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Just Skin and Bones

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Iris hears a thump outside and she looks outside the window from her spot on the sofa. Mama and Gladdy do the same. They’re all on the sofa, Iris and Gladdy on either side of the sofa, and Mama’s been reading one of Gladdy’s favourite books, I Want To Be Your Canary. Iris doesn’t understand much, but she’s always liked listening to Mama read and sometimes she does silly voices.

Gladdy nudges Mama’s knee, but she doesn’t keep reading. “Why don’t you read the next part on your own for Iris?” Mama says. She gets up off the sofa and sets the book down. Gladdy grabs it but he looks confused and Iris wonders where Mama’s going to go. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

She exits through the backdoor of the house. Iris tries to follow, but Gladdy holds her. “Wait here,” he says, like he’s the boss. Iris grumbles and slouches in the sofa until she’s almost falling off. There’s no more noises outside, and they see the light of Mama’s flashlight bouncing around on the other side of the window.

Gladdy tries reading the next parts, but he’s slow and he doesn’t do the silly voices. Then Mama comes back inside the house and instead of going back to them, she starts walking around. First in the kitchen, then to the front door and to Daddy’s study. She looks at them, then walks halfway up the stairs. Nothing happens and Mama goes outside again.

This time, Gladdy puts down the book. He jumps off the sofa and Iris follows, but then Mama comes bursting back through, stopping them in their tracks. She shuts the door and locks it, then comes running towards them.

“Gladio,” Mama says, hushed. “Gladio, there is something wrong outside. You and your sister must hide while I take care of it, okay?”

“What?” Gladdy says. “What’s wrong?”

“There’s an angry man outside. He’s just causing some trouble, it’s nothing to fear, but I want you and Iris to hide, anyways.”

“I’m a Shield!” Gladdy puffs up his chest to look like Daddy. “I’m not scared of anybody and I’m tough enough to take care of ‘em. I can protect you!”

“I am capable of taking care of myself,” Mama says. “You must listen to me, Gladio. Please. Take your sister, and hide in your father’s study. Lock the doors and do not open them for anybody but me or your father, understood?”

“But—”

“Gladiolus!” Uh oh, Mama’s using Gladdy’s full name, and she and Daddy only do that when they’re being angry or serious. Why is she angry at Gladdy? Iris wants to ask, but they’re not paying any attention to her. “Do you intend on leaving your sister here alone?”

“No, but—”

“Your duty is to protect and right now, Iris is in most need of that. Take her and go!”

Gladdy scrunches his face up and Iris thinks he’s gonna argue with Mama again. She takes his hand and Gladdy jumps, like he forgot she was there and the second he looks at her, he calms down. He squeezes her hand.

“Okay,” Gladdy says. “Okay, I’ll protect her. I swear.”

Mama exhales, and gives him a kiss on the forehead. “Thank you, Gladiolus. I know you won’t let me down.” Then she kisses Iris on the head, too. “My darling Iris, listen to your brother, okay? I will be back soon.”

She hugs them and Iris is too surprised to hug her back—by the time she realizes, Gladdy’s tugging her towards Daddy’s study.

“Wait, Gladdy!” Iris says. She reaches out for Mama, but she’s already leaving towards the front door. “Wait, what about Mama?”

“Don’t worry.” Gladdy hauls Iris into Daddy’s study and locks the door. He carries Iris over to the closet, where Daddy keeps all his coats and shoes and documents and goes inside. Iris steps in, but it’s really crowded and she ends up sitting half-on and half-off his lap. Gladdy shuts the door. It’s dark inside the closet, so dark. Iris can barely see Gladdy’s face. 

“Is Mama gonna be okay?” Iris whispers. She wishes she had Mog with her, her stuffed Moogle. He’s sitting in her room and Iris hopes he’ll be okay, too.

“Of course,” Gladdy says, all confident. “She’s gonna kick their asses.”

“You’re not supposed to swear!”

“Don’t tell her I said that, okay?”

“Okay,” Iris says. “I won’t. I promise. Pinky-promise.” She raises her pinky finger in the air and Gladdy wraps his own around it. They don’t let go for a while and when they do, Gladdy keeps holding her hand with all his fingers wrapped tightly around her entire hand.

There’s a loud noise from outside that sounds like the front door slamming open. Iris jumps, squeaks, and Gladdy holds her down.

“Shh,” he says. “We need to be quiet. It’s like a game, right? It’s like we’re playing hide-and-seek. If we win, I’ll give you all my dessert for the next… month. How’s that?”

“I don’t want your dessert!” Iris pouts. “I want Mama.”

“She’ll come get us soon! We just have to be quiet ‘til then.”

“No! I don’t wanna!”

Iris! Mom said you had to listen to me. Okay? Just like what we were doing before.

Gladdy’s angry and he’s all red in the face. Iris crosses her arms and faces away from Gladdy. She tries to listen on what’s going on outside but everything’s all muffled.

“...guard on their way. Leave…”

There’s a loud stomp.

“...mici...ia.”

And the sound of something heavy being slammed against the wall. Both Iris and Gladdy flinch, and Iris begins to cry. She’s shaking and sniffling and Gladdy just pulls her closer ‘til her face is buried in his jacket. It smells like Mama’s perfume.

“Shh, Iris,” Gladdy says. “Shh, it’s okay. You’re safe here. I’m gonna protect you, okay? They’re not gonna get you.”

But what about Mama? Iris wants to ask, but her throat’s clogged with tears and she can’t speak. She gulps and tries to nod and be silent for Gladdy’s sake, but it’s hard. There’s so many loud noises outside and she’s scared and she can’t see and she doesn’t know what’s going on and she wants it all to stop.

But the noises only grow louder from then on and soon, Iris can’t hear Mama anymore.

(She and Gladdy don’t move for hours and hours. Her legs stiffen up and she cries the entire time, holding onto Gladdy’s shirt. When they hear another set of footsteps, loud and angry ones, Gladdy tenses up and holds her tighter. Even when they hear the Crownsguard speaking, they don’t move. Not even when the Crownsguard start calling their names.

But when they hear Daddy talking, Gladdy tries to move. He looks at Iris and says, “Stay here. I’m gonna go get Dad,” then tries to open the closet door. But Iris thinks about being left alone in the closet, in the dark and what if Gladdy doesn’t come back? What if she gets stuck and gets left there alone, forever?

“Don’t go,” Iris says. “ Gladdy.”

And Gladdy stays. He keeps holding her until they hear Daddy unlock the door to the study, calling their name. Gladdy peeks through the hole between the door, then he opens it and they run into Daddy’s arms.

Iris is still crying and she’s shaking and shaking, but Daddy holds onto her tightly and she feels a little more safe).