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Damage Control

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The skin was still raw, but Ignis could feel the smooth, almost plastic texture of healing flesh as he ran his fingertips across it. He wasn't inclined to gratitude of late, but if he had been looking for reasons to be thankful, he might have zeroed in on the fact that he literally could not fully gauge the ruin that had been done to his face.

Since puberty, he'd been a vain little thing and had known it, though he'd reconciled that vice with how beauty was a skill like any other, and like any other, it existed at the intersection of natural gift and honed talent. His attractiveness had opened a number of doors for him, both personal and sexual; it had reassured and disquieted, threatened and enticed in equal measure. He'd spent much time cultivating his own appeal through subtlety, until Noctis had taken to encouraging him to dress a bit more ostentatiously. Really, it hadn't taken much: Only a worry of unprofessionalism had ever kept Ignis from indulging himself, and with that barrier gone, he had luxuriated in it.

He pressed his fingers into the skin just below his left eye. It stung, but his eye didn't water. He guessed something had happened to his tear ducts as well, lending him a perfect stoic air -- or at least half of one. Other reasons, perhaps, to be grateful.

"Stop poking it."

"Bloody hell!" swore Ignis, startled half out of his skin. He looked around by reflex, but of course he saw nothing. The doctors said his eyesight would improve, could improve, might improve. He'd stopped believing them. "How long have you been there?"

"Since you woke up," said Gladio. There was the unmistakable sound of a book's being closed.

Ignis exhaled sharply. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"Just did." There was a creaking noise, the resettling of a couch as a body lifted from it. "Stop poking it."

Seated upright in his bed, Ignis grumbled and pulled the covers closer to him, then gave up entirely and lay back down. What was the difference between awake and asleep at this point? Nothing useful, to be sure. He understood there, at least, why Noctis had few hours of the previous week awake. There were fewer annoyances that way, fewer questions to answer, fewer judgments to weather. "Very well," he muttered, not bothering to disguise the irritation in his voice. To do so would require more energy than he had budgeted for the task.

"I'm just saying." Gladio's voice was closer now. He must have moved, but Ignis hadn't heard it -- or, more correctly, hadn't been able to distinguish those sounds from the unrelated ones outside the windows. The world was so full of noise. "Take it from a guy who knows facial scarring."

Ignis snorted as he rolled on his side, turning his back to where he thought Gladio was. "Oh, yes. The rakish lines of close combat, so utterly disfiguring. You'll pardon if that's little comfort to someone whose features have been ground into hamburger."

There was more venom there than Gladio deserved, of course, but Ignis just wanted him to weather the blow, take the hint, and go the hell away. So of course the giant lummox did nothing of the sort; the edge of the bed shifted and sagged with his weight. "It's not so bad as that," Gladio said.

"Not so bad," Ignis echoed halfheartedly. "I'm only blinded; I haven't lost all perception. You can spare me the 'not so bad'."

"Not sparing anyone anything." Gladio's voice was soft and even, and gentler certainly than Ignis deserved for being such a bitch to him. That thought made Ignis ashamed of himself, which only served to make him angrier. He'd spent days trapped in that horrid cycle. "Just saying what I see."

Ignis cleared his throat. "Yes, well," he said, taking a different tack, "hardly the top priority on our list of concerns at the moment, is it?"

"Maybe," Gladio said, "but still on the list."

With a huff of hot air, Ignis rolled back; he couldn't see Gladio, but he wished to be confrontational, and sighted or not, that was hard to pull off facing the wrong direction. "Shouldn't you be with Noctis?"

"Prompto's keeping an eye on him. Noct's sleeping, anyway."

"Then ... doing something useful."

Gladio chuckled under his breath. "I am doing something useful."

"You're pestering me."

"Yep. Pretty useful."

Ignis begged to differ, but he gathered that his objections weren't being given much weight at the moment. He sighed again, this time with more conviction, just in case Gladio had somehow before this moment missed every other indicator, polite and otherwise, that Ignis wanted to be left alone. No such luck; the weight on the side of his bed stayed firm and steady. "It doesn't matter," Ignis said at last.

"Yeah, it does," Gladio said. "I can tell. It bugs you."

The thought that he'd been found out, that his stupid tantrum over his ridiculous vanity was visible to others, might have made him burst into tears then and there, had he still possessed the ability to cry. As it was, he just drew the covers to his chin. "I'm going back to sleep."

"But it shouldn't," Gladio continued, as though Ignis hadn't spoken at all. "You act like you'd go around with a paper bag on your head if you could, while ... do you even know what it looks like?"

"Of course I do," Ignis huffed. "The doctors have reviewed the situation with me many, many times, thank you."

Gladio shifted a little closer, making the bed sag. He was indeed a large man in all dimensions. "Doctors, yeah. I'm not knocking the good work they do. But you keep poking it like you're still trying to get the lay of the land. Can I help?"

Ignis frowned. "And how do you intend to help?"

The sensation of Gladio's fingers against his face startled him so much that he twitched violently, but Gladio's touch remained firm. Those large, strong fingers found the smooth, uninjured skin just above the inside corner of Ignis' left eye, flesh tender and swollen, but not broken. "It starts here," Gladio said, his voice saturated with tenderness. He could be so gentle, despite everything. His fingertips ran up toward Ignis' hairline as they ventured outward. "Up along here, then back down. If I put my hand right over the side of your face, I could cover most of it."

Now that was a different perspective. Gladio had large hands, true, but in the anxious darkness, Ignis had envisioned his own face gnarled and warped across every inch. The idea that the damage could be hidden without hiding his whole visage, that was a new thought entirely.

"I'm not going to lie to you: You can see it. It's redder than the skin around it." Gladio chuckled again. "Makes you seem dangerous."

"Dangerous?" asked Ignis.

"Like ... like you think this is bad, you should've seen the other guy." Gladio's fingers worked their way back toward the center of Ignis' face again, then down his nose. "There's a line here too. There's a couple, in fact, but I think this one's too deep to heal over. You're going to carry that one."

That was news to Ignis, who had been so preoccupied with the damage around his eye that he hadn't ventured out further in his self-pitying explorations. He'd also had no reason to prod around there, as it hadn't hurt, or at least hadn't hurt as much as everything else. "Is that all?" he asked softly.

Gladio's fingertips brushed over the top of Ignis' right eyebrow. "One here," he said. "And one more, a little lower."

Ignis' brows furrowed. "Where?"

"It's right..." Gladio's voice sounded closer now, much closer, and Ignis could hear the sound of soft breath. "Yeah, right here."

Gladio found the cut on Ignis' lower lip with his tongue rather than his fingertips, tracing its shape wetly, and Ignis was startled to feel the intense need surge through him in response, driving him to grab for Gladio's shirt and pull him close. But Gladio wasn't wearing a shirt -- of course he wasn't -- so Ignis' fingers found skin instead. His hands could feel the faintest ghosts of the tattoo that hugged Gladio's shoulders and back, curving over onto his broad chest. There were all kinds of things someone couldn't take back.

With that same surprising tenderness, Gladio rolled Ignis onto his back, settling atop him like a familiar blanket, like a trusted suit of armor. "You're so beautiful," Gladio murmured against Ignis' lips, and like this -- and only like this -- Ignis could believe he meant it. Gladio was dangerous too, but now that danger was pointed at those who might hurt the ones he loved, and Ignis was safe in his embrace. He closed his eyes and opened his arms, letting Gladio's body meet his own there in his private darkness.