chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
[personal profile] chlorhexidine posting in [community profile] fic_ception
There had been a gentle blanket of snow covering the estate when Gladio and Ignis had returned. Gladio's father, and Cor, and Iris, and everyone else had already heard about what had happened at the auctionhouse.

It would have been harder not to know. The news had run the story for days. People that had claimed to be at the protest, or at the auctionhouse that day had taken their fifteen minutes in interviews, giving their versions of events. A protest for collar rights had turned violent, the heir to Amicitia Auctions had been injured in the violence. It was big news.

Mireya Galanis had taken more than fifteen minutes. She'd been on a few news programmes, interviewing, debating, taking the opportunity to push her cause. Ignis had taken a sharp and instant dislike to her that had amused Gladio.

“She's not the one that hurt me,” Gladio had said, after Ignis had sneered at the news radio when Mireya's voice had come over the airwaves again. “She's actually pretty nice.”

“She's no better than the kind of person she thinks you are,” Ignis had snapped. He'd worn a scowl, and Gladio had found his irritation to be amusing, and his eagerness to jump to Gladio's defence to be endearing. “Have any of them ever asked a collar what we want? Or invited a collar along to give their views in these talkpieces?”

Gladio had restrained his smile. Ignis had Views with a capital V about collar rights, and where the activists for them were concerned, they were almost exclusively negative. He'd always had opinions, but in the last few days, they'd become Views. When someone's grandstanding about granting him freedom against his wishes hurt his master, he'd taken it as a personal insult. “Don't think so,” he said.

“Exactly. They're discussing the rights of tables.”

“Iggy?” Gladio had held his hand out towards Ignis, in silent request for him to take it, and silent instruction for him to calm down. Ignis had looked at the outstretched hand, and sighed, and then come around the sofa to take it, and allow Gladio to scoop him up against his side and nuzzle him. “You're not a table.”

The sharpness of Ignis's voice had given way to a sulky stubbornness when he replied, “Not to you.”

Gladio had held him close until his ire had given way to sulk, and continued to hold him until his sulk had given way to affection. He'd only spoken again when he'd felt Ignis settle in his arms and sigh. “You all packed for tomorrow?” Ignis had insisted on not letting Gladio pack his own things.

“Yes, sir,” Ignis had answered.

“Good.”

Gladio had pressed Ignis into the sofa, then, and kissed him, and stripped him, and lovingly ravished him until Ignis's righteous indignation had fallen away with his clothes. They'd eaten well, Ignis wearing nothing more than a pair of Gladio's workout trousers to cook, and then Gladio had dragged him into the shower, and then into the bed.

They'd been up early the following morning so that they could make the long journey back to the Amicitia estate, and they'd arrived in the afternoon.

Iris had greeted them first, bounding through the doors to latch her arms around her brother's waist and hold him tightly. The force of her running at him had knocked Gladio back a couple of steps, and he returned his sister's hug, mussing up her hair with his hand.

Ignis's attention had been fixed on Cor, who stood at Clarus's side with his hands clasped behind his back. Cor locked eyes with Ignis for only a second, a tiny movement of his head being the closest to a nod of acknowledgement that he gave.

“Dad,” Gladio said, looking up from Iris, who wasn't letting him go in any hurry.

“Welcome home, son,” was his answer. Then Clarus had turned, and headed back inside, and Gladio had been forced to spin Iris around so she could walk beside him. Cor didn't move until they did, watching Gladio with a serious expression.

When Cor turned, Ignis brushed his fingers over Gladio's sleeve and gave him a concerned look. Gladio responded to it with a flash of a smile, but he didn't dare take Ignis's hand here, where the likes of Cor would be watching and scowling.

Nothing was said, however. Not on the first day. Gladio returned to his old room, where nothing much had changed except, Ignis noted, that it was tidier. Ignis joined him there, after a brief moment of concern that he'd be required to stay in the collar's quarters. “You're a guest,” Gladio had pointed out, “and mine, so you're staying here.”

Dinner had been an odd affair for Ignis. He'd never joined the family at the dinner table before, and with the sole exception of the times that Gladio had taken him out to a restaurant or a cafe, he'd never eaten anything he hadn't cooked, either. Now, as a Companion, he sat at Gladio's left, just as Cor sat at Clarus's.

“I still miss your cooking,” Iris said, as she poked at the vegetables on her plate with her knife.

Ignis glanced sideways at the waiting collars, the ones on hand to serve drinks, or bring condiments at a wave. Collars gossiped, and they'd undoubtedly be taking in anything said at the table and taking it back to the chef. Heavens knew Ignis had received most of the feedback on his own cooking that way. “You flatter me, miss,” he said, delicately drawing his knife through the steak on his plate, “this food is excellent, and the steak is done to perfection.”

“Yeah, but it's not the same,” Iris complained. “Yours always tasted just right.”

Ignis smiled, feeling Gladio watching him as he kept his head bowed over his food. “I had the great fortune of cooking for you at an age where your preferences were developing, that is all.”

“Regardless,” Cor spoke, “I have asked Ignis to lend his hand to the kitchens at Solstice.”

Ignis felt Gladio look up and throw Cor a frown. “You didn't ask me,” he said, resting his wrists on the table.

“I don't mind,” Ignis replied, looking at Gladio and offering him a gently encouraging smile.

“You're a guest,” Gladio said, irritation clear in his tone.

“I'm aware,” Ignis replied, holding Gladio's gaze, “and these are no longer my kitchens, but the Solstice feast is an extremely busy time in any kitchen, and any pair of hands will be appreciated. You will be with your family, my presence won't be missed.”

Gladio looked at Ignis, a scowl on his face, and he turned it towards Cor with a flash of annoyance before he said, “It will.”

“You're certain you don't object, Ignis?” Clarus asked, his voice making silence descend across the table, and quelling the fiery looks from Gladio. “It is a rather large imposition to put on you, especially your first Solstice with a new master.”

Ignis bowed his head, turning it slightly towards Clarus, but not looking directly at him. “I don't object, sir,” he said, “thank you.”

That night, Gladio sat on the edge of his bed, watching Ignis as he undressed. Ignis neatly folded his clothes, resting them over the back of a chair. “How come you said yes?” he asked.

Ignis looked at him for a moment, and then returned his attention to tucking his shirt sleeves neatly into the folds of the shirt. “I couldn't very well say no,” he replied. “Besides, Cor asked me some time ago.”

“I can say no for you,” Gladio pointed out, folding his arms and looking unhappy.

“There's no need,” Ignis replied, laying his shirt over the back of the chair at last.

“Iggy, it's Solstice,” Gladio said, with a disappointed sigh. He unfolded his arms and reached out to Ignis, catching his wrist and tugging him in close. Ignis moved in, lifted one knee up onto the bed by Gladio's side, and then lifted his other up and settled so he was perched on Gladio's lap. Gladio coiled his arms around Ignis's waist and tucked his head in against Ignis's shoulder. “I wanted to spend it with you.”

Ignis looped his arms around Gladio's neck and held him for a moment, letting Gladio's disappointment wash over them both. “You will,” he replied, after a lingering silence where Gladio held him tighter. “I'll be done in the kitchens before they serve dinner, and I'll be yours all evening long.”

“It's not the same,” Gladio said, grumpily. “Cor shouldn't have asked you.”

Ignis brushed his fingers through Gladio's hair and sighed. “No,” he was forced to agree, “he shouldn't, though not for my sake.” Gladio frowned and looked up at Ignis, amber eyes catching pale green ones and Ignis smiled at him sadly. “You heard how Iris spoke of the food. The poor collar that replaced me is more than competent, and yet they'd have heard nothing but criticism and comparisons since coming to this estate. Now, on top of that, Cor asks me to step in and help with preparations on Solstice day.”

Gladio kept his frown on his face. “So Cor's being a dick to two of you?” he asked, checking he'd understood that correctly.

Ignis sighed through his nose and watched his fingers as he carefully brushed Gladio's hair back. “I think he's testing me,” Ignis said. “It's going to be a tense situation for both myself and the new chef when I walk into that kitchen. He wants to see how I handle it.”

Gladio tightened his hold on Ignis. The idea of Cor playing games with him got Gladio's back up. “I can tell him to go fuck himself. You're mine, Iggy. I want you with me on Solstice day. I want you to have a Solstice where you don't have to work.”

Ignis looked down at Gladio and gave him a sweet smile before he leaned in to press a kiss to Gladio's forehead. “Don't worry about that,” he said, softly. “I want to do this for the collar that's replaced me. I have a plan.”

“I still want you with me on Solstice day,” Gladio grumbled, softly. Ignis's fingers moved to brush down his cheek, thumb stroking over stubble at his jaw.

“You'll have me all Solstice night,” Ignis replied, his voice falling to a whisper, “and all the day after, too, if you have enough energy.”

Gladio looked up at Ignis and his smiling eyes, and gave a quiet laugh. He leaned up to steal a kiss, and then wrapped his arms tightly around Ignis and leaned back onto the bed, pulling Ignis down with him.

*****


The following day, Gladio met with his father. Ignis had gone to see Jared, who was becoming increasingly infirm these days, and didn't always get out of his rooms any more. They'd obtained a wheelchair for him, and Ignis had said he'd like to spend some time with Jared in the library, or the gardens if the snow wasn't too thick. Jared had been as close to a parent as Ignis had known, and Gladio wasn't about to refuse him.

Which left him on his own when he'd gone to see his father. The butterfly stitches up the left side of his cheek still held his face together, as they'd do for another week yet, but they itched uncomfortably under the scabbing that had formed.

Gladio's father was sat at his desk in his personal office. When Gladio had been very small, he'd played with construction blocks under his father's desk while his dad had negotiated with lawyers about the intricacies of standard contracts of sale. When he'd been bigger, Gladio had lain on his stomach on the floor, reading aloud some of the big words in some of the big books his dad kept in his office. He'd followed them with his finger, and sounded the words out, and his dad had sat on the floor with him, beaming with pride.

Cor had always been there, a stern figure in the background, always around when his dad was. It had been Cor that had come to get Gladio and Iris when their mom was dying. It had been Cor that had delivered them to his mother's sickbed, and his father's arms. Iris didn't remember, she'd been too young, but Cor was as much a part of Gladio's father as the office was.

“Does it hurt?” his father asked, when Gladio absently rubbed at his injured cheek.

Gladio screwed up his nose. “Itches more than anything,” he answered, and gave a shrug. “It hurt at first.”

“How did it happen?” Clarus asked, looking at Gladio evenly. “I've had the story from Weskham, I want your side.”

Gladio had frowned, and then taken a seat in one of the leather chairs. He started to explain, about the protest, the noise, how it was freaking the collars out. They'd rescheduled some of the big ticket auctions because attendance was down, and when it came to people leaving, the protestors weren't really for it. It had been peaceful, if loud, but Gladio didn't really know how it had become not-peaceful so suddenly.

“You were in the midst of the crowd,” Cor said, clarifying the point when Gladio got to it.

Gladio nodded, rested back in his chair, the ankle of one leg resting up on his other knee. “I figured it'd be easier for people to spot me,” he said, “and I'd be less likely to get a punch thrown at me. So much for that.”

“Then what happened?” Clarus asked, his eyes fixed down on his desk.

“Some jostling,” Gladio said. “Someone fell, don't know who. Might have been more than one. They were gonna get trampled, so I helped them up, and I think someone didn't really understand what had happened.” Let her go, someone had shouted, and then he'd been attacked. They probably hadn't seen everything, and thought he was trying to hurt her, not help.

“You shouldn't have been in the middle of that crowd,” Cor said.

“I wasn't about to ask the employees to do something I wasn't prepared to do myself,” Gladio replied, flashing Cor a sharp look.

“The protests are becoming more and more frequent,” Clarus said, silencing the brewing disagreement before it had begun. “There were protests at the houses in Rabanastre and Midgar, too, this week. I think the only reason we haven't had one in Archades yet is the location. The protestors can't get near it.”

Gladio nodded, unhappily. “Yeah, Weskham said they've been getting antsier lately.”

“They're pushing for a debate in parliament again,” Cor said, his voice low and steady. “The more noise they make, the more attention it gets. There's been talk of a protest at the Aizen estate, too.”

Gladio looked nonplussed at the name. Clarus sighed, and filled in the blank, “They run the biggest Companion training facility this side of Archades,” he said. “They host some of their own auctions, too, but only their own wares, and their bodyguards are top notch.” Clarus frowned, unhappily. “The problem is, if the protestors start to target specific estates, then the protests start to become personal.”

Gladio thought on that for a moment. “You think they'll come here?” he asked. It was a long way out from the big city, if they did, but if they really wanted to make a statement, then a protest at the Amicitia estate, rather than an auctionhouse might do that. Mireya had been asking Weskham to bring his dad out for them to talk, hadn't she?

“Perhaps not here,” Clarus said, “but they may find you.”

Gladio felt his insides tighten. They lived in an apartment, in one of the most prestigious blocks in Insomnia. Protestors wouldn't be able to get inside, but they would be able to gather in the street. His mind shot to Ignis. They'd been pretty careless about how they treated the collars coming out of the auctionhouse that night, he doubted they'd be much kinder to Ignis.

Tables, Ignis had called it. Protesting for the rights of tables. They talked the talk when it came to acknowledging that collars were people, and could think, and want, and love, but they were bad at acting like it. They didn't ask collars what they wanted, didn't invite collars to give their opinions on the rights they wanted to offer. Collars were possessions, furniture, tables. One didn't ask the opinions of furniture on freedom and the right to choose, because furniture was inherently unable to choose. Until the collar rights advocates acknowledged that collars had the ability to choose, and accepted that collars as a culture may choose something of which the advocates didn't approve, and agreed to honour that choice, then they were protesting for the rights of tables to be free, and seeking a world in which everyone balanced their plates on their knees.

“We want you to take a bodyguard,” Clarus said, as gently as he could manage.

Gladio looked up at his father in surprise. He'd been waiting to be told that he was moving back to the estate; he hadn't expected this third option. “What?”

“Iris will be getting one too,” Clarus said. “I want to know you're both going to be safe.”

Gladio struggled to reply. He and Ignis had fallen into a happy, comfortable routine together, just the two of them. If they brought in another person, another collar, it would upset that. “I don't want another collar,” he said, eventually.

“Gladio,” Clarus began.

“No, dad,” Gladio cut his father off. “Ignis is my Companion, I'm not splitting my time between him and another collar for the rest of our lives just because of a temporary situation.”

“What if Ignis were to take bodyguard training?”

Gladio turned and glowered at Cor. Ignis was six feet tall, and stunning, and slender built. Gladio was six inches taller, and broad enough for Ignis to hide completely behind him. “No way.”

“You can't guarantee that you won't run into difficulty when he's present,” Cor pressed, “and I assure you, he'd step between you and danger without a thought if the situation arose. He might welcome the opportunity to protect you in a more official capacity.”

“Not happening,” Gladio replied. “I'm not having Iggy get hurt on my behalf. He's my collar, it's my job to look out for him, not the other way around.”

“For the safety of both of you,” Clarus began, again.

“No!” Gladio shot his father a look, briefly turned his attention back to Cor, and then focused on his father once more. “Look, get Iris a bodyguard, she'll love it, but I don't want another collar, and I don't want Iggy to be made my bodyguard, either.”

“You've already been hurt, son,” Clarus said, with a soft, sad frown.

Gladio sighed. Seeing his father look at him like that was hard, and he understood, in a way. The thought that Ignis might get hurt if another protest went wrong made his stomach churn. The idea of Iris getting caught up in a situation like he'd been in was worse. And Cor was right, he knew, Ignis would jump between Gladio and danger in a heartbeat, just like Gladio would get between Ignis and danger, but that was because they loved each other, not just because Ignis was his collar. Gladio wanted to protect Ignis from that, not capitalise on it.

“I'll take self defence classes,” he conceded. “Ignis too, if he wants them, but I'm not having him made my bodyguard. I'm big enough to look after myself.”

Clarus looked at his son for a long time, and then sighed. “Very well,” he said. “We'll find you a tutor.”

Gladio nodded, still a little wound up from the conversation. He scowled, looking down at his shoe. “Definitely get one for Iris, though.” His little sister shouldn't be allowed to walk out there in the world unprotected if there was even the slightest risk that someone might hurt her.

Clarus smirked, his amusement weak, but still trying to come through. “I had the Aizen estate send us the profiles of some of their best. We're going to let her pick three to view, once Cor's vetted them.”

“She'll pick a boy,” Gladio warned. Iris was getting to that age now where she was a little bit boy crazy. Gladio had gone a little bit girl crazy at the same age, and then he'd ended up falling for Ignis.

“She won't,” Clarus said, his voice firm and fatherly. “We discarded the male profiles immediately.”

Gladio looked at his father, and then broke into laughter.
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