When he returns to his office after his council meeting, Ignis finds a small box waiting for him on his desk. It is wrapped in silver paper and tied with a red bow. A white card taped to the box bears his name in elegant calligraphy.
This does not surprise him; it’s the fourth time this week that a mysterious gift has appeared on his desk. Yesterday, it was a slim volume of classical poetry; the day before, a bottle of his favourite gin; and the day before that, a box of six fine Altissian sea salt chocolates. Whoever is leaving him these gifts evidently knows him well enough to choose items he’ll like. But beyond that, Ignis has no idea who is responsible.
He sets his briefcase down, unwraps the gift, and opens the box. Within, he finds a sleek black luxury pen engraved with his name. It’s so lavish that it takes his breath away; a pen like this should have cost at least two hundred crowns.
“Whatcha got there, Iggy?”
Ignis jumps a foot, nearly dropping the box, and turns to find Gladio standing behind him, a look of mild curiosity on his handsome face. He must have entered the office after Ignis. For an enormous man, he moves so quietly.
“Gladio. You scared me,” he says. He sets the box down on the desk and removes his pocket square to clean his glasses. “Someone’s been leaving me gifts for the past several days. I’ve no idea who. Or why.”
Gladio raises an eyebrow. “Solstice is in a week. Gift-giving’s kinda the point, ain’t it?”
“Of course, but why do it anonymously?”
“Maybe they’re shy.” Gladio shrugs and gives the pen an appraising look. “But whoever they are, they have good taste.”
“Or they know my taste.” Ignis puts his glasses back on and checks his watch. It’s five to noon. “Speaking of, our lunch meeting with Noct is in five minutes. We’ll be late if we linger here much longer. Shall we?”
Gladio smiles and gestures to the door, bowing in mock gallantry. “After you.”
The next day, another gift is awaiting him when he arrives at his office in the morning. This one is cylindrical in shape, wrapped in red tissue paper, and adorned with a gold bow. Ignis can’t begin to imagine what it might be.
Curious, he removes the paper to reveal a leather knife roll. If he thought the pen was luxurious, this is even more so. The leather is soft and supple, and there are six pockets within—perfect for transporting his good knives between his own apartment and Noct’s on those evenings Ignis cooks for them both.
Which gives him an inkling. He pulls out his phone and sends Noct a message.
Ignis (9:05 AM): Thank you for the knife roll, Highness, but it was entirely unnecessary.
Noct (9:09 AM): the what now
Ignis (9:09 AM): The gift you left me on my desk?
Noct (9:10 AM): i didnt leave u a gift
Noct (9:10 AM): sorry 🤷
Ignis sighs and sets down his phone. That rules Noct out—but then, who could it be? Plenty of people at the Citadel are familiar with his culinary hobby, but only a handful truly understand the usefulness of such a gift.
Gladio? Doubtful; he was entirely (and disappointingly) too casual about the pen Ignis received yesterday. Prompto? He’s a nice boy, but they don’t know each other well. It’s unlikely he would spend so much money on Ignis. The Marshal? Improbable, for he has always been a neutral sort, careful not to show favouritism toward any of his students.
He’s still puzzling over it ten minutes later when his phone pings to notify him of his nine-thirty meeting.
The trend continues for the rest of the week. On Friday, he receives a copper pour-over coffee kettle and a bag of Ebony premium beans. On Saturday, a pair of black leather driving gloves. On Sunday, a hardcover book of gourmet Tenebraean dessert recipes. On Monday, two tickets to box seats at the orchestra in the spring.
Ignis nearly drives himself mad in his efforts to deduce who’s responsible. He studies the handwriting on the cards, but it doesn’t look familiar; the calligraphy is too painstakingly elaborate. He arrives early some days and lingers at lunchtime on others, in an attempt to catch the culprit red-handed. To no avail.
On Tuesday, the tenth day, his mysterious gift-giver leaves him a pair of designer sunglasses he’s been eyeing for the past few weeks. In fact, he was just admiring them while at the mall with Noct the other day. Irritated, Ignis takes out his phone.
Ignis (9:31 AM): Really, Noct, enough games. Confess.
Noct (9:33 AM): ???
Noct (9:34 AM): to what
Ignis (9:35 AM): To the gifts you’ve been leaving me.
Ignis (9:35 AM): The sunglasses, the cookbook, the coffee kettle, the pen? Surely these ring a bell?
Noct (9:38 AM): specs do u seriously think im coordinated enough to buy u a bunch of gifts like that
Ignis (9:39 AM): Well, who else could it be?
Noct (9:39 AM): no idea 🤷
Ignis doesn’t quite believe him, but there is little use in pursuing that line of inquiry any further. He sighs and tries on the sunglasses.
They are a perfect fit.
On Wednesday morning, his desk is bare when he arrives at his office. Ignis notes this with a twinge of disappointment, but his day soon becomes so busy that he forgets about it entirely.
He spends two hours quizzing Noct for his history final on Friday, and then another hour in a meeting with the security council regarding Noct’s attendance at the upcoming solstice ball. Once that’s concluded, he has a scant twenty minutes to get back to his office and eat half a sandwich for lunch before he’s scheduled to accompany Noct to his twelve-thirty suit fitting at the tailor.
But as he’s chewing his last mouthful, his phone pings with a text from the tailor. We’re running behind, it says. So very sorry, but can you come in for 2:30 instead?
Ignis sighs and responds in the affirmative, then texts Noct to let him know. Ordinarily, he’d emphasize the fact that this is the prince they’re inconveniencing, but, well, at least now he has the time to eat the other half of his sandwich and catch up on his emails, even if it does mean reshuffling both their calendars for the afternoon.
It’s as he’s typing a response to a council member’s request for minutes that the door opens and Gladio enters. He freezes when he sees Ignis sitting there, all the blood draining from his face.
“Shit,” he says.
Ignis’s forehead crinkles. “I beg your pardon?”
“Uh.” Gladio looks as though he’s unsure whether to stay or flee. “I just wasn’t expecting you to be here.”
Ignis’s frown deepens. “Then why would you…”
He trails off as he notices the package Gladio holds in his hands. It’s wrapped in brown paper and tied with a green ribbon. Ignis stares at it for a moment before it all clicks together. And of course, it make sense—Gladio is one of very few people who know him well enough to orchestrate such an array of thoughtful gifts.
“It’s you,” he says, stunned. “You’re the one who’s been…”
A number of emotions—uncertainty, doubt, regret—cross Gladio’s face before he finally shakes his head and smiles. “Took you long enough to figure it out.”
He crosses the room and places the box on the desk. Ignis looks at it, then looks up at Gladio.
“But why?” he asks.
“Just open it, Iggy.”
Swallowing, Ignis pulls the box toward himself. He unties the ribbon and carefully unwraps it to reveal a plain metal tin. A white card is taped to the lid. Ignis turns it over to read it: Happy solstice to someone sweet.
A flush of pleasure creeps into his cheeks, knowing that Gladio thinks of him this way. He removes the lid and peels back the green tissue paper to discover a pile of sugar cookies, each shaped and elaborately decorated like snowflakes. They are also, clearly, handmade. It must have taken Gladio hours to bake and ice them.
“They’re beautiful,” he says, looking up at Gladio. “Did you do this all yourself?”
Gladio smiles down at him. “Iris helped a bit.”
“I— Thank you.” Ignis shakes his head and asks again, “But why?”
“You’re the genius. You figure it out.”
Ignis holds his gaze for a few heartbeats, hardly believing it can be true: that Gladio has feelings for him. Feelings beyond friendship or fraternity. Feelings that match what Ignis has felt for years, only he never had the courage—or, frankly, the room in his schedule—to act on them. The knowledge that his feelings are shared is perhaps the most precious gift Gladio has given him.
“You know, I thought it might be Noct,” he says, laughing ruefully. “Rather foolish of me, in retrospect.”
Gladio waves a hand. “Nah. He helped. He told me about the sunglasses and the driving gloves.”
“Yeah.” Gladio studies him, a shadow of uncertainty crossing his face. “Why? You wish it was him instead?”
Ignis shakes his head vehemently. “No. No, I…” He trails off. He needs to show Gladio that he feels the same—that he wants to share even a fraction of what Gladio has given him over the past week and a half. “You know, I recently came into possession of two tickets to the orchestra,” he says with a smile. “They’re box seats. Quite exclusive. I trust I can count on you to be my date?”
Gladio’s soft, answering smile makes Ignis’s heart beat a little faster. “You bet, Iggy,” he says.