chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
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The steady encroach of winter had given the air a bite, and the ground glittered with frost in the darkness. For all that Gladio longed to spend his mornings curled up with Ignis's heat, it was a luxury he was denied four days a week. Ignis rose early and prepared breakfast, and Gladio's lunch, and then Gladio had to escort him to the training estate almost on the other side of Insomnia. Watching him struggle in a social setting, compared to how relaxed he was in Gladio's company, had driven home just what benefits Ignis might actually reap from Companion training. Ignis could look the part, and in the confines of his own home he was every inch the confident, slightly sarcastic, dry humoured wit Gladio had suspected he could be, equal parts adorably sweet and devilishly sharp, but out of his comfort zone he reverted to being a below stairs housecollar; painfully quiet and reserved, unable to reject the attentions of anyone that didn't wear a collar.

Cor had been right, and Gladio had been forced to concede that. Now Ignis attended training four days a week. Gladio had been steadfast in his refusal to have Ignis undergo the full training, and the subject of sexual relations comprised the fifth day of each week's curriculum, which at least gave Gladio three days a week to bury his nose in Ignis's hair and tickle him until he laughed.

He dropped Ignis off at the estate, which was little more than a collar school, and returned home with Ignis's leash in his pocket like a talisman. Then he'd have the lunch Ignis had prepared for him, and then he'd go to work at the auctionhouse. Cheap auctions took place during the day, when attendance rates would be lower. Those lots were usually housecollars in batches of three or more. Fieldcollars didn't really get sold in Insomnia because there wasn't the market for them.

Gladio started his shift at one, or sometimes at two, and he'd see the twelve and thirteen year old boys and girls being sold as housecollars, and he couldn't help but think of Ignis. They were all skinny, all plain colouring, with a shy obsequiousness in their manner. They never spoke unless directly addressed, they'd just stand there, fading into the background if you let them.

There'd been one boy, with sandy hair, and hazel eyes, with a slight overbite that reminded Gladio so sharply of Ignis that he'd wondered if he'd come from the same place, if he might be Ignis's brother, or half brother. He was being sold in a lot of five, and Gladio watched him stand, cuffed to his fellows on the dais, as he was sold off for far less than he'd be worth if he grew up as pretty as Ignis had.

Young housecollars were cheap, he'd found. Older ones, that had specialised skills, went for more. Trained chefs, or chocobo handlers went for more than mere domestic collars, and a collar qualified to be a kitchen manager, as Ignis had been, had gone for more still. Yet it was still significantly less than Companions with an equal amount of training.

They kept the Companion auctions for late in the day, with the big prizes in the late evening. When they had something truly special on offer, it was treated almost like a social event, and kept to a Friday or Saturday night. A Companion sold on a Monday evening would fetch a fifth of that of a Companion sold on a Friday night, and Weskham was quite honest when he explained that the complimentary champagne and buffet before and after the Friday night auctions was responsible for a lot of it. Make it into an event, he'd explained, and people parted with more money. If you wanted a bargain for your Companion, you bought them on a Monday or Tuesday, and if you wanted to maximise your profit, you stipulated they be sold on a Friday or Saturday.

The auctionhouse, or its masters, did ninety percent of the stipulating of timeslots for auctions, but certain estates were long valued customers, and leeway was given to allow both the auctionhouse and the estate to maximise its profits.

The first auction Gladio witnessed that had disturbed him had been on a Saturday night. The collar had been a pink haired girl, with brilliantly blue eyes, of a slight build and long legs. She was only a little taller than average, the top of her head barely gracing Gladio's shoulder. She was, her information said, a fully trained Companion, aged 20 and 364 days. There had been a stamp on the bottom of the information leaflet that was medical confirmation that she was untouched.

She'd had a female guard for viewing, and the parade in and out of the viewing room had been exclusively male. Gladio had gone to lead her to the dais when it was time for her auction, and his stomach had flipped to see her hands shake. She'd walked in looking pretty, but when he'd gone to retrieve her, she'd been made up, dressed up, and trussed up like a prize.

She'd gone for a lot of money, and her buyer had been a man at least twice her age. Gladio had gone and collected Ignis from his training that night and looked for the first time at the other collars he was attending training with, and their masters. Ignis, on his way to a mere nineteen, was younger than half his classmates by nearly two years.

He'd got home that night, and cuddled Ignis tightly, trying not to think about what that poor collar girl would be going through right now. Ignis had responded by cuddling him back, kissing him softly, and pressing him down onto the sofa to gently strip him of his jacket and shirt, and work his fingers into Gladio's back. Gladio had relaxed, until Ignis had started to work at his trousers, and then Gladio had caught his hands.

He'd sat up, stripped Ignis carefully of his own jacket and shirt, and then pressed him into the sofa and returned the massage. Ignis had gasped and sighed contentedly under his hands, and Ignis hadn't resisted being turned onto his back, or the way Gladio had pulled at his belt, and his fly. He hadn't grabbed Gladio's hands to stop him, but had run his fingers into Gladio's hair as Gladio had swallowed him down, and he'd arched up into Gladio's mouth as he came.

Gladio had kissed the soft pale skin of Ignis's inner thigh as Ignis relaxed back into the sofa, and murmured, “I love you.”

A hand had slid over his, and fingers had settled under his chin, urging him up towards Ignis's face, and Gladio had gone with it, allowed Ignis to pull him up and closer. Ignis's fingers worked their way between his as Ignis pulled Gladio against himself, against his mouth, kissing him deeply while Ignis's other arm held him close.

“I know,” Ignis said, his voice a soothing whisper against Gladio's ear. “I love you too.”

Gladio had tucked his face in against Ignis's throat at those words, breathing him in, memorising his smell, and his touch, and the taste of him that lingered on his tongue. “I wish you weren't a collar,” he murmured.

Ignis's hand moved up his back, and stroked through the ends of his hair. “I'm glad I am,” Ignis replied, his voice gentle, but no longer a whisper. “It brought me to you, and there is nowhere I would rather be than by your side.”

“We do such horrible things to you,” Gladio muttered, tucking his face in harder, so his nose brushed Ignis's skin and his breath puffed hot between them.

Ignis shifted, pushing Gladio back up. “Look at me,” he commanded, and Gladio felt a ripple through his gut at Ignis speaking to him like that. “You never have,” Ignis said, firmly. “You showed me the stars, you gave me your time. Even if you didn't love me, and even if I did not love you, there would be nowhere I could be happier than with you, master.”

Gladio looked at him, at the fierce honesty in Ignis's eyes, and he sighed. “Like you've had a choice.”

“Gladio.” He found himself caught by the scolding way Ignis said his name. Ignis said his name rarely, in the throes of passion, or in the early morning when a whispered 'sir' wasn't enough to rouse him. He'd never used it to scold before. “You are not all masters, and I am not all collars. I don't know what happened today, but don't look at them as if they were me. I've made choices. I made the choice to accept a place in your bed, I made the choice to return your kiss. I have chosen, every step of the way, to do for you the things I do. I don't get up early to make your breakfast and lunch because you expect it, sir, I do it because I want to, and I want to because I love you.”

Gladio had let the words sink in before he'd given an amused huff and cuddled Ignis tightly with one arm and squeezed his hand with the other. Ignis still held his hand at every opportunity. “I don't deserve you,” he said, happily.

“Yet here we are,” Ignis replied, shifting a little under Gladio so he could be more comfortable, “stuck with each other. So we'd best make the most of it.”

When he'd collected Ignis late one Friday night, he hadn't needed to explain how badly the evening had gone for Ignis to understand. He'd acted as a peaceful sounding board while Gladio had voiced his exasperation, his shock at seeing a man die that night. The auction had been a special one, some pretty white haired, yellow eyed collar, all tall grace and long hair. He'd gone for a fortune, and to say Weskham had been very sure they'd be seeing him again in six months time with a full complement of Companion training and medical certification, that was no mean feat.

But then the person that had bid the highest, and it was worse because they were a representative from the Xemnas estate, had suffered a massive allergic reaction at the buffet. No one had seen him eat the prawns, but, the medics had said, a reaction that severe could happen if he'd eaten something that had even touched the prawns. Allergic reactions could be dangerous things; sometimes it only took a trace to kill.

Ignis had listened, and soothed his mind, and shared a bath with him, the back of his head pillowed against Gladio's shoulder as Gladio counted every freckle he could see. The soft intimacy had turned into mischief and tickling, and Ignis's desperate yelps of laughter before he'd clambered out of the bath, and Gladio had given chase. Gladio had caught him in the bedroom and smothered him in kisses before he'd pressed Ignis's face into the bed and applied his tongue until Ignis's laughter and pleas for him to stop had turned into moans of pleasure and pleas for him not to stop.

It was some time later, a week before Gladio was due to go home with Ignis to stay with his family for the New Year, before Gladio would be late again. Ignis was more than two thirds of the way through his training safely at home alone on a Saturday night, and the nights had drawn in, and the pace of auctions had stepped up. Companions were a popular New Year gift, for the wealthy, although people typically chose their own, but bodyguards were surprisingly popular too. Unfortunately, Weskham explained, this was also the time of year that the Collar Rights brigade started to get noisy. They protested in summer, Weskham had said, cynically, because the weather was nice, but they protested around New Year because of visibility.

There had been a handful of people outside the auctionhouse, with placards, when Gladio had arrived. By the time the night had drawn in, and the temperature had fallen so that breath sparkled in the air, the handful of people had become a throng. Despite the music playing in the auctionhouse, they could be heard in parts of it. Sometimes the noise was a mishmash of jeers, as people tried to enter the auctionhouse and the crowd heckled them, and sometimes the words, 'People not property' could be discerned through the windows, and the doors.

Gladio agreed with them, but long discussions with Ignis had revealed the subject to be much more complicated than could be fit into a catchy slogan and chanted. Collars were people, and some of the practices were disgusting; not even Ignis had attempted to defend the sale of a collar's virginity, but what the activists failed to do, Ignis had explained, was ask a collar what they wanted. There was a difference, he'd said, between rights, and freedom. Freedom wouldn't guarantee rights, and in practice, little would change. Most collars would become little more than indentured servants, serving the same master, working for a pay that was kept to cover bed and board. Practically, nothing would change.

Give them rights, however, Ignis had said, give him the right to defend himself, and the right to control what happens to his own body, and many of the grimmest realities of being a collar were eradicated. If a collar could say no, if causing physical harm to a collar was something that could be punished in its own right rather than the collar's owner having to sue for compensation for the damage to their property, if they were, in short, allowed to possess things themselves, starting with themselves, then the lot of a collar would be easier to stomach.

Collars had no more protection under the law than a table when it came to harm done to them. The only concession that they were not mere furniture lay in the law stating they couldn't be sold for sexual purposes until the age of 21. It had come about as a response to an outcry at the disturbing practice of training and using child collars for sex, at the scandal that had emerged when the media had brought to light the sickening market for babies, toddlers, and pre-pubescents for personal services.

It was what had sparked the Collar Rights movement. They'd succeeded in getting the practice of selling collars below the age of six illegalised, although loopholes still existed. Then there had been the age of sexual congress. Collars couldn't consent, the lawmakers had determined that much, so it wasn't about setting an age at which a collar might consent to sex, and it was impossible to police what a master did with their own collars on their own property without an intolerable invasion of privacy.

So they'd decided to ban the sale of any collar for explicit sexual purposes below the age of 21. Sixteen had been decided to be too young, eighteen was still an age at which a collar was a juvenile. By 21, they were indisputably grown, and there was much less risk of forged documents resulting in the routine sale of juvenile collars for sex.

The side effect, Ignis had pointed out, was that it took away a collar's already limited freedom to be with another collar. No one had expected a collar of nineteen to be a virgin before the law had been passed. Now, older juvenile collars were expected to lead lives of near celibacy, in case their master might want to make a few gil from their virginity. Imagine, Ignis had said, if the consequence for Gladio of sleeping with his girlfriend when he was eighteen had been a beating, and the pair of them being moved on to somewhere they'd never meet again, away from everyone they'd ever known, for a life that would undoubtedly be harder than the one he'd had.

Ignis had been lucky enough to have his virginity claimed by someone he loved more than breath. Other collars were rarely so lucky.

The activists were good people, he'd decided, just misguided. They fell into the easy trap of thinking that just because collars were property that they didn't think. Weskham's opinion of them was less charitable.

“What a racket,” he'd grumbled.

“They have the right to protest,” Gladio had pointed out.

“And our customers have the right to come and spend their money without listening to that,” came the response.

They'd turned the music up, and moved the auctions to the furthest rooms from the protest, but the chanting could still be heard from the viewing rooms. As the evening wore on, Gladio took to monitoring the protest more than the auctions. The activists were allowed to stand on the street outside to make their protest, but they had to be moved on if they ventured onto the auctionhouse's land.

They posted guards by the gates to keep the protest where it belonged, but the crowd grew rowdier as they got no other reaction and took to jostling patrons on their way in, or out, of the premises. Weskham had them open up the reception rooms so patrons, and their new purchases, could linger while they tried to disperse the crowd, and he and Gladio went out to speak to them.

“Back up before we call the watch,” Weskham said. Gladio stood just behind him, arms folded, and he'd never been more glad of his size than he was today.

“We have the right to peaceful protest,” said one. Gladio figured her for the spokesperson on account of the megaphone.

“And our patrons have the right to enter and leave without being harassed,” Weskham replied. “If you want to hold your protest, back up.”

“What rights do the collars have?” The call came from the back of the crowd, and was met with a flurry of agreeing murmurs and 'yeah's.

“They should have the right to walk out of here with their masters without being met by this,” Gladio called out, unable to resist. Jostling people on their way in was one thing, but he'd seen the looks of apprehension on some of the collars, and the grim determination on the faces of others that were trying to leave. “This is a public thoroughfare and you're blocking it for everyone.”

“What are you, the collar welfare advocate?” The spokesperson looked him up and down, sceptically. Next to Gladio, Weskham folded his arms and regarded her.

“Thought that was you?” Weskham asked her. “He's just an employee, same as me.”

“When you gonna bring Mr Amicitia himself down so we can have a chat?” she asked, the look and tone she used when talking to Weskham giving Gladio the distinct impression that they'd met before, probably a few times.

“The fourth of never works for me,” Weskham replied. “Now you heard the boy, quit blocking the public thoroughfare.”

“I take it you know her?” Gladio asked, as they approached the auctionhouse again. The crowd were stepping back, but only barely. Gladio fully expected they'd have to be reminded to move again later.

“Mireya,” Weskham replied, providing a name that Gladio hadn't really asked for. “She's a pain in the ass. Keeps petitioning me to bring your old man down. She seems to think she can talk him round to her way of thinking.” Weskham looked at him. “Do yourself a favour,” he said, “don't tell that lot who you are.”

Gladio snorted. “Hey, I'm happy to talk to them, just so long as I can bring Ignis. He's got views on their views, they might get a shock.”

Weskham laughed, quietly, leading Gladio back inside. “Nothing will convince them to back down, not even a collar. They'll just accuse you of brainwashing him.” He sighed. “They're having an effect, though. Takings are down tonight.”

Gladio frowned. “No one wants to squeeze past them,” he said. The ones that had braved it in were warier about walking back out again, and Gladio wasn't charitable enough to assume they were doing that with an eye on the wellbeing of their new collars.

Weskham grumbled, unhappily. “We're going to have to do escorts out. I'm going to contact our high estimates and see if they want to postpone.”

“I'll escort,” Gladio said, with a grim nod.

Which was how Gladio had found himself to be in the midst of an increasingly angry throng of protestors. His breadth and height made him an imposing figure that served as a beacon for the exiting patrons to head for. The shouts and yells of the crowd were an indecipherable din from the centre, and Gladio's own shouts at people to get back were lost in the cacophony. It felt scary in there, and he could only imagine how terrifying this was for the collars that were being led through by masters they didn't know they could trust.

One patron approached, marching his way through the press of bodies, and the crowd gave a surge. Someone stumbled, there were cries, and Gladio saw someone fall. “Back off!” he shouted. “Get back, now!”

He elbowed people aside as he made his way to help whoever had fallen. He didn't know if it was a collar, a patron, or a protestor, and it didn't matter. No one wanted to be on the floor for long with this going on around them; they could get trampled.

Behind Gladio someone screamed, ahead of him someone else was crying out as the two walls of bodies gave way and converged. His hand grasped the arm of someone and he hauled them to their feet. The air was a din of shouting, an increasing obscenities. Somewhere nearby he could hear auctionhouse guards warning people to move aside, to stand clear. Gladio pulled the person he'd picked up near to himself, shielding them as best he could while he joined the shouts of the guards and told the crowd to move back. It was hot, and hard to breathe, and the protest had turned into little better than a rugby scrum as someone shouted for help.

He registered the shout of, “Let her go!” too late, and he couldn't even see where the blows came from. One landed across his face, coming down his cheek, near his eye. Another, harder one hit his chin. He let the person he was shielding go and sent a blind, retaliatory swing in the direction the blows had probably come from.

The press of bodies eased up, slowly, and the distinctive sound of a voice through a megaphone broke through the noise, hazy at first but increasingly clearer as the crowd started to thin. “Let the injured through,” it called. A female voice, slightly familiar rose artificially above the crowd.

Gladio stood his full height, glancing around for the patron and collar he'd been trying to guide through, but they seemed to have gone. His eye was stinging, his face felt worse, and he made his way back towards the auctionhouse to see what the damage was.

“Shit,” he heard the woman say, and he looked at Mireya, with her megaphone. A couple of other people, probably protestors, limped out of the crowd after him, too.

“Inside,” Weskham ordered, “medics are on their way. You need to be looked at.”

“I'm fine,” Gladio answered.

“You won't say that when you look at yourself,” came his answer.

They ended up waiting half an hour for the medics, and when they arrived, they came complete with a watch escort. Mireya had dispersed the protest, but Weskham had tried to get as many names of attendees as possible. A medic stitched Gladio up before one of the watchmen took a statement from him. It had been hard to see what was going on, he didn't know who'd done it, who'd hit him, who'd held the knife, who he'd been holding onto.

It was nearly midnight by the time they finished, and then they still weren't allowed to leave. “I need to get home,” Gladio said, thoughts of Ignis and how stressed he'd be at Gladio's lateness plaguing his mind. It'd be worse if he'd heard what had happened on the news.

“We'll let you go as soon as we can, Mr Amicitia,” the watchman said.

Mireya eyed him from where she was nursing a cup of coffee. The only people left in the auctionhouse were the people that had been involved, and the watch. All the patrons had gone home, and the unsold collars had been taken back to their housing.

“So,” she said, when the watchman wondered away again, “you're the boss around here.”

Gladio forced a laugh. “No,” he said, “that's my dad. I'm just working here.”

“Sorry about tonight,” she said. “It wasn't meant to go like this. We didn't want to hurt anyone.”

Gladio nodded. “You guys seem to cause a lot of shit without thinking about it,” he agreed.

“Excuse me?”

Gladio shook his head. “Never mind,” he said. “Look, I don't necessarily disagree with you, I just don't think you've considered the wider consequences.”

“You mean like you going out of business?” Mireya asked, a sneer on her face.

“No,” Gladio replied, sharply, “like if you force freedom on every collar, what's actually gonna change for them?” He shook his head. “We've got a collar back on the family estate that can't walk without a stick. He's too old to work. He gets to sit in the garden, and dust the occasional table because he doesn't like not doing anything. If he was made to be free, how's he gonna survive? He can't earn his keep, and he's too proud to accept charity, and he'd view us keeping him on as charity if he didn't have that collar round his neck.”

Mireya looked as if she was trying to come up with a counter argument, but after a moment she gave up, and sighed. “It's about the bigger picture,” she said. “What about all the Companions that are judged to be too old to appeal to anyone any more? Do you know what happens to them?”

Gladio shrugged. “They become housecollars and fieldworkers, some of them.”

Mireya snorted. “Yeah, and others get sold off to the farms to be used for breeding stock to make the next generation of collars. Then they get put to the fields when they can't reproduce, until they drop dead.”

Gladio shook his head. “Free them and they'll just be made to work as prostitutes until the same thing happens, except any babies will be their problem.”

Mireya put her elbow on the table, and rested her chin on her hand as she looked at Gladio, really looked at him. “So what do you suggest?” she asked. “Let people continue to abuse other people all thanks to the accident of birth?”

Gladio thought about that and scowled. “I don't know,” he said, “I don't have the answer. I just don't think you do, either.”

She flashed a lopsided smile at him. “I've got to admit,” she said, “I didn't expect to get that from someone called Amicitia.”

Gladio grinned. “I'm just full of surprises.”

It was gone one before he finally got home, opening the door to the apartment wearily. Ignis was there in a heartbeat, looking like he'd been waiting up, and fretting something fierce. “Your face,” he said, weakly, rushing up to Gladio, hands already reaching up to touch, “I heard--”

Gladio dragged Ignis into his arms and held him tightly, groaning softly at the welcome weight. He'd been wanting little more than to hold him since he'd sat down in the auctionhouse. “It's just a flesh wound,” he said, when he felt Ignis starting to settle in his arms and coil his hands around Gladio's back. “I'll be fine.”

Ignis looped his arms around Gladio's back and held him tightly while Gladio tucked his nose into Ignis's hair and took a deep breath of his shampoo. “When you didn't come home,” Ignis began, “I knew something had happened.”

“A protest got out of hand,” Gladio said, “that's all.” He pressed a swift kiss to the side of Ignis's head. “I'm gonna be off for the rest of the week. What do you say we go and see Iris once your classes are done, instead of waiting?” Ignis didn't look up, but Gladio felt him nod against his chest. Gladio smiled, and squeezed Ignis a little tighter. After a moment he asked, “I suppose my dinner got ruined?”

“Unfortunately so, sir,” Ignis answered.

Gladio considered his options for a second before he asked, tentatively, “I don't suppose you'd let me have cup noodles?”

Slowly, ever so slowly, Ignis leaned back to look up at Gladio, his mouth a firm line, his eyes slightly narrowed. Gladio gave him a lopsided grin, because it hurt too much at one side of his face to make it a big one.

“I suppose,” Ignis conceded, “given the circumstances.”

Gladio kept his smile in place and leaned forward to press a kiss to Ignis's forehead.

Date: 2017-04-18 07:28 pm (UTC)
azi: Keep Calm and Appeal to a Supervisor. (Default)
From: [personal profile] azi
Poor Gladio and his pretty face... D8

On the upside, at least he gets cup noodles? His dad's gonna hit the roof. 8|

Date: 2017-04-18 07:33 pm (UTC)
azi: (FFXV: Gladio)
From: [personal profile] azi
Ooh, Cor. 83

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