In the months since becoming sparring partners, spending time with Gladio had become as much a part of Ignis's regularly scheduled activities as cleaning up after Noct. Twice a week they met at the training room, and once a week Ignis accompanied Gladio home afterwards. His shoulder had improved within a couple of weeks, but Gladio had insisted that Ignis's ministrations continued to be necessary.
Time with Gladio had proven him to be unusual, even by Ignis's estimations. He dedicated himself wholeheartedly to his assigned role as sworn shield, but he also held a fondness for nature and camping which was unusual to find within the Crown City. Ignis, personally, didn't see the appeal; he preferred the luxuries of actual beds, and walls, and most importantly, baths, but Ignis, unlike Gladio, didn't look his best when he was grubby and unkempt. Some people, Ignis had privately reflected, were simply born beautiful.
Gladio certainly was, which meant that sometimes their weekly massage sessions could be a little bit of a trial for him. Gladio flirted constantly, with everyone, and comments about Ignis being a lucky man to get his hands on him regularly had been met with digs at Gladio's healthy ego. The discussion of Ignis's sexual preferences had never come up, and after seeing Gladio flirt as ferociously with women as he did with Ignis himself, he'd decided that playing such behaviour off as of no import was the best way to handle it. Perhaps Gladio genuinely didn't know, or perhaps he did, and didn't think it mattered. For now, Ignis contented himself with enjoying a comfortable friendship.
“I'm thinking of getting a tattoo,” Gladio said to him, one day, resting on his back on his bed, while Ignis worked at the muscles along his arm and wrist with two hands. He perched on the edge of the bed, Gladio's arm strung across his lap as he worked his fingers in and down Gladio's arm. Deltoid, bicep, tricep, brachioradial; Ignis was, as a result, learning the names of the various muscles of Gladio's anatomy, and which ones in particular needed his attention.
“Anything in particular?” Ignis asked in reply, as he kept his attention fixed on the flesh under his fingers. For all the jokes about how lucky he was, Ignis found the task as soothing as Gladio seemed to. He'd taken to cooking for Noct, a task which gave him the satisfaction of a job well done when Noctis, despite being an infuriatingly picky eater, nonetheless cleared his plate, and working so with his hands, when so much of his work was cerebral in nature, was relaxing. Providing an effective massage, he found, occupied much the same niche, though Gladio's approval tended to be more audible, and occasionally in ways that were like a hot poker to his spine.
Gladio tucked his free arm under the back of his head and stared at the ceiling. “Something cool,” he said, eventually. He didn't seem to have given the details much thought as yet; a half formed notion circling his mind.
“You spend far too much time around Noct,” Ignis said, disapprovingly. He didn't have a problem with tattoos, it was just that, in his personal opinion, whatever one opted to have etched into one's skin should be of greater importance to oneself than a flash in the pan good idea at the time whim.
“Well, what do you think I should get?”
Ignis raised an eyebrow and turned from Gladio's arm to look at his face. “I hardly think I'm the person to ask in this situation.”
“Why not?” Gladio countered, turning to look at Ignis. There was challenge in his expression, but no anger, no irritation, just a genuine desire to hear the answer.
Ignis looked away. Staring Gladio in the face could be difficult sometimes. He was too intense, and too attractive, though never threatening. “I am not an expert on tattoos,” he said.
“Maybe I just want your opinion, as a friend?”
Ignis didn't dare look at Gladio. He'd resigned himself to Gladio being a flirt, and it having no deeper meaning or intention. Someone that looked like Gladio drew female attention regularly as he made his way through the city, and he responded to it in much the same way as he did to Ignis. But then, sometimes, he made comments that gave Ignis a lot of questions and not many answers. He never had quite been able to work out if Gladio was teasing him in such a way because he was aware that Ignis was gay, or if he was utterly oblivious to the fact that he was teasing him at all, and then sometimes, he said things. He said things with a seriousness and intensity that made Ignis's stomach jump.
The way 'as a friend' was tacked on, as if it was an afterthought, and yet a modifier used to negate the intensity of what came before it caused that jump in his gut.
“An eagle,” he said, eventually.
“Really?” Gladio sounded intrigued.
“They're symbols of courage,” Ignis said, his voice distant, and thoughtful. He stared at Gladio's arm, draped across his lap, but he wasn't really looking at it. There were too many thoughts swirling around inside his own head. Gladio gave a thoughtful murmur in response, looking back up at the ceiling once more. “Of course,” Ignis said, his wandering mind returning to him, “depending upon where you choose to get a tattoo, you may have to forego the massages for a while.”
He almost took delight in seeing Gladio screw up his nose, but his stomach gave that uncomfortable flutter it had suffered more and more in Gladio's presence lately when Gladio said, as if he was genuinely considering it discouragement from the notion, “I hadn't thought of that.” He retrieved his arm without another words and rolled over onto his front. By now their routine was familiar to both of them, and Ignis sat up to straddle Gladio's back, applying a little more oil to his hands before he began to work the familiar contours there. It was easier to straddle Gladio than to stand over him and bend, and Gladio had no objections to the positioning despite, well, the potentially compromising nature of it.
He worked from the centre of Gladio's back and upwards, drawing happy groans from the man beneath him as he worked. “Not that you should let that put you off,” Ignis said. “I'd just have to work around the healing skin.” He pressed his thumbs in to a spot that tended to become stiff, and Gladio grunted unhappily, his fingers curling into a fist. “There?”
“Right there,” Gladio said, through obviously gritted teeth. Ignis worked his thumbs into that spot firmly, feeling Gladio shift and squirm under him until he gave a deep, rumbling groan and relaxed again. “Damn, Iggy,” he said, happily, “you're getting good at this.”
Ignis pursed his lips as he shifted to massage Gladio's shoulder with two hands. “You're the only one that calls me 'Iggy', you realise?”
Gladio's murmur was confused. “Noct calls you that too,” he pointed out.
“With vanishing rarity,” Ignis informed him. “Typically, he calls me 'specs'. He only picked up 'Iggy' since you began to use it.”
“Want me to stop use--” He was cut off with a sharp hiss, and continued as Ignis worked his fingers into the tight muscle at the top of Gladio's shoulder, “using it?”
“I suppose it's a little late, now,” Ignis replied. “It seems to have stuck.”
“Sorry,” said Gladio.
Ignis carefully finished working the shoulder he was on before he spoke again, moving to the other shoulder, his hands near to Gladio's face as he dug his fingers in and carefully smoothed the muscle out. “Don't be. It's an honour you consider your sparring partner close enough to have earned a nickname.”
Gladio seemed to be chewing that over in pensive silence, and then he shifted, rolling onto his side so that Ignis had to rise up onto his knees or be tossed across the bed. “You're more than just a sparring partner, Iggy.”
The moment felt frozen. With Gladio looking up at him, holding eye contact from down on the bed and the way his hand had fallen to Ignis's thigh, holding him steady in his precarious position kneeling over Gladio, time seemed to tick slowly.
It was one of those phrases again. Gladio came out with them more and more in recent weeks. What had once been easily brushed off flirting had morphed into... something else. Mostly that something else was something that made Ignis question Gladio's intentions. He'd never acted on anything, never said anything that couldn't be dismissed as simply the sort of person Gladio was. He was intensely and fiercely loyal and caring underneath the flirting and jokes. What he said could as easily be him simply re-filing Ignis into his friends category, and wanting Ignis to know this as anything else.
Yet it made Ignis's stomach do slow motion cartwheels. Like the time Gladio had pinned him in training, and held him pinned for two seconds longer than was strictly necessary so that Ignis had felt his heart beat increase in speed with the stoppage, or the time he'd said he'd have to return the favour for the massages and get Ignis on his belly on the bed. Ignis always just brushed it off as simply harmless flirting, because that was how Ignis responded to it, and Gladio had always seemed happy with that kind of response, but it left him with questions in the middle of the night, and thoughts that became fantasies that assaulted him unbidden in the shower.
“What am I?” He asked, realising the intensity of his own question with a twist in his stomach, his eyes staying locked with Gladio's.
Gladio stared up at him, mutely, incomprehension on his face, and Ignis cursed under his breath. He'd gone too far; this couldn't be simply brushed off, but at this point, he may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. “Damn it.” His stomach churned as he leaned forward, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips to Gladio's. The stubble of Gladio's unshaved chin scratched at Ignis's cheek as he tilted his head, covering Gladio's mouth with his own for a brief moment of what would have been blissful relief if Ignis was confident he wasn't about to end the only friendship he had that wasn't with Noct. Gladio's fingers curled into the material of his trousers as he pulled away and apologised. “I'm sorry if I've just ruined everything.”
“I,” Gladio began, and faltered. “No,” he tried again, and failed once more.
“My apologies,” Ignis said, turning away as he moved to climb off Gladio and leave. It was worth the attempt, if for no other reason than to silence those questions that circled in his mind and coloured the relationship. It would have been difficult to continue associating with Gladio when that fool question and hope roiled behind every action.
He found himself held firmly in position by the cloth of his trousers, and he looked down to see Gladio holding on very tightly.
“Don't apologise,” Gladio said, eventually. “It was just a surprise.”
“That I'm gay?” Ignis asked, disbelievingly. He daren't make himself look at Gladio's face.
“No,” Gladio said, “that you're into me.”
Ignis raised an eyebrow then and found he couldn't help but look Gladio in the face. To his astonishment, Gladio seemed genuinely, but not unpleasantly stunned. “I find that hard to believe, with the healthy state of your ego,” he replied, unable to help himself. Gladio's ego was truly impressive, after all. He acted as though the only person that considered him more attractive than he considered himself was everybody.
“Hey, I'm hot,” Gladio answered, that stunned expression giving way to something a little more like the Gladio Ignis knew, “but that doesn't mean I'm your type. All the times I,” and heaven's above if Gladio didn't look evasive, and Ignis would have sworn there was a threat of darkening colour at his cheeks, “tried to feel you out, you just brushed it off.”
“So you were doing it deliberately,” Ignis said. Elation washed through him, and with it, a smug satisfaction that he'd been right to question the innocence of Gladio's comments and flirting.
“Well, yeah,” Gladio admitted, “I'm not oblivious.”
“That is up for debate,” Ignis replied.
“So,” Gladio said, his grip loosening on Ignis's trousers as he turned onto his back under him, “what happens now?”
Ignis felt his throat go dry as Gladio turned under him, slickened muscle shifting until the expanse of Gladio's stomach lay tantalisingly within reach of his fingertips. “I think we should play it by ear,” he said. “Don't force things, and see where they take us.”
“Sounds good to me.”