Your Presence Still Lingers
Notes: The characters are not mine and this story is. It was written for the prompt Haunting at Paranormal25 on Livejournal and is intended as a possible follow-up to my fic I Guess It Doesn't Matter Anymore, but I believe it can be read separately. It is post-series. Thanks to Kaze for plot help!
It was after Autor's death that the rumors started.
He was still haunting Kinkan Academy, the students said. Late at night, you could hear the pianos in the music building. There was never any certainty on what would be played, but Mendelssohn's Spinning Song was a frequent choice. One of the janitors insisted he had clearly heard the strains of the upstairs piano, but upon arriving at the room to check, it had been empty.
Cold and empty.
"It was cold because there was a ghost in it!" Lilie said with a knowing nod. "They always say if a spot is unnaturally cold, it's because of ghosts!"
Ahiru was not willing to brush off the topic with that statement. And unlike she would usually be where ghosts were concerned, this time she was unafraid. "Someone should try again to see!" she objected.
Lilie's eyes went wide. "Oh, no one dares to do that!" she exclaimed. "Unless you do, Ahiru! That would be so like you, getting right into the thick of things!" And she squealed, clapping her hands to her cheeks. "You should do it! And I'll be right here waiting to comfort you after you come back chilled from feeling his ghost."
Ahiru flinched in response. Autor's death still cut her very deeply. He had become one of her closest friends, and to have him taken away so suddenly and tragically—killed by a runaway carriage while rescuing a child—had broken her heart. She half-wished that he was around and she could talk to him once more. But he never seemed to linger long enough to converse with anyone.
Other rumors flourished. You did not want to go into the library after hours; no, not even the staff would attempt it. Autor claimed the entire building as his then. He would sit in his favorite spot and read, or he would wander the aisles and put away the books that were out of place.
"If he really does that, he would be a helpful ghost," Batson commented with a roll of his eyes. "I don't know why I should be afraid of him."
"I don't know why anyone should," Ahiru frowned. "He's still Autor. It's not like he's changed just because he's . . ." And she trailed off, the tears shining in her eyes.
He still wanted complete quiet. If you were in the library when it was open, and you so much as accidentally dropped a book, you would feel a cold presence quickly growing annoyed.
Over time, many of the students outright refused to even sit at the table Autor had frequented the most. He wanted to be left alone in death just as much as in life, and as always, they were more than willing to give that solitude to him.
"If you sit at his table, you'll start to feel unwelcome," Lilie said, again with the knowing look.
And even some students who had not previously believed the rumors grew unsettled enough that they avoided the spot.
"Do you think it's really true, Fakir?" Ahiru could not help asking her closest friend as they left the main building after the day's final class. "Could Autor actually be . . ."
Fakir grunted, keeping his hands in his pockets. "Who knows," he said. "I don't know why he'd want to keep hanging around here."
"Maybe he's still lonely," Ahiru worried. "What if he can't move on, so he's stuck here?" She bit her lip, looking down. "I wish I could talk to him again," she whispered.
Fakir looked to her, his green eyes softening at her sorrow. Slowly he drew out his arm, bringing it around her shoulders. She leaned into it, closing her eyes for a moment in the warmth of his embrace.
"You miss him too, don't you, Fakir?" she said.
He was silent. ". . . I wonder if that's why he showed up that night," he said instead. "To say goodbye." His eyes narrowed. "Even though he never bothered to tell me he was dead."
"Maybe he didn't know how," Ahiru said.
"How hard could it have been?" Fakir muttered.
His shoulders slumped as he glared down at the sidewalk. "That idiot." Autor . . . are you satisfied? he thought. I do miss you. I never thought you'd be gone like this.
And the rumors made him angry and annoyed more than anything else. The students were paying more attention to Autor when he was dead than when he had been alive. It felt wrong. In general Fakir tried to block out all discussion of the campus's ghost stories. But in spite of his best efforts, he could not help overhearing at times. And on one occasion, his patience bent back too far and snapped.
"What's the matter with you?!" he screamed at Lilie and two other gossiping girls that day. "You're always talking about Autor, but you never cared about him. His death means nothing to you! You're just using it to spread your ghost propaganda!" And he swore, his eyes flashing.
Lilie and the others stood open-mouthed. But before any of them managed to come to their senses enough to respond, he was walking away.
"Oh Ahiru! He must have really cared about that music student, to behave like that!" Lilie exclaimed later. "I hope he keeps on this path and becomes depressed and delinquent!"
And even Ahiru, long-suffering as she had been, could take no more. "Well, I hope none of the tragedies you want to see ever come true!" she cried. "There's enough of them in life already!" And she ran too, her braid flying out behind her.
Lilie stared after her friend, again slack-jawed. But her flighty mind could not even focus on this surprise for long. Instead, as always, she had to come up with an outrageous explanation.
"Ahiru loved him too!" she declared. "I wonder if there was a terrible battle between her and the wonderful Fakir because of it?!"
And Piké looked at the other girl in disbelief, both at her complete lack of sympathy and her preposterous imagination.
It was after the rumors began extending to Autor's house that Fakir started to take more stock in them. Lights were seen going on in the middle of the night, particularly in the room that Fakir knew was the replica of Drosselmeyer's study. Other times a blue light was reported as passing from room to room before vanishing.
If Autor had been able to prove that he and Fakir were related, then Fakir would be the nearest heir to his property. But as it was, the estate was supposed to be sold, something Fakir knew Autor never would have tolerated. And on the day the inspector went to examine the house and property to appraise its value for selling, Fakir went as well, curious and melancholy. Part of him felt like he should not let it happen, and yet he knew he could not stop it. Neither he or Charon had the kind of money required to buy such a large estate.
But when he arrived at the house, he stood stunned as the door flew open and the inspector ran out, his eyes wide in fear and his skin ashen.
"What happened?" Fakir frowned.
They both started as the door slammed shut behind the inspector. The horrified man stumbled to his carriage, mopping his brow with a handkerchief he fumbled out of his pocket.
"There's something in there!" he gasped. "I can't inspect such a place. I refuse to set foot in there again!" He turned to look at the stymied Fakir. "I never believed in ghosts, but I do now." And with that he snapped the reins and rode off, determined to never return.
Fakir stared after him, then turned, looking back to the silent house. His eyes narrowed as he stood, looking at the edifice for some time. "Autor," he uttered.
He hesitated, then took a step forward, and another, until he was in front of the door. He really felt ridiculous, yet he needed to know.
Or did he already know, but had not accepted it?
Debating again, he finally raised a fist and knocked on the door. "Autor, it's me," he said. "Open up."
There was no reply. In annoyance Fakir turned, shoving his hand into his pocket. "What am I doing?" he growled.
But something had shut the door on the inspector. Fakir had seen it with his own eyes. He could choose to believe it had not been Autor's ghost, but under the circumstances, was that the most logical explanation? He would have never willingly let go of his home in life. And Ahiru was right that he would be the same in death, so why should it be a surprise that he would fight against it being sold now?
"I didn't agree with the idea, if you want to know," Fakir said with a last glance over his shoulder at the door. "I came here to see if I could stop it. But I guess you didn't need any help."
He was only met by silence. Annoyed and frustrated, he left.
Autor—or whoever the mysterious presence was—also evicted the next inspector that was sent. And the third, and the fourth, until the executor of the estate himself went out to investigate, determined to not be frightened away by tales of spirits. But after he, too, was sent fleeing in terror, all attempts to sell the house ceased.
Peace again descended on the neighborhood. The other tenants began to learn to get used to the strange lights and the music that they could hear coming from the mortally-vacated home. As long as no one disturbed the property, they were left alone in turn, so the people gradually became content with their ghost.
But Fakir was growing more and more discontent. The more he accepted the idea that Autor was still clinging to the mortality he had left behind, the more frustrated he became that they could not converse. He often passed by the house late at night and saw the lights and heard the music, but he was never allowed admittance.
"I'm sure it's nothing personal, Fakir," Ahiru told him. "I can't seem to talk to him either." She looked down sadly. "Maybe we're not supposed to."
"I won't accept that," Fakir retorted. "He's around, so he should be willing to say something. Especially after he left so abruptly when I took him home that night."
Ahiru watched him and worried. Even more than her, Fakir seemed to have difficulty coming to terms with Autor's death. It had affected him more than he was willing to say or perhaps even realized. And no matter how distraught and ill he grew over the next days, or how much they argued over his inability to keep himself healthy, Ahiru could not seem to get through to him.
But then again, she thought sadly, maybe that was because part of her wanted the same thing Fakir wanted and she could not understand why they could not have it.
"It really is mean, Autor," she said aloud one night in sheer frustration and sorrow as she stared out her window. "You should talk to us! Just look at what this is doing to poor Fakir. I know you can't want to hurt him." Tears filled her eyes. "Or . . . or me. . . ."
She rested her head against the glass. "And I don't know how long we can go on like this," she whispered.
Of course, things could not carry on in that vein indefinitely. And at last, as he found himself half-starved and ready to drop from lack of sleep, Fakir felt his patience snap altogether.
"Autor!" he yelled that fateful night, pounding on the strong door with his fists. "Let me in." He swore in anger and despair. "Are you mad at me? If anything, I should be mad at you, and I am. I'm tired of you shutting me out. Open this door!"
To his stunned surprise, it swung open. He stepped back, peering into the darkened study. No one visible was inside.
He went into the vestibule, dragging the door shut behind him. "Autor?" he called, feeling for the light switch.
Nothing was different as he clicked it on. The study was quiet and empty, but perfectly intact. Dust had not formed on anything. Fakir walked through it, his shoes echoing on the wood.
"Autor, where are you?" he demanded. "You opened the door for me, didn't you?"
He crossed into the living room, which was also silent and vacant. An eerie sensation went up his spine as he walked past the furniture and photographs and into the hall. But it was not a feeling of being watched by a spirit.
It was a feeling that he was entirely alone.
It was when he arrived on the top floor and began to look through the attic rooms that the full force of it hit him. Autor was not here. If he had ever been here, he was never coming back. Somehow Fakir knew that.
He let out a strangled cry and flung out his hands, toppling a lamp and several boxes. He drove his fist into the wall before sinking to his knees, digging his hands into his hair. And there, in his miserable solitude, he wept for his lost friend.
He had never even vocally acknowledged Autor as his friend until the night he had taken the other boy home on his horse. And though he had not known it at the time, Autor had already been dead then. He had never forgiven himself for not realizing it. The hints had been all around him, but he had not paid attention. He had not had any idea that it was the last time he would ever see Autor or speak with him. And though he was still angry that Autor had not revealed the truth, deep down Fakir was angrier still at himself.
"You idiot!" Fakir rasped, albeit it was not clear to whom he was referring. "You idiot!"
His shoulders slumped as his anger began to drain away, replaced by a grief-stricken and despondent numbness that spread through his entire body. Still he lingered where he was, blankly gazing at the attic and the fallen boxes and belongings of Autor's. He would have to pick everything up, of course, but right now he did not feel like moving.
"I wonder," Drosselmeyer mused in his dimension as he watched. "Was Autor's ghost ever really there, Fakir? Or did you invent it yourself out of your guilt and grief and your desperation to not have to say goodbye to someone else you cared about? A Story-Spinner's power is strong, even though we can't bring the dead back to life. Was it your own will that led to the piano being heard at night and the library gaining a spectre? Was it your own will that made this old house look inhabited again? Was it even your own will that frightened all those poor inspectors and the executor of the estate away?"
He sneered, observing the traces of Fakir's tears of hopelessness. "I wonder."