Actions

Work Header

Illusion Never Changed Into Something Real

Chapter Text

As the prince’s closest aide and advisor, Ignis knew how to be charismatic and graceful.

He could flirt with and charm the noble ladies who went weak-kneed from the attention of a handsome man, and he could create a subtle kinship over shared experiences with the women who would never be interested in him. He also had little trouble with appealing to the egos of the men around him, and flattering the ones who wouldn’t feel threatened by getting that attention from another man.

It was an important skill for getting what he wanted, or for taking over when Noctis was feeling too sullen or disinterested to care about his public image. Ignis didn’t blame him too much for that: balls and receptions were boring, and Ignis could admit that it was nice to have something to do, mostly whenever he needed to smooth over Noctis’ unintentional rudeness to any given noble family and the daughter they were hoping to marry off to him.

A few flirtatious words to the wife and a few ego-boosting comments to the husband later, and Ignis sometimes found himself the subject of enquiries regarding his noble status and whether he was in want of a wife. Thankfully for him, his family’s house back in their homeland had long since been swallowed up by the empire, and no one was expecting him to carry on the Scientia line even as he entered his twenties; their interest usually dried up once he talked himself down as a humble servant of the Crown.

From there, it was always easy enough to politely extricate Noctis from the mess he’d found himself in, and Ignis was always pleased to see barely-concealed panic give way to a brief but grateful smile.

“All in a day’s work,” Ignis would say quietly before directing Noctis to the next important figure he needed to greet, ready to save the conversation before it went south. It was something he had long since learned to do without even having to think about it, and flirting with people who didn’t matter to him came as easily as breathing after practising as much as he had.

And yet- curse Ignis’ luck- his silver tongue and sharp mind seemed to flee the minute he was faced with someone who was personally important to him. Namely, the one person who spent as much time with Noctis as he did.

Gladiolus Amicitia.


“Hey, why does Gladio think you hate him?”

“Excuse me?” Ignis said, lifting his head from where he was marking the mistakes on Noctis’ homework. Sixteen-year-old Noctis stared curiously back at him, idly flipping a pencil between his fingers, and Ignis sighed.

“I don’t hate him.” There was more to the story than that, but Ignis didn’t want to get into it when Noctis was supposed to be focusing on his history assignment. His pathetic crush on Noctis’ Shield wasn’t something he particularly wanted to talk about, much less to their mutual charge.

“Oh, I know that,” Noctis said, looking far too aware for someone who never really seemed to be paying attention to anything. “But he doesn’t.”

For a second Ignis looked closely at Noctis’ face, wondering if he had actually figured out that Ignis wanted to be a little more than friends with Gladio, but for once his expression wasn’t giving him away. Sighing, Ignis put his red pen down on the table and sat back in his chair, crossing his legs.

“I don’t know, Noct. We’ve always been friends.”

It was true, they had. Gladio and Noctis had practically been raised alongside each other, doubly so after the untimely deaths of their mothers; Ignis had officially joined them when he was six but he’d known Noctis since birth, and so the three of them had been quite close for almost their entire lives.

That was why Ignis had been so caught off-guard when, just a few months earlier, he had suddenly realised that Gladio was one of the most handsome men he’d ever seen.

Well, that wasn’t strictly right.

Objectively, he’d always known that Gladio was more handsome than the average man. He’d hit puberty early, shooting up and going broad with muscle in his early teens, and his voice dropping earlier and deeper than his classmates. Ignis had seen the sheer influx of attention that Gladio started receiving from the very beginning, but he’d simply hoped that his own puberty would treat him half as well.

His sudden, late realisation had been more about the fact that he wanted to fuck Gladio than the fact that Gladio was good looking, and that had been the death knell for Ignis’ easy camaraderie with him.

The gay panic hadn’t been the problem. He’d suspected something was a little off when he couldn’t relate to the way other boys and men would talk about women, and it was almost a relief to realise that he just wasn’t into that and that it was okay. Upon reflection, he could pick other points in his life when he’d had harmless crushes on boys: sweet, innocent feelings that he’d mistaken for simple friendship at the time.

But his desire for Gladio had hit him like a train, and every interaction suddenly felt like he was being crushed by the pressure to impress.

It was different to trying to impress an ambassador or a foreign noble. They didn’t care to see beyond what he showed on the surface, and when he fell into the mindset of a character- the perfect adviser, the prince’s aide- it was easy to figure out what he should say and what he should do.

But when he’d finally pulled himself together enough to try and tentatively flirt with Gladio using the same tactics, Gladio had just frowned at him and placed a big, warm hand on his forehead, asking if he felt okay. Gladio knew him, the real him, and his official characters weren’t going to be of any use.

After the initial failure, the anxiety of fucking up and embarrassing himself in front of his crush had only gotten stronger each time he tried and failed to flirt with Gladio. Even when he wasn’t trying to flirt, he still felt like everything he was saying was wrong, and so he’d stopped seeking Gladio out the way he had done before.

He missed their sparring sessions and their casual lunches and their ‘let’s complain about the prince’ meetings, but he felt so much worse every time he embarrassed himself in front of Gladio, and trying harder had only made things worse.

It was better if he just...didn’t.

The sound of Noctis’ pencil clattering against the table after it slipped from his hand dragged Ignis out of his thoughts, and he cleared his throat when he noticed that Noctis had been watching him curiously. “That’s not important at the moment, Noctis. Now, the reign of-”

“He was asking me if he’d done something wrong.”

Realising that they weren’t going to be getting anything done until Noctis was satisfied, Ignis shook his head. “It’s fine, Noct. I just don’t have a lot of free time these days.”

Noctis didn’t seem like he really believed it, but it was true that both of them currently had far more duties than they had in earlier years; as it was, their time was almost up due to the training session that Noctis was due to have with the topic of their conversation.

Ignis’ phone buzzed its usual five minute warning and Noctis stared at him for a moment longer before leaning forward. “Are you picking me up after training?”

“Of course,” Ignis said, handing Noctis’ homework back and collecting his belongings. “I’ll have the car waiting out the front.”

The gleam in Noctis’ eyes immediately worried Ignis, and he braced himself for whatever would come next.

“Actually, I might need some help getting out to the car. Gladio’s really getting hard on me.”

Barely stifling a sigh at the transparent attempt at getting him and Gladio to interact, Ignis looked at Noctis over the tops of his glasses. “Surely he can help you outside if you really need it.”

“C’mon, Iggy, we both know what he’s like. He’ll just laugh at me and leave me there.”

“No, he-” Ignis started, trailing off when Noctis gave him a look . “Alright, he might, but only because he knows you’re lazy instead of being in actual trouble.”

Shrugging off the accusation, Noctis leaned a little further forward. “So you’ll meet us- me in the training room?”

“...Of course,” Ignis said wearily. Noctis just wanted his advisor and his shield to get along the way they used to; he could try again for Noctis’ sake.


Opening the door to the Crownsguard training area, a familiar place where Ignis found himself most mornings for his own training, Ignis swallowed hard at the sight of Gladio in his Crownsguard-issued tank top, the sweaty material clinging to the muscles that it wasn’t already exposing.

“Oh, thank fuck,” Noctis said when he looked up at the sound of the door opening, scrambling off the floor and returning the sword in his hand to nothingness.

“I see you’re still able to move,” Ignis said dryly, raising an eyebrow. The vaguely shameful look on Noctis’ face had Gladio giving a deep bark of laughter, and Ignis tried to smooth out the tightness in his smile as he nodded a greeting at Gladio. His oversized sword in one hand, Gladio flicked a casual wave with the other and Ignis’ breath caught when he then ran the hand through his growing hair.

Every move Gladio made had him looking like a model, and Ignis could already feel himself getting tongue-tied.

“Go and shower please, Noctis. I don’t want to be stuck in a car that stinks of your sweat.”

“Fine, fine,” Noctis said, his unsubtle gaze flicking between Gladio and Ignis. “Hey Gladio, you wanna come over for dinner and video games?”

Noctis,” Ignis said before he could catch himself, and Gladio frowned at him for a second before he turned back to Noctis.

“Sorry, kid,” Gladio said, unmoving despite the way Noctis shoved at him, “I’m going out with my girlfriend tonight.”

Ignis felt his world freeze. He’d known Gladio to go on a date or two, but he’d never mentioned a girlfriend before. Of course, he was nineteen, and it was only to be expected that he would start looking for someone to spend his life with, but Ignis was struggling to let his logical mind win over his emotional side.

Ooooo,” Noctis said cheekily, completely oblivious to the meltdown that was suddenly occurring by the gym door. “She hot?”

“Nicer to look at than your scrawny ass, that’s for sure,” Gladio laughed, reaching out and trapping Noctis in a headlock. “I’ll hang out and be a nerd with you another day.”

“You read history books for fun!” Noctis protested, unsuccessfully trying to pry Gladio’s arm from around him. “You’re the nerd, you big asshole.”

“Whatever you reckon,” Gladio said as he let Noctis go, ruffling his hair. Thankfully, he began heading for the showers immediately after, not sparing a glance to where Ignis was standing. “Call Prompto if you’re that desperate.”

“He’s a better friend than you are!” Noctis called at Gladio’s retreating back, Gladio still not looking back as he flipped Noctis off over his shoulder before disappearing into the locker room.

Huffing in mock offense, Noctis turned around to Ignis, crossing his arms over his chest. “Did you see that, Iggy?”

A little panicked, Ignis tried to force himself back under control, covering his emotions with a blank expression. Before he could say anything, though, Noctis was bearing down on him as quickly as if he’d warped.

“Hey,” Noctis said, the humour gone from his tone. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ignis said, his voice completely betraying him. He obviously hadn’t packed away his emotions as well as he’d hoped, and Noctis’ face showed his realisation the moment it hit.

“Oh, shit. You...you like …”

“That’s quite enough,” Ignis snapped, harsher than he’d meant to. “I’d rather you didn’t.”

It wasn’t worth denying it, not after what Noctis had just seen.

“I didn’t know!” Noctis said. “I swear!”

Taking a deep breath, Ignis forced himself to give Noctis a small, reassuring smile. “I know.”

It wasn’t his fault, and his intentions had been good. If anything, Ignis was lucky that he’d found out the news in relative privacy, rather than having it thrown in his face when Gladio brought his girlfriend- his girlfriend- to an official function.

“Hey, Iggy?” Noctis said after a moment, his head low. “I kind of want to go home now.”

“Of course,” Ignis agreed, despite his earlier insistence that Noctis shower first. He didn’t want to still be there when Gladio returned, and he knew that was Noctis’ intention. “Shall we?”

Noctis nodded and jogged over to grab his bag, not wasting a moment as they left the gym. Ignis felt simultaneously drained and jittery, and he wasn’t sure he’d be of much use to Noctis for the rest of the night. He hated to be lax in his duty, but he thought that Noctis would understand.

“Noctis,” he said as they slipped into the car, away from any prying ears and eyes. “Would you like to invite Prompto over for the evening? I can collect takeout for you, if you’d like.”

Noctis’ eyes went wide at the uncharacteristic offer: Prompto visiting was nothing unusual, but it was rare for Ignis to actively enable Noctis eating something that wasn’t homemade.

“How about we grab something on the way home, like from that fancy place that does all the healthy stuff you eat, and we can hang out tonight? We can watch those movies you like that I always fall asleep during.”

Freezing in place where he was putting the keys in the exhaust, Ignis slowly looked at Noctis. His expression was open and genuine, and Ignis felt a rush of affection towards his charge and friend.

“I’d like that,” Ignis said, hoping the sound of the car starting hid the waver in his voice. “Thank you.”

He’d allow himself to wallow for one night. After that, he would be fine.

This would pass.


Of course, it didn’t pass. Not entirely.

For a while, things got easier. Gladio’s girlfriend didn’t last, and although Ignis didn’t ask and Noctis didn’t mention it around him, citadel gossip was inescapable enough that Ignis learned about her replacement soon enough.

He reassured himself with the knowledge that Gladio was straight, and that it didn’t matter whether or not he could actually compose himself around the other man. Their relationship slowly repaired itself a little, and the three or four of them often hung out even if Ignis and Gladio no longer spent any time together on their own.

Things weren’t as easy as they’d once been, but people grew apart. It was part and parcel of growing up, and Ignis was okay with that. He had casual, discreet encounters with a few men when he could, but finding time to date outside the citadel was beyond him. Gladio would understand that Noctis had to come first, but Ignis doubted that anyone else would, so dating was out of the question with his workload.

He still found himself getting distracted by Gladio’s laugh and his smile and Astrals, by the way he’d stopped wearing his shirt buttoned up, but he could swallow those feelings down. He knew he’d never had a chance with Gladio, and that his sheer awkwardness around Gladio hadn’t been the reason why his crush had remained unrequited.

And then the palace was suddenly abuzz with the gossip that the prince’s shield had gotten himself a boyfriend, and Ignis was nauseous from the knowledge that it was him who Gladio didn’t like, and not just men in general.

Somehow that hurt more than anything else, and Ignis wondered if things might have been different had he just been able to express himself to Gladio.

It was a little too late now, though.

Chapter Text

Gladio had never dated a man before.

The fact that he liked guys was nothing new, but simple statistics alone meant it was more likely for him to find a girlfriend than a boyfriend. There might have been other factors at play there, but Gladio was willing to never acknowledge those. Ever.

No one needed to know that he compared every man he met to Ignis Scientia, and they all came up lacking. That was why it was easier to just date women: he had genuinely adored all of his girlfriends, able to keep from comparing them to the hopeless crush he’d had since childhood. Ignis barely even seemed to tolerate his presence, and he wasn’t sure why he couldn’t just let go.

Still, he’d been content to stay away from relationships with men, being open about his casual intentions whenever he was approached by a man who caught his eye. Too often, he found himself wondering how much more competently Ignis would fuck him, or thinking about how Ignis’ hair would feel under his hands instead of a short cut he couldn’t even bury his fingers in.

Estir had been different, though.

He was persistent to the point where Gladio had (mostly) told him the truth, only to receive a shrug where he’d expected an acceptance of his rejection.

“You’re worth it,” Estir had said with a blinding smile, fixing his glasses (which had not influenced Gladio’s decision, not at all). “I’ll make you forget about him, whoever he is.”

His easy confidence had been enough for Gladio to agree to a few dates after a couple days of careful thought. It was time he moved on; nothing was ever going to happen with Ignis.

Gladio had seen how easily he flirted with women at royal functions, and that was enough to tell Gladio what he needed to know even if he’d never heard of Ignis actually dating anyone. At least things were still casual enough with Estir that he didn’t feel bad if his feelings weren’t fading as quickly as he would have liked.

Despite the gossip around the citadel, though, they weren’t exactly boyfriends and meetings with friends and family were still a long way off happening. Gladio was aware that his dad knew about Estir, considering that no one in the citadel could ever keep their mouths shut, but Clarus seemed content not to mention it until Gladio did.

At least, should things ever actually get serious with Estir, Gladio knew he wouldn’t be the first Amicitia to provide an heir through a carefully-vetted surrogate. It was only his blood that mattered, after all, and even then it wasn’t as if he were the only Amicitia of the current generation.

Noctis and Prompto called him a nerd for the big, old books he liked to read, but at least he’d long since learned that historical precedent was on his side.

“You’re thinking hard.”

“Hmm?” Gladio said lazily, rolling his head to look at Estir. The man looked good after sex, his dark skin practically glowing with satisfaction as sweat trickled across his naked body, and Gladio couldn’t resist the urge to lean in and briefly kiss him. “Nothing important.”

“You’ll get wrinkles if you frown too much,” Estir said, prodding at Gladio’s forehead with his index finger. “Relax.”

“You know I never relax,” Gladio laughed, and his phone buzzed as if on cue. “Ugh, fuck.”

“Duty calls,” Estir said, and before Gladio could keep him in bed he was up and walking towards the bathroom. Gladio ignored the ringing of his phone for another few seconds to admire the sight of him, but he couldn’t let it go forever.

“Hello?” He answered, the last remains of his afterglow fading as he fell back into his responsibilities. A quick conversation about the day’s training schedule later and he was reluctantly getting out of bed, grabbing his clothes and deciding that he had enough time to shower at his own apartment. He felt bad to have to run out again, but surely Estir understood.

“Hey,” Gladio called, rapping his knuckles against the bathroom door and cracking it open. He could see Estir standing in the shower, and although he made a tempting sight, Gladio had to put his duty first.

“You’re leaving,” Estir said before Gladio could say anything, more of a statement than a question.

“Yeah,” Gladio said, grimacing a little. “These assholes aren’t gonna train themselves.”

“Fair enough. Can you come back tonight?” Estir asked hopefully.

“Sorry, Estir. Appointment with the prince.” It was a night for pizza and video games, but he’d warned Estir that Noctis was his first priority. He couldn’t neglect his relationship with Noctis for anyone or anything else.

“Tomorrow?”

“Sorry,” Gladio said again, and Estir sighed. Gladio tried to make time as often as he could, but this was a common reason for the breakdown of his relationships (even if they weren’t quite official yet). He just couldn’t be as available as other people. “I’ll call you, but it might not be for a few days.”

Closing the door, Gladio listened to the shower stopping as he got dressed, hearing quick movements from the bathroom. Estir was great, but everyone had their breaking point, and Gladio knew what was coming.

He’d managed to get himself dressed before the bathroom door opened again, Estir standing there in track pants with his hair wet and water still dripping down his chest. “Gladiolus.”

“I know,” Gladio sighed, turning around and leaning against the bedroom door frame. “I really am sorry.”

“I get that you’re still hung up on this other guy, but I feel like you’re not even trying here.”

“Not much I can do about that,” Gladio said softly. “If it makes you feel any better, I promise none of this has anything to do with him. Working for the Crown is...hard.”

Smiling bitterly, Estir shook his head. “I guess I thought you were exaggerating when you warned me.”

There wasn’t much that Gladio could say to that, and he just waited patiently for the final blow.

“I really thought I could do this, but I need something more stable.”

“I get it,” Gladio said, smiling gently. It still stung a little, he had to admit, but he’d live.

“Maybe I’ll see you around sometime,” Estir said with finality, and they both stared at each other for a moment as they wondered what to do next. A handshake, a parting kiss, nothing at all?

In the end, Gladio just nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Thanks for giving me a chance, anyway.”

“I feel like I should be thanking you for letting me near that dick,” Estir laughed, and even if it was a little strained the atmosphere still lightened around them.

Gladio laughed as well, managing to turn away from the man who had just broken up with him before things could get awkward again. “You’ll find someone who actually deserves you, Estir. Sorry it couldn’t be me.”

Hastily removing himself from the apartment, Gladio headed for the stairs instead of waiting around for the lift. Once he hit the landing a few floors down, he leaned back against the wall and took a moment to compose himself. As far as breakups went, that had been fairly clean, and Gladio knew he’d be fine soon enough. He doubted that he’d ever be able to make it work with someone who didn’t understand his dedication to his position, and that was okay.

Pushing away from the wall, Gladio checked the time on his phone and swore, jogging down the remaining stairs and over to his car. He’d be running really tight on time if he wanted to shower away the smell of sex from his body, and he didn’t think his dad and Cor would be too lenient on him even if he used his breakup as an excuse.

If anything, they’d declare he needed to keep busy and give him more to do.


“You’re quiet tonight, big guy.”

“As opposed to who, you? We only need one motormouth at a time,” Gladio laughed, leaning forward to gently shove Prompto’s shoulder. He’d been trying to act as if everything was fine, sharing a couch with Noctis as Prompto sat on the floor nearby and Ignis went about tidying Noctis’ bedroom.

If anything, he was actually kind of glad that he didn’t have to feel guilty about Estir every time Ignis caught his eye.

“Oi, rude,” Prompto declared, shaking off Gladio’s hand and hammering away at his controller. “Too busy thinking about your boyfriend, hey?”

“Um,” Gladio said, and he cringed when the game was paused and two sets of curious eyes turned towards him.

“Sorry, dude,” Prompto said, and for a second Gladio thought he was about to fling himself onto the couch to smother Gladio with hugs. Thankfully, he decided to just reach out and awkwardly pat Gladio on the knee instead, the action surprising a laugh out of the recipient.

“Wait, didn’t you stay at his place last night?” Noctis asked, curiosity overriding basic decorum.

“Yep,” Gladio said, knowing that the interrogation would only end when Noctis decided it was over. “He got sick of me always bailing on him to do Crownsguard stuff.”

“Shit, that sucks,” Noctis said, forever eloquent.

“It’s all good. We were never really serious.”

“You know what you need?” Prompto announced, jumping to his feet. “Comfort food!”

Wait,” Noctis said, but Prompto was already halfway to the bedroom, hollering his head off.

“Iggy! Gladio needs breakup comfort food!”

There was a muffled crash from the direction of the bedroom and Gladio was heading over before he even realised it, hot on Prompto’s heels. Thankfully Ignis was alright as he came into sight, a pile of books on the floor in front of him that had obviously been knocked off the desk, and Gladio physically lifted Prompto out of the doorway so that he could step inside.

“You okay?” He asked anyway, kneeling down to pick up the books. Looking up, he caught Ignis’ eyes for a split second before he looked away, and Gladio bit back a frown as usual. Ignis never seemed to really look at him anymore, even if they still worked together like a dream team.

Things just hadn’t been the same between them since that time a couple of years ago when Ignis had suddenly seemed like he hated him, even if Noctis had reassured him that that wasn’t the case. He’d never really gotten answers, and they were friendly enough now, but Gladio missed the way they’d been before.

It still hadn’t been enough to break his stupid, useless crush, though.

“Fine,” Ignis said curtly, taking the books when Gladio held them up to him. “What’s Prompto yelling about?”

“Gladio needs breakup comfort food,” Prompto said, sticking his head in the door.

“Ah,” Ignis said after a moment. “That’s what I thought you said.”

“I told you, I’m okay,” Gladio said, standing up and blocking Prompto’s view. “You don’t have to do anything, Iggy.”

“It’s alright,” Ignis said faintly, returning the books to the desk. “I was going to make dessert anyway, if you’d like to wait in the living room.”

Despite the direction, Gladio found himself trailing after Ignis and gravitating towards the seats at the kitchen counter, rather than returning to the couch. “Do you mind?”

Gesturing to the stools, Gladio watched as Ignis seemed to hesitate, before he pushed up his glasses and turned away. “If you wish.”

They were silent for a few moments as Ignis dug through Noctis’ cupboards, taking stock of the ingredients on hand. “Would you like brownies? At least I can fill those with berries and Noct won’t complain.”

“Anything’s fine. You know, you’re a great cook. Feel like I don’t tell you that enough.”

“Oh,” Ignis said stiffly. “Thank you.”

The awkward silence returned as Ignis collected the necessary ingredients, not bothering with a recipe as he measured things out from memory. Despite the awkwardness and even with Noctis and Prompto yelling at their video game in the background, it felt awfully domestic to be sitting with Ignis as he cooked, and Gladio couldn’t help but sigh as he wondered if this was what it would be like to date Ignis.

The noise seemed to catch Ignis’ attention, and his hands slowed where they were mixing ingredients together. “...Do you...want to talk about it? Your...your breakup with your boyfriend?”

His head snapping up, Gladio frowned when he saw the look on Ignis’ face. He wasn’t surprised that Ignis knew about Estir, even if he’d never mentioned the man around Ignis, but asking the question looked like it had caused him actual physical pain. Gladio had seen similar looks before on people who sneered at him when they thought he couldn’t see, who spoke in low voices about how dishonourable he was for not sticking exclusively to women.

“You’re not...you don’t have a problem with me being bi, do you?” Even if the timing of their awkwardness didn’t quite match up, it was suspicious enough that Gladio at least had to ask. It was possible, he supposed, that Ignis had found out about his early experimentation with other boys, even if he’d managed to keep it away from the gossips.

“W- what ?”

For the first time Gladio could remember, Ignis looked directly into his eyes, and Gladio immediately regretted the accusation. It wasn’t offense in Ignis’ expression, it was hurt, and Gladio frantically backpedalled.

“No, no,” he said, holding his hands up in surrender. “That was uncalled for, I know you’re not like that. It’s just, some people have had issues with me dating a guy.”

The moment stretched between them as they stared at each other, and Gladio’s skin crawled with the urge to say something, anything.

“Shit, Iggy, we haven’t had a conversation about anything other than work in forever, and here I am fucking it up. I-”

“It would be rather hypocritical of me,” Ignis said, his gaze finally dropping back down to the bowl in front of him.

“Huh?” Gladio asked.

“To judge you for dating a man,” Ignis clarified, his fingers fiddling with a dirty measuring cup as he avoided looking up. “I’m...as I said, it would be hypocritical.”

“I don’t get it,” Gladio said before he could stop himself. He’d seen Ignis flirt, charming women with little more than a smooth word and a small smirk, but he’d never seen him do the same thing with a man.

“Gladiolus, I’m gay,” Ignis said, sounding like he was forcing the words out through gritted teeth. “Please don’t make me repeat myself.”

“Oh,” Gladio said. “Oh.”

“Yes,” Ignis said, obviously meaning for that to be the final word. But now that he had Ignis here and actually talking to him about something personal, even if it wasn’t flowing as easily as it had when they were kids, Gladio wasn’t ready to let it drop.

“At the balls and stuff, though,” Gladio said, leaning his elbows on the counter. “I’ve seen you, you’re always kissing hands and flirting and stuff, and it’s never with men.”

Gladio hadn’t noticed the game go quiet behind him until Noctis called out that he and Prompto were going on a snack run. Ignis started to reply but it was too late, and the other two disappeared out the door before they could be stopped. Gladio winced as he realised that he hadn’t exactly been subtle about their conversation, but Ignis just sighed.

“I don’t know if I’m glad or not that Noct already knows. And to answer the question that you didn’t exactly ask, it’s an act. It’s what’s expected of me, or at least what I need to do to distract from the fact that Noct is completely disinterested in meeting other nobles.”

Impressed, Gladio let out a low whistle. “I’d never guessed.”

“Yes, well, that’s kind of the point.”

“Damn,” Gladio said before he could think better of it, “If only I’d known this earlier…”

Ignis’ shoulders went stiff as Gladio slammed a hand over his stupid mouth, but his expression was purposefully blank as he met Gladio’s eyes again.

“Explain.”

“All I mean is…” Gladio started, trailing off when he realised that he couldn’t see an easy way out.

Gladiolus.”

“You made me realise I liked guys too,” Gladio blurted out. “Like, a decade ago, and then you grew up and you got really hot and-”

“Please stop,” Ignis interrupted, and Gladio noticed that his face was flaming red. “And yet you thought I was straight.”

“Well, yeah. That’s why I never tried anything. Could only think of you when I was with other guys, though.”

“Was that,” Ignis hesitated, the brownie batter long forgotten. “Was that the only thing stopping you?”

Now that the shock was wearing off, Gladio was putting together the pieces to a puzzle that he hadn’t even noticed before now, and he slipped off the stool to slowly stalk around the counter. Ignis had plenty of notice to move, and yet all he did was turn to face Gladio; that told Gladio all he needed to know.

“Yeah,” he said, stepping forward until Ignis was almost boxed in against the counter. “That really was the only thing that stopped me.”

“I thought you weren’t attracted to me,” Ignis said quietly. “I tried flirting with you and you asked if I was sick , and then I was too tongue-tied to even try again.”

Laughing, Gladio closed the distance between them, his hands grabbing the edge of the counter on either side of Ignis’ hips. “So when I thought you hated me…?”

Gladio was close enough to practically feel the heat radiating from Ignis’ face, and he leaned down until they were at the same eye level.

“Yes, I was simply embarrassing myself,” Ignis admitted, blinking rapidly when Gladio lifted his hands for just long enough to gently remove his glasses. “And I have continued to embarrass myself.”

“Hey, Iggy?”

“...Yes?”

“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed.” With their bodies already so close together, it didn’t take much for Gladio to lean forward and kiss him, the fantasy of countless dreams and idle thoughts finally coming true.

“Wait, wait,” Ignis said, pushing at Gladio’s shoulders until he had some breathing room. “Is this...is this a rebound?”

“Shit,” Gladio said, leaning back a little. “I tell you I’ve had a thing for you for ten years, and you think I’m rebounding?”

“It pays to be careful,” Ignis said, and before Gladio could reply he had a hand hooked around the back of Gladio’s neck, pulling him back in for another, deeper kiss. When they eventually separated this time, Gladio could already see the beginnings of beard burn on Ignis’ face, and he gently traced two fingers over it.

His thumb brushed against Ignis’ bottom lip as he went, and he groaned when Ignis’ tongue flicked it.

“You wanna ditch the kids and go somewhere else?”

Please do,” Noctis said loudly, and they both jumped like guilty children. Neither had even heard the door open, but sure as anything Noctis was standing there with a vaguely disgusted look on his face. “I’m happy for you two finally getting your shit together, but don’t fuck in my kitchen. And leave the brownie batter.”

“Cook it before you eat it, you’ll get salmonella.”

“Doubtful,” Noctis snorted, coming close to snag the bowl before darting back to the safety of the couch with Prompto following behind. “Now get out, and don’t come back tomorrow.”

“You heard the prince,” Gladio laughed, shooting his unexpected wingman a wink that was returned with an eye roll. “We’ve been dismissed.”

Taking Ignis’ hand, Gladio returned his glasses and led him over to their bags, enjoying the contact even more than he’d expected.

“I’ll check in with you-”

“Don’t bother, we’ll be fine,” Noctis said, cutting Ignis off. “Go!”

“Use protection!” Prompto called out just as they reached the door, and Gladio shot a saucy grin over his shoulder that left both Prompto and Noctis groaning in disgust. Once the front door was safely shut between them, Gladio let his expression melt back into one of genuine earnestness, and he squeezed Ignis’ hand.

“Now that they’re too grossed out to make fun of us, do you wanna go grab dessert somewhere else? No pressure.”

“I’d like that,” Ignis said, and it really had been too long since Gladio had seen his real, dorky smile as opposed to his other carefully practiced one. “And if you play your cards right, I just might extend an offer back to my apartment.”

Ignis,” Gladio groaned, grinning when he heard Ignis laugh. “Let’s get out of here before I bust back in there and toss Noct and Prompto onto the street.”

Gladio’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he considered ignoring it, but he reluctantly pulled it out and a quick glance at the screen had him bursting out with laughter. “Noct says if I do that, he’ll have me executed, so I guess we’d better go.”

“Tell him that his grandfather outlawed capital punishment,” Ignis said, raising his voice enough to be heard through the door.

“I can bring it back!” Noctis yelled from inside the apartment, the sound muffled. “Go away!”

“Goodnight, boys,” Ignis called back, and he used their linked hands to finally drag Gladio away.

Gladio wasn’t entirely sure about stepping into something new so soon after his sort-of-breakup, even with Ignis, but this was a start to something that he wasn’t going to turn down. Not after spending so many years wondering why he couldn’t just move on.

And when Ignis smiled at him, his face looking younger and more excited that Gladio had seen in a long time, there was no way he could think about anyone else.