chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
[personal profile] chlorhexidine posting in [community profile] fic_ception
The day began like any other, for Ignis. He rose early, as he always did, and showered and dressed as usual. Breakfast preparations were no different either. He'd started work on dinner preparations the previous night, with Gladio's help, and for all the young master had seemed distracted, Ignis had paid it little heed. Gladio was turning twenty one in a week, and soon Ignis would have to bar him from the kitchen so preparations for his birthday could be undertaken without his finding out, but the grapevine within the estate told of new responsibilities the young master would soon be facing. He would be expected to familiarise himself with the family business, now. Before this his role in the business had been minor, little more than an errand boy for his father. Now he was to prepare for taking the helm one day, and Ignis knew it must weigh on Gladio's mind.

Still, he came to spend time with Ignis as ever, despite the weight on his mind. Ignis had shown him how to carve and tie a leg of lamb, how to spike it with rosemary and season it, and how it should be left for the flavours to infuse overnight. Gladio had pressed in close behind, his hand warm under Ignis's on the handle of the knife, and Ignis's own skin warming under the hand Gladio held at his hip.

Ignis hadn't pressed, but there had been an intensity of thought to Gladio's expression before they parted for the night that had made him want to. He'd smiled at Gladio, and Gladio had raised a hand, slowly at first, and then faster as he'd waved and given Ignis a distracted smile before he'd turned to leave.

Cor came down to the kitchens after breakfast. His visits there were periodic and brief; Jared had been allowed to slip into a quiet retirement and was being allowed to live out his time with the household in relative comfort. His duties in the kitchen had been reduced to little more than a supervisory role, and that meant Ignis was, in all practical respects, the head of the kitchen. He ran a tight ship, which meant Cor had little reason to intervene, and both of them were satisfied with that arrangement.

He greeted Cor with a small bow. As his lordship's companion, Cor was due the respect that would be shown to his lordship himself, at least in greeting.

Cor looked around, his blue eyes passing over the kitchen before settling on Ignis, and he gave him a nod. “Good to see you're organised,” he said. “Have you made any preparations for the young master's birthday?”

Ignis straightened up slightly, his eyes cast downwards. “I have yet to receive instructions,” he answered. There was a week to go, and it would undoubtedly leave the kitchen busy, but it was a workload that could be better lightened if they knew what would be asked of them.

Cor gave the slightest hint of a nod in response, “The plans we have will be finalised later today,” he said, “you'll receive them then, but we have decided to leave the menu for the day to you.”

Ignis felt a wash of something through his chest and down his spine; panic, and anticipation, and honour, and joy, all mingled together into something that prickled at his skin and set his nerves on edge. “Sir?” he asked.

Cor flashed him a look, and perhaps, at the edge of that, was something like a smile though it lasted half a second. “The young master spends a lot of his spare time down here, Ignis. We're not unaware of that.” Ignis felt his face flushing and his throat tighten; the we indicated not just Cor, but his lordship as well, and he felt as if he was caught out in a deceit. “The young miss, too. I'm sure you're aware of the preferences of both, so we expect you can put together a menu that will be to the young master's tastes better than we can.”

Ignis swallowed, and straightened, giving a single, deep nod. “I would be honoured, sir.”

Cor regarded him for a moment longer than was comfortable, and said, finally, “I'm sure you would.”

There was a weight to the phrase that Ignis felt pressing on his head, and his heart thumped in his chest. Cor, and his lordship, knew of Gladio's frequent visits to the kitchens, to Ignis. They'd been alone, and yet watched regardless, and Ignis felt a heavy, uncomfortable tightness in his gut at the idea that someone had reported on him to Cor, and his lordship. What had they reported? His lighter step? His easier smile? The heat that rose in his face every time Gladio touched his hand, or his hip? Did Cor know about the walks in the garden at night, when Gladio would take his hand and Ignis would feel as if the whole world had melted away around it?

“You have a deep loyalty to the young master, don't you, Ignis?” Cor asked.

Ignis met his eyes, briefly, pale green meeting bright blue, and Ignis was sure Cor knew so much more than he was saying. “I'm loyal to the household, sir,” he answered.

“To the young master in particular,” Cor pressed. Ignis tried to hold his gaze, and failed, looking away and down, a frown crossing his face. “It's not a bad thing,” Cor said, his voice almost gentle. “Just remember that my job is to care for you as much as it is to serve this family.”

Ignis bowed his head, replying only, “Yes, sir.”

Silence bloomed for a moment, and then Cor drifted back to the subject of Gladio's birthday, saying, “You may be as extravagant as you wish in your menu choices. His lordship is putting his son's happiness before expense, on this occasion.” He gave Ignis a brief nod. “I'll send a runner with the plans later this afternoon, so you can make your own preparations.”

Ignis gave another polite bow as Cor turned, and swept away, leaving the lingering uncertainty behind him. Ignis felt like he should be in trouble, but Cor hadn't made it sound like he was. It was his own guilty conscience at work, he realised. He had feelings and thoughts about Gladio that he had no right to nurture, and yet he did, wrapping them up in the privacy of his own heart and enjoying the warmth of them in his room at night as he curled into his pillows with a book and the memory of Gladio's smile.

Perhaps he hadn't kept them as private as he'd thought. Perhaps he had been seen, walking with Gladio in the gardens, thrilling when Gladio took his hand to lead him to some part of the estate as yet unexplored. Or perhaps Gladio, or miss Iris, or another collar had reported on the frequent excursions to the kitchen, and the treats Ignis laid out for such occasions.

The rest of the day continued as normal, though the weight of his conversation with Cor hung heavy over Ignis's mood. Iris commented on his distraction when she made her regular afternoon visit. “Are you feeling okay, Ignis?” she asked, her head tilted to one side. She was fourteen now, and would be fifteen in some months, and less childish than she had been though no less cheeky.

He'd looked up at her, and down again, answering only, “Fine miss. Just preoccupied with the young master's birthday coming up.”

A bright smile had lit up her face. “Has he spoken to you?”

“No,” Ignis answered, and saw Iris huff and roll her eyes, “Cor assigned me to develop the menu for the celebrations.”

“Well,” Iris said, brightening up again, “Gladdy loves all your cooking, so I'm sure he'll love whatever you decide.”

Ignis allowed himself a smile at that. “Unfortunately for the young master,” he said, pushing his glasses back up his nose with a finger, “I'm not prepared to set the menu at cup noodles, so he will have to endure some disappointment.”

Iris giggled at Ignis's jibe. Gladio did not have the most refined of palates, much to Ignis's exasperation, but it mattered little. He was a man of simple tastes, and Ignis could accommodate that, and intended to. “He'd eat it with that goofy grin on his face even if it was vegetable stew, if he knows you're making it,” Iris said.

Ignis felt heat in his cheeks again and turned away, busying himself with his other tasks.

He'd begun work on the last preparations for dinner, readying vegetables for cooking, the kitchen swimming with the aroma of roasting meat by the time Cor's runner arrived. It was Talcott, wearing a grin on his face and carrying an envelope under his arm which he presented to Ignis with an imperious, “Cor said to give you these.”

Ignis took the envelope with a faint smile, and a, “Thank you.” He opened the flap and slid out some of the paper, casting a quick eye over the place settings, and numbers. He slipped it back inside the envelope and gave Talcott a slight nod.

“So you're planning the meal?” Talcott asked, enthusiasm emanating from his every pore. “I heard them say so.”

“So it would seem,” Ignis answered, placing the envelope safely on the table and out of harm's way. It wouldn't do to have to request a second copy.

“It's gonna be a big day,” Talcott said, rising up onto the balls of his feet to peer at Ignis from across the counter as Ignis returned to his work. “They were talking about what they were getting him.”

Ignis allowed the corner of his mouth to twitch upwards. “I expect the young master will receive many gifts.”

“Do you wanna know what I think they're getting him?” Talcott asked.

“Do tell,” Ignis said, mildly, knowing that Talcott didn't need the instruction. The child had every intention of telling what he'd heard anyway.

“I think they're getting him a Collar of his own. I heard Cor say he should have companion and household management training, and his lordship said master Gladio will need all the help he can get.”

Ignis froze. It felt as if the world was crumbling at the edges, and at any moment the floor would give way from under his feet and take him with it. “What?” he asked, quietly, looking at Talcott.

Talcott nodded enthusiastically at him. “Master Gladio's getting his own house, and they're gonna get him a Collar for it.”

Ignis carefully settled his knife down on the countertop, his fingers trembling as he lifted his hand away and gripped the edge of the counter instead. His insides felt icy cold, and it was hard to breathe.

“Isn't it great?” Talcott asked. “They said 'he', so I think they're getting him a boy. I bet they get him one of the specially bred companions, so he's got someone really pretty to look after him.”

Ignis fought with himself to breathe in, and force the notion of Gladio with some pretty, trained companion to keep him company in a new house, far away from Ignis, far away from night walks in the garden, and evenings of easy conversation from his mind. “Talcott?” he asked. His voice sounded far away, even to himself.

Talcott didn't seem to notice anything wrong, wearing that same happy grin even while Ignis felt his whole world shattering like the image in a dropped mirror. “Yeah?”

Ignis forced himself to swallow again. “I have a lot to prepare for the young master's birthday,” he said, forced himself to say, “would you be able to clean up after dinner tonight, so I may begin?”

“Yeah, of course,” Talcott answered. Then he paused and tilted his head. “You okay, Ignis? You're all pale.”

Ignis knew he couldn't answer that honestly. How could he explain to Talcott that what would undoubtedly be the best day of the young master's life would be the death knell for his own happiness? He could feel it already, slipping through his fingers, like the dreams he had in which Gladio held him. “Fine,” he answered, softly, “I've simply realised how important this birthday is going to be.”

Talcott gave a murmur of agreement. “Yeah, it must be some pressure,” he said, “knowing this'll be the last one he has with us.”

Ignis closed his eyes at those words, and then realised sharply how much of a mistake that was and opened them again, tilting his head back so gravity couldn't take hold of the tears that already threatened to form. “Yes,” he said, faintly.

As soon as dinner had been served to the main table, Ignis made his excuses and left the kitchens to Talcott's hands. He retreated to his room, heart thudding painfully in his chest and his ears. He kept the envelope with the party plans tucked against his chest, as if that might prevent the world from hearing his pulse, the sound of his heart screaming like Ignis himself wanted to.

He shut the door to his bedroom, and leaned against it, fighting to hold his tears back, and finally losing. The first tracked down his cheek, marking his defeat, and he sank to the floor, his back to the door as more followed it. He gasped for breath, the sound it made leaving his throat as a sob, and he put the envelope to one side before he drew his knees up into his arms, tucked his face into them, and cried as he never remembered having done before.

Gladio was leaving. Their evenings together were coming to an end, and for all Ignis might have hoped for at least a friendship, what chance was there of that with Gladio who knew how far away, and some specially trained collar to keep him company and fulfil his every whim? Gladio would move away, and move on, and Ignis would be nothing more than just a cook in his father's household.

He cried until his throat hurt, and his tears dried of their own accord. The small window of his room, high up near the ceiling, and too narrow to show more than a tiny rectangle of sky, showed it was late evening. The sun must have been setting for the oranges and pinks he could see. His eyes hurt, his chest hurt, but he physically couldn't cry any longer. He was exhausted from it.

Ignis stood unsteadily, and went to his sink. He filled it so he could scrub away the evidence of his tears on his face, and then he retrieved the envelope from the floor. Crying wouldn't help to plan Gladio's birthday, although the idea of helping to celebrate the last day Ignis himself might ever be happy felt painfully ironic.

He sat himself down on his bed and hugged his pillow. It took work to push the thoughts away, the aching disappointment and bone deep sense of loss at the prospect of losing Gladio. Ideas kept rising through the fog, realisations that stung as much as the words themselves had. Without Gladio to take him out into the gardens, would Ignis ever wear his coat again? Would he get outside to see the stars without Gladio to drag him away from work? Would he want to, with no one to tell the stories to? Without Gladio by his side, listening, encouraging him to go on, would he be able to enjoy the stars again? They'd become something they did together, his enjoyment of those evenings as much tied up in the fact he was spending time with Gladio as it was in his view of the night's sky.

Would he return to the lonely, inconsequential life, empty of laughter, where he worked all day, and borrowed a book only overnight to read what pages he could until sleep claimed him, to return it the next day before anyone became inconvenienced by his existence? Would he have a choice but to return to that?

He hadn't got as far as opening the envelope again when a knock came at his door. He looked up, perplexed, because no one ever knocked on his door. No one should have need to knock on his door.

The knock came again, and this time it was followed by a voice, “You in there, Iggy?”

Ignis felt his throat catch. He couldn't have answered the call with his own if he'd wanted to. It was Gladio. Ignis wasn't sure he could stand to see him, wasn't sure his heart would hold up under the strain if he had to look at him today.

His feet had other ideas, responding to Gladio's voice without intervention from the rest of his brain, and they took him from the bed to his door. He heard a soft, frustrated, sad groan on the other side of it, and the sound of something brushing against the wood before his hand took the handle and opened the door a few inches.

His eyes fell on feet first, on boots that were turned away, and that turned back a moment later. He looked up, slowly, until he met Gladio's face, and the concerned frown he wore. “You okay?” Gladio asked, looking down at him. Ignis felt the reflexive purse of his own lips, the tightening of his jaw as he turned away slightly, and Gladio sighed before he could manage to say anything. “I know you're busy,” Gladio said, “but I need to talk to you. Can you,” he began, and thought better of it, frowning and looking away again, “would you come with me? Please?”

Ignis wanted to protest. He had, after all, left the work of the evening to Talcott on the understanding that he was busy, and he wasn't sure how long he'd be able to maintain his composure in Gladio's presence in any case. “Of course,” he replied, his voice soft, and his mouth as much of a traitor as his feet.

Gladio nodded, relief on his face and in his voice as he said, “Bring your coat. It's cold out.”

It wasn't as cold as it had been, end of March as it was, but Ignis fastened his coat up and tucked his hands into his pockets regardless. Gladio seemed nervous, putting his hand to Ignis's back one moment, and then balling his fists and shoving his hands hard into his own pockets the next. “Talcott said you looked a bit pale, earlier,” he said, quietly. “You sure you're okay?”

“I'm fine, sir,” Ignis replied, softly, keeping his eyes ahead of him. Gladio was leading him towards the summerhouse, which was empty and unused at this time of year. “Merely tired. Thank you for your concern.”

“You work too hard,” Gladio said. “You need to look after yourself.”

“Duly noted,” Ignis answered, his voice as heavy as his limbs felt. He'd have laughed bitterly if he'd been able to muster up a laugh. Instead he followed, like a balloon on a string, tagging along after Gladio, unable to resist and wishing he could because at least then he might find a way to carry on once he was gone.

Gladio was frowning, Ignis realised. Something was weighing as heavily on his mind as it was on Ignis's own, and it was probably the onset of responsibility, and a life away from the comforts of the estate. Gladio gave a sigh, and neither of them said anything more until Gladio went up to the summerhouse and opened the door. He held it for Ignis to walk through, and then shut the door behind them both. The silence reigned, uncomfortable and heavy for a long moment before Gladio finally broke it, asking, “Ignis, can I ask you something?”

Ignis looked up at him, and then looked down at the floor again. “Of course, sir.”

“Are you happy?” Gladio bit his lip and bowed his head before he looked up again. “I mean, are you happy here, as a housecollar?”

Ignis looked up at him again, and managed to keep his eyes there this time. He afforded Gladio a smile, the best he could give, which was still sad, and lonely. “This is a good place to be a collar, sir. I'm as happy as I could be.”

Gladio frowned, shifting uncomfortably. “It's just,” he began, and then sighed, looking away from Ignis, “I know you've got a lot on. Talcott said you've got to prepare the menu for my birthday and I know you, and you don't do things by halves, and I'm sorry for the shitty timing and this probably isn't what you need right now, I mean, I'm probably distracting you and you'll spend half the night awake to catch up and,” he stopped, and inhaled sharply, drawing his hands out of his pockets and holding them up. “Right.” He bit his lip, seeming to come to a decision as he looked at Ignis. “Here's the thing. I'm moving to an apartment near the auctionhouse in central Insomnia, so I can work there and learn the family business.”

“I know,” Ignis answered, quietly. A little bubble of happiness had formed as Gladio had babbled, unable to resist the adorable nature of Gladio's heartfelt concern for Ignis's welfare, and it had burst again at the closing line.

“You do?” Gladio asked, his brow furrowing, and his frown growing deep.

“Collars gossip,” Ignis answered, his voice as soft as a whisper, “I'd heard you're leaving.”

Gladio took a moment to let this sink in, nodding to himself as he looked up and across the ceiling. The summerhouse was chilly and smelled faintly like melted snow. It had been closed down in the autumn and hadn't yet been aired and prepped for use again. “Well,” he said, “I spoke to my dad today, and,” he faltered, “I've been saving what I can, but I didn't think I had enough, but it was getting too late to ask and,” he trailed off again, biting his lip and looking directly at Ignis before he finished, “I know I'm gonna need help there, because I can't cook, and I can't clean, and I'm useless, so I want a collar.”

Ignis swallowed, closing his eyes at those words because they stung. The pain twisted in his chest, and left him feeling sick and unhappy.

“I asked him for you,” Gladio said, “if you'll come with me?”

Ignis stared, his eyes wide as his head swam. The world seemed to tilt around him as he took a step back and reached a hand to the back of a chair to steady himself. Breathing became hard again as Gladio's words circled in his ears, impossible to take in. Come with me. They couldn't have been discussing him, when Talcott had overheard. They'd talked of companion and household management training, neither of which Ignis possessed. He was a chef, a housecollar, little more. He was plain, and polite, and awkward company, and that was all he had to offer away from the kitchen.

Gladio was suddenly there, his hand at Ignis's arm, his head shaking, “Hey,” he said, sounding distressed himself, “you don't have to if you don't want to, if you're happy here I wouldn't take you away from that.”

Ignis looked up at amber eyes, transfixed, and stunned, and helpless. “They said you were leaving us,” he said, quietly. His vision swam like his head, and his heart, fresh tears pricking at his eyes. Gladio's hand moved from his arm to around his back and tugged him close. Ignis's hand left the back of the cold wooden chair and curled in the lapel of Gladio's jacket, as though if he let go Gladio would slip away and never return.

“Not you,” Gladio said, his other hand coming up against Ignis's cheek and his thumb brushing over the skin. Ignis's face felt wet under the track of Gladio's thumb, and he realised Gladio was brushing tears away. He looked stricken at the idea. “I should have spoken to you sooner,” he muttered, “I'm sorry.” He pressed his lips to Ignis's forehead, and Ignis felt his chest jump with a quiet sob, and then arms wrapped tight around him and pulled him into a hug.

Gladio held him for what felt like minutes, until Ignis clasped both of his hands into the back of Gladio's jacket and squeezed him tightly. This was all he'd ever, ever wanted, and it becoming a reality, that he was being given all this and more, seemed unreal. He could wake from this, his face full of dried tears, and that would be less of a surprise than the notion that this could be reality.

“So,” Gladio said, when the quiet had lingered long enough, his hold on Ignis loosening but not releasing, “I take it this means you'll come with me?”

Ignis laughed into Gladio's shoulder, burying his face there a moment longer before he nodded. “Yes,” he said, pulling away slightly, knowing his face would be red, and his eyes puffy, “please. I want to come with you, sir.”

Gladio smiled down at him, his hand returning to Ignis's cheek and stroking along it. “You have no idea how scared I was that you'd want to stay,” he muttered.

Ignis gave him a shyly unsure smile, and admitted, “I don't think I could bring myself to look at the stars without you.”

Gladio stared at him for what felt like a long moment. “Ignis?” he asked, uncertainty in his expression, “can you close your eyes?”

“Sir?”

“Just for a moment?”

Ignis frowned a little, but the look of hesitant sincerity in Gladio's face was hard to deny. He closed his eyes, unsure of what he expected to happen next.

He didn't expect the hand to his neck, with the other dipping back into his hair, and he could have never anticipated the brush of breath against his skin, and the press of something warm against his mouth. He opened his eyes, seeing Gladio's face closer than he'd ever been before, surprise stealing his breath as he realised what this was, and then closed his eyes again.

Gladio's lips were warm against his, but the brush of his short beard was scratchy and uncomfortable. Something dipped into his mouth and he realised it was Gladio's tongue a second later. It met his, and he could taste Gladio, and the herbs from dinner that lingered. He wondered if Gladio could taste coffee in his own mouth.

It was only when he felt Gladio's arm tighten around his back that he realised he was being held up into the kiss. Then Gladio pulled away, and Ignis felt dazed and comfortable in his arms, his eyes finding Gladio's and becoming locked there. His breath was short, he realised, and his face felt warm.

Gladio fixed him with a warm, happy smile. “I promise I'll look after you.”

Ignis smiled up at Gladio, settling his weight back onto his own feet. “And I, you,” he said, adding, “master.” Gladio grinned at the word, and drew him into a tight hug.

Date: 2017-03-11 10:22 pm (UTC)
azi: Keep Calm and Appeal to a Supervisor. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azi
Awwwwww... look how happy Ignis is!

He doesn't know how hard and awkward it was to go to his dad, in front of Cor, and go "I want that one 8|" about him, bless. =D

Date: 2017-03-11 11:13 pm (UTC)
azi: Keep Calm and Appeal to a Supervisor. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azi
Oh, is it? Excellent 8D

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