chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
[personal profile] chlorhexidine posting in [community profile] fic_ception
When Ignis wasn't in the kitchen he could be found one of two other places. The first was in his own room, a small thing with little more than a bed, a sink, and a rail for clothing. There was a window, small and high on the wall, which barely really let in light. Mostly it was a place to sleep. Occasionally, it was a place to read. Gladio had never been in, merely knocked at the door once or twice and waited outside. His glimpses into Ignis's privacy had been fleeting, but it suggested an austere kind of life that didn't have much room for comfort.

The other place Ignis could be found was the library. It wasn't a particularly grand library, but it was well populated with books, and more than once Gladio had happened upon Ignis in there, either taking a book very late at night, or returning one early the next day. He didn't keep them until he'd read them, Gladio had learned, but took and returned them over the few hours of night, reading as much as he could at a time, without daring to hold on to a single book long enough that his use of it might stop someone else from reading it instead.

Gladio had learned he did that, watched him do that over the weeks it took him to finally read a book, and then he'd taken the next book he saw Ignis returning one morning himself. He'd hidden himself in the library that night, when Ignis had come in to borrow it once more, and watched him go to the shelf, trail his fingers along the titles, and then his shoulders sag.

“Looking for this?” Gladio asked, holding the book in question between his finger and thumb, towards Ignis. He leaned against the bookcase, one leg kicked back and resting behind the other, one hand crossed over to his opposite hip.

Ignis turned to him, and at first Gladio saw that wall of appropriate collar behaviour in place, the old yes sir, no sir approach, and then he saw it slip as Ignis looked down and answered, “Not if you're reading it, sir.”

“I'll read it when you're done,” he said, holding it out, urging Ignis to take it.

Ignis looked up at him, his lips parting briefly as he glanced aside, at the books still on the shelf. “I'm not permitted to keep a book,” he answered. “It takes too long for me to get through them.”

Only, Gladio found himself thinking, because you never get any free time. Aloud he said, “That so?” He cocked his head, and shrugged at Ignis. “Guess I'm borrowing it then,” and he pushed the book at Ignis once more, “you're just reading it first.”

Ignis took the book, slowly, looking up at Gladio as he did. “Sir,” he protested, softly, “you can't--”

“Wanna bet?” Gladio flashed Ignis a bright, warm grin, and Ignis slowly curled his arms around the book, holding it to his chest, his cheeks flaring pink again. “Give it me when you're done.”

Ignis sighed, his head bowed, but it wasn't in the collar's nod. He held on to the book as if he'd been handed something precious, and Gladio felt both angry and upset that something so damn simple could get such a reaction. Ignis got so little time to himself. He was always working; he was either in the kitchen preparing food for the main table, or other collars, or making treats for Gladio, and Iris, or he was cleaning the kitchen at the end of a day, or he was pressing clothes, or helping the maids with their cleaning duties. His time wasn't his own, so provided there was work to be doing, he had something to do to the benefit of the household.

He put his arm around Ignis's shoulder, and felt him straighten and stiffen immediately at the contact. “Just don't skip out on sleep to read it, okay?” he said, tugging Ignis in for a moment and then letting him go. “Take as long as you need.”

Ignis faltered, clutching the book a little more tightly to himself and then he nodded quickly, his head moving down and up and down and up in a way Gladio realised he'd never seen him do before. Collars gave a single nod; a dip of the head and back up again. Seeing Ignis nod like a normal person made Gladio feel warm inside. “Thank you,” he said.

It had taken him weeks, and then late one night there had been a knock at Gladio's bedroom door. He'd been lay on his bed, in just his pyjama trousers, reading his own book when it came, and it was such a rare thing for anyone to knock at his door that he put his book aside and got up to answer it.

Ignis stood on the other side, book clutched in his hands, but he said nothing when Gladio opened the door.

Gladio gave him a moment, in which Ignis seemed silently flustered, before he decided to start the conversation himself, asking, “Iggy? Something wrong?”

It seemed to jolt Ignis out of his thoughts, and he straightened up, looking at Gladio's face before he managed to say, “No, sir.” He held the book out in both hands and explained, “I came to return this to you, as you instructed.”

Gladio grinned, Ignis's uncharacteristic silence forgotten as he took the book from him and asked, “You finished it?”

“Yes,” Ignis confirmed, wearing a small and happy smile that settled in Gladio's gut and warmed him better than any chicken broth.

“Great,” Gladio said, turning back towards his room and flashing Ignis a smile. “Come in a second,” he said.

Ignis hesitated, looking either side of himself. “Sir, I,” he began, and stopped, and then started again, “if I were to be seen,” he said, and then trailed off and stopped.

Gladio threw him a confused look. What did it matter if Ignis was seen setting foot in his room? He'd been in before anyway; Ignis had made his bed for him of a morning more than once, as Ignis had cheerfully informed him when telling Iris she was the neatest of the siblings. His role was chef now, sure, but he'd started out as a domestic collar.

It took Gladio a moment to realise that the difference now was that Gladio was in the room, too, and Gladio was twenty, and Ignis was seventeen. Gladio spent time hanging out in Ignis's domain, so Ignis being witnessed walking into Gladio's bedroom, when Gladio was there, would spark gossip. Gossip that could potentially get a young collar in a lot of trouble, not to mention Gladio himself.

“Sorry,” he said, “I didn't think,” and for a moment he hated that it was something he even should be thinking about. Then he turned fully and walked back to the book he'd abandoned on his nightstand. He picked it up and removed his bookmark before he returned to the door, and held it out to Ignis. “It's by the same author,” he said, “I think you'll like it.”

Ignis looked up at him, eyes wide behind his glasses. “But you're reading this,” he said.

Gladio shrugged and put his fingers around the book Ignis was holding, and offered the new one in its place. “I'll read this one instead; it comes first anyway.” Ignis was still staring at him, so Gladio gave him a reassuring grin. “Otherwise I'll just be spoiled for it,” he pointed out.

Ignis very slowly released his hold on the first book, and Gladio very carefully let go of the new one, making sure Ignis had hold of it properly. “But it'll take me weeks to read it,” he said, softly, his protest refusing to really die.

Gladio shrugged, holding his book up between thumb and forefinger and flashing Ignis a grin. “I'll take my time with this one, don't sweat it.”


“Ignis,” Gladio cut across his continued protest, voice kind, but firm, “just take it, all right? Enjoy it. Quit arguing with me.”

Ignis looked admonished, his head hanging as he intoned, “My apologies, sir.”

Gladio sighed, and placed his hand on Ignis's shoulder. He really wanted to pull him into a hug. Ignis got to enjoy so little of anything. It was lucky he loved cooking, but he acted like enjoying things wasn't allowed if it meant so much as a minor inconvenience to anyone else. “Don't apologise, neither,” he said, and brushed at the ends of Ignis's hair with the backs of his fingers. Those pale green eyes looked up at him again, and Gladio gave him a gentle smile, even as Ignis's cheeks began to fill with that pink colour again. “I'll see you tomorrow, yeah? You can make me noodles as repayment.”

Ignis stared at him for a moment, and then bowed his head, his voice quavering slightly as he said, full of deep sincerity, “Thank you, sir.”

Gladio watched him turn to go, and watched him take his first few steps away, book clutched in one arm against his chest, before he shut the door and looked around his room. It was, on reflection, probably a good thing that Ignis hadn't come inside it. He hadn't been wrong about Iris being the neater of the two siblings.

Over the next few weeks, Gladio took to staying behind of an evening to help Ignis clean the kitchens. There were scullery staff, and kitchen runners that could do the work, and Gladio asked him why he didn't delegate the task to them. Ignis had explained, his voice soft and his eyes cast to the side, that the collars assigned those roles were young, and worked long hours and that, in any case, he rarely finished cooking until late into the evening anyway. He preferred to take the task onto his own shoulders than wake some twelve or thirteen year old collar that would be up with the sun.

That fact hadn't stopped him protesting when Gladio had started to help, rolling his sleeves up and asking Ignis what he needed to be done. Gladio had dealt with it then as he'd dealt with it when Ignis had resisted taking the book from him, and had resorted to little better than ordering him to just accept the help.

The protests died away, eventually, and Gladio got used to the list of what needed to be done, so that their evenings became spent in companionable, easy conversation, in the privacy of the kitchens. Ignis would smile, and tell Gladio how far he'd got into his book, and Gladio would happily discuss with him the events of the one he was currently reading himself, making sure to keep pace with Ignis and go no faster so that he didn't feel pressured to stay awake and try to read when he couldn't enjoy it.

Ignis could talk at length about cooking, and he could listen to Gladio talk at great length about his exercise regime without apparent boredom. They both talked about the past, and their memories of their early teens. Gladio admitted that his room wasn't much cleaner than it had been when Ignis had seen it last, and Ignis had admitted to having watched with fondness when Gladio and Iris had chased each other through the house in madcap games of hide and seek, and subsequently be told off for making a nuisance of themselves. Gladio remembered those games, though Iris had grown a little old for them now, and he remembered picking Iris up and throwing her over his shoulder, and bringing her to the kitchen to ask Jared to bake her into a pie. Ignis hadn't been with the estate back then, but he enjoyed the tales, and the cleaning was done faster with two of them, which gave him more time for his reading later.

One evening, Gladio arrived at his usual time to help, wearing his coat. He walked up to Ignis and took the scourer from his hands. “Forget that,” he said, “come with me.” Ignis made to argue, like Gladio had known he would, which was why Gladio coiled his arm around Ignis's waist and grabbed his wrist and physically escorted him away from the kitchen. The force he applied was gentle, but irresistible, his hand across Ignis's back, and fingers curled at his hip. “Later,” he said, as he walked Ignis to the kitchen door, “now come with me.”

Ignis made quiet complaint the whole way. “What is so important?” he asked, as he took to trailing behind Gladio, who led him all the way outside. The nights were dark, and the chill air of oncoming winter hit him, but the stars splashed across the sky like toothpaste flecks on a bathroom mirror.

“You'll see,” Gladio said, as he took Ignis's hand in his own and led him around the far side of the building.

There was noise, the murmur of voices, and the crackling sound of a blazing fire, and Ignis fell quiet as Gladio led him by the hand, sticking to the shadows, careful not to be seen. The noise wasn't close, however. There was a large gathering somewhere nearby, but not in the grounds of the estate itself. Gladio stopped when he came to a ladder, and finally let go of Ignis's hand. “Go on,” he said, gesturing up it.

Ignis looked at the ladder, and then at Gladio, his glasses flashing as they caught a light in the darkness. “You want me to climb?” he hissed.

“Yup,” Gladio answered, “now get going, before we miss it.”

“Miss what?” Ignis asked, perplexed, and annoyed, but Gladio only responded by pointing up the ladder again. He sighed, and began to climb, and Gladio clambered up after him.

The ladder led to the roof, and from the roof it was possible to see over the estate's walls. In the field beyond, a safe distance from the house, burned a bonfire, though the breeze sadly carried the scent away from them. People milled around, watching, the cause of the susurrus of human voices they could hear.

Gladio joined Ignis on the roof, and pointed him over to a spot where the eaves joined. Ignis walked carefully, and Gladio more surely, clearly having been up here before. “Sit down,” Gladio said, pointing to the blankets he'd taken care to lay out, ready.

“Sir,” Ignis asked, looking at Gladio with confusion, “what are we doing here?”

“You'll see,” Gladio insisted. “It'll start in a minute.”

Ignis sat down with a resigned huff, and Gladio sat down next to him. Ignis didn't seem inclined to ask further questions, and silence settled between them while Gladio made himself comfortable, his eyes fixed into the distance, in the direction of the bonfire.

There was a high pitched whooshing noise, and then the sky exploded in sparks. A second later the bang reached them, loud enough to bounce through Gladio's chest, and he grinned. Ignis stared, as more whooshes and whistles erupted, and the sky became peppered with light. Greens and blues and whites and red filled the sky with their rainbow of stars, and Ignis stared, the lights reflecting off his glasses.

Gladio watched him, for a moment, rapt as he was, eyes turned to the firework display, but he held his shoulders stiff. Gladio frowned, and then realised it was barely above freezing and he'd dragged Ignis out in just his shirt. He cursed under his breath, and unfastened his coat. The movement made Ignis look at him as he shucked it from his shoulders. “What are you--?”

“Sorry,” Gladio said, standing a little to twirl his coat and drape it around Ignis, “you must be freezing.”

“But you need it,” Ignis said.

Gladio shook his head, and shuffled up close so that his shoulder was pressed in tight against Ignis's. “I'm fine,” he said, reaching out and taking Ignis's hand in his own. Ignis's fingers were like ice in Gladio's, and he clasped both of his hands around Ignis's and gave him a bright smile. “See? I'm hot stuff.”

Ignis looked at him, as if he was struggling to say something in response, and Gladio pulled one hand away to tuck the coat tighter around Ignis's shoulders before he returned to holding Ignis's hands. That was when Ignis seemed to give up trying to speak, and he swallowed and turned to look out at the crowd, and the bonfire, and the fountains of sparks that danced and popped around it, letting off coloured smoke that curled in the wind and blew away from them.

The show ended with a cascade of exploding sparks, and Ignis watched with his head turned to the sky as the last sparks faded, leaving nothing but stars behind. Gladio found himself watching Ignis as much as the final burst of colour and light, and when the last bangs had faded from his ears, he asked, “Worth it?”

Ignis turned away from the sky slowly, his eyes sparkling in the dim light. “Why did you do this?” he asked, his cheeks ruddy from the cold, and his hands still clasped in Gladio's own.

Gladio just shrugged at him, and smiled. “Well, you seemed to like the stories of the dumb shit Iris and I used to do together,” he admitted, “so I figured this would give you your own story to remember of that time your hot friend dragged you onto the roof to watch the fireworks.”

There was a quiver to Ignis's lip, or perhaps it was just the flickering light of the evening. He bowed his head and said, quietly, “Thank you.”

Gladio smiled and nudged him with a shoulder, lifting his hand to tuck it under Ignis's chin and lift it back up. “You're welcome,” he said, letting his crooked finger linger there longer than it needed to.

Ignis's eyes really did sparkle, though you couldn't see the colour of them in this light. He swallowed, and then inhaled before he said, “Your hands are frozen, we should go back inside.”

Gladio shrugged in response and settled a little closer. “In a few minutes,” he said. “It's a clear night. Which constellations can we see?”

Ignis looked at him, the cold being unnecessary to add colour to his cheeks as he looked at Gladio, with his pretty amber eyes, and pretty smile, and sighed heavily. He took Gladio's cold hands into his own, tucking them carefully against his stomach to try and keep them warm, and then he looked up, and began to explain stars he'd only seen before in books.
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September 2017


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