It had been some months since Ignis had last seen (so to speak) Prompto. Which was not to say that the younger man was wholly out of contact with either himself or Gladio, despite being slightly sporadic, but neither of them had managed to get much information out of him as to exactly where he was or what he was doing. He was safe, he assured them of that, despite the fact that he’d returned to Niflheim several months after the Dawn, citing a need to “finish things” and a promise that he would explain once he was done.
Whatever he had to finish, Ignis supposed, was complicated and personal. He’d offered his own services, or even to recruit the remainder of the Kingsglaive if Prompto might have needed help in any form, but while the blond seemed impressed and flattered, he once again assured that it wasn’t necessary. For the most part, the former adviser’s worry had shifted to curiosity.
And then came the call that sent his curiosity into an outright need to know, with the seemingly innocent question, “Hey Iggy, is there, like… a way to make a little mini-nation out here? Something that can be recognized as a thing and protected?”
Demands to know exactly what was going on were met with a laugh and another too-innocent question, “Do you maybe wanna bring the big guy and ‘see’ it for yourself?”
Honestly, the thought of setting foot in Niflheim again, light or no light, didn’t sit well with him. But neither did “semi-retirement”, called upon only every so often for advice as a new nation struggled to hoist itself up from under the rubble of an old kingdom. To travel again, recognizing that little adventurous lilt in his comrade’s voice… Ignis supposed he said yes before he even thought it through.
Gladiolus had taken a bit more convincing of ether of them accepting the invitation as being a good idea, but in the end it was the former Shield who’d packed for them both and sounded legitimately entertained when it turned out that their airship captain was none other than Aranea. She betrayed no information other than “the shortcake” having been dedicating himself to some very intriguing work of late. That, along with the nostalgic stash of granola bars offered to them by her associates (Biggs had promised that they were “the fancy ones”, which simply meant they were laced with a great deal of organic sugar), simply had to fill in for curiosity’s satisfaction for a time.
The trip itself wasn’t wholly unpleasant. Certainly more “enjoyed” than the race out of Niflheim, and the weather too has greatly improved. The blizzards of the past were no longer prevalent, and while the land that they were headed toward still seemed frigid, Gladiolus occasionally walked to the cockpit and then described what he saw: mountains thawing, with spots of brown and smatterings of green life finally returning near lakes. That much made Ignis’s lips twitch upward just a bit. At least until he was alerted that they should brace for landing, nervous of how bad it might be out in the wilderness, but–
The landing itself was smooth, if a bit quick. Aranea informed them that there was something of a makeshift landing zone cleared for them, which further intrigued the passengers. Ignis allowed Gladio to take his arm and guide him for the sheer ease of it, surprised to feel solid earth and not ice or snow beneath his feet at the end of the airship’s ramp.
“I think– Yep, we’re close to a building and Blondie’s waving to us from what looks like a loading bay a couple hundred feet away, one o'clock.” Gladiolus informed him, a grin in his voice as he waved back with his free hand. Ignis was a little surprised the facility remained standing, if looking a little worse for wear at one obvious part in the back where a giant crater seemed to be gaping open; though that much was described to him later.
Well, it did seem only polite as far as the brunet was concerned, taking in the directional instruction and giving a mild wave of his own. Really, impatience was starting to eat at him as much as the curiosity–
“What.” Immediately the former Shield sounded stunned more than frightened, or perhaps simply utterly confused. "What the hell–“
"What?” Ignis had no patience for not knowing what was going on, tugging nearly childishly at Gladio’s arm.
“He’s, uh. He’s not alone.” Gladiolus responded, mildly awed.
Before Ignis had the chance to tug again, Aranea laughed. "Turns out Shortcake had family here all along.“
Family..? But… his only blood relative– Oh. Oh, wait– "Do you mean what I am beginning to believe you mean?” Prompto had said at one point that he wished to re-visit the facility in which he’d been “not-born” because he never knew what happened to it after… certain events. He hadn’t spoken much of it, but he had muttered post-nightmare details about clones, clones sleeping in tubes–
“Probably, being brilliant and all.” Gladio teased lightly, starting to lead Ignis slowly toward the small group even as they jogged to meet up first. "Five of 'em? They all look like him, but… not, too. No freckles, different hair.“
"Astonishing.” Ignis whispered, mostly to himself. He wondered if there were more, how many had been in the facility, how many had survived. Perhaps a mini-nation’s worth of them.
And yet, with six pairs of feet coming to a stop before him, there was only one voice: one that sounded too sheepish and familiar to be any other than the gunner’s. "Uh, well. We’re still kinda working on making everything cozy, but you guys may as well come in and relax after the flight, right?“
There were 47 of them. Clones who survived. There had been 51, however… the long night did not spare everyone, as they were not all equally formed due to (rather understandable) issues with electricity and control panels. Somehow, these 47 individuals had managed to carve out a life for themselves, in part thanks to non-perishable food stocks kept beneath the facility intended for the occasional human inhabitants, along with storage of what was no doubt intended to be distributed elsewhere at a later time. Clearly that chance never came, but it was fortunate for the clones themselves. There’d been survival supplies: clothing, matches, some camp cooking equipment and various random necessities that the clones managed to discover through trial and error. It really was astonishing.
The one thing they could not do was speak. According to Prompto, they couldn’t make any vocal noises at all and had been initially frightened of him when he spoke ("Guess they thought I was a daemon…”), but they could click their tongue against the roof of their mouths to get the attention of the others. From there, their method of communication was their very own specialized sign language, and while Prompto admitted that he was still learning it, they had fairly decent communication. He’d even managed to teach them some words, even if they couldn’t speak them back. Which in part turned out to be lucky due to the gunner’s tendency to curse when surprised or hurt, and there had been a good deal of equally expletive-filled negotiation with Aranea over bringing supplies to help them build things to help make their lives a little easier, like tables and chairs that weren’t in some state of disrepair or covered with something no one seemed to have a good word for.
It was all–remarkable, and Ignis found himself whispering similar words under his breath at every new revelation. They had names, most after physical objects that they then wound or wove into their hair to differentiate themselves. Prompto confessed that he “felt a little weird” calling one Screws, but he chalked that up to being a “cultural thing”, and that was when Ignis laughed. Because they were, weren’t they? A different culture altogether. The dozen or so gathered clones who’d decided to join them and gawk slightly at Prompto’s “family” (flat left hand against flat right hand, then fingers laced) had initially startled at the sound, as they had the first time they’d heard laughter; but one thumbs-up from their “big brother” calmed them into initially timid, then quickly spreading smiles.
Gladio was no less fascinated, consistently shaking his head upon hearing all that Prompto had achieved with them, nevermind what the clones had managed to do for themselves. Survive by helping one another, by thinking and learning and doing the best they damn well could. Sure their dad was a giant dick (literally at one point, or so he’d heard), but to know Prompto had come from that… yeah, it wasn’t any surprise that without all of the MT shit, the clones had managed to fight for a life of their own. A much more comfortable one after the sun rose again, he suspected, though about half of them apparently experienced some sunlight sensitivity.
Furniture might have been lacking in the facility due to the learning curve of making proper chairs, but the clones had managed to construct their own beds comprised of various bits of crates, excess coats and blankets. The concept of a couch was apparently still a ways off from being understood entirely, but Shells and Little Plastic Moogle Toy (which Prompto explained he usually shortened to “Moogs”) were apparently only too glad to offer their beds as soft places for the visiting “diplomats” to sit. Regardless of Ignis mock-complaining that he hadn’t been properly informed he was serving diplomatic duty.
It was… odd. But remarkably comfortable, which was more odd in a sense. Despite the eyes regarding them, the occasional clicking that Ignis heard before he received some kind of explanation from Prompto or observation from Gladiolus, and the fact that there was a mild chill in the air and yet the temperature inside the facility was pleasant… “Is this where you’ll be staying Prompto?”
The gunner laughed, just a little nervous and high-pitched, but his smile was genuine even if his eyes were downcast a bit. "Like, for life? I don’t know. For a little while, though? Yeah. I wanna make sure they’ve all got… whatever they need.“
Gladio made a soft, approving sound in the back of his throat. He could understand, really. Sure they didn’t grow up together or anything like that, but if Prompto felt a little responsibility to make sure these "siblings” were protected… "Anything we can get for you, then?“
"More food and clothes, probably.” Prompto went straight for the practical things, thinking. Then he added, “Phones for everyone.”
Ignis felt at a bit of a loss. "Phones?“
"I’m teaching them how to text!” Prompto explained excitedly.
Another short laugh came from the former adviser. “Oh dear Six. They’ll be learning selfies, too.”
There was a short pause, then Gladio made a quiet sound of both amusement and pain. "Got news for ya, Iggy.“
"They’re not already.” Not that he was really aghast. Mostly. But there was amusement in knowing Prompto’s influence for what it was.
“They are.” The former Shield confirmed.
“Phone’s on silent so you can’t hear the fake click, but yeah, they keep wearing down the battery passing it around.” Prompto admitted with a chuckle. "But they’re learning the alphabet. Pretty quickly, too! And they’re real handy with building stuff after they figure it out. I really just have to get them more supplies.“
And it was… nice. It was good to hear that wistful, purposeful hope in Prompto’s voice again, without the tiredness. Like he was perhaps… genuinely happy. Ignis smiled at the thought, for a moment holding himself back from speaking the name; but he knew better. They’d all agreed that despite the pain in their hearts at the loss, they would not let that dull their joy during the time spent together. Nor tear down their accomplishments while forced to be apart. "Noctis would be so proud of you, Prompto.”
Ignis couldn’t have noticed him glancing down, blushing. Gladio bore witness to a couple of the clones (Feathers and, uh… Earrings, he supposed) seeming to recognize the name and clasping a fist over their heart. It was surreal. But it was… also something that lodged a mild lump in his throat. Of course Blondie had spoken of Noctis. Had to have. He was keystone for all of them.
“Yeah.” The whispered word was shaky, a little unsteady, but the little smile could be heard in Prompto’s voice regardless. "I… I think so.“
”We’re proud of you.“ Gladiolus reached out to put a hand on his comrade’s shoulder. "Hope you’re not gonna be too much of a stranger, though.”
Leaning into the touch, the gunner laughed. "Nah. I don’t want to overstay my welcome. Definitely wanna come back here to visit and help, but… they’re doing good, actually. Just wanna make sure they can reach me or get anything they need, y'know?“
"Of course.” Ignis agreed easily. "And I suppose we ought to… bring this up with someone..?“
Gladio laughed at the fact that was a question. "Well yeah, probably. Still getting the new leadership together, but… I think we can manage something for everyone here.”
“Thanks, big guy.” Prompto pulled away just enough to reach for Ignis’ hand, lightly placing his own over it. "Thanks, Iggy.“
Turning his hand over, the former adviser clasped Prompto’s own and nodded. "Our pleasure, of course.”
The three of them sat there together for a little while, basking in the idea that the world really might be okay, and they within it. Even if they were missing a piece… in a sense they had taken the duty of trying to carry out Noctis’ wishes. One nation might be a ways off, but… no borders. Maybe they could figure out some trade, or–
Clicking interrupted Prompto’s thoughts, watching Moogs sign quickly. "Oh, yeah. You’re invited to stay for dinner, if you guys want. Food’s actually pretty good now that they’ve got more options, and eating with family’s kind of important here. Then you can borrow beds too since, uh. Aranea’s ship is… a little… loud. At night. Sometimes.“ He trailed off, clearing his throat.
Really, Ignis didn’t know the last time he’d laughed quite so freely and so often. "Well. As we are here for diplomacy…”
“You sure, Iggy?” Gladio was the slightest bit surprised. A strange place with strange food would have made a fully-sighted Ignis in his 20’s a bit nervous, but…
“I’m fairly certain we can survive for one night, at least.” The brunet sniffed lightly. "Besides, I’ve spent too damn much time at a desk, I’d welcome any small adventure. Particularly one where I don’t have to fight before and after.“
"Well, I mean.” Prompto chimed in, coughing a little. "I’m teaching them how to defend themselves a little, too. Just in case. If you wanted to show off or anything.“
Ignis sniffed again. "Demonstrations and sparring are quite different. And certainly worth the exchange of a meal and a bed if desired, I’d say.”
Gladio snorted, gently slapping Ignis on the back. "Yeah, sounds good.“