Petrichor rises off the ground as the rain falls. Knowing Noctis and Prompto, they would probably complain about the smell all the way from their room in the Leville, but some of Gladioʼs fondest memories are colored in that same sweet, earthy fragrance.
“Right, I’ve got the information I need—” Ignis stops suddenly when he finally notices the hush, the faint curtain that shrouds the world, Gladio’s unmoving bulk just at the entrance of the restaurant. “Oh dear. Perhaps you were right. We should have brought an umbrella.”
“Must be somethin’ in the water if you’re admitting that,” Gladio laughs, smiling at Ignis, both in amusement and also just to lighten up the mood. The guy is already frowning at him and pushing his glasses higher up his nose. “Anyway, stay here, I’m gonna go get us some.”
“I suppose we can just drop by to return it tomorrow before we drive off for the hunt.”
The restaurant is all but closed now. Some of the lights are being unplugged and the waitstaff are wiping down the tables. The woman by the bar counter is doing the same when Gladio asks to borrow two umbrellas. Unfortunately, they only have one that they can spare. That’s fine, Gladio says. One should be enough.
As he returns to Ignis’ side, the man greets him with a cocked brow. He, though, raises his procurement with a proud smile.
“We can go back now.”
“Wait,” Ignis stutters, practically gaping, assuming he allowed himself to appear surprised and flustered around Gladio anymore. “You don’t mean for us to share that umbrella, do you?”
“What’s the trouble with that?”
Ignis huffs, looking disappointed at Noctis’ Shield as he parks his hand by the side of his waist. “Well, I suppose for starters, I don’t quite see how we’ll fit.” He tosses his hand to Gladio. “Aside from the fact that we are both two grown men, your bulk will hardly fit the span of the umbrella as it is.”
“So?” Gladio shrugs. “Hasn’t stopped us in the past.” Though these days, that phrase seems to be said more often between them: us in the past.
Ignis immediately captures his meaning. His eyes go wide for just one second before he glares, like some class advisor warning him of any pranks or misbehavior he may be considering. “Perhaps you would do well to repeat those words to yourself and listen to them.”
“Fine, if you don’t want us to share…” He offers the umbrella to Ignis, green and white with a logo branded on one of its facets.
Ignis is already reaching for it when he stops suddenly to ask, “And what will you do?”
Gladio answers easily with a shrug and a jaunty tug of the lapels of his fatigue jacket.
Ignis eyes him more critically. “Surely you don’t think that will be enough to keep you dry?”
“Hey, why are you so concerned about me?” Gladio sweeps his hand to the steady rain. “Past or no past, I’ve never shied away from the rain. Remember all those stories I used to tell you about Iris and I dancing in the rain?”
“When you were children and you were hardly capable of holding any responsibility,” Ignis argues, fiddling with his glasses again. “Quite the opposite these days, isn’t it? Whatever your idea, we cannot risk the Shield of the King catching a cold just because he decided now might be a good time to relive the past.”
“Ain’it?” Gladio laughs a bit, pocketing his hands as he shifts a little to turn towards Ignis. “Pretty sure we’ve been in similar situations before. You and I quarreling, the rain falling, and the umbrellas not quite enough—”
“Gladio, stop,” Ignis tells him. And he stops. His green eyes look directly into him, and he speaks only when he is sure that Gladio had seen every tension of a frown on his face. “We have talked about this before, and you agreed. We cannot be in the position for a relationship because of our—”
“Duty to Noct, I know,” Gladio finishes for him, oddly patient despite how frustrating Ignis can be with his favorite line. “I wasn’t suggesting we pick up right where we left off.” Although he knows that Ignis knows he doesn’t mind it. He’s never minded it, but it is only just now that they are homeless that he has been…reminding Ignis of it.
Ignis falls silent, though he refuses to let go of his frown. “We wait until the rain lets up,” he decides. Then he crosses his arms, turns to face the silver shower and does as he said—he waits.
Gladio doesn’t say anything anymore. He knows he will not get anything out of it but also he knows how to fight this kind of battle. Him and Ignis, they were both two kinds of stubborn and he figures that is why, that is always why they both get on well, practically inseparable no matter what they’ve tried. Phone in hand, he leans his weight by the side of the door and scrolls through his contacts for Noct. The King will have to know that he and his advisor are stranded.
He listens to the tone, and the steady the rain which sounds like static. In the wet world, nothing is moving; everything is frozen in a moment.
The smell of the ocean breeze was all over them, tinged with the tangy aroma of the earth as Gladio walked Ignis home, though before long he ended up carrying him on his back. The ground was wet and his footwork was a bit unstable.
“You know, for a lightweight, you sure do weigh a ton.”
Ignis laughed at his observation, then hiccuped. He had the grace to cover his mouth with his hand, waiting for any more errant hiccups before he wrapped his arms around Gladioʼs shoulders again. He smelled of alcohol and the garlic wedges they binged between drinks. With his arms under his knees, Gladio gave him a little bounce. “I’m gaining weight,” he admitted. “The marshal said so, so that’s what I’m doing.” Gladio knew it had something to do about all those meals he had to skip just to attend to Noct. Now Cor had him on a protein-rich diet to help with his polearm training.
“Thatʼs okay,” Gladio reassured him, turning a little to smile at his cheek. “I like it.” He liked Ignis, though. He always liked him since he became old enough to realize he could like anyone he wanted and his eyes and his heart simply just settled on him without a fight. And it’s been that way ever since.
Ignis seemed surprised by what he heard, cheeks lighting up like a neon sign. He tucked a smile with his lips and simply nodded at Gladioʼs confession, choosing to turn his gaze to the blurry reflections of light on the ground. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Gladio smiled at his shy response and shifted him again slightly on his back. He hurried to pass a narrow street and continued on to the next sidewalk.
“A, actually—” Ignis hiccuped. “I…have something to tell you, too.” His voice remained quiet, and he refused to look at Gladio even as the man turned to him again. “I…swore to myself that if I could convince you to buy me my first drink, then it was a sign that I ought to be more honest with myself. I drank all those glasses thinking they will make me brave but…all they gave me was a pounding headache.”
Gladio chuckled at his confession, grinning freely. “We’re almost there, Ignis.”
“What I mean to say is that I think I like you, Gladio,” Ignis finally revealed, causing Gladioʼs footsteps to falter briefly so he could stare and gape at the man he had been admiring all this time. “I’ve always liked you,” he added before he hid his face behind his arms, as if that would cover his blushing cheeks.
Gladio giggled in surprise, a hopeful smile spreading on his lips. It’s possible, of course, that Ignis was a little drunk but what did he say about signs and being brave? Maybe it was a sign for Gladio, too, then… “Well…” He looked out to the black city that surrounded him, and its bright lights that painted stars over the pavement. “That makes two of us.”
Gladio has suggested that Ignis go inside and wait it out but Ignis refuses, on the grounds of it will be over soon. “You scared of leaving me or something?” Gladio laughs, teasing him.
Ignis laughs back, his voice crackling softly as he lifts a brow at his ex. “Donʼt flatter yourself.”
“Donʼt see much reason why you should be hanging out here with me. Go on,” he nods back to the restaurant. “We’ve got a long day of driving tomorrow. You need to rest up.”
“I can say the same to you,” Ignis retorts. “What’s keeping you?”
Gladio offers him a funny look. As if he didnʼt know. “Ignis, you know whatʼs keeping me.” Itʼs him. Itʼs this whole thing. Itʼs the memories they shared and the ones he wishes they could still share.
Suddenly, it becomes too much for Ignis to look at him and turns instead to the faceless rain, as if all the memories it painted for them are easier to bear. His expression is unreadable, but Gladio fancies that he knows what is going on with just one look. Or at least his heart fancies it, his eyes chasing after the minute quivers of his brows and his lips, the tension along his jaw. “In any case, Iʼm sure it will let up soon.” Will it? Soon? Gladio doesnʼt know.
Gladio doesnʼt want to know.
“Yeah,” he relents for the sake of it, looking out to the rain, as well. A pair of exes contenting themselves with the time they had between them. “Guess youʼre right.”
Which made Gladio laugh as he turned to him, until they were practically nose-to-cheek, and he was breathing in the lasting notes of his lemony perfume which would have surely clung to his jacket by now. Shame that Jared would want to wash it as soon as he got home, for sure, before the rain stained it permanently. “And what’s so funny?”
“Who else?” Ignis asked back, his voice still smiling. Away from the late night traffic of Insomnia, in a smaller road reserved for little corner shops older than the both of them, he spoke quietly. “We are two grown men, walking home from the train after a long day at work like a pair of school children.” He shifted his left arm carefully, right arm bracing harder along Gladioʼs clavicle as he angled his umbrella higher to catch the persistent rain. Despite his best efforts, Gladio definitely felt a couple of drops on his head and his shoulders, but said nothing of them. “And sharing a single umbrella like a pair of idiots while we’re at it,” Ignis added to his grouse. “Because someone here,” Gladio laughed, “decided that one is quite enough for our combined sizes.” Ignis groaned but it was all obviously done for the sake of humor. “Of all the days for my car to break down…”
“I ainʼt complaining,” Gladio said to him, shrugging…or at least he tried to. It was a bit difficult with a 6-footer clinging to his back. “Least I get to spend more time with ya.”
“You would have been comfortable.”
“I am!” Gladio insisted, even when he shifted his hands and arms a bit under Ignis’ knees, forcing the man to climb a little higher up his back. “Why the hell d’you think I took all those weight and endurance exercises? So I could drop my boyfriend in a puddle?” He glanced at the sleek shoe, the color of red wine in the dark, dangling to his right. “In his 20-thousand yen suit and 30-thousand yen, 1000-percent patent leather shoes.”
“I certainly appreciate you looking out for my wardrobe,” Ignis chuckled, settling comfortably over his shoulder. “Especially as I would not have the time to clean the rain from my shoes this week.”
“Yeah, so just sit tight there, okay?” He reached towards Ignis’ cheek until he could brush his lips onto it. “I’ll get you home nice and dry.”
“Thank you,” Ignis mumbled, voice barely audible over the steady whisper of rain, if not for the fact that Gladio loved him. Gladio wished he could keep looking at him this close, too, but the lights were dimmer and fewer out here and he had to watch his step.
“I hope we’ll always have time for each other,” Ignis spoke again suddenly, with a yearning in his words that felt like warm honey in Gladioʼs chest. “I hope we’ll never change.”
“Yeah,” Gladio rumbled, smiling. “I think that’d be nice, too…”
It’s stupid, really, the things holding them back.
“We can’t keep this up, Ignis,” Gladio tells him, looking at his sharp profile. “We should go back.”
Ignis sighs. “Indeed. Noct will be waiting for us.”
“No, I mean, we should go back to us,” Gladio explains himself, one foot already moving closer to Ignis. “We had a good thing going, didn’t we?”
“Yes,” Ignis agrees, nodding, a weary look on his face that is caught between smiling or mocking him. “We did. But that is not what Noct needs now. Noct needs us.” He looks at Gladio when he says this, his frown gouging wrinkles over his brows and around his lips. “Our devotion, our service! We cannot be so careless about our feelings for each other knowing that the entirety of Lucis hangs on our king’s shoulders.”
“I agree, but you know who else needs us?” Gladio grumbles back. “It’s us. You and I both need us and you know this!”
“I do not know what you are insinuating.”
“You don’t think I lie awake every night I feel your arms around me?” Gladio growls to him, and he doesn’t let up even as Ignis’ expression crumbles to shock and fear. “That I never wanted to hold you in my arms, too, whenever you stifle your tears on my back. Gods above, Ignis, it’s torture to me!” He grinds his fist to his chest. “Knowing that I gotta be as faceless as a damn rock for Noct when I can’t even be there for the man I love!”
“That was my mistake,” Ignis hisses, shuffling back several steps. His eyes slip to the wet ground between them. “My apologies, it wasn’t my intention to be weak.”
“You look at me as if I’m the last damn person you need on Eos but the moment I turn my back, it’s like I cut you open with my sword.” Gladio chases him. “What the hell kind of a life is this, Ignis? We’re both weak, we’re all weak! Why the hell do you think we are stuck out here?” He swings his hand to the silver rain. “‘cause we lost! And we’re all lost. You and I, we’re both lost!”
Ignis flinches, and it takes all of him not to shift his gaze away from his accuser.
Gladio puts his fist to his chest again. “I gotta be strong for my king, I know this. I’ve always known this. But I can’t be strong out there if I ain’t got someone I can lean on, and that’s you. You’re the one who knows how hard this damn life is, you’ve been with me through thick and thin and I need you now more than ever.” He breathes. “I gotta protect Noct and I need you to guide me through it.”
“I can…” Ignis tries but falters, and he squeezes his eyes tight as if that will hide him from all the pain and the shame he is feeling. “I can still support you as a friend.” But he sounds as soft as the dying breaths of an animal.
“You don’t even believe yourself anymore, Ignis,” Gladio points it out to him. He tosses his hand to him. “Fuck it, Ignis, I still love you. I’ve loved you all this time and I refuse to believe you’ve never known it.” He doesn’t know what good it will do, pointing out the obvious but Ignis has always been a stubborn man. And he has always loved him for it.
“You know what?” Gladio marches to him, grabs his hand and forces the umbrella into it. “Take this. I’m gonna go ahead and get outta here.” He doesn’t allow himself to see the stunned look on Ignis’ face as he takes a step into the rain. “I’ll see you in the hotel—”
Gladio wishes he didn’t but he also knows he could never lie to himself. He turns slightly to see Ignis pushing the umbrella open as he hurries to him.
“On your knees,” Ignis chokes, pushing him down on his shoulder. “Iʼm coming with you.”
It takes them some time to be familiar with this position again, but soon, Gladio is lifting him on his back and Ignis is hanging onto him by one arm, the other keeping their shelter aloft.
They don’t talk as they make their careful way home. Lestallum is beautiful in the dark and the rain, its golden lights reflected off the black ground until it looks like they are floating on air with the fireflies. The night is still sultry and oppressive despite the rain but Ignis’ warmth on his back and his citrus perfume changes everything to him, though the pain still lingers.
Ignis’ arm pulls tighter around his neck, until he all but chokes him. Gladio lets him, keeping his mind on his footfalls and their surroundings as Ignis breathes in the scent of his hair and hides himself in it, breath shuddering. Gladio squeezes him a little tighter where he carried him by his thighs. It is sad, what they have brought themselves into for the sake of duty and loyalty, but Gladio tells himself that he’s lucky to still have this moment with his love. No matter that it feels like a needle stitching his skin together.
Too soon, they reach the Leville, and Gladio finally lets him go. He takes a step towards the lobby when Ignis grabs him by the arm suddenly and lashes his own around his back.
Despite his shock, Gladio’s own embrace falls naturally around him. The shape of Ignis’ waist is still the best thing he has ever held, and he tears up when he realizes how much he missed it.
“Just until the rain stops,” Ignis asks of him in a whisper. Gladio puts his nose to his crown and takes in his scent. “Just until the rain stops, please.” Until the curtain lifts, and they will have to play their roles again.
“Okay,” Gladio assures him, unable to keep his lips from Ignis’ temple, which makes the man tremble just a little in his arms. “I got ya, Ignis.”
Maybe one day, he thinks, they will be able to love each other again in the light.