. Not right now, not with everything happening all at once. ‘They’re reminders of how we got here,’ finishes Gladio and Ignis feels a slight, unfamiliar heat in his face. Is he that obvious? But of course he is. Hands drop back to laps and find themselves twined together again. Gladio admits that he doesn’t know where to go from here, that he’s not sure what words fit the two of them. They’re friends, he says, and more, but he wants the friends part to come first, and Ignis agrees. Friendship is at the heart of this, whatever has bloomed around and grown from it. It’s a new and exciting feeling, but it’s friendship that will nourish it through the dark times, whatever those might be.

They decide together that this will take some getting used to. Gladio has been in several relationships before, but this – whatever this is – is new territory for him, as well. Agreements are made to speak up, and often. They sit and contemplate, for a moment, trying to understand what’s happening.

Nervously, hesitantly, testing boundaries, Ignis mirrors Gladio’s earlier movements. Slowly, he raises one large, weathered hand to his own lips and presses down. He almost looks up for a reaction, and then remembers why that won’t work. Gladio’s free hand rests on his shoulder, and he feels the slight motion of a thumb, drifting lazily back and forth, a silent agreement. Ignis smiles.

Making it work… is hard.

It isn’t always feather-light kisses on the backs of hands and strolls through quiet parks full of the smell of trees and the sound of wind and babbling streams. Ignis is still blind, Gladio is still an active and sometimes overprotective friend, and there are still barriers the way there are between any two people, but they make it work. Prompto teases them relentlessly as the official change in their status becomes more and more obvious. Noctis says encouraging things in such tones that Ignis can hear his smiles. Noctis’ lady Luna congratulates them, and the tone of her voice, not Prompto’s teasing gagging, is what tells Ignis that she’s gazing at Noctis when she says the words.

Things in the apartment move, and Ignis has to get used to it. Change was hard for him back when he was sighted; now it’s hard for entirely different reasons. Gladio gets a good chuckle out of it every time Ignis complains about some damn box, but it’s alright. Ignis admits that it’s worth it to consolidate their things and have a guest bedroom again. Noctis, helping them move things around, jokes that now that it’s more than just couch space, he and Luna can visit more often.  It takes time to get used to the new arrangement, but Ignis would have it no other way.

Ignis still wakes up to the same darkness that used to only lay behind his eyelids, but now there’s a comforting presence next to him when he does. That presence moves sleepily as he measures out the distance between the bed at the wall, to the closet, dresses, leaves the room. The presence groggily makes an appearance as the scent of breakfast wafts through the apartment. The presence still enjoys unhealthy foods and camping trips and bad movies – but Ignis would have it no other way.

Standing over the stove and listening to the sound of grease and taking in the scent of bacon frying in the pan, his fingers twine with Gladio’s.

‘Do you wish things had been different?’ he asks.

‘Never,’ is the reply.