Chapter 1: when I was little, when the poplar was in leaf
1. a stone for sharpening cutlery or tools by friction
2. anything that sharpens:
a whetstone for dull wits
The queen’s death is one of his first memories.
He’d been two and a half when the queen died, and his memories of her death are like a blurred reel of senses. There are frames that are his own individual memory: the scratchiness of the collar of his shirt, the old women whispering in the corner of the parlor, the black armbands that he and all his family had to wear for months.
Other frames, Ignis knows, are things he has been told so many times, and things that he has seen so many times, that they feel real to him, even if they’re not his own memories: the flowers that had flooded the entryway of the Citadel, the procession that had carved through the Crown City, the black scrim and crepe that had covered nearly every building of the city.
Ignis had already had his first tutor then—he can remember his tutor’s warm, dry hand holding his own—because he’d already been marked out as a candidate. He thinks that the Queen might’ve known about him. The queen must have known about him. She would have been invested in all the children who were being considered as companions and servants for her child.
He imagines it sometimes: the queen flipping through a portfolio, looking at the headshots of children from across Lucis; reading the carefully compiled family histories and political ties; picking out her own favorites from the candidate pool, lifting their names to the top. He imagines that she smiled when she saw his dossier, when she saw that they’d been born in the same region. He imagines that, if she’d lived, the queen would have taken an interest in him; she might have written letters to him, might have given him an allowance; she might have said, This one. I want this one for my son.
The queen died, though, so Ignis will never know what she thought of him—or if she thought of him at all.
A year later, when Ignis was three, he was taken from his family and sent to his first school. This is one of his other earliest memories: his tutor’s hand, as warm and dry as it had been the year before, when the queen had died; his parents—presumably his parents—walking outside with him, to the car that was waiting. Most of the picture is blurry and indistinct: adults speaking above him, their faces and voices smearing across his memory like wet paint dragged across paper. The car is more clear, the feel of its leather seats sticking to Ignis’s palms as he clambered inside, the new, plasticky smell of his booster seat.
His tutor’s voice is the only one he can remember with clarity; his tutor had said, “Say goodbye, Ignis,” and Ignis had done so. Then the door had been shut, and Ignis had been taken away.
There are twenty-seven children, including Ignis. He does’t know much about the others, other than that their ages are all within a few years of his own, and that they, just like him, have been sent to boarding schools. They are twenty-six specters that follow Ignis most every moment of every day, twenty-six faceless questions that Ignis can’t ask.
Ignis’s tutor (a woman named Merab—Tomas, Ignis’s first tutor, had left a week after Ignis had arrived at his first boarding school. Tomas had said, Say goodbye, Ignis, just like he had the week before, and Ignis had said goodbye. Then the door had been shut, and the car had carried Tomas away, just like the before—but this time Ignis hadn’t been taken with him. This time, Ignis had been left behind.) speaks of the other children—the other candidates—almost every day.
“The other children,” she says, “are far more advanced.”
“The other children,” she says, “will serve the prince far better.”
“One of the other children,” she says, “will be chosen.”
And when she tells Ignis, “You must be better than the other children,” Ignis listens.
He wonders sometimes if the other children are told the same things. He wonders, as he turns four and then five—as Merab leaves and Gabin comes, and as Gabin leaves and Alan comes—as he moves to one new school and then another, feeling like a ball thrown to bounce between the walls—if he is a specter to the other children, too.
There are twenty-six other children like him, scattered across the country. He imagines it sometimes—the country spread out like a map, and all of the candidates tossed like jacks, tumbling across Lucis; lying still, waiting to be picked up and thrown again. He thinks about the pokey spikes and the rounded spikes, about the bouncy balls, and he wonders if the other children feel like they are bouncing across Lucis like he is, picked up from one region and thrown into another. Bounce, and scatter, and wait.
He doesn’t know, though. He can’t know, because he’s not allowed to know anything about the other children. He’s not allowed to know their names or their ages or their faces—not if they have light hair or dark hair, or if they’re from one of the inner provinces or an outer region.
(He wonders if one of the dossiers he’s not allowed to touch has a child that the queen would have liked better than she would have liked him.)
“You’re doing well,” Merab tells him.
“You’re a good boy,” Gabin tells him.
“You’ve made me proud,” Alan tells him.
“Like the others?” Ignis asks hungrily. He wants to know his place, his relation—he needs to know when he will be thrown again, and if he’ll be picked back up. “Am I better than the other candidates?”
(The answer is never yes. The answer is always, “Say goodbye, Ignis,” and then the closing of a door.)
Ignis is good at patterns. He likes watching the world around him, seeing the actions and the reactions; he likes to observe what happens around him, to watch and to count and to understand how and why. He knows how many times a younger boy needs to be punched before he starts to cry, and he knows how many times a student can talk back before an instructor loses his temper; he knows the ins and outs of boarding school life, from the ringing of the morning bell to the shutting off of lights at night.
He can finds patterns most anywhere, but for some reason he can never find them within his own life.
He is taken from boarding school to boarding school to boarding school, staying at one school for over a year, then spending less than two months at the next. There’s no pattern to be found in it, nor is there a pattern to be found in his succession of tutors. Sometimes tutors stay for months, long enough that Ignis forgets to be cautious and begins to feel certain. Complacent. Happy. Then he’ll wake up one morning, and his tutor will be gone, taken away by a car sometime during the night. Other times, his tutors stay for only a handful of days, sweeping in and out of his life as quickly as they sweep in and out of the doors of the schools.
The pattern, if there is one, is buried too deep for Ignis to find. He tries at it for a while, throwing himself at the puzzle like a poor man at a joke of an experiment. He is obedient: he rises when he’s told, listens quietly to his instructions, fulfills all his obligations; he studies and he learns and he watches as his tutors are taken away. Other times, he rebels as much as he’s able: he throws tantrums and books, he drags his feet and his tongue, he sits and he scowls and he refuses to cry when those tutors are taken away, too.
The pattern, if there is one, is that everything in Ignis’s life is eventually taken away, most often when he least expects it.
Ignis wakes to his arm being shaken. When he squints, he sees that it’s Cyrus who is sitting on the edge of his bed, jostling Ignis’s arm gently. Ignis groans, then begins to rub his eyes.
“Ignis,” his tutor says in a whisper, leaning back once Ignis has sat up. The room is dark and everything sounds muffled—the snoring of one of the other boys, the rustle as someone rolls over in their sleep. Ignis blinks, struggling to keep his eyes open, and Cyrus jostles his arm again.
“Get up,” his tutor tells him quietly, not unkindly, and he helps Ignis, at least a little—hands Ignis a set of clothing, helps steady Ignis while he is slipping on his shoes. He even takes Ignis’s hand and holds it as they tiptoe from the dormitory, out into the dimly lit hallway.
“Are we going to another school?” Ignis asks when they’re descending the stairs. His tutor is carrying a suitcase in his other hand; Ignis is trailing his free hand along the banister, still feeling sleepy, like the world is a blurry, buzzy kind of fantasy place.
“No,” his tutor says, and he squeezes Ignis’s hand a little. “The Citadel has called for you.”
Ignis’s feet get stuck on the stairs, like he can’t move. He can’t—his legs feel heavy, like they do after he’s been running for the entire recess break. His brain, though, feels like it’s burning up, the world going bright and clear too fast. He’s been told, again and again, that this is what he is being prepared for: to be called to the Citadel, to live in the Crown City, to advise the prince.
He thinks of the portfolio of candidates, the other children who are living in boarding schools just like him, who have tutors just like him, and he thinks, They chose me—
His tutor has taken several more steps down, and when he turns back toward Ignis, he only has to crouch a little to meet Ignis’s eyes. Ignis isn’t good at reading Cyrus, not yet; Cyrus came just before the new year, and Ignis is still uncertain about a lot of Cyrus’s expressions. Cyrus is kind enough—not as kind as Veda had been, but certainly more patient than Alan—and he is usually willing to wait while Ignis is puzzling through a problem.
Tonight, though, he seems more impatient. Ignis thinks he might be frowning, at least a little bit—his eyes are narrowed and his eyebrows look thicker and clumpier than usual, though it all might be due to the dim lights of the stairway.
“Did they,” Ignis asks, “call for the other candidates?”
He sees Cyrus’s smile, and he understands that, at least; that’s the way his tutor smiles whenever Ignis has done something especially well. That’s the way his tutor smiles when he says, Well done, Ignis, and I’m proud of you, Ignis.
Tonight his tutor says, “No, Ignis. The Citadel only called for you.” And then, as he’s squeezing Ignis’s hand and pulling Ignis down the remaining steps: “You’ve done well, Ignis.”
There is a cluster of people waiting near the front doors of the school: the headmaster and a security guard and a pair of people—a man and a woman—Ignis doesn’t recognize. They’re all speaking together in low voices, and when Cyrus brings Ignis across the foyer, the headmaster looks toward them, saying, “No problem getting him up, then? Good, good—Cyrus, the driver will take the boy’s bag.”
The man Ignis doesn’t recognize steps forward, reaching out to take the suitcase Cyrus has been carrying; he’s presumedly the driver, and Ignis looks at him curiously, at his dark clothes and his wrinkled face and his big hands. The driver looks at Ignis for just a moment, and he smiles at him. Ignis smiles back reflexively, then tightens his grip on Cyrus’s hand.
“The honor of hosting him,” the headmaster is saying, while the other stranger, the woman, is saying, “The secretary will be in contact in the coming days. There is another boy, a little older—”
They are all moving out of the building together, the driver leading the way while carrying Ignis’s suitcase. There is a car parked on the gravel at the bottom of the steps, and it is as silent and dark as Ignis’s dormitory had been. The gravel crunches beneath their feet as they move toward the car, and the cluster begins to break apart, the headmaster and woman moving around the front of the car, the driver moving toward the back.
The headmaster doesn’t say goodbye to Ignis, or even seem to notice as Cyrus moves toward the back half of the car, taking Ignis with him. The security guard, though, walks a few steps farther with Ignis and Cyrus; he says, “Goodbye,” and Ignis twists around so that he can echo it back to him.
When Cyrus opens the back passenger-side door, Ignis obediently crawls into the car. The woman who’d been speaking with the headmaster is already sitting on the far side of the back seat, and she smiles at Ignis. Ignis hesitates, halfway between the far right seat and the middle seat, and begins to turn back toward the door.
“Cyrus,” he says, but his tutor is already shutting the door on Ignis. The windows of the car are heavily tinted, and Ignis can barely make out the figure of his tutor turning away, walking back toward the doors of the school side-by-side with the headmaster. It’s foolish—he knows it’s foolish, but he still hopes for a moment; he hopes as the driver puts Ignis’s suitcase into the trunk, then shuts the trunk with a thud; he hopes as the driver comes around the car and gets into his seat; he hopes as the driver turns the ignition, the car waking up around them. Then he stops hoping.
“Hello, Ignis,” the woman says to him. Ignis doesn’t look at her—he looks at his hands instead, watching his hands as he puts on his own seatbelt, buckling it into place.
“I’m your new tutor,” the woman—his tutor—says. “My name is Petra.”
“Hello,” Ignis says, and the woman tells the driver:
“We’re ready now.”
“How old are you?” the prince asks.
Ignis says, “Six, Your Highness.”
“Oh,” the prince says. “I’m four.”
Ignis bites back the desire to say, I know. When the prince adds that he is almost five, Ignis again bites the desire back.
He knows many things about the prince. He knows the prince’s age and the prince’s birthday; his favorite foods and his favorite activities; the names of his governess and his tutor and his guards. Ignis knows many things about the prince, all things that Petra told him during the long hours in the car.
“Oh,” Ignis says, as though the prince’s upcoming birthday is a surprise.
The prince looks pleased with Ignis’s response, and when Ignis looks over his shoulder, the king looks pleased, too.
“Noctis,” the king asks, “would you like Ignis to play with you?”
When Noctis pulls Ignis from the room, chattering excitedly about his train set and his mechanical dog, Ignis obediently follows.
“Juliette said we can play if you’re not busy.”
Noctis is standing in the doorway, still hanging onto the doorknob; the door is swinging a little, a silent, well-oiled to-and-fro in time with the way Noctis is rocking on his feet. His governess is standing behind him, one of her hands resting on his shoulder, like she is keeping him upright. She is smiling—first at Noctis, then at Ignis—as Noctis repeats himself, saying, “Ignis, we can go and play—”
When Ignis looks to his tutor, she is already rising from her chair, reaching across Ignis’s desk to close the workbooks. “If the prince has asked for your company,” she says as she stacks the workbooks in the center of the desk, “then you shouldn’t say no, or make him wait. Go on,” she says. “We’ll finish in the afternoon.”
Noctis pulls Ignis from the room the same way he had weeks before, when Ignis first arrived at the Citadel. Noctis’s hand is smaller than Ignis’s, and he holds onto Ignis’s hand tightly, until both of their hands are hot and sweaty. He talks brightly and loudly as he leads Ignis down the hall, and Ignis listens with confused curiosity as Noctis talks about his toys and his games and the stories Juliette has promised to tell him.
Ignis has only played with other children a handful of times. When he was living at the boarding schools, he was always too young, too new, too strange, too busy to play with the other boys. The few times he had been allowed to play with the other boys, he’d never felt like he understood exactly what was happening; it was like there were rules, unwritten and unspoken, that all the other boys knew, but that Ignis had never learned. Playing with the other boys at the boarding schools had always felt complicated and confusing, like he’d walked into a new class and was handed a pop quiz.
A few of his tutors had played with him, but that had always been like lessons or examinations.
Veda had liked to play the most—she had asked Ignis every few days if he would like to play a game; Ignis had always said yes, and Veda had always given him puzzles of different types. She would send him on scavenger hunts, and when he’d grown frustrated and lost, she would say, You have everything you need. Think, Ignis, and find the answer.
Other times, she would lay out pieces on a chess set, the game only a few steps away from a checkmate, and she would tell Ignis, Find a way out.
She would give him riddles, and when he answered them correctly, she’d go outside to kick a ball with him, or she’d take him on walks to search for frogs and lizards—and even those things, Ignis knows, were tests.
Be observant, she would tell him. What do you see? What is happening?
And when Ignis would tell her, she would ask him, Why?
How and Why; When and Where; What and Who. All of Veda’s games were puzzles, these never ending questions that Ignis could never answer completely. Veda’s games were a lesson in asking, and asking, and asking, and never being content with an answer.
Playing with Noctis is something entirely different, and it doesn’t take long for Ignis to realize that during Noctis’s playtime, there are no expectations for either of them. Playing with Noctis is laying out figurines along the tracks of his train set, creating massacres in miniature; it is hiding underneath tables, the legs of each of Noctis’s servants a behemoth; it is making each flight of stairs another mountain on the journey to a more fantastical land. It is playing pretend, saying that they are anything but what they really are.
It is easy, because Noctis is an easy child to please. Noctis listens to Ignis as attentively as Ignis’s tutors, but when Noctis asks Why?, it’s easy to answer him.
“They’re train robbers,” Ignis tells him.
“Be quiet, or the behemoth will hear you,” Ignis tells him.
“They still have dragons,” Ignis tells him.
“We,” Ignis tells him, “are pirates,” and Noctis screams with laughter as they race down the hallway together, their hands full of any ill-gotten thing they can find: handkerchiefs, knickknacks, candies, even the governess’s keys.
Noctis is an easy child to please, and Ignis finds himself sharing most everything with Noctis. He shares the things he finds: a new kitten in the kitchens, a bird nest in the hanging gardens, a dusty music room where the furniture is draped like ghosts. He shares the things he knows: a riddle he’s learned, the beginnings of arithmetic, stories of the first kings and queens of Lucis. He shares the thing he has: his heart, and all his heart, because that’s all he has.
Chapter 2: the summer that i was ten—can it be there was only one summer that i was ten?
When Noctis is attacked, the Citadel falls as quiet and still as Noctis himself—like another almost-dead thing, waiting to become a ghost.
Ignis’s life has moved in relation to Noctis’s for four years now—even longer, if he takes into account his years at boarding schools—so his life falls quiet and still, too.
His tutor—a woman called Emmaline—looks a great deal like Juliette, to the point that the adults had said that they looked like sisters. Ignis had thought that they were cousins, and maybe they are—or were—because when Juliette’s body is sent back to her family, Emmaline goes with it, leaving the Crown City without looking back. With Noctis gone, and Juliette gone, and Emmaline gone, Ignis becomes very alone and very forgotten.
He’s cared for, in an abstract way: food appears and disappears, and his laundry disappears when dirty and reappears when clean. There is no one there, though, no adults to instruct him or command him or even to say his name. Ignis keeps himself busy for the first few days, completing the lessons and tasks his tutor had set for him at the beginning of the week, before Noctis was attacked. Then, when he’s finished everything left for him and there is nothing left to do, he begins to wander.
Four years are not much when it comes to the sheer size of the Citadel. Ignis knows the hallways that lead from the king’s rooms to Noctis’s, and the flights of stairs that climb from the kitchens to the music room, and the hanging gardens that are staggered along the southernmost side of the Citadel. What he knows, though, is only fraction, and so he begins to explore with a single-minded obsession, searching.
He touches each door he passes, twisting the doorknobs just enough to see whether they are locked or not. He peers out of window after window, squinting at the reflection of the sun that glints off of the skyscrapers past the Citadel’s walls. He follows the patterns woven into carpets, balancing on the vines that creep and curl over the rugs. He skitters crab-wise over veined marble floors, taking care to avoid the cracks and lines in the marble. Each new thing—an old door lock that’s big enough for him to peep through, a cluster of crystal lines that look like a face peering out of the marble floor, a room where the facets of the lead glass window casts rainbows on the far wall—is remembered carefully and methodically, because when Noctis wakes up—
If Noctis wakes up, then Ignis will show him all of these new things. He’ll give them over to Noctis one at a time, all of these odd little discoveries that will please Noctis when Noctis wakes up.
If Noctis wakes up.
So Ignis wanders through the Citadel, through floor after floor. He wanders, and he wanders, and he wanders, and like a homing pigeon, he returns to Noctis’s room without fail.
He loiters outside Noctis’s bedroom, uncertain if he is wanted or even allowed inside. This isn’t any situation he’s been trained for, and he’s unsure what he’s meant to do or where he’s meant to be. He waits outside Noctis’s doors for minutes, or hours, then he leaves again, to go sleep, or wait in his room, or wander the halls again, searching for something he can’t seem to name.
Then, on the ninth day, he arrives at Noctis’s room just as a servant is leaving, her arms full of bedsheets and towels. A guard is holding the door open for her, and he keeps holding it open for Ignis, too, so Ignis slips into the room, just far enough inside the room that the guard can close the door behind him.
The king looks over at the sound of the door shutting, and he says in a slow, quiet voice, “Ignis.”
Ignis bows stiffly and says, “Your Majesty.”
The king is sitting by Noctis’s bedside, holding Noctis’s left hand between both of his own. He lets go of Noctis with one hand, though, and beckons toward Ignis. Ignis takes a couple steps farther into the room, then stops. The king beckons again, then says, “Closer.
When Ignis takes only a few more steps, the king pats the edge of Noctis’s bed and says, “Come closer. Here.”
Ignis comes closer, until he’s standing at the foot of Noctis’s bed, only a foot or so left between him and the king. The king is still holding onto Noctis’s left hand, but he’s turned in his seat so that he is facing Ignis. Ignis keeps his eyes turned toward the floor, and when the silence has carried on for too long, Ignis says in a very small voice, “Your Majesty.”
When the king speaks, his voice sounds as tired as he seems to look. He’s kind, though, and it is the first time that someone has spoken to Ignis since that day a week and a half ago, when Noctis was brought back to the Citadel, his body ragdoll-limp.
“Ignis,” the king asks, “how old are you now?”
Ignis doesn’t lift his eyes farther than the legs of the king’s chair. The legs are carved wood, dark and polished until they gleam. Ignis doesn’t know what kind of wood; cherry, or maybe walnut?
“Ten, Your Majesty,” he says, and when the king makes a humming sound that rises at the end, almost like he’s asking a question, Ignis adds, “I turned ten this spring.”
The king makes another humming sound, though this one doesn’t rise at the end, and then the king asks, “How long have you been here, Ignis?”
Ignis licks his lips, then glances up with only his eyes, just enough that he can see the bottom portion of the king’s face. The king’s mouth doesn’t really look like anything. He’s not smiling—of course he wouldn’t be smiling, not with Noctis like this—but he’s not frowning, either. He’s just there.
“Four years,” Ignis says, and the king sighs.
Ignis stands there, at the foot of Noctis’s bed, next to the king, for what feels like an indeterminable amount of time. Maybe the king forgets that Ignis is there. Eventually, though, Ignis’s legs get tired and his right foot begins to feel like it’s falling asleep, and so he shifts. When he does, the king moves as well, turning so that he’s facing Ignis again.
The king’s face, when Ignis looks up at it, looks kind of pinched, like maybe he’s upset, or maybe he’s confused; it’s the same kind of pinched look that Noctis gets—that Noctis would get—whenever Ignis told Noctis a new riddle, or when Noctis was trying to learn a new type of maths.
“What about your lessons, Ignis?” the king asks, and Ignis holds his tongue. It seems like the wrong time and place to say anything about his lessons, or to say anything about how quiet the halls are beyond Noctis’s bedroom doors.
Then the king asks, “Where is your tutor?”
Ignis answers very slowly, feeling out each word as he says it: “She left, Your Majesty,” he says, “with Juliette’s body.”
This time, the king makes an ah sound, then he makes it again, but this time it’s a lower ah, maybe more like an oh. When Ignis looks toward the bed, he sees the way the king is holding tightly to Noctis’s hand, tight enough that—if Noctis was awake—it would probably hurt him.
“I had forgotten,” the king begins to say in a very quiet voice. It’s quiet enough that Ignis thinks he’s not meant to overhear it. Then the king clears his throat and says, in a voice that is louder and clearly directed toward Ignis, “Who is in charge of your supervision?”
Ignis doesn’t shrug, because his tutors have told him that shrugging is the sign of a slow tongue. He wants to, though, because he thinks that would be easier than trying to answer with words. He looks down and says very lowly, “There is no one, Your Majesty.”
The king is quiet for a few long moments, and Ignis wonders if perhaps the king has again forgotten that Ignis is there again. Then, before Ignis has moved, or done anything at all, the king says, “I will have Clarus find someone to take you in. There is,” the king says, “a Scientia in the Citadel. A relative of yours, I believe.”
Ignis swallows and says, “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
He leaves the room not long after that: the king nods in response to Ignis’s obligatory thanks, and then the king moves his hand in a low, brushing kind of motion toward the door. Ignis takes it as instruction, and he bows again before walking as quickly toward the door as he can while neither running nor making any undue noise. He doesn’t look back into the room when he leaves. He’s not sure what he’d want to see, or what he’d not want to see.
The Scientia that the king mentioned is apparently an uncle. A paternal uncle, obviously, since they carry the same family name.
Ignis is fetched from his rooms by his uncle’s secretary: a tall, heavyset man with a bushy black beard. The secretary’s voice is deep, like the booming of distant fireworks, and Ignis thinks that it fits the man’s wide chest and bushy beard very well. He is almost like a caricature, with a body and voice that make Ignis think of a circus strongman.
“Ignis Scientia?” the secretary asks, and when Ignis nods, the secretary says, “Come along, then.”
Ignis follows the secretary down through the Citadel, from the northeastern wing, where the royal household’s living quarters are, to the southeastern wing, where the offices of the Privy Council and their advisors are kept. The halls of the Privy Council are like a honeycomb of interconnecting rooms and hallways, and Ignis gamely follows his uncle’s secretary. It is a dizzying journey, turning right, then left; crossing foyers and hallways with entire walls made of windows; taking two steps up, then turning again to take three steps down. This wing of the Citadel is quiet, just like all the rest of the Citadel, but it’s far from lifeless. There are men and women everywhere, ducking in and out of doorways, crossing hallways just in front of Ignis and his escort, sitting at desks in offices that Ignis catches glimpses of through half-open doors. They are all busy, speaking in low voices, tapping on their phones and at their computers, passing stacks of papers back and forth.
That is where Ignis meets his uncle, in a little room only a few doors down from the Council’s room at large. The room is small enough that it feels cramped—or maybe it is just that the desk is so large, and the bookcases so overstuffed, that the room feels small by comparison. Ignis’s uncle is sitting behind the desk, and he looks up when the secretary, with Ignis in tow, enters the room.
“Sir,” the secretary says, and Ignis’s uncle says, “Yes.”
Ignis is ushered forward, until he is standing just on the other side of the desk from his uncle. His uncle leans forward, propping his elbows on the desk and resting his chin on his hands.
Ignis cannot remember what his parents look like, so he doesn’t know if his uncle bears any resemblance to Ignis’s father. His uncle, however, clearly has a better grasp of the family features, because after a few moments he says, “You look a fair bit like your mother.”
Ignis isn’t sure if this is the type of comment that one is supposed to accept with thanks. This is new and uncharted territory for him. He’s never really discussed his family with anyone; his family, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t matter. Ignis left his parents’ home when he was three, and he has never gone back.
He receives a short, politely detached letter each year on his birthday. Maybe his parents send pictures, too, but if they do, Ignis has never received them. The letters that come on his birthday are always opened before they are given to him, and if there is anything inside them—a picture or a trinket, or any other tangible mark of familial interest and affection—it is undoubtedly confiscated. Ignis has never sent a letter home in turn.
He had asked one of his tutors once. When he had been called to the Citadel and had been introduced to the prince—when he had been placed within the royal household—he’d asked Petra if he should (or maybe he’d been asking if he could) write a letter to his parents to let them know. Petra’s answer had been short.
“No,” she’d said. “You do not write to your family.”
She hadn’t said anything more, and Ignis hadn’t asked for any further explanation.
So no, he doesn’t write to his family, and no, he doesn’t know what his parents look like, and no, he doesn’t know if his uncle is right and Ignis looks like his mother, or if Ignis should say thank you to his uncle, or if he should even call his uncle his uncle. This idea of families, at least in relation to himself, is foreign to him, and it is strange enough that it is something unwanted.
His uncle doesn’t seem to expect any response from Ignis, because he is rising from his seat before Ignis can decide if and how he should respond. “Well,” his uncle says as he begins gathering up items from the desk—a phone and small planner, a jangling ring of keys, “I might as well take you now. Come along, then.”
His uncle leads him from the Citadel, from Noctis and the king and the place Ignis has kept for the past four years. It’s not the first time that Ignis has been taken out into Insomnia, but it is the first time Ignis has been taken by someone other than a tutor—whether his own or Noctis’s—or Juliette. It is the first time Ignis has been taken into Insomnia—the first time he has been taken anywhere—because he is Ignis Scientia, and not because he is a candidate.
“You will stay here,” his uncle tells him, after he has led Ignis to an apartment a short drive from the Citadel. The apartment is small and sparse: an entryway and a kitchen, a living room and a hallway; three doors in the hallway.
“A bathroom,” Ignis’s uncle tells him as they pass the first door, “and the guest bedroom.”
There’s as little in the guest room as there is in the rest of the apartment: a bed with a coverlet over it all; a dresser with nothing either inside or on top; heavy drapes pulled closed over the window; Ignis, with a week’s worth of clothes and neither anywhere to go nor anything to do.
“It’s temporary,” his uncle explains as he pulls the coverlet from the bed. There is a little bit of dust in the air. “You’ll be taken back to the Citadel if the prince wakes up. If not, then some other use will be found for you.”
His uncle leaves him in the apartment the next day, and the next, and the next. Time seems to move much slower outside the Citadel, where Ignis can’t even watch the rotating shift of servants and nurses. There is nowhere to go in the apartment, and nothing of interest to explore; when—if—Noctis wakes up, Ignis will be returning to the Citadel, and he won’t be coming here again. He won’t be showing this apartment to Noctis, and so there’s no benefit in exploring the cupboards and closets.
It is just that there is nothing—the only sounds are the ticking of the kitchen clock and a spare watch left on the desk, and the distant rumble of traffic seven stories below, and the shuffle of Ignis’s socked feet on the wooden floors. There are no people to hear speak, or even breathe; the apartment isn’t quiet, it’s silent.
Ignis spends the first week, and the second, sitting on the bed in the guest room, listening to the faint ticking of the clock in kitchen. He swings his feet sometimes, in tempo with the clock, counting as high as he can before he loses his own attention; other times, he crawls beneath the sheets, still dressed in his day clothes, and hides his head under his pillow as he cries. Crying is a miserable thing, though, with no one to distract him and no reason to stop.
Then the third week begins, and Noctis wakes up.
It’s Noctis who is attacked by the Marilith, and it’s Noctis who lies in a coma for weeks.
It’s not Noctis who wakes weeks later.
This boy—this thing that’s been left behind for them—is a fraction of what Noctis is. Was. Had been.
“Noct,” Ignis whispers the first time he’s allowed to visit Noctis. The drapes have all been pulled open so that sunlight spreads across the floor, and there are vases filled with flowers scattered on the tops of tables and dressers; the room looks cheery, all bright light and colorful flowers, but it feels cold. There are adults clustered together, servants and nurses, and they are all silently watching Noctis and, by proximity, Ignis. The only other sounds are the ticking of Noctis’s chocobo chime clock and the king speaking quietly with a nurse by the window.
“Noct,” Ignis whispers again, very quietly, so that he won’t be sent away.
Noctis is awake, but he won’t look at Ignis, not the way he used to. He looks toward Ignis, just for a moment, but then he looks away. Ignis can see Noctis swallow, and Ignis swallows, too. He wants Noctis to look at him; he wants Noctis to whisper his name the way he did whenever they were sneaking through the halls after bedtime.
Ignis isn’t sure if it’s allowed or not, so he sneaks a peek around the room before he reaches out and touches Noctis’s hand. Noctis’s hand doesn’t feel any different, really—a little cold, maybe, and it’s strange to hold Noctis’s hand when Noctis isn’t holding his hand back; all in all, though, it’s mostly the same, with Noctis’s hand fitting under Ignis’s the way it had a month ago.
What’s not the same is the way Noctis breathes in, a tiny gasp that Ignis barely catches. What’s not the same is the way Noctis closes his eyes tight, and the way Noctis’s chin begins to shake, and the way tears begin to streak down the sides of Noctis’s face. (What’s not the same is the fear and confusion that are waking up in Ignis again, like he stepped through a door and walked into a different world, where everything and everyone are opposites.)
Ignis hunches his shoulders, hoping that Noctis’s tears—hoping that the prince’s tears—he doesn’t want— He lets go of the prince's hand, pulling his own hand back into his lap before he can be—they can be—no, Ignis can be—found out and scolded. He covers his right hand with his left and he wraps his ankles around the legs of his chair. He is helpless as he says, “Your Highness.”
The prince’s hand is still lying flat on the bed, where Ignis had been holding it. Ignis stares at it as he listens to the prince begin to cry, these big, gasping sobs that bring all the adults—the servants and the nurses and the king—rushing over to the bed.
“Daddy,” the prince cries, “Daddy,” and Ignis watches as the king picks him up, pulling the prince close so that he can rock him.