chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
[personal profile] chlorhexidine posting in [community profile] fic_ception
Gladiolus was fifteen the first time he saw Ignis. A slight, spit of a kid, with glasses a bit too big for him, dressed in smart trousers and a shirt and waistcoat, and with the customary brown leather collar of the Amicitia housecollars around his neck. He kept his eyes down, and his hands at his sides, and Gladio, at fifteen, had much more interesting things to occupy his time than one of the new servants.

So much more interesting that Gladio didn't really notice Ignis until he'd turned eighteen. By then, Ignis had become a regular fixture in the kitchens, and while he wasn't the one in charge of cooking, he was doing a lot of it to help Jared, whom Gladio loved, but who was getting old and wasn't managing so well any more. Jared had been with the estate since Gladio's grandfather had been a boy, and Gladio's dad was determined he would end his days with them, too.

It wasn't uncommon to walk through the kitchens and find Ignis, glasses a better fit on his face these days but frames no less dorky looking, toiling away at preparations for meals later that day, or the next day. Jared would sit at the table, resting an aching back, and aching hips, and aching everything else to boot, and Ignis would work, quietly, without looking up.

One night, and it had been night, Gladio had come down to the kitchens to grab a drink, and found Ignis still at his post. A pot simmered away, giving off the tantalising scent of cooking meat, and Gladio paused to appreciate the smell of what would probably be tomorrow's dinner. Then he'd checked the time, and asked, “Don't you ever sleep?”

He hadn't expected the reply. Any other times he'd exchanged words with Ignis the kid had been all yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. Instead, late at night, alone in the kitchen and with his attention focussed on his cooking, Ignis had answered, “I have been known to partake, on occasion.”

Gladio had stared, a grin creeping across his face. He hadn't met this Ignis before; the dry almost sarcastic humour had been absent every other time. “Yeah?” he asked, grin still spreading, “well make sure you partake tonight.”

Ignis risked a glance at him, and gave that customary little bob of the head that all the collars used when talking to Gladio. He'd seen it so many times before, he barely registered it now. “Yes sir,” he replied, “I will when this is done.”

Gladio sniffed the air again. “What is it?” he asked, “Venison?”

Ignis looked directly at him this time and gave that nod again, though much deeper this time. “Young master has a good nose,” he replied. “It's venison stock.”

Gladio inhaled deeply again, and happily. “Smells good,” he said. “All your food's good.”

That earned him a tiny fraction of a smile, a twitch at the corner of Ignis's mouth as he turned back to his pot and carefully removed the froth at the top with a ladle. “Thank you.”

Gladio shrugged, and opened the fridge. “Seriously though, make sure you sleep. Can't have you handling knives if you're tired.”

“Yes, sir.”

Ignis had returned to his minimal responses and that flash of personality seemed to have retreated for the evening, so Gladio didn't say anything else. He pulled out a bottle of milk from the fridge and opened it, taking a hearty swig before he replaced the cap and put it back.

“That's unhygienic.”

Gladio turned, to find Ignis giving him a stern look, as if he was telling off someone like Iris, and not someone three years older and nearly a foot taller than himself. Gladio found both his eyebrows reached for his hairline.

That was when Ignis seemed to remember himself, and he turned, and gave a small, awkward bow. “I spoke out of turn, sir. My apologies.”

Gladio considered his options. He closed the fridge door with a flick of his fingers, and balled his other hand into a fist, raising it to tap Ignis in the top of the shoulder, carefully. “Don't apologise,” he said, and gave Ignis a lopsided grin at the slightly shocked reaction it drew. “I won't do it again.”

Ignis had stared at him for what must have felt like an age to the young collar, and then he bowed, like collars did when they'd received an instruction. “Thank you, sir.”

Gladio turned, ready to waltz off out of the kitchen again. “I'm serious about the sleep though,” he warned. “I'll check up on you tomorrow.”

He'd checked up on him the next day, and the day after that, and then found excuses to loiter in the kitchens when Ignis was there a couple of times a week. Ignis was interesting. There was an acerbic wit lurking underneath the collar's nods and polite bows, and the more Gladio hung around, the more he found himself on the receiving end of it.

It also meant he got to taste some of the things Ignis made that didn't make it to the main table. The stocks and broths he made late at night got used the next day, and Gladio quite enjoyed the hot bowl of chicken broth he'd been served one chilly afternoon, when damp mist hung in the air and Gladio had returned from a run dripping with the weather more than sweat. “You'll catch a chill,” Ignis had told him, and then foisted a bowl on him to warm him up. It had tasted delicious, though it would have been better with some noodles in it. The real treats though were the sweets; pastries, and cakes which sat light on the tongue and lighter still on the stomach, so it was possible to devour four or five of the things before Gladio realised he'd eaten so many, though the happy smile Ignis wore made his gluttony worth it.

Iris, it turned out, was in on this particular skill of Ignis's already. She'd come bounding into the kitchen, twelve years old and with the energy of a toddler, to catch Gladio with an entire pastry sweet crammed into his mouth, having just been informed it would never fit by Ignis, who was standing nearby, fingers of his hand curled in front of his mouth to disguise the smile. She'd stared at him, and then at Ignis, and then, outraged, had cried, “Gladdy, don't eat them all!”

Gladio had been unable to reply, his mouth far too full to do anything other than hurriedly chew. Ignis, however, seemed to have anticipated an intrusion at some point, and he swept around the kitchen counter, saying, “I made sure to save you some, young miss.”

Iris had taken the plate of three of the pastries with delight, and then jealously shielded them from Gladio's view, who was looking at the two of them as if realising he'd missed a trick. “You come down here often?” he asked, once he'd managed to swallow enough to move his tongue and speak without spraying pastry over everyone and the kitchen.

Iris eyed him with open suspicion, and it was Ignis that answered for her, saying, “The young miss stops by once a week.”

“Ignis makes the best cakes,” she said. She turned her attention to Ignis then, asking, “Did you make my birthday cake.”

She received a deep nod for her query. “It awaits decoration once cool.”

“Can I see it?”

“No.”

Gladio worked on swallowing the rest of his mouthful, giving Ignis a sidelong look. He spoke to Iris more familiarly than he spoke to Gladio, and there was a hint of warmth in his tone that made Gladio a touch jealous. Iris had obviously been tripping down to the kitchens to cadge free treats off Ignis for a long while.

She whined at him, the wordless, sulky noise piercing the air, and inciting a stern look from Ignis. “You may see it once it is finished, young miss, and not before.” Iris huffed at him, and sat herself down at the table where Gladio sat to try the first of her little pastries.

“Hey, yours are different,” he said, eyeing the bright red filling in Iris's pastry after she bit into it.

Iris swayed in her chair happily, giving Gladio a smug look, and Ignis emerged from behind the counter once more, pushing his glasses up his nose with his hand at the edge of the frames. “The young miss prefers strawberries to blackberries.” Iris threw Gladio a smug look as she took another pointedly huge bite out of her pastry. Ignis bowed his head slightly, and then offered, “If the young master would like to tell me what he prefers I can accommodate him similarly?”

Which was how Gladio had come to find his favourite meals making their way to the main table a little more often, and himself spending a little more time in the kitchen than he had. Ignis was relaxed in the kitchen, and formal everywhere else, and Gladio found he liked the relaxed Ignis best. He'd converse amiably while dressing a rack of lamb, or kneading bread, or rolling pastry, or any of the other hundred tasks Gladio saw him perform, always polite, but clearly comfortable. Gladio talked about his favourite books, and his training, or his studies, and in his turn found out that Ignis held an interest in astronomy, liked to read though the rarity of his spare time meant it took him a while to finish a book, and drank coffee for pleasure and not just the caffeine content.

He was also an amazing chef, and the kitchen made up three quarters of his duties. Which was why, when Gladio wanted to take his girlfriend on a picnic, he'd asked Ignis to put the basket together for them.

He hadn't expected Ignis to bow so formally, or reply with, “As you wish, sir,” the way he'd only ever seen Ignis address his father the one and only time he'd ever seen the two talk. It had stung in a way Gladio couldn't explain, and Ignis had turned quiet for a while afterwards. He had, however, done an amazing job on the picnic basket. There was carefully wrapped cake, and a punnet of strawberries, and a little jar of cream, miniature pies, and a selection of sandwiches. There was even a carefully chosen bottle of wine, sweet and refreshing. Gladio's girlfriend had loved it, the date had been perfect, and yet Ignis's newfound quiet in Gladio's presence bothered him.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, when the quiet had bothered him for long enough.

Ignis was in the middle of chopping vegetables, knife flashing rapidly as he pared a carrot into thin slices, fingers tucked back under his hand as he held it in place. “Of course, sir.”

He was still being formal, and Gladio scowled at the response, moving around the kitchen counter to come and stand by Ignis's side. “You sure? You've been off for a bit.”

Ignis paused in his chopping, briefly, and then resumed, starting back up slowly and then increasing his pace with a renewed sense of urgency. “I am fine, sir. There is nothing for you to be concerned about.”

Gladio put his hand to Ignis's back, a frown etched into his face. “Ig--” The yelp from Ignis and clatter of the knife cut across Gladio's further attempt to get Ignis to talk. Ignis clutched his left hand in his right, eyes screwed shut as he inhaled deeply, and then Gladio realised what had happened. He took Ignis's left wrist in his hand and tugged it towards himself, meeting resistance, and then finding Ignis looking directly at him. His eyes were a pretty shade of pale green, Gladio realised; he'd never noticed before. “Let me look?” Gladio asked, pulling Ignis's hand towards himself more gently.

Ignis held eye contact with him for a moment, a moment longer than he ever had before, and then he turned his head away, but allowed Gladio to look. “It's just a cut,” he said, as Gladio turned his hand to examine it, but there was too much blood for him to see where the cut actually was.

“Damn, those knives of yours are sharp,” he muttered. “Come on,” he said, putting his other hand at Ignis's far hip and turning him with that and his wrist towards the sink, “let's wash it.”

“Sir,” Ignis protested, “this isn't--” Gladio turned the tap on and tested that he had only turned it to cold water with his own fingers before he urged Ignis's hand under the stream, rinsing the blood away. “I know how to tend a cut,” Ignis said, a little sharply.

“Good,” Gladio replied, happy at least that Ignis was sounding a little more like his usual self, “so do I.” He caught Ignis looking at him, seeming somewhere between embarrassed and irritated, and told him, “Keep it under there; I'll get the bandages.”

“A plaster would suffice,” Ignis replied, and then turned his attention back to his hand, but he did as he was told and kept his hand under the water. With the blood washed away the cut was an inch long along the side of his finger, nearly catching the knuckle.

“Nah,” Gladio argued, “not there. You'd be changing it every few hours because it'd be falling off.” He rummaged through a cupboard where he knew they kept the first aid kit, and pulled it out, rifling through the contents for some cotton dressing and some tape. “This'll stay on, though,” he said, confidently.

Ignis withdrew his hand from under the tap, and picked out a clean tea towel, patting his hand dry. The cut was still bleeding, and he held his hand out for Gladio to tend to it, face turned away and down as he did.

Gladio didn't look up as he measured and cut the dressing, and then carefully wound tape around it to hold it in place. When he'd finished he turned Ignis's hand over in both of his, and said, “Good as new.” Ignis still didn't look at him, and his hand felt warm under Gladio's fingers as the blood rushed back now the cold water was gone. “So do you cut yourself a lot chopping like that?”

Ignis flushed, a tinge of pink rising up his cheeks and his ears and he adjusted his glasses with his other hand. “Not any more,” he admitted. “It happened a lot when I was learning.”

Gladio stroked his fingers idly over Ignis's palm and offered him a smile. “Well, be more careful, Iggy.” The nickname finally got Ignis to look at him, his eyes wide and brows furrowed, but his cheeks still high with colour. “You chop so fast you could cut a finger off before you realised.”

“Don't be ridiculous,” Ignis replied, looking away again, but there was a shy sort of happiness to it that Gladio had seen when Cor had passed on compliments from the main table when Gladio's dad had been entertaining guests.

“Hey?” Gladio spoke quietly, a small frown on his face. “I'm sorry if I upset you.”

Ignis met his eyes, briefly, and then looked away again. “You didn't upset me, sir,” he replied, softly.

Gladio nodded a little, and then realised he was still holding on to Ignis's hand. He let it go, slowly, and gave a small shrug. “Guess you've been busy,” he said. “You need more R and R time.” Ignis took his hand back even more slowly than Gladio had released it and pulled it up to his chest. He gave a small nod of acknowledgement, and Gladio said, “I'll come and check on you later.”

“Sir?”

Gladio stopped, and looked at Ignis, his injured hand cradled to his chest in his other. “Yeah?”

“I need to finish preparations for dinner, and,” Ignis faltered and looked down at his hand, turning it slightly to examine the dressing Gladio had applied. “Would you be able to assist me?”

Gladio looked down at the shy, wary expression, and pink tinged cheeks. Ignis had never asked him for help before, he usually stood or sat at the other side of the counter and observed. The most help he gave was passing over a knife, or a fruit, or a bottle. He was probably routinely more of a hindrance than a help to Ignis, he realised, and yet Ignis had allowed him into his little domain with a friendly demeanour. Now he was inviting him even further into it. “Just tell me what to do,” Gladio replied, with a smile.

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