chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
[personal profile] chlorhexidine posting in [community profile] fic_ception
It was like walking on air. Ignis could go about the humdrum tasks of his daily life, the routine so familiar his brain all but switched off; wake, shower, dress, put in the fresh loaf that Talcott had made two hours prior now that it had proved, begin preparations for breakfast. His lordship typically had two boiled eggs, two rounds of toast, and coffee to start his day. The young master preferred bacon, taking a high protein diet to increase his muscle mass, not that he needed the help, and balanced carbohydrates. The young miss preferred sweet cereal, and jam on her toast, though Ignis permitted her to have chocolate spread on weekends. Cor would take his breakfast with his lordship, though his eggs were scrambled for preference, and lightly salted.

Ignis could do it with his eyes closed, and while the scullery girl or boy of the day washed up, and other collars tended to their own breakfasts, Ignis would get the chance to enjoy his first coffee of the day. At that hour, Cor and his lordship would be tending the affairs of the estate, the young miss would be attending her schoolwork, and Gladio would tend to whatever tasks he'd been set by his father.

At around lunchtime, the young miss Iris would come and poke her nose into the kitchens to see what Ignis was up to, and ask his help with her schoolwork. Ignis would help her with the questions as she read them aloud, between making the lunch preparations, and anything that required preparing in advance for dinner that evening.

After lunch was the first time he might get a visit from Gladio, and that was when Ignis's day would take a significant upswing.

He'd visit, and lurk about, his arms resting on the countertop while Ignis worked, watching him. Ignis would have to concentrate, because the presence of the young master alone was distraction enough, but every time he smiled, or laughed Ignis would find himself transfixed. He lost track of time when Gladio was around, distracted by the swell of building muscle in his arms and across his shoulders. Knowing what Gladio looked like without his shirt didn't help. It was a sight Ignis never should have seen, and yet he had; the young master, at his bedroom door, wearing naught but pyjama trousers and confidence.

He'd leave again when things grew busier, as dinner time approached, or perhaps he wouldn't visit at all that day, but it mattered little. He was guaranteed to return in the evenings, every evening, and that was when Ignis's heart would stutter in his chest. Gladio went for a run before he went to bed, but now he went for a run before visiting the kitchens once more, when more oft than not he'd catch Ignis alone.

He helped him wash, or chop, or stir, or whatever preparations for the next day Ignis was making. He helped Ignis to clean the kitchen after, setting muscles to work scrubbing pans. Sometimes there wasn't that work to do, and Ignis would get to enjoy a coffee and a treat of his own making with the young master.

He'd gone to the sink once, to wash the cups and plates from their late supper, and found Gladio's arms creep around either side of him at the sink, hands going into the water and relieving Ignis of his cloth. Gladio's chin had brushed against his shoulder, and Ignis's heart had thundered in his ears, his breath growing shallow and his cheeks flaming. Gladio had a pleasant voice, deep and rumbling, and right by Ignis's ear as he'd said, “Let me do that, you've done enough today.”

Ignis's throat had gone dry, and the warmth of Gladio as he'd bent over Ignis had been palpable. “Sir?” He'd asked, his voice as weak as the rest of him had felt, wild and unlikely fantasies of Gladio discarding the cloth and wrapping his arms around Ignis's waist instead racing through his mind.

Gladio had teased the cloth from his fingers, every movement slow and gentle. “You go and sit down,” he'd answered, and moved an arm, pulling it from the water to free Ignis from his hold that had barely touched.

Ignis had gone, and sat down, face feeling uncomfortably hot. When they'd parted for the night shortly after, Gladio had placed a hand across his back. There had been a moment of hesitation that felt like it dragged on forever, in which Ignis had desperately wished for more than he should, and then it had broken. Gladio had wished him a good night, and Ignis had dreamed of the hands against his, and the warmth of a body close enough to feel.

He'd first had those dreams after the first night with the fireworks on the roof. Gladio had attempted to take him outside once more since, but the weather had turned unbearably cold, and Ignis had been required to explain that he did not, in actual fact, own a coat. He hadn't been off the estate since he'd been brought onto it at age twelve, and his duties were indoors, which meant he didn't require a coat.

One freezing night in early February Gladio had called him away from the kitchen. Ignis had protested, telling him, “Sir, I really am quite busy.”

“Not tonight, you're not,” Gladio had said, in tones that brooked no argument.

Ignis had argued regardless, a luxury he allowed himself with the young master because he was trying to be a bad influence, rather than issue commands. “The work needs to be completed, sir.”

Gladio had growled, and stalked off, and Ignis had considered the matter done until ten minutes later, when he'd returned with the scullery girl in tow. Then he'd pointed at Ignis, his tone much more commanding, sounding as if whatever had happened in the intervening ten minutes had sorely tried his patience, “You,” he'd said, finger jabbing at Ignis, “are coming with me.” He'd given the girl a gentle nudge, “Lily's gonna do the cleaning,” he said, “and someone's covering her in the morning so she doesn't have to get up early too, so there's no excuses, now come with me.”

Ignis had sighed, and dried his hands, giving Lily a quiet, “Thank you,” as he passed her. For her part, Lily only gave him that dangerous knowing look of young teenage girls and set to finish Ignis's work.

Ignis followed Gladio all the way to the patio. The gardens were dark beyond, and the sky glittered with frost and stars. That was where Gladio directed his attention to a rectangular box on the table, six inches high, and a foot and a half long, and only marginally less wide. It was white, and tied off in a green ribbon. “Open it,” he'd said, when Ignis had stared a little too long, impatience getting the better of him.

“Sir, I don't,” he'd begun, running his fingers over the lid of the box. It looked like a present, and that made Ignis's breath catch in ways he didn't want to have to explain. He'd stopped trying to protest at the look from Gladio and lifted the lid. He ran his fingers reverentially over the contents before he took it by the shoulders and lifted it out. It was heavy, black, thick wool under his fingers.

“I hope it fits,” Gladio said, enthusiasm rising above irritation once again as he stepped forward to take the coat from Ignis's hands. He held it open, for Ignis to slip on, and Ignis had stared at him and it for a moment before he'd turned, and slid his hands inside. It was lined with something that felt like silk, and Ignis felt his stomach jump.

“I can't accept this,” he said, his voice coming out strained as Gladio drew the coat up onto his shoulders and let it hang there. It hung down just above his knees, and the buttons were silver. Ignis didn't dare touch it again.

“Well I'm not taking it back,” Gladio replied, taking Ignis's hand in his and urging him to turn. He set his fingers to the task of buttoning the coat up, running his fingers under the lapels once he had and admiring the way it sat on Ignis.

Ignis looked down at himself, his hands hovering away from the material as if he might sully it by touching it. It was, without question, the single most expensive thing he'd ever worn in his life. There was no way he could be asked to own such a thing. “Sir,” he protested, looking up at Gladio and finding his thoughts scattered when the young master's eyes met his. He scraped them back together with difficulty, “what is this for?”

Gladio frowned at him, “It's your birthday, right?” he asked. “The seventh?”

Ignis felt a reply escape him, his jaw working uselessly for a moment. He'd never told Gladio when his birthday was. Birthdays weren't a significant event for a collar; they were logged only so the approach and passage of the twenty first could be tracked. Jared had, when Ignis was young and new to the household, ensured all the young collars received a small cake on their birthday, but that had been the most Ignis had ever received.

“How did you know?” He asked, his voice weak.

Gladio grinned at him and put his hand to Ignis's shoulder, thumb brushing over the heavy wool. “Happy birthday,” he said, ignoring Ignis's question. Ignis's insides leapt at both the grin on Gladio's face, and that he'd cared enough to find out when Ignis's birthday was, and get him a present. “Iris is knitting you a scarf too, but she couldn't finish it in time. She says it should be done in a couple of days.”

Ignis searched Gladio's face, trying to find the words to explain the thoughts that were racing through his head. He was grateful, so grateful for the fact that the young master and miss wanted to give him something, something for him alone, but this coat was heavy wool, with silver buttons, and felt as if it was lined with silk. This was the coat of a master, not a collar.

“I can't accept this, sir,” he said, quietly, stepping back from under Gladio's hand, and working to unfasten the buttons.

Warms hands gripped his, and suddenly Gladio loomed, not threatening, merely close, a frown on his face. “Why not?”

Gladio pulled his hands away from the buttons and up, genuine concern on his face, and Ignis frowned, brow furrowed as he looked aside. “It's too much,” he said, dipping his head as he'd been taught when he was very young, so as not to accidentally look a master in the eyes. It was easy with his lordship, but dreadfully hard with Gladio, whose eyes were little short of entrancing. “I'm just a collar.”

That was the problem, he knew. Those were the words he had to recite to himself when he woke from dreams of Gladio, when his skin burned from an incidental touch, when his heart danced at every kind gesture. He'd had to remind himself of it the day that Gladio had asked him to make up a basket lunch for him and his girlfriend. The girlfriend was long gone now, replaced by another, and another since. Gladio's affections burned intense, but brief, and Ignis knew he could never be the subject of them. He was just a collar, and Gladio was the son of his master. No matter how much his body and his heart might yearn, he had to keep a cool head and remember his place. He had no right to hope for Gladio to look at him that way.

Yet still he hoped.

Gladio looked down at him, fingers squeezing Ignis's, and then he let go, shaking his head as he brushed his fingers against Ignis's cheek and left a trail of fire there. “No you're not,” he said, his voice gentle.

Ignis stared, not daring to blink, his heart thundering in his chest and his limbs and his head. Gladio smiled, and stroked his cheek again, this time with his thumb. “So no more arguing, all right. It's yours. Come on,” he finished, removing his hand as he turned, and tugged on Ignis's fingers, pulling him gently towards the patio door.

The air maintained the bite of winter, and Ignis felt it on his cheeks, which were too hot, and the hand that hung loose by his side, but nowhere else. His other hand was safely tucked into Gladio's, and the coat was thick, and warm. Gladio led him all the way down the garden, into the depths of the shadows. The lights of the house became a distant sense of warmth, and Gladio stopped, and turned, taking Ignis's other hand up in his own again, and looking up at the sky. “So I know Orion,” he said, eyes fixed on the sky, “but what about the others?”

Ignis smiled, filled with a warmth that had nothing to do with the coat and everything to do with it at the same time, and followed Gladio's gaze. He knew of Orion, but he'd never seen the constellation in its entirety before, and he took a moment to take in the sight of it, stretched across so much of the sky, pinpricks of white on an inky canvas, before he began to talk.

He pulled his hand away from Gladio's as he did, pointing his attention towards Taurus, naming the stars that made up the shape, drawing it for them both in the air with his fingers. He moved on to Perseus, and spent a few minutes explaining the legend of the hero that beheaded a Gorgon, and then Cassiopeia, who angered the gods by claiming to be more beautiful, and then Draco, the defeated dragon that stole golden apples.

Gladio let him talk until his mouth ran dry, and then Ignis paused to find Gladio looking at him, and the not the stars in the sky. He wore a warm, happy smile, and Ignis felt his cheeks flushing with heat again. A hand slipped around Ignis's waist, and tugged him in against Gladio's body, holding him securely, but not tightly. “Happy birthday, Iggy,” he said.

They'd returned to the house with ears and noses nipped numb and red, and Ignis had convinced Gladio to stay for a hot chocolate to warm them both up before departing to bed. He'd had chance to voice his gratitude then, his sincere tones drawing a frown from Gladio as he explained, “I've never had a birthday present before.” He'd taken the coat off when they'd got back inside, folding it carefully back into its box, and carrying it with them to the kitchens.

“What, never?” The idea seemed to confuse and upset Gladio, lines forming between his eyebrows as his mouth cast downwards.

“A cake from Jared when I turned thirteen,” Ignis admitted, quietly. “Nothing before, or since.”

Gladio looked little short of annoyed by that fact. His upper lip curled as he asked, “I thought this was a good place for a collar?”

Ignis smiled at him, gently. He'd heard stories of other places, places with bedslaves, where collars were trained to fight for their lives and their master's approval, places that broke collars and sold them on. He'd never been to one. He hoped he never would. “It is,” he assured him.

Gladio still frowned, his nose and mouth screwed up with thought. “How old are you, anyway?” he asked, seemingly trying to tally how many years of birthday presents Ignis had missed.

Ignis had to look up at the ceiling to try and remember, counting the years. Only the twenty first birthday was really important, and his wasn't yet close enough to be of concern. “Eighteen, today,” he said, after a little thought.

Gladio looked at him for what felt like a long time, and Ignis felt heat rising in his cheeks once more. “Thought you were older,” he said, eventually. Ignis only shook his head, happiness and hot chocolate coursing through him. They parted ways at the corridor to Ignis's room with Gladio's instruction to, “Bring your coat next week, friday, yeah?”

“The stars won't have changed,” Ignis had said, a slightly embarrassed smile on his lips, Gladio stood close enough to touch, and he fancied he could still feel the warmth from him.

Gladio merely shrugged. “So we'll go for a walk. Get some reading done in the meantime.” He'd flashed Ignis a grin, then, that had dried his mouth, and for a terrible, delightful, distressing moment, Ignis had almost wondered if he might get a goodnight hug, or press of lips to his head. He hoped for it, but then Gladio had huffed, and taken a step backwards, out of reach. “Good night, Iggy.”

Ignis had felt a tiny flash of disappointment, but he swallowed it, responding only, “Good night, sir. Sleep well.”

He'd closed the door to his room and sunk down against it, hugging the box with the coat against himself with his eyes squeezed shut. It took him a moment to push the mixed joy and fear down, because how would he explain the coat if anyone else found it in his possession? Gladio hadn't considered that, he knew. He'd got Ignis something he'd lacked, in Gladio's view, and he'd done it with the taste and expense he was used to, without considering that the coat might be worth more than Ignis himself.

He stood again, and removed the coat from the box once more, hanging it carefully with his clothes. He took the time to brush his fingers over the material, feeling the ridges of the detail on the buttons under his fingertips, and running his fingers up the inside of the sleeve to brush over the lining once more.

Then he went to bed, and dreamed of Gladio.
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