Gladiolus Amicitia was a giant of a man. Six feet and six inches tall left him towering over everybody else, and when looking up at him, it felt as if he was just as broad as he was tall. In defiance of his stature and general demeanour, he was named for a flower. In deference to his assigned role in life, he was named for the sword lily. As a flower it symbolised strength and moral integrity. As a man, Gladio, as he was generally known, embodied that symbolic meaning.
Ignis had watched him training many a time. He trained the young prince, or attempted to, and he trained himself extensively. Muscles that had always been present had swelled and become defined as the man grew, and his choice of weapon had shifted to two-handed greatswords. It was a powerful choice for a person built for power but not speed, but the weight brought consequences in these early days.
Gladio rolled his shoulder with a grunt, pressing his opposite hand against it as he scowled. Ignis, stood to attention as ever, watched from the sidelines as Gladio, despite the trouble his shoulder was giving him, schooled prince Noctis thoroughly. The session ended sooner than usual, and while Gladio allowed the prince to think it was on his account, Ignis was less certain.
He saw Gladio again a few days later, when the prince was blessedly at school and Ignis had some rare spare time in which to train himself. His preference was for daggers. As a man, he was never going to wield axes and swords. Ignis was built for speed and magic, both of which he was quite adept with.
“How is your shoulder?” He asked, without any other introduction. He knew Gladio, as Gladio knew him; they had a shared purpose despite not having shared much time together. Ignis was to be the prince's right hand, Gladio was to be, as all Amicitia were, the prince's sworn shield.
Gladio grunted slightly as he looked over at Ignis. There was silence, for a moment, as recognition set in, and he decided to answer. “Stiff,” he said, eventually. “It'll loosen up. Nothing for you to worry about.”
Ignis allowed himself a flicker of a smile at the answer. “I'm not worried,” he replied, “but I saw you let Noct off his practice early.”
“He did fine, for once. I cut him a break.”
Ignis bowed his head in acknowledgement of that. Noctis had done better than usual, but how much of that had been due to Gladio struggling against a stiff shoulder, as well as a relatively new weapon? “Try a massage,” he said. Gladio looked at him as if he was growing a second head. “It stimulates blood flow and promotes healing,” he said, then thought on it for a second before he added, “and a diet with lots of lean protein will aid muscle repair and growth.”
Gladio looked him up and down, and then grunted again. “Thanks for the tip.” Possibly, he'd heard Noctis complain about Ignis's obsession with proper nutrition, or at the very least, with making Noctis eat his vegetables, and was taking the unsolicited advice as little more than more of that. Ignis didn't consider it important; the advice had been given, and while he could harangue the prince into taking it, he couldn't do the same to Gladio.
A week later Gladio clearly hadn't taken the advice, and Ignis watched with folded arms as Noctis did atypically well in another training session. As Gladio tired, rescue came in the form of a servant at the door, who bowed politely and informed them that the prince's presence was required.
“You haven't done anything about that shoulder,” Ignis said, as the prince left the room without so much as a glance in his direction.
Gladio looked over at him. “It's fine,” he said, “I can still kick his scrawny ass.”
“Your job,” Ignis said, pushing his glasses up, “is to protect him from foes stronger than him.”
“I can do that too,” Gladio said, gruffly.
“Don't be so sure,” Ignis said, removing his jacket and unbuttoning his cuffs to roll his sleeves up. “You have significant weakness on your right side,” he said, as he strolled to retrieve a wooden pole-arm. “A greatsword is a slow but powerful weapon, and you are both slower, and less powerful with it, than you should be.”
Gladio looked incredibly amused. “What, you wanna spar to prove your point?”
“If I can take you down, then you have to follow my advice,” he said.
“And if I take you down?”
Ignis considered the options for this unlikely outcome. He was faster, more analytical, and he wasn't fighting against an injury; Gladio was at a disadvantage, although he didn't seem to know it. “Name your demand,” he said.
Gladio smiled like a knife and said, “You come back here every week for more of the same.”
“You want me for a sparring partner?” Ignis sounded as shocked as he looked. It wasn't the request he'd anticipated. His silence, perhaps, or bringing Noct for extra training. Not this.
“I gotta train the prince,” Gladio answered, with a nonchalant shrug of his good shoulder. “Might as well train his right hand, too.”
Ignis considered that with a little more thought than it strictly required. “Very well,” he said, eventually. “Though you should know, I have a very busy schedule, so it's in my interests not to lose.”
“I'm sure you'll fit me in,” Gladio answered.
Ignis refrained from admitting that it wasn't the worst proposal he'd had.
And he was faster than Gladio. More manoeuvrable too; when Gladio raised his practice sword, Ignis was able to sidestep out of the way, and come in too close for Gladio's defences, giving Gladio a swift elbow to the stomach. Attacking from Gladio's weakened side meant that he couldn't keep up with Ignis's already speedy movements, and Gladio actually sounded impressed when Ignis used his weapon to pole vault out of the way of another swing.
It was more difficult than Ignis had anticipated, however. Gladio was exceptionally strong, and hard to throw off balance. Twice Ignis succeeded in catching him unguarded from behind, and twice he'd failed to force Gladio's impressive frame to his knee. Worse, Gladio seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, though he sounded extremely displeased when Ignis caught him a blow in his weakest shoulder. It took him a moment to recover, which Ignis used to catch his pole-arm between Gladio's feet and finally take one from under him.
He stumbled, his free hand hitting the ground to halt the fall, and Ignis backed off with a triumphant smile, and sweaty clothes.
“Not bad for a man dancing around in dress shoes,” Gladio conceded, as he righted himself again.
“Have I made my point?” Ignis asked, more out of breath than he'd have liked, but Gladio wasn't his usual sparring partner, and he'd presented a challenge.
Gladio grumbled, as if unhappy to be admitting as much, but he said, “Don't know where I'll find a massage, though.”
Ignis opened his mouth to reply, and then hesitated, and stopped. He thought about his answer for a moment longer before he offered, “I could do that.” Was that going too far, perhaps?
Gladio looked him in the face for a little bit longer than his reply necessitated. “You're on,” he said, and then that grin came back to his face, “but I still want you here for training once a week.”
“Your training, or mine?” Ignis asked, adjusting his glasses. The sweat was cooling now, and felt unpleasant. He was in need of a shower. Gladio needed one too, though Ignis found himself thinking that the man had no right to look as good as he did when he was as unkempt as he was right now. Scruffy and sweaty was not a look anyone deserved to wear well.
Gladio laughed before he answered, “Both. You're pretty good, but you need to learn how to use your opponent's weight against them, and I could do with a nippy bastard to practice against.”
“Well,” Ignis said, unsure if that was a compliment or an insult, “then this nippy bastard is happy to oblige.” Gladio smiled, and Ignis returned a smile of his own. “When would you like that massage?”
Gladio screwed up his nose, still unsure of the idea, but it was followed by a way of pressing his lips together and shifting his shoulders that suggested he wasn't entirely against the notion now he was giving it some thought. “Come to my place later. Do I have to be lay down?”
“You don't have to be,” Ignis answered, “but it helps. It may be much later,” he added, apologetically, “Noct has extra study, and I need to go over his history with him.”
Gladio laughed, “Yeah, he needs a lot of work. He's a good kid though, if you give him the chance.”
Which was how Ignis came to be inside the Amicitia household at what anyone else would consider an ungodly hour. Gladio's sister Iris was a sweet if rambunctious thing, who asked many questions about the prince before Gladio told her Ignis wasn't here for interrogation.
“Where would you prefer to do this?” Ignis asked, as Gladio led him through a house that was really rather grand in scale and status.
“My room?” Gladio offered, or perhaps asked; his tone belied a question in his mind. Ignis paused, his lips parting with a reply before he closed his mouth again. “What, never been invited to a guy's bedroom before?” Gladio teased, and it was teasing, but there was a look in his eye that made Ignis wonder if he was doing that deliberately.
Did he know? His ego was astonishing if he did, but Gladio had never given Ignis any reason to suspect his ego was less than truly breathtaking in its scale before. “Honestly?” Ignis asked. “No.” Now it was Gladio's turn to look at him as if he'd just heard something unexpected, and Ignis elaborated, casually, “My life has rather revolved around Noct and his needs, leaving me with little time for friends.”
“Sorry,” Gladio said, and he seemed genuinely sorry about whatever it was he was apologising for.
“Don't be,” Ignis answered. “We share the same lot; to have our lives dedicated, by dint of who we are, to the service of another. I don't regret it, thus far.” Ignis caught sight of Gladio's faint and genuine smile out of the corner of his glasses as he opened a door and gestured for Ignis to head through first.
Gladio's bedroom looked as Ignis imagined most bedrooms do. There were more books than he'd anticipated, lined up on shelves, and clothes that looked to be laundry visible in a basket. The room smelled strongly of Gladio, too; a musky, masculine smell that wasn't unpleasant. “Is here okay?” Gladio asked, closing the door behind them both.
“It's fine,” Ignis said. “Lie down on your front,” he advised. “You don't have to remove your shirt, but it will be more effective if you do.”
Gladio shrugged, gripping the bottom of his shirt in one hand. “I'm not shy,” he said, and peeled his shirt up and over his head, exposing stomach muscles and pectorals that were defined enough to make Ignis pause and wonder if Gladio was deliberately showing off, or if this was just natural for him.
“Evidently,” he said, under his breath. He was sure Gladio had heard it too, from the way he grinned, and went to make himself comfortable on the bed. Ignis forced himself to ignore it as he opened his bag and retrieved the oil he'd brought. A little research into the preferred oils for massage had yielded some good results, though Gladio didn't seem the type to enjoy the scents of lavender or peppermint.
“What's that?” Gladio asked, as Ignis put his bag down, and approached with a small bottle in hand.
“Black pepper oil,” Ignis answered. “Warming and analgesic properties, appropriate for the reducing of stiffness and pain from over-exercise.”
Gladio grunted as he made himself comfortable, his head on one side. Ignis rolled his sleeves up before he applied a little oil to his hands and set to work. Gladio groaned as Ignis worked his fingers into his shoulder, and Ignis frowned. “This is worse than I thought,” he said, quietly.
“Do you think I'll live?” Gladio asked, his tone amused and broken by another wince and groan as Ignis worked through muscle that was too tight.
“You need to let me do this again next week,” Ignis replied, before his brain caught up with his mouth and he realised what he'd just proposed.
Gladio laughed, shortly. “It's a date.”
Ignis knew he was getting somewhere when Gladio's groans went from short grunts of pain to relaxed murmurs of pleasure that were, frankly, horribly distracting. He worked away from the injured shoulder, using a little more oil to work through the muscle of Gladio's back. There was a lot of muscle to work, and it wasn't the most unpleasant task Ignis had ever set himself to run his hands over it, pressing in and rubbing his thumbs in small circles where he found the muscle holding tighter than necessary, forcing it to loosen up, and blood to flow properly through the tissue.
He stopped himself at Gladio's hips, an inch above the waistline of his trousers, and ran both of his hands up Gladio's back, firmly and slowly. Gladio's satisfied groan had Ignis closing his eyes, trying to block it out. Those were thoughts he didn't need. “Feeling better?” He asked.
Gladio murmured happily again before he said, “You should let me do you, sometime.”
He had to be doing that deliberately, Ignis thought. He couldn't be oblivious and that on the nose with his seemingly innocent comments. “I'm unlikely to get into the state you're in,” Ignis answered. “Though you really should eat more lean protein,” he said, as he worked his hands against one shoulder, and then the other. The one that had been injured still felt harder than the other, but it wasn't an issue that would be resolved in one night. “Make sure you consume enough salt, too; electrolytes are as important as water for rehydration and preventing cramps after exercise.”
Gladio laughed, and Ignis felt the rumble and shudder under his fingers. “Noct's right, you are like a mom.”
Ignis frowned and pushed his glasses back up his nose with one finger. “I pay attention, that's all.”
Gladio turned his head and grinned at Ignis. “I told him you were right,” he said, “he does need to eat his veggies. Dark leafy greens are good for iron, and beans are full of protein.”
Ignis blinked. He hadn't expected that answer. “What did he say?”
“That we're ganging up on him, but if that's what it takes to keep him fit and healthy, I say we do it.”
Ignis pursed his lips in amusement, suppressing the laughter. “I agree.”
Gladio grinned at him. “You done?”
Ignis looked down and realised he still had one hand on Gladio's shoulder, though he hadn't moved it in nearly a minute. “Yes,” he decided. “I've done what I can for tonight. How was it?” He asked, removing his hand, and standing up straight again.
“Good,” Gladio answered, pushing himself up with a shift of glistening muscle that caught Ignis's eye and seared itself into a rather private part of his memory. “Not sure about the oil, though. You got any others?”
Ignis frowned. “Thyme is similarly effective, or lavender is somewhat all purpose,” he began.
“Try lavender next time,” Gladio said.
Ignis looked at him, his head tilted to one side and his brow furrowed. “Lavender? Really?”
Gladio grinned at him. “Hey, I'm open minded,” he said. “Or do you think I'm too big and manly for florals?”
Ignis looked at Gladio, his expression flat enough to be concreted over. “I'll have to bring an oxygen tank next time, or I'll risk passing out for suffocating on your ego.”