When Gladio sits down on a collection of rocks by the sea to settle down with a good book, he doesn’t expect any company. He came here for a stroll all on his own, leaving Iris to take care of the shop in his absence. It’s a warm spring afternoon, but nobody comes to this area of the beach to swim, so when Gladio spots someone in the water, he nearly drops his book in surprise.
They’re gone when he blinks and looks a little more closely, so he goes back to his book—only to see the same thing again. This time, Gladio doesn’t move. He keeps his head down, peering at the person out of the corner of his eye.
At first, he thinks he’s dreaming, or that it’s some stupid costume or he’s too tired and not thinking straight. But the man’s green eyes are too bright and colourful to belong to any ordinary human, his ears are pointed at the ends with fins behind them, and Gladio can barely catch the line of gills along the man’s cheeks.
The answer is obvious but at the same time, Gladio thinks ‘There’s no way that’s a mer. They don’t exist.’
But there’s only one way to confirm that, isn’t there?
Gladio shuts his book, and the person ducks underwater. He stops for a moment, breathes in, then says, “Hey. I know you’re there.”
Waves crash against the shore.
“How long have you been watching me for? I’m not angry and I’m—I’m not gonna hurt you. Or do anything to you.”
That gets him a response—the person surfaces, barely peeking over the surface and Gladio can spot the end of a tail moving just beyond the person’s head. Holy shit. Holy shit. Okay, so that person really isn’t a person, he’s a mer.
“Hey,” Gladio says again, trying to give the mer an easy smile, despite his heart threatening to burst straight out of his chest. “It’s nice to meet you. Er, can you… understand me?”
The mer narrows his eyes, hesitates, and rises until his entire head and neck are out of the water. They look like they’re struggling to speak but soon enough, the mer replies with, “Quite clearly, yes,” in a sexy accented tone.
“Oh. That’s good to hear.” Words don’t come easy to Gladio. He’s a people-person, sure, but talking to a (gorgeous) mer is not something anyone could ever be prepared for. “So… you come here often?”
“Humans don’t often come around here.”
It’s not exactly an answer, but Gladio can work with that. “Yeah. I like it that way. Came here to have some peace and quiet, y’know. Wanted to get away from all the bustle.”
“The name’s Gladiolus, by the way. Named after the flower,” he says. “But people mostly just call me Gladio.”
“A flower?” The mer draws himself out of the water, just a little bit more, enough so that Gladio can spot little specks of scales dotting his shoulders.
“Yeah. Er, do you know what a flower is?”
“I do—however, admittedly, I’ve never seen one myself.”
“Oh man.” Gladio settles back, resting against the rocks. “They’re the most amazing things in the world.”
The mer comes closer to the rocks, head cocked to the side. In his eyes, where there was one apprehension and distrust, Gladio sees only curiosity. “Tell me about them,” he says, more of a statement than a question.
So Gladio talks to the mer. He tells him about flowers, about Iris, his job as a florist and then, what it’s like to live as a human on land. The mer listens more than he talks, but when he does, it’s of tales from the ocean that Gladio thought were only myths before—clans of mer, underwater kingdoms and monarchies.
Then while Gladio’s watching the mer talk (or, if he’s being perfectly honest, watching the mer’s lips, his adam’s apple as it moves), he spots a flash of blue, just behind the mer. It vanishes as quickly as it came and Gladio blinks, thinking it’s a trick of light, but the mer sighs.
He turns and faces the ocean. “I’ll be a moment,” the mer says, and looks back to Gladio. “It appears my time has run short. I must take my leave.”
“Wait!” Gladio cries out before he realizes it. “You’re going already?”
“I think I’ve been near the surface long enough.”
Gladio’s face falls and the mer actually looks startled by this.
“It’s not everyday a mer meets a human as interesting as you,” he amends. “Perhaps I may visit again. I hope I can expect your company?”
“Of course! I’ll be here.” Never mind the fact that he’s got a shop to take care of, a little sister to bother and a blonde-headed friend to bully. “It was fun talking to you.”
“Wait,” Gladio says again. “Before you go, can— may I have your name?”
Gladio’s question hangs in the air and he thinks the mer may just ignore him. But the mer instead smiles, just barely. “Ignis,” he replies. “My name is Ignis. Until we meet again, Gladiolus.”
And he ducks underwater, leaving Gladio wrung out and alone on the shoreline.
(He’s already thinking about ways he can convince Iris to take care of the shop alone again so that he’ll have free time to see the mer, Ignis, again. Apparently, all it takes is telling her he’s going on a date—and promising to tell her the details later. He doesn’t tell her that he’s not actually going on a date. It’s only a meeting between friends—if Gladio can even call Ignis that).
Spring fades and summer comes and goes and autumn arrives and through it all, Gladio makes a point to visit the ocean at least once a week. With the days growing colder, the shoreline has become even more isolated and he and Ignis have met up in different places, too—though, they always end up going back to where they first met. It’s sentimental, Ignis had said.
Gladio doesn’t know when he fell in love. Maybe it was a love-at-first-sight kinda thing. Maybe it was when he came to the beach and saw Ignis draped over the sand, like something out of a fairytale. Maybe it was when he heard Ignis laugh for the first time, until he was breathless and red in the face.
All he knows is that he needs to tell Ignis.
(Okay, so maybe Iris had some involvement in pushing Gladio to finally make a move. Whatever).
He’s written letters, planned elaborate ways in that he could finally confess to Ignis, but they all sound flat, fake, basic. Nothing that Ignis deserves.
“What do you mean ‘I don’t have any ideas?’ You work with flowers, dumbass,” Iris had said with a roll of her eyes. “You see people come in here buying flowers to confess their love to their crushes everyday. Why don’t you try doing that for once?”
(Okay, so maybe Gladio needs to listen to Iris more often).
In the end, he went with Iris’ idea. It’s a simple bouquet. Nothing too extravagant, but enough to catch Ignis’ eye. He’s introduced Ignis to flowers, of course, but never something like a bouquet. He fixes it in the morning and in the afternoon, he walks out to the beach, sets the bouquet behind a large rock, and waits.
He’s asked Ignis before on how he knows Gladio is waiting at the beach. Ignis only reponded with a wink.
(If Gladio weren’t already in love with Ignis by that point, maybe that would have been when he’d fallen in love because hot damn, the sight of Ignis winking is sexy as hell).
It’s not long before Gladio’s eyes catches movement in the water—a subtle blur of colour beneath the surface. Before he knows it, he’s smiling, grin stretching from ear to ear as Ignis breaks the surfaces with a quiet splash. He shakes the water from his hair, then raises his eyebrow as he gets a better look at Gladio.
“Are you not cold? Honestly, Gladio, how long have you been waiting here for?”
Gladio can’t help but laugh. It’s just so much like Ignis to greet him with a lecture on his own health. “Relax,” he says. “This shirt’s more than enough for me. How’re you faring?”
Ignis leans on the rock Gladio rests on, his upper body entirely out of the water. Gladio tries not to stare at the hard lines of his back, the muscles in his arms and the way Ignis’s tail flicks in the water, splashing about.
“I’m cold-blooded,” he says simply. “You know the cold does not affect my kind as it does yours. Though,” he adds, “I must say that I am still getting used to the sensation of wind.”
“Ain’t quite like the ocean’s currents, huh? How’ve things been down there?”
“The usual. Our council has yet to come to a decision on whether or not they will allow Marcus to wed Cornelia and Noctis is improving with his magic, though I’m not fond of being used as his test subject.”
“Sounds like a rough time.”
“It’s nothing out of the ordinary.” Ignis waves it off. “I’m more curious in hearing about how your shop has been.”
“Same old, same old. Flowers have been growing well and…” Gladio trails off, drumming his fingers on his thigh. His nerves are alight with anticipation, anxiety and his mind whispers it’s now or never. This is as good an opportunity as any to offer Ignis the bouquet.
“And?” Ignis prompts.
Gladio swallows. “You said you’ve never seen a bouquet before, right?” he says, earning a nod in return. “Yeah. So I decided to grab a few flowers from the shop, and uh… it’s easier if I just show you.”
He reaches around the rock, taking hold of the bouquet and brings it around to Ignis, holding it out to him. Ignis gasps and his eyes go wide at the sheer size of the bouquet. Okay, so maybe Gladio went a little all out on it but hell, Ignis deserves it.
“It’s yours,” Gladio says. “Take it.”
“It’s beautiful.” Ignis tentatively touches one of the flower’s petals, running it between his fingers. When he takes the bouquet, he holds it tenderly, like it’s made of glass, and he leans in to smell the flowers. “You made this on your own?”
He’s smiling with awe and his eyes are sparkling with joy—it takes Gladio a second to screw his head back on right and respond with “It’s nothin’,” as if he didn’t spend all morning carefully choosing and preparing the flowers for Ignis.
“Don’t sell yourself short. This is perfect in every way.” Ignis brings the bouquet a little closer to his chest. Pride and joy swells in Gladio’s chest at the praise. “Would that I could bring this below the surface. What are the names of these ones?”
“The one you’re touching right now is a rose. And this one is a carnation.” He guides Ignis’ hand to the carnation—he hopes Ignis can’t tell his hands are shivering.
“Roses and carnations. I believe you once told me these flowers are often given as gifts to signify a romantic interest.” The corners of Ignis’ lips raise into a smirk. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were attempting to woo me.”
“That’s not all,” Gladio says quickly. His heart pounds; his mouth has gone dry and he licks his lips. “The last one is a gardenia.”
“What does that one symbolize?”
“They’re used to—to express a secret love.” Gladio can’t meet Ignis’ eyes. He toys with the hem of his sleeve, picking and picking, unable to bear the burden of Ignis’s gaze. “If somebody wanted to confess their love for another person, but they were too afraid or nervous to say it out loud, they would give them a gardenia instead.”
“...Oh,” Ignis says quietly. “I suppose I wasn’t too far off the mark, then.”
“No. You weren’t. Perceptive as always, huh?”
Ignis hums in thought for a moment. “Human mating rituals are different from mer, if only slightly. Tell me, Gladiolus,” he says, and Gladio finally looks up to meet his eyes. “What would be the next steps if the person returned their feelings?”
“They’d usually start dating.” Gladio can’t believe his eyes right now, can’t believe the words coming out of his and Ignis’ mouths. “Spend time together, go on dates, kiss a whole bunch—y’know, the usual.”
“They would kiss, hm?” Ignis sets the bouquet aside and brings himself closer to Gladio, leaning in and delicately lifting Gladio’s chin with a single finger until they’re nearly nose-to-nose. “If only I were better prepared,” Ignis murmurs, “I would have brought you something from the depths to symbolize my love for you. I suppose I’ll just have to give you something else, then.”
He cups Gladio’s chin, takes hold of Gladio’s shirt with his other hand, and pulls Gladio, closing the distance between them. Kissing Ignis is—it’s better than anything Gladio’s ever dreamed of. His lips are soft, wet and so warm , impossibly warm. Gladio’s arms find their way around Ignis’ waist, dragging him closer, heedless of the way he’s getting his clothes wet. He’s breathless, giddy with joy, kissing Ignis again and again, his nervousness having all but vanished in exchange for excitement.
Ignis—the person Gladio’s been crushing on for months, a full-on mer who should hate him— loves him. Gladio’s stupid idea with the flowers worked and Ignis is kissing him like he can’t get enough of Gladio, like he’s been craving to do this for as long as Gladio.
“You mean it, then?” Gladio says, once they take pause to breathe. “This is your answer?”
“Was I not clear enough?” The sarcasm comes dripping from Ignis’s voice—only he could make such a scathing remark sound so endearing. Gladio laughs.
“I dunno. Think you might need to kiss me again to make sure.”
Ignis smiles against Gladio’s lips. “You hardly need to ask,” he says, and kisses Gladio again.
“Close your eyes,” Ignis says. “I have something to give you.”
“Oh? Is it another kiss?” Gladio grins cheekily, but he obliges nonetheless, closing his eyes. Ignis sighs, in that exasperating-yet-loving way he does, and there’s a splash of water as he goes down under. A moment later, Ignis surfaces again and nearly drapes himself across Gladio’s lap, soaking his pants. It’s spring again, but the ocean’s water is as chilly as ever.
Ignis’ breath ghosts over Gladio’s skin and his hands find their way to the back of Gladio’s neck and there’s a light weight on his chest—it’s a necklace. Ignis ties the two ends together and runs his hands along the necklace, then along Gladio’s neck, coming to rest just below his chin.
He pulls Gladio in for a kiss and at the same time, Gladio moves forward to capture Ignis’s lips, wrapping his hands along Ignis’ waist, pulling him closer until their chests are touching. When they break their kiss, Gladio opens his eyes to Ignis’ flushed face adorned with a sweet smile that has Gladio leaning in for another kiss. He runs his fingers down Ignis’s tailfin and Ignis shivers under his touch.
It’s Ignis that has the sense to finally push Gladio away, lest they get too carried away. “Come now,” he says, all business, “are you not going to look at your gift?” He taps at Gladio’s chest for emphasis.
Gladio looks down to the necklace. It’s beaded, gold and brown, with a cross at the very end, made of a material he’s never seen before. He grasps at the necklace, lifting them up to eye-level.
“Holy shit. This is gorgeous, Iggy,” Gladio says. “Where did you..?”
“I made it myself. Well, I had some help aquiring the materials, but creating the beads and stringing the necklace together was all my doing. Do you like it?”
“I fuckin’ love it. What’s the occasion?”
“I wanted to give you a gift, but unfortunately, flowers don’t grow below the surface.” Ignis rests his head against Gladio’s shoulder, snaking an arm around Gladio’s back. “So I had to make-do with something a little different. This is how mer express their love for another—with handcrafted jewelry. When a mer gifts you a necklace, it’s said to symbolize eternal devotion, marking you as theirs, so to say.”
Gladio’s jaw drops and his lungs fail to draw in breath. When he finally remembers how to breathe, he laughs, loud and hearty.
“I love it. I love you,” Gladio says, pressing a kiss to Ignis’ forehead. “I’ll glady be yours. For as long as you’ll have me.”
In response, Ignis tilts his chin upwards, meeting Gladio’s lips for another kiss.