[Please read the instruction post before commenting]
Augustus decided to hold the paralyzing attack a little longer. He could wait to see if there were a compelling explanation here. He was fairly sure it had to be a ruse—obviously, something shifty was going on here—but he would give them a chance to explain themselves and could always launch an attack later.
“You understand how that sounds like a very convenient change of subject here,” Augustus said severely. “It’s clear you want to distract me from what you have going on with you. What is happening to your hair? Your tie?”
Yujin’s eyes went even rounder, panicky. “Static?” they tried.
“Do you think I was literally born yesterday? Do you think I am a mayfly, with the lifespan of a day?”
They cringed a little at that, shoulders hunching up. Normally those shoulders would hide under their hair by then, but no, it was flying around them as if in a wild wind. “Listen, I’ll explain,” they said urgently. “I will. I promise. I just need you to see this first. I need to know you’ll listen. You’ll probably stop listening when you know my secret, and just kick me out, and then you’ll still be in trouble.”
Yujin did sound convincingly worried. Augustus steepled his fingers, drawing a slow breath, and watching them. He was starting to get the feeling that Yujin actually did have something to tell him, but it didn’t explain away the oddities. Why would Yujin have come here when it was dark in the office and he was apparently out—to wait for him? To do something in his office? To try to find some of his hair or spit, the way he had in Soren’s office?
“The thing is, I know about the stolen book,” Augustus said, very slowly. “I know you have one hidden in your study room. In your desk, behind the drawers.”
A sort of despair passed over their face before it seemed almost wiped away, as if from a force outside them. “I did borrow one,” they said, somewhat desperately. “I was going to sneak it back in when I was done with it. But then, when the others got stolen too, and we had to do inventory, I was worried that it could be used to frame me if you found it or if it turned up again unexpectedly, so I tried to hide it. I didn’t mean to steal it, I just … wanted to read it without you knowing I had. I’m sorry. I have a letter here and you need to read it, I’ll put it down and not do anything else, I promise. I just want to help.”
Slowly, Augustus let the paralysis stop targeting the bust—and moved it to instead target the rug in front of his desk. He did want to read whatever this note was, but he wasn’t a fool. “All right,” he said gently. “Come here, Yujin. Don’t be afraid of me. I’ve got some reasons to be cautious, but it’s not personal. Why do you think I’m in danger?”
They pulled the note out of their pocket and came over, stepping onto the rug—Augustus held the spell still, but could feel Yujin within its range easily—and put the folded note down on the desk.
Augustus picked it up, still watching Yujin, and slowly unfolded it. He lifted it a bit so he wouldn’t have to let Yujin out of line of sight as he read.
It was the same handwriting as the one he’d seen in Fitzfleming’s office—and remarkably similar content. This one read: I have information about you that you don’t want to come out. So, you’re going to help me. Meet me in the woods behind the school this Fourthsday evening. I know you know more about Pennywright than most, so I’m sure we can come to a beneficial agreement at his expense.
Once more, it was undated and unsigned. Fourthsday was tomorrow, though, and he had to assume that Yujin had only recently acquired it—if they had acquired it.
The thing was, Augustus had to acknowledge the fact that it could be Yujin who wrote the initial note to Fitzfleming, and then may have written this one to throw him off the scent. He knew Yujin had stolen one of his books, after all. Perhaps they had found out that Augustus knew—he couldn’t guarantee it had gone back into exactly the same spot behind the drawer that it had been in originally. Perhaps they were trying to spin the situation in their favor.
But the most likely explanation was that a single blackmailer was targeting two people. Blackmailers did like to hold onto and use other people’s secrets; a blackmailer who targeted a single target generally did so because it was personal. Blackmailing for profit benefitted from a diverse portfolio.
There was still one way he could see to keep moving forward, one way that would allow him to trust Yujin. Augustus crumpled the note a little in one hand and looked up at where Yujin stood in front of his desk, still within range of the spell. “I want to believe you, Yujin,” he said honestly. “But I need the truth from you. Tell me what’s being held over you, that they can use to blackmail you with. Tell me what’s going on with you.”
For a moment, frustrated tears seemed to well up in their eyes, and then they sagged, head falling forward. “I know. I know I have to tell you. Please don’t do anything about it. Don’t tell anyone else. I know it’s not permitted, I know it’s not healthy, but I love her.”
Augustus blinked. This was … unexpected. “You’re going to have to be more specific,” he said.
And then he realized that Yujin was leaving the direct area of the spell—that they were floating up off the ground as if the air itself was lifting them up. Their jacket billowed around them in a strong wind that Augustus could not feel, shirtsleeves flapping, hair whipping around them.
Yujin opened their mouth, expression resigned, clearly about to explain.
And a different voice spoke through their mouth, husky, with flat vowels and a touch of drawl to it. “Good gods and evil saints, you terrible man, stop bullying Yujin! Do I need to fight you?! They’re always working so hard to please you, and for what? If you’re going to kick them out of the school, just do it! If you’re going to kick me out of Yujin, just do that! You don’t have to play these weird, incomprehensible mind games! You’re not five moves ahead of them in a chess game or whatever! You’re having a conversation and you have got to stop trying to win it!“
Augustus’s mouth dropped open. When he responded, he did so almost automatically. “In my defense, it’s not like I’ve actively set out to play mind games, but I’ve had a very strange few days in which the people around me getting blackmailed is honestly a very minor part. Yujin, are you possessed?“
Their eyes rolled, but it was less like a spirit wreaking havoc in their body and more like a spirit who was being particularly sarcastic and annoyed. Then they blinked, and it was Yujin’s unhappy expression and Yujin’s wobbling lower lip again. “Yes,” they said. “Her name is Skylar Finch, she died ten years ago in the apartment I moved into last year, and I love her.”
For some reason, Augustus found he had the most dreadful headache. He pinched the spot between his brows. “You’re in love with the ghost possessing you?”
Yujin’s expression firmed up a little, though it was still their own. “Oh, like you can judge me for this? I’ve got some pretty strong suspicions about some of the things you’re into …!”
What did Yujin know? No, it was just suspicions, that was probably fine. Augustus frowned at Yujin, still pinching his brow. Honestly, this explained a lot. They were eating more than usual to maintain their health with a ghost burning through their life energy. It also explained the choice of the book they had stolen, too, if they were trying to better understand what was happening to them and what to do about it without getting anyone else involved.
Yes, of course it was forbidden. A possession could slowly eat a person from the inside out, draining their resources. There were some ways to maintain it for a time, but not indefinitely. Yes, if it were known and they refused to be exorcized, the school would ask them to leave. But Augustus could, in fact, have sympathy for the unhealthy choices one made out of love, the choices that one made knowing it could destroy you—
Before he’d found what to say in response, there was the sound of someone else at the door, fiddling with the lock. Hurriedly, Augustus reached over, grabbing Yujin (and Skylar…?) by the necktie, hauling them across the desk like a balloon, and shoving them down. “Get down,” he hissed. “I’m here in the dark today because I’m trying to spring a trap on the actual thief.”
They didn’t float up again, which he was relieved for, but huddled behind the desk, radiating a sudden panic. It was a little infectious; as Augustus listened to the intruder struggling with the lock, he found himself unsure of what exactly he should be doing.
Should he get down there and hide too, and see what the thief tried to do when they thought they were alone in the room? Should he stay where he was, seated behind the desk, and confront them immediately upon entry? Or something else?
[What should Augustus do?
Comment with details.]