When Krystoff lies in bed that night, he tosses and turns and feels the absence of a human’s warm spirit more than he ever has before. Though he stares at the ceiling and wishes for sleep to overcome his turbulent mind, sleep has never come easily to him, and all attempts to clear his head just seem to open up more space for the unwanted thoughts.
In theory, apparitions need very little sleep, but it’s a ritual he’s engaged in for as long as he can remember, if only just to pass the lonely hours a little faster. But tonight is not shaping up to be one of those nights, and so he sighs and sits up, defeated, pulling at least the comfort of a familiar scarf around his neck.
Pedestrian though it may be, he pads out into the corridor on foot, too tired to summon the magic it takes to float. No one is around to put on appearances for. No one is around to get angry at him for his weakness. And he does feel weak, though he should be stronger than ever with a human companion finally at his side once more. He does his best not to dwell on that fact.
He wanders blearily into his study, which is usually a source of comfort, but this time it strangely serves to enunciate the icy pangs in his chest. He pages through one of the dozens of books he’s been working through. The sight of printed words feels like ashes in his eyes rather than an escape from reality. He closes the book with a crisp clap and continues on through the library in a daze. He can’t remember the last time he felt this emotionally hungover.
He senses that Regenald has manifested himself into the room but says nothing. After all, what is there to be said? Regenald has been with him for so long, there’s nearly no need for spoken words to transpire between them. He’s certain the old umbrella knows his thoughts already. And yet his familiar calls out to him.
“Young master,” he says, and it’s almost reproachful.
“Do not ‘what’ me. You know what.”
“What do you want me to say about it, Regenald? I already know I’m a fool for giving any of this a second thought.”
Regenald floats closer and lands deferentially at Krystoff’s feet, but Krystoff continues to rummage through books rather than deign to pick the umbrella up. “It is not my intention to reprimand you, my master. You know this is not my nature.”
Krystoff heaves a sigh and softens. “I know. Forgive me. I’m not myself right now.”
“To the contrary, this is more yourself than I’ve seen you in decades, and I’m curious what it is about the little human that’s inspired this shift. After all, you would not be so morose over anything that did not warrant it.”
Krystoff’s right hand lands on a book that decidedly isn’t a part of his collection. He raises an eyebrow and reels it in to inspect, though he throws a glance down at Regenald and continues to carry their conversation as though he hasn’t found anything. “I don’t know how to answer that.”
“But I am correct, yes? In assuming that it is the human you are brooding over?”
“I am not brooding. I’ve just… been thinking too much.” He opens the unassuming book, and it’s exactly what he figured it was, but that doesn’t make the name emblazoned on the first page any less potent. Jun Renaud. Written in small, thoughtful letters. His fingers trace the shape. “Like about how they’re going to leave me soon enough. And how it’s stupid for me to be attached at all.”
“Do you not feel confident in your ability to eventually seal the barrier manually and keep the human here?”
“No, that isn’t the issue. Though there is a chance they won’t even end up asking to stay. But if they do, they’ll move on to other things. They won’t have any reason to hang around here once they’ve gotten what they asked for.” His hand stills over the lined notebook. He could turn the page and see what Jun has been writing about in their downtime these past few months, maybe even get some insight on their private thoughts, but instead he closes the book like it’s something too sacred for him. “Beyond that, I’ve lied to them. Once they realize that, they’re certain to resent me. Rightfully so, of course.”
“When have you lied? I recall no such thing.”
“Lies of omission. I let them believe that the apparition conflict is one in which I have no hand. One in which I am merely an unlucky third party. I let them think I was worried about this impersonal force endangering both of us, when in reality it was always my own problem, and endanger them though it may, I was never concerned about that. Not in the beginning, at least. Perhaps that was the cruelest lie of all.” Krystoff brings Jun’s forgotten item to his chest and holds it close, wishing it would imbue him with even a fraction of the comfort that Jun’s presence carries. “Now I can only fear I’ve dragged them deeper into danger because I acted selfishly.”
Regenald seems to finally grasp the scope of Krystoff’s conflict, for he asks meekly, “…What will you do?”
“I don’t know,” Krystoff answers honestly, miserably. He slides his back down a wall to sit on the floor and be on more equal eye level with Regenald. He clutches the book in his arms like it’s a lifeline. “I’ve never had a human like them before, so simultaneously steeped in anguish and yet burning with a will to live. The first time I smelled them, I felt certain that they were on death’s doorstep. Disposable, like all the others. But now I feel like I’ve never known a spirit that burns like theirs. I don’t know if this soothes or scares me.”
“It is rather frightening to love something,” Regenald observes.
“I never said I…”
“To grow attached to something, then,” the servant amends, though he says it wryly.
“Right.” Krystoff cradles his head between propped knees and squeezes his eyes shut, wishing again that sleep had bludgeoned these thoughts when it had the chance. “Yeah.”
Krystoff sits like that for hours and hours, until his spine finally hurts enough for it to be punishing rather than a dull bit of white noise, until he finally feels so weary that there really is no room left for anything other than lonely, inevitable rest. He puts Jun’s book back where it was, precise down to the angle he found it in, hopeful that it’ll look untouched. Then he takes ten or twenty minutes to pen a memoir of his own, something he hasn’t done in a while for lack of noteworthy feelings to write about.
He regards it with some relief. Some disdain. He reflects on his mistakes one last time before sleep takes him. That’s all he can do for now.