Notes: This fic was inspired by the A Born Coward fanvid I found on Youtube and I highly recommend that you go and check it out because it's really good. I was tempted to write a fic for it and eventually I gave into that urge and wrote this at around... three in the morning.
Title: The Leaves of Autumn
Words: 2807 words
The Leaves of Autumn
Clarke turned and looked at the girl sitting on the couch. Her long brown hair was cut in a princess-style and her large red eyes were downcast; there was something yellow clenched tightly in her fist. Aside from that detail, she looked like any other young child he'd seen.
But she was here, which meant that there was more to her than a normal little girl who was a bit quiet.
"Your parents are a little concerned about your recent behaviour," Clarke said slowly. "Have you talked to anyone about this? A friend maybe?"
Ib shook her head, "Mary has a lot of friends. She likes people and people like her."
"I know, your parents told me," Clarke replied with a smile. "But what about you? Do you have any friends?"
"I used to have a friend," the girl said. "But... he won't wake up anymore."
– – –
if i can be your friend again, i won't ask for more
if you don't care, i won't care either
– – –
Staring up at the painting, a sense of... something struck her. She couldn't put a name to the feeling, but it made her heart beat too loudly in her ears and it felt like there was something wrapped around it tightly. Ib stared at it for several long seconds.
The man looked at peace, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He was sleeping.
Ib reached out and touched the plaque displayed under the painting.
That wasn't a good thing, Ib thought as Mary came up to her. Why would people forget about him? He had a kind face.
"Come on, Ib! I'm hungry! Mom says we'll go to that café down the street!" Mary wrapped both of her arms around Ib's arm and began tugging on it. She gave the painting a look, "... creepy. Can we go now?"
"Ah, yes..." Ib said, letting Mary drag her away from the painting.
She glanced over her shoulder one more time to look at the painting. Perhaps she was just imagining things, but she thought that it was crying.
A sharp stab of pain shot through her heart just before she looked away.
I won't forget you.
– – –
you're going ahead and i stopped going
how can i fill the gap between you and me that cannot be shrunk?
– – –
He could see her through the painting. It was like a window to the real world; the world that he could never reach.
But she was safe. That was what mattered. She was safe and happy. Maybe she couldn't remember him, but that was okay because she was safe. That was what made this worth it. He'd known what would happen to him the moment he had handed over his rose.
He could still remember the warmth of her small hand in his and the strength he'd felt in it. He'd always known she would be able to make it out of this and he was going to damn well make sure that she did.
He'd died for her, but he was okay with that. He was... was okay with her not remembering him. So long as she was alive then it was all okay. A place like this was no place for a child. He was a part of this world now, all so a lonely little girl – she's not even human– could have a life.
Maybe he was a little bitter about that. That girl would have killed her if he hadn't...
They were gone now.
He pressed his hand to the portrait of the gallery, the exit from this world and into the real one. Fabricated World, the painting was called. He could see out into the gallery from it, but when he pressed his hand against the canvas he couldn't push through. That way was forever closed to him.
His life in exchange for hers; it seemed fair enough. She could have all the years he'd never lived and more. He could be okay with that... couldn't he?
His heart was aching in his chest but he ignored it, watching as she left his view.
I'm sorry I couldn't keep my promise.
– – –
it was fine weather with a shower of rain in this area today
i was bored of not being busy and i fully enjoyed myself all day long yesterday
– – –
The week after they went to the gallery, it rained.
Ib still had to go to school, so she took her umbrella and left the house. Mary was always slow in the mornings and if Ib waited for her, then she'd be late and they would both miss their bus.
As she walked, Ib watched the rain fall. A drop fell past her face and she blinked. For a second, it didn't look likea rain drop, it looked –
Like the petal of a blue rose.
Ib stopped and looked up at the sky. The clouds were starting to lighten and disperse, revealing the bright blue sky again. She stared up at it, feeling that tight feeling in her chest again. She'd seen a brighter blue than that before...
But where? She couldn't remember.
Ib likened the feeling to trying to hold water in her hands; it was always slipping away from her. She tried to figure out where this familiarity was coming from, this certainty that she'd seen that colour before, but she just couldn't get the pieces to fit together.
She liked puzzles. She'd be able to figure out this one when she had all of the pieces. There was something there that she wasn't quite remembering, but it would come back to her.
I'll find the answer; I know I will.
– – –
i'm a liar and this is a love song of "contrary words" i spat out
– – –
Time didn't seem to flow in this world the same way it did everywhere else. He'd thought that only a day or two had passed, but when he looked through the portrait to the real world he saw that nearly two weeks had passed.
Here, the things that had once tried to kill him now passed him by and left him alone. He was no longer an intruder to their world. He had nothing that they could desire.
He strode past the ladies in their coloured dresses and came to stop in front of the painting. The Hanged Man had hung here when he was in the gallery before, but now it read Forgotten Portrait.
Did you really forget me, Ib?
It hurt more than he'd thought it would. No matter how he tried to convince himself otherwise, the thought that she had forgotten about him and the promise he had made her hurt. Especially when he could remember it all so vividly.
Her smile when she'd found him still alive; the sheer relief that she wasn't alone in this anymore. Her soft smile when he tried to comfort her, stumbling over his words a little but doing the best he knew how. The promise that they would both make it out of this and go eat macaroons.
The promise that he'd failed to keep.
The tears pricked at his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. She was safe and alive and out there and that was all that mattered.
– – –
i haven't even thought about you
ah, but, to tell the truth, i may have thought about you just a bit, i'm just saying
– – –
She had been flipping through one of her mother's art books – the one from the Guertena exhibit – when it all clicked together. The missing piece was right there.
Ib smiled when she came to the page for the Forgotten Portraitand ran her finger under the lines of text as she read them. She looked over at the painting, captured on the shiny page, and gently ran her fingers down the sleeping man's cheek.
A shock ran through her, like she'd stuck a fork in an outlet.
I know this face, I know you.
All of her memories came rushing back, nearly knocking her off her feet. She could remember now.
She could remember a promise, his smile, everything. He was still there, he was sleeping there, if she could... she needed to tell him.
Please wake up. I miss you.
Ib was out the door before she could think. Mary's pleas fell on deaf ears; she didn't care – this was herfault if she hadn't... if she hadn't... he would be here. He was supposed to be here.
"When this is all over, we'll go get macaroons at that café. Okay? Haha, yeah, it's a promise!"
The streets were still wet from the rain and her feet made loud splashes as she ran. There were tears coursing down her cheeks but she didn't care. The gallery was only a block from her house, she could go back. She had to go back.
He'd done everything for her, given up everything, the least she could do was see him one last time. Tell him that she would always remember him. Tell him...
The gates to the gallery were chained closed.
Ib grabbed them, shaking them in a futile attempt to get them to open. She cried, she screamed. It wasn't supposed to be like this! It wasn't – it wasn't fair. Why should she... why would he leave her all alone? They'd made a promise, hadn't they? You weren't supposed to break promises.
You promised you wouldn't leave me all alone.
– – –
as i can't still put that into words honestly
i'm a born coward
– – –
He could only watch as time passed by helplessly. He lost track of all time. It could have been a year or it could have been a hundred, he didn't know. Everything in this world seemed content with how it was, wandering around silently and going about their business like always.
He'd become a fixture in that time; endlessly stalking the halls and up and down the stairs, retracing his and her's steps. There was no point for he knew he would never see her again.
But still, he felt that this brought him a little closer to her. There was nothing else he could do. Sometimes he lay and stared at the ceiling, missing the stars. Most of the time he spent it hoping that she was out there and happy; torn between hoping she remembered him and praying that she didn't.
No matter how much it hurt him to think she would never remember him, it was probably for the best. If she never remembered him, she would live a full and good life. She'd do everything he couldn't do and more.
He wished he could've taken her to eat those macaroons like he promised. He wished he'd gotten to see the beautiful and strong young woman he knew she'd become.
He wouldn't ever get to see that. The gallery had gone dark; there was no one there. By the time it was reopened or he saw the world outside again, it could be too late. It could already be too late. She could be... Ib could be dead by now, her entire life having played out without him even being aware of it.
Was this how Mary had felt? Watching people come and go and knowing they were living while he was trapped inside this world, never changing? He could see how that could drive a person insane.
He wished he could have stayed dead. It wouldn't hurt this much if he was dead.
There was so much crammed inside of him. So many hopes and dreams for her, about her, he wished he could tell her, could just... but he hadn't and he couldn't. He'd lied to her that it would be alright, that he would be there if she called when he knew that wouldn't happen.
Maybe this wouldn't hurt so much if he'd gotten to say goodbye. That might have given all of this more closure. It would never stop the pain, but he wouldn't have sent her off with false hope.
But, more than anything, he wanted to see her happy. He wanted to see her smile one more time.
If I could, I would like to see you one last time.
– – –
shall i tell you what i've been thinking for a long time?
what's wrong with waiting?
– – –
She marked down the years as they passed by, each one ticking past slower than the last. She left home and moved away, going to school and learning. She stopped talking to Mary; there was so much there that she couldn't forgive. Not yet, not when the wounds were still so raw.
But she kept track of that gallery, hoping that it would open its doors to her again.
Let me see you again, just one more time.
– – –
my love for you seems to overflow from my hands
you know, i can't find someone else to give it to
– – –
When Ib turned twenty, the gallery reopened for a special twentieth anniversary of Guertena's death. She immediately bought tickets and rushed to make her way home. This could be her last chance; she had waited nearly eleven years for this.
Mary called her, begging her not to go, apologizing and crying about it all. She asked Ib to come back home, to let them work things out; they were sisters, weren't they? They were supposed to love each other no matter what.
"I can't do that," Ib said. "You know I can't."
She hung up on more of Mary's pleading, grabbing her shoes and headed for the door. It wasn't a long ways to the gallery, she could walk.
Her feet felt heavy, like she'd strapped cement blocks to them, and her heart was fluttering wildly in her chest. Ib had grown up, had matured further, but she still felt like a frightened child deep inside. Despite her resolve, she wasn't even sure... if she could face him.
Even after all of these years, she still cared for him. And now... now she could recognize these feelings that she had, that she had locked away deep inside of herself. This had grown into something more than she'd ever believed it could.
He had looked after her, he had been scared and given his life for hers. And she had never gotten to say anything to him, never got to thank him for everything that he'd done for her.
She had never told him that she would wait for as long as it took for him to fulfill that promise.
I want to go and eat macaroons with you.
The man behind the desk smiled at her and directed her attention to the pamphlets sitting on the desk beside him. Ib thanked him but said that she'd been here before, she was quite sure she'd be able to find what she was looking for.
Slowly, as though afraid they'd turn into a slide underneath her feet, Ib walked up the stairs. The windows and paintings were all as she remembered them being. She glanced around as she reached the top of the stairs; the gallery was empty except for an elderly couple at the far side.
That was good. There wouldn't be anyone to see her cry.
The Forgotten Portrait was exactly as she remembered it being. He was forever trapped within canvas, sleeping peacefully. She wondered if he was still like that in the other world, sitting there peacefully with a soft smile on his face just for her.
Even though you knew, you kept being brave just for me.
Ib looked at the painting, feeling her eyes burn from unshed tears. Very slowly, she reached out towards the painting and, carefully, pressed her hand against the canvas.
It... it felt warm. She swallowed, hard. She could almost feel him, feel his familiar warmth and see the soft line of his smile.
"I love you."
The picture opened its eye.
Ib gasped, nearly took a step back, but then there was an explosion of blue rose petals and she –
She could touch him.
The fabric of his coat was familiar, something she had never forgotten, and she gripped it tightly in her hand. She wouldn't let go again.
He as falling forward into her arms and she caught him, falling to her knees as she did. He was heavy and real and warm in her arms. Ib held on tightly, cradled his head against his shoulder.
She felt him blink against her skin, the soft flutter of his eyelashes tickling just a little bit. It's all real, he's here.
The words tumbled out without her thinking, "I still want to eat macaroons with you."
He smiled, "I promised, right?"
The tears that she'd built up over all of the years spilled over the dam she'd steadily been holding up for years. She cried, happy that he was here, not able to say in words everything that she wanted to say, that she needed to say.
"Hey," he said softly, cupping her face in his hands; that smile she knew so well on his lips. "Don't cry. It's all going to be alright, okay?"
Ib threw her arms around his neck, holding him tightly, "I love you."
He held onto her just as tightly. "I know. Me too."