Loyalty

Jan. 20th, 2017 01:05 pm
[personal profile] chlorhexidine
chlorhexidine: (Iggy)
Gladio found Ignis on the sofa, head in his hands, fingers at his temples. There were three cans of Ebony on the table, and five stacks of folders. Gladio sorely wished this wasn't a sight he was getting used to. He looked up at Gladio, moving only his eyes, before he looked down again and asked, “What time is it?”

“Nine,” Gladio answered, and then added, “in the morning. You haven't slept, have you?” Not even Ignis could be on his third can of ebony before ten, so he'd either not been to bed, or he'd tried, and given up because work had left him too stressed to sleep.

He'd told Gladio he was busy, too busy for the distraction Gladio would inevitably be, and Gladio had spent the evening with Noct and Prompto, and carefully refraining from distracting Ignis by phone. He'd spent a rare night alone, in his own bed. It hadn't been the best night's sleep for Gladio either, but Ignis had been so in demand lately that a night to just work and sleep, in solitude, hadn't been such an unreasonable request.

Now he regretted going along with it. There was telltale stubble along Ignis's cheek, and his shirt was rumpled. Ignis never looked rumpled, except in the best possible way. Him looking like this now was a bad sign.

“No,” Ignis admitted, without hesitating. There was no point in him attempting to lie to Gladio, and they both knew it. Then he groaned, pushing the fingers of his left hand under his glasses and rubbing at his eye before he pushed his specs back into position with his thumb and middle finger spread across the glass. “I have an appointment at ten,” he murmured.

“Blow it off,” Gladio said, knowing immediately that Ignis never would, and knowing just as surely that he desperately needed to.

“Would that I could,” Ignis answered. Gladio scowled and made his way to the table, picking up the cans of Ebony. One of them had the telltale slosh of liquid inside, and Ignis grabbed for it. Gladio pulled it out of his reach, faster than Ignis in his depleted state. “I haven't finished that.”

“You're gonna give yourself a heart attack drinking that much of this stuff,” Gladio replied, crushing the can easily in his fingers and walking to the kitchen to deposit it, and the other two, in the bin.

“Gladio!”

“Don't 'Gladio' me,” Gladio replied, irritation building, surveying the kitchen. There was an empty, unwashed coffee mug by the sink, and no evidence that Ignis had consumed anything else. Judging by the fact that Ignis was on his canned supply, the mug was probably from last night. “When did you last eat?”

“I skipped breakfast,” Ignis admitted. There was a flash of his own irritation in his voice.

“That wasn't what I asked.” Gladio looked at Ignis from across the kitchen counter. He knew that tactic all too well; admit to a partial transgression and hope it got taken as a full confession. Noct used it, he used it, and Ignis used it whenever he was being evasive.

Ignis looked at him, fire in his eyes for a long moment, and then he huffed. “Lunch time yesterday,” he said, finally, with a roll of his eyes.

“What would you say to Noct if he gave that answer?” Gladio asked. Pointing out to Ignis that he was being a hypocrite was a guaranteed way to get on his last nerve, but honestly, Gladio wanted to get on his last nerve right now. He hated when they argued, they both did, but sometimes a spat was what it took to shock Ignis out of whatever headspace he was in right now. He worked too hard, as if taking all of whatever it was onto his own shoulders would keep it from landing on Noct's, and that self sacrificing idiocy ground Gladio's gears. Noct was the Prince, one day he'd be the King, and he'd be a pretty poor King if Ignis didn't quit babying him.

“If you've come here to lecture me, you know where the door is,” Ignis replied, with a bite to his tone that had been growing in severity ever since he'd confiscated the Ebony.

“I didn't come here to lecture you,” Gladio replied. His voice wasn't raised, but his anger was showing. “I came to see how you were.”

“As you can see,” Ignis snapped, testiness giving way to genuine temper, “I'm still breathing. I don't require you to check up on me.”

“Uh huh,” Gladio agreed, scepticism dripping. He came out from behind the kitchen counter and surveyed the living space more critically. Ignis looked to have set up camp on the sofa, and not budged since except to grab another can of coffee. If he was any judge, Ignis was working his way through the contents of the files in front of him, but he'd only made it through half of them so far, if that. Three were open, stacked on top of each other, with notes sticking out of the top of them. There was a pile to Ignis's right of ten different folders, closed, neatly stacked, and bearing little tickets and coloured slips of paper hanging out of their edges. The other three stacks were much smaller, containing only three folders each, but that still made for a total of nine folders still to go through, and three in progress. “So how long were you planning to be holed up here?” He picked up the folder off the top of the nearest pile, reading its title, eyes glancing over the handwritten note stuck to the front of it with a scowl, and dropping it unceremoniously back on top of the others. “Another day, with nothing but caffeine and your own nerves to live off? Two, maybe? Gotta double check, right?”

Ignis snapped. “Some of us have more important things to do than tip Noctis into the dirt a few times a week!” That was it, Gladio knew, the little voice that observes and thinks chiming in at the back of his mind, it's now become an argument, because now the words aren't meant, they're just designed to hurt, and Ignis was always better with words than he was, but Gladio was better at being angry than Ignis was.

“Like baby him?” Gladio asked, his voice rising to match Ignis's, but where Ignis's tone had bite, Gladio's was a growl. “You think this shit is more helpful than teaching him to defend himself?”

“He can't very well defend himself from the unknown!” Ignis spat back. “Nor can you! Nor can all of Lucis, but I'm sure lessons in how to land on his backside will prepare him well.” Ignis's face was flushing with temper, and his teeth were showing.

Gladio picked up the top couple of folders off the nearest pile to hand, waving them as demonstration. “So he should be the one tearing his hair out at this, yeah?” His voice was still raised, and his heart pounded in his ears. He tossed the folders back onto the table, disturbing Ignis's neat system of organisation in the process. “You can't rule for him, Ignis, he's gotta be ready for it.”

Ignis glared at him, but the rising heat of the argument was banked as Ignis's fury became cold and steely, and flashed through the air like his daggers. “Out.” His voice was firm, but no longer raised. Gladio stared, and Ignis rose to his feet, “Get out.”

There was a flash of something unpleasant in the air, hanging between them, and Gladio sneered. “Whatever,” he spat back, with a snarl, and crossed the room to the front door. Ignis didn't follow him, and Gladio slammed the door shut behind himself hard enough to shake the frame.

He took a couple of strides away from the door before his anger turned in against himself as well, and he cursed, wanting something to punch. Not Ignis, though. He'd never raise a hand to Ignis. He'd grabbed his shirt in the middle of an argument once, and the sight of Ignis squaring up to him and the disgust in his voice when he'd told Gladio, “Let go,” in that exact same tone that he'd used when telling him to get out just now, had hit Gladio's temper like a kiss from Shiva. Now, as then, he needed to go and cool the hell off somewhere. He rubbed his face with both of his hands, and stalked off, away from Ignis's apartment, without a backwards glance.



Noctis had lasted all of twenty minutes into their hour long session before he'd complained that Gladio wasn't really pulling his punches like they were only sparring. It hadn't helped Gladio's mood, but he did his best to hold back, no matter how much a part of him howled to punch Noct in the face, to drag him to Ignis, to shove his face in the shit Ignis was doing so that Noct didn't have to because for all the talk of how Noct would have to be ready, it didn't change the fact that he wasn't. Not yet, and sometimes Gladio wondered if he ever would. The King grew visibly weaker. The cane that had only been an incidental occurrence was now a permanent fixture. Noct's time was fast approaching and he wasn't ready.

Gladio understood, to an extent. Noct was facing the mortality of his own father. It wasn't just the responsibilities, and strategic thinking, and the fact of ruling Lucis, it was the much older, much harder problem of losing his dad. Noct had lost his mom young, losing his dad was gonna be hard.
But it was going to happen, and looking at his Majesty, it was going to happen sooner rather than later. Noct needed to be ready. Ignis needed to let him be ready.

He'd hit a bar at lunch, taking on a cold beer and food that, well, wasn't as good as what Ignis would have made for them both, but it was serviceable enough. Then he'd walked, the argument playing over in his mind, and his brain tossing thoughts at him like it was throwing darts, and every so often hit a bullseye.

Rising daemon numbers, the increasing territory of the Nif empire, and the one Gladio had picked up, marked top secret. The title was the innocuous 'report 27', but the note stuck to it, in someone else's handwriting, had the names of some of the villages at the edge of Lucis, and numbers. Gladio had heard rumours. Frightened whispers ran through Lucis like ripples on a pond until they bounced off the rock that was Insomnia at the centre. Some of the villages had disappeared, straight up disappeared, but they weren't ghost towns, they were filled with daemons now. The Kingsglaive had been dispatched to some, and that was where the rumours had taken form, become hushed whispers in dark corners of the citadel.

Was that the shit Iggy was working on? Was he picking away at the nightmares at the edge of Lucis with his brain, because it was the best weapon he had? He was one of the smartest in the Citadel, that much was no secret. He'd been standing in for Noct on meetings for years, had been processing all this shit for years, and he was good at it.

Ignis was loyal. He was loyal to Lucis, and he was absolutely, unfailingly, unquestionably loyal to Noct. Sometimes Gladio thought that loyalty went beyond even his own. They'd been raised together, he knew. An age gap, but not much of one, and when they were both in their teens, Ignis, who was older than his years anyway, had struggled to relate to the bratty prince, sure, but it was in the way of brothers. Noctis was Iggy's charge, and his friend, and his companion. It made things easier, really, because it meant that there was no conflict of interest for them being together. If Noctis was in danger, Ignis would help Noct before he helped Gladio. Gladio would do the same. He could feel sad about that, knowing he'd always be second, but it was also a relief to know that Ignis would look out for Noct as well, and that, if he ever had to make the choice between Noct and Ignis, Ignis would be seriously pissed with him if he considered it an actual choice, rather than being hurt about himself coming second.

He'd help Noct. For Lucis, for Noct, and for Iggy.

Gladio stopped, and ran a hand over his face, and into his hair before he groaned, slowly. “I am such a fucking idiot.”

His feet took him to Ignis's apartment as if he'd walked the route a hundred thousand times. The truth was that he spent more nights there than in his own bed, and it was only because Ignis occasionally asked for a night alone, very occasionally, that Gladio hadn't simply moved in. Iris knew about them. Noct still hadn't asked, although how he could possibly not know after he'd walked in on the two of them sparring, or rather, walked in on Gladio getting way too much of a kick out of a breathless and sticky Ignis successfully pinning him, did make Gladio wonder if Ignis was right about Noct simply not wanting to know.

The apartment was dark. The door was locked. Possibly Ignis had simply gone to bed; he rose with the sun, and a sleepless night had to be catching up to him. Gladio wasn't sure he'd manage to sleep at all, himself. Arguing with Ignis always made him cranky. The only other time they'd left each other to stew all night, Gladio had spent the night tossing and turning, writing messages on his phone only to delete them without ever sending them, and had, eventually, taken himself over to Ignis's apartment to stand, dishevelled and miserable on his doorstep as the first fingers of light reached across the sky. The speed with which Ignis had answered the door had given away how rough a night he'd have of it too. There had been profuse apologies, and the retracting of words that had never really been meant, but mostly there had been taking Ignis into his arms and holding him and kissing the hurt away for them both.

With his hands in his pockets, he trudged home. Cup noodles and a book were calling to him, his second and third favourite comforts after curling up with Ignis. They'd have to do, for the night.

Iris greeted him at the door when he got home, rocking up onto the balls of her feet and clasping her hands behind her back. “You have a visitor,” she told him, when the front door shut behind him. Gladio felt his stomach lurch as he looked around to where visitors would normally wait. The chairs were empty. “He looked exhausted,” Iris said, “so I told him he could go up to your room. Have you two been fighting again?”

Gladio scowled. Sometimes, his sister was that bit too precocious. “None of your beeswax,” he answered as good naturedly as he could muster.

Iris narrowed her eyes at him, and then shrugged. “So long as you didn't make him cry,” she said, her voice lilting and taunting, but the notion hit Gladio in the stomach like a fist.

Ignis didn't cry. It just wasn't his way of dealing with things. Still, the idea that he might be upset was like a twisting knife in Gladio's already growing guilt. His feet felt like lead as he made his way up the stairs and along to his room. His bedroom door was ajar, and he pushed it open, almost scared of what he might see, or what might get said.

What he saw was Ignis perched on the edge of his bed. He had one leg crossed over the other, and Gladio's latest bedtime read in his hands, closed tight, thumbs brushing over the leather cover. His head was bowed, but to Gladio's relief, he didn't look like he'd been crying. Mostly, Ignis just looked tired.

“Hey,” Gladio said, his own voice softer than usual. Ignis just nodded, without looking up. His eyes were fixed on Gladio's book, although he didn't seem to be really seeing it. Gladio watched him suck in his top lip, and then release it, sharply. “Look,” Gladio began, wanting Ignis to say something, anything, and wanting to apologise himself. He knew how Ignis got when he was stressed, and he hadn't helped.

“You're right,” Ignis said, his eyes still trained on Gladio's book. Gladio fell silent, unsure of which bit Ignis might be referring to, but well aware of how big a deal Ignis admitting that someone else was right, and by inference that he was wrong, was. “I can't rule for him,” Ignis continued, “but I am supposed to advise him.”

Gladio sighed, heavily, and shut the door behind himself as he walked over to Ignis. “That doesn't mean you have to drive yourself into an early grave.”

Ignis gave a huff, a half laugh that lacked amusement and died quickly. “Do you know what's out there, Gladio?”

Gladio took a seat next to Ignis. The shift of the mattress with the addition of his weight caused Ignis to lift next to him. “I think I can guess,” he answered. “It's those villages, isn't it?”

“They're gone,” Ignis replied. “Entire populations vanished without warning.”

“Just like the stories.”

“Yes.”

Gladio sighed, and rubbed at his face with his hand. Ignis looked exhausted, pale and worn, and like Gladio had never seen him before. He'd showered, and shaved, since Gladio had seen him last, Gladio doubted he'd slept, but the stubble was creeping back now, and Ignis just looked spent. “You told anyone else?”

Ignis shook his head. “I have to submit the report by the end of the week.”

“Bet sleep don't come easy when you've got that kind of nightmare on your hands.”

Gladio barely saw the twitch of a sad smile cross Ignis's face before he answered, simply, “No.”

Gladio tilted his head back, looking at his ceiling. “I was thinking,” he began.

“Did it hurt?”

Gladio afforded himself a small smile at Ignis's attempt to lighten the mood with some ribbing, and he nudged him in the arm with his elbow, gently, in retaliation. “Yeah,” he said, eventually, and it was worth it to see the flash of teeth with Ignis's all too brief smile. “I was thinking about us,” he said, getting back on topic. “Me, you, our relationship,” he paused, and added, “our duty.”

“I never should have said that about what you do,” Ignis said, quietly, and with a guilt that Gladio could feel pouring off him.

“No,” he agreed, “you shouldn't.” Ignis drew back slightly, as if he was trying not to flinch at the words. “But I realised why you did. You were looking at a bigger picture, and you only saw the smaller one of mine.” Ignis made a noise, a small exhalation as he turned his head away a little, but Gladio pressed on, “I don't train Noct in how to take a beating, I train him so he learns discipline, and how an enemy thinks, and to think on his feet, how to use his abilities to his advantage, how to spot a weakness. And you're teaching him the same things, just without tipping him on his ass.”

“I know, and--”

“Don't interrupt me,” Gladio said, cutting Ignis off, to a small indignant noise. “And for us, for both of us, Noct, and Lucis, comes first, and always will.” He saw Ignis close his eyes and bow his head, biting his bottom lip uncomfortably. It wasn't something either of them had said out loud before, but it was true, and they both knew it. “And I'm okay with that, because no matter what happens we both have a duty to something way bigger than either of us, and you'd never forgive me if I neglected that for your sake.” Ignis looked up at him sharply, and Gladio made himself ignore it for a moment so he could finish, “Which was when I realised that you were pushing yourself so hard for the same reason. Noct can't defend himself from the unknown, Lucis can't defend itself from the unknown,” he sighed, and added, “and I can't, either.”

Ignis shifted back slightly, shoulders curling in on himself. He fixed his attention back on the book in his hands, stroking the cover with his thumbs and running his fingertips over the edges. Eventually, after a pause that lasted too long, he said, simply, “I'm sorry.”

“Me too,” Gladio said, “I know how you get when someone takes your coffee away.”

This got an exasperated sigh from Ignis. “I'm being serious,” he said.

“So am I,” replied Gladio, “I think you'd pick Ebony over Lucis.”

That earned him a backhanded smack on the upper arm, and a smile that was present despite itself. “Stop,” Ignis said, “please? I need to say this, and you're making it difficult.”

“Go on,” Gladio said, mostly glad that the mood was lifting and Ignis was talking again.

“You and Noct,” Ignis began, looking down at the book again, but this time he was focused, and wore a faint, self conscious smile, “are the most important things in the world to me. I want to protect you both however I can, and that was something only I could do, but you were right, I pushed myself too hard. I can't protect either of you if I collapse from the strain I put myself under.” The smile disappeared for a moment as Ignis closed his eyes and bowed his head, “I may need reminding again, in future, that I'm not the only one with an investment in my own welfare. When that happens, remind me of this? I loathe arguing with you.”

Gladio nodded, mostly to himself. “Deal,” he agreed. When Ignis didn't lift his head Gladio tilted his own to try and catch his eye. He took Ignis's chin in his fingers and made him look at him, giving Ignis a brief smile, “Hey?” Ignis turned only slightly, his eyes flickering to meet Gladio's. “Just so you know, if it came to it, I'd save Noct first, but I'd come back for you. Just promise you'll stay alive until I get there.”

Ignis smiled, softly, and took Gladio's hand in his fingers. “Have a little more faith in me than that.”

Gladio smiled, his expression soft as he leaned in and met Ignis for a sweet kiss. It lasted little more than the press of lips, but it was a catharsis after the trials of the day. “Okay,” he agreed, and then pressed in again to kiss a little deeper.

Date: 2017-01-20 07:02 pm (UTC)
alien_laughter: a sunset-lit tree-trunk in a winter forest (Default)
From: [personal profile] alien_laughter
Awww! How are they so cute even when they argue? I mean, sure, there was a brief bit of painful non-cuteness, but then they were clearly both like OH NO and awwwww.

Date: 2017-01-21 12:28 am (UTC)
alien_laughter: a sunset-lit tree-trunk in a winter forest (Default)
From: [personal profile] alien_laughter
Yeah, they both seem like they'd be nasty arguers, but it's how quickly they get over it that's great. No lingering resentment and slowly forgetting about the problem, just an immediate That Sucked Let's Stop It Right Now realization. I love them.

Also Ignis going "stop making me laugh I'm trying to apologize" is so adorable XD

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