“So this is it, eh?” Gwaine’s voice echoed through the empty house as they took in the space. The cleaners Arthur had sent on ahead had done a good job with the place. It looked fresh and clean, no evidence of the two decades it had been left untouched. A miracle actually. Arthur had expected them to say it was in too much disrepair to be salvaged. Perhaps someone had been looking after the place all this time. Arthur would have to find out who and thank them.
“Apparently,” Arthur said with a shrug.
Gwaine put the box he was carrying down by the stairs in the foyer and walked further into the living space. “Not much, is it?”
“It’ll do just fine,” Arthur said, putting down his own boxes and the lamp he had stashed on his front seat. They were for his bedroom but he wanted to take in the place for a minute before the hard work began. It was a lovely modest home, with exposed wooden beams and a fireplace in the living room. More vintage than modern, but he had expected that. It had been his mother’s decades ago after all. “I just don’t understand why she kept it a secret, even from my father.”
“He didn’t know?” Gwaine’s voice carried from the kitchen. “But I thought he left it to you in his will?”
“No, she did,” Arthur shouted back. He ran a hand along the mantle, trying to picture his mother’s things back then and how she had decorated it. Colorful paintings, odds and ends, a bookshelf or five, he had no doubt. “Of a sort. It was detailed in a letter addressed to me that was hidden at the bottom of my father’s desk. Unopened.”
Gwaine whistled as he joined Arthur back in the living room. “Shit.”
They were silent for a moment, the secret of the place settling over them like a thin fog.
Gwaine broke the silence first. “Did she say anything in the letter? About why she kept it or anything?”
“Not much,” Arthur said with a shake of his head. He unlatched the far window in the living space and pushed it open. A cool breeze blew through, teasing his hair and tickling the back of his neck. “Just that she had lived here through her late teens and early twenties until she met my father. Even after, she couldn’t bring herself to let the place go. Said she hoped I would take good care of him.”
“I’m sorry, him?”
Arthur gestured around them as he made his way back into the foyer. “The house. She called it a him.”
Gwaine laughed. “Oh I wish I had the chance to meet your mother. She sounds like a good time.”
Arthur whirled around. “I swear Gwaine if you continue that thought I will shove this lamp so far up your ass you will feel it until next Wednesday.”
“Is that a promise?” Arthur groaned at the glint in Gwaine’s eye. He should have asked Leon to help him instead.
Arthur ran a hand down his face and pointed toward the front door. “Go,” he growled, “bring in more boxes.”
With a mischievous grin and a two finger salute, Gwaine bounded out the door, his chuckling carrying in from the street.
Arthur shook his head, removing the lamp from the stack of boxes before heaving the boxes back into his arms and making his way up the stairs.
At the top landing, he hefted the box further up in his arms as he walked down the hall and into the master bedroom. He stopped in the doorway and took in the sunlit room, bright and airy. Inviting. His mother’s old room, or so he assumed.
His mother hadn’t left much in way of details about the place.
Arthur sighed and made to step into the room. But in the next second, a boy appeared in front of him out of thin air, silent and semi-translucent like a wisp of smoke. Arthur screamed, dropping the boxes with a loud thud onto the wooden floorboards.
The boy screamed in return.
Arthur broke out of his shock first, cutting himself off as he narrowed his eyes at the boy. Okay, boy was pushing it. He couldn’t have been much younger than Arthur was now, all tousled black hair and sharp lean features. The clothes he wore were old, extremely vintage, just a simple shirt and trousers that hinted at a modest life.
And translucent. All of him was.
Arthur could never catch a break.
Footsteps sounded from the stairs, Gwaine’s worried tone carrying down the hall. “Arthur?! Is everything alright? Why did you scream like that?”
“Everything’s fine,” Arthur said quickly. The boy in front of him raised an eyebrow. Arthur scowled at him. “Just saw a spider. It’s gone now.”
“Jesus.” Gwaine’s voice was closer now, just on the landing but his footsteps had stopped. “You and damn spiders, I swear.”
He really needed to come up with a better excuse, especially after all these years.
Arthur stayed silent, listening as Gwaine’s footsteps retreated down the stairs, evening out as he hit the lower floor. The boy opened his mouth to say something but Arthur held up a finger. The boy drew back, startled speechless. The slam of the door signaled the all clear and Arthur growled, turning his attention back to the boy.
“Goddamnit, how many times do I have to tell you lot not pop up like that?” The boy looked bewildered for all of a second before he crossed his arms and glared at Arthur, opening his mouth to respond. Arthur plowed on, unperturbed by the moody spirit. He’d met enough of them to last several lifetimes, no pun intended. “I have very little friends as it is, I don’t want my last few to be scared off because some half-brained spirit wants a quick chat.”
“Well excuse me for existing in my own home.” The boy turned his head and huffed. “Prat.”
Arthur chose to ignore the insult. “Your home? Oh great, just great.” He threw up his hands and began angrily pushing the boxes into the corner. There was no use unpacking. “I will be having words with Khilgarrah. He didn’t say anything about a death in this house. And I was very thorough with my own research.” He had to be, given his...affliction. For him, living in a space inhabited by spirits was like a light sleeper living with a chiming clock. He would never get any peace.
“Well do you think anyone asked my opinion on the matter?” Arthur gave the spirit a sidelong glance and rolled his eyes as he pushed the last box aside and made for the bedroom door. The boy threw his hands wide, voice rising. “I didn’t ask for my home to be invaded or for some pompous man as a roommate.”
Arthur whirled around in the doorway. “Roommate?! Oh no no no, we are not roommates. In fact, we are not mates at all. So whatever you came to me for, you can forget it. Just piss off.”
“You know, for a second I thought—” the spirit fell quiet, and shook his head, his face suddenly falling. Sorrowful. “But no, you are nothing like her.”
Just as his words sank in, the boy disappeared as silently as he had appeared, leaving Arthur standing in the doorway, all the breath stolen from his lungs.