And Janus Blinked - EnbyNeti (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: 1. An Old Friend Summary: Chapter Text Chapter 2: 2. Job Interview Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 3: 3. The Fourteenth Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: 4. Estranged Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 5: 5. Sense of Self Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: 6. Contact List Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Chapter 7: 7. Cat's Out Of The Bag Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: 8. Before (After) the Storm Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9: 9. Home Sweet Bastion of Evil Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: 10. Outsider's Opinion Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: 11. A Relative Night's Rest Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: 12. A Tale To Be Told Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: 13. The Archive's Statement Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: 14. Supplementals Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: 15. Billow The Clouds Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16: 16. Blurred Instincts Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17: 17. Emergency Contact, Again Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18: 18. A Sliver Of Peace Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19: 19. Compelling Narrative Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: 20. A Wrench in the Works Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21: 21. Open Doors Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22: 22. TwistWarpChange Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 23: 23. What's next ? Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24: 24. Childhood Monsters Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: 25 (1). Eventful Appointments Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: 25 (2). Eventful Discharge Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27: 26. Shadow of a Doubt Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28: 27. In the History Books Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29: 28. Off The Leash Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30: 29. No Plot Left Unturned Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31: 30. What's in a name ? Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32: 31. Chaos Comes and Goes Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33: 32. Unbalanced and Misaligned Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34: 33. Uneasy Precedents Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35: 34 (1). A Study in Becoming Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 36: 34 (2). A Study of Marks Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 37: 35. Gear Shift Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 38: 36. An Unlikely Challenger Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes:

Chapter 1: 1. An Old Friend

Summary:

“I- I didn’t think, really, I was just so mad-!”

“Mad on my behalf, yes. When I expressly told you I didn't care .”

“Well you’re an awful liar, Sasha ! I can see this mess upsets you, you’ve been sulking for a full week and Jo- Sims is up there, stealing your job !”

Goodness, what was it with Tim and anger that made him sound both reasonable and like an utter asshole ?

“ Jonathan is not trying to steal my job, Tim.”

Chapter Text

Rosie is painting her nails behind them, phone tucked between her cheek and shoulder as she hums along to the complaints of the caller. The lobby is almost empty as she hears Mr. Bouchard's door click shut above, the eye patterns carved on the side of her desk blinking up at her.

Right besides said desk, Sasha James pushes Timothy Stoker into a wooden chair and stares him down.

She glares, and Tim has the decency to silently avert his eyes, instead of trying to joke himself out of his own mess. The curls of his hair seem to droop a little, some cartoon-physics she would tease him about if she wasn’t so angry with him at the moment.

Small mercy that Jonathan was on his way up to Elias’s office, because it means he didn’t have to hear the absolute bullsh*t this idiot just loudly claimed about him, right in the middle of the Library .

(Before she dragged him off to the lobby in fury.)

Sasha is livid, not because she never heard Tim say something likethis before, but because she knows him.

She knows Tim. Has known him for the past four years, when he stumbled into the Institute as a fresh researcher and managed to flirt his way into Artefact Storage with no idea of what was in there, and she promptly kicked him out of the way of a particularly nasty set of Victorian needles. She knows him, from the tip of his greek foot to the root of his cartoonish hair.

She knows Tim, knows most of what there is to know about him too. His tendency to tangle his legs with his desk chair, only for him to fall when he tries to get up. The absolutely horrid way he cooks chili, his spinach left raw at the bottom. The way he organizes his bookshelf, spines against the wall just so he can play the wizard when she needs a specific title about architecture. His collection of neon socks, that he buys just to spite his little cousin who sells pastel ones. His hatred of circuses and taxidermy, which made him throw out every red thing he had in his apartment two weeks before he applied for the Research department.

(Sasha knows about Danny.)

That means she knows the best things about him as well as the worst.

She knows Tim has cruelty tucked in his chest like an old friend. Icy smiles when his eyes burn with the promise of retribution and pain. A presence, far from his usual friendly slouch, that crushes you before he even lifts a hand. And his words. Words he’s sharpened into throwings knives, to be snarled with the aim of a disciple of Artemis.

She knows he can be cruel, and she knows he can keep himself from it.

(She’s always been very proud of him for this, for his capacity to solve his problems and get through his issues without ever relying on those words. Even as a drunk mess, he’d be more prompt to laugh and joke, to tease and walk away, even if his voice turned a little colder.)

(That pride is slightly cracked now.)

Tim is still looking at the floor when she tunes back in the moment, and she knows she’s been glaring still because she can see him rub the edges of his shoes together, a familiar fidget she spotted in her first week back in Research. Usually, seeing it means she sits besides him or on his lap if necessary, and holds him until he either talks to her or begins to genuinly laugh and joke, the tension bleeding away from his shoulders and rolling ankles.

But he absolutely deserves to squirm under her anger this time.

Small mercy that Jonathan didn’t hear what he just belted for every researcher to hear.

“What do you have to say for yourself ?”

“I- come on Sash’, you know I didn’t actually mean it-”

“Because that makes it so much better, doesn’t it ? If you didn’t mean it, maybe no one in this overpopulated library heard you, am I right ?”

Once again, Tim has the decency to wince.

Good .

“I- I didn’t think, really, I was just so mad-!”

“Mad on my behalf, yes. When I expressly told you I didn't care .”

“Well you’re an awful liar, Sasha ! I can see this mess upsets you, you’ve been sulking for a full week and Jo- Sims is up there, stealing your job !”

Goodness, what was it with Tim and anger that made him sound both reasonable and like an utter asshole ?

Jonathan is not trying to steal my job, Tim.”

“He is ! Has to be !”

He is not . Jon likes research, Tim. He doesn’t care about the Archives, or the Library outside of its resources being available, or Artefact Storage so long as the door is closed. Not everyone wants a promotion either. Do you want the job, Tim ?”

“Wha- No ! It’s not the same-”

Sasha sighs, hands on her temples. Either her ponytail is giving her a headache way ahead of schedule, considering it’s only 10AM, or Tim is driving her mad(der than usual).

“Tim. Why are you so angry at Jonathan, exactly ? Even if he wanted the job, it’s Elias who rejected my proposal.”

“I’m not angry at him ! J-just at the situation, you know-!”

You just told the whole Library Jon had to be f*cking with Elias to even get his research job.

See, Sasha knows Tim can be cold and cruel, when he wants to. She knows and doesn't judge him for it, because he's always so careful with it, especially in public. But she knows the cruelty is there.

Funny thing is, it's in her too.

“I- I didn’t say it like that-”

“Oh right, let me think. You said-”

“Alright, Sasha, I get it !”

She looks down at him, loving the inches she has on him when he shrinks down in his chair. Pity she isn’t wearing her heels too.

“Do you, Tim ? Do you understand you just told all of research Jon is a -”

I said NO.

Well. That cuts her little intervention short.

Because in the four years she's worked in the same room as him and sometimes followed him when he fact-checked cases bybreaking and entering orbribing police, as every scholar should, she has never heard Jonathan Sims's voice reverbate through the Institute and her very skull like this.

Chapter 2: 2. Job Interview

Summary:

“Enter, please.”

Jon shakes himself out of his own head, blinking owlishly at the closed door for an instant before he grabs the handle and begins to turn it.

It’s golden, which Jon always found a bit… tacky ?

Notes:

I know I said I was going to post every two to four weeks but. I realized, this is a time travel fic, and the time travel literally comes in on the second chapter which is already written and Im too excited not to post it. So.
Enjoy I guess ? Yes I'm a disaster.

Im also posting it because it was the premise of this story for me, which makes it important, in my mind, to get as soon as possible ? I don't know, really, I'm just winging this.

Chapter Text

Jon paces a few steps away from Elias Bouchard’s office, heart beating faster than a hummingbird into his ribcage, fingers clenched around his latest research in a bid to keep himself from attacking the skin around his nails out of stress.

He can still feel the blush darkening his cheeks and the tip of his ears, Tim’s snarl clear in his head. He’d been almost out of the library when his frie- when his coworker had cackled coldly, those horrible words leaving his lips.

He’d known Tim was angry with him since they got Rosie’s call three days before for his appointment - for a job interview - and well, he gets that this whole situation is absolutely horrid, especially for Senior Researcher Sasha who actually should get a promotion - because Rosie told them that’s the job Jon would be interviewing for, which just made Tim angrier - but he had not expected Tim to… say something like this.

In the middle of the Library. The very much inhabited Library.

Sims has spent an awful lot of time in Bouchard’s office lately, hasn’t he ? Probably how he got into research, ah ! He’s always shaky when he comes out too, almost limping -

Jon grits his teeth as he raises a hand to knock on Elias Bouchard’s office door, half a minute before his appointment. He tries to make his knocking purposeful, three sharp hits against the rich viridian wood and never one less, but he fumbles a little on the last, his knuckles out of synch.

His knee gives a little when he does, because he was pacing for half an hour at least, and his right hand clenched around his file. He misses his cane. He doesn’t even know why he doesn’t bring it to work anymore, no one even made a comment about it past the first month.

(“ How old are you even, Sims ?”, “Sticks too weak to hold you up ?”, “Probably gets folks to pity him, the asshole-” “Quiet, could be ready to whack us with it !” “Bet he doesn’t even need it, just for show like all the rest of him-” )

“Enter, please.”

Jon shakes himself out of his own head, blinking owlishly at the closed door for an instant before he grabs the handle and begins to turn it.

It’s golden, which Jon always found a bit… tacky ? Too ostentatious really, because they're academics, not billionaires, and golden doesn't really match that green. Jon doesn't like gold that much, except in the sky when he wakes up. And he doesn't care about a doorknob, of all things, when he should already be inside that office.

But he looks at that doorknob and he cannot stop looking as the door slowly opens. A ray of light hits the metal, a glint catching Jon's eyes, and the gold fills his vision.

It's golden. Golden like the Head of the Institute plaque on the wall, like the peephole carved into the wood, like Elias’s eye-shaped earring which was apparently a wedding gift, like the cufflinks in that very same shape he always fiddles with when walking through the Library to check on the researchers.

Like his own plaque on his office door, like the plaques he got made for his assistants just to spite Tim, like the edges of the spiderweb table, like Martin’s glasses on his desk as he made his first statement, like the lever of the new CO2 system, like the chains that held Gertrude’s broken glasses against her blood-soaked chest, like the police badges Basira and Daisy showed them, like the key to underground tunnels, like the digits on Tim’s flat door, like the nails of the NotThem scraping against cold stone, like Leitner’s third molar on the floor besides the pipe, like Georgie’s hair when he ended up on her doorstep after five years, like Jude Perry’s burning hand, like Mike Crew’s hair against the blue sky, like Daisy’s eyes as she slit his throat, like Sarah Baldwin's hammer handle, like Orsinov’s ringmaster outfit and Tim’s amber eyes burning and Oliver Banks’s eyes on his comatose form and the doorknob of Martin’s new office and the bullet and stones in the coffin as it closed and the awl he’d bought and the boat’s name and Manuela’s pendant and the sun setting behind the safehouse and that name in golden cursives on the statement he couldn't stop reading-

Like the lighter in his breast pocket as they walked through Hell on earth, burning through the fabric and scarring his skin and his bleeding heart as the world ended-

The door opens.

Jon lets go of the handle, his hand falling limp by his side as his files fall to the floor in a sad heap. There is no noise as it opens, but Jon would not have heard it, had there been any, because the static in his ears, in his head, is deafening as he steps forward. One step, shaky as a newborn lamb. Two steps, longer and more confident as his heel hits the wooden floor of the office. Three steps, and a chair in his way as he looks up and his eyes meet the unnatural steel of Jonah Magnus’s.

Jon isn’t actually screaming, this time, but his very core (because he’s a monster he doesn’t have a soul anymore it was ripped from him and his soul was Martin and Martin is gone -) is roaring in painfuryrevengelossgrief as he sits down in the chair.

“Hello, Jonathan, is it ? Very punctual, I see- Jonathan, you’re bleeding !”

Jon knows.

He can feel blood slowly coating his skin, from small holes, large gashes and deep cuts all over his body. His right hand burns as fiercely as his side does and his left grips the armrest as vertigo washes over him and dirt fills his lungs, in the complete darkness of his ribcage. He exhales, and his breath is visible in the warm office, the same grey and white as the cobwebs braided into his hair alongside dark thin vines.

He can feel his heart neatly cut in two.

Jon Knows.

(Beholding whispers in his ear, urging him to go out into the world now whole again, the world it decided to protect, and learn, learn, learn, because there was nothing to know about a burned wasteland where nothing lives for long except for starvation and pain and death and Martin dying -)

Jon knows. His eyes burn.

"Jonathan-"

"No."

That shuts Magnus up, and Jon cannot help but feel slightly giddy over the fact. Because Jonah Magnus never shut up , always had to gain the upper hand through his words, always had to end the conversations with condescending goodbyes and misleading advice, always had to talk .

Jon hadn't known why it irritated him so back then.

"Jonathan-"

"No. I'm here for a job interview."

Another, long, shocked pause. Magnus is truly spoiling him today, the confusion rolling off him in waves alongside a vague hint of worry to see his project so unwell when he's unable to Know why and some anger at being interrupted again by the one he considers a simple means to an end.

“This is not-”

“I am here for a job interview.”

Blood stains the armchair - a gift from Peter, because everything that ever belonged to Mordechai is kept safe and untouched in the dusty corridors of Magnus’s house - and soaks the fabric, the green of it swallowed by oxygenated red and the eye motif vanishing entirely.

His blood ruins the Eye. Fitting.

Magnus is not answering, and Jon is perfectly fine with that. Instead, he gets up, grabs the contract on the desk and the golden pen besides it, and signs it. Efficient cursive for his first name and the hyphenated last name he never got to put down on paper before. He writes it just so Jonah won’t be able to read it because it is not his to know .

(He Knows Martin wanted to marry him that first day in Scotland, he Knows he wanted it too, he Knows they’d have hyphenated without even needing to talk about it, and it aches .)

The Eye does not care for official papers. Jon is its, no matter the name. It thrums in delight as ink touches paper, and some of Jon’s blood mixes right there from the small holes in his hand, sealing the contract further than even Magnus had ever intended.

Jon Knows his wounds begin to close then, his link to the Eye reaffirmed beyond paradoxes and time. His flesh stitching back together, just enough to leave him with days and weeks and months and years old scars as they were when he stepped into the Panopticon.

His heart is beating again.

His heart is bleeding.

The Archivist puts the contract down and grabs the keys to the Archives, before he looks back up at Jonah Magnus.

The man's eyes flash golden and the pupil of his earring, a pure emerald, begins to crack.

Jon does not break eye contact with Elias as he gets up. He can see the man searching for answers through his eyes, can see him trying to pluck at any thought to manipulate his way back on top of this interaction, even if he feels the headache building in his skull as an unusual price.

It doesn’t pay.

“You-!”

“No.”

Who are you -”

I said NO.

It is not a scream. The whole institute hears it regardless, its very foundations shaking with it, from the upper levels of Research in the attic to the trapdoor in his office. All conversations stop, and the world seems to stop with it, unsure of where to go next.

Then, Jonah asks of Beholding the answer Jon is refusing him. Asks why he bleeds, why he speaks, why he stands his ground, why he seems to know , why he signs the contract, asks why his project is not docile or scared anymore -

Jonah looks to his god and demands to know .

And Beholding plucks the knowledge of the meeting out of Jonah’s head, leaving only a signed contract and a vague feeling of satisfaction behind.

(Jon asked, politely. Jon is Beholding’s Archivist, its Archive, is Beholding incarnate in this whole again world, and Jonah is not its Pupil anymore. And Beholding oh so loves its Archive much more than it ever did the Pupil .)

Jon turns and steps out of Magnus’s office, the door slamming with a satisfying, loud noise behind him.

(He will enjoy closing doors on Magnus for months to come, if only because it’s what Martin would have done with a smile.)

He looks down at the file on the floor, the one he picked up from his desk an hour ago - a thousand hours ago - and kneels down, careful to bend his bad knee last as he leafs through the notes and tucks them back into their folder without looking. He knows - remembers, perhaps ? - that this was a comprehensive report on one more hoax statement about a talking bee going to court against the honey industry , which is so ridiculous Jon cannot believe he ever spent more than an hour on this - even if he did yesterday - years ago.

He hums, looking down in the lobby from the balcony just outside of Magnus’s office, a spot which easily lets him observe and tower over anyone coming into the building, right where the railing twists into the abstract shape of an owl pupil of an eye.

By Rosie’s desk, Sasha James Sr. and Timothy Andrea Stoker look back up at a man they saw less than an hour ago, and a man they know nothing of.

Jon smiles.

Chapter 3: 3. The Fourteenth

Summary:

The book is caught in one left hand when the right is still extended towards Martin, waiting for a handshake. Which Martin has failed to answer too for at least thirty seconds too long already.

He fumbles, shakes the small but solid hand, as heavily scarred as the left one. And Jonathan smiles, his eyes closed.

“Would you like to come down to the Archives with us, Martin ? We have pizza on the way.”

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Martin feels the usual prick at the base of his neck as he pushes the old book cart down the Fourteenth corridor of the Library. He’s alone in the aisle, which has been the norm for the past four years really.

The others aren’t… fond of the Fourteenth.

It’s always an experience to organise anything there. The books, no matter their provenance or style, all have eyes on the spines, he thinks, some actually engraved in the various leather covers and others simply… appearing when you look from the right angle, in between the letters and bumps of old binding.

It makes him feel watched from all sides, but he brushes it off. Work is work and nothing is wrong with the Fourteenth corridor, even when he’s only one of two librarians still willing to walk it, and the other one is the Head Librarian Mactar. The others are probably just tired of walking the whole length of the Library every day to get there.

(Martin is excellent at repression.)

Martin doesn’t think much of it, when the uncomfortable sensation of being watched gets stronger, his neck almost itching with it.

He has twelve books to put back on the shelves and two to take out for a duo of Researchers which are not allowed in the aisles anymore, and then he’ll be out of the Fourteenth. He just needs efficiency, speed, and no distractions. Easy.

Nothing distracting in the Fourteenth.

It’s just the eyes on the books, making him feel watched, that’s all. Nothing more. There’s no one else here anyway !

“Martin Blackwood ?”

He almost lets go of the tome he was holding over his head, his head whipping so fast he hears his neck crack.

There’s… someone in the Fourteenth. Actually, there are three whole someones there. And they’re not at the entrance of the aisle, no no, they’re walking in and towards him. As if nothing was wrong, as if they weren’t feeling the pressure of the eyes that simply multiplied by ten the second Martin heard his name in that unknown voice.

A book jumps at the smallest of the trio, and they catch it without even looking at it, the eyes on the spine… glowing… before they put it back on the shelf.

Still without a glance, because they are fixing Martin with eyes so deep he could fall in them forever drowning and never find the way out.

(And never want to find the way out.)

“Mr. Blackwood ?”

“A-ah ! Yes, that’s me, hello, how are you, you… you are researchers right ?”

Martin is excellent at denial.

Because there is no way researchers would ever venture in the Fourteenth, let alone be allowed further than the Fifth ever since Joshua spilled what had seemed like two gallons of coffee right on “priceless tomes worth more than half the building, Josh’, I will have your hide for this !”, and he’d done so right in front of Mactar.

(Joshua has not in fact lost his life nor his job to the Head Librarian’s fury, but he’s been advised to never set foot in the Library again. Last Martin’s heard, he doesn’t even dare ask someone else to pick up a book for him if Mactar’s in.)

The smallest visitor smiles softly, and Martin notices their eyes are now closed.

(Have been since they started talking again, actually.)

“Ah… Not quite, Mr. Blackwood-”

“Oh please, call me Martin, it’s less of a mouthful and everyone does already so- Well everyone in the Library and Research, and Rosie- Hm, I mean, how can I help you ? If it’s for a book perhaps we should move back to the main desk- did Mactar let you in ? ”

A pretty face with magnificent pepper hair tumbling down a thin back covered in a crisp shirt tucked into black slacks that go on and on down awfully long legs for someone so short, polished oxfords that seem second-hand and well cared for with cute, leaf-patterned socks peeking over the leather, the green mimicking that of a slightly oversized cardigan that makes them soft in a way their jaw isn’t, and Martin is already rambling.

He’s a complete disaster.

“Jon, stop bullying the poor guy.”

Martin blinks, and his brain finally seems to reboot and fully registers the two other people who are also in the Fourteenth and he should really get them all out of here because the shorter has pushed another book back into the shelf-

One’s quite tall, just a few centimeters shorter than he is if he had to guess, and there are no heels that he can see under the long floral slacks pooling around black combat boots. The flowers on their beige jumper compliment the pattern of the slacks quite nicely, in a stitching pattern he knows nothing of - crochet perhaps ? - and the soft, slightly peach-tinted white of their dress-shirt. Their hair, shoulder length and wavy, curls under their chin as they smile at him and around the chain of a daffodil - narcissus - necklace.

“Sasha James, delighted to meet you, Martin.”

He nods to them - her ? He’ll have to ask when he isn’t somewhat panicking -, as his brain switches over to the third person, a masc presenting figure who reaches Sasha’s non pierced ear in height.

“I’m Tim, Tim Stoker !”

They aren’t small, simply smaller than Martin - but almost everyone is, that is not a distinctive trait at all - no platformed shoes like Elias Bouchard’s that he saw when he was transferred in from Accounting, warm brown slacks with the cuffs rolled up to reveal mismatched buttercup-patterned socks that go well with the strong yellow of their short-sleeved shirt and multiple golden rings. Only one piercing of the two holes in their ears, another narcissus - a couple’s pair maybe, but it’d be a strange choice of flower - that glints under the cartoonish curls of their undercut hair.

Martin blinks. Those guys are very well-dressed, very pretty, and he feels both underdressed and much too sweaty all of a sudden.

Luckily, his brain succeeds in processing what is said next by Tim - is that short for something ? what pronouns do they use, he ought to ask too-

“And this is our potential new boss, Jonathan Sims, who-”

“-Is right there, even if you giants can’t see him. It’s an honor to meet one of the bravest souls in this building, Martin.”

For some reason, Tim winces at that first part, in a movement Martin would say is genuine, and Sasha tenses a little even though Jon’s smile is soft and amused, no offense or anger to see on his face as he extends a hand towards Martin. Thei- no, his. His nails are very short, but shiny in the way only bitter nail polish reflects the light.

His eyes are still closed.

Martin only notices because he blushes terribly and looks to the ground instead of his visitors when the words “bravest” and “honor” register, sending him once again into a panic, and that gives him a quick view of Jonathan - Sasha called him Jon ? - and his long lashes resting on scarred cheeks - and there are a lot of scars, pale spots on dark skin and Martin can see a large on just over the edge of Jonathan’s shirt, and his left hand is scarred too when he catches yet another flying book who jumps towards him - they seem really keen on attacking just Jonathan out of the four of them.

The book is caught in one left hand when the right is still extended towards Martin, waiting for a handshake. Which Martin has failed to answer too for at least thirty seconds too long already.

He fumbles, shakes the small but solid hand, as heavily scarred as the left one. And Jonathan smiles, his eyes closed.

“Would you like to come down to the Archives with us, Martin ? We have pizza on the way.”

Tim, behind Jonathan, chokes, and Sasha’s smile seems more confused. Jon doesn’t move, waiting patiently for an answer. He does not let go of Martin’s hand, although his grip is shallow enough that Martin can easily slip out of it if he wants.

He doesn’t. The small, scarred hand, with a crooked pinky and bitten shiny nails, fits in his own larger one with pastel blue nails and he just. Does not let go.

(He thinks Jonathan would cry if he let go. That thought makes no sense whatsoever, and Martin doesn’t actually know him at all, but he decides not to risk it.)

Martin still has work. Books to organize, to restore, to hand over to researchers, to buy in shady auctions. Aisles to manage and keep everyone out from, like those three people he should have ushered out yesterday, instead of panicking over them being pretty.

“Can we get green tea with the pizzas ?”

Notes:

I just. Had so much fun with the outfits and Martin's point of view, I wanted to post it. Farewell, regular and sedated updates.

Question for the comments : Chapter 5 will see another character added to the tags and the story. Guess who ?

A comment brought to my attention that Martin doesn't seem to describe any blood on Jon. Here is my panicked response and my retcon of this error :

The blood isn't noticeable, it mostly stained the cardigan which is a dark color and all of his wounds are now scarred. To be honest, I didn't think of it. Let's say Beholding isn't letting them see his little Archive in anything less than pristine condition ! (I will add that to the end notes)

Chapter 4: 4. Estranged

Summary:

Martin and… Jon ? But is it Jon ? Jon doesn’t have scars, Jon’s hair is nowhere near as grey, Jon doesn’t smile as openly, Jon doesn’t close his eyes under his glasses as he walks, Jon’s voice isn’t as quiet, who is this thing pretending to be Jon like the thing that pretended to be Danny- are walking just ahead of them, still holding hands after the thing pulled Martin out of the Library with them.

Tim would find it cute if it wasn't so wrong to only see Jon affectionate when it was a monster replacing him.

Notes:

... I finished chapter 5 this morning, and I have no self control, so here's chapter 4 for you guys.
I am not completely satisfied with it but it's almost a month old at this point, and I have not managed to rework it into something I'd like more. It still gets to the point, I think, even if I feel like it is a bit... rushed ? I don't know.

Let me know !!

Next chapter will see a new character (untagged yet) appear !! Can you guess who ?

Chapter Text

Tim grabs the letter opener on one of the desks around the Archives as they pass by, and he sees Sasha doing the same on the side, even though he knows she has a knife clipped to her boot under her slacks - and that’s only the one he knows of.

Ironically, the pizza they picked up on their way down is an excellent hiding spot for their weapons as they walk further into the basem*nt, Sasha checking over her shoulder now and again as Tim keeps his eyes trained on the duo leading them down.

Martin and… Jon ? But is it Jon ? Jon doesn’t have scars, Jon’s hair is nowhere near as grey, Jon doesn’t smile as openly, Jon doesn’t close his eyes under his glasses as he walks, Jon’s voice isn’t as quiet, who is this thing pretending to be Jon like the thing that pretended to be Danny- are walking just ahead of them, still holding hands after the thing pulled Martin out of the Library with them.

Tim would find it cute if it wasn't so wrong to only see Jon affectionate when it was a monster replacing him.

The thing leans in to whisper something in Martin’s ear - and for a second Tim thinks that he doesn’t actually know Martin at all, has never really interacted with him, and what if the guy is just another one of these things ready to kill Sasha and him as soon as the NotJon decides to - but as Tim readies his blade, the big guy only slips away from them a second to grab two plastic chairs against a wall, NotJon unlocking the door to the Head Archivist’s office.

Sasha bumps into his shoulders, and they fall into step behind Martin once again as he pulls the chairs into the small room, blinds pulled down to keep most of the weak light inside, and NotJon pushes empty boxes off the desk to make enough space for everyone to sit around.

Sasha puts the two pizza boxes down, the letter opener slipped into her cardigan sleeve with the efficiency of a serial killer, and smiles at NotJon as she takes a seat, crossing one leg over the other at the ankle as Tim rids himself of his own burden.

(Easy access to her personal knife. Lord, Tim loves this woman. And wishes he had long sleeves too because he fumbles to try and hide his own weapon against his belt as NotJon rounds the desk to grab Ms. Robinson’s chair.)

Martin sits in the second plastic chair, and Tim is careful to take the first, closer to the still open door and ready to grab Sasha and bolt if needed.

(He’s still not sure Martin isn’t a monster. No one had known Grimaldi as one.)

Sasha coughs and smiles.

“Jon.”

Bless this woman. Tim will shower her in gifts and takeout and pocket knives if they survive.

“Hi Sasha.”

Tim sees her touch her knife, when NotJon looks up to her, but she lets go of it just as quickly, instead springing up from the armchair she’d settled on and almost leaping over the desk to grab NotJon’s hand, eyes wild and an intelligible question cracking into the silence.

(A click resonates under her voice, but Tim does not hear it. He doesn’t even remember what tape recorders sound like.)

(Yet.)

Tim thinks she’s going to cuff NotJon’s wrists or pull him across the desk to bare its back, anything to make the thing that took Jon vulnerable so they can… question it or something, or at the very least get rid of it like it got rid of Jon-

(There is blood on its shirt, what did it do to Jon, what did it do, what did it do-)

Tim does not think Sasha is going to lace her fingers through a heavily burned hand, reach forward, and push a wild bang out of NotJon’s eyes to reveal watery eyes staring back at her and a mouth twisted into a crooked, wobbling smile.

(Why, why is it smiling like Jon, how dare it smile like Jon-)

Sasha cuts Tim from his furious train of thoughts when she inhales sharply, her hold tightening on Jon’s hand as she lets go of his hair and whispers.

“Jon. Jon, what happened ?”

Sasha repeats, once, twice as she stares into NotJon’s face, her hands curled around his- its, and Tim wants to pull her away, grab her by the shoulder and run because she knows about Danny, she knows there are dangerous things out there, why is she so close, why is she touching it it's dangerous Sasha its not Jon-

And then he sees what she sees.

“Sasha… You’re beautiful.”

He sees Jon - because it’s Jon, Tim thinks, it’s Jon curled up in that too large chair with those scars that weren’t there an hour ago and eyes a thousand years too old even for him - he sees Jon start sobbing, a pained crooked smile on his face, and he holds onto Sasha’s hands as if letting go would kill him.

He sees Jon crying, and he sees red.

The letter opener falls from his belt onto the dirty linoleum floor as Tim scrambles out of his chair, almost pushing Sasha to the floor as he covers their joined hands with his. And Jon looks up at him, tears rolling down his cheeks with awe and fear in his eyes as he whispers

“Tim. Tim, you’re alright, Tim.”

He wants to answer, to agree, but his words get stuck in his throat, as they did years ago in front of the Circus. Jon is not making any sense as he sobs, fingers tangled in theirs as Sasha frowns in concern and utter fury - the same fury he feels blossoming in his heart as he looks down and see the burn warping Jon’s left hand and forearm, the smaller scars that are much too reminiscent of himself accidentally burning himself with a cigarette as a teenager and many, many more his brain cannot register as belonging to the small form of Jon Tim drove out of the Library just an hour ago.

“I-... Do you guys want some space ?”

Martin’s soft and hesitant voice resonates behind them, and he’s already inching towards the door when Jon rips his non-burnt hand - but no less scarred, and are those the marks of ripped fingernails - to extend it towards Martin, a sob breaking through his voice.

“N-no please Martin don’t leave- I’m sorry this is a mess I know I- I’m sorry I’m so sorry-”

Well, Tim doesn’t know a thing about Martin Blackwood yet, but he can almost see his heart glowing gold under his soft sweater as Martin steps back towards the desk, holding onto Jon’s trembling hand gently and murmuring a reassurance that he isn’t going anywhere.

(For some reason, Tim thinks it's something Martin would say. He seems the type, maybe ? The caretaker, the gentle soul, the ruthless protector who would burn down the Archives with a smile for them-

The thought escapes him, only the vaguest idea remaining as Tim turns back towards Jon. Martin… Martin is good, he decides.)

Jon hiccups, tear tracks running down his marked cheeks as he practically climbs on the desk to get closer to them, his small hands trying to hold onto all of theirs at once. Tim crowds against the desk too, Sasha and Martin right beside him as they wrap their arms around Jon without question, a tumble of too long limbs from too tall people and a small sobbing ball of a man who murmurs in a rough, broken voice.

“I-I missed you all so much.”

That makes no sense. Jon was in the Library with them an hour ago. They didn't know Martin until ten minutes ago.

Jon is crying, and it makes no sense.

(Tim hates that it makes no sense, because he can’t fix it.)

It makes no sense. Sasha glances at Tim who glances back, and they share this moment of confusion and fear, while Martin asks if Jon might want some tea, to warm himself up because his hands are frozen and it would help him relax. That simple question makes the small man look up, his eyes full of tears and confusion for an instant.

Martin goes on.

“What’s your favorite kind of tea, Jon ?”

That's when Jon breaks down completely.

Chapter 5: 5. Sense of Self

Summary:

He looks around as he steps out of the book - hovers, really - vaguely recognizing a safehouse Montauk hid in a few weeks ago, maybe, when a living hive was after her and she asked how to get rid of it. How do you get rid of insects, Montauk, even you can’t be that stupid, had been his answer before she snarled and slammed the book shut.

(She’d used a makeshift flamethrower instead of CO2. At least she had taste.)

Notes:

I finished chapter 6 a few minutes ago, and that means chapter 5 for you all, as well as a new character tag (which no one even tried to guess :'( ) and some relationship speculations in the comments, I hope !!

/////////

Now, for a less fun part, I want to adress a thread of comment I have received on the last chapter, which was, as you knows, from Martin's point of view. You can skip to the next line of ///// if this is too serious or boring !
One of my readers, who had not commented prior to this Chapter 4, was very critical of Martin's presence in the story. The comment was centered on his presence, and their disappointment to lose a fic that "could be awesome if not for him", because of their personal dislike of the characters. Through a short discussion, they confirmed that they were only venting about this character they dislike, and did not intend to be critical of my story as of my writing, only of this character.
Now, I always enjoy comments. But while comments do not need to be productive, as they 'helpfully' pointed out, I do appreciate them being relevant and pertinent if they wish to delve past the sweet "Good work" or even "Awwww" (which are always appreciated !)
A comment venting about a character, not in my depiction of him but his presence, is not, in my mind, relevant. Venting about characters you dislike is something that would be appropriate in a bashing fic, a server, with friends, but not on a story where the author could take this kind of critic wrongly, because their hard-work is being passed over for this need to vent. I know I did, but perhaps I'm too sensitive.

/////////

Contrary to this unpleasant interaction, I want to thank PitVIperOfDoom and heart_to_pen_to_paper in particular for their frequent and thoughtful comments which helped me write chapter 6 despite my difficulties through the process.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Gerry opens his eyes as he feels the pull.

Those hunters are really terrible at their job. He has been in the book for… Less than six months, probably, and Montauk found him two months in his personal purgatory, figuring out the summoning trick in a few days thanks to Herbert’s experience.

It’s been four months. Just four months. And they have summoned him almost every day to ask for help on their hunts. Asking about monsters and Avatars (no they are not the same, Montauk), about the best way to corner a servant of the desolation in a cornfield (that's the stupidest plan you’ve ever come up with, Herbert), about the effects of an encounter with the Dark (What do you think, you morons) and more, with no prior research on their part.

(He was a bookhunter, for Beholding’s sake. Not an actual hunter !)

No, they just rely completely on the random dead guy they summoned from a book an old woman dressed like a librarian gave them out of nowhere before she left the States behind with one more police investigation behind her back and no more assistants to sacrifice or watch die.

(Ah. But she hasn’t watched him die, has she ?

She’d left, until she was sure he was dead enough she could carve his skin off him.)

Gerry blinks as he becomes more opaque, light finally reaching his eyes as the book falls to the floor. It is slightly odd, because Montauk and Herbert are usually careful with the goddamned book, holding onto it or propping it open on a table if they are in a motel or one of their safehouses. Then again, he has been handed to a few people through the months he has “spent with” the hunters, and they are not as attached to the talking monster compendium he’s become.

He looks around as he steps out of the book - hovers, really - vaguely recognizing a safehouse Montauk hid in a few weeks ago, maybe, when a living hive was after her and she asked how to get rid of it. How do you get rid of insects, Montauk, even you can’t be that stupid, had been his answer before she snarled and slammed the book shut.

(She’d used a makeshift flamethrower instead of CO2. At least she had taste.)

(Death didn't have arson. That was a f*cking shame.)

The hunters aren’t in the room, though. He can see Herbert’s duffel in a corner, but no one apart from him.

Which is weird.

What is weirder, is the usual pull of summoning getting stronger as his boot reaches the floor and touches it.

Gerry isn’t hovering anymore, but standing on the dirty linoleum of the safehouse. The ragged lace of his right boot brushes against the floor as he loses his balance and falls forward with a silent gasp, air filling his lungs for the first time in months. His hands, when they meet the floor, are just as solid as his knees and Gerry thinks deliriously that his thumb caught on a page of the book and is now bleeding. His hair hangs in his face and he can feel it, feel the strands tickle his skin in a way that always made him want to tie it up and away from his face.

Gerry inhales sharply, as his eyes turn to the book, and the ink on the page begins to vanish. His page. His skin. Bare of the words to call him back from the dark, and now slowly falling apart before his very eyes as he tries to stand up slowly, the motion so alien it seems like it has been years and decades instead of a few months.

The pull he still feels isn’t the pull of summoning.

It’s gravity.

It’s gravity weighing down on him as he stands up, gravity pulling on the edges of his long coat when it brushes against his calves and the tip of his hair against his shoulder blades. It’s gravity, something he’d taken for granted all his life until he became a ghost of pain and anger only anchored to the world by a piece of his skin in the book that had ruined his life. It’s gravity, and not the metaphorical kind.

It’s tangible, it’s real, it’s pulling him down to earth.

It’s real.

And Gerry…

He looks back to the book, eyes wide in horror and disbelief as his fingernails dig into the linoleum floor and his knees ache from the uncomfortable position.

Gerry’s page is gone, ink and skin and the thread that had linked it to the rest of that f*cking book. But Gerry himself is there, solid and whole in a way he had never felt as a summoned spirit. Gerry is still there, and he bleeds. He bleeds and he bruises, he can see the purpled skin through the rip of his pants. He bruises and he aches and he thinks he might even feel hunger clawing at his stomach, something he hasn’t truly felt since his diagnosis, a lifetime ago. He aches and he breathes, no more a mimicry of his lost life but a necessity. He breathes, and he feels a choked up sob crawl up his parched throat as he does.

He is... He is alive.

"What the f*ck."

Gerry is alive, breathing and bleeding, and given what Terminus is and what brain cancer in its final stage does, he really, really, really shouldn't be.

Doesn't mean he'll stick around to get killed by the hunters for his unexplained resurrection, though. He maybe shouldn't be alive but he doesn't actually want to die again.

Been there, done that. Wasn't all that great.

(Humor is an excellent coping mechanism.)

He looks around the room, grabs a knife resting on the table to his right and slips it into his boot, opens Herbert's duffel to steal some of his rations to stuff into his pockets, and slowly turns towards the unlocked door.

Gerry is alive and should not be.

He wants to know how, and why.

For a second, he feels his knuckles and all other joints heat up, not of the burning heat of the Desolation but of the warmth of a hand wrapping around his own, fingers lacing together and knuckles gently brushing against another.

(For that same second, he pictures in his mind a small, scarred and unknown hand going through the intangible palm of his own, and then trying to close around it in a loose hold and pale mimicry of the real deal.)

(It makes no sense but it makes Gerry ache.)

When he looks down, the eye tattoo on his knuckles stare back. It's still the same design, simple and efficient, repeated all over his body, three lashes on the lower curve and five on the upper, blank iris and pinprick pupil against his skin. And it stares back.

Gerry flinches and Beholding croons in his ear.

'Hello Prometheus.'

The Entity - and it isn't just a concept anymore, it isn't just a jumble of the fear of being watched and known, it isn't just the malevolent idea of a fear, but a tangible being hovering just out of sight - croons and whispers in his ear, in his mind, as Gerry stumbles out of the safehouse and into the outskirts of Amity, Illinois.

There are still no signs of Montauk or Herbert. Gerry has pocketed the book before leaving, but he has no idea what to do next.

Gerry is alive and shouldn't be. Terminus is inescapable, even more so when you are still just human, nowhere near the resilience Avatars can show in front of their own mortality. Gerry died alone in a hospital thousands of miles away from the only place he really knew, succumbing to cancer after months of pain, and that should have guaranteed him a trip straight to the End if Gertrude hadn't- Gerry shouldn't be alive.

Beholding doesn't seem to agree.

'My Archive mourned you for so long. He mourns you still.'

His knuckles warm again as the painful, impossible, otherworldly whisper reaches him, as the facade of the Magnus Institute flashes in his mind, the door of the Archives wide open and a small, scarred, unknown and familiar hand gripping the doorframe.

(Something calls him back to that place, and Gerry thinks it might not just be Beholding trying to round up its servants back home.)

(That hand…)

Beholding croons again, almost purring, as Gerry takes a step forward.

'He will be oh so happy.'

Notes:

Two cliffhangers in two successive chapters ! I wonder what the next one will follow on...

Edit : EVERYONE needs to thank Name_Needed for their comment which put into words what I've been trying to do with this chapter :

"Oh God! Beholding did just do the eldritch equivalent of a cat bringing a dead animal to you, didn't they."

Chapter 6: 6. Contact List

Summary:

Sasha almost regrets calling to him when he looks up so quickly she thinks she heard his neck crack with the movement, and the top of his head hits Tim right in the chin. She can see him look up as he rubs his chin, his arm tightening slightly around Jon’s shoulders, just in case the little man reverts back to the prickly coworker that had literally run out of the Library a few months when Tim had called them friends.

[...]

“Y-yes, yes, I’m listening.”

“Is there… Anyone we could call ?”

Notes:

... I will be honest, chapter 7 has been giving me trouble but I'm halfway through so Im posting this.

Chapter Text

Sasha doesn’t want to let go of Jon’s hand in his current state, but she is so far out of her depth as Tim pulls a no longer sobbing Jon against his side and tries to coax words out of him with little success, that she has to pull back slightly and look for a solution.

Martin has come and gone to the Archives’ breakroom, four mugs of green tea and a small box of sugar cubes on a scratched up tray as his bounty. He smiles gently, even as Jon almost spills his mug on the desk from trembling hands and shaking shoulders, and dutifully asks him whether he’d like to eat some of their cooling pizzas to regain some energy.

(Jon seems ready to cry again as he smiles.)

The nervous energy rolling off him when they met in the library has vanished now, and Sasha cannot help but reevaluate all she has supposed about him as she looks through Jon’s bag for his phone. He seems so calm, so collected in the face of Jon’s strange claims and this entire situation.

(It fits him, in a way she cannot explain at all. She keeps the idea in a corner of her mind, for later.)

“Jon ?”

Sasha almost regrets calling to him when he looks up so quickly she thinks she heard his neck crack with the movement, and the top of his head hits Tim right in the chin. She can see him look up as he rubs his chin, his arm tightening slightly around Jon’s shoulders, just in case the little man reverts back to the prickly coworker that had literally run out of the Library a few months when Tim had called them friends.

(With his head raised, his neck is exposed, and she almost curses when she sees a long scar drawn from ear to ear across his neck, sharp and pale against his skin.)

(Jon, what happened to you ?)

“Y-yes, yes, I’m listening.”

“Is there… Anyone we could call ?”

Oh, the confusion on his gaunt scarred face when he sees his phone in her hand. She has already unlocked it, the pattern following the silhouette of an upside down 8-bit cat as he has shown her a few months ago, and she’s ready to thumb through his contacts, but she doesn’t actually want to invade his privacy when he is already in this peculiar state she cannot really define.

(It’s not a breakdown, not really, it’s not a panic attack, it’s not a supernatural creature replacing Jon… It seems almost like all of those at once, mixed in with an emotion she cannot define.)

(An emotion that blossoms on his face every time he looks one of them in the eye.)

“Call… I don't think there’s anyone right now….”

Jon mumbles that second part, clearly to himself as Tim looks up and frowns, staring at Jon’s phone in Sasha’s hand with a concerned noise that Sasha would be mimicking if she wasn’t busy grinding her teeth in worry and confusion.

She opens her mouth to probe Jon further on the subject, when Martin comes back from the breakroom again and steps in front of Jon and Tim. With a smile she can see from the side, he hands them a plate piled with slices of pizza reheated, before turning back to her.

“Would you help me grab the other plates from the breakroom, Miss James ?”

She blinks once, slips Jon’s phone in her pocket and smiles as she steps out of the office.

“Call me Sasha, please.”

They walk to the breakroom in silence, Jon frowning a little as they slip out of his sight and almost protesting around his pizza, but Sasha knows Tim will not let their friend spiral into another breakdown if he can help it.

(If he cannot, well… That is also why she has a phone in her pocket.)

There are indeed plates in the breakroom, pizzas cut and piled up by toppings, and a new cup of tea probably destined to replace the one Jon painted the office’s floor with, but Martin doesn’t move to grab them, instead pulling two chairs for them and gesturing to her with a suddenly nervous smile, the very same he showed them back in the Library as books kept on attacking Jon and he asked for their pronouns.

“Ah, I didn’t mean to overstep back in the office really, I’m so sorry-”

“Martin. It’s alright. I wouldn’t have come with you if I hadn’t been okay with it.”

He nods, but the confidence that he draped around himself when taking charge of Jon a dozen minutes earlier seems to have melted like an ice cube in the microwave, leaving only a puddle of insecurities and hesitation behind now that he is alone with Sasha.

(It’s a shame, he seemed so much more at peace then. Now, he just looks… scared.)

(Sasha does not like it.)

“Martin, it really is okay, but I do want to know why you wanted me here."

"O-oh right !"

He actually hits a fist against his palm, just like movie characters do when they come back to their point.

Between Tim the cartoon-haired jokester and Martin the cartoon-mannered gentle giant, she feels her life slowly slip into the entertainment category. Perhaps she is to be the voice of reason and discipline in a world of madness. Jon could be the anti-hero. Or the sibilant guide, if his latest "dialogue" is taken into account.

(Which it should, and will. He has said strange things before, but never of this caliber.)

(Jon, what happened ?)

"Jon - that is his preferred name, right ? - Jon is clearly not alright. But he doesn't seem like the type to… easily rely on anyone else, I'd say ? He seems quite sure there is no one on his phone that you could call, but I think he’s still the type to have emergency contacts either there or in his file, so I thought of giving you an out so you could look it up without him freaking out - which is not a judgement, obviously ! - I thought it would be helpful."

Some of the earlier confidence is back, and Sasha smiles as she nods. She can see he loathes the very idea of invading people's privacy, and she does feel the same to an extent - she is working on it - but the situation is slowly slipping out of their precarious grasp.

If the two numbers on Jon's 'emergency contact' list can help, she has to try.

(There are a few other numbers too, apart from the Institute's, Rosie's, Tim's and hers. They are not listed as emergency contacts but they are labeled in an entirely different fashion, with initials and emoticons out of all things. An explosion there, a butterfly here, fire and wrench and some kind of… puppet ? She doesn't give them more than a glance after that first scroll through, fighting her own curiosity to give Jon as much privacy as possible.)

The first contact is simply titled "GrandMother" and is not in service. There are no pictures, no information, no actual name or address, only one hollow tone and the robotic voice of the operator before Sasha ends the call.

The second contact, contrary to hers and Tim which sport their full names (minus Tim's middle one), is simply titled “Georgie”, and has a picture of a wonderfully fluffy cat - with a bow patterned with little anchors - lounging over what looks like a pile of open textbooks, a spilled cup of coffee dripping out of the frame. In the middle of Jon’s very professional phone, this little picture seems almost like an anomaly.

(Everything, ever since Jon stepped out of Elias’ office, has been an anomaly.)

(Jon, what happened ?)

This number is in service. It rings thrice, before a grumbling person picks up on the other hand, voice slurred and echoed in the back by a meowing cat - it of the picture, maybe ?

“Mnhiii ?”

“Ah, hello, is this Georgie ?”

A ruffle of what might be covers, the outraged screech of a displaced ball of fur, and the voice is suddenly much clearer in Sasha’s ears as she gives Martin a thumbs up.

“And may I know who hides beneath this unknown caller ?”

“My apologies ! My name is Sasha James, I work at the Magnus Institute and I am calling from Jonathan Sims’ phone.”

“The Magnus Institute ? Isn’t that the paranormal library Melanie was- wait, Jonathan Sims ?”

Bingo, thinks Sasha.

Five minutes later, she has a Georgie Baker on her way to the Institute, a dozen pictures of “The Admiral'' to show Jon per Georgie’s instructions which also includes blankets and warm tea, and a few plates of pizza balanced on her hands and forearms as she walks back to the office.

She also has an internal freakout because she just realized why she recognized the voice of that woman. Her favorite podcast creator will be showing up here in less than an hour, all thanks to a newly-scarred Jon having a full-on breakdown at the sight of them after leading them around the Institute for half an hour and buying them pizzas.

(What a day.)

(Jon, what happened ?)

Chapter 7: 7. Cat's Out Of The Bag

Summary:

The Magnus Institute.

Of all the places in the world Jon could be working at, she wouldn’t even have put this one in the top 100, let alone the top 1. And yet, as she scrolls through their website, it seems like "Jonathan Sims" has worked there for the past 3 and a half years as a “researcher”, and has just climbed the ranks and gotten himself a Head of Department position this very same day.

Notes:

... I finished the chapter 5 minutes ago.
Also its the longest.

Not going to lie the whole process of getting Georgie in the Institute has been eating at me for so long. Getting my laptop back has helped (and helped the word count) but beginning a job in industrial cleaning has not.

Anyway please enjoy and I pray for comments.

Edit : I'm so sleep-deprived I forgot, but thank you so much for the comments and subscriptions and bookmarks !¡!!!!!¡!!!!!!!!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Georgie hasn’t seen Jonathan Sims in literal years.

(She has half a dozen birthday cards in her flat, half-filled and never sent. She has a flannel shirt in muted blues stuffed in her closet. She has the Admiral's oldest leash on the counter.)

(She has no pictures. She has not seen Jonathan Sims in years.)

Ever since they have broken up, really. They fought, that morning, after a week of silence and strained nights spent back to back in their bed, and Jon had left the same afternoon with a duffel bag, a box and a last longing look at the Admiral in her arms as she watched him walk down the corridor.

(He looked at her too, hesitant and apologetic even when he was still full of anger and fear. She hadn’t had the strength to look back, because she had been the same, until the door was almost closed.)

It was the last time they saw each other in… maybe 4 years ? 5 at the max. Last time they spoke too. They hadn't exchanged a phone call or text afterwards, even when she had found some of his books when she'd moved out herself. She just piledit all up into a box now stuffed under her bed in her new flat, and never touched them.

Georgie had not thought Jon would ever reach out to her again, after that morning.

(Mostly out of pride, she knew then and knows now.)

(Also out of fear, she tried to forget for a long time.)

The Tube is full of noise and crammed with passengers, and the Admiral claws at her hoodie when yet another person bumps against her shoulder as the doors open and close, the train quickly speeding towards her stop.

The Magnus Institute.

Of all the places in the world Jon could be working at, she wouldn’t even have put this one in the top 100, let alone the top 1. And yet, as she scrolls through their website, it seems like "Jonathan Sims" has worked there for the past 3 and a half years as a “researcher”, and has just climbed the ranks and gotten himself a Head of Department position this very same day.

The Head Archivist position.

(Jon studied English literature and Ancient Myths in uni. How the hell did he end up an archivist of all things ? A researcher, yes, his background would be appropriate, but an archivist ? Weren't there degrees specifically tailored for that kind of thing ?

Obviously she knows degrees aren't everything, but Jon was never interested in library science beyond understanding how Oxford's functioned to find his books more efficiently.)

As she steps onto the busy street, the large columns of the Institute already in sight, Georgie shoulders her bag higher on her shoulder and pets the squirming Admiral as he meows for all the street to hear. He doesn't much like to go outside, always happier when running around his own domain - her flat and never anything other than grumpy when he is out of his comfort zone.

(The Admiral and Jon were always twins of mind, with even their mannerisms eerily similar, from Jon ruffling his long hair in her face when he was ticked off to the way the Admiral would step out of the room, dragging a book in his maw if she bothered his carefully licked fur too much.)

(It made them scowl when she pointed it out. She kept it on because of it.)

There is a middle-aged person in the lobby, polished nails and shoes under professional slacks and a patterned blouse over square shoulders and short styled hair. They - oh, her badge has a small she/her written down on the edge - has two phones in hand, her eyes roaming over what looks like a report on her desk as she nods towards Georgie with a professional smile, the same nod directing her towards the chairs further into the lobby - a waiting area, most likely. She raises one eyebrow, her eyes locking onto the Admiral's paw batting away as Georgie's necklace before she goes back to her phone calls and reports without a word ever spoken.

Georgie blinks, and slowly makes her way towards the chairs in the back. She would already be in the Archives, if there were any signs guiding her way, but the complete lack of maps is leaving her subject to the nightmare of asking for directions.

(She is not channeling her inner Jon. If anything, she's Melanie refusing to ask locals for help when she toured haunted spots in Spain, despite her degree in Spanish language and culture, only to end up lost in the middle of Toledo in November and stumble upon a couple of tourists, the women guiding her without accepting rejection.)

She dials Jon's number then, as the Admiral hisses in the cat scarf when a seemingly very heavy door bangs against a wall somewhere deeper into the building. Ring, ring, ring, the shrill sounds she hates resonate in her ears and in the lobby even with the phone's low volume, even though Rosie does not seem bothered by the volume or the aggressive noise.

Georgie does not consider herself an impatient woman. She has lived three years with Jon, has gone through Oxford and the horrors of academia, has built her show from the ground up in between accounting jobs all over London. She knows how to be patient, from her own casual personality to her experiences.

She has never felt angrier at someone not picking up immediately before this day.

On the fourth ring, the same person who had first called picks up, a distracted hum as a loud crash resonates in the background.

"Jon, I do get that there are literal secret tunnels behind Ger- your office, but we can do this later-"

"Sash', just let him break the wall. He deserves a bit of violence, as a treat."

"Sasha James ? Where is Jon."

Well, Georgie did not mean to sound so short but she finds her patience is still just as thin even with the phone answered.

Rosie, from the lobby desk, looks at her with a professional smile and dials up another person, turning back to her work as heels click from the back, echoing through the phone call. A tall worker appears, slacks and cute shirt and floral patterns and curly hair, a small beat-up phone against their ear and a rusted mallet in her right hand.

(A mallet. A pretty person making her bisexual heart preen in self-satisfaction. A wall to break - perhaps already broken down. A Jon being allowed violence, as a treat, after a strange call from a worried third party.)

(This was uni all over again.)

"Georgie Baker ?"

The call ends on the question, and the Admiral does not let her answer before making his presence known to the world, jumping out of the scarf in a display of agility she has not seen from him in years as he twists and lands on the floor, darting past Sasha's legs and in the direction she came from.

"Admiral !"

"Ah, looks like this fine feline is going to be our guide back to the Archives !"

The tone is both playful and strained as Sasha shakes Georgie's hand. A strong grip, a short shake, and she is walking back towards what she called the "Archives" - and the website did say Jon is Head Archivist, promoted that very morning, didn't it ? - the Admiral already lost ahead of them.

(Well. He shouldn't get lost, he always had the best orientation out of them all.)

"I'm really sorry for calling you so suddenly, I know you usually record in the afternoons but today has been… hectic."

"Re- oh, you follow What the Ghost ?"

Sasha flushes, turning back towards the long corridor with a deceptively strong nod. Georgie's bisexual heart flutters a little and she feels a familiar smirk blossom on her face, the very same she knows Melanie has seen a few times on dinners and collaborations, and the one she developed back in university to mess with terrible classmates and cute sleep-deprived prickly nerds.

(She somewhat feels like her mind is drifting from Jon and going back to Jon as she ponders about what she will find behind the heavy brass-colored door. Away and to him, her most inane thoughts grabbing onto memories or questions she has kept for herself these past years, to the point where no one, not even Melanie, knows of Jon.)

(It reminds her of the dorm door closing on him as they both looked back in the second before it fell shut, and how she almost called him back.)

Sasha pushes the door open, and behind it are… stacks of boxes and paper, poking through a cloud of grey dust.

Breaking the wall, uh ? From what Georgie can see, Jon had broken two walls, effectively opening a small office into the larger open space littered with old desks, broken glass and wood shards, and into what appears like a black hole capturing all the light from the rooms - now room - behind said small office.

She allows herself one moment of astonishment, as Sasha politely curses behind her and calls out to a ‘Tim’ she begins to berate on the side, and Georgie distantly hears another person muttering about small people doing so much damage to walls in ridiculous amounts of time, before she reigns herself in and follows a mewl.

Sitting in an armchair between the destroyed walls, a purring Admiral in his arms, the small man she struggles to recognize as her old friend and ex-boyfriend Jonathan Sims stares back at her, stormy grey eyes glinting green in the dust and long hair peppered with that same grey hanging in the air.

“G-Georgie ?”

“The Admiral didn’t drive here.”

Humor was always the root of her coping mechanisms, and it still works even when she looks at a man she has known for years, the one person she has been closest to in her life - even if Melanie is slowly carving herself a place besides Jon on this podium - and is not able to immediately think of as her Jon, like she did back in university.

“I- What- How did you get here ? How did you even find this place ?”

“My Georgie sense tingled.”

He blinks slowly, his hands moving on their own to pet the Admiral with crooked fingers and thin wrists peeking out from his - bloody - cardigan. He is well-dressed, the clothes fitting him well, and she can only see small patches of skin from his neck up, but that is enough for her to catch what she needs.

Beyond the hair, the eyes, the softness of his voice, the raw emotions on his face, the blood on his clothes, Georgie knows what she needs to see, and she sees.

On his skin, a thousand scars draw a story she knows nothing of.

(Georgie has not seen Jonathan Sims in years.)

(If this is what happens when she looks away, she will never let him out of her sight again.)

Notes:

Next chapter will be either 'merica or a bastard. Or something else.

Chapter 8: 8. Before (After) the Storm

Summary:

As collected as she’d been when Jon walked away and to his death - for the… fourth time ? More ? He didn’t recall - and she turned towards what was either another disaster or a new beginning.

(Towards what had been the end of everything.)

(What might still be a new beginning.)

“Jon, please focus on The Admiral.”

Notes:

Okay so. My job is killing me and taking all my energy away but I do have this chapter I just finished (and absolutely didnt proofread) and the next is summarized in three lines in my doc so it should come out maybe next month ?

Enjoy and so sorry for the wait !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

"Jon."

Georgie’s voice still makes Jon flinch, even as his physical eyes have not left her figure in the ten minutes she has been here, taking in every curl of her now short pink hair, every acne scar still left from her teenage years, every crease of her merchandise hoodie hastily thrown over her pyjama top.

Jon has not ever forgotten Georgie’s face, like he has Sasha’s, but she looks oh so young, he cannot help but think he is hallucinating. That this whole time travel or whatever he is a victim and beneficiary, is but a story cooked up by his broken mind after years of abuse in mind and body, years or even decades of paranoia and anxiety and abandonment issues, and months-hours-days-decades of walking through the dying world he lit the pyre of.

He cannot help, but think nothing of this is real.

(He cannot help but think he is bleeding out in Martin’s arms as the world rights itself, rid of its Antichrist.)

“Jon.”

“A-ah, yes ?”

His voice cracks again, and Jon winces as the sound echoes in the Archives, jumping in between shelves and empty desks. On his left, Martin seems to fidget with his third cup of tea gone cold, his earlier confidence now vanished in the face of a new stranger taking over the bulk of Jon’s panic. On his right side, he can see Sasha staring at him intently, a small notebook in her hand, and behind her, Tim’s mouth shifts between a light-hearted snicker and a worried glance.

(Sasha’s stare, even four hours after he spotted her in the lobby, is still unknown to him in a way that makes his divided heart ache in his chest. He commits it to memory again, forcefully, but the pain lingers.)

(Tim’s expression is just as foreign, when he can only picture a scarred, handsome, exhausted, bruised, angry face in front of his own suicide. That pain, though, is a familiar one.)

Georgie sits in front of him, her bag carelessly thrown on the dusty floor besides her as her eyes bore into his own. She seems as collected as ever, as collected as she’d been under a thousand stares from the burning sky while her arm was linked with the “prophet” of the apocalyptic world, as collected as when she’d stood in the crowd of the Death to the Mechanisms concert six months after their break-up and he had pretended not to have seen her under the lights, as collected as when he stepped in front of her door with the police after him and the death of his grandmother and exams choking him up and an awkward date just ended and a thousand other occasions when she’d been the rock to his crumbling mind.

(Until he ruined everything, again, and destroyed everything good she’d ever given him.)

(From a teenage bully to the world, Jon always found a way to destroy everything.)

As collected as she’d been when Jon walked away and to his death - for the… fourth time ? More ? He didn’t recall - and she turned towards what was either another disaster or a new beginning.

(Towards what had been the end of everything.)

(What might still be a new beginning.)

“Jon, please focus on The Admiral.”

Jon blinks of his physical two eyes before letting them fall to his shaking hands, buried in the Admiral’s fur but no longer petting him to the cat’s great displeasure. Slowly, he untangles his fingers from the long grey strands and smooths them back into the neat grooming the Admiral prefers, an old habit, fidget really, he’d never lost even with crooked fingers and aching hands making the simple motions something of an ordeal - and the long years without the slightest glimpse of the regal feline.

Once the shaking subsides - but never disappears, never has ever since Prentiss - Jon breathes in, soft and slow even if he doesn’t need it, and looks back at the four people in front of him, living and breathing proof of where and when he now stands.

(Or, well. Sits.)

“Georgie, I- I’m so sorry. About how we ended things, and walking away and never calling again. I- I was an idiot, really. Not that you didn’t know that, but I believe it bears acknowledging, especially in front of you - and Martin and Tim and Sasha as well.”

“Jon. I couldn’t care less about our break-up right now, because there is blood on your shirt and scars all over your body and I want an explanation.”

Jon must be staring with his usual dumbfounded expression, the same one she always accused him of using against her in uni, because Georgie’s gaze softens in the slightest as she leans towards him, her hand tangling besides him in the Admiral’s fur without actually touching him.

“But… I’m sorry too.”

There is a lull in time then and there, as Jon shifts his crooked pinky to brush against Georgie’s, a silent habit of the past that bears no explanation. She smiles as she stares at their hands, soft and calm, and he responds with a smile of his own, trembling and fragile, closing his eyes.

It is only when the Admiral yowls from their lack of petting and shifts to climb on Jon’s shoulders that he refocuses on the room and its other inhabitants. Sasha still holds onto her notebook, her pen poised lower than it had been a few minutes earlier - actually, she has flipped two pages from her previous point -, Martin still fidgeting with his cup, his left heel tapping the floor nervously, and Tim with no smirk left to see, as his eyes are fixated on Jon and Georgie’s hands still on the former’s lap.

“I- I apologize, I got quite distracted, did I not ?”

At once, his three assistants - he should be able to call them his friends, if he had not managed to screw everything up so royally from the get-go and through every minute that had followed - seem to focus back on, not his ex-girlfriend or their cat, but on the very fact that Jon has been acting quite insanely in the past hours, without even mentioning his body morphing into what he knows to be the result of years gone by and a coma pale excuse for his death and the marks of multiples encounters with those all fear and an Apocalypse he himself brought onto the world-

"Jon ?"

It is Sasha, this time, that calls him back to the present - the present, the past, the illusion of a monster forsaking its role as bringer of the end - and her voice that helps him focus on what he is supposed to do.

To explain.

(Explain who he is, what he is, and how everything crumbled only for him, the monster, the unworthy, the damned, to go back to this very point with only blood and scars and grief as testament of what was, and what could be.)

(Lord - or Beholding, maybe - how is he even going to speak a word of what happened ?)

He looks up, at those he failed and betrayed and killed - because it had been his fault, every time, that his assistants divided and alone perished at the hand of what he had let loose on the world by simply being the Archivist - and swallows once, twice.

He then notices he does not need to breathe anymore - did Becoming kill him again or did he die to Become when he opened that door ? - which seems both practical and one more spooky thing that had not been true even in the deserted wastelands of the apocalypse. The Admiral seems to notice it too, his paw sneaking down to press against Jon’s currently unmoving chest, and it stays there until he purposefully takes a breath and the cat is once again content with the state of his perch.

His mind is refusing to focus on what he has to say, Jon knows.

He cannot think the words, much less utter them, and his thoughts fly away from the task in answer to his nerve-wracking guilt and worry. And yet, he has to tell them what happened - what happens, what could happen, what he never wants to live through again, what he would never forget.

He owes them that much.

(He owes them so much more than that.)

(He owes not only them, but the ones he left behind either in the hollow space of empty graves or the screaming desert of a dying world.)

“I- Sasha, Tim, Martin, please sit down. This… This is not a short story.”

Well. At least he knows his Archives are safe from Magnus’ eyes, if nothing else, because Jon very much does not want to have to worry about the chessmaster up in his office looking at the very proof of his coming - and past - success. That is a weight less as he closes all of his eyes, physical and metaphorical and the few around the room he had not meant to open at all, and sits back into his own chair as his assistants each find their own.

Georgie looks at him, making a point to cross his eyes when he opens them again, and he can see her young face superimposed with that of an older, wearier woman - much as Sasha and her monstruous replacement, Tim and the fury of his suicide, Martin and the cold of the fog.

(He will never be able to forget those faces.)

Jon breathes in, of the useless breaths he does not need to take anymore, and comes back to the beginning, to the first statement he ever read, to the first step away from the human and towards the monster, to the first door opening for the terrors of the world to cascade through, to the first small, infinitesimal mistake that had ended the world.

He comes back to his crimes and lies and sins.

It’s time for the Antichrist’s confession.

Notes:

Next chapter is the comeback of a character that you all loved to see as a part of this fic !

Chapter 9: 9. Home Sweet Bastion of Evil

Summary:

(Having a God of Knowledge eager to get him back to England seemed to help, for some obscure reason.)

(Did Beholding hack the airport computers ? Or just put the knowledge into the crew's heads ? Could Beholding even lie ?)

He watches the plains and valleys of the United Kingdom under him, still half-expecting one of the staff to catch on either his complete lack of ticket or even who he is - because his name had made the news not a decade prior, and the three members of the stewardship sounded very, very British - and he knows in less than an hour, this plane will safely land in London.

Notes:

I know I posted chap 8 yesterday but, listen guys.
Today (22/7) is my birthday and I decided to give you a gift and to give myself a gift by avoiding the explanation of 200 MAG episodes and instead have a Gerry, as promised.

So umh. Happy birthday to me ? Im two decades old now ! And this fic is one chapter older.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Gerry has been back - has been alive - for less than twelve hours, and he is still reeling from it all.

Beholding, in its infinite knowledge, keeps throwing curveballs at him.

It would be mildly put, to call jarring the experience of stepping on an airplane with no papers or money to his name, only for the steward to direct him to his seat - his own seat registered to his name - with a business smile and none of the suspicion Gerry had been used to back when he was the intimidating gothic teen-boy and young man traveling the world to chase Leitners.

(Having a God of Knowledge eager to get him back to England seemed to help, for some obscure reason.)

( Did Beholding hack the airport computers ? Or just put the knowledge into the crew's heads ? Could Beholding even lie ? )

He watches the plains and valleys of the United Kingdom under him, still half-expecting one of the staff to catch on either his complete lack of ticket or even who he is - because his name had made the news not a decade prior, and the three members of the stewardship sounded very, very British - and he knows in less than an hour, this plane will safely land in London.

That insight into what will happen is new. Beholding has never given him that kind of knowledge in the past, his own instinct the only thing that has helped him go forward with plans and research, the bits and pieces of fact he was given simply helping along - and never coming sooner than it should - sooner than it could know of something, like the safe arrival of a plane when something could still go wrong with its engine or the weather or even a stray attack from an hostile plane as a most unlikely scenario.

(It is almost as if Beholding knows of something new. Has learned something new. Has become something new. )

(As if Beholding, timeless and eldritch and a constant presence upon Gerry ever since he was born, has… changed. )

He stares at the land underneath, lush green and sparse neighbourhoods scattered in the countryside switching to grey steel and dark towers of glass glued together in a monochrome urban grid. London and its periphery, in all the glory of the city he has not seen in months - years - stretches out under his eyes, and Gerry finds himself staring in a way he has not even in the decade spent hunting books all over the world at the metropolis he once called his home.

A home he left behind, not knowing he would never come back alive.

(A home ripped away by an old arrogant man.)

( A home now offered back .)

We are now landing in Heathrow. Dear passengers, please fasten your seatbelts according to the schematic up on your screens before the plane begins its descent. Thank you for choosing our airlines, we hope to fly with you again soon ! "

Heathrow. London. Pinhole Books and the Magnus Institute and the squats and the grocery store and the back alleys. The clear days and dark nights, the drizzle of rain extinguishing the passion of the Desolation and the heavy fog nowhere near as cold as that of the Lonely, the taxis and people and street signs and roads and roofs he has grown amongst, where he has watched innocent passersby unaware of the horrors and the few wayward souls stained with marks and scents of the Entities go through life while he was himself burdened with the shadow of the dead, where he has learned and lost and gained allies, where he has watched Gertrude in the eye and she had lied to him .

(He asked that she would bring him back home if something happened to him. That she would not let him rot somewhere to the Entities' mercy or the Leitners' hold if she could avoid it. That she would not let him be buried and forgotten away from home when he was already little more than a shadow with a somewhat famous name.)

(He asked that she finally give Gerry rest when he could find none in life.)

( She'd lied. Then again, didn't she always ? )

" Rise, Prometheus. "

Beholding's… voice ? Presence ? Aura ? Gerry is not quite sure that Beholding is actually speaking to him, considering what the Entity is - an Eldritch being first born of the fears of living beings everywhere, second only to the End and perhaps the Web - but its instructions are quite clear, as they have been when directing him to the airport and plane from Amity. He gets up, follows the flow of the people exiting the plane and breathes in the cold, humid air of the London morning fog as a stewardess directs them all to the conveyor belt for suitcases and the checkout desk inside for any voluminous luggage. Slowly the bulk of the passengers goes, and with them he walks in and out of the airport, until he finds himself in a taxi that does not ask him for money and drives him towards downtown London.

It’s in that taxi, as he takes in the streets not from above as an anthill but among the cobblestone and brick and streetlights, as he watches the people and the buildings and the spaces in between, that he finally realizes what is happening to him. That he realizes what he knew already in that hideout back in Illinois and what he now knows as the car drives through boulevards and avenues, slowing down with every stop or red light.

Gerry… is back.

Gerry is back and he breathes again.

Gerry is back and he is alive and he is home .

(Beholding does not say anything. But it gives him the warmth of what Gerry thinks is what it feels like being told “Welcome home”. It fills his ribcage as it expands with another impossible breath, and lingers like a gentle hearth lovingly cared for.)

( For it to know something so kind as this feeling… Beholding has changed, that’s for sure. )

When the taxi stops, it does not take Gerry more than an instant to recognize the paved street leading up to the one place he expected to find himself in, in his current situation.

Where else would Beholding take him, if not to its place of power ?

The Magnus Institute stands tall and unchanged, as intemporal as it always was in Gerry’s eyes when he was a boy and a teenager and a young man. As unchanged as its Archivist, because Gertrude was always this pretend meek old lady to him, assistant and merciless. As unchanged as Gerry - boy, teen, man, alive, sick, dead, resurrected - is not.

The Magnus Institute, who always catched, and still catches, Gerry’s attention to a point of frankly embarrassing hyperfocus if he finds himself in its vicinity. He used to be unable to tear his eyes away, and even as time passed he always had to make a tangible effort to look away and concentrate on his current errand again.

(Beholding croons in his mind, smug like only the light would be in the face of attracted moths.)

(Gerry slightly resents his own analogy.)

This time, however, the light seems to blink away, the Institute fading back into the mess of buildings and tinted windows and columns of the academic street. For an instant, Gerry finds himself in any other street he has walked through that was not houding Pinhole Books, stones only stones and not the physical vessel of a greater power hidden behind mocking rumors and paperwork. The light blinks, and it is almost as if the Institute is no more before his very eyes, no more but a great emptiness in this imposing building.

The light blinks, but does not extinguish.

Instead, when it lights back up, it is both much smaller and so, so, so much brighter .

It is the light around a small, dark-skinned, scarred hand with painted and chewed nails under a too-long sweater now replaced by a cardigan. It is the light around long hair that falls in waves and twirls when Gerry can only picture a greasy ponytail. It is the light around eyes wide open to the horrors of the world he only then learns of - and eyes wide open as they cross Gerry’s own. It is the light of the small being that opened the door of the Institute, a satchel on his too thin shoulder and a group of people close behind when Gerry can only see the darkness of a basem*nt and the loneliness of one between man and monster.

It is the light of my Archive, ’ praises Beholding not only in his mind but in the air and the stones and the space that separates them. 'It is the light of Jonathan Sims. Of Jon. Of a friend.

'It is the light that will blind them all.'

(‘ It is the light of the only one who gave you the rest you once asked for. ’)

Gerry takes a step forward, his hand already held up towards the Archivist - the Archive - Jonathan Sims - towards Jon.

A second later, a small man shakes against his chest, arm twisted to hold onto his hand, and Gerry squeezes the small palm in his in a way he could never back - forward - in that dark basem*nt filled with smoke and pain. The scars are the same, the nails, the trembling. Gerry can remember it all, and he can see the similarities and differences between those two encounters - the only ones he and Jon have ever had.

The discrepancies are what matter most.

It’s in the way Jon looks more composed, if only in his clothing and his clean hair. It’s in the way Gerry stands and does not float, and their height difference is starker for it. It’s in the way there are no books or tape recorders to be found.

It’s in the way Gerry can hold onto Jon’s hand.

Because Gerry is alive.

And Jon is here.

(And Beholding watches over them, the protector he never was the first time around.)

They arehere.

And they are going to fix it.

Notes:

I wonder if it is clear what version of Gerry exists at the end of this chapter - as in, Jon is post MAG200, the others are pre-S1, etc.

Chapter 10: 10. Outsider's Opinion

Summary:

Already, Tim had been overwhelmed.

And then a dead man arrived.

A dead man that seemed - that seems - to know Jon - this Jon, this scared and scarred Jon still shaking with unshed tears and unseen horrors and unspoken screams - far better than either Sasha or Tim do.

(Which stings a bit.)

(Then again, what does Tim really know of Jonathan Sims ? Just enough to hurt him when he feels the need to-)

Notes:

Welp. Only took me 3 weeks. Uh.

24/11/21 : Edit of Jon's eye color to fit a piece of personal lore that had slipped away from me because of work and exhaustion, thank you to GrimNiknil for pointing it out !!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Of all the deadmen Tim knows of, from family reunions to dissected statements to whispers in Artifact Storage’s breakroom, Gerard Keay, the book hunter, the mother killer, the elusive gothic shadow of Gertrude Robinson that had escaped even Sasha’s notice before they found a statement about them, is not the one he would have liked to meet.

(He is a close second, however.)

(Or was, until today.)

He watches, as Gerard - Gerry, Jon keeps calling him, but the man has presented himself as Gerard to them and none have dared call him by the obvious nickname when they have not been invited to, not even bold, brash Sasha, or Tim himself as a joke - sits not on the couch but on the old armchair tucked into a corner, the only thing that seems truly cared for in this empty, dusty little flat of Jon’s beyond one feline-themed cup of tea besides the sink.

(It looks like Georgie Baker’s cat - The Colonel ? The General ? The Corporal, maybe ?)

And on his lap, long legs thrown across thighs clothed in black ripped jeans and small body curled against a broad chest, Jon presses a hand to Gerard’s chest - his fingerd tightly tangled in the Goth's black trenchcoat - and watches the slow movement of his ribcage as it expands and reduces with every single one of his deep breaths - his other hand still holding tightly onto Keay’s, as they have not let go even once. His eyes are wide and clear, free of his glasses carelessly thrown aside on a low table, as he contemplates that hand and the body underneath with the same scrutiny he gives every statement, every problem, every enigma thrown at him. Focus, passion, even delight if you know to look for it in those irises of polished silver, and all of it centered on this one dead man that simply stepped out of a taxi in front of the Institute. Of Gerard Keay, who’s arrival had upped the chaos counter tenfold.

Tim paces around the small kitchen, and he has been for the last ten minutes just out of sight. Not that Jon is looking at anything other than Gerard Keay, from his face to his chest to his hand in his smaller scarred palm. Tim saw those hands, and flashed back to that hold, so similar to the way he’s held Jon’s hand what seems like days ago back in the Archives before Georgie Baker arrived and everything went downhill.

Already, Tim had been overwhelmed.

And then a dead man arrived.

A dead man that seemed - that seems - to know Jon - this Jon, this scared and scarred Jon still shaking with unshed tears and unseen horrors and unspoken screams - far better than either Sasha or Tim do.

(Which stings a bit.)

(Then again, what does Tim really know of Jonathan Sims ? Just enough to hurt him when he feels the need to-)

Before he can spiral any further down that train of thought, Tim is lovingly - violently - hip checked against Jon’s inox countertop, dishes tinkling where they dry besides the sink. He winces theatrically, just in case his aggressor happens to be Martin, Georgie Baker or, Lord forbid, Keay - Tim knows for a fact that Jon would have fallen himself if he had collided with him rather than the opposite - but it is Sasha’s piercing eyes that meet his own when he looks back up from his own antics, before they shift to the kitchen wall.

She seems deep into her own mind, beginning to pace herself in the same ellipsis he was just kicked out of as he pulls himself back up from his dramatic slouch. Her notebook in hand, her pen in the other, she seems to be scribbling still about what happened earlier, and her many speculations, muttering under her breath even as she now stares at the fridge and its many, many cat magnets. She’s deep into what he calls, to her great annoyance, “Theory Land”, and Tim would be happy to let her keep going - as it usually led to them breaking in dumps to find proof of cults or hyper-intelligent cows.

But this time, he decides to call her back up to the surface. He can see her shaking hands, her uneven penmanship, her unfocused eyes when she would usually sit down and relax into her scribbles. He can see the situation getting to her, after the trek to the Library, then the Archives, then the lobby and back. He can see the toll it took, to first see Jon’s complete breakdown, before meeting Georgie Baker and then witnessing Gerard f*cking Keay come back from the dead.

He can see the chaos, whole and overwhelming, wrecking facts in her mind even as they are now, for the very first time, in Jonathan Sims’ flat after years of knowing him with three unknowns and the absolute madness of this scarred, scared Jon now in Keay’s lap.

He can see Sasha spiral, and that is not something he agrees with, if he can help it.

(The Spiral will not take Sasha, it will not-)

(Will the Stranger ?-)

“Hey Sash’, what’s up ?”

He winces, genuinely this time as he hears the roughness of his own voice, the comedic tone missing from his usual playful greetings. Sasha doesn’t point it out as she stares back at him, the tilt of her brow shifting from furious reflection to a softer worry. Typical Sasha, to come out of her own craze for the sake of others and not her own breakdowns nearing.

(The opposite of Tim, always burying himself deeper in anger when his mind tries to make him understand and empathize with the object of his scorn, an anger reaching even those others outside of his predicament, trying to help him or just standing on the sidelines.)

(The opposite of Tim, hurting everyone until he's not the only one aching anymore.)

She puts her notebook down, her pen beside it, smoothes her slightly rumpled pants into a somewhat neater look. Her movements are controlled, her face impassive for all who do not know her - or who know only what she wants them to know - her hair still immaculate and her eyes steely.

And then she drops in a chair, shoulders slumping, bags falling in her eyes.

Tim gets it.

Really, he does, because he finds himself in the only other mismatched chair besides her, opening the cuffs of her shirt with the simple need to occupy her - and his - hands.

She speaks, then, frowning eyes on her notebook - half-filled and still feeling as empty as Tim's folder on everything relating to circuses and taxidermy.

(He gets it.)

"Jon fell asleep."

Now wonder, their little librarian - because they have a big one now, it seems, appointed to this group by their most antisocial members who likes people just as he does his furniture : mismatched and chaotic and yet strangely cared for when you would never expect it - has just had what Tim would unironically call a hell of a day.

A day that began with tensions and slander in the Library, a voice rumbling through the Institute at 10 a.m., a scarred man where stood a simply scared one before, a trip to the accursed Library that was in many way as dangerous as Artifact Storage, pizzas and tears and breakdown, several walls torn down with a mallet that apparently belonged to Gertrude Robinson, a podcaster ex-girlfriend and her cat showing up…

And then Jon, on the verge of speaking, of explaining, of finally saying something that would, that had to make sense, Jon jumping out of his seat with eyes oh so confused and terrified and hopeful. Jon jumping out of his seat and running up from the Archives even as his bad leg almost failed him, Jon racing through the lobby and pushing the large doors open with a huff of effort he never would have let out - in public or alone - before that day, Jon taking three steps out of the Institute with all of them behind him ready to ask what the f*ck was going on

Jon stopping. Jon crying, again, giving Tim some very homicidal thoughts that his father would have disinherited him over. Jon running, almost falling again, even as Tim tried to pull Jim back.

And in front of them, running, extending a tattooed hand, the man Tim immediately identified as the shadow of Gertrude Robinson - Gerard Keay.

Gerard Keay, a deadman.

Gerard Keay, stepping out of a taxi and in their lives.

Gerard f*cking Keay, running to meet halfway with Jon and embraces him as if they were in one of those made-for-tv movies - lovers survivors of war spotting each other in the street, couple separated by tragedy for a decade finding each other in a cemetery, siblings reuniting after a childhood of looking without results - embracing as if they were sure they'd never see each other again.

(And would he do this, hug Jon after thinking he'd never see him again ? Would he have that moment of complete relief, of nothing in the world but the two of them embracing and breathing ? Would he take his hand and watch it as if nothing else mattered anymore ? Would he look like Keay had looked in this instant ?)

(Or would he spit in his face, sneer, full of righteous but overblown anger as the trap closes around them and Jon's neck bleeds and bruises blossom and fear settles in his eyes like a new normal when he sees Tim—)

Sasha opens her mouth again, and it rouses Tim from his strange thoughts again, letting them melt back into his subconscious. He doesn't even notice, with the chaotic situation already oh so overwhelming to his architect fanatic brain.

"As for Gerard Keay…"

And she makes it worse.

(He loves her, but come on.)

Tim looks up as Sasha sighs again, tapping her fingers over her open notebook, a new section titled "Keay" just waiting to be filled.

"As for Keay, he wants to talk to us."

Tim nods, and Sasha guides him back in the living-room just in time to see Gerard Keay and Georgie Baker step out of a side-room - probably Jon's bedroom - no Admiral nor Archivist in sight. They sit down besides a nervous Martin on the couch as Georgie sinks back into the now empty armchair, and Keay stands in front of them all, his coat nowhere in sight.

He watches them. His eyes browsing, almost cataloguing each of them in detail before he looks away, to the flat's door, and exhales.

And Gerard Keay speaks.

(And by the tone of his voice, its obvious he would have loved to spare them this story, even if he clearly lets his face show he doesn't quite like any of them - does not trust any of them, when Jon was sprawled over his lap ten minutes before.)

It doesn't take too long, really, for Tim to try and punch him, even as Sasha watches the deadman and frantically writes down everything, Georgie hums along with eyes of steel, and Martin gasps in shock at the short story of a Leitner and a book-hunter, of two hunters and an Archivist, of a coming Apocalypse and a desperate search for help, of two beings meeting between life and death in a dusty basem*nt.

But that isn't why Tim wants to punch Keay, no.

Because Keay speaks not of something that happened in the years or months before, but of something that happened in the years to come.

The future. Jon's future. And their future, as the archival staff.

That's where the punching comes into play.

Because when Tim angrily asks where the f*ck they all were while Jon ended up in front of Keay's spirit, why they weren't right besides him trying to stop Orsinov who is apparently it who killed his brother, Keay snorts derisively and watches Tim with eyes of anger and disdain.

"Where were you, Timothy Stoker ? You were at home. 'Decided Jon 'ruined' your life and everything was his fault, even when he was bleeding out in front of you and the real monster was laughing up the stairs, even if his faults could be at least partially blamed on the Stranger replacing your colleague. Wanna know what I think ?"

Tim does not.

Gerard f*cking Keay doesn't care, even if he has to dodge a punch a second later.

"I think you're the worst friend he ever had."

(Truth is, it's not Gerard Keay Tim really wants to punch. Truth is, it's himself he'd like to knock out.)

(Because, given what happened in the Library earlier… what if Keay's right ?)

Notes:

Listen just. I wish I had time to draw Jon in Gerry's lap because this was my favorite thing to write I don't care about anything else especially because I had so much trouble with this chapter ????

Chapter 11: 11. A Relative Night's Rest

Summary:

Martin sighs as he pushes himself into the furthest corner of the subway, watching the crowd press and fight to get in before the doors shut again. Despite the terrifying prospect of those Fears even existing, he knows he is much more concerned by Gerard Keay’s and Jonathan Sims’ encounter in a future that has yet to come, and by what transpired of Tim and Sasha and Martin’s own future through Jon’s dialogue with the then-dead man.

(A future that has left Jon more scarred than a war veteran, every inch of his skin marred by vestiges of an agony he cannot picture - an agony he secretly hopes none of them, colleagues and podcasters and strangers, will ever have to bear witness to.)

Notes:

Okay. I can honestly say I hate this chapter.

Not really because of its content, thought I might come back on it in a day or two because it's taken me a full mont to write it, and i fear there might be a slight discordance in the middle because of it.
But because it TOOK ME A FULL MONTH.
I already had a rough plan for it (and the next two) and yet the worlds would. not. come.

Anyway. Hope it's not too bad !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Martin is only slightly ashamed to say he fled Jon’s flat in the middle of the night.

He can easily admit to himself he’d been overwhelmed by the day they’d just had, and the presence in this unknown flat of unknown colleagues, famous strangers and vindictive dead men, especially when the only one who had seemed even remotely familiar and genuinely happy with his presence all day long - even if Jon was the source of all this madness in the first place - had been herded to bed.

Gerard Keay’s horror story, which happened to be their bleak future, hadn’t helped his nerves either.

(Which is why, once Barker and Keay had disappeared in Jon’s bedroom, and Sasha and Tim had slipped into what he guessed was the guest room, Martin had shamelessly jumped off the armchair he’d been ordered to sit in and had slipped out of the flat silently, coat and bag and a copy of the Archives’ key in his pocket.)

(No matter that Georgie Barker had purposefully pushed the lone armchair in front of the door - while muttering about cats and Jons and late night smokes - and of Martin’s only plausible escape from this 7th floor flat. Martin's worked as a removal man a few years earlier - efficient, quick and silent.)

He did leave a note or five in about every accessible room, to explain that he’d gone home and had not simply disappeared into the night, or worse, been kidnapped like Jonathan Sims had apparently been at least twice. And this number came from Gerard Keay’s second-hand account of another Jonathan Sims’ fragmented retelling of his life, which meant it could have been more and it could have been worse than “listening to an overgrown clown in ceramic throwing a tantrum over her ruined birthday party” and “going hunting as an unwilling asset”.

(And really, Martin may not have known him for long, buy Jon does seem like the type to undermine or even forget to talk about the truly traumatizing details of his déboires at the hands of eldritch monsters, and truly that Jon needs to take better care of himself before he ends up in a coma again-)

Martin blinks in front of his kettle, tea poured into his thermos for the day.

His precedent train of thought vanishes as quickly as steam over his mug as his eyes switch to the clock beside his toaster. He scrambles to grab his work bag, his old coat, his pierced umbrella, stuffing his thermos among his pens and politely swearing at the slight leak from the old cap burning the tip of his fingers when he tries to turn it around to keep all the liquid inside.

In under five minutes of muttered curses and locked doors, Martin sprints out of his flat and into the Underground’s dark stairs, the moist air of the London fog sticking to his hair like a crown of morning dew. He’s forgotten most of his Library files back on his desk the day before, and has nothing to show for his possible new job down in the Archives, but his bag is full of two things : notes on the story of Gerard Keay and of his sole encounter with Jonathans Sims - and notes on the Entities the man had alluded to as if they should have known all about it already.

Fourteen Fears, he said, before enforcing and somewhat both defining and muddling the statement by calling them Forces, Entities, Beings and Gods in his story, and linking their demeanor and influence to what Martin usually associated with Eldritch Gods and "Old Ones" in literature. Out of those fourteen, he’d named three : The Stranger, or Unknowing, the End, or Reckoning, and the Eye, Beholding.

(That last word, "Beholding", had been spoken less like a title and more like a… a name, thought Martin. A name, not for a concept but for a being, one that could answer and heed one's call beyond what even religions could preach.)

(A name, for something that was less of god and more of man-)

Martin sighs as he pushes himself into the furthest corner of the subway, watching the crowd press and fight to get in before the doors shut again. Despite the terrifying prospect of those Fears even existing, he knows he is much more concerned by Gerard Keay’s and Jonathan Sims’ encounter in a future that has yet to come, and by what transpired of Tim and Sasha and Martin’s own future through Jon’s dialogue with the then-dead man.

(A future that has left Jon more scarred than a war veteran, every inch of his skin marred by vestiges of an agony he cannot picture - an agony he secretly hopes none of them, colleagues and podcasters and strangers, will ever have to bear witness to.)

Gripping his bag with more force than necessary - his mind helpfully supplying a mental picture of the pages within crumpled in his fist - Martin recalls the tale he’s shakily written down through the night - and wants to rip his notes apart at the mere thought.

Keay, before sending Tim into a blind rage, had happily detailed his own demise at the hand of cancer and the book - a Leitner, because those were a thing now, and not just a private joke for Artefact Storage to moan about ! - that had brought him back to meet Jon, all thanks to their ex-Archivist newly-declared dead Gertrude Robinson, who was apparently less of a frail old lady getting in on her years and more of a ruthless and hardened one-woman militia sacrificing assistants to fear monsters and coming Apocalypses.

Then, before he’d finished his tale with his and Jon’s encounter in a dark basem*nt somewhere in America, he a ghost and Jon an apparent fugitive- and drawn upon himself Timothy’s Stoker punching ire - he’d touched upon why exactly Jonathan Sims, past-researcher and then-Archivist of the Magnus Institute, had found himself on the other side of the pond, fleeing the authorities for two murders of all things.

The subway lurches forward, only one stop left before Martin’s, and as the sharp speed almost sends him stumbling into the now empty aisle, he feels in his limbs the same instability that had made him sit down and listen to Keay’s slow and methodical destruction of everything he’d thought he knew about their world, their jobs, their futures.

He listened - and later wrote down - about a coming Apocalypse, the kind of which Gertrude Robinson had stopped throughout her relatively long-life, about a being of stolen skin and voice ready to unleash its horrors upon the world in a gigantic circus performance, about a half-dozen people that were also the only ones aware of this Unknowing and tasked with its annihilation - and wasn’t this group a joke, with two cops wary of everyone but each other, an ex-Youtuber trapping herself in a cursed job and later accusing another for her mistake, and a monstrous boss laughing at them from his office high up as he played with the lives of so many by refusing them any hint of information.

He listened, about three small persons - and a monster, for far too long, masquerading as one of them - stuck in a dusty basem*nt, mourning in the middle of it all, about those three small persons fighting among themselves and against everyone else, Jon and Tim spiraling between paranoia and rage while Martin was failing to pacify them even for an instant.

He listened, about a suffering so visceral and profound it drove them apart and at each other's throats.

And wrote it all down.

(And cried some.)

(Cried all night long, even. Because if Keay’s tale was but a single chapter, Jon’s scars were a twenty volume epic.)

Martin’s stop comes, and he steps out of the subway, out of the Underground, onto the streets of London.

(He doesn’t look down to the floor as he steps forward, doesn’t avoid the gaze of passersby, doesn’t make himself smaller or forgettable as he usually does.)

(He stands, and thinks nothing of the world around him except for his present goal.)

To his right, stands the Magnus Institute in all of its dark academia glory.

He recognizes the gothic architecture and the particular carvings from the Victorian era, stained glass and pointed arcs and sooty stones from the 1850’s. The building is tall, several stories high, all of them wide and riddled with large windows, and a wrought-iron balcony at the very top, where Elias Bouchard’s office is situated. All of it stone and metal, an old building mostly full of books and papers and wooden shelves, desk, chairs. An outdated building in the middle of London, with little access for large trucks, with a strident emergency alarm easily pulled from the lobby, with corridors large enough for the rush of its many employees at all hours.

All those little details he’d always noticed, and now Martin sees many more.

He sees people turning away, switching sidewalks and looking over their shoulders with frowns and grimaces. He sees, on the contrary, trembling figures attracted like moths to a flame. He sees stained glass warp into a thousand faces with no mouth, no nose, no ears, but eyes large and unblinking. He sees in the heavy air hanging around the Institute more than his anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.

He sees, looks at that balcony so high up, and its metal slowly draws an owl pupil of a deformed eye.

(That eye does not blink, and Martin holds its gaze without flinching.)

(If there is an eldritch god out there that gets off on his fear of being seen, he will never duck away from anyone’s sight again.)

Martin steps forward, each step up the stairs to the Institute’s entrance so much more significant than they were the day before.

He nods to Rosie, mustering a smile as she waves at him in between phone calls, and turns left and down instead of right and up, the Archives’ door far back into the building. He has only taken this route once the day before, back and forth, but he easily makes the appropriate turns between interview rooms and the few unused offices along the way, until he finds himself at the top of the last flight of old stone stairs.

Down there, sits the heavy door to the Archives. The sign is flipped, the blocky “Open” proudly displayed even as Rosie’s chart had labeled the departement closed back in the lobby. Which means the others - or at least a fragment of them - are here.

Good.

(He doesn’t think he would have been able to speak, if he’d been given anything more than a minute alone to rethink his life choices down there.)

Martin steps forward, shoulders square with a sense of purpose he has not felt in years.

The heavy door bounces against the wall, the dust from the previous day’s destruction still hanging in the air and permeating it with that grey color so similar to the sad eyes of one Jonathan Sims as he shook - and held - his hand back in the Library, and the sad eyes of Jonathan Sims currently staring at him from his office chair pushed in the middle of the assistant desks, Gerard Keay leaning over his shoulder.

They are a grey color of loneliness, of longing, of grief.

(Of fog in the mornings, in the evenings, on rainy and sunny days.)

(Of an infinite beach, neverending in its beauty and its horror-)

“Apart from the Archives - Let’s burn down the rest of the Institute.”

Notes:

Hope you liked it ! Comments are always appreciated, I have a small backlog but Ill try to answer all if I can !

Next time, a new character, often named and little heard : A prize to who guesses their name right !

Chapter 12: 12. A Tale To Be Told

Summary:

Now, he feels a weight, cold and metallic in his hand, an object he is gripping so tightly the material has cut into his scarred skin. [...] He’s retreated right then, he thinks, behind what had-been-would-be-should-not-be Tim’s desk, feeling a few too many eyes more open in his closed palm to observe the loot of his small bout of thievery.

A lighter.

Notes:

:D new chapter !!! next chapter is halfway through, and chapter 14 is ironically enough, halfway through as well, because it was supposed to be this one, and then I remembered I /still had not written about MAG/, what with Gerry arriving, and then a Tim moment and a Martin moment. So, you know, here it is (not) !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

"Jon. Look at me."

He looks up at Gerry’s face pinched in worry - again, he really needs to stop being troublesome for those around him - and slowly comes back to the present moment, mind leaving behind the flashes of scorched earth and undefined skies to focus back on the old wood of the Archives’ floor and the rough texture of the roof, and the desks surrounding him instead of carcasses and emptiness.

He focuses on Gerry, and reaches for his outstretched hand with his own, the skin warm and real under his finger, unlike the cold vapour that constituted his ghost back in that basem*nt.

(The touch is no miracle as a grounding anchor, but it helps bring him back into the past - the present - just enough.)

(The touch is a miracle in itself because Gerry is here and Gerry is real and Gerry is alive-)

Gerry pulls him to his feet and cuts off his train of thought, forcing Jon not only back in the present, but also in the present moment - that is to say maybe two or three minutes after Martin has sprung into the Archives with his soft knitted sweater, his cow-patterned socks, and his determined proposal of complete and deliberate arson of the Institute.

And Jon - not just Jon, but The Archivist, the Archive, Beholding Incarnate in this world made anew - had somewhat… panicked.

(Beholding had panicked as well, the same sentiment the entity had shown only once before in their entire - forced and otherwise - collaboration and communication.)

(The feeling of fear that was not his own and not Martin’s and no one else when the knife cut his heart in two-)

Now, he feels a weight, cold and metallic in his hand, an object he is gripping so tightly the material has cut into his scarred skin. His office chair is lying sideways on the floor, toppled over by what he thinks might have been himself jumping out of it in a frenzy, the Admiral promptly deposited out of his lap as Jon had almost tackled Martin - not that he could have actually made him fall when Martin was so square on his feet and determined to see something through - and stolen said object from his hands. He’s retreated right then, he thinks, behind what had-been-would-be-should-not-be Tim’s desk, feeling a few too many eyes more open in his closed palm to observe the loot of his small bout of thievery.

A lighter.

(A lighter he easily recognizes, as he sees the raised ridges his burnt palm cannot feel anymore, in a pattern of crosses and empty squares, from top to bottom and sweeping across the sides of the small metallic rectangle.)

(The lighter and its web.)

He looks back up from his musing as Gerry steps forward, his other arm now pressing down gently into Jon’s shoulder - the opposite of that which Melanie had once stabbed with a scalpel - and his hand tight around his own. He does not ask, and Jon does not answer, but Beholding between them in some of this panic still works for them. He knows, as he sees the small spark in Gerry’s light eyes, that the lighter has been seen and known now, for all its significance and its adventures in the hand and pocket of the Archivist.

For all its significance in Gerry’s first freedom from the accursed skin Leitner as well.

The man blinks and seems to shake himself out of his thoughts as he watches Jon’s closed hand with renewed interest, but he doesn’t stay focused on it for long, eyes shifting instead to Jon’s hand as its own entity, and to the scars covering and digging into his skin. To the proof of something more than even he, brought back from the dead and graced with memories a few years beyond their present time, does not know the story of, because there are scars down on Jon’s skin Gerry knows nothing of, hair too long and humanity too faded and eyes too numerous in light of who he’d met in that basem*nt.

And he wants, needs, to know that story.

The very story Jon had not told yet because he had felt Gerry step foot in front of the Institute, and had fallen asleep, and had been waiting for Martin, and was now panicking about a coming fire instead of speaking.

The story.

The confession.

The statement.

Jon sees, behind and beside Gerry’s shoulders, the rest of them. Martin, hands open around nothing, Tim, half perched upon a desk, Sasha beside him with her notebook open still, Georgie crouched with a pouting Admiral against her ankles, and he knows they - the dead, the lost, the scared, the damned - deserve to hear about what was-will-be-should-be-avoided-at-all-costs just as much as Gerry - long sacrificed to the altar of Gertrude Robinson like dozens before him - did.

But while looking at Gerry is clear cut, his ghostly past erased in a single hand gripping his coat or fingers, Jon looks at them behind, and feels his all-seeing eyes falter between reality and memory. He sees the past, and he sees the present. He sees the present and he sees the future. He sees all, and it melts into a nightmarish kaleidoscope of them.

(Them, as he left behind broken and dead and ruined-)

And that, alongside his fear, is what keeps on clogging up his throat when words have seldom failed him past the beginning of the end.

Because Jon opens his mouth to tell Tim about the Circus, and all he can see is fire exploding around them and burnt curtains turning to ash as Nikola’s coat does and rubble separating them in a flurry of dying colours, his last view of the man he’d called a colleague and fellow researcher and soul of the team - and once upon a time friend - a tall strong back turned to him and a thumb pressing down on the trigger.

(“I don’t forgive you.”)

Because Jon opens his mouth to tell Sasha about the NotThem and all he can see is melting wax around a horrid smile, deformed limbs appearing in the tunnels and the uncanny voice gloating for the Archivist to hear, his last memory of her so warped he can still barely recognize the woman standing before him as one of his dearest colleagues - and once upon a time friend - when he recalls the monster that had taken her instead.

(“I see you !”)

Because Jon opens his mouth to tell Georgie about the End and Melanie and all he can see is disappointment at his miraculous recovery, an implacable face besides the scarred eyelids of an exhausted false prophet, one last hug given but not deserved and one last goodbye that had been final and clear cut - from a woman he’d loved and loved still and yet had lost as he’d lost them all - as they each headed to what could be a new beginning or an assured annihilation.

(“You’re not even trying.”)

Because Jon opens his mouth to tell Martin about Peter Lukas and his mother and all he can see is a silhouette slowly dispersing in the fog, an unending beach stretching before his eyes as he ran and found no one, and a firm hand wrapped around the handle of a knife even as broad shoulders shuddered with horror, grey wisps vanishing to be tainted with the red of blood and black of ink instead, the last image of that man - that treasure, that gift, that love-of-one-life-to-the-next now lost to him - one of desperate hope as the world crumbled and unravelled.

("Together.")

Because Jon opens his mouth to recount their future and all he can see are the shadows of his past. Figures faded and blazing and distorted until all his all-seeing eyes can recognize is the grief and anger and guilt. Fire in Tim’s eyes, wax on Sasha’s cheek, fog in Martin’s hair, death in Georgie’s hands, he sees their present and their future, sees the marks of those fears that took and take and will keep on taking from them until there is nothing else to take.

All that is left of them now is their voices and faces in his mind, warped and furious and gone - and he cannot speak.

(It would be easier to forget, to focus on the present and let go of the confusing split-and-superposed vision overtaking him each time his eyes stray across familiar and unknown faces, easier to navigate this present instead of fearing that it will vanish at any point, easier to forget the Apocalypse and instead make sure it doesn’t happen this time. It would be easier to forget.)

(Jon will never forget. He can never, and will never allow himself to.)

Jon looks at them, opens his mouth and cannot speak.

But they deserve to know. They deserve so much, and to know is the first - and perhaps the most terrible - thing Jon can offer them on the way to, at the very least, their collective continued survival - and he hopes, some high degree of happiness. They deserve to know.

“Jon. Look at me.”

Gerry does not Know all that has come and gone in Jon’s mind, in those few instants of silence, but Gerry knows him well enough, even in the little time they’ve truly had together, to see the fear in his eyes, the images of death and terror and mourning where his assistants’ and friends’ faces should appear. He knows he does not see the same for him, because horror is a part of their dynamic from beginning to end to renaissance, and his own ghost-like memory superposes perfectly with his solid form - only a touch to ground both Gerry and Jon in the moment and the relative reality of it.

Slowly, Jon lets himself be led back towards the vacated and toppled chair, never letting go of the lighter just as he never lets it out of his sight, and he keeps his gaze firmly pinned on Gerry’s face as he does - closing all of his eyes around the Archives until the only ones opened are those of his hands and those of his face - his entire world at this moment reduced to Gerry.

(Gerry too deserves to know, because Jon is the reason he’s been brought back and thrust into this mess once again, instead of resting forever in peace as they’d both hoped years-ahead-ago in that basem*nt. That guilt simply adds onto the rest as Gerry sits him down and kneels in front of him, never letting go.)

“Tell u- Tell me what happened.”

(Guilt has always been one of Jon’s strongest motivators, in the end. And Gerry, as much as them all, deserves to know.)

A dozen tape recorders click on through the stacks and desks and tunnels, a barrage of static to the eyes and ears that could try and spy on this ultimate confession. Up in his office, Jonah Magnus frowns at his building headache but brushes it off as he reworks yet another piece of his final incantation, happy to think oh his near victory, all thanks to who he thinks is a serious-scared-lonely Jonathan Sims down in the Archives.

Down in the Archives, an exhausted-scarred-held Jon looks at Gerry, breathes out, opens his mouth.

And the Archive begins to speak.

Notes:

I promise, MAG next chapter for real, I've got a good vibe to it too but the style is very different from this chapter so I divided the confession in two and instead focused on once again anchoring Jon in the present. I hope it wasn't too all over the place ? I had some trouble to be honest, and I'd already developed on this before so I fear I may have been redundant.

/!\ Very important question, please I do need an answer : Would you guys like a discord for this story ? To exchange and stuff ? Or is the comment section enough for you all ?

Chapter 13: 13. The Archive's Statement

Summary:

He had become, in the end, Beholding incarnate in this broken world.

Why then, had he still been so scared of everything around him ?

Was he not supposed to let go of his own fear to become that of all that lived and breathed and cried ?

Was he not supposed to become so close to Fear itself that his own would blend into it, disappear in the maelstrom of terror coursing through his new state of existence ?

Notes:

Before you begin this chapter - who is actually two weeks early, how about that ? Maybe I'll have the 14th ready for the 22nd, no promises though - I need to explain myself - and its contents - a little.

First, I did announce a change in writing style to one of my reviewers, something which is not truly apparent here, as it follows my use of, well, of the "stream-of-consciousness" usually found in Modernism (please do thank my English Literature classes for this little tidbit), which I have used for each character so far.
The change here, for me, is implied in the title.

This is a statement.

In situ, if not in time, if you will. And this statement is, well, being delivered to the audience implied in the past chapter. So this is, basically, my retelling of the Magnus Archives. There's got to be a bunch of errors, I easily expect and admit them, from slight timeline shifts to the inevitable veneer of the narrator upon the facts, as well as my own memories perhaps failing me on this monster of creation and its 200 episodes. So, umh, sorry in advance for that.

As a second part, and I'll explain at the end to avoid spoilers for the chapter, but the second half of the chapter is built on somewhat an interpretation of Season 5, in a way that would have been impossible, or at the very least excruciating to produce in the reality of the podcast - so umh, bear with my silly ideas, if you can !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The Archive, when the end came, was as terrified as he’d always been.

Was he not supposed to be all-knowing, all-seeing, all-encompassing in this somewhat-day and somehow-place ? He had walked through those lands alone and not, under the heavy gaze of the Eye, and has proven his power over all those still breathing more than once. He had killed his fair share of them as well - and had even before that, but the smiting had been something new and horrifyingly exciting. He had seen his old tormentors and enemies to the ground, a vessel to the Eye’s power as he stood over them and pronounced their condemnation.

He had - has - been judge, jury and the axe of the executioner.

(He has killed Breekon-or-Hope. Peter Lukas. Jude Perry. The Helen-fueled Distortion. The NotThem.)

(He has killed Helen, Sasha, Gerry, Michael, Tim, twice Daisy, Martin, the entire world-)

He has killed Jonah Magnus with his own hand.

He has- had become more, more than anything still standing on this barren land, as he stood over the thrice-damned man now finally a victim of his greatest fear - for far too short of a time, he’d thought, after all he’d done to the others - and stared back into the abyssal pupil of the Eye. He had become more than the Pupil Jonah had been, more than the Archivist Jonathan Sims had become and the Archive every single Entity had made him.

He had become, in the end, Beholding incarnate in this broken world.

Why then, had he still been so scared of everything around him ?

Was he not supposed to let go of his own fear to become that of all that lived and breathed and cried ?

Was he not supposed to become so close to Fear itself that his own would blend into it, disappear in the maelstrom of terror coursing through his new state of existence ?

And yet, as he watched Jonah, as he heard Martin run in, as he spoke and fought and looked, as the knife was brought down in a precise and determined arc even with Martin’s trembling hand holding onto his back, the Archive - the Archivist - Jonathan Sims - Jon, as he became again on those last seconds, was terrified.

He was terrified like he had been when he’d realized that Georgie was in front of him, a background of scarred scorched salted land behind her.

Georgie whom he had loved and loved still, Georgie who had shared his flat and his life and his secrets for years of youth, Georgie who had hidden him from his pursuers even when she’d been rightfully angry and disappointed. Georgie who had been well aware - and had made him aware too - that his survival was not a blessing, because it was not truly Jonathan Sims who had gotten up from a six-month-long coma in that hospital. Georgie who had lost him twice over, who had loved him at least for a while, and whom he had thought dead, dead because of him and his monstrosity, before seeing her again, on another dilapidated street through the Apocalypse he’d brought onto their world.

He was terrified like he had been seeing Melanie’s face, Melanie’s eyes, Melanie’s scars.

Melanie whom he’d hated and respected and envied, Melanie with whom he’d never seen eye to eye even when they agreed on his own monstrosity, on the hell that was the Magnus Institute, on the guilt the Archivist bore of her fate and that of all the assistants that had come and gone under his employment. Melanie whom he’d operated on without permission and who had “operated” on him right back in all of her delicate surgical skill. Melanie who had not been his friend nor his enemy and yet had been punished as strongly as the adversaries and the allies of the Archivist and the Archive and Beholding’s “Special Little Boy” - condemned to life past the end of the world, in a land of terror and death and - even for the Prophet and the Fearless - inevitable endings.

He was terrified, like he had been seeing Basira and Daisy, one disillusioned bitter woman fighting for her survival and little else, the other warped beyond recognition to save the very entity that would end the world.

Even laughing, even smiting, even raging, he had been terrified of Basira’s cold calculations as they ran to their own end far too many times and held both Martin and him at gunpoint - even as he had secretly admired her resilience and her strength of mind when she had quite literally thought her way out of the Unknowing and when she survived the Apocalypse he’d provoked all by her lonesome - and had been terrified of Daisy long before she’d succumbed to the hunt body and mind, had been terrified of her even when she had been the only one left for him after the Buried and before the safe house and the only one to understand what it was like to be a monster and hate the monsters and hate yourself for being a monster - even if she perhaps never understood why Jon could see humanity in the monsters that did not starve as the two of them did - and when she’d clawed his leg, the blood singing its victory as it sprayed from her maw.

He was terrified like he had been when Tim had pressed that damned detonator and when Sasha had uttered her last words on tape.

Tim who’d been the first person to reach out to him after Georgie and university and the Mechanisms and Sasha who had tagged along perhaps two weeks in, full of stories and laughs and knowledge and conspiracies and kindness. Tim who’d tried to worm - well, that had become something of a taboo worm in the Archives but he’d still used it in the first few days back after Prentiss - his way into Jon’s life and heart, who had dug himself a spot there and had perhaps opened a spot for Jon in his own before he had ruined everything, as always, and led Tim to his self-destruction.

Sasha who’d been along for the ride, Sasha who’d known so much about all this, so much more, so much better, Sasha who had been Gertrude’s choice and would have been so much better than she had been and so so so much better than he could ever have been, Sasha who had rightfully resented his promotion when he knew so little and was such an idiot and a complete prick and yet had worked and worked to help the Archives, Sasha who had been the glue between them all and yet had been the first one to go, the first one to die at the hand of the Archivist’s mistakes.

He was terrified, much as he had been as soon as Martin had stepped into his life.

As terrified as he had been back when he was just Jonathan Sims - contract tucked away in Magnus’s office and soul signed away yes, but just human still, just the Head Archivist still, just Jon still.. Back before the first statement and the first voice melting into his own in the retellings of countless horrors. Back before the monsters and the scars and the fears, back when he thought the apex of terror was Mr Spider and a dog in his new workplace and perhaps a smiling gentle giant looking at him with the kindness he could not bear.

As terrified as he had been seeing killers, murderers, traitors in every corner and took it upon himself to betray everyone else first, mind full of horrors and blind to those in the minds of his companions when that same gentle man was trying to hold them all together; as he had been, on the run and then running after Magnus’s stupid hints and statements, becoming a murder and being kidnapped twice over, trying to avoid one end of the world, all the while Martin stayed as their one and only pillar.

As terrified as he had been, waking up from death as the monster he’d known he was becoming, backs turned to him as they should have been since the start, a coffin to sink into and perhaps never come out of, another end coming too fast, and only a sliver of cold fading mist where Martin used to be. As terrified as he had been, running through the grey sands while screaming his name, his cane long since lost into the low rolling waves and clouds of cold fog, his hands coated in the vivid blood of a man so faded he had been shocked to even be able to kill him at all, as terrified as he had been seeing Martin fleet in and out of existence at the edge of his vision.

As terrified as he had been when he had grabbed Martin’s fading hands and hoped, hoped so deeply, hoped as he had not hoped since he was 8 years old and running after his own bully, that he was not too late again.

As terrified as he had been every day in that little cottage in Scotland, between statements inside and walks outside and rumbling nightmares and ruminating cows and the hunger making him sick and Martin’s hands tangled up with his own soothing him. As terrified as he had been then, in that little oasis in time and space, that everything would come crumbling down at any seconds because they had left so much behind and they would never be free of the Institute and the ends of the world could still come-

Terrified, as he could not stop reading, as his ears picked up Martin’s running steps behind the door and he spoke louder through the deafening static, as he tried to stop, as he had to, as he could not. Terrified, as the words poured out of him, as the statement’s narrative was cut short by a nonsensical prayer which forced his voice to twist and rise painfully, the crackling of the tape recorder filling his ears, as the floor shook under him and Martin cried out in the other room, fog creeping under the door. Terrified as the tapes on the corner table tumbled to the ground in a sad heap, every pen on the desk following, as Jon felt himself reach the end of those terrible words, as he tried to bite his tongue, cut it off with his own teeth if he had to, as long as he could stop-!

(But Jonah Magnus had trained his little Archivist well.)

Terrified, as he intoned the dreaded words gleefully written on the final page.

(And a good Archivist always reads a statement to Its End.)

“I-OPEN-THE-DOOR!”

He had been terrified. As he read, as he bled, as he looked up to the Eye in the sky and laughed helplessly.

Terrified as he became the Archive.

As he lost the last shreds of his humanity, the last drops of his innocence, the last words he’d ever speak by himself. As the recorder became more than his trademark, and instead replaced his voice box in a twisted reminder of his monstrosity. As his words became those of others, his own intonations turned few and far between until they completely disappeared under those of the voices he’d hear in his nightmares.

As he became - even if Martin took offence to their self-definition - a broken recorder. Filing and exploiting the horrors of the worlds while trying to make them fit into a semblance of syntax and meaning for the sake of communication with those around him - and he stayed silent when he could afford to.

As each time he would talk, listeners would hear the words and intonations of Naomi Herne, of Helen Richardson, of Jane Prentiss, of Jurgen Leitner, of Mike Crew, of Jude Perry, of Gerard Keay, of Oliver Banks and his many aliases, of Manuela Dominguez, of Daisy Tonner, of so many individuals he could easily name and remember even now that months-years-decades-centuries had gone by, of Sasha James and Tim Stoker - their own voices as well, from Georgie Barker to Melanie King to Basira Hussain to Jonah Magnus to Martin Blackwood.

He was terrified when the rare times came when the Archive spoke in a past Jonathan Sims’ soft, haunted voice as he sat curled on a beaten couch and told the story of his first horrors, as he sat at his desk and pondered on the coming apocalypses, as he watched the world fall by his very own voice. There was little relevance to these past words, as they planned and researched and walked to the possibility of safety or doom. Little relevance to his voice, as it was a reminder of his own failure to stop, stop talking stop chanting stop reading-

He’d only found his own voice at the very end, as he repeated the very same words he’d spoken years-months-centuries-millenniums ago in a foggy office beside the Head of the Institute’s, on the other side of a cold wooden desk covered in files and pens and not even a mug of tea. His own voice as he had pleaded uselessly, as he had trembled with fear at the very idea of his plan, as he had watched into what he remembered to be bright eyes, now as dull as a misty morning in London. His own voice as he looked at Martin, and knew perhaps then that he was too late, again too late, always too late-

His own voice as he embraced Martin far from the fog, at the centre of the crumbling Panopticon and the fading Pupil, a few meters away from the corpse of Jonah Magnus and the husks of crackling tape recorders, and felt the blade cut his heart into two.

The Archive, when the end came, was as terrified as he’d always been.

Was he not supposed to be all and everything and anything in this world and its end ? Was he not horror itself, was he not above the terror to be felt and incarnate of the terror provoked ? Was he not more, more than what he had been all his life spent in fear ?

And yet he had been as terrified as he’d always been. Terrified about what would come next - the past, the future, life or death, the beginning or the end-

But he’d promised, he’d sworn, he’d vowed-

Together ?

The world unravelled around them, lives and death and fears coming undone until there was nothing but he in the emptiness, his heart beating in discord, and the great Eye staring back into his own. And the Archive - the Archivist - Jonathan Sims - Jon spoke with his own voice because there could be no other to answer.

One way or another. Together.”

The Archive, when the end came, was as terrified as he had always been. And then the beginning came again.

Are you sure about this ?’”

He stared ahead and entered Jonah Magnus’s office, his heart frozen and split in two, the wound never to close up even as all others knitted together and scarred.

No. But I love you.

The Archive, when the beginning came again, was as terrified as he’d always been.

And he was alone.

I love you too.”

Notes:

So yeah, the second part and my interpretation of Season 5 and the Archivist's voice being perpetually underlined by the recorder's static crackling. Obviously, to edit all the statements into a cohesive dialogue for the Archivist in canon would have been an impossible task !!

But I'm liking this take, and I actually began writing this chapter with those facts, this idea of the many voices overtaking Jon's, to the very end of his sentences - until the end, that is.

Until he looks up at Martin, and the knife, and the Eye, and knows. Until the end comes and the beginning follows. Because some words have to be spoken in your own voice, or signed by your own hands, or written in your own handwriting, or thought in your own mind. Some words already spoken between Jon and Martin, and spoken again as the "Last Words" we'd been waiting for and dreaded.

As a last note, I truly hope this chapter will give bring some comments and reviews ! I want to thank all those that did last chapter, and hope to see them again, and perhaps others in my comment section ! I always try to answer too, so don't ever worry about speaking into the void, because it will speak back !!

Thank you for reading, I will now head to bed because I've been on this chapter for the past four hours.

Chapter 14: 14. Supplementals

Summary:

And Gerry knows that on the few occasions he heard Gertrude read a statement, on the few occasions he shared his own knowledge with the easy fluidity offered by Beholding’s blessings, never has he been swallowed up in noises and sensations and images of the stories then shared.

[...]

And Gerry risks one peak across the room and knows he is not the only one that has seen, heard, felt it all.

To have anyone in this room, or even this building, be able to interrupt Jon at this moment ? Hilarious.

Notes:

Alright alright alright. Here is chapter 14 after the disc scare !
I've indicated the date and hour of upload for those on the disc, but I hope the emails and subs will work as well !

I hope you all enjoy this chapter, and that it does not seem too muddled in its length and jumps !

Thank you to GrimNiknil for helping me through some of this chapter, very helpful in the writing process and I hope you enjoy it all still !!

EDITED on 5/31/22 for an incoherency (about Jon's heart).

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The tape recorder on Jon’s lap clicks off just as his voice tapers off, and the silence that follows is deafening.

They are still all standing or sitting around, Tim holding onto the chair he’d wanted to sit in and never got around to as they’d all froze from the Archivist - The Archive’s very first word, their eyes wide open and directed towards Jon as he himself sits gingerly in the desk chair, one hand curled around the plastic case of the recorder and the other clenched yet around the lighter he ‘stole’ from Martin, what seems like hours before.

(Beholding helpfully whispers that it has only been seventeen minutes.)

( Gerry whispers back that he didn’t actually want to know. )

No one has interrupted Jon as he spoke. No one has dared, and even if they wished to, Gerry knows for a fact that very few in the world today could have interrupted Gertrude with something as simple as spoken words when she was truly enthralled by a statement written or spoken. Those close to the Eye always had this connection to the knowledge they were amassing - beyond even the focus one could find in a Servant of the Desolation staring into the eyes of a grieving brother or the Stranger twisting yet another being into a parody of humanity - a connection to the point of hyper fixation and beyond, and seldom could break them out of it.

Beholding knew how many times Gerry had walked into a streetlight or almost fallen into a manhole because he had been a little too focused on articles and other hints of Leitner sightings - too entranced by the Knowledge to gather and examine and devour . It had been the same with dear ol’ Gertrude who, in the few instances she’d use the powers awarded to her station, had struggled to pull him out of his research over the years - and he had been mostly unable to stop her from reading the few statements she'd recorded with him around, short of stabbing her hand with a letter opener when they'd been attacked by a Stranger Avatar once in Jakarta.

Though Gerry knows that Gertrude and he, while powerfully connected to the Eye, had never come close to what Jon and Beholding are.

And Gerry knows that on the few occasions he heard Gertrude read a statement, on the few occasions he shared his own knowledge with the easy fluidity offered by Beholding’s blessings, never has he been swallowed up in noises and sensations and images of the stories then shared.

Never had he blinked and seen the shadows of every single fear imprinted onto his retina, seen the silhouettes of friends foes long gone and yet filling in the edge of his vision, seen the scorched earth underneath his feet cracking up into a maw of death ready to swallow him whole. Never had he blinked and heard the squirming noises of worms covering every scrap of the floor, heard the explosion pierce his eardrums until there was only a tinny noise resounding in his skull, heard the laugh of a broken man watching the world crumble from his own words. Never had he blinked and felt the paranoia that goes along with fearing for one’s life and thinking there is a traitor behind every known and unknown face, felt the numbness as every back turned and his humanity slipped away through every and no fault of his own, felt the heart-shattering terror in every moment of his existence as everything crumbled away and there was yet more to lose .

And Gerry risks one peak across the room and knows he is not the only one that has seen, heard, felt it all.

To have anyone in this room, or even this building, be able to interrupt Jon at this moment ? Hilarious.

But now, Jon - the Archive - has gone silent now. And yet no one is speaking, no one is reacting, no one is freaking the f*ck out and climbing upstairs to kill Bouchard-Magnus .

Gerry thinks that he has hidden a machete somewhere in the Archives once, after a bad encounter with the Slaughter. He thinks it might be a bit rusty, a bit fragile on the edge and in obvious need of a good sharpening. He thinks it's right around the corner, actually, tied under one of the shelves of the Archives where no one would usually look, and he'd only need a few minutes to grab it.

He thinks a dull blade is the perfect tool to behead Magnus.

But Gerry does not move. Does not fetch the blade. Does not run out of the room and into the Head's office to cut Bouchard's off.

Instead, he listens to the silence and hears the echoes.

He listens to the silence and hears the echoes and grits his teeth so hard he is genuinely confused they do not break.

He is kneeling in front of Jon still, one hand covering a fist clenched around the lighter and the other on his own knee as he balanced himself and froze with Jon's first words. Jon's eyes are closed - except for those on his palm, whispers Beholding - and his shoulders have fallen from their tense position, his back resting against the back of the office chair. He looks exhausted - even more so than after his breakdown the day before.

Gerry wants to hold him. To sit in that chair and take Jon onto his lap like they have done in the flat last night. To hold his hand and let him know that he is here, alive and real and that Jon is not - well, he hadn't known then, but that Jon is not walking through the Apocalypse anymore - through the scorched earth and lifeless streets and screaming domains and horrors and grief and guilt-

But Gerry does not move.

(Now he knows.)

( He Knows. )

And he listens to the words unsaid that float around him, all of them recorded and amplified to his ears courtesy of Beholding.

Jon’s account is much more thorough - and finally complete - than Gerry’s just a night before, and the truth in it all is undeniable. The Archive has spoken, and it is the truth. There is nothing else. There is nothing else but the echoes of Jon’s voice and everything that had spiralled from it in a way never experienced before : the images, the visions, the feelings .

Without ever letting go of Jon’s hand, he turns the bulk of his focus towards Tim Stoker first - Tim Stoker who he does not quite like from Jon’s accounts of their difficult times, who he perhaps respects for his willingness to ensure the end of his enemy, who he almost surely loathes for bringing down not just himself but at least three others, including Jon, with him - Tim Stoker staring not at Jon but at the tape recorder on his lap.

And Gerry Knows what Tim Stoker is thinking as he stands hunched to the side and stares. He knows himself, and knows not the one Jon has spoken of, not the man he became and will most probably never become, knows of the man that reached out to Jon, but not the man who threw him back in his final hour, knows of the man who can hate so thoroughly his own cruelty appears justified, but not the man pinning the sins of the entire city of London and beyond on one man for his own convenience.

Tim Stoker knows of the man ready to walk into the fire for his own revenge and satisfaction, but not of the man he’s heard and seen - a man who’d pull someone other than his enemy alongside him to their fiery deaths with nothing less than an angry and bitter send-off.

And Tim Stoker wonders about who he became, how to never become - wonders about the lives lost before and after his in this fragmented retelling of the years to come, Sasha first among them - and insidiously, he wonders if a Jon-turned-monster, like Grimaldi, deserved it.

(Beholding hisses in Gerry’s mind, and he takes note of any possible betrayal to come from vengeful handsome men in their anger reinforced by statement-transmitted guilt from their possible victim.)

( He has his priorities .)

Gerry’s focus shifts with the Eye’s sharp nudging, to Sasha James besides Tim, and he thinks that he does not really have an opinion of her - he knows her competency, he knows her tragic end at the claws of something they could not name for months afterwards, and he knows in this instant of the figure he can see behind her, much like the ghostly apparition of his mother years past. The figure of Gertrude Robison.

Sasha James’s gaze is as calculating as it had been since he met it the day before on the Institute’s steps, as she stands pondering over the shortness of her own role in this story. Pondering over Jon seeing her as the more skilled, knowledgeable, experienced of the bunch - and didn’t she think so earlier in that Library, for all she did not believe he was trying to steal her natural promotion, did she not for a minute think that he was nowhere near as qualified as her - and Jon seeing her die first. Pondering over seeing herself as the anchor of a group not yet formed, an anchor left in the sand, its chain broken across the ocean floor as the ship sailed away into the bulk of the horrors.

Sasha James stands pondering about a future she was never a part of - and yet one she seems to have heavily influenced by her absence, as per Jon’s very own admissions - and a future she is determined to live for and through, to preserve and enjoy with those around her and in her entourage.

Sasha James ponders about the Apocalypse come and gone and coming again - and the risks and the benefits of its fulfilled Harbinger among them - and in her mind aside from caring and worrying for Jon, Gerry can see ideas a bit too similar to Gertrude's to fully ignore.

(Beholding seems to screech, Gerry takes another mental note to keep any possible sacrifices or “greater good” mentality in check, especially when Sasha James now has a clear vision of the consequences adding to her worries.)

( He gets it, sure, but the Gertrude route will never be his favourite again. )

He squeezes Jon’s hand as he feels him squirm a little, in the same nervous twitch he’d once displayed in that basem*nt in the States, and his focus slips from James to a more directly significant figure both in Jon’s overall life and the future to come.

Georgie Barker is, for all intents and purposes, a mystery to him. He knows only a few facts about her, bare-bones gleaned from - actually so very few - discussions with Jon, and most of it from the statement just witnessed. University acquaintance turned friend, turned girlfriend, turned ex. Current owner and ‘legal guardian’ of the Admiral, marked by the End to the point of self-sabotage, and one of those few who walked through the Apocalypse.

He can feel her thinking of all this. Of her past and her present and a future unravelled before her, alleviating so little of the confusion that has taken hold of her the day before - and has it been so little time, twenty-four hours tops for her, since Jon has entered back into her life and everything has gone crazy ? - and yet adding a whole heap of new questions. How did she find herself surviving, who was Melanie King to her, why had Jon reached out to her after years, what had become of the Admiral, and why, why was Jon talking of her like a fond recollection of an old and lost friendship, when by his own account she had been with him a few hours before his - his travel back in time ?

Had Jon pulled away, let the door close between them again when everything had come to a head and she’d tried to get him to step back ? Had she when he’d apparently woken up from a coma, looking at him and seeing only the monster he could have avoided becoming ? Had they both, when one fearless human and one fear-fueled monster crossed paths again ?

Georgie Barker stares, petting the Admiral, and wonders when exactly she lost Jon to the hands of those same monsters that had taken away her fear and security and trust in the world.

(He should tell her, perhaps, that Jon becoming an Avatar was not just “because he didn’t try hard enough, or at all,” despite his own feelings on the subject.)

( Her cat did become one too, after all. )

There is only one person left to focus on, and for a moment, Gerry dreads what he will and will not find in him. Because his eyes look down from Jon’s face, to the tape recorder on his lap. The machine is turned off, nothing but silent plastic casing empty of any cassette, and yet Gerry can still hear the voices that tumbled out of it, the words that closed off the statement underneath the Archive’s.

First a simple echo of everything Jon said, the recording - or just a vessel for Beholding’s expression, he supposes - had switched up at the end and spoken in a tandem of distinct voices. One was Jon’s - The Archive’s, echoing with the fizzle of static underlining his every word, power in each syllable even as he spoke softly, and yet something in it was so utterly human it was heartbreaking to hear - and the other… The other was so easily recognizable - even years in the future, even through all the ordeals and the horrors and the Apocalypse - so familiar even if they’d all only heard it for the first time the day before.

The voice of Jon and of his Other resounds in Gerry’s head, echoes of their last words filling his mind as much as the ghostly silhouettes of the last vision dance around him, and he aches .

(He cannot begin to imagine what pain Jon must be in.)

( He’s not sure he’ll ever want to .)

Martin Blackwood has not gotten rid of his coat or bag yet - assaulted as he was when he stepped in and proclaimed his arson plans to the masses - and he looks nowhere close to doing it. His eyes are stuck on Jon’s face, on his closed eyes and pursed lips and scarred skin, and if Gerry had not known better, he might have thought Martin is seeing more than just the man sitting in front of them.

Martin Blackwood’s face goes bloodless, as if he is seeing more than the Archives around them - and Gerry knows he is - seeing more than any of them have. As if his vision was solid instead of the ghost of a past-future-end past and never come. As if he is seeing the prickly superior rejecting him cruelly out of his own inadequacy, seeing the paranoid man trusting no one but his tapes, seeing the exhausted murder suspect, seeing the body laying on a hospital bed, seeing the desperate man stumbling across an empty beach, seeing the Harbinger of the Apocalypse speak and cry and Become, seeing the Antichrist of a broken world walk upon its scorched lands, seeing the man and monster and everything in between on a mission to right the wrongs he’d been used for.

And himself, behind him and in front of him and away from him and against him and by his side, for months and years and hours-decades-millennia. Himself, speaking up words he doesn’t know and has never uttered, even as he strikes down upon a man he once would have called dear and cherished and beloved.

I love you.” “I love you too.”

Martin Blackwood seems on the verge of fainting as if he is seeing the rubble, the blood, the knife .

(Beholding is nothing but an unending scream in Gerry’s mind now - the shriek of a thousand recorded screams its victims uttered in their demise under its gaze past, present, future - as Martin shifts from one foot to another, face bloodless and hands trembling.)

( Gerry exhales slowly, and tries not to think about the stuttering heart in Jon’s chest, lest he do something unforgivable. )

Jon sniffles in the moment Gerry turns his full attention back to him, legs tucked under his chair as his arm has curled around the tape recorder further to press it against his chest, head hung low and his hair curtaining his face. Gerry is probably the only one in the room able to see his expression in that moment - and it is one that tears at his chest, to see such grief and guilt and bitter hope run along the scarred cheeks in scalding tears - and he grips Jon’s hand tighter.

The shorter man trembles for an instant, a full-body jerk that makes the chair creak slightly, before he looks up to cross Gerry’s eyes. Grey to blue, there is a glint in the Archive’s iris that speaks of power, of a surge built up throughout his statement that has not yet receded, and yet everything in him in this instant is helplessness. His story may be over, but his mourning is far from it - perhaps it will never end - no matter the faces around him, alive and breathing.

He was not part of Jon’s statement - Gerry had already spoken theirs, the crossroad where they met and split up forever - and yet he feels the terror nonetheless. Gerry thinks of a woman dying forgotten, replaced for months, her image warped forever. Thinks of a man scared, then angry, then suicidal and running to his violent ending. Thinks of two women walking through the Apocalypse, untouched by the Fears and yet living through the horrors. Thinks of two strangers lost to time, to the Hunt and the Eye and the end of the world, predators and yet preys when it mattered. Thinks of one gentle soul pushed towards abominable choices, manipulating the odds towards the least unforgivable with little hope for a better world.

Thinks of a man-monster-in-between living and dying in the hands of another, hoping in his dying moments for nothing but upholding one last promise and waking up alive and dead and alone .

(Gerry woke up alone, in the book, and cursed Gertrude. She’d betrayed him, and it had hurt, hurt so much because even now he can only think it had been a pointless betrayal - handed off to the hunters and only finding his way in the next Archivist’s hands by accident and sheer bad luck out of all things. He wonders if perhaps she ever hurt thinking about what she’d done.)

( Gerry woke up alone, in Illinois, but he had Jon’s hand to come back to. )

“Jon.”

He does not answer immediately, only blinks, the slightest tilt of his chin indicating his focus. Gerry wonders if perhaps, his voice is stolen now, by his past and his horrors and his statement, in the same way Beholding had hoarded so many voices and gifted them to Its Archive. If speaking those words have taken too much of him, leaving him a blank page with nothing left to say. If remembering, retelling, reliving hell on earth like this was perhaps… perhaps too much to ask from its unwilling Antichrist.

Gerry wonders if he has hurt Jon even more so, by wanting the truth for the others and himself.

And Jon proves him wrong, as he opens his mouth and speaks.

In his voice, power lingering in static and echoes and strength, Gerry hears not a broken man, not a shattered heart, but one entity standing as tall as he can in front of an entire planet’s worth of Fear and marching on. In his voice, Gerry hears not the exhausted man he’d met in that basem*nt, the scared ignorant target of a thousand monsters, the reluctant actor of Magnus’s will even as he wishes to be free - to free them all. Gerry hears not a pawn, a bishop, a king on a chessboard, beholden to follow the directions of a player above them all even as he tries to fruitlessly fight the hands controlling the game.

In his voice, Gerry hears and sees and feels the Archivist and the Archive and Beholding Incarnate.

He hears and sees and feels Jon.

“If we are to burn down the Institute… We need to do it right .”

Notes:

Dont forget to check out the disc if you're ever interested in direct communication or updates on my writing pace, new projects, current chapters, etc !

Next chapter is a new POV from a character we briefly crossed paths with in the Institute.

Chapter 15: 15. Billow The Clouds

Summary:

Sitting down on that chair, drowning in the metallic folds, Jonathan Sims looks smaller than ever before.

And his silver rightrightrightbutwrong eyes are full of tears, wet tracks decorating his scarred cheeks, as he looks to his right and keeps on staring.

[...]

He seems far tenser than he should, by all means, be. Tenser even than Elias’ double is, his shoulders are drawn up to his ears and underline the messy braid his hair has been bundled up in, he is biting his lips only because he cannot bite the black polish off his nails while his hands hold onto the blanket, hugging the edges to his chest as if it were the last intact lifeline on a sinking ship.

Notes:

New updating schedule at least until February : On the 1st and the 15th of each month, with a supplementary chapter on December 25th !!

As for this chapter, its contents have been delayed and delayed and delayed but it's here !!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Chatter rings out into the street, the sound melting into the greater hubbub of London’s daily life.

They are lucky for the sun, she ponders as she sips from her fuming cup of tea, as grey as the sky is around it.

It allows the dozens of people standing outside to spread around, instead of huddling under this or that small corner to try and avoid the downpours that would trap them inside on another day. Instead, their employees are split into small friendly groups, by department or affinities as they chat and complain, work computers tucked under their arms and bags hastily thrown over their shoulder.

There is an undercurrent of anxiety among them, glances thrown around periodically as some lament over their situation and uncomfortable squirming from those most sensitive, some faces pale and hesitant as they look around for the gaze they can feel on their back - a feeling quite similar, she thinks, to that of a particularly unhappy landlord staring at your back in the lobby of your apartment complex three days before the rent is due - but all employees are safe and accounted for.

Rosie looks to her side, humming against the rim of her cup.

Elias’ double looks unhappy indeed.

He would probably prefer a downpour himself, a cloud concentrating all of its rain over the Institute, and he might even stand under the falling drops to make sure they’d do their job properly. And his employees being drenched and uncomfortable would be but the cherry on top, a delightful piece of entertainment to watch from the corner of his wrongwrongwrong steel eyes.

Even now, he glares up at the sky as if it had personally offended him before his gaze slides down and to one of the small groups of employees, the one that has been camping furthest away from them all since the very moment they’d stepped outside. A duo of paramedics has been hovering there since they arrived on the scene two hours before, pulling a café chair with them alongside a silver blanket they’d had folded in their emergency bags.

Sitting down on that chair, drowning in the metallic folds, Jonathan Sims looks smaller than ever before.

And his silver rightrightrightbutwrong eyes are full of tears, wet tracks decorating his scarred cheeks, as he looks to his right and keeps on staring.

(She wonders perhaps for the first time where exactly those scars had come from, has she ever looked it up ?)

(Were they always or never there before-)

He seems far tenser than he should, by all means, be. Tenser even than Elias’ double is, his shoulders are drawn up to his ears and underline the messy braid his hair has been bundled up in, he is biting his lips only because he cannot bite the black polish off his nails while his hands hold onto the blanket, hugging the edges to his chest as if it were the last intact lifeline on a sinking ship.

(Rosie hums and taps a finger against her teacup. Jonathan Sims, now that he is on her radar as a Head of Department, has proven himself to be… strange. And this is just one more stone to the well.)

(A simple promotion less than a week before would surely not account for that sudden level of attachment to the Institute.)

Behind and around him, stands the most heterocl*tic group she has seen in a long time. Sasha James Jr. and Timothy Andrea Stoker - efficiency and exuberance in imbalance - are far from the bulk of the Researchers, as is Martin Blackwood from the Library - he with the resume full of lies, even his age. The other three members of that group are not, as far as she knows - and she always knows - employees - as Georgie Barker is a self-employed entertainer and her cat is a cat - or in the case of Gerard Keay, have never signed an official contract.

(She thinks Keay is not supposed to be here, for some reason she cannot quite voice.)

(Wasn’t there something about a death-)

And yet they stand together around the trembling form, Keay holding onto Jon’s one free hand, Stoker laying a hand on his left shoulder as he holds James’s hand, the cat silent in Barker’s arms as it stares at Blackwood. They stand apart from the bulk of the crowd and seem fully unbothered by the wave of slight anxiety she has watched wash over the rest, their whole attention focused instead on the small man sitting down.

Jonathan Sims whoisirightrightrightbutwrong sits in this jittery nervousness to be put lightly, and this agonizing angst to be put realistically, as his eyes are absolutely glued to his right. He does not sob, as his chest and shoulders are eerily still from what she can see, but his tears do not dry up either, as if the polished silver there had stolen all of the raindrops the London sky would usually hold. He does not speak, even as the numerous individuals around him seem to try and coax words out of him, Barker the only one staying silent. Then she hands him the grey cat, and the small beast snuggles onto Jon’s metal-covered lap.

Jonathan doesn’t look down, his eyes still stuck to his right, to the same single point he has been staring at ever since she first saw him today.

She blinks away from them, looking forward and staring at that same point, and sips up from her now warm cup of tea.

Before Rosie, as Big Ben strikes 10 am, the Magnus Institute burns.

Its centuries-old stones crack under a worrying heat far stronger than the orange flames should possess. All of its windows shattered an hour before when the fire had taken over the first floor and its numerous old shelves, and she can see shards of stained glass decorating the pavement and the stairs leading up to the large, warped doors of the main entrance, a multicoloured testament to the continued destruction of the Institute. A sharp hiss resonates in the air and some of the employees of Artefact Storage look up, and she knows the fire has reached the heavy doors of their containment unit. The Library is already gone, she knows, as she knows HR and Research and the lobby have seen their floors collapse ten minutes ago.

There is nothing the firefighters can do now, and they have been able to do little ever since they arrived an hour and a half ago. Their only saving grace is the single-minded focus of the flames, as they do not seem intent on spreading to the rest of the street. No, this blaze is devouring the Institute, and she knows it will not extinguish until it has.

(She does not, however, recognize here the work or the mark of the Desolation. This fire is not of destruction, not wholly, as it slowly tears through the Institute and everything inside.)

(It is almost as if the flames are natural, their lack of spreading the only thing beholden to the supernatural-)

Rosie watches, and the Magnus Institute burns.

And yet…

Rosie looks around, but she sees no pain in the eyes of her fellow employees. No collapsing Researchers, no bleeding Librarians, no coughing HR to be seen, even as their departments are alight with flames, every paper and object linked to their names perhaps already reduced to ashes inside of the burning building. Their contracts have long been destroyed, she knows, because Elias’s double had dug into his desk and pulled out only four contracts for the Archival staff, stuffing them into his briefcase before running out of the building with her. Everything else behind the clouds of smoke is gone.

No one will extinguish that fire before its job is done.

Rosie sips her tea and stares up at the grey sky, humming, as the balcony of the Head’s office - styled up in Art Nouveau from an owl to the distinct shape of an eye - warps under the heat and breaks.

And yet every single employee of the Magnus Institute is fine.

She’s heard more than once, obviously, the terrible consequence of the Head’s - of the Heart - death upon them all. Should Elias’s double - or whoever stood in his office - meet his mortal end, they would all follow in a travesty of ‘undying’ loyalty to his cause and person with no warning. A quick, painful death that would take them all at once and end the Institute.

But this is not only true for the Head’s passing. She remembers - she remembered everything, never forgot even the slightest little fact since primary school, be it work or private life - once bringing up some files of one kind or another to Elias’s double, and surprising a conversation between her boss and their main sponsor : Peter Lukas.

And they had been discussing their latest divorce - the second, she ponders - when Lukas had mentioned not the death of the Head, but the annihilation of the Institute that could easily free Elias from his obligation.

“Kill them all, try again. Just need to buy another building, that shouldn’t be too hard, right ?”

“Don’t say things like that. It could unearth the depths and anyway, I do have some competent employees I’d like to see survive even if I were to begin anew. That said, you may enter, Rosie.”

He had not outright mentioned the collapse of the building as the catalyst, but he’d implied it clearly enough that anyone could have gotten his point, she mused and muses today still. Lukas was a chaotic man this way, in round-about words and silent steps, always ready to wreak havoc unseen and unknown to bother Elias’s double and garner a few victims in the same effort.

(Had the both of them meant, back then, for her to hear all of this ? She doesn’t know, does not care much. She’d stepped in the office, welcomed Lukas, rid herself of the files and walked back down to her post without a single word about what she’d heard.)

(And she’d thought for two weeks afterwards about the fireworks she could buy online, and the matches in her flat, and the flammable books in the Library…)

That had been perhaps ten years ago, and she has never forgotten.

She has never doubted the truth of it, either, because there was little to gain of scaring her when she had never shown much emotion to begin with - and Elias’s double had only liked to lie to protect his interests and scare people, this new information a fit for neither of those goals. And yet, while she sips her tea, and watches the Magnus Institute burns, its staff stands around with nothing else but grumbling complaints to voice.

Which means it had been a lie perhaps designed to feed on her fears - or that of anyone passing by, Peter Lukas was never picky with his victims, be they fed to the Lonely or left along with terrible knowledge isolating them from the rest of the world - or someone intervened in favour of everyone standing here to save them from what she’d always seen as an inevitable fate.

Her gaze slips back towards the Archival staff - and two outsiders - and she sets her cup down.

Then she gets up, smoothes imaginary wrinkles for her blouse and walks towards the police cars surrounding the Institute - clipboard in hand and clothing just a bit ruffled and hair down in disarray - eyes fixed on one duo of officers standing a bit further from the bulk of the Sectioned forces.

Two women, she thinks, standing together in something close to a warped fun-house mirror for how different they are from each other. Blond sandy hair over slightly tanned skin besides the deeper tone of her companion and her lavender hijab, bulky shoulders and lean muscles, both around the same height a little under her own - and she always took some petty pride in being taller than Elias’s double - wearing civilian clothing and their badges as they look around the crowded street.

Sectioned officers are far more numerous in London than one could be led to believe, but she walks towards those two only for the glint in the blond’s eyes. A glint close to a few beings that had stepped into her lobby and never stepped out, close to the man that had been rumoured to have died down in the Archives in the middle of his statement, close to the few people she makes sure to never avoid nor brush against in the streets as they prowl like predators.

Rosie clutches her clipboard to her chest and stops in front of the women, tears gathering in her eyes.

They are looking for the arsonists, she knows, and in her suspicions she has a name all ready for them.

They will either prove that her feelings of rightrightrightbutsowrong are unfounded and move on towards the next most likely suspect - mainly the known delinquent Gerard Keay - or they will prove her right. If Jonathan Sims has nothing to hide, he will be fine. If Jonathan Sims has not become another Elias, he will be fine. If Jonathan Sims is innocent and ignorant and human, he will be fine.

If not, well… She knows for a fact that her problems will be dealt with, in the way all Hunts end.

Notes:

Hope you enjoyed !!! Thank you again to GrimNiknil for beta-ing this mess recently

Chapter 16: 16. Blurred Instincts

Summary:

She can feel it now, and it’s so much stronger. She can feel the unnatural, the eldritch, the wrongness.

(She can almost see it in the air around them.)

(She can definitely smell it.)

And when they look up, Daisy sees his eyes.

And she cannot look away.

Notes:

Alright, this was a doozy to write, all the thanks again to GrimNikNil for beating and helping me bring this story into the world !!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

That secretary is suspicious.

She comes to them the perfect picture of shock and concern, dishevelled and gnawing at her lower lip without care for her makeup, with “worries” and “doubts” and “horrible feelings” already to be offered to their investigation. Basira has always been the easiest to approach in their partnership, her face somewhat welcoming even when she stood aside in indifference - or perhaps it was just because Daisy couldn’t help but frown and scowl most of the time, and made her look so much more approachable by contrast ? - yet the secretary seems intent on addressing Daisy more so than her fellow officer.

“I-I couldn’t believe they would do something like, like this, officers, but you have to understand !”

She’s worrying her nails against the edge of a neat little clipboard, catching the tips against the wooden angle repeatedly. It could seem like any nervous fidget, a plethora of which Daisy has seen in her life and career - be she provoking or simply witnessing them - but her nails, albeit short, are painted a soft beige so expertly and neatly she knows this fiddling is not a usual fidget of hers. The same as her left ankle grinding against the right when her flat shoes are as pristine as a newly bought pair.

She’s an excellent actor, down to the aimless wandering of her eyes even as she stutters through her “suspicions, oh it’s so horrible, but !” and bats her eyelashes at Basira in the picture-perfect image of a scared yet dutiful citizen.

Though it is not quite as aimless as it has seemed in the first few minutes, when Daisy finds herself following her line of sight twice and always falls on the same spot, just aside from the crowd of employees watching their Institute burn down. There, at the edge of the barricade the firefighters and police forces have set up to close the road, stands a little group huddled together around one small form sitting on the edge of a cement flower pot.

“It’s, oh, you see, one of our employees has recently gotten a promotion, and yet it seemed, seemed he wasn’t happy perhaps ?”

She’s talking about a potential arsonist among her colleagues - and she’s talking about that group further down the street, the one her eyes keep sliding towards in a discreet yet pointed hint - and she’s talking about someone called “Jonathan Sims”.

“He left Mister Bouchard’s office and down to his new office, you see, but just an hour later, I heard all this noise-”

Daisy frowns a little when the tallest of the bunch fidgets, a large figure somewhat dwarfed by their own tendency to bend forward and round their shoulders inward and looks around with the telltale signs of nervousness in their posture. They’re looking at the police force - which is usual for criminals inexperienced with the law, and even some ‘experienced’ ones - but also at the employees crowding the street, and at the man that stands further from everyone and seems ready to murder everyone with a look.

The boss, she knows, Elias Bouchard, watching his Institute burn to the ground for no clear reasons yet.

Would make sense for him to be pissed really, and for the potential culprits to look towards him in worry.

“At first, I thought perhaps it’d been outside, but I, I went down to hand him some files, and oh, you should have seen the place !”

The woman, maybe, standing beside him is almost as tall and stands straight on her feet, without a care for the eyes that come and go and catch on her lithe yet imposing figure. She’s looking around too, but Daisy can see how strongly her eyes are drawn towards the disaster beyond anything else, as the flames rage and the sky darkens with smoke. She does not smile, but Daisy can almost smell the satisfaction around her.

“The walls, between the main room and the Head’s office - oh I’m sure you must have something similar at the precinct ? - torn down, with a hammer of all things ! And it was him, you see ?”

There’s a typical handsome one in that group - and what even are they, plucked right out of some soap opera or office comedy ? - standing beside her, rocking back on his heels even as he seems to chat away at nothing. He looks over the rest of the employees, waves towards a few of them he seems friendly with and even sends a playful “V” of victory, palm forward and golden rings shining despite the morn grey sky, towards Bouchard, a mischievous smile splattered on his angular face.

(She thinks that for someone as ostentatiously British as Bouchard is, the mythical significance of that same sign with the hand flipped should not escape his notice. Especially with that provocative smirk, doing little to hide the contempt in his eyes.)

(Judging by his almost snarling expression taking over the fuming anger for an instant, it did not escape his notice at all.)

“And then he ran outside, and there was this man - I’m sure you know of him, he was, well, involved with the law a few years back-”

Oh, that one seems quite unhappy with the situation. Daisy has no idea who she is, and she thinks there is no way she’s one of the Institute’s staff with how casually she’s dressed - leggings and sweater and shorts of all things, a beanie covering her electric blue hair and shared imagery of cartoon ghosts over the whole thing - and how confused some employees seem to be when they look towards her. She doesn’t look back towards them, however, her eyes bypassing the crowd and the force and Daisy entirely to zero in to her right.

Her gaze is stuck on the boss, Bouchard, and there is no fear, no worries, no guilt there.

There is only deep, seething, burning rage.

“Gerard Keay, he was, well he was acquitted, but those rumours never really die down, you know ? And he used to work near the old Head Archivist as well-”

Keay. That does speak to Daisy, and Basira seems to catch on the name even quicker as she writes down everything the secretary is babbling about - from the sudden promotion to the wall busting on the same day to a once-suspected-murder meeting up with their possibly-suspected-arsonist - as a case going back before their enrollment. A young adult killing his mom, let go from lack of tangible proof or something like that - and a known lover of fire from the rumours that had surrounded him and his name in the media for the weeks around his trial.

Keay, who is apparently that guy - and who still dresses like that nowadays, did he just jump forward from the emo and gothic paradise of the 2000s ? - standing with the group. He’s not standing, instead sitting down on some random café chair he’s picked up, and he stares at the fire for an instant, the flames reflecting in his eyes so strongly she can see the glint from so far. There’s satisfaction, longing, and something close to sick delight there.

(He seems to enjoy the blaze not only for its existence but for what it is swallowing and destroying with fervour.)

(Arsonist for sure, even if he maybe didn’t light this precise fire.)

Then he seems to metaphorically tear himself away and turns back towards the centre of their huddling little herd. His hand is tangled up with that of the one in the middle of their circle, the small form she noticed before sitting on that flower pot, motionless and curled up on themselves. She doesn’t have a good visual of that one, but she shifts a little and can see a few details here and there.

“Oh, it’s horrible to even think about it, officer, but, but I think Jonathan might have found himself in with a bad crowd, you see ? And perhaps the stress of the promotion, the new assistants, he’s always been such a nervous man !”

Long thick hair, grey and black almost half to half in curling strands, dark skin spotted with lighter circles of various sizes, a lighter gash across a thin throat, a small and short stature further dwarfed by what seems to be the tallest one’s coat deposits on his shoulders, professional attire that wouldn’t look out of place worn by a librarian grandma - yet no glasses to go with it all and for some reason, that seems to bother her - a burnt hand that sports the scars left after years of healing. He seems just as anxious as the first one she’s looked at, hand trembling so much she can see it even from afar, one knee jumping up and down uncontrollably.

He looks like most preys do, in the wild. Small and nervous and vulnerable in all the ways that should count.

He even has a fluffy fat cat on his lap, for pity’s sake !

And yet...

She’s spotted a few weird employees in the bulk, the kind she’d glare at in the streets and would especially keep an eye on if they ever crossed her path on a case. She’s spotted that boss guy as someone, something, clearly freakish, but everyone in the Sectioned force seems to know that. She’s even seen in that secretary a hint of the wrongness that helps her in their chases.

She can feel it now, and it’s so much stronger. She can feel the unnatural, the eldritch, the wrongness.

(She can almost see it in the air around them.)

(She can definitely smell it.)

And when they look up, Daisy sees his eyes.

And she cannot look away.

Monster.

(Another scent makes her stop for an instant, but when she looks over her shoulder, it’s already gone.)

(It seemed… close.)

It was so easy to put down some basic facts on his companions, nameless and fileless that they are, but Daisy looks at the small form and there is nothing certain about him, She cannot look away, and yet she cannot see anything concrete either.

The secretary said that he is an employee recently promoted, but Daisy cannot see anything beyond a university student - aged lecturer - high school kid visiting - octogenarian dean - an ageless figure among a group of young-ish people. Aside from his eyes, eternally the same - and the cat on his lap - he seems to somewhat splinter and branch out and shatter into a thousand versions of himself through time and space, and the poetic imagery that comes to mind is not one she appreciates.

And his features, beyond long hair and dark skin, seem muddled to the point of a blur - scarred lips and intact ones, circles on his skin ragged then healed, burn licking at his chin and nothing there but peach fuzz, far from his growth spurt in one way or maybe the other, young and old and scared and scarred, standing tall or curling on himself, hands stained with ink or hands stained with dirt and blood, short nails painted black or broken and muddy, face splitting into a terrified smile as tears roll down scarred cheeks then dirty muddy grimy cheeks, his face in light and shadow and the terrible darkness-

Her eyes shift away from his face, down to his neck. And on that neck runs a long, long, long and lethal scar, a cruel mimicry of the large joyless smile he’d never wear.

(He seems the type to wear smiles soft and hesitant and open for his close ones and nothing at all for the rest, for some reason.)

(Or does he only show such vulnerability to those he fears-)

He’s a broken mirror, one she cannot look away from, and she thinks that in some of those shards she can see a familiar and concerning reflection - a figure that is not small nor lithe nor long-haired, but as scarred and suspicious and ready to jump-

Daisy blinks, and he does more than look up now. Now he’s looking back at her.

His eyes are-

His eyes are a lightning strike of silver as he crosses hers, freezing her in place as her muscles all tense and lock up, and he does not blink once. He looks at her, and in his eyes, Daisy can see recognition and curiosity and fear and fondness and grief and longing and all those emotions contradicting each other without even a modicum of coherency. He looks at her, and she sees him mouth her name - more so than her name, her childhood nickname currently known only to Basira - even as all she can hear is a murmur of prey-predator-one-hand-holding-hers-in-the-dark in an eardrum-shattering cacophony. It is swallowing up all other noises, around and within, and she cannot look away from the small form further down the street that is unknown and too-well-known all at once.

She doesn’t hear the blood rushing anymore.

Then Jonathan Sims shifts, his gaze turning towards the blaze slowly devouring the Magnus Institute. In his posture, Daisy can see the despair of the hunted she usually loves to witness in her chases, and the despair of the hunted she delights and loathes to see in this one man - but he is not looking at her anymore, and none of those feelings are ones she is provoking.

His whole attention - or most of it - is completely focused on the building burning to ashes before them. Flames are bursting from the windows downstairs now - Daisy heard that the fire began on the top floor, which would have allowed the people inside to get out before they were trapped - and smoke billows in the street, forcing firefighters back in their fruitless efforts to extinguish the fire.

Jonathan Sims is not watching the fire-fighting force. He is looking further, further even than the soot-covered stone and bright licking flames and clouds of smoke. He is looking where Daisy cannot see, his eyes shifting to look towards the ground in an angle directed towards what would be a basem*nt. He is looking down and she can see his burnt hand grip the coat over his shoulder as he gets up on shaky legs, not even grabbing for the cane propped up at his side as he curls his arm to hold the grey cat to his chest, and takes a step forward.

He opens his mouth, and a stream of blood coats his chin even as some officer swears in front of the advancing blaze.

Daisy’s muscles finally unlock after what has seemed like hours.

She begins to run, just as Gerard Keay shouts and Jonathan Sims falls.

Notes:

Next Chapter is on the 25th, as a Christmas gift !

Hope you liked it, don't hesitate to leave a comment, they're always so appreciated !

Chapter 17: 17. Emergency Contact, Again

Summary:

Their wonderful plan to rid the world of one menace has backfired spectacularly.

James is mumbling about it in the back, theories and conspiracies running under her breath while Stoker keeps on being a human GPS, and Georgie hears some of it from the one ear that isn’t still filled up with the cries of their pitiful little gang as they saw Jon fall on his side, his shoulder and head hitting the brick road with a couple of worrying sounds.

(That prickly moron had shielded the Admiral from the impact even in his fall.)

(Why did he have to still be so endearing ?)

Notes:

Holiday Chapter (in date if not in content) ! That's three chapters this month, as promised, and the next shall be uploaded on January the 1st.
Thanks to GrimNiknil for beta-ing it once again !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Georgie Barker has not used her driving licence or her car often in the last decade - the Tube is oftentimes much cheaper and easier to use, even with a cat, and she likes to walk to go get groceries and such - and yet she had never been happier for both of them than in this precise moment.

The moment being a high-speed chase across the London streets, after a speeding ambulance blaring for all the worth of its sirens and a police car almost glued to its bumper, while James and Stoker are tangled up half-sitting half-lying on her backseat and the latter shouts directions. She would be offended if her vision was not periodically clouded by a veneer of rage and worry that had almost lost her their targets twice.

Their wonderful plan to rid the world of one menace has backfired spectacularly .

James is mumbling about it in the back, theories and conspiracies running under her breath while Stoker keeps on being a human GPS, and Georgie hears some of it from the one ear that isn’t still filled up with the cries of their pitiful little gang as they saw Jon fall on his side, his shoulder and head hitting the brick road with a couple of worrying sounds.

(That prickly moron had shielded the Admiral from the impact even in his fall.)

(Why did he have to still be so endearing ?)

The fire must have touched the Archives, James repeats, because Jon was not physically affected by the rest of the destruction. He was completely devastated, wracked with anxiety and trembling with worry, for sure, but he did not spit out blood in the two hours spent contemplating the Institute as the fire spread lower and lower. He only did a dozen minutes after seeing the blaze reach the lobby - not when the Institute in its entirety was gone either - therefore his domain has to have been touched. The reaction confirms Jon’s link to the Archives as a physical entity, his health and life - or what applies in the case of Avatars that have Become and either Time-Travelled or seen the future - connected to the safety of the place.

If the Archives are ever fully destroyed, Jon will probably not survive it, no matter his powers-

On those perfectly acceptable and nowhere near upsetting words, Georgie reaches the hospital and she hits the brakes hard, cutting James off in her tangent and her face against the glass window, ripping a loud snort out of Stoker as he himself hit his shoulder against the door, hard. Georgie does not take a second to apologize as she hears him groan, too busy slamming her car door shut and jogging towards the emergency room’s doors and the police car parked there in a precarious line, no one left inside.

She kicks the side of the car, not even considering or caring for the possibility of its alarm activating as she stares down at the licence plate. It’s the same set of numbers and letters that they have been chasing across thankfully-empty streets for twenty minutes.

The car of the one strangely familiar yet unknown cop that had pounced on them just seconds after Jon had collapsed, almost feral as she had scooped Jon away from Keay - and he had seemed ready to murder the woman outright when she had, his hands still curling around nothing - and ran towards the first ambulance in her path with snarled orders towards a few paramedics. The weird cop who had almost thrown Jon - and the Admiral - onto the stretcher and pushed two paramedics in the back with him, barely stopping as Keay had climbed in the back and closed the doors in her face. Then she’d barked out towards what was supposedly her partner as they had climbed into that goddamn police car - and Blackwood had slid into the backseat like a shinobi madman just before they began to speed away after the ambulance.

Speed away without them after basically kidnapping a heavily injured Jon under their very eyes.

(She has only seen so much blood on Jon in the years they’d known each other once before - and it was not even during one of the funniest performances of the old band when they’d go all out on props - and she never wants to see it again.)

( She recalls one stormy phone call a few months before their break-up, and a professional voice on the answering machine the next day- )

She could almost snarl in fury as she pushes through the sliding doors of the hospital and marches towards the help desk, slamming her I.D. down on the counter. Her smile is as commercial as the attendant’s, and yet he seems to step back for an instant before she begins to speak, sweet honey voice to counter her death grip on the pen they keep aside for paperwork and release forms.

“I’m Jonathan Sims’s sole emergency contact, and I want to see him right now .”

It takes her three hours.

Three full hours as the attendant checks her identity twice, Jon’s file double of that, calls up to know where exactly he was taken, asks her to wait because her ex-boyfriend is currently unstable , tries to divine who exactly James and Stoker are, then to dissuade them from following her as they are not “family”, then to slowly back away as James scrolls through the hospital guidelines for the loophole that will let them through and Stoker smiles, sitting on the counter itself, the picture-perfect image of the bitch-that-won’t-move-till-he-gets-it, making the lot of them impossible to dismiss.

It takes her - them - three hours, and then they push through the doors and climb the stairs to the Inpatient Care floor of the relatively small hospital where the unconscious Archivist was transferred just an hour before from A&E, alongside his “boyfriend” and “police escort”.

(Which was deemed the fabled “boyfriend”, “gentle and so polite”, she wonders, out of the two masculine persons already in that room ?)

( Keay did seem to like Jon best of them all, wasn’t that cute. )

Georgie almost slams the door open, only just catching the edge before it hits the wall just in case the harsh sound would be triggering to anyone, and stomps in with all the might of an irritated and worried woman. If she needs to fight whoever forms that “police escort” to get to Jon, so be it. She is ready.

But she doesn’t even get to slap someone - no matter how much she’d want to after three hours and one car chase and her ex-boyfriend staining the street of his blood - because no one gets in her way as she marches in and spots Jon.

Spots Jon in one of the cutest situations she has ever seen him in.

Her last image of him is of one frail body bundled up in that cop’s arms, as she’d run away with him - and Georgie’s goddamn cat still in his arms - dark velvet blood coating his chin and pristine shirt.

Her current perception of him is of one frail body bundled up in the cheap sheets of every hospital out there - but there are at least three on him, was he cold ? - and the added layer of a long black trench coat, one she knows belongs to the sheepish Gerard Keay Jon is currently using as a mattress. His hair has been tied back into a neat, tight braid, and pulled around into a strict bun to free up his neck and back, neither of which are currently visible under the covers - and she spots Keay’s hair pulled into the same kind of braid over his shoulder as his hand reaches up to pet the Admiral - his majesty himself tucked under Jon’s chin. The hair-do frees Jon’s face - even as it is half squished against Keay’s chest - and she can spot dark streaks on his scarred cheeks, down and under his chin now clean of blood, like flows of eyeliner or ink staining his skin in a sombre mimicry of drying tear tracks.

Georgie sits down on one of the plastic chairs Stoker has grabbed in the hallway a few floors down and watches Jon in silence, ignoring anyone else in the room. Despite the sobering sight of those tears - and she can count on one hand how many times she has seen or heard Jonathan Sims cry, half of those as a one-night-performance for extra credit with an acting class - Georgie cannot help but think that Jon looks… serene.

The tension she has gotten used to seeing in his face at every moment, waking or not, seems to have eased just enough for his brow to smooth. The tight lines around his mouth even as he would smile that strange, soft, small wistful smile aren’t there anymore, nor are those at the corners of his closed eyes, long lashes shining wetly...

He looks young.

He is not old by any means, but for as long as she has known him, he has worn his maturity like a shroud shielding him from the world, emotions and weaknesses and affections all hidden behind.

(If he was older, no one would question him, if he was older, no one would bother him, if he was older, he would not be vulnerable .)

( Vulnerable to the thing that had scarred him years before they met, the one thing he’d never spoken of- )

He looks young. He looks young in a way he seldom did when they were still together and communicating. As young as he would only look while, ironically, he was playing a millennia-old immortal space pirate wreaking havoc across colourful galaxies for the public. Perhaps the hair is reminding her of those nights - an hour before the concerts when he would bring it up in that same kind of neat, tight bun, and then methodically extract long strands with the thin handle of their shared comb to make himself look wild, crazed, untamed. Perhaps the dark streaks are reminding her of those same nights too.

Those nights of passion and chants and freedom, far from any form of fear .

Jon looks as young as he did then. The dark circles under his eyes are still there, the hollows of his cheeks are still there, the scars that cover his whole being are still there. But Jon is lying on Gerry as if it is completely natural, curled up around the Admiral under blankets and coats, his breathing deep and even. And Georgie thinks that in this moment at least, Jon is fine .

With this conclusion out of the way, Georgie feels herself let go of the breath she’d been holding, and sits back into her chair.

Then she looks around the room, and notices who occupies it outside of Gerry, and her moment of relaxation ends.

That cop is right there in the corner, up and solid on her feet, muscular arms crossed over her chest. Her eyes are of a light hazel - so much so that at an angle, they look almost golden - and are focused on the newcomers, following sharply with each minute movement they make. She looks at Georgie, and she seems ready to jump on her when she leans forward and adjusts the covers against Jon’s neck.

(She looks like some kind of feral dog itching for a fight against a perceived threat.)

( Good. Georgie has some pent-up anger to let go off too. )

There’s another cop right by her side too, badge hanging from a low necklace, headscarf neatly pinned up as she leans against the wall and taps a notebook with the tip of her uncapped pen. She’s looking over all of them with an air of perfect indifference, her face not so much cold as it is wholly uninterested in the happenings around her. The movement of her pen across the page for a moment, and the shift of her eyes towards James’s nametag, indicate some kind of interest, however.

Then she looks back towards Jon. Her gaze then is not indifferent, not uninterested, not even curious.

No, it is cold and pointed and… it is almost… accusing.

(Accusing like the glares Jon had received a hundred times and more back in university when he would get the top grade or the bonus question right, just because he was prickly and unliked and therefore not worthy of earned success.)

( Accusing like the harsh words many has spoken in those visions less than a week ago, like she- )

Georgie shakes her head and looks away, filing the information away for later consideration. When she looks over the bed and Keay’s fond expression as he adjusts himself and Jon against the cushions, she stares at the sweet Blackwood sitting on the other side. That slippery madman is sitting with his hands folded over his lap, legs crossed at the ankle with the slight embarrassment that any kid would wear on their face after dragging a stray cat inside of their home.

Not really what she’d expected to see after his move back in the street, simply slipping away unseen and unheard from them, into a cop car seconds before it roared after the speeding ambulance.

That man, all gentle gestures and low voice, had proven himself bold .

But Georgie, now that she is not worried sick about Jon anymore, finds herself bolder.

“So. Keay, Blackwood.”

Both seem to tense up, unsure as they look back towards her and her eternally calm demeanour. She looks back and smiles.

“Who is the boyfriend out of you two ?”

Mercifully for a wheezing Keay and a stammering Blackwood, her attention switches to the bundle of covers on the former’s lap as it begins to stir. The Admiral mewls with irritation as it wiggles away from his little napping spot, and she hears a sneeze, followed by a grumble.

Everyone freezes.

Jon is waking up.

Notes:

Hope you enjoyed it all, don't hesitate to comment if you wish to, and have a nice winter holidays season, wherever you are.

Also, I am... floored. To have gone over the 10 000 hits threshold for this story, as well as the 600 kudos and 100 bookmarks. I'm simply overwhelmed and so happy I get to share this little piece of writing with all of you. Thank you all very much.

Chapter 18: 18. A Sliver Of Peace

Summary:

There are no noises for a moment, before Tim - standing on the other side of the room with Sasha, supplies Beholding happily even as it relishes in Jon's embarrassment - absolutely explodes in laughter. Sasha chuckles behind her hand, shoulders shaking as Tim leans against her and she closes the door. Georgie herself is smiling wryly as she stares at him from her plastic chair and reaches forward to pat his covered knee.

The Admiral mewls happily on his head, and Jon groans again.

Traitors, the lot of them.

Notes:

A Chapter as the New Year here in France resounds and offers perhaps not a brand New World and brand New Us, but a New Day at the very least to march on.
Have a Sliver of Peace to begin the year and perhaps to keep it rolling.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Mmh, Admiral...N-No don’t, that’s my, my nose !”

His feline majesty does not care for Jon’s desperate pleas as he wiggles out of the cheap covers and climbs up on his head, like a Renaissance king looking down upon the peasant masses. Jon snorts even as a paw hits his ear, and tries to untangle himself from the many sheets he’s been gifted with while his eyes stay closed - just in case another errant appendage would come a little too close. Absent-mindedly, he wonders why they are not metallic, and why there are more than one of them, even as he struggles against the slight weight on his back to sit up. He is careful, since he doesn't want to bother the Admiral on his perch - nay, his very own throne.

Jon snorts again. He opens his eyes. And frowns.

The floor under him is not the paved street in front of the Institute. Instead, it is strangely soft and lumpy, grey fabric faded with age, almost as if-

A braid of long dyed hair brushes against his cheek and Jon stops.

Jon is-

Oh.

‘Yes, you are.’

Oh…

‘Yes, you are, my dearest Archive.’

Oh, well.

The room - because he is not outside anymore but in a room eerily similar to the one he’d woken up in after his six-month-long coma - is silent for a little moment as Jon stares into shifting blue eyes, his own probably wide and confused. Then Georgie coughs once beside him - in that sound she’d always make when he would splutter in front of fans after their concerts - and that does it.

Jon knows he collapsed back in front of the Institute as Beholding screeched in his mind, and that Daisy was the one to grab him when he did.

Jon knows the paramedics got him to the hospital, where their little “archival gang” has followed.

Jon knows that for the past hour, he has been sleeping on Gerry.

He groans and dives back under the covers - and what he now knows is Gerry’s very own trench coat - and dearly wishes to never reemerge.

There are no noises for a moment, before Tim - standing on the other side of the room with Sasha, supplies Beholding happily even as it relishes in Jon's embarrassment - absolutely explodes in laughter. Sasha chuckles behind her hand, shoulders shaking as Tim leans against her and she closes the door. Georgie herself is smiling wryly as she stares at him from her plastic chair and reaches forward to pat his covered knee.

The Admiral mewls happily on his head, and Jon groans again.

Traitors, the lot of them.

Gerry - oh Beholding, he is really laying on Gerry, isn't he - coughs too, but he isn't laughing with the others. Martin isn't either on their other side, as he squirms on his chair, shoulders up to his ears. Both of them have red cheeks, for some reason - well, he supposes Gerry's reason is close to Jon's - and are looking everywhere but at him and each other.

Jon frowns, as he doesn’t remember noticing such a strange dynamic between them, from his statement and up to the fire.

Usually, Beholding would grace him with the precise knowledge he’s only passingly thinking of, but this time he only gets an inconclusive flash in his mind - that of Tim shrugging back in the Archives as Jon asked after one follow-up or the other, expression reeking of innocence and naivety as he played the fool.

(Beholding… has just shrugged.)

(That’s new.)

Slowly, and pointedly not looking towards Tim nor Sasha as they are still shaking with mirth and would probably fall back into full-blown laughter at a glance, Jon rolls aside and off Gerry’s torso with his bundle of sheets. The Admiral, disturbed from his perch, simply jumps off Jon’s head and onto his back, ripping a little noise out of him as he strolls down his spine and onto the mattress. He curls up at the foot of the bed and seems to be going right back to napping, now that he has effectively imposed his supremacy over the whole room.

(Crazy cat.)

(He loves him so much.)

The bed is large enough for two adults - or an adult and a Jon, whispers the Eye in Jon's mind like the Immoral Horror It is - and he can finally sit up somewhere other than on Gerry's lap, covers pooling on his thighs. His clothes have been switched for a hospital gown, the material a bit harsh against his skin as he shifts and tries to adjust it on his shoulders.

It’s not cold per se in the room - 19°C - but he feels it nonetheless, like a winter wind blowing on his skin.

He’s about to grab the sheets and bundle up within them again when he sees a pale hand reach forward, eye tattoos almost blinking back at him, and grab the thick fabric of Gerry’s trench coat. Slowly it slips it over Jon’s shoulders - even as he’s frozen in place like a deer staring into headlights - the collar folded up to cover his nude neck and chin and covers him entirely as it takes an instant to adjust the front over his chest.

His hand, under the covers, grasps Jon’s.

(Tim is snickering again on the side, and Jon is happy to ignore him, at the very least ostensibly. He does not look towards Gerry either, as he mumbles a thanks.)

(Inside, he is simply melting with embarrassment, and perhaps a bit of affection.)

Amidst the laughs and the blushing and the confusion, Jon finds himself smiling under the shield of Gerry’s coat, just a little broader than he has let himself since his job interview. The hospital is not his happy place by a long shot, and there are still so many things left unsaid between him and the ones he could not save, things that could fester and rot and ruin them all again…

But not right now. Not right now as Tim laughs and there is no cutting sarcasm in his throat, as Sasha’s eyes light up with mirth and not even a hint of fear, as Martin makes the executive decision to focus on the adorable fur ball that is the Admiral - an Admiral now happily playing with Jon’s left hand - as Gerry coughs again and shifts his legs so that they’re hanging over the edge of the bed - and yet never lets go of Jon’s hand.

Right now, at this moment Jon wishes he could freeze in time, there is… peace.

“Excuse me, Mister… Sims, is it ?”

But peace is finite.

He knew they were in the room obviously - there is little he doesn’t know, few exceptions being the things Beholding doesn’t want to share, and they have been few and far between since they’ve both stepped foot back in this time - but he’s managed to ignore them just a little too well.

Daisy’s eyes - and they’re fully golden now, just like they’d been back in that forest, like they’d almost been when he’d looked back towards her in front of the blazing Institute - are pinned on him, ever letting go. It is, in a horrible kind of way, a sight that almost warms Jon with familiarity. Obviously, he knows this woman is not the one he spent sleepless nights and sluggish days as they slowly starved, but there is still the possibility, the potential, the root of it. But it is that same gold even if it is not warm, that same face even if it is not exhausted, that same feeling of predator-always-hunting even if it is not fading away with her very life. It is Daisy, even if it is not what is, in this world made anew, his Daisy.

(If the Buried was the only way to meet that Daisy again, Jon will make sure that never, ever happens.)

(He has already mourned her twice, what’s a third ?)

“Mister Sims ?”

Basira is staring. Her eyes are as sharp as ever, her expression placid and seemingly uninterested, and she is the poster picture of professionalism as she stands tall and taps her notebook with the tip of her pen. She takes one step forward even as Daisy’s shoulder hunch higher, a few steps away from the foot of Jon’s hospital bed, and she makes a small show of looking down towards his chart to check his name and other information. Then she looks back up and opens her mouth, never letting go of Jon’s eyes.

(Jon hums and stares back. If he’s used to anything in this world made anew, it’s Basira and her interrogations.)

(She hadn’t changed all that much over the years, after all.)

“Mister Sims, my name is Basira Hussain and I am an officer of the London Metropolitan Police force.”

“Ah, yes, I- delighted to meet you, I suppose...”

Jon doesn’t really have anything else to add, but that seems quite alright with Basira. Silence permeates the air for an instant, and there is a sense of almost awkwardness rising up in him - so utterly familiar he could slap himself for his own easy anxiety after everything - before she nods sharply and continues.

“You might not recall it quite clearly, from what the various doctors and nurses have told us, but earlier this morning a fire broke out in the upper floors of your place of employment, the Magnus Institute. I’m sorry to inform you that as we speak, the fire has taken over the entire facility, and I’m afraid there is now little left above ground, beyond the walls themselves.”

Matter-of-fact, efficient, almost brutal in her retelling of the facts, she is exactly as he remembers her. Basira taps her notebook again. The very same notebook she’d held onto, from beginning to end, one he’d never thought much of until now.

Jon’s vision splits almost without thinking, and he can see from above her shoulder the note she is underlining, made previously about the departments that have succumbed to the blaze and the one still unaccounted for - the Archive Department. Obviously, the very fact that it was not destroyed with everything else - even if the logical explanation of it being underground would have been logical enough for most - and the collapse of one of its employees through the disaster would be suspicious, enough so that the police would have come up to the lot of them at one point or another.

For it to be so early, though ? Jon’s gaze shifts slightly to the right, and he cannot help but wonder why exactly Daisy of all people was here to grab him and throw him in an ambulance when he collapsed.

(In his mind, he can hear Beholding whisper curses in a thousand languages, all directed towards a “Wayward Iris” standing higher than their station would ever allow.)

(Someone… led Daisy and Basira to them.)

“I am sure you will be happy to know there were no human casualties or injured parties - that is, apart from one.”

He blinks, and his vision is singular again as his eyes widen and he looks back at her, his hand clenching most probably too hard on Gerry’s.

“Injured ? Who ? We were all out, weren’t we-”

Beholding is present in his mind, but the words It tries to share with him overlap with his own as he leans forward and tries to think back on every face present in the Institute’s roster, every name, every person he’d counted and recounted with eyes all over the street even as he was staring into the blaze-

“Mister Sims. I meant you.”

Jon blinks again, and groans into the collar of Gerry’s coat. He would slap himself if he could, but with one hand tangled up in Gerry’s and the other still thoroughly trapped by the Admiral, he can only mentally beat himself. So much for being Beholding Incarnate walking on the world made anew, if he can’t even keep his mouth shut for two seconds and use his omniscience.

“Mister Sims, I understand that you might wish to rest again, but I would like to ask you a few quest-”

Basira does not stop talking, Jon knows, but the sound of her voice is fading away to nothingness. By her side, Daisy frowns and begins to take a step forward. He can see Tim and Sasha blink towards the officers, but none of them can intervene and wonder aloud about what is happening before a shiver shakes them all - employees and cops and resurrected book hunter alike - like one single entity. Martin has gone pale, freckles standing out starkly on his skin, and Gerry’s grip on Jon’s hand is an unbreakable vice.

Jon does not shiver.

The fog hanging outside the window on this cold, grey day, seems to slip inside just a little as the group’s movements grow slightly sluggish. There is the sound of a step in the silence, a step that is not meant to be heard, but its sound echoes in Jon’s ear as if a thousand drums had been hit at once.

His eyes shift, silver glinting like the edge of a knife, and they catch the icy blue irises of Peter Lukas right at the door.

‘Oh, come on.’

There is no hesitation, as he sees Martin squirm beside him, as he sees new shivers shake the shoulders of Sasha and Tim, as he sees Basira frown to what she sees as an empty doorway, as he sees Daisy take a step back. Jon has already danced this ballet, and he knows who will stand tall at its end.

Jon opens his mouth, and he can feel static rising in his throat as he stares down the first person he has ever killed of his very own will.

(Peter Lukas has committed many crimes in his long life, and if he is warned here and now, perhaps no one will have to disappear into his mist ever again.)

(Perhaps Martin will never have to let himself disappear ever again.)

The words are on the tip of his tongue even as he considers the actions, the consequences, the possible satisfaction. But none get to leave his mouth as his gaze bores into the sea captain’s own.

He gets a face full of cardboard paper as Lukas turns on his heels and disappears back into the fog with a cheerful, echoing goodbye.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed this chapter and Happy New Year ! Don't hesitate to leave a comment if you wish !
Chapter 19 on January 15th ! The title will be revealed on the discord on the 7th, if anyone's interested, ask for the invite link

Chapter 19: 19. Compelling Narrative

Summary:

“Mister Blackwood - that is your name, correct ? - are you quite alright ?”

“I- There was someone- something at the door ?”

All of Martin’s angry confusion, and the confidence it had awarded him, seems to melt out of him as he sits back down, eyes open wide and still looking towards the empty doorway - and hadn’t Sasha closed it when they got in, now that Tim thinks about it ? - his hands curled into trembling fists on his lap. Jon blinks once, and leans a little on the edge of his bed to lay one tentative hand on Martin’s knee, the little tap he gives it awkward and unsure.

(Why do they have to be so cute all the time ?)

Notes:

Okay so this chapter is indeed three days early but I have an excellent reason !!
... I could not wait anymore.

The other reason is me putting my new Twitter out there, because as you may not know (and as I have never implied before) I do very much enjoy drawing in addition to writing, and I have recently picked up a nice phone app to draw digitally, prompting me to experiment and be able to actually share my work out there.

Which is why I created this Twitter, @enbyneti, both for writing updates and sharing those things I draw !

There is some MAG in the works there as well, which hopefully will interest you all, and I'll probably share some art of the characters I picture in those stories (such as the outfits described in chapter 2 and some other moments I'd like to illustrate now that I am not solely relying on bad quality pictures of traditional drawing on printer paper).

I know the discord did not really take off, and I think this account could be a better approach to sharing update schedules, writing updates and such, as well as art, with you all !! And yes, you can consider this chapter a bribe.

With all of that said, enjoy !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

"What the f*ck ?!"

Surprisingly, Tim himself is not the one that swears as Jon squeaks, some kind of folded card falling to his lap after hitting him square in the face. It is not Keay either - even if the twist of his lips and the ice in his eyes are reminiscent of that first night a week before, back in Jon’s small flat, as he told them of their encounter - as his hand shoots forward to grab the offending piece of cardstock.

(And hasn’t Tim thought about it almost every evening since then, the words soon accompanied by the eerie vision of his own face, scarred and furious and twisted in hate even as he smiled in the face of his own death ?)

(Hasn’t he thought about it every morning and afternoon and sleepless nights-)

It is Martin that has risen from his chair, his height suddenly much more concrete to Tim than it has been since they met back in the Library. His shoulders are not hunched inwards anymore, he is not curling up on himself, and he stands tall in his demure and soft clothing, curled hair wild and untamed and slightly stained with ash from their outing still.

And Tim can see, in the absolute solidity of this gentle man, another.

This is the man that had stammered in front of Keay, and five hours later had stepped into the Archives with a lighter and an arson plan. This is the man that has the potential to be another Tim’s coworker, another Tim’s last ally, another Tim’s last fortress. This is the man that can potentially survive after another Sasha, another Tim, another kind of Grimaldi. This is the man that walked through the Apocalypse, human as one could perhaps be in those times, and lived.

This is not the meek librarian or the soft-spoken caretaker or the stressed-out stranger that Tim has come to identify as Martin. It is perhaps something else - something sharper - in him that stands out as he stares towards the open door of Jon’s hospital room with wide eyes and swears again.

“What the f*ck was that ?”

(Jon is staring up at Martin for an instant, his eyes alight with something Tim cannot quite describe, before he looks back down with a sharp movement.)

(Tim wants to scowl at the gentle giant, for some reason.)

It’s the cop that answers Martin - well, the talkative one, not the furious henchwoman that somehow manages to glare at all of them, and at the empty doorway - as she taps against her damn notebook again and clears her throat. Her badge glints as the light in the room seems to brighten back up. They all look back towards her, and her expression is still as indifferent and coldly professional as ever, unbothered by the multiple stares.

Even as she addresses Martin, her eyes are stuck on Jon, and there is a coldness there Tim truly does not care for.

(But is it any better than the fire in his own eyes as he snarled and yelled and laughed, as he walked away from a helpless man, as he pressed down on that detonator-)

“Mister Blackwood - that is your name, correct ? - are you quite alright ?”

“I- There was someone- something at the door ?”

All of Martin’s angry confusion, and the confidence it had awarded him, seems to melt out of him as he sits back down, eyes open wide and still looking towards the empty doorway - and hadn’t Sasha closed it when they got in, now that Tim thinks about it ? - his hands curled into trembling fists on his lap. Jon blinks once, and leans a little on the edge of his bed to lay one tentative hand on Martin’s knee, the little tap he gives it awkward and unsure.

(Why do they have to be so cute all the time ?)

“I did not see anyone, Mister Blackwood. Perhaps you saw a member of the hospital staff through the window ?”

He seems absolutely outraged for a second, crossing eyes with the officer, but his expression is crumbling before it even forms completely as he looks down at Jon’s hand on his knee and nods with a sigh. His fists uncurl, and while his shoulders are still lined with tension, he sags against the back of his chair just a bit.

(He slips his hand over Jon’s, in a movement that seems almost unconscious, and slips his fingers under the small palm.)

(Help.)

“I, I- I mean, m-maybe ?”

Tim looks back towards said window. It’s the kind that lets you see the corridor outside, more so a pane of see-through glass than an actual window, with plastic shutters and some stickers on the frame - is this a children's room, is Jon really that tiny that his grey hair was completely discarded ? - and no way to open it whatsoever. He knows that you could theoretically see anyone walking through the corridors, if the shutters are open.

Tim blinks once, just to make sure. The window does not blink back, and its plastic Venetian shutters are still very much closed.

Great detective work there, alright.

The henchwoman - who knows what her name is, she has not had the politeness to greet them yet apart from a snarl - glares at Martin as he sits and Jon takes his hand, her back firmly glued to the wall. She seems even less happy than before, which is a miracle in and of itself.

(Her face is fuller, less animalistic, less gaunt, but Tim thinks he recognizes her not from his own memories, but from the phantom of another life he has witnessed.)

(A Hunter still listening to the rushing blood-)

Basira Hussain - if he recalls the name of that callous officer correctly - hums once, and the dismissal in her voice is clear as she spares not even a glance towards the window before beginning her questions again. Her gaze has not wavered once, even as she scribbled something in her notebook. She stares and stares and stares, and blinks quickly each time, like an owl.

(Creepy woman. Creepier than Jon and that’s saying something.)

“Mister Sims, I would like to ask you about the fire you witnessed this morning. Would you please tell me how your morning went, as precisely as you can ?”

Jon blinks once, as Gerry’s hand snakes around his shoulders and the man brings his legs back up on the bed, before his face twists into an expression of loss and confusion. Tim would whistle aloud if they were alone - because that is some great acting right there - and maybe cry too - because he knows it is not so much acting as a self-imitation from a time where such expressions were Jon’s everyday face. His hand curls around Martin’s, tight enough to make the man wince silently, while the other, now free from the Admiral, grips the hospital sheets.

“I- I, oh, I usually get to work quite early, alongside G-Gerry here ? We are roommates you see, and he walks me to the Institute every day, we have breakfast together down in my office- ah, I apologize, this is not really important. This morning, we arrived at eight o’clock, I believe, an hour before the majority of the employees usually clock in. I’ve been recently transferred, and the amount of work we have- well, had, I suppose…”

This is a masterpiece. Awkward and lost and oversharing. This is recently promoted Jonathan Sims, fresh from his frustration with the amount of chaos his predecessor had left behind in the Archives - someone a bit too young for his new job and yet ready to tackle the task and prove himself competent - and only now quite realizing that all of it has perhaps gone up in flames. This is recently-promoted Jonathan Sims, waking up in a hospital room with a dear friend beside him and his coworkers and police officers, simply trying to recount the day as asked.

(This is not really a recently promoted Jonathan Sims, because Tim thinks he might have been a little more sarcastic and grim if it had been, angry and nervous and scared as Jon tended to easily become.)

(... He misses the guy, sometimes.)

“Mister Sims ?”

“O-oh my apologies. It’s- well, it’s a shock, for everything to be… to be gone I suppose ? Anyway, Gerry and I were in my office, when- when Tim here ran down the stairs, a bit before nine ? The, um, the fire alarm did not reach our department, so we, well, we got very lucky. He told us that, well, that there was a fire. The others - well, Sasha and Martin here ? The other hadn't come in yet, and the three of us got out immediately. The rest of the Institute was evacuating when we got back topside, we followed the bulk of the other employees to the street. And we… waited, I suppose.”

Hussain says nothing, her pen still moving across the paper. There is a moment of silence, another one, before she finally looks away from Jon and back towards her partner. They exchange no words, but Tim has not spent years sitting in libraries and bars and concerts people-watching - for those strange, jerky, uncanny movements that haunted his nights - to miss the way the other cop shifts her stance a bit, one shoulder lifted higher than the other, lips pursed and turned downwards.

(Was she… judging Jon’s testimony ?)

(And does a raised shoulder mean lie or truth ?)

“Very well, Mister Sims. I take it you did not have any direct contact with the fire ?”

Jon blinks, and he looks back towards Gerry as if looking for confirmation. Hussain does not press him, and she jots down something else in her notebook - what, is she writing about the cute couple she’s interrogating, or about how f*cking suspicious Keay clearly is ? The furious henchwoman - and as long as she does not give them a name, Tim will not call her anything else - does not quite snarl, but her glare is feral as she stares down at Jon’s and Gerry’s linked hands.

(What is she, jealous ? Bah !)

(Can’t relate.)

“Oh no, I don’t think so ? I, well, I saw no flames in the lobby when we got out…”

Hussain nods, and jots down something in that damn notebook of hers after another glance towards the henchwoman.

“Alright, Mister Sims. Do you know how far along the evacuation process was when Mister… Stoker, was it ? Got to you and Mister Keay ?”

Jon blinks once - his face a bit on the blank side for that one instant - before he suddenly curls up on himself, knees drawn up to his chest and fingers tangling into the sheets. He doesn’t quite look away from Basira, but his gaze shifts around the room once or twice anxiously. Keay holds onto his hand tighter - the other still clenched around some kind of card, where did it come from again ? - and glares at Hussain for an instant, like any overprotective partner probably would when confronting some authority upsetting their significant other.

(Not jealous not jealous not jealous.)

(Ugh.)

“A-Ah, I, um. To be honest, officer, I don’t remember much after evacuating the Archives ? I, um. I had quite a strong reaction to the fire, and, uh, fire as a whole, you see…”

“Panic attack, the medics said.”

Keay is gruff even as his touch is gentle, and his gaze softens terribly as he looks back towards Jon.

The whole ‘gang’ looks back to him too, concerned and worried and understanding faces as Jon curls up further on himself and keeps his eyes glued to the Admiral. There’s not much of an act there, when they had all freaked the f*ck out as soon as Jon had collapsed, and had witnessed how strongly the fire was affecting him prior to it. There’s not much of an act in Jon either, as his shoulders are drawn up and his fingers are uncomfortably twisted into the sheets, embarrassment and shame and remnants of the attack clear on his face. It’s his burnt hand too, the heavy scar clearly visible, and Hussain’s gaze shifts to it for one second before she nods. Jon doesn’t acknowledge the movement, even as Keay glares, but he lifts his chin a bit, and Tim catches his eye.

Jon’s eyes are silver, and shining with tears, before he blinks them away.

Tim, for no reason he can name, suddenly finds himself caught up in Jon’s eyes and captivated by their colour.

Jon’s eyes are silver now. Not grey like he’s seen on a whole lot of people throughout his life, but the colour of a striking hint of metal on his angular face. Now rid of his glasses - they’d been abandoned on the pavement where Jon had collapsed, and no one had thought to grab them when they’d all been scrambling up and after that feral woman stealing Jon away - they’re that much more intense, no longer shielded and hidden away by a layer of feeble glass. Two pools of molten silver, not with the red hot you see in those blacksmithy videos, but with the sleek fluidity of mercury rolling around on a hand, round and shining and so far off from the imperfection of one’s skin.

They are irises of silver and mercury and they are not the unforgiving steel of Bouchard/Magnus’s eyes and they are a mirror. They are not the window to Jon’s soul, not the canvas where his emotions take form, but a terrifying lookingglass only reflecting Tim’s own imperfect soul upon himself.

(Jon’s eyes had been green less than two weeks ago. Jon’s eyes had been green when they’d eaten lunch together and Tim had complained about his missing a water bottle, earning himself a glare and a pour of the blackest sludge-that-was-apparently-coffee he’d ever seen from Jon’s thermos. Jon’s eyes had been green when they’d met up in the Library that morning, days ago, with their ridiculous statements about talking bees and furry orange creatures speaking for bushes.)

(Jon’s eyes had been green when he’d almost stammered his way through explaining he had an appointment with Elias about a promotion. Jon’s eyes had been green when he had stepped out of the room and Tim had spoken far too loudly, cruelty dealt without much of a thought.

Jon’s eyes had been silver when Tim’s apology had died on his tongue.)

Jon’s eyes had been green and hazel and an open book and now they’re silver and mercury and a mirror that gives nothing away-

“Mister Stoker ?”

Tim blinks. Jon blinks back.

The henchwoman snarls and Hussain stares towards Tim, one single eyebrow raised in a professional, if unimpressed, arc. The end of her pen is pressed to the page of her notebook, unmoving, and she is waiting.

“U-um, yes, Officer ? What did you say ?”

“I asked, Mister Stoker, if you could tell me why you were in the upper floors of the Institute this morning, instead of down in the Archives with your coworkers.”

Oh. She’s questioning him now, as Sasha had somewhat predicted when they’d planned for the fire. Jon implicated him in his testimony as their human fire alarm, because it was true that the sirens did not reach down into the Archives - which, what the f*ck ? Even Keay had been surprised, and he’d worked there for far longer than any of them, Jon not included - and because it would possibly shift attention away from the overall new oddness of Jon.

(He loves the guy, sure, but even before the whole time-travel and apocalypse thing, he’d always been a shifty little prick exuding anxiety - typical academia crime-mastermind right there, if his knowledge of soap operas is to be believed.)

(And Sasha had told him his record was not entirely clean too, something about underage trespassing and band piracy and public indecency ? Wild little librarian.)

“Well, I mean, I wasn’t on the upper floors at all ? I was in the lobby, chatting with Rosie about the recent- well, office gossip, okay ? I like knowing whose birthday is coming up, who’s sharing shirts with who. And then the sirens broke out.”

Redirect to Rosie, let the interrogation die down for the moment if they have nothing else on you. Rosie’s nice, isn’t to be blamed for anything because she was indeed chatting with Tim when the sirens began blaring, and is the one usually interacting with the officers and other detectives when the law comes knocking. It should divert attention for them long enough for Jon to be out of the hospital and Gerry to find another entrance to those tunnels they hadn’t yet been able to explore.

They won’t be off the radar, if that henchwoman’s growl is anything to go by, but it could buy them a few days or weeks ?

(This is madness. Tim just wanted an office job in a paranormal hubbub to find what he needed about the Circus, and here he is burning said hub of Evil(™) and all its pieces of information apart from a cave full of stories, alongside his best friend and best coworker and new coworker and resurrected goth and podcast host and high-ranking cat.)

(... It’s not that far off from his original plan, only with fewer clowns and more friends.)

“Alright. We’ll check in with this... ‘Rosie’ as soon as possible.”

Jon nods, and Keay huffs, and Sasha shrugs, and Martin blinks, and Georgie still slouches, and Tim nods.

The henchwoman’s mouth is closed, turned down into a silent snarl, and Hussain nods. She closes her notebook after one last scribble, tucks pen and book in her jacket, and looks back to her partner. They have a strange eye-shoulder exchange again - god, it’s Jon holding onto Gerry’s chest like it’s the proof of Shambala all over again - before the henchwoman walks to the door in four long steps and almost throws it open.

Hussain turns back towards Jon.

“Well Mister Sims, thank you for your testimony and your precise details. We will be in touch. I hope you will be out of the hospital and back to work soon.”

And they leave, closing the door harshly behind them.

No one speaks for a little while, and even the Admiral stands unmoving across Jon’s lap, body relaxed and unwound even though his pupils are narrowed into spears of darkness aimed towards the closed door. Keay mirrors him as he frowns, his pupils icy, until Jon lets out a breath he’s been holding in - since, perhaps, Tim kind of lost himself in his eyes ? - and sinks back into the cheap hospital cushion - and Keay.

(No one laughs this time, even as Jon turns a little bit crimson.)

(Sasha coughs and Tim snickers once.)

Jon closes his eyes, and breathes in and out, slowly.

“Alright. Alright, this- Police officers and troubles with the law, the usual Tuesday. Nothing to worry about.”

Martin blinks, before he seems to think back about the latest bout of revelations, helpfully illustrated through nightmare visions with staticky audio. Georgie leans forward to pet her cat, without even a twitch towards her ex’s words Sasha hums, and Tim knows she's thinking about that band piracy bit. He is too.

Keay has just nodded along.

“Alright. Now, let’s look at the card that assaulted me.”

Oh right. Tim had forgotten about that.

Notes:

Jon : I have been assaulted by a card, have been interrogated by old frenemy cops, and am still reeling from the near destruction of my domain. This is not a good day. How are you all feeling ?
Tim : is jelly
Martin : is confusion
Gerry : is angy
Sasha and Georgie : have been robbed of screentime and the author apologizes

Don't forget to check out @enbyneti if you're interested in art (mine and the retweets of many others) as well as updates ! Next chapter should be out on the 30th if I have self-control, earlier if I do not.

Chapter 20: 20. A Wrench in the Works

Summary:

“A liar again, am I ? And whatever lie are you accusing me of this time, Peter ?”

The man is still smiling as he strides inside of Elias’s study and sits down on his least comfortable armchair, legs spread out and coat folded under his arms. He’s dressed just like that old sea captain from this comics about a reporter adventuring all around the whole - a childhood favourite of Elias, before he Became, he Knows - down to the anchor embroidered in black across his chest, the cut of his grey beard, and the pipe tucked in his pocket.

(He doesn’t even smoke, only exudes fog and cold from it and around his victims like some kind of horror movie villain.)

(Idiot.)

Notes:

Chapter day ! Thank GrimNiknil for some excellent betareading work as always !

This one has been ready for literal months and I am so happy to finally be able to share it, to be completely honest. I just think it's a good twist, and I believe all that is implied in and among those lines should perhaps get some minds running about the larger plot of AJB as a whole.
All there really is to say about this chapter is : The game is on.

Enjoy !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“I want a divorce, you liar !”

Elias blinks towards the door, one eyebrow raised in question - not confusion, an avatar of the Beholding as strong as he is is never confused - as Peter materializes from the fog gathered just outside of his study.

He wears a cheerful grin splattered on his face, but his eyes do not follow. There are tight lines in his expression, not the crow’s feet he’s used to seeing spanning from Peter’s eyes - carved after years of laughing silently in front of human misery like the wonderful man he is - but the creases of annoyance lining his lid and his mouth.

Creases of annoyance and anger and something Elias cannot quite decipher.

Interesting.

“A liar again, am I ? And whatever lie are you accusing me of this time, Peter ?”

The man is still smiling as he strides inside of Elias’s study and sits down on his least comfortable armchair, legs spread out and coat folded under his arms. He’s dressed just like that old sea captain from this comics about a reporter adventuring all around the whole - a childhood favourite of Elias, before he Became, he Knows - down to the anchor embroidered in black across his chest, the cut of his grey beard, and the pipe tucked in his pocket.

(He doesn’t even smoke, only exudes fog and cold from it and around his victims like some kind of horror movie villain.)

( Idiot .)

“Your little pet project, ‘harmless and desperately mortal’ ?”

Elias blinks, and Peter’s smile is sharper, colder, as he leans forward. He pulls out his pipe, turning it in his hands as he looks down and seems to examine every angle, thoroughly ignoring Elias’s gaze on him - all thanks to years of experience and a lack of direct Looking borne upon him - in favour of the plain pieces of wood and metal.

“‘You’ll be in and out in two steps, Peter, just make him feel terrible for a bit” ? ‘He’ll be alone, he’s alienated everyone already’ ? ‘It’s not like anyone will even see you, don’t be such a coward’ ?”

“What do you even mean, Peter ? I asked you to deliver one card, could you not do that ?”

His husband - oh, perhaps his ex-husband, but what is one more divorce in a life as long as his - still does not look up, as he brings the pipe up to his lips and lets out a long ribbon of smoke into the air. The particles hover in the air and wrap around him, a long snake of fog and cloud curling around his shoulders and resting upon his breast.

The bulk of it never quite crosses the middle of the room as it usually would when Peter wants to gauge and tease and confront Elias’s passing omniscience with his own state of inexistence, permeating the whole room with his Fog to try and escape his Eye. It stays stagnant instead, a barrier of white between them, and obscures the captain from sight slightly. It is what Elias can recognize as his own dive into old letters and hidden statements - perhaps even his latest draft - on those few nights where mortality is a certainty and not an abstract possibility.

It is a bid of control through their elements, a reassuring overview of their abilities or goals, of their overwhelming power over anything that could wish to confront and assault them.

Peter is… comforting himself.

“Peter-”

“He saw me, Elias.”

Elias has seldom found himself speechless, in the years that have gone by since he took this body, in the decades that have followed the founding of the Institute, in the centuries he has lived and survived and thrived through. He always knew what to say, be it from his ease in social events, his knowledge of the human mind or his Knowledge of it as he came into his abilities. He always knew which words would strike a chord, strike a match, strike a soul down where it stood with not even a drop of blood shed. He always Knew what to say.

Yet he looks at Peter, through the thickening fog, and finds no answer for the best part of a minute.

(Almost a full minute. Almost a full minute, after more than two centuries of no question, no statement, no plea gone unanswered.)

“He… saw you ?”

( Almost a full minute, and the words he finds are utterly inadequate .)

Peter does not need to nod or acquiesce, and he does not need to as the mist around him grows more opaque in answer. His smile is gone, has vanished in between two clouds gently floating by, and his face looks all the more pained for it.

“That- That is impossible, Peter. It’s been less than a week, and Jonathan has only read one single statement. He- Ha has not even taken one live statement yet !”

There is something to be said about witnessing so many emotions on his husband’s face, emotions that are more than a simple pale copy of the real deal, after years of pastiche and faded feelings shared. It should be thrilling, to be able to glean at what Peter feels and thinks and is so easily - when his barriers, physical and esoteric, are usually always up, be they in Elias’s office, in Peter’s cabin or in their shared bed. It should be exhilarating, to see the Fog take form between them and yet need none of his Eye as he looks and finds what he needs in Peter’s closed face and shaking fists and drawn shoulders. It should be -after all these years and fights and secrets hid and found and buried and dug up and ripped out - the meal to end all but one meal.

And yet it is nothing of the sort.

“Peter, are you… are you scared of him ?”

Silence. No movement of the mouth, no movement of the fog, no movement of the man.

Elias hears the ‘yes’ in his mind as clearly as if Peter had carved it into his very brain matter with an ice pick.

It should have been thrilling. Exhilarating. The second most fulfilling Knowledge ever to gain or be gained. It should have been almost everything to see Peter the untouchable block of ice and absence fall under the Gaze of one of Elias - of Jonah’s perfectly shaped tools. It should have been, perhaps, the final mark on his Archivist - and in it the culmination of it, in the overpowering of an Avatar perhaps as powerful as Elias is, it should have been the final nail in the structure of his plan.

It should have been the final bell of the current world, and the first blink of Its Beholden World .

And it should certainly not have happened so early .

Elias sits back into his desk chair, eyes shifting down to see the drafts of Jon’s “Get Well” card - the very same Peter had been bribed into delivering with a promise of a few Usher employees. He’d worked on it for maybe an hour, going through variations and formulations until he’d found the one that would sound benevolent and threatening. Verbs, nouns, adjectives, everything had been selected, so much so that it reminded him of the drafts he’d been working on for decades already

I am sorry to hear that your health has suffered and that you are currently unable to work.

I wish you a swift recovery, Jonathan,

and am happy to let you know that your Archives will be dearly awaiting your return.

I have seen how attached you’ve gotten to them.

👁

Elias, despite his earlier question, Knows it has been delivered, as he Knows it has been opened and Knows it has been read.

In the corner of his eye, Elias has seen Jon pull the card out from under his pillow in his hospital room, with none of his little assistants with him, and open it alone. He has seen, in the vague definition that the eyes of glazed magazine covers allow, the hints of fear Jon has tried to hide as he read what seemed like gentle words. He has seen, right before Peter stepped back into Elias’s flat, Jon’s quiet, shameful and confused relief as he learned of the Archives’s survival.

He has seen all these things. He has seen Peter step in and out through the small clouds of Fog indicating his presence. He has seen no one, not a soul, but Jon in the room once Peter had left. He has seen a powerless yet enthralled Archivist, shivering from the remnants of the Lonely, reading his card.

He has seen… exactly what he expected and wished to see .

His thought process stops right there. All of the eyes he’s used to keeping open around London close. All of the eyes in his flat go numb and sightless at once. All of the eyes carved along his shelves and the spines of his journals are rendered blind. He sees nothing anymore, but what his own eyes - Jonah Magnus’s original eyes, of steel and power and centuries - can see.

And what he sees is Peter. Peter who has not stepped in and out of Jon’s hospital room with the jolly good feeling of yet another appetizer consumed - and yet Elias has seen just that. Peter who has heavily implied there were people in the room - and yet Elias has seen the opposite.

Peter who has said Jon saw him - and yet, and yet, and yet Elias saw nothing of it .

“He saw you…”

Going through the last day, the last week, the last month’s worth of memories, Elias looks for every single instance of Jonathan Sims. Jonathan Sims in Research, looking over some files alongside his newly appointed assistants Sasha James and Tim Stoker. Jonathan Sims in the Library, looking for a few books on some old cult while Martin Blackwood hesitated to offer his help behind him. Jonathan Sims in his flat with the one poster of a cat hanging on the wall, deep-diving into the history of the Bloody Queen for a full week before switching to Guerilla Warfare.

Jonathan Sims, skittish and alone and scared, long hair hiding his face from every soul he’d cross path with, lightly scarred hands trembling with such a strong anxiety Elias had sometimes doubted his plan. Jonathan Sims who has no family, no friends outside of the Institute, not even a cat to come back to. Jonathan Sims with nothing but his work, nothing but his need for recognition, nothing but his thirst for Knowledge.

Jonathan Sims, newly appointed Head of a department, thankful and terrified and alone, alienating the few people he’d connected with as he scrambled to rise up to his station when everyoneeveryone everyone knows he will never be enough for it .

Jonathan Sims who was not alone in his hospital room, who was not powerless against the first touch of the Lonely, who saw Peter Lukas behind the cover of his very own Fog.

Jonathan Sims - Jonathan Sims, whom he’d chosen - Jonathan Sims, who’d he’d planned so much around - Jonathan Sims suddenly out of sight and out of bounds and out of control .

Who, what could have obscured his Vision to this point ? Whatever could have thought themselves so untouchable that they would have happily warped and manipulated his Sight this way ? What, who had dared defy him, defy Jonah Magnus, in the powers he was a disciple, an apostle, a Saint of ?

Who dares, he will fill their heads with all of the horrors he has witnessed, will ruin their minds with a thousand cries and death tolls, will fry their brains with pains and terrors and lives lived with only the wish of death and he will never award it to them, who dares whodareswhodareswhodares-

‘Elias.’

It is Peter’s voice that rips him out of his enraged musings. The man is staring towards him through remnants of Fog, eyes wide and more expressive than they have been in a long while as they look down at Elias’s desk and seem to never dare cross his own eyes. All around the room, the drawn and chiselled and carved eyes are wide open and fuming .

Even in the maelstrom of anger and hurt and fear that had taken over since the fire was lit and never extinguished, since the fire had swallowed and ravaged and annihilated his Institute almost completely, Elias had not lost control as thoroughly as he just did. There is molten fury in his heart and in his mind and in his Sight - and there is a loss of control he has not fallen victim to since Smirke and Bentham and the Failed Crowning.

“My apologies, Peter, I did not mean to let myself go quite this strongly-”

“What the hell is that thing ?!”

Peter’s voice - and this time he has seen his lips move outright - is not underlined by the faded concern Elias has just heard in the three syllables of his name. It is not a sweet silent sound that Elias can always hear, no matter how far, because beyond the Eye and the Fog they have connected in a way he only has with Peter, out of the entire Lukas dynasty. It is anger and confusion and fear , something he has seldom heard from him in all these years, when he could easily break and tear down the rest of his family.

It is Peter. Peter whose mouth is closed and pursed in a tight line as he still stares down at Elias’s desk.

Elias looks down.

The tape recorder clicks on and a garbled bit of static fills his study, Peter’s voice twisted and warped and used .

Elias. I. See. You.

Notes:

Peter : I want a divorce
Elias : Oh don't be such a worrywart, my master plan is full proof !
Jon : No
Beholding : No
The plot of AJB : No

I truly hope you enjoyed this chapter 20 of And Janus Blinked, I'll hope to see some (most ?) of you in the comments if you feel like it, and I'd like to remind you that my twitter @enbyneti would be a good place to check my schedule for chapter process and uploads !

Chapter 21: 21. Open Doors

Summary:

There is so much she does not know about Jon. This new Jon - coming back from years lived beyond them with so much fear and anger and grief in his voice when his eyes showed nothing but her own reflection - but also the Jon that stood in his place before. She knows his age and birthday, the place he grew up in, his diplomas from her research - the same kind of research she does on everyone in the Institute, no matter how illegal it technically is - but now that he is gone, she’s come to realize that she knew… she knew nothing of him.

Tim probably did. Tim was the kind to know what kind of food people loved and loathed, what movie they went to see last, who their favourite author was and why. Tim was the kind to see hard, solid facts and turn away from them, instead following an uneven and colourful thread of emotion and personality. He would know what Jon - the Jon they’d watched walk out of the Library, stiffness in his limbs and tension in his shoulders - where Sasha knows only words on a professional file.

He would know… He would know all they had lost.

Notes:

Hello hello and welcome to another Sasha chapter !

This one has been written for over a month I believe, and as my discord members are aware, I have finished writing chapter 26 a few days ago as well. Our usual two-week schedule, therefore, stays the same for the foreseeable future (of 3 months) and I would like to announce that this fic's first "arc" or "season" will finish in between chapters 28 to 30 (depending of my muse and my wonderful beta reader GrimNiknil, and the feedback that comes with them)

I hope you all enjoy this new chapter, have a good read

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

They leave perhaps an hour after the cops, and when she crosses the threshold, Sasha looks back towards Jon once.

"Sash' ?"

Tim is already out in the corridor, one hand gripping the strap of his messenger bag perhaps a little tighter than it needs to be, as his eyes shift between her and the doorway. She can see, at the corner of her vision, a nurse waiting for them to leave, and Martin standing beside them sheepishly with his own backpack in hand.

That same nurse has been in three times already, as the end of visit hours began to approach and they did not seem ready to budge. They'd seemed exhausted, exhausted enough to call security on them if the gang had tried and protested the rules. Keay had been allowed to stay, as he’d apparently pulled “Mister Sims” out of a panic attack a dozen minutes before Georgie and the rest of them had been allowed into the room, and they were still wary of such things happening again - but Georgie, Martin, Tim and Sasha, had to leave.

They packed up, Martin was offered the keys to Jon’s flat so he could grab the toothbrush he left there the night before, and Georgie awarded the Admiral one sleepover with his “other parent” before they left. The cat seemed so content to lay down at the feet of the bed, middle stretching like a fur scarf left to fry, and the attendant waiting to escort them out had not even raised an eyebrow when they’d left the cat behind.

Before she finally closes the door, Sasha looks towards Jon and wonders.

He is still ripping the card sent by Elias - and apparently delivered by an invisible, inaudible, pathetic old man only seen of Jon and Martin - into smaller and smaller pieces. His hands are trembling, unsteady, and oh so small, but the cardboard has no chance under his aggressive assault, and his act of destruction is bolstered by the lazy Admiral batting his paws towards the paper dust hanging in the air. Keay is huffing beside Jon, grabbing the fallen flakes and throwing them in the air again.

(It is a scene worthy of those romantic movies Tim loathes loving. She knows it is the only thing he will think about on their way back to his flat, as long as it stays imprinted on his retina.)

(She wishes she could say the same.)

Georgie is kind enough to drive them back to the flat, instead of leaving them to fend off the masses swallowing up the Tube, and they part ways in front of the Georgian-style apartment building as the time nears eight and the sun is nowhere to be seen. They fumble a little, still unused to moving as a unit in the corridors and lift up to the seventh floor, and almost fall over each other when they cross the threshold of Tim’s large flat.

They’ve been somewhat living together for a week, Georgie added to the mix before today - not necessarily of their own willing choice, as Martin was still something of a stranger to the duo of Researchers and vice-versa, nowhere near the friendship that was-would-be-perhaps-never - switching flats when someone had needed a change of clothes. They weren’t obligated to continue the arrangement tonight, as Georgie had proved when she’d driven away to her own place, but it hasn’t truly come to Sasha’s mind before she finds herself sprawled across the couch, Tim and Martin busying themselves in the kitchen to her right. The door between the living room and cooking space is wide open, as it has been for a week.

If she was to be honest, the arrangement began for Jon’s sake. He had not said a word, but even as he stayed wrapped around Keay that first night and his eyes were glued to the man’s chest - counting his breaths, counting each heartbeat, counting each proof of life in the man that should be dead - she saw him flinch when Tim stepped out of the room. He had been physically out of sight, even if he could never be out of Jon’s Sight, and she could swear the small man would have broken down again if Tim hadn’t stepped back in the following second.

He had not been as tense when Tim had stepped away longer - too overwhelmed by the chaos that had taken over their lives in less than ten hours - and when she had herself stepped out of sight a few minutes afterwards as her tolerance for it all began to splinter, he had not seemed to break apart.

(To leave the flat - after Martin’s first escapade that first night, followed then by the harsh projection of Jon’s future-past - to split up with Jon in this state ? Preposterous.)

Jon had told them, later, that he could See mostly everything there was in his flat, in his building, in his neighbourhood. He had not said any more, eyebrows knitted together in a painful arrow, but Sasha had finished his enumeration with London, the United Kingdom, Europe, the World ? And she has wondered, she wonders, why he seemed oh so terrified of Tim leaving his physical sight when there was little in this city, much less his own flat, that he could not See.

Was there a difference between seeing and Seeing ? What did it look like, if there was one ? Perhaps a movie, a reel of life with every single rush corresponding to every single point of view existing ? An outside observer, a projection on a screen, a theatre performance seen from afar ? Was there more than just sight to it, was there smell, taste, touch, sound ? Was there emotion other than the fear he’d spoken of ?

Was there control or the helpless feeling only an observer can know as horrors and tragedies unfold before their eyes ?

(Was that the reason for Jon's reaction to Tim leaving his direct sight ? It seems logical enough.)

(She’ll ask Martin about it later.)

Everything about Jon, aboutthis new Jon, is still unknown, for all Sasha - and the others - have had a third-person experience of his powers and of all that made him into the being standing before them now, through projection and a statement given. She has a small grasp on the concept of complete, and yet selective omniscience, on the statements being more than mere stories, more than mere recounting for the Archivist, on the apparent compulsion they have not yet experienced thanks to Jon’s control. But they are still abstract concepts for her who has not lived through even a day of the life Jon had left behind - and yet would probably never forget - still closer to the content of a fantasy book she’s read obsessively than a tangible object in her cognition.

There is so much she does not know about Jon. This new Jon - coming back from years lived beyond them with so much fear and anger and grief in his voice when his eyes showed nothing but her own reflection - but also the Jon that stood in his place before. She knows his age and birthday, the place he grew up in, his diplomas from her research - the same kind of research she does on everyone in the Institute, no matter how illegal it technically is - but now that he is gone, she’s come to realize that she knew… she knew nothing of him.

Tim probably did. Tim was the kind to know what kind of food people loved and loathed, what movie they went to see last, who their favourite author was and why. Tim was the kind to see hard, solid facts and turn away from them, instead following an uneven and colourful thread of emotion and personality. He would know what Jon - the Jon they’d watched walk out of the Library, stiffness in his limbs and tension in his shoulders - where Sasha knows only words on a professional file.

He would know… He would know all they had lost.

She looks back towards the kitchen, where Martin is mixing up some kind of brownie batter and sea salt while Tim chops up broccoli and mushrooms. They move almost in sync, only bumping into each other occasionally when they would probably have stepped on each other every two minutes a week ago. It’s a small kitchen at that, large enough for three Jons or one adult, making it all the harder to coordinate around each other as they check on the oven and the rice and the bread dough.

They seem calm as they weave through the dinner preparation, but Sasha, for all her lack of social knowledge, does know Tim. And his shoulders are set a little higher than is casual, his smile is not as easy, his eyes are not as soft. The thoughts in his mind, she cannot hear, but she guesses that they may be somewhat similar to where her own are turning towards.

She grabs a notebook on the low table, and writes down the message Elias has sent Jon.

Bastard.

Bastard who decided to trap unsuspecting academics into literal dead-end jobs. Bastard praying upon their traumas to dig his claws into their minds and keep them underneath his pathetic heeled boot. Bastard contemplating the world as if he was above them all from his now burnt office. Bastard sexist who’d have promoted anyone before the competent women of his staff, probably.

Bastard sending bastard cards to injured employees with bastard threats under bastard pretty formulations. Bastard sending in some supernatural old man to deliver his bastard card without even the decency to show up himself and face his own bastard ways.

Bastard who saw one man - bearing the obvious signs of anxiety, isolation, paranoia, doubt, self-loathing past and present and future - walk into his office and decided to groom him into the most traumatized being to ever walk this earth. Bastard scarring his own employee for his little world domination ploy which had already failed once. Bastard getting manipulated even then, so stupid he couldn’t even make sure his plan was really his own even as a f*cking vessel of Knowledge itself.

Grooming evil little spreadsheet sugar baby bastard.

She has no idea of what they should, want, or even can do about the card and its content.

Bastard.

(Who is he, who does he think he is, to threaten Jon like that ? Who does he think he is to even have the right to speak a word to him, much less write such a disgusting little card ? Who does he think he is, trapping them all and reminding them of it in such a filthy little way ? Who does he think he is ?)

(In a future that never came, he died. In this present, his Institute burned but Sasha James will not let her revenge end with it.)

Tim whistles from the kitchen - as he usually does when Sasha is lost in her own thoughts, because her ears only pick up the sharpest of sounds on the best of days, which today is decidedly not - as Martin carefully slides the brownie tray out of the oven, every other dish set down on the counter to cool.

There is. Way too much food here for just the three of them, even if Tim took into account the following day in its entirety. She knows him to be a stress baker, but is Martin as well to reach this sheer quantity ? Cakes and pies, two different pitchers of cold soup and a warm pot of birria with its tacos, pesto pasta salad, chicken and vegetable dumplings aligned into a gigantic flower, three kinds of finger sandwiches, three casseroles of pasta, even a plate of curry pushed at the back - and it is already in a tupperware box, the portion small enough for only one of their “little gang”.

(Jon likes curry. Jon likes golden curry with potatoes and carrots and onions cut really really really small pieces, and no meat. Jon likes curry.)

(Jon likes curry and Jon must like so many other things and she wants to know them all.)

They bring out plates and cutlery, as distinguished London residents should, and then proceed to eat with their hand or even a pair of chopsticks Tim grabbed, right out of the casseroles. Even Martin, who had been oh so shy on the second day when they’d all been cordially invited to crash in Tim’s living room - as a tight unit around Jon, since only Tim and Sasha actually knew each other without the intermediary of their little researcher - does not deprive himself of the simple joy of laying the plate of chilli con seta on his lap and enjoy it with the torn tortillas they warmed up in the microwave.

(He’s using only one hand. The other is curled into a lazy fist on his lap, and has been for - for the last eight to ten hours maybe ? Since they got out of the Institute, at the very least.)

(Martin has literally been holding onto the lighter linchpin of their arson plan all day. How did the cops not notice that ?)

They eat in silence, and while it is not of the comfortable kind, it is not as heavy as it could have been. It is the kind of silence that floats between one librarian and a couple of researchers who knew nothing of each other six days ago, and have now slept in the same room for five nights straight, as well as spent days together in a stuffy old basem*nt. It is the kind of silence that is both too appropriate for such a night where one of them is missing, and absolutely out of place considering they are eating dinner at ten p.m. like teenagers when their parents are out of the house. It is the kind of silence one gets when their perhaps-time-travelling friend collapsed and found himself in the hospital, under police scrutiny and threatening cards from their boss, but still mostly fine.

(An experience shared by many others, she is sure.)

(What has her life become ?)

She’s inwardly moaning about the oddness of it all - something she has not allowed herself to do quite yet as they worked through plans and plans to burn down that academic prison she’d been thinking of quitting for a while anyway - when someonesomeonesomething’s hand reaches over her shoulder and steals away one single cannelloni.

Rather, when a longlonglongtoolong finger reaches and stabs through the middle of the stuffed pasta, as if using a skewer.

Too long too long too many phalanges a nail more like a file a needle a skewer ready to impale her shoulder at the slightest wrong move too long too long too long crooked warped broken-

And a tongue far too short and too long and knotting around the pasta as it pulls it back to a mouth two inches too low arching into a carnivorous predatory sweetly ingratiating smile and everything she can see and hear and feel is-

Is-

Twisted.

“Oh, this is disgusting~”

Notes:

Sasha and Tim are almost mourning their third and it seems fitting on Valentines, somehow.

Hope you all liked it, don't hesitate to comment about anything if you feel like it, and I will see you either on the 28th or the 1st for chapter 22

Chapter 22: 22. TwistWarpChange

Summary:

It is Lies, but It knows of Its Brethren. And It knows, in concept if not in practice, of the Changes They would each bring, if It’d only survive it for the instant of It. And It knows this Change is not of those.

(Fear is natural. Darkness, loneliness, madness, predation, destruction, all of those came into the world naturally, and many more followed. And to fear these things that could hurtdestroyannihilate is utterly natural.)

(Fear is natural. This… This is not.)

Notes:

Here is chapter 22, I got busy with life and brain and exams coming up, I'll edit this opening note later but please enjoy and I hope the 'confusing' speech of this new character won't be too hard to decipher !!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It - and It has not adopted the name Michael yet but it haswillwon’t - feels the Change in what passes for a chest in Its intangible fabric of flesh and dreams and play pretend at Being.

It is not the Change It has wishedattemptedloathedwantedstopped back then, an innumerable number of dayshoursyears before, and it is not the Change It would have expected from any of those MonstersGodsBrethrens.

It is Lies, but It is used to recognizing the scent, the sight, the touch, the taste, the sounds of Its BettersBrethrensAbove, from Its many interactions out and within Its hallways. It knows what the Stranger’s ceramic skin feels like, even hidden under layers of stolen flesh and names and voices. It knows what the Vast smells like, emptiness and sea salt and ozone floating in endless space. It knows what the Flesh looks like, deformed in a way It isn’t with limbs as broken as they are whole and wrong. It knows what the Desolation sounds like, as fire crackles and souls scream and hearts break in a beautiful cacophony of Hurt. It knows what the Lonely tastes like, cold vapour on the tongue not of It but of the one It was beforeneveralways down in a dark basem*nt with just a frail old liarbetrayerArchivist for company.

It is used to the feel of Its Greater Twisting Whole wound tight around the core of Its Lies and Shifts and Hallways, a hand always heavy and comforting and threatening around the Throat of Delusion It has becomealwaysbeenalwayswillbe.

It is Lies, but It knows what It sees, smells, tastes, touches, hears, even through the Twists taking over Its eyes and nose and tongue and hands and ears until there is nothing but It Twisting and Changing and still stuck as the one It should have never eatenfoughtBecome.

It is Lies, but It knows of Its Brethren. And It knows, in concept if not in practice, of the Changes They would each bring, if It’d only survive it for the instant of It. And It knows this Change is not of those.

(Fear is natural. Darkness, loneliness, madness, predation, destruction, all of those came into the world naturally, and many more followed. And to fear these things that could hurtdestroyannihilate is utterly natural.)

(Fear is natural. This… This is not.)

It does not see nor hear nor taste nor touch nor smell, as Its chest somewhere on the left aches and the Change washes over It. It does not recognize one of the Others even when there are bits of a few in the unknown that is not part of the Uncanny, and yet these bits and pieces are nowhere to be feltseensmelled when It looks further. It is something and nothing and at the edge of Its vision and miles away from any of Its Hallways and It is a Lie that It is Lies cannot comprehend-

For one instantminuteeternity, It stops, and It- And Michael stares down at the Lie that is it and is not it. It has no voice, no body, no smell.

Yet it reeks.

It reeks of something foreignfamiliarancientnewunknown and it reeks of untold Lies and broken Truth and it reeks of a Chaos unfolding beyond even the twists and curves of time and space and the Others-

Michael opens his Door and steps through, following the disgusting, rancidsweethypnotizing smell. It does not need to search for Its Door to shift and travel, until it lands in the spot root of that awfulwonderfulacid smell. It turns the knob and throws the panel open, ready to chase after the scent that led It here.

Michael stops.

In front of It, the smouldering ruins of the Magnus Institute are still fuming.

The old stones It has seen a thousand times are darkened by ash and smoke in flowing patterns, engulfing the once white structure in a dance macabre of shadows. Strict panes of coloured glass have melted under what It supposes was scorching heat, and they are warped into pictures of scenes pastpresentfuture It cannot even begin to decipher in the twisting of the metal edges. The titianesque doors of wood and glass It had once stepped through with fearpainignorance are gone, plain and simple. Their hinges hang limply, not a splinter of oak to be seen, and the yawning void past the threshold catches Its eyes. There is nothing past the empty space of the doorway, only ashes and smoke and silence.

The Institute… Has been destroyed.

The Magnus Institute, a black hole that has been present in London for centuriessecondsforever, has been destroyed. It has been lit on fire and has burned to the ground, leaving behind only a dark husk of stone and glass and wrought iron as a grim memorial to the place of horrors it had been.

It is destroyed and crumbling and nothing more than a ruin.

Michael stares, and It sees only how beautiful and gripping and mesmerizing the utter destruction is.

“However did this happen… ?”

(This was not supposed to happen yetnowever, yet it did.)

(Thiswasnotsupposedtohappensosoon-)

It blinks, and the pullpushimpact in Its chest stings again - the very same that led It here to witness the smouldering end of the Magnus Institute, and Michael believes It should at least thank the thinglieabomination for that uplifting sight - as Its door closes once.

Its colour shifts and does not, the toxicsunflowerpastel yellow It has always been swirling in its usual unpredictable patterns and yet staying as still as a corpse. The knob clicks in a flurry of little birds flying around the place Michael's head should fill and the panel opens again. It is still following the thread - and the thread is now a smell of fire and ash and ruins, among the Lies It has felt and been pursuing - and It steps through the threshold without a thought.

The flat It lands in is utterly simplistic. Oh, it is decorated, full of bobbles and books and other small objects that are as much a window into snippets of a life as they are useless memorabilia - but it is all so simple, so logical, so three-dimensional. Everything here is utterly comprehensible by the human mind with little more effort than it takes them to breath, and Michael is no more intrigued by it than by the coat It had nevermaybealways been wearing back on that frozen non-land, and which It had discarded in the Hallways when coldwarmthwet meant nothing and everything to Its nonexistence. There is nothing truly interesting to be explored in this room - nothing Michael cares about, as it is. It is just a boringboringboring little mortal flat.

And while it reeks of fogwaxlogicfirefear, Michael blinks and It knows it had lost the scent.

It has lost the scent, but as It turns on Its heels just a few inches above from Its kneecaps, Michael catches another. That new smell is nowhere near the reeking odour It had been following - and is instead natural yet not entirely. It can smell the dampness of a feeble carpet of fog covering the wooden floor, part of the cold a simple residue of an open window and the other the mark of what It associates with the Lukas dynasty. It can feel a thin layer of waxy sheen and plastic overlay over a single picture of a young bearded being - their hair twisting in neat, almost perfect curls tucked behind their ears - the unnatural gloss covering the glass of the existing frame. It can see in a pocket, hair ties and the few hairs caught in them, twisting further than natural curls would in a pattern oh so similar to the fractalstwistsspirals of Its own hair…

There are a few interesting things in this flat, now that It thinks about it, but nothing It has not seen a hundred times around the hubbub of supernatural activity that London has become - although It does not think It has ever crossed paths with such a strange combination of three in a small space apart from the burnedgoneeternal Institute.

But It loses interest oh so quickly, because none of those things is the source of the new smell that caught Michael’s spinning nose.

No, the beacon that has It oh so uncaringboredintrigued is sitting just a room over. It smells of deception and desolation and victory, among the other smells that fill up the small living space, and does not quite overpower them as much as it underlines their presence. Whatever is causing it, It wants to forgetseeknow more.

It takes a step forward, and Its eyes shift to the root of his curiosity. And it is something oh so simple, really, that Michael finds Itself surprised by that… humility.

It is but a small lighter lazily held in a large and deceptively soft hand as the other picks through a plate of chilli with torn-up tortillas and a forlorn spoon on the side. A lighter decorated with a spiderweb, seemingly faded with age and friction, its golden metal rubbed flat in places. A lighter with a corner slightly, slightly, stained with a bit of smoke and ash on the edge, under its carrier’s thumb.

A lighter that was perhaps used that same day. That smells of flames and ruin and intent. That smells of arson.

The fireruinennihilationdesrructionend of the Institute. Michael has seen and heard and tasted and smelled it, and now It knows what caused it. Who planned for and caused this absolute marveldisasterimpossibility.

Which hand lit the fire.

None of the three living souls in that flat has spotted It - and wouldn’t It be ashameddelightedconfused if they had, when their tether to the Eye is so thin it seems quite similar to the first webs of a natural spiderling - as they keep on sustaining themselves through the delightful kinds of food It has not needed to consume in yearsmonthsminutes. Since Becoming, really, and perhaps it is why Michael does not follow Its usual patternonpattern of making Its presence known through his door - or anything else that would inspire in them the absolute terror of the Spiral.

Instead, It takes a step and lifts a finger to grab some kind of stuffed pasta It has never eaten - right over the shoulder of a being almost as tall as It had once been and sometimes could be - and brings it back to Its mouth to try and savour it before the flavour twists and shifts into another set of ingredients and cooking instructions entirely. Tomato sauce, some kind of cheesy spinach filling, no meat to be seen or tasted, and Michael finds himself enjoying the taste quite a bit, even as it twists into something closer to ice cream flavoured with banana and peanut butter.

The three all have frozen in place - one, probably the owner of the flat perhaps from their resemblance to the waxy-feeling photograph back in the other room, is staring straight at the space where Michael’s head should have been, and had once upon a time ; another tightening their grip over that wonderful, wonderful, wonderful little lighter as their eyes do not leave the spot where the pasta It ate used to be ; and the last has their back turned to him, a few strands of their hair curling in the exact same patterns as those around the hair tie, the spirals reaching towards Michael. Time seems to have stopped for them while It savours Its treat.

Perhaps if It speaks, they will move ? Not that their confusion and apprehension and fear isn’t delightful, but boredom - brought by the inaction of Its victims itself born from freezing terror or a complete mental shutdown - never was a favourite of Its.

Michael decides to comment on the food - since they are all gathered around it and had been enjoying it quite thoroughly before It stepped forward.

“Oh, this is disgusting~”

It takes them a second more - are they slow, are they petrified, are they dead on their feet in the most literal meaning ? - before the one just in front of him outright launches themself out of their chair and face first onto the floor, the one with the lighter scrambles out of their chair and kneels over the first like a human shield, and the owner of the flat actually throws one chopstick in the place where Michael’s eyes shouldshallwont be, the other held up in front of his chest like some sort of improvised weapon.

Their eyes, for one instant, all wear the bright greyish wash so dissimilar to the colourless effect of the Lonely, and Michael knows what kind of being It is now confronting.

“Hello… Assistants.”

A small metallic sound resounds in the tiny kitchen and - with Michael’s overlaid voice fizzling in their minds - breaks their silence.

Two voices tangle up in an outraged and confused cry, in a chaos Michael loves to hear and wouldn’t dare decipher from fear - ah - of losing its wonderful dissonant musicality. Their words do not matter much anyway, as they are wont to ask the same questions It is always asked, and he cares little for those in the light of the lighter that has fallen out of the larger one’s palm, innocently laying on the floor.

Michael leans forward, long fingers ready to brush against the metal, when that same strong right hand snaps in front of him and grabs into the small object. The sturdy assistant’s eyes are wide and frightened upon It as they - oh, how delightful, a small badge with his pronouns given outright pinned on his chest just in Michael’s line of sight - brings his prize back against his chest.

And for that prize he has paid, Michael notes lazily as It leans back in disappointmentintrigueanger. The back of his hand is marked with three large gashes that bleed red and black, from the wrist joint to the knuckles and decorating the two first sections of his little and ring finger, the veins around the edges of the wounds shifting to look like the fractals It oh so loves. The way the living being still clenches his fist around the lighter leaves him bleeding quite a bit, and the drops falling to the floor slide along nonexistent cracks to follow the pattern of a shell-like fractal, expanding and expanding further than a single drop ever should.

This is all quite… exciting.

The injury is tinted - never tainted, never in Michael’s eyes who has seen the painbetrayalblessing the Spiral has bestowed upon It - with the Distortion and Its Greater Twisting Whole. Everything It touches is to a degree, obviously, but as It had intended to prod the strange lighter with Its own essence and see what would happen, the effects have been… exacerbated. This hand, this wound, this blood has been touched so profoundly by the very Incarnation of Madness, and Its essence will run through an entire system, from blood to nerves to mind, and never quite ever leave it.

Michael is quite eager to see what will become of it.

Its view of the wound is obscured just a second after, as the one whose hair curls towards Its own in delightful curves gets to their feet and straightens up, perhaps trying to use their size to intimidate Michael into backing away or simply to hide the injured one behind. They are familiar and not, now that It is able to stare at their face through something other than the reflection in an old toaster, their face perhaps olderyoungerwarmer than It remembers. It cannot recall a name - all names have been foregone, in favour of titles and poetry and nicknames as infuriating as they are exacttwistedvengeful - but It can see in that face an image of the past, a past that is Its and not its.

An archival assistant that bears the marks of Artifact Storage, and an Institute employee that was already around when Its twindestroyerself was as well, and the features - that warp and twist not in the way the Spiral is so fond of, but melt instead through two dissimilar sets of ceramic and wax - that refuse to quite settle in front of Its eyes.

(An employee that showed up periodically in the Archives, filling up the empty spot she did not know had been left behind by Shelley, even though she worked in the other basem*nt of the goneburnedhow Institute.)

(An employee that Gertrude smiled at and invited for cups of tea, another sacrifice-)

Michael had been so so so sureuncertainconvinced the puny little beings he would cross in this barely intriguing would all be boring. After all, even being touched or mark does not make on inherently interesting - Jude Perry was a prime example, even as she melted like a wax candle and still disavowed the apparent similitude to some Strangers, of power used for little more than the expected - and It would have easily overlooked such small influences if It had not been looking for them.

Well, if It had not been looking for that lighter now out of sight, but It hadn’t known what it was just a few hoursminutesinstants before.

“What the fu- You’re Michael.”

It blinks. How does this one being as interesting as they are proving themselves to be - and their friend too, with the delightfulconfusingintriguing wound on his hand, now wrapped up in a clean kitchen rag - knows of the name It neverjustwouldhave settled on after the impact of the Change carved it onto Its mind ? How does this one being know of that name - when Its face and behaviour and essence itself have been taintedtwistedsacrificed to the point where Michael Shelley may as well as never have existed thennowever - and how are they even able to associate such with Its grinningcryingfurious face ?

(How can they look at It, and name It with such a common name without even a question or doubt or hesitation ? It knows that Shelley has left such a deep imprint on It it will never be the samedifferentundefinable again, but there is no one left on this plane of existence, no human that should be able to recognize It for the man who was fed to Its hallways and ruined Its greatest moment. And these Assistants are very much humans still.)

(How can they, with such a small tether to It Knows You, Know It at all ?)

“... That is a real name.”

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed, don't hesitate to comment !

Chapter 23: 23. What's next ?

Summary:

Jon, as he idly pets a napping Admiral, looks exhausted.

More than that, he looks frail and sick and fragile in a way Gerry has sadly come to associate with the usual Jon. He’s always seen him dishevelled, somewhat injured, ill-dressed - and he has almost constantly seen him distressed, upset, hurt. Their first meeting that-never-happened in that basem*nt under the hunters’ control, Jon had been tired and jittery, hesitant to speak even a word, and oh so terribly empathetic of Gerry’s pain.

Notes:

Hello hello everyone, today is another chapter day, with the return of our beloved goth bookhunter and the exhausted Archive(ist) he's been looking after.
Enjoy this slight reprieve from the action (or from what counts as action in my stories, which are never very action-y in between the stream-of-consciousness moments) before chapter 24 on the 31st !

Once again all my thanks to GrimNiknil dearest betareader and friend 💚💚💚 without whom I might have given up on this story quite a few times over the last months !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Jon is making a point to not Look beyond his immediate vicinity when his assistants - his colleagues at this point in time, no contracts to the Archives yet signed and no contract to be signed as long as Bouchard ignores their survival - leave.

Listen Watch, Wait,’ whispers Beholding.

It’s visible in his irises - the silver there seems just a little duller when he’s actively Looking outwards and beyond, even if he is never unaware of his direct surroundings - that he is specifically pulling his Sight back, pulling it back inside of two frail eyes. They are not dull, no, they are almost glowing, shining, lighting up the whole room with the power they encompass in two small pinpricks pupils when they are meant to see, See and Watch so much more than something as small as a London hospital.

Listen, Watch, Wait.

Gerry has never possessed powers as developed as Gertrude - who was adamant on using them as little as possible if she could not justify them with one Apocalypse or another - let alone the absolute madness that Jon is as a concept.

But he remembers, when he would pull back from the right track as he chased after Leitners, the migraines that were not caused by cancer. The ones that led him back to victims and places and those damn books, the one he would have missed if he had not followed the Knowledge provided to him.

Refusing the Eye and the… abilities It had awarded him had caused some pain in the past.

Listen, Watch, Wait.

Gerry feels the gossamer thread, slightly thicker than before his death, between the Eye and his being. Gertrude had a tether the width of a climbing rope despite her best efforts, he thinks. But Jon… Jon is such a small being of skin and bones and Knowledge, it is not a climbing rope or an IV or a chain that links him to the Eye.

No, Jon is but stitched up with the strands that make him the Eye’s and make the Eye his, every single scar carefully closed up by one more silver wire as thin as an eyelash falling to the floor and as strong as the unbreakable chains that held down the Wolf of Ragnarok. Jon is of the Eye and Jon is with the Eye and Jon is the Eye in a way Gerry can barely comprehend.

Listen, Watch, Act,’ Beholding switches to, and Gerry can see how much Jon wantswantswants to, and how tightly he holds himself back.

(He had migraines, on the few occasions he kept his abilities - aware of them or not - under wraps, and they had been almost debilitating in their strength as he approached his end.)

(How much pain could Jon be in, to refuse the Sight that lets him see the entire World in one single blink ?)

Jon lets out one small breath, and leans back against Gerry’s side. He seems to find the contact as comforting as he did on that first day, and the crease of his brow lessens slightly - though from worry or pain, Gerry cannot guess.

He has noticed that in the last week - and it’s been a week now, seven whole days since he felt his own corporeality become solid again, since he stepped off that plane and in that cab, since he took that small hand in his and remembered - they have spent together. Apart from the two or three times when one fell asleep before the other and was thus either left on the couch, in Gerry’s case, or picked up to put in bed in Jon’s - and showers - they have not spent much time more than a meter from the other, let alone in different rooms.

He has noticed the contacts, has noticed the worry, and has noticed the pointed lack of Watching over his own shoulder.

The assist- Jon’s colleagues - because he seems to dislike the term assistant despite asking them to work with him in the Archives unofficially - have gone back to one of their flats almost three hours ago, and their departure had been followed by a battery of tests on Jon. They’d tested the strength of his lungs, checked for any fumes or ash residue in his throat, worried about the scar there. They’d looked over his eyes for any damage, slightly unnerved by his pupils that were far too deep-dark-a-trap. They’d checked his reflexes, the scraped knees from his fall, the broken nail on his right ring finger. They’d checked his heartbeat, again.

(“His heartbeat is too fast”, the main doctor had said as she stepped out of the room with Gerry when Jon had been transferred in the room, her face twisted in puzzlement, “It doesn’t match his activity levels, it should not be so fast, do you have any information about it ?”)

(Gerry had denied any knowledge of a cardiovascular medical history, but he privately guesses that a heart cut in two might not beat quite as well as a healthy one.)

Then they’d left, an hour ago, with a weak attempt at sending Gerry home with the cat - the Admiral ? - and the professional equivalent of a shrug when the both of them had not even deigned to pretend to consider it. The harsh lights in the corridor have gone dim as the evening shift came around, sounds around them have switched from the cacophony of a bustling London hospital to a soft murmur here and then, night has fallen.

Jon, as he idly pets a napping Admiral, looks exhausted.

More than that, he looks frail and sick and fragile in a way Gerry has sadly come to associate with the usual Jon. He’s always seen him dishevelled, somewhat injured, ill-dressed - and he has almost constantly seen him distressed, upset, hurt. Their first meeting that-never-happened in that basem*nt under the hunters’ control, Jon had been tired and jittery, hesitant to speak even a word, and oh so terribly empathetic of Gerry’s pain.

Then he’d been a sobbing little form against Gerry’s chest, covered in old-ancient-eternal scars, his hair greyer and his form frailer and a light shining from every single tear he shed. Then he’d been a curled up ball on his lap, hands fisted in his clothes and fingers, and in his face, Gerry could see all the grief and hope and fear his eyes did not reflect. Then he’d been the shadow holding onto his coat and shirt, the silver eye trying to keep a hold of him when his fingers could not, the one figure that lit up the whole of London in Gerry’s eyes and yet made himself smaller in the corner of every room he’d stand in.

He’d been the shadow his old colleagues - dead and alive and different and unscarred and yet the mirrors of those that had hurt Jon so much through their absence in body and mind and heart - had been staring at every time the three of them found themselves in the same room, and Gerry had seen in their eyes the recognition and the confusion and the ignorance. It is Jon but it is not their Jon and they struggle to recognize this in-between, this being both known from the past, familiar from his statement and the visions it brought, and unknown from a life they have never themselves lived through.

He’d been the shadow hesitantly approaching an old friend - an ex as well, apparently - to pet her cat, his cardigans and jumpers and shirts always pulled as far as possible up his neck and down his arms, his hair down and pooling around his face, as if to try and hide every single scar there was to be seen. She’d looked back at him as he was focused on the feline, so many times, and her frown of confusion was so, so, so strong Gerry had wondered more than once whether she had experienced the same visions as he had or not - and the new loss Jon was trying to avoid and prepare himself for all in the same pat between a cat’s ears.

He’d been the shadow that had looked back towards his third colleague - a man soft and strong and concerned in a way that comforts and worries Gerry all at once, especially when he comes near any kind of knife while Jon is in the same room - and a hand that seemed to want to extend and grip the man’s fingers to never let go. And Jon had held on Martin’s hand that first night, for the few seconds they’d been close before Gerry had picked him up and deposited him in bed.

(Beholding coughs and a quick flash of Jon leading Martin away from the Institute’s library imprints itself in his retina for one second. The image is quite frankly adorable, as have been every interaction between Jon and the Admiral so far, and it is followed by quite a few other instances of that small scarred hand held in a stronger, softer one, without any context but the feeling of something good.)

(It’s also slightly heartbreaking, when Gerry knows both Jon and Martin offer their hands without a thought, but have been pulling their hands back each time, since the statement.)

“Jon ?”

Gerry isn’t quite expecting an immediate response, as he pads closer to the bed.

Jon has been looking distracted - in his idle petting and his staring at walls and sheets and the paper dust left behind on his lap - since the others left, and Gerry isn’t quite sure he would be heard on the first try, even in the silence of the hospital room. It has not quite happened in the last week, with Jon seemingly hyper-aware of everything and everyone around him at all time with nary a particle in the air that could surprise him, but Gerry distinctly remembers that time back in the states, when the smaller person had let himself get lost in his own thoughts - and the dozens, far, far worse instance of it, nestled away in Jon’s statements.

In the basem*nt, it had been Leitner’s name repeated a few too many times, the mention of cigarettes and Gerry’s own wish to die that had done it. And Jon had not frozen, had not stopped talking nor reacting, but his eyes had shifted just enough that he was not crossing Gerry’s own anymore. That's what Gerry can personally remember of Jon's… distracted state, and the past week doesn't seem to have delved anywhere beyond that line of a simple averted gaze and a somewhat softer voice as his hands had clenched around the book, fingernails digging painfully into the skin cover.

It has not happened in the last week, but Gerry has been… Well, he has been waiting for something of the kind. With everything happening around Jon - the stress brought by their arson plotting, the meticulous preparations they made around the Archives to try and shield them from the fire as best as they could, the nervosity brought by Elias- by Magnus’s very existence in the same building as them, his colleagues and old friend hovering three feet away in the awkwardest display of worry and confusion Gerry had ever personally witnessed, and the equivalent of an Eldritch god whispering in Jon’s ear far more often than in Gerry’s among so many other things - Gerry had expected… Had expected something.

But past his complete breakdown when they had been ‘reunited’, Jon had only had one single dissociative episode, and that had been before his statement. When his gaze had shifted away from even the Admiral as he had gotten up, taken two steps forward, and quite literally lunged at Martin’s form in the doorway of the Archives - without truly realizing it until Gerry had grounded him back in the moment. And that hadn’t really gone on longer than for a few minutes.

It had not happened once since - nothing similar to the ‘benign’ episode he had witnessed in the basem*nt, nor the much more… worrying one had been able to learn about through Jon’s statement - and Gerry has been waiting with mounting concern as the days went by. He knows now that those kinds of episodes were, are frequent with Jon. But nothing has happened yet, despite all the stress and doubt and fear, and that’s… that’s not good. Especially because now, Gerry has lived through some of those episodes.

Jon’s statement, as… fragmented as it was, had also been quite thorough. And Gerry has seen it all.

He has seen those times when simple distraction had given way to outright dissociation experienced through Jon’s very own eyes - as he was taken over by paranoia and disgust and anger in a dozen different situations orchestrated in spite of his actions and reactions. As Jon’s mind retreated while his hands formed fists and his lips, words and his eyes, pleas, and his presence or lack thereof made no difference.

(Gerry has felt it, too. Felt his heart beating too fast and slow and he could only hear the sound of it drowning out everything else, resonating against his ribs again and again and again. Wriggling worms and blood on the floor and steel against his throat and plastic hands and hospital sheets and so many more, to the point where falling out of his own awareness was as much a blessing as it was a horrifying curse as it happened again and again and again.)

(Again and again and again until he was but a single voice in the cacophony of screams filling his mind and his body was nothing but an instrument forced to play an unending staccato of pain and horror and Fear-)

But Jon blinks once, his gaze shifts back from his lap to Gerry’s own, and he tilts his head to the side in question.

“Yes ?”

Oh. Well. Next time, maybe.

(Gerry fears that maybe more than he can admit.)

“Gerry ?”

So much for worrying about Jon being distracted, here is Gerry missing his cue to ask his own question. He coughs once, awkwardly, as he shuffles over to sit on the edge of the hospital bed, his hand idly inching towards the Admiral as he looks to the side.

(The cat stares at him, and he is as deadpan as his owner has been one too many times over the last few days, each time Stoker would do something silly for the sake of chaos. As deadpan as Jon was sometimes too, with this same expression on his face, his grey eyes staring narrowed and half-lidded.)

(He breathes the very idea of “unimpressed”. It’s adorable.)

“I- Jon, I- What’s next ?”

Gerry has never been one to stutter. He would drawl and elongate his vowels far longer than was appropriate - most likely for the dramatic or annoying effect it gave his voice - but clear and proper enunciation had been inked into his very tongue as a child reading tomes larger than his torso and older than their inexistent dynasty.

Yet the words don’t go through quite as smoothly as he would have liked them to. They’re not difficult words, nor a complicated combination, but they leave his lips unsure and somewhat garbled. His voice is heavy, his tone is too, and his hand fists around the bedsheets underneath while the other is still extended towards their feline companion. His eyes are cast down, stuck on the eyes inked across his knuckles - those tattoos the one place the burns never reached - and they seem to stare back.

Then a small hand, so familiar now it is as well known to Gerry as his own palms, covers his own, burns and tattoos and eyes staring back all hidden from view. It slips over his own, turns it over, and wiggles against the soft curve of his palm to nestle there, rough burn against rough burn. That small hand squeezes his own, and Gerry lets out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.

“Now… Now we get to the tunnels. We check the Archives. And then we try to get Prentiss and Nikola, even if their rituals are not actual threats - they still hurt quite a few people working their way up to them, and I- I think we’d like to avoid that.”

It seems like a reasonable plan, Gerry supposes. Something he can agree with, something he can follow, something he can fight for as he has done for years with arson and ripped pages. Something he can live through with someone he knows will look after his back in more than just words. It sounds… It sounds okay.

“I’ll- I want to organize the Archives too. Maybe- Maybe change locations, if we’re able to, and add to it. Add- Record more than fear and drunken student stories. And then…”

Gerry stops, and looks up towards Jon. He waits, breath held, and holds his hand.

(He’s not sure what he is expecting, what he is waiting for, what he is fearing. He’s not sure he wants to know, and Beholding does not whisper a word in his ear this time.)

(If that’s a blessed or cursed ignorance, he can’t say.)

“Then I think I might like to visit Greece. Athens and beyond - not stick to the tourist spots, just delve into the smallest streets and such…”

Gerry snorts.

He squeezes Jon’s hand back, and smiles just a little wider than he usually would.

“I’ll take you there if you want - I know a few places.”

Jon nods with a murmured ‘please do’, and that’s that.

(Perhaps it doesn’t need to be anything more. Perhaps some fighting, some reading, and Greece is what’s next.)

(Perhaps that’s all Gerry really wants.)

Turning away from his companion - yet never letting go of his hand - Gerry eyes the clock on the wall. It’s almost midnight, and while he is not particularly tired - be it from a terrible biological clock he’d happily exploited back in the book hunting days, the fact that he is for all intent and purposes a resurrected ghost, or just the adrenaline of the day still running through his system - and Jon might not want to before he has checked the Institute for himself, Gerry knows that they should at the very least attempt to sleep.

On this grim decision, he turns back towards Jon and prepares half a dozen arguments and sleep facts in his head, with some help from Beholding, on why sleep would be an excellent idea right now.

(Even after just one week, he knows getting Jon to lay down and sleep is war in and of itself, especially because Beholding itself does not quite want his Archive to sleep - and therefore helps sustain his energy levels - when they could be out there and see-watch-behold.)

(And yet, It gives him the facts to convince Jon in that moment, which is truly saying something about Jon’s current state.)

He doesn’t have time to argue about anything though, because if he had been feeling any kind of drowsiness before, Jon’s sudden exclamation would have ripped it out of him quicker than an Avatar of the Hunt would have ripped out his throat.

“I forgot about Leitner.”

Some tones, some words, some names do not need to be spoken aloud twice.

(Never stopped his mom screaming after him in a pool of her blood, never stopped Gertrude from plotting and lying, never stopped the cancer diagnosis from being real.)

(Doesn’t stop Jon either.)

“I forgot about Jurgen Leitner.

Jon is sitting on the bed, his hand still in between the Admiral’s ears while the other is lax in Gerry’s, and his silver eyes are wide open as they stare towards the plain wall in front of him. He doesn’t look towards Gerry, doesn’t focus on one point, does not extend his Sight in response to the abject horror that settles beside exhaustion on his face. His eyes are wide and his shoulders are drawn and his hands begin to shake.

The Admiral looks up with a disgruntled noise.

(How is Jon still not so desensitized to fear after bearing witness to so much of it - be it his own or that of the thousands, millions, billion lives he has witnessed - after all he has lived through in that future-that-was-not-quite ?)

(How did only one person notice how human he still was then ?)

“I forgot about Jurgen f*cking Leitner-

“Jon-”

“That you did, Archivist !”

f*ck.

Right on the wall Jon has been - and still is - staring at, there is now a yellow door.

Don’t look, Prometheus,’ whispers Beholding in a combination of words Gerry could have never associated with It, and which might have been enough to make him obey if he had any choice.

But his eyes are already glued to the panel of wood-metal-something and he cannot look away. it’s not much to look at, really, just one yellow door. It is perhaps just a bit too tall for the hospital’s overall style, but it has been here before… No, no it wasn’t here before, was it ? It just appeared - were there always two doors in the room, he could have sworn - That doesn’t make sense, why would it be yellow when the room is so white and grey and plain- Why is there a doordoordoor-

The door - the door that shouldn’t be but is but has always been here - is open and a man-thing-creature is standing on its threshold. They- He- It is too tall, too small, spindly and large and wiry like some kind of funhouse mirror - that is actually the most terrifying attraction of the entire fair - given life and body and voice. Long fingers with only one and a dozen knuckles at once are wrapped around the edge of the panel, and the only thing certain about those fingers are their sharpnessharpnesssharpness long knives-blades-fingers stabbing into Jon’s guts-

Jon scrambles out of bed and steps in front of Gerry, obscuring his view of the indescribable being before him. It’s only as he stares up at Jon’s thin back swamped in a hospital shirt that he realizes he is on the floor, has fallen on his arse somewhere between the being’s arrival and Jon getting up - and Jon probably only got up because Gerry has fallen. He is staring right at the creature, and his hands are relaxed to his sides, his shoulders free of any tension, his complexion neither pale nor flushed anymore.

He is calm and collected when he speaks - there is nothing in him of the panic he has displayed just minutes-seconds-eternity before - and Gerry thinks, for a small instant, that he maybe worries about Jon’s coping and mental health too much when he seems to have such control of himself outside of his interactions with his colleagues.

For an instant, he thinks maybe Jon knows how to handle this mess and himself perfectly well, and maybe he doesn’t need Gerry to worry for him as he has been doing for a week.

“The Distortion. Are you here to kill me ?”

(It’s only for an instant, because Gerry knows he can never worry enough for Jon, the smartest person he knows, this adorable prickly little man in front of him looking a monster in the eye and baiting It.)

(This f*cking dumbass.)

“Why, Archivist, whatever gave you such a morbid idea ?”

Its voice is a cacophony of an orchestra playing with broken instruments and pots banging against wet concrete as It answers, and Its tone is playful-offended-threatening. Its grin is wide, too wide, too wide as Its focus shifts to Jon entirely, and Its long-tall-monumental body bends at what Gerry thinks might be Its waist, in a parody of a bow.

“I am only looking out for the new addition to our Grand Game, Archivist~. Though you are much more… informed than I was led to believe.”

Jon does not answer immediately. Gerry finally climbs back to his feet behind him, but this time he keeps his eyes on Jon and does not let them go near the figure even for an instant. It could be a liability, to not see the being move or lunge or stick Its long-long-long fingers into Jon- but being completely floored and confused by Its very sight is not a great option either.

Instead, he looks at the floor near Its door - the door that is as confusing as the being, the door that should-shouldn’t-is there against the far wall - and thinks he can see the edge of it close behind the being. Then it opens again, slowly, and a thousand shadows seem to escape from its edge and spill onto the linoleum floor.

“Ah, but enough chitchat, Archivist ! I have a… present… for you~”

The door opens wide, and something tumbles out of it with a pained noise, right in the middle of their stand-off. A misshapen lump of ragged fabric and scuffed shoes and dirty hair sprawled on the floor, and it now fills up Gerry’s line of sight as his mind as Jon groans.

‘Oh not you,’’” echoes not only in Jon’s but in Beholding’s voice as Gerry’s knuckles and throat heats up and all eyes, it seems, turn to the thing on the floor.

A filthy and familiarold man groans in answer.

Notes:

I hope you enjoyed yourself !

Any idea on the identity of this new figure ? I hope so !

If you feel up to it, dont hesitate to comment, they fuel me and keep me from thinking Im screaming into a void constitued of myself and my dearest betareader ! See you on the 31st

Chapter 24: 24. Childhood Monsters

Summary:

The lump on the ground groans again, a familiar face appearing from a rumpled bit of an old trench coat. He is just as dirty and dusty and unkempt as he has been on their first-last-inexistent meeting, his face just a little more bruised from what Jon can see - perhaps Michael and Its hallways’ overzealous hospitality.

Gerry leans forwards as the being on the floor struggles through his own ragged clothing, coat caught under his knees. Jon can see - even with Gerry standing behind his back - that his friend’s whole attention is focused on the old man. His blue eyes are wide open and his mouth is set in a thin line, his jaw as firmly squared as his shoulders - and Jon can almost see the cogs turning underneath his braided hair as his brain quickly sifts through memories and names to place that particular, familiar old man.

Notes:

Hello and good morning/afternoon/night everyone, and welcome to what is one of my favourite chapters of the bunch. As always, all my thanks to GrimNiknil for betaing and helping with this chapter !

Heads up for some physical violence such as punching and others in this chapter, and for what I would tentatively dub the "beginning of the end" of the first arc of this story. I am currently writing chapter 27th and the word count had gone over 65k, but my exams and applications are coming up, which do take priority over writing. I will try to maintain my rhythm, and therefore offer you ! A poll !!!

As always, my chapters are each written from a single point of view. And they are between 2000 and 3000 words, usually. This current one is 3500 words, which is already quite the added word count, but ! Next chapter is almost 6000 words long.
My question is : would you like it whole or for me to post it in two over my usual schedule, on 04/15 and 05/01 ? Dont hesitate to comment to answer !

All that said, please enjoy this new chapter

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“What the f*ck.”

The Distortion - Michael, it seems, christened again beyond time and space and a meeting in a coffee shop - is smiling too wide. Its lips have curled three times over on the right side of Its face, and said smile seems to only grow more elongated with Gerry’s calm swear echoing in the room. It is very much enjoying Itself, and somehow Jon can find comfort in that small piece of Knowledge because he could always tell when Michael was enjoying Itself.

(It had not been the case of Helen - always so, so full of misdirections and twisted truths he could only hear honey and vinegar dripping when It spoke - but then again Jon had never really… appreciated Helen at all, even with the gratitude and help back before the Change. She’d always rubbed him the wrong way, even more so than the Distortion’s existence as something close to an antithesis of the Eye had.)

( He’d thought, for a long time, that this feeling had just been his guilt, for once pinpointing on one single person instead of basically everyone. And maybe it had been a bit of that, even in the end. )

The lump on the ground groans again, a familiar face appearing from a rumpled bit of an old trench coat. He is just as dirty and dusty and unkempt as he has been on their first-last-inexistent meeting, his face just a little more bruised from what Jon can see - perhaps Michael and Its hallways’ overzealous hospitality.

Gerry leans forwards as the being on the floor struggles through his own ragged clothing, coat caught under his knees. Jon can see - even with Gerry standing behind his back - that his friend’s whole attention is focused on the old man. His blue eyes are wide open and his mouth is set in a thin line, his jaw as firmly squared as his shoulders - and Jon can almost see the cogs turning underneath his braided hair as his brain quickly sifts through memories and names to place that particular, familiar old man.

(An old man he almost beat to death, and Jon cannot believe he forgot to tell him that, be it back in that basem*nt or in the week that has gone by.)

( He truly is a terrible friend. )

Gerry seems to still think about the man's identity - and it is not as if he had put his picture alongside his name in those goddamn books. Jon, as he closes his eyes with a weary sigh, very much does not need to even think to know who it is.

“It’s Leitner, Gerry.”

The old man on the floor groans again, as he slowly pushes himself back to his feet and away from the Distortion. He staggers to his feet, finally, and turns towards Jon with a question on his lips, he Knows.

He never quite gets a syllable out before Gerry’s fist slams into his jaw and he falls to the floor again.

The sound is utterly gratifying .

Jon, after Leitner’s demise in his own past, and the unquantifiable horror, the enormous guilt and the shameful satisfaction he felt then, adding to the fear and anger and resentment that had stewed in his heart for two decades - feelings he could still find in himself to this day, because apparently trauma was not lessened by more trauma piled up on it - had somewhat come to terms with the man’s overall guilt and unluckiness in regards to his library, back when he was on the run.

That did not mean he couldn’t still appreciate a few more - non-life-threatening - bruises afflicted to the man that was, in many ways, responsible for a million deaths at least, as Gerry stalked forward with something of a growl rumbling from his throat, teeth bared and eyes full of fire.

(Not like Jon could really talk about victim numbers, though, without being the worst hypocrite to ever exist.)

( He, contrary to Leitner, has killed the entire world once .)

Gerry is towering over Leitner, despite the old man being slightly taller than him - especially since Gerry’s boots are still neatly folded by the bedside besides Jon’s own work shoes - and his fists are clenched tight, one dripping with small drops of blood.

The height difference does not mean a thing when Leitner is hunched over, half sprawled over the bed with a bloody nose and mouth and all the fear in the world apparent on his face. His frame is solid, shoulders square and torso larger than two of Jon’s - and never shall he admit that comparison out loud - and yet he cowers and tries to hide, trying to perhaps make himself seem physically nonthreatening.

It doesn’t work, of course. Leitner was never a physical threat to anyone. Gerry still very much wants to strangle him with his bare hands - as he has just muttered under his breath for the third time.

“f*cking- Jurgen Leitner, how did I miss this- Over it, my arse, I’m going to bury you with my very own two hands and those tattoos are gonna watch I can assure you-”

Now, Jon does not necessarily want Gerry to become a murderer but he’s not really about to criticize the desire either. He is not a complete hypocrite, and he has killed the NotSasha, Jude Perry, Helen and many more in what he could only equate to revenge. He just thinks it might not be the greatest idea in the world right now.

Being accused of murder once - both from Gerry’s and Jon’s own experiences - had not brought either of them much luck, and despite the guilty catharsis that had lifted Jon’s spirits when Leitner had died, and with him perhaps the monster that had haunted Jon’s nightmares besides Mr Spider for two decades with him, he truly did not think that it was worth more blood on either of their hands and especially not Gerry’s.

(Leitner’s was already on Jon’s own from his unravelled life, like the blood of friends and foes and an entire world worth of carmine staining his palms.)

That’s why he only lets Gerry punch Leitner a dozen times more before he gently reaches forward and tugs on his sleeve with a gentle hum.

To his credit, his friend has not fallen so deep into a blind rage that he doesn't notice his touch, hear his voice or react to them violently, instead only turning back towards Jon while his other hand holds the collar of Leitner’s shirt just a little too tight around the man’s bruised throat. His fists are bruised and bloody, his expression is as tightly wound up as his shoulders still, and in his eyes, anger-fear-hate burns bright.

But he looks at Jon. He does not look back towards the Distortion, only acknowledging Its presence with a quick look towards the curling shadows on the floor. He looks back towards Jon, and hesitates.

He lets go of Leitner’s collar - reluctantly enough that Jon almost wants to giggle manically because this is exactly the kind of face the Admiral would make when deprived of his favourite toys, from brand-new slippers to shining cutlery to dead mice - and steps away with one single long exhale.

"Alright. Alright. Alright."

They both hear Leitner groan, the noise much more pained than it had been earlier, and it is quickly accompanied by some kind of wet gurgle - perhaps caused by the nose Gerry broke or the potential bitten tongue that leaves the man spitting out blood as he hunches over the feet of the bed and coughs out weakly. He’s bruised and beaten and bleeding, and clearly utterly confused.

Perhaps he got a bit of brain damage out of this second beating ? It’s not actually something Jon would wish on most people - and he knows exactly who and what he would wish it on nowadays, he is not a good person - but even a bit of a concussion might make the man silent long enough for him to deal with the grinning Distortion still watching them from Its Threshold.

Leitner’s eyes, as if in immediate defiance of Jon’s thought process, seem to focus back just a little on the present and they land right on Jon even as he is now half-hidden behind Gerry’s broader silhouette.

“You-You’re the Archivist. The- Gertrude’s replacement.”

His voice is raspy - much raspier than it had been then, in the tunnels, as he’d trapped the NotThem and proceeded to talk and talk and talk more than even Jon did on a daily basis - and Jon does not truly need to Know to suppose that fire smoke can cause that kind of wheezing, hoarse noise in one’s voice.

Beholding provides the confirmation anyways, with a somewhat appreciated vision of Leitner crouching low to the floor as smoke fills his environment, and it is in the exact moment that image fades out of Jon’s retina that the obvious truth jumps in his face like a cheap jumpscare.

Leitner was caught in the fire, or at the very least a large cloud of dense smoke born from it.

The fire never reached the tunnels, because it never got through the Archives themselves to the Archivist’s office.

Leitner, Beholding whispers, did not open his own entrance to the Institute.

No, no, no, instead Leitner climbed out of the entrance in the office, strolled through the Archives as the Institute’s lobby began to burn, and…

“Mister- Mister Sims, is it ? I- we need to talk-”

Jon does not quite hear the rest.

It might be because it is not quite spoken either.

Jon has thought he’d gotten over it, really. Over Leitner and his role in the trauma that had swallowed up his childhood whole and never spit it back out - both figuratively and physically in the form of his bully - over Leitner showing up long after Sasha had died and yet spouting some bullsh*t moral about Jon’s responsibility, over Leitner letting himself be brutally murdered with a pipe without even an attempt to run and making it worse for all of them-

(And Jon might still feel guilty for his death, but he can acknowledge, after listening to the tape through Beholding, that Leitner could have at the very least tried to fight back. Elias might have been one of the most powerful Avatars at the time, but he was still a 5'8" office man with one metal pipe - against Leitner with at least one cursed book in hand and almost 8 whole inches on his attacker.)

( He could have tried but he did not even get up from his f*cking chair. )

Jon really, really thought he had been somewhat over it. Or at the very least over his childhood trauma and Leitner's infuriating air of knowing superiority - which had mirrored Elias's expression far more closely than anyone should have been comfortable with - if not his death and Jon's consequent month on the run. Gerry had so much more to hold over the man anyway, so much more pain and loneliness and death to hand over Leitner’s head. Jon’s pain was nothing next to that, and it had been so easy to dismiss his own when he had met the ghostly version of his friend then. He’d thought he’d been over it by then.

He'd really, really, really believed he was, he is over Leitner's… over Leitner's everything.

As it turns out, he is not.

Because the next punch that bruises Leitner’s face does not come from Gerry. It comes from one heavily burnt small hand, the force behind the hit far stronger than his lithe, almost skeletal figure should have been able to produce. It comes from one small man almost stumbling forward as the punch connects, his teeth bared and his eyes an impenetrable lake of silver, sharp irises taking over the sclera and pupil completely.

It comes from Jon, and is followed by one single push, sending a staggering Leitner to hit his back against the edge of the Distortion's door hard.

Jon does not like violence, no matter how much he has dished out and been a victim of - especially by the end of his whole ordeal as an Avatar and the Archivist and the Archive. He sees its necessity at the end of the world, in fights against those few that do not care for negotiation nor life, in those moments where he perhaps needed to be put back in his place.

(Beholding makes a sharp, whistling noise in his ears as this last idea crosses his mind, one quite similar to his old alarm clock - the very same one he’d kept from childhood to his last days in his own flat - and it breathes disapproval as it pulls him away from the thought. Its sharp ring used to be the only thing able to wake him from the deepest nightmares - those same ones that could keep him trapped in their dark embrace even when he was usually quite the light sleeper - and it seems to do the same for an unapproved thought process here.)

( Afterwards, Martin’s voice had managed to pull him out of his natural nightmares with just one soft noise. It seemed even Beholding wouldn’t stoop so low, so soon, as to use his voice for Its own purposes. )

Because Leitner, stupid arrogant Jurgen f*cking Leitner, collected evil as a prized collection with only the excuse of protecting others. Because weak ignorant Jurgen f*cking Leitner had a plan so full and foolproof, a library so well protected, he'd been attacked once and all of that collected evil had been unleashed into the world. Because scared guilty Jurgen f*cking Leitner, now rightfully despised for his actions, hid away from anyone, from anything, from the consequences of his own mistakes.

Because Jurgen f*cking Leitner hid in his tunnels while Eric Delano blinded himself and Fiona was led on web strings and Emma manipulated her little world and Michael unwillingly Became and Gertrude was outright murdered in her own office and Jane Prentiss roamed around with her worms and Sasha was killed and replaced and there was a monster among them for months and Tim and Martin were lost in the tunnels and Jon knew nothing at all.

Because Jurgen f*cking Leitner, after all of the precautions they had taken to try and protect the Archives best as they could, had climbed out of the tunnel’s entrance in the office, had strolled through the place and had pulled out a f*cking book of his to guide the fire in.

Jon does not punch the man again, and he truly does not like nor condone useless violence, but by Beholding does he really want to .

Jurgen f*cking Leitner.

Gerry snorts behind him, and Jon feels his hand throb as the sound breaks off his singular focus - as much as Beholding Incarnate’s focus can be singular, even on the tight leash he has been keeping his own Sight - and sound reaches his ears again clearly. The hospital is still completely silent, no one shuffling outside the door despite the amount of noise they must have been making in their one-sided brawls, and in the room itself, they can only hear their own breath, Leitner’s ragged moans of pain, and the soft tap of Jon's own foot hitting the floor in a nervous tic.

Overall, the room is as calm as it can get with the bane of both of their childhoods wheezing against the frame of a hospital bed, reeling from the turns they took beating him up at least a little. Not much to ramble about really, he’s lucky to only have a busted nose.

(Didn’t end as well for him the last time he met Jon, ah !)

( Jurgen f*cking Leitner. Jonah f*cking Mangus. )

Calm reigns for perhaps a dozen seconds, and Jon almost, almost finds himself blissfully believing it would go on for a little while longer. Maybe for once, he’ll get a full minute of rest that didn’t just include him passing out in the hands of whatever next monsters who wanted a bite or a scream or a bone out of him. Maybe, for once, he’ll get one single entire minute of blessed calm.

Yeah, right.

He almost wants to laugh as the thought crosses his mind because it echoes in just the sarcastic tone and drawling rhythm Martin would have taken and spoken. Optimism had never been their strongest suit past Michael’s and Prentiss’s first appearances - Jon even less so than Martin who had been the cheeriest of their unlikely duo even in the end - and that kind of exclamations had been his go-to when things crumbled around them.

Especially when one of them would hope for something as simple and as unattainable as calm .

"Oh my, Archivist, you are a delight~ ."

Yeah, right, indeed.

The Distortion - Michael - garners all attention at once, as It always does. It is still standing on the threshold of Its Door long knife-like fingers wrapped around the sharp edge of Its oncebrightwoodnowundefined material, and Its smile is curving and curling and spiralling around as his lips thin out outward in something that strangely reminds Jon of the old Grinch cartoon of old things - a connection he’d never made before, and yet the image stands out sharply in his mind for some unknown reason.

(Has he even seen that movie in his life ? Or is it just Beholding bleeding through with cartoon character trivia in the small moments, in those few moments It does not spend sharply staring at the Distortion and all the little details that make It oh so different from the one they watched unwind and unbind and untwist together in a future-never-come ?)

Its eyes, a little off to the right from where they would sit on a typical human face, are of the sharpest shade of amethyst - the angles reflected by the light as cutting as a rough piece of crystal - even as they are slowly meting over Its uneven cheekbones. There is more than simple curiosity here - the same indifferent curiosity It had feigned back when It had met and befriended Sasha - more than mere interest.

In those eyes, all Jon can see is a gnawing hunger for Knowledge - something oh so close to the Eye he almost expects the Hallways’s door to close on him for such infidelity - and perhaps there was more to Michael’s unwilling victory over the Great Twisting than reaching the centre of an inexistent maze of madness.

Perhaps amongst the pain, the anger, the betrayal that had anchored Micheal in the Distortion in a way even Helen had not managed, there had been something else holding him together long enough that he Became It instead of just disappearing among the fractals as another victim of the Spiral.

(Jon had theorized about Michael, Helen, the Distortion, for so many years in between kidnappings and comas and mundane-to-apocalyptic threats. About the locked door, Helen’s death and Becoming, Michael’s fate past and future. About Becoming and losing Oneself and yet somewhat, somehow, in some ways Staying.)

( Michael had been afraid and angry and betrayed. Jon… Jon had been scared and lost and already grieving. What did that mean, for the things they Became ? )

If not for Gerry and his quick, well-placed elbow jab against Jon’s arm, he would perhaps have kept on thinking about all of it for hours on end. It was always so easy to ignore everything when the Eye would take over his Sight and simply leave him to his endless musing

But alas, there is a conversation to be had and perhaps a stabbing to successfully avoid.

He might not be killable - and isn’t that a nice little information to pass along just now, oh omniscient omnipotent sweet Beholding - but he does not quite fancy a new set of fractal scars to add to those across his shoulder and side, thank you very much.

Michael - as Michael, and not what the Distortion had become once everything that had been Michael Shelley had been torn out of it - Michael… Michael is something, someone, that is as close as anyone, anything could really be to Jon. Because Oliver had become progressively, because Mike Crew had made his choice, because Daisy had been Daisy for so long, because Helen had accepted the change, because Martin had let himself fade away…

Only Michael had been tricked into the pains of Becoming.

"Archivist, are you lost in your thoughts ? That would be quite hilarious~"

So. He looks up. Closes his Eyes, as something of a peace offering.

And holds out a small, scarred hand, towards the embodiment of Madness.

"I'm- Hello, Distortion. I'm the Archive, actually."

And for some reason, out of anything Jon has ever told the Distortion in either iteration, out of his screams and demands and questions and cries and pleas, that sentence is what stops It in Its tracks.

That makes It blink and look down towards Jon.

And that makes It smile .

Notes:

Hope you liked this chapter, dont hesitate to leave a comment, they fuel me in a time of great stress. And dont hesitate to answer the poll !

See you on the 15th either way !

Chapter 25: 25 (1). Eventful Appointments

Summary:

Tim had stood there, eyes fixated on Martin without even the slightest hint of a blink. While Sasha, from the kitchen, fiddled with breakfast - a whisk in one hand, her phone in the other as she appears to be writing or texting - the man had stood, grabbed Martin’s coat, and held it out in front of him open and ready to be slipped on. His eyes had refused to leave Martin’s face, steel in their glint if not in the color, and his arms crossed like some kind of bouncer in front of a club. And the older man had stared and stared and stared in complete silence.

He had stared until Martin had caved.

Notes:

Hello hello, bit late on this chapter day - Ive been applying for higher degree courses and drowning in classes and exams at the same time, which has very much helped me forget about chapter day until a few hours ago.

As told last chapter, there was a majority of people okay with a split chapter, which is what I decided to do in the end. Chapter 25 (2) will be online on the 1st of May as per schedule, and onward to 26 and such after it.

As always, all my thanks to GrimNiknil for beta-ing this chapter in its entirety and helping me smooth down the cut between parts, and for helping me work out the title ! It's been a real struggle and took us quite a bit of time !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

He hadn’t really meant to go to A&E for the wound the Distortion - Michael - had left across his hand.

What use would emergency care be for a set of cuts that had already healed and scarred over ?

It was ridiculous, really.

(He can almost hear Jon pronounce those very words in his head as they cross his mind.)

( ‘Ridiculous.’ )

But Tim had gotten up this morning - had gotten up from the floor where they had all somehow fallen asleep huddled backs to backs after the Distortion had left, in a pile of limbs and blankets and makeshift weapons - and had obviously not taken a shine to Martin getting ready for anything but a visit to the hospital.

He had asked him to go, once, twice, and upon his categorical refusal to bother any professional for a wound that was healed , had gotten up from the couch he’d heaved himself upon when he’d woken up, and walked towards his flat door.

Tim had stood there, eyes fixated on Martin without even the slightest hint of a blink. While Sasha, from the kitchen, fiddled with breakfast - a whisk in one hand, her phone in the other as she appears to be writing or texting - the man had stood, grabbed Martin’s coat, and held it out in front of him open and ready to be slipped on. His eyes had refused to leave Martin’s face, steel in their glint if not in the color, and when that hadnt worked, he'd folded the coat over his bare forearm and had stood there, his arms now crossed like some kind of bouncer in front of a club. And the older man had stared and stared and stared in complete silence.

He had stared until Martin had caved.

To be fair, the arguments he had been given before and after this staring contest were convincing, and Tim had made a point to repeat some of them as he opened the door for him and handed him his coat. In the same movement, he had grabbed his phone and unlocked it in three thumb swipes across the screen, eyes still locked on Martin’s face until he actually grabbed said coat.

“We are not professionals, who knows how much we messed up that bandage or if you have some kind of fracture we couldn’t feel - I broke my ankle that one time in middle school and kept on walking around for two weeks thinking it was a simple sprain, you know ?”

And he shifted to the right, the coat now firmly clenched in Martin’s unharmed hand, and lifted his messenger bag with two fingers up to Martin’s much higher chest until he caught it too. A second later, he’d been speed-dialling one of his old high-school buddies who apparently worked in the very hospital Jon had been driven to just the day before, and waited through the dial tones as he kept on talking. All of that, just to register an appointment for Martin’s healed hand .

It’s ridiculous.

(He remembers, though, making those same kinds of calls for friends and classmates and coworkers and clients and his mother. Calls to the nearest clinic or hospital, taking appointments for check-ups or medicine refills or any kind of interaction with medical professionals when they could not, or would not, do it themselves. It did not bring him many friends.)

( It’s… nice to be on the receiving end of it, even if the circ*mstances make it all a bit annoying And he isn’t intent on pushing Tim away because of it .)

The man is still prattling on as he pushes Martin towards the now open door - courtesy of Sasha who jokingly bows on the other side of the threshold where Georgie, for some reason, is standing with a smirk on her face - and tucks his phone between ear and shoulder as he pulls out a double of his keys and shoves them into Martin’s hands. His friend has not quite picked up, and he uses the moment of respite in between rings to twist the knife further with a few wiggles of his fingers.

“And, you know, a scar does not always mean a healthy recovery. Who knows where that- that thing put those finger-knives before It came here ? We don’t want you to fall for some kind of supernatural infection, Martin- Oh hey Kofi, got you a patient !”

And then, as he chatted with his old school buddy and landed Martin a check-up just thirty minutes later, that very same Tim had had the gall to smile , a smarmy smug little grin that had earned him a glare just as Martin stumbled over the threshold and almost landed on Georgie. He had the gall to chuckle, as he shares a thumbs up with Sasha and keeps on grinning through small talk with his old friend, waving Georgie and Martin away onto their “medic date, chop chop !”. He had the gall to wave, in that weird hand movement the Queen uses with his palm rotating in an unnatural, unpracticed roll of the joint, as they step away into the corridor.

Tim is handsome, roguishly so, and he knows it. Knows exactly what he’s using it for too, as he pushes Martin around to do his evil bidding with never a protest because Martin, like the utter disaster he is, is too busy fumbling around blushing cheeks and warbled words and fluttering hands. He’s always had a weakness in the very form of pretty people, and it’s exacerbated tenfold when said people are also nice ones. Which Tim - and Sasha and Georgie and even Gerard Keay - all very much happen to be in their own little and big ways.

(He doesn’t count Jon. Jon is not nice, Jon is a f*cking miracle .)

But that’s not the worst thing Tim has done this morning, Martin muses as Georgie drives him to the hospital - they decided on the buddy system after the Distortion’s intrusion, or he would have insisted on taking the Tube - far from it.

Because Tim had the gall to let his smug smile melt into a smaller one just as Martin rounds the corner of the corridor, and he can only watch a fleeting sight of the small curve of Tim’s lips, a natural arc of the mouth full of fondness and mirth and perhaps a hint of worry. The expression is almost vulnerable in its openness, while he must think himself unseen, like a secret revealed under the cover of the night sky to those few worthy ones.

It was so far off from the usual Tim - the present Tim, not the one from those visions who had seemed to swing between unhinged anger and cruel sarcasm like a crazed metronome with no rhythm, but the one he has come to know over the last week - in his casual flirtiness, boisterous laughs and overall confidence, that it had caught Martin off guard.

(He did not dwell on it too long, instead speeding up to catch up to Georgie as she was already reaching the staircase. He does not, even for a second, allow himself to.)

( He is not sure his heart could have taken it. )

Afterwards, he’d followed Georgie down the stairs, the silence between them never awkward and always companionable as he had noticed in the last few days, and climbed into her car with no protest to be allowed. She is far too intimidating for him to try and weasel out of her clutches - and the buddy system was, is the only way they currently have to at least attempt to protect each other and themselves from the Distortion and Its friends - and so he follows happily enough.

He would not let her alone anyway, knowing - or not knowing - what might come to them and thoroughly prove Jon’s tales by their sole existence. And he did plan to visit Jon with her later in the day anyway so…

In the hospital’s waiting room he lands - after a short drive listening to some new podcast he knew nothing about and Georgie firmly leading him inside of the building and into said waiting room when they’d gotten there - sitting by her side through the whole interlude of life with her bag against his leg as if she's afraid he'd bolt upstairs as soon as he left her radar.

(He had wanted to say it was an unnecessary precaution because he does know how to take care of himself and how to actually follow through with the concept. But while he would deny it to anyone around, stranger or not, he can admit to himself that he would have probably skipped his appointment and ran to Jon’s room upon arriving with only a small amount of guilt towards Tim’s friend.)

( Well. Well maybe he is a bit of a disaster, but his hand is healed so this whole appointment is unnecessary anyway ! )

Luckily enough, the whole check-up goes by in what seems like ten seconds. As he had repeated again and again to Tim, there was little to be done about a scar that already looks days old, nothing in his hand or wrist hurt, there was nothing there to even truly show to Doctor Braum. They’d prescribed him some kind of medicine to reduce scarring, and that had been quite kind of them - especially after they had kind of wasted their time with this last-minute appointment in what was surely already quite a busy schedule - even though something told Martin there was little medicine could do against a wound - or a scar - left by the embodiment of Madness and Lies and Delusion.

Martin still folds the slip carefully as Georgie relents control of their day and follows him upstairs, already rummaging through her bag for something as she wonders aloud about the Admiral and his "sleepover with father dearest". Stuffing it into his small notebook, he looks back in front of him as they approach Jon’s hospital room, the door closed and the blinds shut.

The hallways are empty around them as they walk, and soon enough, Martin feels himself looking over his and Georgie's shoulders with each new door they leave behind them.

It might be cliché of him to say, but Martin feels deep down in his bones that this whole moment is actually too calm for the décor of a bustling London hospital at around 10 a.m., when staff, patients and visitors alike should be bustling around

Around them, as they keep on walking, the silence is absolute. The neons are alight, drenching the space in their cold artificial white light, and yet they are not audibly buzzing as he remembers from just yesterday. Martin thinks he sees the shadow of some staff member turn around a corner just a few meters in front of them, but he hears no footsteps on the linoleum floor, no rustle of fabric, no breath.

Everything is still.

Everything is calm.

Everything is silent.

Yet nothing of the space around them could be called serene .

(He shivers, once, and is almost sure he is hallucinating when he sees the hint of a cloud of his own breath following his next exhale.)

( Georgie hums behind him, and there are no clouds on the next breath he takes and lets go of. )

When they finally reach Jon’s room, it is clearly not soon enough. They almost scramble through the threshold as one, Georgie’s face devoid of any discomfort and yet her shoulders squared just a little higher than her usual posture would allow for as she twists and quite literally ducks under his arm to get through. He’s himself in quite the precarious equilibrium, as his foot stomps down into the room while his arm reaches to close the door behind them when he himself is not even quite inside yet.

They do not quite fall over when they finally cross into the room, but it is a close call.

Martin himself feels a bit… childish, maybe, to actually be fleeing a simple empty corridor when he now knows of the very many and very real horrors that plague the world, but he cannot help but let out a breath of relief as the door clicks and the handle comes back up under his unharmed hand.

The soft noise of confusion that escapes Georgie besides him is certainly not meant for him.

It seems far more likely that it is meant for the old beaten up man in just a shirt and trousers tied up with torn bands of fabric on a plastic chair in the corner of the room, cowering under the ready vigilance of one furious, disgusted and bloody Gerard Keay. Martin can see the man’s fists from the corner of his vision, and while there is no blood on them as he somewhat expected, his knuckles are far too swollen for the morning cold to be the only culprit.

Jon looks up as they enter, and waves towards them weakly in a parody of a welcome. He is sitting cross-legged over the covers of a now sheetless bed, and he just looks utterly exhausted. Even the simple act of waving seems like it takes all of his focus and energy, and his arm falls limply across his thigh by the hand of the movement.

His other hand, resting on his lap with the other, is swollen and bruised as well.

“H-hello.”

His voice still holds some of the raspy quality it has held ever since they met in the Library, and Martin thinks the clear exhaustion visible in the smaller man’s every cell certainly isn’t quite helping his throat get rid of the painful sounding undertone. The frankly irritating comeback of the deep bags under his eyes - after a week that had slowly chipped away at them through sleepovers and cuddling with Keay - are just confirmation of it.

Jon really, really, really needs to sleep more.

(He needs to be out of the hospital and back in one of their beds under a mountain of blankets, right now.)

( And perhaps for his life to stop being the favourite playing ground of the horror and the wild too. )

As always, Georgie is the only one of them that easily puts into words what everyone is feeling when they are all left speechless by the absolute chaos that Jon has brought back from his own past into their present lives.

“What the f*ck, Jon ?”

Notes:

I hope you guys liked it ! It's not quite different from any other chapter end, the only difference here is that the next chapter will follow up on Martin's point of view instead of switching - if all goes according to plan, which it might not !!

Anyway, hope to see you on the 1st and in the comments

Chapter 26: 25 (2). Eventful Discharge

Summary:

He’s not quite quick enough, though. Jon, much like a cat on the prowl would, has caught on to the movement of his arm and his head turns slowly towards Martin and his eyes catch onto the bandage. His pupils narrow, pinpricks of darkness in the pools of silver of his irises, and a second later he has gotten up from his perch on the bed and strode across the room to grab onto Martin’s wrist gently, examining the bandage and its every detail.

“Martin, what happened to your hand ?”

Notes:

Chapter day is today - sorry for the slight delay in posting, I've been a bit exhausted in the latest weeks, and I'm worrying over chapter 27 as well haha.
I hope you'll enjoy this second part !

Thank you to GrimNiknil who helped me review this chapter and divide it in a tasteful way 💚

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“What the f*ck”, Martin echoes after what feels like days, but has realistically only been a second or two.

Georgie’s standing as close to Martin as possible, inching closer to him as her eyes stick to the beaten man and only once shift to her sweet, sweet little Admiral, as he seems to be happily napping in a nest of unused torn sheets. Not far from the ball of fur, Martin can see a dark puddle of what he can only assume is dry blood, which while it might not be such a disquieting sight in a hospital, surely is in this particular situation with a tied up man on the other side of the goddamn room.

Gerard Keay has the gall to look the tiniest bit like a child caught with his hands in the cookie jar - or perhaps with said hands around the cookie jar's throat - and Martin can almost picture the exact moment Tim had cracked a week ago and he had tried to punch the book hunter, because he can feel the same desire rise up in himself. It’s not quite that he is angry at Keay, far from it, but maybe the guy should try and be more understanding of his audience, sometimes. They, oh the poor ignorant simpletons that Tim, Sasha, Georgie and him appear to be, did not actually grow up in the midst of the supernatural and the horrifying and the tying-up-a-random-old-man-in-a-hospital-room-is-just-Tuesday kind of life like he did, thank you very much.

“A-ah, yes, umh, this- umh. Yes. Georgie, Martin, this man is Jurgen Leitner.”

Martin almost does a double-take there. Jon’s voice, from the moment they have met, has been nothing but whispers and quietness and gentle tones - the only exceptions being the few echoes of him they had heard throughout his statement, between screams and sarcasms and pleas, and even in those Jon’s actual voice was only heard a few times in between the cacophony of so many others - and those two little sentences begin the same way, as expected.

But from the first syllable of the man’s name, Martin knows that there is something more there. Because he can almost see the venom trickling out of Jon’s voice as he says the name, and he can most certainly see the minute twitch of his bruised hand, the curl of his fingers into the loose version of a clenched fist.

And he thinks he can recall, in that jumble of the past that had poured out of Jon’s lips just a week ago - the content of which Martin knows he has barely begun to process, let alone analyze for all of its details - something of a checkered past between Jon and the Leitners, between Keay and the Leitners, and between Jon and the man behind the books himself. Which, to be fair, was probably an experience shared with many a survivor of the supernatural out there, and of its deceased victims even more so.

He himself wasn’t too fond of the guy, from the gossip running around the Library and his brushes with a few of their Leitners alone. Lord knew the other Librarians avoided the Fourteenth because of those tomes in particular, and he’d only accepted the assignment because he really needed to not lose his goddamn job, and because he’d only been mildly inconvenienced by his encounters with the books, back during his first month.

(He’d almost eaten his neighbour when they’d gotten home drunk from a rave and he himself had been high on some kind of “Becoming a Werewolf for your Next Halloween Party in Three Steps” book he’d had the rotten luck of picking up on his second day. A cat from the upper floor had scratched his ankle, and apparently the version of Werewolves mentioned in that book wasn’t so starving for blood and flesh that they would debase themselves into eating the blessing that was cats, giving his neighbour the time to stagger to their flat, none the wiser.)

(Mactar had laughed in his face and had given him a week off back then. Nice guy. Terrifying but nice guy. And anyway, even that low moment in his new career had been much nicer than all of his retail experience.)

Martin has crossed paths with quite a few employees that would happily burn Leitner at the stake if they got their hands on him, over the half-decade he has spent in the Institute's Library - and those employees were not allowed anywhere near the Fourteenth or Artifact Storage for a reason. He has heard more than his fair share of stories, and that much more insults and curses and something close to bloodline spells which had been screeched towards the elusive man who had had the brilliant idea to associate his name with them in that time. In a way, he has come to agree with most of those, without quite wishing for the man’s death as his colleagues were.

Yet Jon’s anger, disgust and absolute hate towards the man seem to top all of those employees and their curses combined, even if he is clearly trying to compose himself after his minute outburst, and Martin thinks he might revise his opinion.

Then again, Keay seems to have it all in hand already, if his bruised fists, the blood Martin just noticed on the collar of his shirt, and the absolute murderous rage in his eyes are anything to go by. Georgie seems to agree with his unspoken thoughts as she raises an eyebrow and reminds the man aloud of the very real penalty for manslaughter, to which Keay answers that he has never seen a deadman arrested and tried for his good deed to humanity.

Oh, well. Good for him, as long as he doesn’t get the whole of them implicated in his service to the dead and living.

(How and when and why has this become Martin’s life again ?)

(Jon, of course.)

With a sigh, he brings up a hand to itch his glasses just a little higher and rub along the bridge of his nose. He only notices he’s using his bandaged hand when he feels the rough edge of the bandage brush against the tip of his nose, and lets his hand flip back down with a sigh, ready to slip it back into his hoodie pocket.

He’s not quite quick enough, though. Jon, much like a cat on the prowl would, has caught on to the movement of his arm and his head turns slowly towards Martin and his eyes catch onto the bandage. His pupils narrow, pinpricks of darkness in the pools of silver of his irises, and a second later he has gotten up from his perch on the bed and strode across the room to grab onto Martin’s wrist gently, examining the bandage and its every detail.

“Martin, what happened to your hand ?”

Well, it’s not that Martin had not expected some concern out of Jon - especially not with what they now knew of his unravelled past and overall story and confusing relationship with those other versions of themselves - but he hadn’t expected quite this much energy out of him, so soon after his very real brush with possible death just the day before. Nevertheless, Jon seems to care very little about Martin’s expectations of him, as he keeps on looking at the bandage wrapping around his wrist, palm, and first knuckles.

He blinks - and Martin has not seen the man blink all that much outside of his few breakdowns over the weeks and their subsequent many tears - exactly once, and when he opens his eyes again, the pupils of it that had already been reduced to pinpricks are suddenly nowhere to be seen.

There is, for less than a second, a sort of pressure in the room. Martin feels as though there are perhaps a dozen people right outside the door, their gaze on and through the wood panel and right onto him. It is a feeling of being watched, seen, known for all he is and is not, and yet he does not feel as utterly mortified as he usually feels in any public setting where any eye falls on him. It is pressure, it is weight over his shoulders, and yet while it might certainly not equate to a weighted blanket or the likes in terms of comfort, it stays in an in-between of too much and just enough, of comfort and discomfort, of seen without thought and searched for injury.

And in that small lull in time, Martin thinks he can hear a thousand whispers fleeting near his ear, the sound dying away as quickly as it came into existence, and the world as clinical as they are angry.

‘Spiral-touched.’

It is that last thought that accompanies the pressure blinking out of existence, and Martin feels his breath ease as his eyes focus down on Jon again. Jon who is now staring at his bandaged hand with a twist of anguish, anger and guilt painted all over his face.

“The Distortion hurt you.”

The room seems to fall silent then - the only noise before a hushed argument between Georgie and Keay about the pros and cons of murder, the pros and cons of basically being dead to the world, and the inexistent pros and many cons of keeping Jurgen Leitner alive as said man squirmed between them - and every gaze turns towards Martin and Jon in a much more natural, yet much more unnerving focus than the precedent pressure he felt.

Georgie steps back from Leitner, and bends down to pick up the Admiral as said beast stretches out his whole body in the way only cats are able to - that is to say, against every single law of physics and anatomy. She comes forward towards the bed, and sits on the edge closest to the foot of it, looking up towards Martin pointedly and tapping the empty spot on the mattress beside her with a free hand.

Now Martin would not go so far as to pretend he is fluent in Georgie’s various silent cues, but he can recognize the now universal “step forward and make Jon sit down” sign that has been exchanged many times between Institute employees, podcasters and deadmen over the last week. It’s as easy as the movement itself, as he takes a slow step forward and Jon, eyes still glued to his hand, simply follows the cue and steps back in rhythm until he hits the edge of the mattress and sits down. Martin wants to twist and sit beside the smaller man, but there is no letting go for Jon yet and he has only a few seconds to think of it before Keay moves, roughly grabbing two chairs and propping one right behind Martin before he sits himself down in between the bed and Leitner, his glare still firmly held on the latter.

They all find their places again, and Martin looks back up towards Jon as the man’s bruised hand shifts and hovers a few centimetres over the bandage, his expression still pained. Jon doesn’t dare touch him, Martin knows, and somehow that pushes him to do an arguably stupid thing and pull on the seam of the bandage himself, letting it unravel easily.

Underneath, the fractal scars seem years old, pale streaks over his freckled skin.

(They’d been this way minutes after contact with the being, and perhaps that had been - even more so than the distorted limbs and terrifying voice - what had assured Martin that Michael was not human.)

(The scars had looked as old as the scrapes on his knees from his childhood while his blood was not even dry on Tim’s floor.)

Jon’s eyes zero down on the marks -his gaze even sharper than before when Martin had not thought it possible - and he feels the need to intervene, if only to see the deep creases on his brow ease slightly at the very least.

“Honestly I think it was most likely an accident ? The guy didn’t really mean to hurt me, I just. Got in Its way.”

He isn’t even lying either. The creature - The Distortion, Michael - had clearly been as interested in their trio as any human with a passing fly, catching one’s fleeting gaze and holding their attention for a few seconds and no more. The true aim of Its hand, the true point of focus of Its movements, the true object It desired, had been the lighter.

And Martin, like an idiot, had dove for the object - one he barely remembered holding onto for that entire day - and put himself in the way of some very strange-looking, twisting, sharp fingers. He hadn’t meant to chase harm, of course, but that had not been his most brilliant moment, no matter the Eldritch quality of the other party or the clear supernatural influence of the small, inconspicuous lighter between them.

(Lord, how had they not all been arrested when he’d been holding onto the very tool he’d used to light the fire in his hand, from the Institute to Jon’s hospital room and beyond ?)

(Ah, yes, probably the same kind of fear-magic that had made time travel possible. Of course.)

Jon is clearly not convinced though, as the wrinkles across his forehead do not so much ease as they immediately deepen, and his fingers wrap just a little tighter around Martin’s hand without touching the scars. The man is quite literally worrying his lower lip before he speaks, and while Martin knows this is not quite the time nor the right situation - what with Jon clearly having a bad time and the evil librarian tied up in the corner - he cannot help but think it is much too endearing of a habit to be indulged.

(For Jon’s sake, of course.)

(For his sake and sanity too.)

“Jon, you’ll hurt your li-”

“I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t looking just for one night, and you got hurt.”

Oh. Well. That’s…

Martin can see why that would upset Jon a bit, yes. It is misplaced guilt, of course, but the very fact of being omniscient - of having the very power to note any threat coming near oneself or anyone else, of being able to open his Eyes and See anything, everything, all things in existence, if Sasha’s theories are to be believed - and of closing part of that awareness to award his new… acquaintances some privacy for a single night, only for it to somehow backfire, must not feel all that great.

Then again, it is still very misplaced guilt.

“Jon, you were, and are in the hospital. I cannot stress enough how none of this is your fault, in any shape or form.”

“I could have called, warned you-”

“Jon. Jon, no. What would have happened, if you had ?”

He stops, and Martin waits. Georgie - who has allowed the Admiral to slip out of her grasp for the cat to nestle in Jon’s lap again and bump his head against the smaller man’s belly for pets, which are graciously, and distractedly offered - doubles down as she seems to perceive doubt in her old friend’s otherwise guilty expression.

“What would have happened is, that imbecile Stoker would have stayed in his flat to confront whatever It is that found them. James would have stayed with him, in part to protect him and in part to satisfy her own all-encompassing curiosity. And Martin would have stayed to save both of them from their own stupidity.”

Martin wants to be offended on the behalf of his new colleagues-turned-late-night-cooking-spree-partners, he really does.

But Georgie keeps on speaking the truth and he has nothing to say about that.

Still, solidarity in the office and in the eldritch experiences, and all that, because he thinks Tim might have decided to book it out of the flat if only to pull Sasha back from her obsess- her inquisitiveness. Or Sasha might have pulled Tim out to keep him from the violent confrontation he could potentially have with the creature. Or Martin might have tried to push them both out of the flat and failed miserably, because, for all his strength, he probably would not have dared manhandle any of them without a very real threat in front of his face - at least not at first.

They might have collectively taken the right decision and booked it out of the way.

Might.

Georgie seems unimpressed even as he has not voiced his train of thought, and she quickly focuses back on Jon as he makes a small noise of disapproval, hands curling and uncurling without too much of a squeeze around the Admiral’s tail.

“He wasn’t supposed to show up so early ! He only found them because I messed it all up, I, I said too much or not enough, and It already tried to get to the Archivist through them once-”

“Actually… Actually, It wanted the lighter ?”

The room freezes, again, and all attention turns to Martin, again. Lovely.

Keay is the one to raise an eyebrow, some of his utter furies probably teeming from breathing in the same air as Jurgen Leitner concealed under some curiosity and confusion as he leans towards the huddled trio on and around the bed.

“The lighter ?”

“Ah, y-yeah, the one we used to, you know.”

Martin stumbles through his words, wincing at his own near-slip. He isn’t about to admit their culpability in premeditated arson aloud even now that there are no cops in the room, but it does make for an awkward conversation when, for all intents and purposes, “you know” isn’t really ever indicative of anything remotely clear. Luckily Keay, being one of their fellow arsonists and accomplices, gets the point quickly enough.

“Do you have it with you ?”

Martin is about to answer in the negative - he’s pretty sure they quarantined the damned trinket to Tim’s convenient safe tucked away in the wall behind his couch - when he feels his uninjured hand slip into his messenger bag, and pull out a small, cold rectangle of metal.

This… This is not supposed to be here. There is no way the lighter they had specifically locked up in a safe hours before he even began protesting his trip to a doctor, could have landed in the very messenger bag Tim had handed him as he threw him into Georgie’s out. There is no way.

“‘The Web.’”

The voice that escapes Jon’s mouth is his own - and not one of the many they hear overlapping through his statement - but there is something foreign, something more, something other in it that echoes around the room and in Martin’s brain as he speaks the words. Something echoing underneath his own, and yet it is not just an echo but something that twists and melds and becomes almost one with Jon’s voice until they are just barely distinguishable, something close to unity and yet missing just one small step-

Jon snatches the lighter out of Martin’s hand, in a clear echo of that one afternoon in the Archives, and he loses his train of thought.

“How did I not notice-”

His voice is back to his own, no more painful echoes in the skulls of his audience, but he doesn’t get to finish his question.

The lighter opens and the wheel clicks once. A small, shuddering little flame lights up at the top, the apex of the spark burning a harsh line right across the lowest phalange of Jon’s ring finger before extinguishing. He doesn’t even react, doesn’t move a muscle as he stares down at the trinket, no pupil to be seen in his eyes and no reaction to yet another burn on his hands.

There is no time for anyone to even ask or react to the burn, though, as the small lighter clicks one last time and seems to spontaneously combust in his hands, crumbling into a pitiful pile of ash and cobwebs and eyelashes.

(Which is only slightly freaky, of course.)

(How the hell is this Martin’s life ?)

Silence fills the room. The ashes trickle out of Jon’s hands as they begin to tremble slightly, before he actually throws himself back perpendicular to the mattress, shaking most of the eldritch remains off his hands before covering his face with them. Martin, still sitting down on his plastic chair with a bandaged hand held up and the other curled up over nothing, can only stare as a shudder seems to break along Jon’s entire frame, shaking the Admiral out of his happy doze and sound devolving into something of a hysterical bout of laughter.

The sound, even muffled by Jon’s hands, echoes hollowly around the room for a while. No one, not even Leitner or the Admiral, dares make a sound or movement. They simply stare, no words to be found, until the laughter slowly melts away from Jon to leave nothing but bone-deep exhaustion and regret in his frame.

He lets out a long breath, and his eyes are glued to the ceiling as he pulls his hands away from his face, traces of eldritch ash smeared around his eyes, cheeks and nose in a grotesque parody of a theatrical mourner’s makeup. His voice is faint, a little subdued as he speaks, but there is an edge there Martin cannot quite describe.

(If he had to, though, he would equate it to desperation.)

“I need to get to the Archives.”

Keay, seemingly pulling himself out of the heavy silence quicker than the lot of them, nods and gets up to gather their things. Georgie hums and gathers the Admiral in her arms again as she pulls some clothes for Jon out of her bag.

Martin acquiesces as well, but as his eyes shift to the other side of the room, he cannot help but point out the obvious as he helped Jon sit up.

“Alright, but… what about Leitner ?”

For some reason, that seemed to be - and break - Jon’s last straw.

Oh, who even f*cking cares about him ?

Notes:

Next chapter should be online on the 15th - but exams might get in the way, so it might be the 31st instead, just so you all know.

Don't forget to comment if you want, I'm always eager to know your thoughts !

Chapter 27: 26. Shadow of a Doubt

Summary:

Basira flips her notebook open, and as she dutifully pretends to go over her notes from the two interrogations they managed the day before, she lets her vision slowly slide towards Daisy.

Daisy who sits at the wheel of their civilian-style patrol car, one hand tightly fisted over the ignition key and the other on the door handle.

Daisy who is staring at the empty ashen husk of the Institute with all the focus she usually displays through a case, and yet none of the raging fire in her eyes Basira has learned to help temper and feed in turn over months of partnership.

Daisy who is staring, and yet there is nothing, nothing in her eyes of the usual golden glint Basira has gotten used to seeing in her iris, a light she’d seen, growing and growing and growing each and every time, with each step closer to the resolution of their various cases and their culprits.

Notes:

This chapter was... to be completely honest, this chapter was a nightmare to write. Somehow it still ended up quite long, but this is more a testament to the circles I was running around with this new character than anything else.

Basira is not my favorite character out of MAG, and I have always had great difficulty in grasping the complexity of her even as a spectator to the show. As a writer ? I pulled quite a bit of my hair out writing, and I am greatly dissatisfied with this chapter in its presentation of her character.
This is her introduction in my story and I feel it is lacking. Strongly.

I do still believe the read will be enjoyable however ! An outside view of what happened while Michael found Sasha, Martin and Tim, and Jon and Gerry were beating up Leitner.

Sorry for this moment of anxious-writer-time and I hope you enjoy the chapter still !
As always all my thanks to GrimNiknil for betaing this chapter

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Basira, if she is to be completely honest, is strongly doubting Daisy’s instincts on this one.

Which, she has to admit to herself as she shifts her pen to her left hand, had never happened before.

They’ve been working together for a while now - a year and four months, but who’s counting - and she knows, as everyone back at the station does, that out of all Sectioned officers, one Alice “Daisy” Tonner had the best instincts.

Basira, of course, has witnessed the truth of that statement for herself more than once. Daisy would point out in her various notes the one peculiar answer that would have been barely noticeable among other suspicious comments, and while she could seldom explain it fully, those little things led them to their biggest catch more often than not. She would find the culprits that evaded even the oldest and most experienced among them, no matter the case, just because she could look at a room full of people and pick out of the crowd the ones that felt off - even those they had no picture, no drawing, no identification for at all - quicker than even Donovan could.

She would catch their eyes, and they would either fall over themselves in a fully detailed confession with never an attempt to resist - terror written in their eyes clearer than their name on the dotted lines of the paperwork - or they would begin to run.

It was always a very, very, very stupid idea to run.

Those that did not always turn back up, everyone knew, and their cases would always end up neatly closed. Because one Alice “Daisy” Tonner was the very best at chasing and stopping their culprits when others found themselves stumped or left behind, and she was the very best at getting exactly what the precinct needed out of them before coming back. She is the one everyone looks at when it comes to tracking - even though she really isn’t the best at catching the runners themselves in those cases.

(She tends to come back with nothing but a signed confession, perhaps some evidence when necessary, when the investigation comes to a head and the duo splits up between the final, most important bits of paperwork, and the dangerous chaos of the chase.)

( Daisy always wants to chase alone. Basira has never asked. She doesn’t care - or rather, she has never doubted Daisy’s ability to chase and catch without needing her aid. Her part of the hunt was done after all. )

Basira has never found a reason to doubt Daisy’s instincts.

Never, no matter the case or the crime or the time of the day where she would call and chase and drop off another ghost’s guilt on their shared desk. Never, no matter the grime and mud and blood underneath her nails, on those times they crossed paths right after the end of a case. Never, no matter the sharpening of her nails and the wickedness of her canines and the slit of her pupils , those details that can only be Basira imagining things, as they always disappear when she truly looks towards her partner.

Basira had never found a reason to doubt Daisy’s instincts - to doubt Daisy, period.

(Being Section caught you up rather quickly on how inconsequential bloody fingernails could be.)

( There were real monsters out there after all, and someone had to take care of them. )

Never. Until today.

Because right now, she does find doubt in her mind, as she looks up towards the husk of the Institute and the empty streets around it, not a soul around them.

She doubts her partner’s belief in the secretary - Rosalina Zampano, 47, employed at the Institute since 1993, excellent employee reviews, old conflicts until 1996 with the then employee, now Head of the Institute Elias Bouchard, a known gossip - and her concerned testimony the day before. The woman had seemed sincere, yes, but her ulterior motives had been clear - if only because of her old fights with her current boss, even if the link between him and Sims wasn’t quite clear - if not in content, then in their existence. She was as far from a reliable witness as they could get, even considering the many tales other officers would blather on about the Institute.

Yet Daisy had - well she had not believed her testimony to the letter, of course not, but she seemed intent on believing one part of it. That is, the involvement of the frail and, quite frankly, a bit sad and pathetic figure of Jonathan Sims, newly appointed Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute as of a week ago, in the very fire that had ravaged it almost completely.

(The precinct had a party the previous evening, one Daisy and Basira had missed the beginning of as they’d driven back from their stint to the hospital. Half the officers had gotten raging drunk, the other half had been so close to ethylic comas they’d ended up at A&E in the morning, and they’d all sang a goddamn anthem to the Destruction of Evil and the Bringer of Light, which were apparently what they’d decided to dub the current case and its culprit while alcohol pumped through their collective brains.)

( Needless to say that not one Sectioned officer apart from them really cared about the investigation into the fire, and wanted any part in it if not to thank and maybe kiss the criminal that had set it. They’d all been so absolutely overjoyed to learn Daisy had a pretty good suspect, they’d apparently called the hospital to get a gift basket delivered out of all things. Wonderful. )

Basira flips her notebook open, and as she dutifully pretends to go over her notes from the two interrogations they managed the day before, she lets her vision slowly slide towards Daisy.

Daisy who sits at the wheel of their civilian-style patrol car, one hand tightly fisted over the ignition key and the other on the door handle.

Daisy who is staring at the empty ashen husk of the Institute with all the focus she usually displays through a case, and yet none of the raging fire in her eyes Basira has learned to help temper and feed in turn over months of partnership.

Daisy who is staring, and yet there is nothing, nothing in her eyes of the usual golden glint Basira has gotten used to seeing in her iris, a light she’d seen, growing and growing and growing each and every time, with each step closer to the resolution of their various cases and their culprits.

Basira’s doubt grows just a little more, before the bulk of it crumbles as she catches a moving form through Daisy’s car window. Her gaze is still focused on Daisy, for the most part, but she finds herself opening her mouth in surprise as she hears engines purr a little further away.

Daisy was right.

Daisy who is still staring, and now her face twists in confusion out of all things, as they watch two cars pull up in a side alley.

Daisy, who is unmoving, as they watch the entire bulk of their suspect group step out of those cars, with an unknown old man in tow.

Daisy, who looks paralyzed , as the group huddles together and almost runs inside of the ruins of the Institute, as if they have the metaphorical Devil on their heels.

Daisy, who is just looking , when her preys are right there.

(There is no fury nor want nor gold in Daisy’s eyes. But there is longing, under the confusion on the surface. Longing Basira cannot comprehend. Cannot recall ever seeing before. Cannot understand.)

( And there is little Basira loathes more than not being able to understand something about her partner. )

They don’t move for a few minutes, even though their main suspect and his immediate support group - themselves either secondary suspects or accomplices, at the very least - have quite literally run back to the scene of his possible crime in front of their eyes , not twenty-four hours after the act. Instead, they just sit in the patrol car, and while Daisy keeps on staring at the empty stone archway that contained the massive wooden doors of the Institute ablaze in the past without a twitch, Basira stares at Daisy, and tries to understand .

She doesn’t manage.

And before she can decide what to do, her gaze is caught by something else entirely.

Because there is another car pulling up in what she only now remembers is supposedly a closed-off street - on account of the fire and the very real possibility of the old, destroyed Institute’s walls crumbling under their own weight - and stopping right in front of the building. They don’t even have the decency to try and be discreet like the suspect group as they let their tires screech on the paved street and almost jump out of their car before the engine has finished growling.

And it is Elias f*cking Bouchard who steps out of the driver seat, his taller companion easily dismissed in the face of the absolute rage twisting the face of the Head of the Magnus Institute as he slams his car down shut and almost sprints into the ruins of his building.

(This expression is either a very clear confirmation of Jonathan Sims’s guilt - and Bouchard’s subsequent decision to enact revenge through his own hands on he that destroyed his entire organization’s building - or something else entirely. The first possibility, considering she witnessed that very same fury in the Head’s expression the day before, seems like the logical and obvious solution.)

( But Basira is not sure. And she strongly dislikes feeling any kind of doubt whatsoever. )

It's only then that Daisy begins to move. Her eyes zero on Elias the moment he steps out of his car, and her pupils seem to narrow and sharpen with each furious step he takes towards the Institute's charred remains, until they are but needlepoint slits in her irises. She does not jump out of the car, instead slowly reaching down to grab her bag in the back - the brown duffel usually locked up in the trunk, the very same one she only takes out when the chase begins and Basira does not follow - and pulls it on her lap. She unzips just a fraction of it, seems to visually riffle through it for a second, before she nods to herself and finally, finally turns back towards Basira.

(There is the gold in her eyes, the one Basira looks for, longs for, worries about - the gold of the chase, the thrill, the hunt - No.)

( There is the gold but none of the blood. )

"Let's go."

Basira hesitates for one second - one second that seems to expand in itself into minutes, hours - and wonders if she should follow.

She trusts Daisy, even as the doubt gnaws in her mind and tells her to stay in the car, far from the suspects and Bouchard and what else might await them in this burnt husk- but does she trust her enough to go ?

(She does, of course she does, she would follow Daisy to the end of the Earth as long as she would let her follow and sometimes even when she wouldn’t.)

( She would follow Daisy through the end of the Earth even if it killed her- )

Basira nods and slips a hand around her belt, checking for her concealed weapon, tucking away her notebook, reaching for the heavy-duty flashlight she’s taken to carrying everywhere these last few days.

She doesn’t necessarily think she’ll need the first one, even if appearances can be deceiving, because Stoker and Sasha can probably be easily subdued through simple legal threats, Blackwood is as likely to use violence as he is to be 4 foot tall, Barker has only one minor offence to her name for assaulting some violent preacher through a pride march - and somehow Basira doubts there was anything but an ego bruised through this “assault” - the unknown old man looks like a harsh gust of wind or one glare from Daisy could knock him over and unconscious for the next few hours, the cat is obviously just a cat , and Sims…

Jonathan Sims - be he standing in front of a burning Institute with nothing but grief on his face, lying unconscious on a hospital gurney with blood on his shirt, tearing through a get-well card with more difficulty than cardstock should warrant, petting a cat almost the size of his torso as the animal’s paws catches against his glasses’ chain, or leaning onto his cane to enter the ruins of the same Institute like a guilty student late for class - is as far from threatening as a kitten plushie could be, and perhaps even more so if one takes into account the choking hazard of their glass bead eyes.

Honestly. If he is the arsonist, she wonders how on Earth he was even able to get up the stairs to light the fire. He could be an excellent actor and liar, of course, but the man could not even tear through cardstock on the first try. Her little cousin could do that, even now that he’d stopped using his teeth to chew on everything.

And even then, she knows for a fact - confirmed it through a doctor back at the hospital all thanks to a badge and Daisy glaring, the one they always go to when they need information and don’t really have time for the integrity of the rest of the staff - that the cane and the scars are very much not for show. The guy, according to the whisper of chatter and work gossip they’d discreetly caught onto on their way out of the hospital the day before, should barely be able to walk , let alone trek the necessary volleys of stairs up the Institute and get back down in the timeframe they could confirm through witness testimonies, even with the support of his possible accomplices or a measly cane.

(She remembers the familiar voice roughly gritting out “He should not be alive, he should be dead- ” in a sterile hospital office, the man leaning back into his office chair and reaching for his glass above a voluminous new file titled with the name of their suspect, a ring of humidity across the craft cover and a half-emptied bottle of some alcohol besides it.)

He could be the mastermind of course, but Basira would be quicker to peg James or Stoker as the brains behind that kind of operation.

“Basira.”

Daisy’s voice is rough when she speaks. as if gone unused for too long. And in truth, they have not exchanged a word since the first hours of dawn, when Daisy had driven them here and stopped with only a short explanation of “gut instinct” and “suspicious basem*nt” to her name.

Basira knows, of course, that their duo has never been one for mindless chatter. But they did find themselves bantering more often than not, as long as a stakeout didn’t come too close to being a chase, as long as a case didn’t come too close to its end, as long as Daisy would ask Basira to remain in the car with her.

They would speak of lighter affairs, of family on the surface level, of books and movies and podcasts they liked - they would argue over the quality or lack thereof of Daisy’s guilty pleasure of the Archers and then endure, in Basira’s case, at least one episode of the show as “firm proof of victory”, or would debate over the importance of TAZ’s older episodes to a new listener until they broke and played the pilot while watching the streets - and they would to it all over, with each patrol, each stakeout, each moment spent in that car and away from anyone else.

They were comfortable together without a word ever being exchanged, of course, but stakeouts were those few moments where they could simply chat, no one but each other around. Until their suspects passed by that is, but such is life.

Perhaps it is why this stakeout felt so heavy - the silence had been so thorough between them, a wall almost as tangible as the windshield and at least thrice as thick, it had allowed her to spiral through questions and confusion and doubt. Basira has no problem with silence, enjoyed it most of the time as it allowed her to relax and enjoy the simpler things out of life - her books, her movies, her cooking experimentation. But Daisy did not like silence . Daisy liked to chatter or hum or listen to music or an audiobook or a podcast if they weren’t talking. She had those old busted earbuds, only the one still functioning, and would almost always stick it in her ear if the lack of direct stimulus was bothering her.

Daisy did not like silence.

(And Basira had noticed that this dislike had been… somewhat exacerbated in the last week. Continued silence usually grated on Daisy’s nerves, made her antsy and slightly jittery, perhaps more prompt to… overreact.)

( In the last week, any period of silence throughout their night patrols has seemed to be one trigger away from sending her into a full-blown panic attack. )

Basira.

Daisy’s voice is more pointed, if still a bit raspy, and Basira knows she has let herself get lost in her own thoughts for too long. Her partner is staring at her intently, brown and amber eyes narrowed just the tiniest bit. She is staring from above their car’s roof, the slab of metal between them, her door still wide open and her mouth pursed onto a tight line.

There is… tension in the air, the same tension that silence has brought through this entire week. But it is only now that Basira feels it in its full force, as she stands alone opposite Daisy, and she finds she does not quite know how to break it. Her thumb slips and clicks her pen closed in her hand, and somehow the small noise seems to echo in the empty street around them as loudly as the gunshots she’d hear on warehouse walls through raids.

They are, in the most literal sense, going on a chase. Their targets - their preys - have entered a den and they are chasing after, ready to corner them and get the truth out of them. It will be the quickest investigation she has ever taken part in over her years of service, and it will be her first chase at her partner’s side.

But Daisy does not look as she usually does before they split ways.

As she looks back towards Basira, her eyes are narrowed and sharp and decidedly not showing a hint of gold whatsoever.

And Basira doesn’t know what it means.

“... Let’s go. We have a record to beat.”

Daisy nods, and when Basira finishes walking around the car, she falls into step with her easily. There is none of the discordances she has felt between them in the rhythm of their gait, not a step off as they cross the street, climb the steps, cross the threshold together, as the team they’ve been for months already.

There is nothing of the discordance in their steps, but Basira can feel it in the very air around them.

If anyone had to ask, she would attribute her lack of peripheral awareness that day to everything that was going on in her head.

The case, Sims, Daisy. The torch, the gun, the notebooks. The card, the medical file, the old man. Everything that didn’t fit and didn’t make sense and didn’t sound right , and none of it does now any more than it did yesterday, no matter the hours she’s spent arched over her notes and those of her colleagues gathered up in the Sectioned Evidence room, Daisy by her side with only the medical file - so easily handed over by that doctor, and while his easy dismissal of the rules and laws of professional secret as well as privacy and human decency are the reason the Section goes to him when needed, she still finds it quite distasteful to step out of the hospital with never the man in two and cuffs before her - and a cup of coffee, her eyes skimming over the same lines again and again.

Daisy who couldn’t take her eyes off of that file.

“He should be dead, and if you want my opinion on it, I would have liked to make him so myself. There’s something that isn’t right with that… Anyway. He’ll be out tomorrow. I never want to see him again here. Now get out,” the doctor had told them the day before. And she would have arrested him there and then, after years of wishing to do so, just for the easy dismissal of police officers after years of covering his criminal ass.

But Daisy, leaning back against the wall, had stopped her. “What do you mean, should be dead ? Never met a deadman bleeding that much.”

“His heart’s beating and pumping blood through his veins for sure, ah !”

“Yeah, we all saw that, cry us a river for your bedsheets. What. Do. You. Mean ?”

“I mean a heart sliced in two probably shouldn’t beat that much Shouldn’t beat all that well either.

And he might be a jerk and a creep and a criminal, but Basira couldn’t, still cannot help but agree. It’s simple science, really.

A human being cannot survive with a divided heart in their chest, if they are not expressly being operated on or hooked up to an obscene amount of machinery. And Jonathan Sims, for all he seemed sickly and weak and very much about to keel over any second even after his initial collapse, had seemed much too healthy , much too jumpy , much too alive for someone without a functioning heart.

(No matter that the halves of the heart technically didn't connect, as the doctor had commented on hysterically.)

(Sims should be dead.)

But radios and IRMs and the likes apparently did not lie. The medical file apparently did not lie. Daisy did not lie.

(She’d said so, hadn’t she ? Stepping out of the hospital, as they walked side by side back to their car, echoing the doctor’s grumble.)

(“ There are two beats in his chest. ”)

There is so much in Basira’s head, as Daisy walks towards the Institute and she falls into step beside her. If anyone had to ask, she would explain her lack of peripheral awareness to just that. A weird case, a strange man, an impossible heart. A mystery.

If anyone had to ask, she still wouldn’t excuse herself for missing the stumbling shadow that almost collapsed on the street behind them as it made its way towards the Institute behind them, slow and limping and alive .

Notes:

Next chapter should be out on the 31st but I will say my buffer has now been eaten up entirely, because of exams and internships and higher education applications, and there miiiight be a slowing down of updates soon as Im also going back to my cleaning job in the beginning of June.

Well, we'll see.

Don't forget to comment ! It bolsters creativity !! I'll be answering the comments I missed from last chapter when I have a free hour in between exams !

Chapter 28: 27. In the History Books

Summary:

“So. Jurgen Leitner, loathed and reviled, I got that part, but who is he exactly supposed to be again ?”

Stoker is at the wheel and he slams on the brakes as they near a red light, and he whips around even as some - very justified - arsehole honks behind them, his cartoonish curls looking almost frazzled when they’d been neatly styled a minute before.

“What ?! How do you not know ??!”

Notes:

Hello hello, tis the 31st and Ive got a chapter for all of you, as promised !
Might seem filler but I swear I thought it necessary back in February when I was planning the contents of up to chapter 30.

It's the last written chapter I have - for a definition of written, as the sweet beta that is GrimNiknil helped me add approximately 500 words to it and bring it up to exactly 5k less than an hour ago to really finish it - and I hope to be able to post the next one on schedule, but life has not been restful lately and I will make no promises on that front.

Next chapter should be up on June 15th, but it might be late, might be shorter, etc, fair warning ! I do hope you will enjoy this one still !

EDIT : I've been informed this story is now 9 days past a full year old ! AAAAAA thank you all so much for still being around and still reading it after a full year !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It is only when they have finally succeeded in stacking themselves like Tetris pieces in James’s car - there had been some arguing about putting the old man in the trunk before Jon vetoed the idea because the trunk was apparently already full of second-hand books and he feared they would be “tainted” by the guy’s presence - that Georgie finds in herself the mental calm necessary to put her question forward.

“So. Jurgen Leitner, loathed and reviled, I got that part, but who is he exactly supposed to be again ?”

Stoker is at the wheel and he slams on the brakes as they near a red light, and he whips around even as some - very justified - arsehole honks behind them, his cartoonish curls looking almost frazzled when they’d been neatly styled a minute before.

“What ?! How do you not know ??!”

Besides her, Keay is resolutely looking forward, shoulders drawn up even higher than before as he stares holes into the back of Leitner’s head - the man half-sitting between James and Stoker with his knees drawn up and tied to keep him from any funny business with the pedals - and Blackwood, Martin, is swallowing as he looks back between James, Leitner and Georgie herself.

Jon keeps his eyes resolutely closed and seems to curl up onto himself further on Keay’s lap.

(Still much too cute. Too bad she cannot take pictures at the moment, it would be excellent material.)

( Blackmail material, that is. Cat treats aren’t cheap. )

James, sitting on the passenger seat with the Admiral in her lap, has also twisted herself to look back towards Georgie - who is sitting right behind her, somewhat squished between the car door and Keay, Jon’s oxfords grazing her knee with each turn of the road - her eyes wide and her pen in the same death grip she has on her notebook.

(She wrote down something about the Archives and the “Web” and the lighter on it, but Georgie cannot decipher much more than that, what with the angle and the crumpled paper, and she does not care to in the exact moment as her mind quickly focuses back on the question at hand.)

( The Web, though, seems like a real pain in the a- )

She crosses her arms over her chest, leaning back into the car seat as she stares back towards James - and the woman herself nudges Stoker to look back towards the road as the light switches back to green and he accelerates again. The woman seems to mumble under her breath for an instant before she physically shakes herself out of it and blinks.

And then launches into a truly impressive tirade about cursed artefacts and how they made the world a worse place by their very existence within its realm.

“- Leitner has become the most hated individual among the staff - and that says a lot coming from us all, because there are many other names on the blackboard, like Salesa and the Fairchilds - but he just keeps on gaining ranks no matter which horrible new artefact comes up under another name because his books are truly the worst of them all ! They simply encompass every worst characteristic of the artefacts we work with : they look inconspicuous, have utterly unhelpful titles or notices which means we need to experiment with them to at the very least classify them, they all have terrible effects even just reading the first letters of the title to the point where you only need the most basic reading comprehension to be affected - we haven’t tested them in illiterate circ*mstances yet but with how vile they are, I wouldn’t be surprised for them to work even if you don’t even know how to read, since they work even when you don’t understand the language like that Esperanto one we quarantined - but anyway, there are some of the worst artefacts we have as individuals objects, so to know that one guy once decided to make a library out of them ? What, did he think proudly displaying artefacts of eldritch-level horror was an achievement ? There was this one book- ”

She goes on about quite a few books the Institute had stored over the years, describing the effects and overall nastiness of each of them and the tests they’d had to run because Leitner hadn’t even deigned to put down notices inside of his cursed books as any normal person should.

“Just write down ‘Book that turns you into a body-horror mix between human and raccoon’ on a note pasted on the cover, really, would it have been so hard ? There are always going to be those that think it is a pretty terrible prank, of course, but it would be much easier and less dangerous for us - Jeremiah recovered but he still ends up in the garbage bins once a month or so ! Do you know how hard it was to explain to his accountant husband ?”

Now, Georgie herself doesn’t really deal with artefacts, apart from the ones associated with ghost invocation, communication and other ghostly circ*mstances - her podcast isn’t called ‘What the Ghost ?’ for nothing after all, and she hadn’t just chosen the name back in uni to annoy Jon, there had also been some thought put behind it - but she will readily admit that she is fascinated by the kind of books James is currently ranting about as they drive through a mildly crowded London towards the ruins of the Institute. She doesn’t much care for the effects of the things, of course, they are quite frankly pieces of hell unleashed upon Earth, and were she to still feel fear, she would easily classify even those descriptions as chilling.

As it is, she is still very much fascinated.

It doesn’t teach her much about the man himself - she already knew he was, or is hated and famous and a librarian - but it does teach her much about what kind of impact that man has had on the supernatural community as a whole. Well, the book and artefact one at the very least, which still represented a large branch.

A negative impact, to say the least.

James doesn’t run out of stories for a while - she talks about what seems like every single book the Institute has ever had its hands on over the years, even some she hasn’t personally been around to see because their storing and disappearance preceded her employment in both Artifact Storage and the organization as a whole. There is only one book she leaves aside, and that seems to be because of Blackwood, Martin as he coughs rather discreetly and she cuts herself off before launching into yet another story altogether than the one about a ‘werewolf’ book out of all things.

(Pity. She thinks, as they exit the car and stretch their limbs just enough to be able to walk quickly towards the Institute, that it could be an extremely entertaining story, seeing as Martin had seemed much more flustered than traumatized by whatever made him stop James.)

( She never said she isn’t nosy, just that she likes to keep herself out of other people’s mess. )

Martin does pick up on the story once they have crossed the doors of the Institute and the heaviness of the destruction is dawning on them - on Jon and Keay more than anyone else, clearly, as the latter kicks Leitner forward instead of the pushes he’d limited himself to and the former shudders and leans hard on his cane.

It seems like an attempt to lighten the atmosphere or perhaps distract everyone from the wreckage as they slowly make their way through, with the stories of those few Leitners that ended up not in Storage but in the Library - for unknown reasons, as some of them are apparently just as bad as the ones kept locked up down there.

The lobby of the Institute is sinister to walk through - the high stone walls are dark with soot, there are corpses of fancy armchairs pushed in a corner, and the large receptionist desk is little more now than four chipped wooden panels halfway burnt - and Martin's gentle chatter about the many employees that he'd seen barred from the Library in general and the Fourteenth Row in particular somewhat brightens the overall ambience.

And then, as they stand in front of the corridor leading further into the bowels of the Institute and the Archives themselves, Martin mentions "jumping Leitners" before cutting himself off with a flush and an hesitant look thrown towards Jon.

Luckily for Georgie, she doesn't need or even have time to ask before Stoker launches into something of an epic retelling of the first meeting of the 'Archival Gang' - a tale of knives and confusion and of a small man fighting against a literal avalanche of books in the Library.

(Jon hums as Stoker talks before he leans just a bit and steps hard on the man's foot before picking up the pace and rejoining Keay.)

( Jonny D'Ville wasn't the only violent Jon out there in regards to Tims. )

Those corridors could be legally quoted as a labyrinth, really - she remembers a single path and two staircases facing each other at the end of the path from her last visit, but she must be misremembering as they take quite a few turns in the dark, the way lit by James’ and Martin’s flashlights. She thinks she hears Jon mutter about a “Mick” or something, but her attention is still on the handsome assistant as he whines about his “great injury” for all to hear, hopping on one foot for perhaps ten meters.

The stories about the books - and Stoker’s antics - die down as they slowly approach the staircases. On the left she knows is Artifact Storage, apparently to be emptied in the coming week for its “precious” artefacts to be sent away to the different international branches of the Institute - and wasn’t that a hilarious thing to hear about an organization the londonian academic grapevine has been happily calling a hoax for years - in a plea for preservation, when the Library had already been decimated in its entirety.

(Georgie hears Stoker mutter about “a controlled fire” and “darned books”, the man shifting out of the group for an instant to smile sharply towards Jon and glare at Leitner’s back - the man flinching either from it or from the words spoken - before he is back besides James.)

( There might not have been a single book to have survived the Institute’s fire, then. A pity.)

Most everyone has given their opinion on Leitner when they descend the steps on the right, towards the Archives, apart from Jon and Keay. Or, at the very least, neither of them has spoken a word yet - if one does not count Jon’s hissing anger back at the hospital, and Georgie very much does - but the bruises on their hands are as good as a screaming rant.

Keay loathes Leitner’s very existence. That much is pretty clear, and for anyone to doubt it would be pure madness - or idiocy, if the shoe fits. He has been standing closer than anyone else to the old man, has taken it upon himself to lead Leitner through their trek down despite the man’s “intimate knowledge of the hole he hid in” - as Jon’s put it when James had asked where the hell an old man had even come from - and has been, somewhat subtly, putting himself between the group and Leitner, all the while supporting Jon when his cane seems to not be quite enough through the debris around them.

Georgie could ask Keay for a verbal elaboration of course - she does not doubt it would be an interesting thing to listen to, especially given Keay’s storytelling abilities as they have witnessed the night of his arrival - but she thinks the whole thing would be more of a capharnaum of insults and vague references to the man’s crimes, mainly books and existing, than a true account of why he hates the guy so much.

Jon on the other hand… Apparently, he never lost his own storytelling gift after the band parted ways, and he clearly has his own history with the old librarian apart from what Georgie can vaguely remember was the man’s brutal murder with a pipe. And while she has been careful with him over the last week - because never before in her life had she seen him break down in a thousand pieces as he had been doing when James called her and then when Keay showed - Georgie knows him enough to know that he is well.

(Or, as well as Jon can be considering that she doesn’t know this him , that he is apparently a conduit - if not the living vessel - of an eldritch entity, and that he has always been a little too skilled when it came to hiding some of his trauma, if not his crippling anxiety, even before all of… this.)

( So perhaps not that well, but well enough that he will not break down again. She hopes. )

They reach the door of the Archives when she asks - and the metallic crates they’d piled up in front of it as a last pitiful barricade in case the fire descended the steps are scattered from the careful positioning she remembers helping with the night before, a disarray that was clearly not caused by anything other than a willing effort. Keay glares towards Leitner, Leitner whimpers, and Jon turns towards her as he allows himself to lean back against the door of the Archives - not quite opening it yet.

“Jurgen Leitner… I suppose he was never the monster I pictured for decades, in the end. No, when he finally showed his face , he was… he was much worse than a monster, in the end, because he was a sad, arrogant, greedy little man .”

Well, that’s an opening.

“He wanted to be known - for all of his talk of studies and gathering knowledge and securing dangerous elements , there was something else to it. Else he wouldn’t have put his name on those forsak- on those cursed books when he built his nice little library, one so secure it ended up being destroyed in just a few years’ time, the hundreds of books gathered unleashed onto the world like a swarm of locusts.”

A cursed librarian indeed. He had gathered dangerous books, stamped his name in them, and lost them. Truly a stellar job done, a glowing performance, a career to put down in the history books. Georgie can understand some of Jon’s annoyance, even with only the mostly harmless or theoretical consequences of those Leitners James has spoken of, and no experience or knowledge of her own beyond that.

And she can easily guess that some of those theories - such as a book titled “Inside and Out : A Look into Our Biology” which might, according to James, turn someone quite literally inside out - are closer to the truth than anyone would like. Those Leitners are loathed things, and seldom are things loathed so universally - if she can count the opinion of their ragtag band as universal, and she probably shouldn’t - without a cause, most of the time.

"Leitner wanted to be known. And when his ambition backfired, he turned around and ran - which, admittedly, did save his life for a few decades. Because he was known, then, of course, just as he’d wanted. And every single person that knew him wanted him more or less dead - or at the very least out of the picture. He ran and hid and ignored the books - the Leitners - that were wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting mortals and eldritch devotees alike, only a handful of survivors left in their wake. And again and again and again, the books feeding and moving until they find another meal to try and satisfy their bottomless hunger.”

Georgie blinks, and she looks away from Jon to watch Leitner instead. She is… unsure for an instant, because she knows from Jon's voice and his cadence that he very much disagrees with Leitner's decision to run. It was perhaps - and it was certainly, in Jon's perception - Leitner's responsibility to see the evil he'd unleashed upon the world and try to fix it instead of hiding away.

But she can also see in his decision a man that bit off more than he could chew and pulled back. It would not excuse his initial reasoning - fame, really ? Couldn't he have opened a charity like everyone else ? - but it is a decision she can understand, nowadays. Against powers high and low, against eldritch gods and their written conduits, against the untameable, Leitner had tried to control them and failed. And upon his failure, he had pulled himself out of the game, hiding away.

Wouldn't she have advised Jon to do the same, if she hadn't known from the start - the second day - that pulling back from those Archives would mean his death ?

Jon isn’t looking at anyone as he speaks, voice low and soft despite the underlying anger, the disgust, the grief. Perhaps there is more to it than a simple story, what with his new… abilities - and James seems to be muttering under her breath, perhaps thinking much the same - as Jon seems to be less theorizing and more… Reminiscing. His hands curl and uncurl around the length of his cane, knuckles white under the bruises as he breathes in and out, slowly.

(She remembers how excited Jon always was, about learning new things - as long as he was not forced into it too strongly, wasn’t mocked for it, he would be happiest amongst books and documentaries and articles, burying himself into whichever new subject he’d taken a fancy to

( Was potentially infinite knowledge a blessing or a curse, for him ? )

“He hid… Hid from one hole to another, until he found the tunnels. And there he stayed, as he oh so quickly caught onto what they were, still are - a product of Smirke, a blindspot to the Entities somewhat and a set of walls he could manipulate with the one convenient Leitner he’d kept. He hid under the Institute - until Gertrude found him.”

Keay tenses from his slouch against the wall, Leitner cowering between him and the toppled crates. There have been… tensions when the name of Gertrude Robinson - and the fact that she had passed, murdered by the Head of the Institute, in order to preserve the Archives and open the way for Jon to take her place - had been spoken over the last week. Tensions mainly between James - who has met Robinson a handful of times and held respect, though no affection, for the woman - and Keay - his own respect tinged with the colour of betrayals piling up more and more each day, her fostering of Leitner just one more to add onto the list.

(James and Keay both agreed that the woman had held strength tight in her fist and close to her chest, that she had been ruthless and efficient, and that she had been a means-to-an-end-justify-the-means kind of woman.)

( They disagreed on whether she had been right or not. )

“Oh, Gerry did find him as well, at some point - he beat him up that one time, as “an angry goth”. I heard it was glorious. Once I could - one of the few good things about that mess then - I Watched as well of course, and it was majestic .”

Keay isn’t as tense as he f*cking preens hearing Jon’s words, in between bloody satisfaction and slight consternation - probably because he hadn’t known for sure that was Leitner and had left him in one piece, she thinks, although she doubts that Keay would have actually gone as far as killing the man outright. Jon goes on, but there is a slight smirk on his face as his eyes slide towards Keay once with a soft, fond huff.

“Still, he was back in the tunnels soon enough. I know little of what he got up to down there - and I do not care enough to Know, the candy wrappers were already enough of an offence - but I do know that he was there when Eric escaped. When Fiona choked. When Emma weaved. When Sarah burned. When Michael Became .”

No one speaks. Not even the man in question, as the darkness around them seems to grow just a little darker, the air just a little heavier, Jon’s voice just a little wearier-angrier-sadder.

“He was there when Elias shot Gertrude - he had been standing with her as she prepared to burn down the Archives, for Beholding’s sake. He saw the woman that had offered him sanctuary die here - at the very least, he must have found her body down in the tunnels, even moved it in that room full of tapes - before Magnus came in and handpicked those that would have been useful to us , that prick - and maybe, maybe he could have finished the job when he came up to check on her plans and found the fire very much not burning- Well. He did try this time, ah. But that’s irrelevant now.”

It’s not quite as irrelevant as Jon seems to believe - a man knowing of a murder is one thing, a man somewhat aiding a murder by potentially moving a body and not putting it back up in the main office for all to see is something of an accomplice, no matter his as-of-yet-unknown intentions or his eldritch-fears-tinted reasoning.

And of course, it does put into perspective Leitner's lack of responsibility here. Fleeing his mistake of a library is one thing, purposefully hiding evidence - hiding a body - is another entirely. It's not pulling himself away from the mess, it's actively participating and expecting no consequence whatsoever in his hiding place, from what she can gather. Which is distasteful, to say the least.

But she lets her old friend go on, as his eyes glow.

“He knew Gertrude was dead, is the point, knew she was down there - even if he didn’t throw her there in the first place. And he left her there. He stayed down, deep down into his burrow while we were thrown into a mess he'd participated in creating. The victims, the collaterals, the monsters - Jared very much did not come from the primordial ooze , nor did Mike, even if the book saved his life. And he watched. From the safety of tunnels he knew to be free of the Fears' influence, he just watched.

Leitner shakes, eyes wide as he stares at Jon.

He isn’t the only one. They might not all be afraid - Georgie sure isn’t - but they cannot say a word either.

“He watched us run through those corridors and almost be eaten alive under his eyes, after he allowed Jane to overrun his "new domain". He watched Sasha die - or at the very least he watched the thing that replaced her as it explored the tunnels. He watched me in those same tunnels losing myself to paranoia both of my own making and of supernatural influence. He watched Tim and Martin running through those same tunnels and almost die again, and left them at the mercy of an unknown. He watched just like Magnus, did he not ?

Somehow, that seems to be more of an insult than a simple name should be - but then again, Georgie does recall from a life-never-lived that even herself, while she’d been standing as far away from the mess as she’d been able to before the Change, had been less than impressed with the figure of Elias Bouchard, their personal evil mastermind even before he revealed himself as the elusive Jonah Magnus.

And Jon seems to especially loathe the man - as much as he finds him pathetic - just as Keay does Leitner.

(Though Jon does clearly hate Leitner as well. Just not as much as he hates Magnus, but enough that he physically punched him back in the hospital room hard enough to bruise both the man and his hand.)

( An event she regrets not having borne witness to. Jon hasn’t, to her knowledge, punched anyone since Tim back in uni. )

Jon huffs, and picks back up as he straightens up, leaning on his cane. The atmosphere lightens slightly, though his tone does not, and he turns towards Leitner this time, his eyes crossing the old man’s and never letting go.

“And when he finally moved his arse and came to me, he was the most arrogant, insulting, condescending prick. If he wasn't such a garbage excuse for a human being I could have almost been ashamed of sharing those flaws with him but by that point, I was just disgusted.

He sounds it too, whether it is just a rendition of what he felt then, what he feels now, or a mix of the two.

“'We need to talk'. Sasha was dead, replaced and forgotten. Tim was drowning in revenge. Martin was coming apart at the seams. I was losing myself - losing my mind and my humanity and the few friends I had left. And he came in with his explanations and condescendence and knowledge as if he was our saviour and not just too late.

There is something else in Jon’s voice there - something more than the facts he is laying before them, the past anger-contempt-sorrow he is channelling, the present emotions that are a warped mirror of those past. There is an emotion that is not quite directly linked to Leitner himself, but to his own words.

Too late.

And hasn’t Jon himself been too late many times, in that past-future-memory he’s shared with them ?

(Leitner had hidden away while the new Archival team fell to the threats sent against and attracted to them, but Jon had been right there in the fray - kept ignorant and paranoid and isolated, but there.)

( If he thought Leitner had been too late, what did he think of himself ? )

“‘We need to talk’, he said, and yet he didn’t really say anything, did he ? Bastard.

Jon turns around, leaning his weight on his cane as he lays a hand on the sooty doorknob. She can see, from her place to the right, the slight deformity of the knob itself as it seems to have melted slightly, and the change in its shape seems like an odd mirror to the warped burn scar - the paler stretch of skin that she knows goes further up his wrist standing out starkly against the dark remnants of the fire-smoke-ash that had reached the door despite their best efforts.

(Is this what caused his collapse the day before ? A flame reaching the door, left unprotected thanks to Leitner’s meddling, the heat so strong it melted the brass and began to attack the door itself ?)

( Is Sasha right, when she looks at the Archives and sees in them something more than just Jon’s new office ? )

“Of course his habit of failure served us just this once. He did try to see the Archives burned like the rest of the Institute did, after all, and it is only because he has such ‘awful luck’ that the Distortion caught him - although I do not know why It would have stopped him, considering… Well, I’ll just need to thank It again, and remind myself to not Ask.”

The door clicks open with just a little push, the lock apparently intact despite the attack of the heat, and it opens wide from Jon’s slight push against the sooty metal. Beyond the threshold, the open area of the Archives is not dark as Georgie would have expected from an underground room in a ruined building with no electrical connections left, but it is instead lit up by the eerie light of a thousand tape recorders scattered around the desks, a low whirring sound filling up the air.

When Jon crosses the threshold, a gigantic eye opens up in front of him . It lights up the room in silver instead, its glow wrapping around the small figure of her friend until she can see nothing of him but the outline of his familiar-unknown-fae like silhouette.

James gasps. Stoker swears. Martin squeaks. Leitner cowers. Keay stares.

Georgie blinks.

Jon takes one more step, and he is still but a silhouette, a shadow, a void space in the middle of the room, as he takes a place - his place - at the centre of the glowing iris, like a human-shaped vertical pupil. The stylized eyelashes of the form frame the top of his head, almost like a halo - almost like a crown.

’Welcome Home.’

Georgie blinks in time with the light, and time seems to stutter back into reality. The eye - giant, colossal, all-encompassing - closes, the desk lamps turn on, and Jon turns back towards them, his own silver eyes glowing as he stands straighter than he has in a long time.

It reminds her of class presentations with the few teachers that would still bother with them back in uni. Of the rants he’d work himself into at the back of the libraries when discussing Arthurian and Norse lore. Of the nights he’d shed away some of his tight control to let himself fly free and loud in front of a shrieking crowd, beside the frenzied souls he’d found along the way.

Jon smiles.

(How long has it been since she saw that kind of smile on his face ? It seems she is looking at a Jon she’s thought long lost, back before fear had taken over everything else in his life- in the life she hasn’t lived herself, the one she has only seen through his own words, yet also in the one she has, in the days before the fear of their falling out had caused it.)

( How long has it been since he had looked something other than grieving in front of her ? )

A metallic crash echoes behind them and cuts off her thought process. A lithe form slips between them, fuming, heels clicking against the floor. Another bulkier figure follows, frowning as they smoke.

“Explain yourself, Jonathan.”

Notes:

Thank you for reading ! Dont hesitate to comment, I know Ive been a bit remiss in answering them over the last months but I always read them and will answer !

Now a VERY IMPORTANT ad !!! As you all know, the wonderful extraordinary much too kind GrimNiknil is my betareader for this story and has been for quite a few chapters already !
And the wonderful thing I want to share is their very own story !!! It has begun recently and has been growing steadily, a tale of Mothers against Mothers, life against fear, happiness against 161 - everything there is to love about a Magnus Archives fic ! I really do advise everyone to give it a read because it is so good and a great story to invest time into and an incredible idea they had, one that should be shared with the world ! Or the fandom at least.
Please do check out Oh Hey, So You're Adopted Now and enjoy !

Chapter 29: 28. Off The Leash

Summary:

Peter is still glaring at the tape recorder - although it is a different one, Elias realizes, set down neatly on the charred surface of Rosie’s desk, its static feeling the silence around them - when Elias steps into the corridor in the back, his mind set to get to the basem*nt with or without the idiot.

Get to the Archives.

And ki- speak with Jonathan.

“Do you think the cops are going to follow ? They seemed quite… intrigued. Stared at you more than me, luckily !”

Notes:

Sooooooooo you guys do get a chapter on schedule - mostly because this chapter is mostly exposition, really. Sorry for that, between everything, I've had difficulty writing and only got this done today really.

Thank you so much to GrimNiknil as always, for beta-ing this very messy chapter despite their own very busy month !!!

I hope you all will still like this chapter even if it's not very action-y, the next one will be more fun I think !!!
It might not come for a while though - I'm back to my cleaning job, which means pain and exhaustion and overall fatigue for my little brain and my typing hands. But I'll try still !

Maybe check out the discord to chat around in the meantime !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“I will throttle every last one of them !”

“Mmh.”

If his grip was anything else than airtight on the steering wheel, Elias would be slapping Peter right about now, and hard.

(Would have slapped him quite a few times, ever since they’d gotten into the car, and even before, because that moron does not know when to shut up , and wouldn’t know it even if - when his life is very much on the line whenever he was anywhere near Elias.)

( He huffs, blowing hair out of his eyes as his hands itch around the wheel. Idiot. )

If it had been any other day, Elias would never have allowed himself to step out of his own house, much less step into the lobby of his Institute as anything less than the picture-perfect high-society somewhat-unassuming Head of the Institute he’d been for close to two centuries.

It isn’t any other day, of course.

If it had been any other day, he wouldn’t have been driving many miles over the speed limit, with Peter cursing in the passenger seat in a rare display of emotion other than smug indifference, avoiding quite a few collisions only thanks to his ex-husband’s shrieking. He wouldn’t have left behind dozens of tape recorders whirring away in his home, only to find more of them in the backseat, tormenting him with static and whispered reprimands as they had been doing since Peter got back, haunting his night as he Looked and yet could not See Jonathan. He wouldn’t be abusing his tires with a harsh stop on a paved road, barely pulling the key out of the ignition without breaking it as he scrambled out of his seat and the car, strands of hair in his eyes and feeling the rumpled fabric of his shirt on his back even as he tries to not think of his mismatched socks out of all things.

If it had been any other day, he would not be looking up towards his Temple of Beholding and staring upon little more than a dusty crumbling ruin - he would not be feeling as if it mirrors him a little too well just now.

Elias slams the door of the car shut, almost catching the flap of his jacket in between the metallic panels in his hurried movements, and he looks up towards his Institute as he does every morning upon arriving.

When the Institute first rose from the ground, in those first few years after the Crown broke, it had been such a rush to step in front of the building every day, to watch its silhouette rising higher than most buildings in the city, to know that the very sight of its looming shadow was enough to inspire discomfort and anxiety and fear in the hearts of passersby and new employees alike. He had watched every morning when Jonah Magnus was still his name and his legend was slowly rising itself and saw nothing but success in these stones.

He had watched through those days and the two centuries that had followed.

He had watched and every day the owl had stared back.

(It had seemed, then, an acknowledgement of his actions, a sign of Its appreciation, a blessing from his God above upon all the foundations Jonah had built, upon the temples rising first in London then everywhere or so, upon the fear reaped and magnified and centralized oh so efficiently.)

( It had seemed then like his God addressing him then - he swallows, his eyes shifting for a second towards the car and the tape recorders inside. Oh, how wrong he had been. )

The owl had stared back, always… Until yesterday.

Until he stepped out of his car, almost late because of a freak accident a few blocks over, and had barely taken the time to look up before striding towards his office, exuding more confidence and indifference than he usually would until everyone looked away and down as he walked past them.

And then a few hours before, he was staring up and could only rage at the sight of the once beautiful metallic arabesques of the owl warping and bending and melting in the light of a fire that should not have been anywhere hot enough for such a thing to occur.

He could only stare, then, at his Institute while it burned.

He can only stare, today, up towards what is left of it - a crumbling building, a set of sooty stones, an empty ruin. Everything he had worked for, reduced to nothing more than an empty husk of cracking stones and charred wood and broken glass. Every single artefact and book and piece of knowledge he has spent the past two centuries acquiring, vanished from the world. Every contract signed apart from the four he’d hastily stuffed into his bag - all those originals that could not yet be replaced, which was already a liability in itself when it meant some unsavoury rumours could potentially spread away from the Institute and endanger his already precarious reputation in most academic spheres - reduced to nothing more than the ashes.

(The same ashes those barbarians of the Desolation would be dancing upon if they were here to witness the fall of the Magnus Institute, pests that they were.)

( They might not be here yet but soon, everyone will know of the fire, and Elias chokes-fumes-screams- )

Everything he has worked and suffered and bled for, reduced to nothing by the one he’d chosen as his Voice out there in the world - as his Canvas to be bruised and hurt and scarred into a perfect map of the Fears and all they could do - as his head archivist and his Archivist and his Archive, the very person, the very being, the very creature supposed to bring him his throne.

Everything, ruined by the hands of the tool meant to bring about his Ruined World, his Beholden Realm, his Kingdom into existence.

Everything burned to the ground before the Beholden World of Fears was even called.

And Elias had not seen it coming until everything was said and done, nothing left but flimsy contracts and gossiping employees and a liar-deceiver-mystery kept out of his supposedly inescapable Sight.

He had been on the verge of success, not a week before. Had been on the edge of a cliff, either to tumble down its jagged face or to climb up towards heights never before reached, and he had put down every safeguard he could possibly think of - the now lost contracts included - in the wake of Gertrude’s promotion, resistance and subsequent passing , to guarantee his Ascent.

He had picked his next Archivist - his final Archivist - so precisely even as he put the final touches to Gertrude’s “dismissal”, there were so few reasons for Jonathan to rebel, so few ways for him to die a week into the job without him being downright suicidal , so few chances for his masterplan to fall apart so early when he had the support of the Schemer Itself. No assistants to distract him - not for very long anyway, humans did not mesh well with budding Watchers - no true support system to fall back on, not even a cat to tie him down.

Only his curiosity and his fear and his hunger. Only the Web clinging to his hair, the Lonely slightly misting his glasses, the Eye in his every thought.

A moth, so easily directed and baited and drawn to Beholding’s light.

And yet-

Elias tears his eyes away from the sorry image of his legacy falling apart to look beyond the charred doors, further into the darkness that has taken over the empty lobby in the absence of both Rosie and any surviving lightbulb , seeing not the man he is chasing after, but the footprints in the soot at the threshold.

There is more than one set there - far more than one, in truth - but Elias doesn’t care.

He is going to kill Jonathan Sims.

And if anyone gets in his way, he will rip them apart mind and body until there is nothing left but a stammering heap of brokenbones-brokenminds-brokenhearts-

“Oh, lovely. Those cops are looking our way.”

Elias does not physically look back and does not wait for more than a second of stillness before he strides into the Institute, but – in that instant – he allows his Sight to split again in between his own eyes and the lifeless eyeballs of a “Help Wanted” poster across the street to watch out for the only other car around.

And indeed, there they are. Frozen in place, watching Peter and Elias himself, watching his Institute. Cops. Police officers. Sectioned ones. The ones that had come by when the fire had already devoured its way through everything but Artefact Storage and the Archives - and how smug he’d been then, thinking he was still victorious even through the hardships and catastrophes and calamities sent against him, how strongly he’d believed it another blessing, how sure he’d been when he was wrong-mistaken-betrayed - interrogating employees left and right, listening to Rosie as she sniffled and babbled and weaved a story against his Archivist.

(And how ready he’d been to punish her then, for her transgressions, for her mistake, for her attempt against his Archivist’s freedom and life. How ready he’d been to defend his Archivist from the Hunt - that is, until he could be the one to send them after Jonathan, of course. Some things could occur at any point, but beings as dangerous as Hunters had to be controlled when his project was in their vicinity.)

( How ready he’d been to break her mind for her treason - when Jonathan was the real pest all along. )

The cops - the Hunter and the Misaligned one - that had almost come to him with their sneers and glares and little notebooks before Jonathan had collapsed and they’d run after him instead.

(Collapsed, as the Archives were touched by the flames, and Elias should have known then, should have known that such a young Archivist - one who had not taken a single live statement yet - should have felt barely a pinch. Only with the Archives destroyed would he and his assistants have collapsed - and subsequently died, was of course his theory.)

( But Jonathan had collapsed from the faintest damage to the door of the Archives. And Elias should have knownknownknown- )

The cops are there - but he doesn’t care, does he ? Tiny insignificant little officers, mortals playing with higher powers they cannot even name , looking away when they should be opening their eyes to the blessings before them - they are not even worth the thoughts he wasted on them the days before now. Not anymore.

He doesn’t have any use for them now. Because Jonathan Sims will not need to be chased by the police, interrogated by the Misaligned, hunted by the Hunter. He will not need this incentive to isolate himself in paranoia, this push to run away, this mark to bear.

The dead do not need hunting.

(And Jonathan will die by Elias’s own hands, he will die choking on his own blood while witnessing centuries of horrors and more in the unending reel of a looping film, he will die so painfully that no one will ever dare cross the path of Jonah Magnus and his followers ever again, he will die broken and bleeding and begging- )

( He almost feels his own heart stutter to a stop as the murderous thoughts breach his mind, a far stronger presence bearing down upon him as if in reprimand - in punishment for his blasphemy, and Elias knowsknows K nows every blessing he has once taken for granted could be stripped away in but a second all because of that little tool-)

‘Control yourself, Heart.’

Elias blinks, his sight focusing back into the single plane awarded by his own physical eyes, and he feels as much like a child being lectured as he does a faithful man awaiting the angel tasked with his smiting, when he crosses the threshold of the great doors of his Institute, feeling none of the power he had been so used to - had taken for granted, truly.

Never before has he felt such a visceral need to murder someone before, to the point of knowingly antagonizing the very God to which he has pledged his existence and his every goals to.

He’d been angry at the hypothetical culprit back when Peter had come back from the hospital, of course, a rage so powerful and all-encompassing it had seemed blinding- only broken by Peter’s very uncharacteristic shriek of terror and the borrowed voice Beholding had used to address him for the very first time. Such anger, too, had been quite uncharacteristic of him - he felt rage like any other, yes, but he could count on one hand how many times such petty emotions had caught control of him like this, and have fingers left over to drink tea with the Queen and her dogs.

(Perhaps this should have been the first hint that something was wrong, really. To have his emotions run amock like this, and to know they were somehow out of his control when it had not happened to him in a century - Gertrude’s murder did not count, of course, he’d been planning it for quite a while - should have been the first sign. The sign that things were wrong, very wrong-wrong- wrong- )

( Or perhaps it should have been his excellent memory somehow failing him when he tried to recall the details of Jonathan’s interview and could not call up anything but satisfaction and an ineligible signature as the bottom of his contract. )

‘Do not dwell on the irrelevant, Heart.’

It is still quite a… peculiar sensation to hear such a voice - coming from an old tape recorder half-buried under the rubble Elias spots as he steps into the lobby, an object which he is almost certain was not there an instant before - addressing him in complete, constructed, spoken sentences.

It is… astonishing.

He can admit it - begrudgingly, of course - he had never really considered it a… possibility. Never before had he truly thought about the very idea that Beholding - that any of the Entities, really, in their Eldritch, All-Powerful, Unreachable glory - would be capable of speech. Or rather, of a form of speech that would be comprehensible to mortals - one that would adhere to the feeble scale of human languages, scattered around in a thousand languages in a cacophony of misunderstanding and confusion and truly inefficient constructions. He hadn’t considered that even the simplest equivalent-to-a-thought in the equivalent-to-a-mind of the Entities would ever be translatable into something as simplistic, as basic, as human as a mortal language - any of them, really.

He’d never considered the Eye would be capable and willing to speak in English.

Peter is still glaring at the tape recorder - although it is a different one, Elias realizes, set down neatly on the charred surface of Rosie’s desk, its static feeling the silence around them - when Elias steps into the corridor in the back, his mind set to get to the basem*nt with or without the idiot.

Get to the Archives.

And ki- speak with Jonathan.

“Do you think the cops are going to follow ? They seemed quite… intrigued. Stared at you more than me, luckily !”

Elias doesn’t dignify Peter’s inane chatter with a response - and how is it that a man thriving on isolation and loneliness can be so noisy, really - and keeps on walking still, not even deigning to look back and check on said officers. They can follow if they want, for all Elias cares - and he really doesn’t.

They probably will follow, anyway, because Hunters and their acolytes are seldom ones to turn away from something that has caught their interest, and Jonathan had clearly caught theirs when he’d collapsed and they’d taken him to the hospital. Which in hindsight was yet one more thing that should have caught his attention then, that should have rung as wrong-confusing- incoherent , considering what he’d thought he knew of Jonathan then. His Archivist should not have been anywhere near the level of power necessary to even warrant a glance from a Hunter, much less such a brutal and contrary reaction as the officer sending him to the hospital without hurting him first - they’d only looked towards him because of Rosie’s delightful little ‘confession’ in the first place, and he shouldn’t have been anything deserving of more than a passing glance just a week into his new position.

But then again, his Archivist should not have been anywhere near the level of power, the level of dependency, the level of symbiosis necessary to fall apart as soon as the fire licked at the heel of the Archives.

Yet here they are.

Elias would not be against having something to beat up right about now.

(Preferably with a metal pipe or something equally as gruesome, it had relieved quite a bit of stress when he’d-)

( What- What was he just thinking about ? A pipe. )

He blinks and bites his cheek to contain a scream.

Nothing about any of this was - is - making any sense.

(Elias has always hated the uncertain and the unplanned and the unexplained, even from the very first years of Jonah Magnus’s first life, back when the Eye was an unknown and yet already a staple of his every waking moment as he read and learned and watched, trying to make sense of everything around it until his grip upon his reality and all it encompassed was absolute. )

( In that way, he isn’t exactly the best suited to his own God, not that he would ever admit it or even consider what it could mean. He’d always needed to Understand what he was watching - manipulation couldn’t be done without a good grasp of one’s target, after all. )

Elias blinks the thoughts away - of his own will this time, small mercy - with a scowl, bringing a hand up to push his hair back from his face. In front of him, two steps away, stands the top of the stairs leading down - the Archives on one side and Artifact Storage on the other.

This is all that is left of his Institute. A sombre basem*nt, hidden away so deep in the depths of a ruin even the fire hadn’t touched it - or at the very least, should not have, but he knows there is a scorch mark on the door down there, one he’s seen through an eye on a crate minutes after Jonathan had collapsed the day before.

There are no lights in the corridor, lightbulbs nothing but a pattern of broken glass on the floor as they are everywhere else, and there are none on the stairs either as he takes a first step down in the dark. He has not brought a torch with him in their precipitation, and the light from the broken doors and windows of the lobby reached far enough into the corridor that they had easily reached its end themselves. The weak light of the day does not reach the basem*nt, of course, but Elias finds little will to care about it in his own mind despite the very real risk of breaking his neck on a misstep and ploughing on forwards, if a little slower.

(Not even the possibility of death will stop him, not now that his victory, absolute and universal and finally-in-reach has been taken from him by something as insignificant and small and weak as Jonathan Sims-)

( He feels the reprimand without the need for Beholding to speak it aloud, and shifts his thought process away from his Archivist and towards what may have brought the fire to the Archives when it shouldn’t have reached them at all. Better. )

Just a bit behind him on his right, he sees the flicker of a flame as it lights up the small space of the staircase, the dancing spark illuminating Peter’s face as he lights his empty pipe and keeps the flame lit beyond its pseudo-usefulness, lighting the way. His expression is almost smug as Elias’s steps pick up in speed again.

Prick.

“Any idea about what we’ll find down there ? A bunch of tape recorders again, maybe. It would fit the aesthetic of this mess-”

“Oh do be quiet , Peter.”

Elias does not need to look back to know Peter has lifted his hands up in a mocking mimicry of surrender, a sly smile - if slightly strained, because this is a right mess indeed and Peter is quite aware of it and of the uncertainties it brings, which neither of them really appreciate in the best of circ*mstances - on his face as he exhales a bit of fog from his pipe.

Descending the stairs down to the Archives is a long affair - longer than he recalls, longer than he would like considering the bloodlust in his chest is boiling stronger with every step that is not his last, threatening to spill over into something he cannot recognize nor predict nor stop - but Peter is, at the very least, content to stay silent for the entire trip.

‘Lo, he can be taught. Or at the very least, intimidated by the current Eldritch chaos into complying for at least ten minutes. Incredible. Astonishing. Unreal.

(Then again, despite how annoyed Elias acted and was - and how very much not in the mood he’s been for the last dozen hours or so - he knows Peter has been very silent for the same amount of time as well. His usual snark is still of the same quality, but the quantity has greatly decreased.)

( Perhaps more of it would still be… not comforting per se - Elias doesn’t need to be comforted - it wouldn’t go unappreciated entirely. But of course, while he himself is feeling rage bubbling in his mind in a staggering and concerning amount, Peter himself is not as blasé as he would like to seem. )

There isn’t much time, however, to ponder further about Peter’s silence and what it tells of his current mental state - and the very very very few occasions where such silence has overtaken his tendency to chatter have never been good nor even remotely fruitful, just very very very disturbing - not even in the face of the one man who could more than potentially erase him from the world with one strong look, because they have reached the bottom of the stairs.

And just a few steps further, among metallic crates scattered around, stands the very ragtag group of people that had surrounded Elias’s current target the day before. Five of them, three his own employees - including Gertrude’s heir, the vengeful mutt and the lonely liar - and two of them strangers, although his eyes catch the edge of a tattoo across the taller one’s throat and his identity is not a secret anymore.

Sasha James. Tim Stoker. Martin Blackwood. Gerard Keay, alive and somehow in London without Elias having any prior knowledge of it. And one he vaguely recognizes as a podcaster who’d talked about Magnus once in her show, a few years prior. A heterogeneous group of five, for sure, but-

Oh, but there are six of them.

Six ? Who is that man there, tied up and bruised and cowering ? Older, dirty, pale - his face hidden in the shadows as he huddles against the wall, an old trench coat matted with dust and blood and ink out of all things. A crooked nose from an older fracture, most likely, a black eye, a bloodied lip…

The man turns his head away from Gerard Keay, and he makes yet another pathetic noise as his eyes stop on Elias and Peter.

Jurgen Leitner.

How-

But of course, Peter nudges him out of this tangent when he exhales a small slip of fog, and Elias follows the wisp until he sees someone else, further down the corridor - past the doors and into the Archives themselves, somehow backlit not by the torches of the idiots around but by an eerie silver light coming from behind a silhouette standing there.

A small, frail, familiar silhouette.

An instant afterwards, Elias has pushed past James, Stoker, Blackwood, Keay, the podcaster - Barker - and Leitner, barely acknowledging Peter behind him as he grits his teeth and snarls, hands clenched into fists and teeth bared.

" Explain yourself, Jonathan. "

As soon as the words have left his lips, Elias feels himself freeze in place without even the slightest push from his God, his mind skidding to a halt.

The man before him has shifted, turning back completely towards the open door, and Elias’s eyes have crossed that of Jonathan Sims, the very man he’d been chasing in coming here.

His target was right there.

But…

The man standing beyond the door to the Archives is not Jonathan Sims.

He cannot be.

(It cannot be Jonathan, it cannot be anyone close, it cannot be anything close-)

( Is it even a man at all ? )

This… this is not the Jonathan Sims he looked upon in the library eight days ago, before calling him up to his office.

This is not the Jonathan Sims he’d watched late in the evening, alone in the Library when every other researcher had gone home, the one he’d pitied and held in contempt, for his presence there so late was as much a product of his devouring curiosity as it was the result of his terrible, debilitating, crippling desire to please . To have his work and role and worth recognized, in a feeble attempt to bury his own self-worth issues under a veneer of professionalism, to hide away his fear of rejection under sneers and contempt and insults, to camouflage his fear behind his scepticism.

This is not the Jonathan Sims Elias had chosen back on that very first interview - oh so similar to his current body’s previous owner and his own interview - the one he has seen as a gift-wrapped little puppet ready to be manipulated and cajoled and scarred into the perfect Archive.

This is not Jonathan sims.

It cannot be.

This.. This is not even remotely close to what Jonathan Sims is - was ? - in Elias’s memories of the man, from his first to his last interview, from all the months in between, from the flashes Elias caught through the last week and the last day and the last few hours - in between blurry images and edited Watching and complete darkness.

This thing is not Jonathan Sims.

This thing…

This thing-

This is no man. This is no mortal. This is no human being, no human creature, no Avatar.

Elias knows he should step back, right now. He does not need to hear the swears and insults and questions of the ragtag team behind him, trying to chase him away and protect this it-him-Jonathan-? from his ‘terrible’ clutches. He does not need Peter’s hand to try and pull him back, only for the man to stagger back instead - more likely than not under his-its-Jonathan’s-? gaze. He does not need a God, be it his own or another, to slip the thought in his mind or spit it out of a tape recorder in between stretches of eldritch static.

He doesn’t need any of them to know he should step back - step back and back and back and run away right now - but even as his mind shrieks, he does not move.

He stands frozen, and does not blink, and stares.

Or rather, is stared at.

“Explain myself ? I do not owe you a word, Jonah Magnus.”

The voice that slips out of Jonathan - of the thing’s - mouth is a jumble of voices, that of his host only one among the dozens that sound out every word as if they were separate, yet edited together to construct a cohesive sentence.

There is static underneath all of those voices, too. An eerie, scratching, high sound filling his ears.

Just like Beholding using Peter’s voice - Peter’s words - to address Elias for the very first time in more than two centuries, the tape recorder spitting static and fury and contempt.

As if this thing…

No.

It is as if Jonathan and Beholding are…

One.

Elias bites his tongue and grips his uncombed hair with an undignified noise of confusion-fury- horror.

He does not even acknowledge the two police officers running down the stairs behind them, the Hunter following the scent with none of the bloodlust he'd expect to find in a chasing dog, the Misaligned frowning at the gathering of people around Elias himself and.. and Jonathan-Beholding-Both-and-neither-and-One.

The static fills his ears and his eyes and his mind as he tastes blood.

Elias - Jonah - has lost control.

AndJonathan seems to have it instead.

What in the name of Barnabas’s yellowed bones is even happening ?!

Notes:

I hope you liked this chapter despite the flaws I personally find in it ! Don't hesitate to comment, I love to exchange and chat around ! See you perhaps on the first of July, or the fifteenth !

And check out Grim's story, Oh Hey, So You're Adopted Now !!!!! Excellent story and great writer and it's just awesome

Chapter 30: 29. No Plot Left Unturned

Summary:

He who came back…

Is he even human anymore ?

Is he even really Jon anymore ?

(Are they all too scared of the truth, maybe, too scared to consider that the small form standing before them, bringing an almost-world-ender down to heel with a look, might not be the colleague, the friend, the almost-something-more he’d been before leaving the library ?)

(Are they - Is Tim too scared of the truth, the truth that his last words to Jon were of cruelty, in this life and another ?)

Notes:

A chapter which I find is a bit all over the place, but I did write it over the course of an entire month in small increments while being absolutely exhausted sooooooo

But hey I managed to finish it in time for a deadline, kinda !

Hope you still enjoy it !
All my thanks to GrimNiknil as always for betaing this messsy chapter !!!!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Explain yourself, Jonathan.”

Now, for all intents and purposes, Tim has very much not lived the life, nor the death, he has witnessed when Jon shared with them the horrors that would have been their future had the younger man not come back from the end of the world - and isn’t that still a surprise, to learn that Jon is not only younger than Tim by more than half a decade, but that he is also the youngest of them all by ten months.

Tim has not lived that life, but he can still feel something that is very much not the simple disregard he’s held for his boss since he stepped inside of Research a few years prior after the most boring interview he’d ever attended.

(The most boring interview, yet the only one that had left him feeling like there were a thousand cold plastic fingers crawling over and under his clothes as he sat in that armchair, like those same hands were pulling and pinching and tearing his insides as he signed the contract, like his skin was ripping at the seams as he left the room and drove home in a daze and broke every mirror in his flat when he got home before he passed out for ten hours straight.)

(None of the images reflected felt right, all of them a face yet none of them truly his - and in every surface, behind him, looking over his shoulder and witnessing his horror, he could have sworn he’d seen familiar steel eyes observing him greedily, hungry and unsatisfied and wanting for moremoremore. Yet when morning came, he went back. Because what was a memory of horror in the face of revenge ?)

Tim knows - Knows, even, all thanks to Jon and Keay and what they called the Archive - that he has been spared the worst of it all, when it comes to the Institute, the Entities, Bouchard.

When it comes to the Infestation and the fear tearing it all apart and the Circus.

When it comes to the beginning and the pain in-between and the End.

Because he has not lived through the Archives.

Yet he still feels it.

The rage.

(And how that rage mirrors the very one that brought him to this graveyard of an Institute in the first place, with no body to bury, no tombstone to decorate, no memory to mourn - with nothing but a blaze in his heart burning through everything else, until there was nothing but guilt and fear and an inferno calling for the death of all those that had laid hands on his brother.)

(How that rage mirrors, he now knows, that of a man laughing through his own revenge and pain and death.)

He has very much not lived through the horrors Elias Bouchard had brought upon the version of them Jon remembers - or the horrors he has simply left the door open for, once they were all deep enough into the Abyss to attract Entities and monsters alike by themselves - but he has heard about some of them now.

Has seen some of them.

Has vicariously lived through some of them.

(Has felt the heat of the flames and the cold of the porcelain and the strength of the explosion as everything around him collapsed and he could only feel gleegleeglee-)

(Has felt nothing but his current emotions afterwards as he watched what came next unfold, because the story went on - and he was not part of it anymore.)

He does not hate Bouchard for what the man has done to him, per se - because for all intents and purposes, Bouchard has not currently done anything to Tim apart from a very upsetting interview and from attempting to trap him in a death sentence of a job, a ploy that has luckily been thoroughly thwarted by Jon’s… new ‘station’ within the Institute and its eldritch hierarchy - but he hates him because deep inside his mind, deep inside his heart, he knows the man, the monster before them, had not even hesitated before he took a hundred lives and stepped on them towards his grand Ascension or whatever.

Tim can respect a person with determination and the actual balls - no sexism intended - to go through with their plan, be it asking someone out or punching a dick or taking their revenge, without hesitation. He can respect someone who goes through with their bullsh*t - which is why he can respect Gertrude Robinson and Gerard Keay, despite how f*cking annoying the latter is and how f*cking merciless the former was.

(Although Gertrude did lose a bunch of brownie points, just for the fact she’d been ready to see Sasha take her place in this prison of paperwork with only a warning meant to be listened to after the binding contract that would have trapped her down there.)

(Couldn’t she have sent them a letter or some sh*t - even handed it to Sash on an off-day or something - even if digital recordings didn’t work ? Honestly.)

Still. He can, supposedly, respect that kind of people.

He does try to not be a hypocrite, after all.

But while he can respect that, he will never forgive the man that watched that very Sasha walk to her death without a word - and who spoke of that moment as if nothing had happened afterwards for anyone to hear on those goddamned tapes, as if she’d been even less in his eyes than a cog in the machine - instead just the pebble kicked to disturb the pond of pseudo-ignorance they’d been marinating in to let the horrors in beneath the algae.

And for what followed, of course.

Because Tim did sh*tty things too, sure. What comes to mind - from his current life and not the future-unlived-one - is pranking Jon with a thousand googly eyes on every single office furniture he owns within the Institute, including his spare ones, and that is one thing. Wasn’t very nice, yeah, but it also wasn’t actually that bad.

What Elias did, though - driving Jon, and by extension, most of the Archives, halfway to insanity through horrible crushing paranoia, preying on his natural trust issues, and leading them all to the edge of gruesome death through passive use of the monster replacing Sash in particular and complete disregard for their survival when pitting them against monsters and artefacts in general ? That’s another thing entirely. Another thing that is, by Tim’s current standards, very much not cool.

Not cool at all, and therefore an offence worthy of at the very least one fist - or one axe swing, if he could get his hands on one as easily as Jon had - in the face.

While all of these thoughts are running through Tim’s head, he is still aware enough of the situation before him to witness the aftermath of Elias strong-arming his way into the Archives - and his attempt at interrogating Jon when the younger - as much as a somewhat-ageless time-travelling Avatar of Eldritch Terror can be younger than Tim - is quite literally standing under the watchful gaze of a God.

(A God - a Monster, a World-Ender, a giant Eye in the Sky feeding on their pain and rage and fear - which had clearly chosen a side, as it was currently and quite literally ‘standing’ behind Jon, backing him up in the most literal sense.)

(If even Tim could see it, Mister Bouchard-Magnus-High Priest of Beholding-or-whatever should too, honestly.)

The glorious undoing of Elias Bouchard might not have been fatal - although Keay and Barker out of all of them seem quite ready to fix that little inconvenience on the first occasion - but it is still a visceral, haunting, exhilarating thing to witness.

It is truly a sight to behold when the man stumbles back upon Jon’s words, his steel cold eyes wide enough to show the red of popped capillaries creeping over the white of his sclera - and it looks like corruption spreading, like terror building, like madness creeping in-

Elias - Magnus - has lost control of the situation.

Lost control of his puppet too.

And now, he looks like he’s losing control of himself.

And Tim, rage and pain and cruelty wrapped around his heart, finds the sight of it absolutely exalting.

Jon and Elias are still standing opposite each other, the latter not quite stumbling back even as his knees seem to buckle in place. His companion - Peter Lukas, Tim remembers from a life never lived, the man who’d seen the loneliness shining in Martin’s eyes and had preyed upon both it and his need to fix everything - is cursing under his breath, his precedent strained grin now a mask of annoyed pain.

It doesn't hide the truth, though.

He has stumbled back.

That, that guy who’s built like a f*cking tank beneath the Captain Haddock get-up, has stumbled back from Jon.

He’d seemed to somewhat cower before, when the Eye was open and bearing down upon them all from Its place behind Jon. His shoulders had risen, his fists had curled, and the man had seemed that much more affected by the feeling of being watched-seen-Known than any of them in the same moment.

He had seemed… more solid as well.

More noticeable.

And he’d stumbled back.

And Jon hadn’t even been looking at Lukas himself. He and his Eye buddy had been focused on Elias - as much as It-Who-Watches-All and his “special little boy” could be focusing on one single thing at a time - and yet Mister Mysterious Mist had been affected.

Was it just the presence of the Eye that had affected him so ? But he’d been the Head of the Institute for months, according to Jon. He’d been standing in this building, spending his days in the temple of what one could easily call the antithesis to his ‘Lonely God’ or whatever, he’d been sleeping with Mister High-Voyeur-Priest for f*cks sake.

Without meaning to, Tim feels his mind delving into Sasha-like questions for an instant.

Is it the Eye ? Has it become more powerful, maybe more… concentrated within the Archives and perhaps Artifact Storage, now that everything else had burned ? Was it a consequence of the whole time-travel thing ?

Or is it…

Is it Jon ?

And somehow, Peter Lukas is the one thing to bring Tim back to the thoughts he’d been pushing away, ever since they began planning the fire. To the thoughts he’d been ashamed of, because they were so similar to those of the broken angry dead man Jon had spoken of. To the thoughts he wasn’t that ashamed of though, because he had seen horrors once and had sworn to never be caught off guard again.

Jon, grumpy and awkward and very much still human, had stepped out of the library days - years, decades, centuries ? - ago.

And he who had come back had not been the same man Tim had meant to apologize to, after their last words exchanged had been a strained goodbye and harsh insults spoken behind Jon’s back.

He who came back…

Is he even human anymore ?

Is he even really Jon anymore ?

(Are they all too scared of the truth, maybe, too scared to consider that the small form standing before them, bringing an almost-world-ender down to heel with a look, might not be the colleague, the friend, the almost-something-more he’d been before leaving the library ?)

(Are they - Is Tim too scared of the truth, the truth that his last words to Jon were of cruelty, in this life and another ?)

Tim knows he’s been dancing around the subject for the last week and then some - he’s been dancing around it ever since Sasha let go of her knife in Jon’s office on that very first morning really. Because Sasha had vetoed it - Jon’s Jon-ism that is - and Sasha was always right of course, and Tim had been all too quick to follow her lead because he really really really hadn’t wanted his grumpy coworker - his friend - to have been taken and tainted and twisted into yet another monster.

He’d lost one brother already. That had been more than enough.

(That had been too much. That had been too much and that had been unfair and that had been such a f*cking tragedy when he’d had so much to live still. It had been too much.)

(So much, that he’d walk to his own death and that of perhaps three others in revenge in less than two years, if not for Jon coming back-)

But he cannot keep avoiding it - not really. Because Sasha keeps bringing it up when she theorizes about Jon’s current strengths, eldritch powers-wise, and his link to the Archives, and his new state of being. Because Keay himself is clearly a f*cking zombie whose current job seems to cuddle with Jon whenever they are in reach of each other, for some f*cking reason. Because Jurgen Leitner, collector of horrors - these horrors being those most wonderful beautiful plentiful books of doom which everyone and their cousin would like to burn in a bout of world-saving arson - seems absolutely terrified of both Keay and Jon, and only one of them is not a twig of a man ready to snap at the first breeze.

Because Elias - because Jonah Magnus - a man Tim now knows to be a monster and a manipulator and a world-ender among many many many other awful things, has staggered back, just like his lonely husband.

Elias, Magnus, the man who led half of them to their death and the other half to the end of the world, looks ready to tear his hair out.

And all of that - Lukas, Leitner, Elias - all of that makes Tim stop.

Because this is it.

This is the moment - the moment to either close his eyes and let go of his doubts, of his suspicions, of his fears, or to square up and confront those very things in the face.

This is the moment - a moment coming much too late after he held a knife under a pizza box out of all things, and yet a moment coming much too early when he’s been thoroughly ignoring every little sign for more than a week after that.

This is the moment - the second - where Tim needs to decide.

Decide whether Jonathan Sims, he who came back from his interview other than when he left, is human enough to fight for… or monster enough to kill off.

(And maybe Tim hates himself for thinking about such things when Sasha has looked into Jon’s eyes for one second and taken hold of his hand with no more hesitation. But he knows monsters, of a kind at least, and who knows what this Eye thing’s kind could do ?)

(What kind of idea could a giant silver eye and its little champion plant into one’s mind, using the pathetic likeness of a friend and the fabricated certainty of a victim and the absolute trust of Tim ? What kind of emotion, of memory, of false truth could it make them believe, if it so much as wished it ?)

Jon is still standing in the middle of the Archives’ bullpen, short and thin and terrifying.

Elias and his eldritch introverted husband are still visibly reeling from the entire interaction, between Jon and the bulk of their group.

Sasha is muttering in her hand, Martin is staring ahead, Barker is frowning silently, Keay is grinning like the dead madman he is, and Leitner is whimpering in his corner.

And Tim needs to decide.

Is Jon human enough for him to bear ?

Is Jon monster enough for him to deal the blow himself ?

Is Tim ready for his own conclusion ?

(He thinks of a ringmaster and a circus show and a gaggle of monsters, and wants to burn it all down.)

(He thinks of a small man turned into a monster because Tim had blown him up, and wants to burn himself with it all.)

“Y-You-, I-, What did-”

Elias is speechless, sputtering, stammering in a way Tim has never seen - at the very least not of his own two eyes. The man has lost all poise, has lost even the shreds of dignity he’d entered the room, the presence his fury had allowed him to keep.

This master manipulator, this eldritch priest, this world ender, taken down by a Look and a few words.

By Jon.

Tim feels himself balance on the edge of the knife - the same knife he would have gutted Jon with, or at least tried to, had Sasha not stopped their assault plans - and watches it all unfold.

He looks at Jon. Jon and the Eye behind him and the silver of both, one unique shade of metal - the silver of the mirrors that Tim broke into the smallest shards, of the studs and piercings of a dead man walking back into the world and calling him a piece of sh*t, of the knives pulled under pizza boxes and the knife brought down at the end of the End of the world.

He looks at Jon.

Tim is about to decide.

And that is when Jon looks back.

And he who looks back is not the Archive. Not the Archivist. Not the Eye’s Vessel.

The gigantic Eye behind Jon closes just as Jon’s eyes - still silver but oh so much softer, warmer, mirrors showing Tim not the distorted images of his fear but simply the reflection of his own widened and worried eyes - cross his, and the smaller man offers him that crooked shy little smile of his.

The scars on his lip pull a little, and it comes out even more awkward than usual.

And Tim decides.

Really, there were never any other choices - not in this life, not in this moment, not with this Jon.

(f*ck other Tims.)

(He’s getting on Team Monster Jon.)

“Neat light show. I approve of the theatrical spookiness, of course !”

The face Jon makes is worth it all.

Barker huffs a laugh behind him, and the tension among their group seems to unwind fully, just like that. His shoulders relax as he steps aside closer to Sasha and Martin - closer to the Archives themselves, closer to the spot where Jon stands still - and exhales, closed fists no longer so tight that his knuckles are white and aching.

His movement seems to break a lull in their group too, as Keay huffs under his breath and steps forward too, bypassing them and almost body-checking Bouchard on his way to Jon. Leitner is left whimpering in his corner, not a toe out of line - or rather, not a toe over the threshold of the Archives, which is probably wise of him considering the scorch marks Tim can see on the floor there.

(Honestly. If someone should be allowed to burn down this place, it should be the Archival Team, not some random evil librarian weirdo. The nerve of that guy.)

(Stealing Martin’s thunder as the great arsonist of the story like this ? Preposterous.)

Elias and Lukas are still very much uncomfortable - and the fact that Tim can see it so clearly is a testament to how shaken they must be, because while he had quite the experience in people watching, he doesn’t quite think he’s near the level necessary to read a two-hundred years-old madman’s and his divorced-husband’s body languages so easily - and he’s almost certain he sees Elias abort a step back when Jon steps closer to their group, leaning quite heavily on his cane.

Keay is quick to offer some more support under the guise of an arm thrown around Jon’s shoulders, and Tim is not resenting the fact that he didn’t take the initiative first, he is not. They stand in relative silence, although it is nowhere near as heavy as it was a few moments ago, the tape recorders all turned off except for one tucked under Jon’s free arm, the whirring sound low and gentle as the man seems to sway a little and tuck himself further into Keay’s side.

Of course, he has not yet recovered from this whole mess.

(Why are they even here when they all should be resting, Jon most of all ?)

(Oh right. Evil librarian and spooky tape recorders and Jon's problematic relationship with his workplace.)

Maybe now that they have managed to check on the Archives - and perhaps scared Bouchard just enough that he would maybe leave them alone for a few days of peace, or at the very least not follow them back up and out of the Institute, if the man acting like a glitching hologram in the background is any indication of his next actions - they might all be able to rest ?

Really, just a night of peace for f*ck’s sake, was that too much to ask for ?

(Famous last words.)

(Really. Famous f*cking last words.)

Leitner cries out, and Tim spins on his heel to cross the golden-glinting-greedy eyes of the cop from the day before, her partner right behind her as they almost body-check Barker out of the doorway and stride into the Archives with purpose.

A purpose which seems to be lost, as the cop’s eyes catch onto Jon’s and she once again seems to blank, still and silent and unblinking. Her colleague frowns, and reaches her free hand forward to maybe shake the cop out of it, a notebook almost identical to Sasha’s in her other hand.

Jon breaks eye contact first, and his gaze shifts to the doorway of the Archives.

They do not settle on Leitner, though.

They seem to bore into the dark.

The notebook cop’s fingers do not reach their destination, because both officers spin on their heels just as Tim just did seconds after Jon looks away, and every single pair of eyes in the room seem to follow his gaze towards the door and the darkness beyond.

Even Elias and Lukas are watching.

Leitner whimpers, again.

Stumbling footsteps echo, now close enough to be heard, and an ashen hand reaches out to the boxes, almost as if looking for purchase, for support. A ragged breath fills the renewed silence, clothing rubbing against what seems like plastic in a sound Tim recognizes far too well.

And he recognizes the face that appears in the light of the Archives the next second just as well, if not more.

(He sees it every day in the single photo frame he’s kept when moving.)

(He sees it every night in the dark corners of his flat, in every shape he cannot place outright.)

“... Tim ?”

There is static and fear and hesitation in that voice, but Tim could still recognize it amongst a billion and more.

Danny.

Notes:

Don't forget to comment if you wanna chat !
Thank you for reading, have a great summer

Chapter 31: 30. What's in a name ?

Summary:

The sun is not that high up in the sky, and the city of London seems to be taking her time to wake up as he walks through her streets aimlessly. Where to go now ? Where to go in a city he recalls so vaguely he might as well have seen it on a fifty-years-old map once, through streets he thinks he recognizes until he looks closer and the memories become blurry, through alleys that seem to be one and the same - that seem to morph and twist and shimmer until they mimic the alley behind the theatre.

He stops, and thinks back on that phenomenon for an instant. The alleyways… changing shape into that of the very place he’s just fled… the one place he really really really doesn’t want to go back to… And it appears again and again, as if to bring him back there each time he tries to leave the main avenue.

As if to guide him - or to drive him mad.

Notes:

It's midnight here in France, today is the 30th, so here is your chapter !

This chapter was, as the Bible would say, a BITCH.

I hated writing most of it, I've been stuck on it for more than two months in utter dissatisfaction, and I decided a few days ago to just be done with it - go on with the story, and maybe, maybe one day come back to it.
So fair warning on a quite probably quality drop on some parts of this chapter of HELL.

But hey. 30 chapters ! Never thought I'd get this far

Anyways, please enjoy your time reading still, thank you as always for GrimNiknil without whom this chapter would still not be out, and see you at the end where I might have gained back some of my subpar sanity.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

There is no one, no thing around him when he wakes, sprawled across a grand stage, the curtains closed and the lights shut off.

Everything is still.

Everything is silent.

Everything is realrealreal.

He sits up in a mechanical, inhuman, doll-like movement - hips rotating without a twitch from his thigh muscles, leaning to stand with no hand required to support his weight, straightening his posture with not a spasm running through his abdomen. He looks around, and feels neither the warmth of the air nor the cold of the floor underneath his fingers, smells neither the dust visible in the air nor the fresh varnish he spots on the wooden parquet.

He hears nothing - he hears not even a single breath coming from himself, and it takes him an embarrassing amount of time to realize it is because he has not yet found the need to breathe in or out even once.

He doesn't hear his own heart when it should by all rights be pounding in his chest right about now.

Shouldn't it ?

(It is embarrassing and terrifying and yet he finds himself quickly putting the thought aside, instead focusing on his surroundings. It seems like such a small matter, in comparison to waking up in a seemingly unknown environment.)

( The oddness of his breathing - or lack thereof - dissipates with each second, and he soon forgets about it entirely. )

He blinks, and tries to remember where he is.

Covent Garden Theater. Right. He recognizes the numerous and luxurious seats covered in red velvet, those same seats he’d admired when he first entered the empty opera house, what seems like mere hours - yet like a century - ago. The same flowing curtains of dark fabric, hanging down like waterfalls of expensive silk which he’d rubbed between index and thumb, dark red wine spilt in soft waves across the main’s stage. The same sprawling ceiling, balconies and chandeliers, out of reach yet clearly in sight, all the eerier in their grandeur for the low light provided by emergency exit neons.

He blinks, and tries to remember why, when, how he ended up here.

Oh, of course. Urban exploration. He’d found a new hobby and had dived head and heart and health first into it, every waking moment outside of work spent looking for new interesting locations - or better yet, actually exploring them. Once the abandoned buildings had become a bit of a repetitive adventure, he’d begun looking up populated areas, buildings in the cities, famous locations… It had of course devolved into trespassing. Like many of his other passions.

Finding himself in the Royal Opera House is not aaaaaall that surprising, all things considered.

Waking up there, however…

Why is he still there ? One did not usually end up spending the night in a building they were very much not allowed in - could cause some problems, that. And as much as he would think of himself as slightly reckless, he is not that reckless, thank you very much.

Especially when he has plans.

And he’d had those, had he not ? He’d meant to go home to… he’d had plans to meet up with… with someone ?

He blinks, and tries to think of that someone.

Nothing comes up, nothing but a void of a face and a silence of a voice and an absence in his heart.

He tries to think of himself.

He stares into that void for a while.

He blinks.

And the void stares back.

He flinches back from his own mind, feeling himself choke on nothing but stagnant air.

He feels nothing of the floor he can see under him, feels nothing of the dust settling in thick grey waves around his face, feels nothing of the slight movement of air making the curtains swish, he feels nothingnothing nothing-

And he is nothing, he is no one, he is no being that should walk on this earth, with no breath no touch no nam-

‘Bip... Bip... Bip...’

The noise - somewhat similar to a heartbeat monitor, one he can recall from numerous if blurry stays at the hospital, yet eerily discordant and offbeat - cuts harshly through his spiralling thoughts. All of his senses - or lackthereof - and the panic accompanying his examination seem to take a backseat to that noise, as it resonates inside the theater and echoes in his mind with familiar irregularity.

‘Bip… Bip… Bi-ip… Bip…’

A heart monitor. A sound that everyone knows, if only from TV shows or radio dramas. A sound that sends one single message in its simple, high-pitched beeping noise, one that is understood beyond language barriers and age differences, and one he can easily identify.

A sound that means, for as long as it beeps in intervals and does not become an ear-piercing shriek, that you’re alive.

His panic ebbs away - he is still very aware that he should be worrying at least a bit about his failing senses, that the shock should probably be at the forefront of his mind still, yet the feelings do not seem to rise past a sense of “this is wrong but I can deal with it” now. The beeping sound is still there, a gentler sound at the back of his mind now, and every time he looks down at his hand and sees the floor his fingers cannot feel, the beeping keeps his thoughts from going any further than a simple acknowledgement of facts.

Alright.

Alright, everything is very f*cking weird right now.

He does not need to stay calm anymore, with some kind of anti-trigger apparently in his mind, but he does need to do something. Namely, to move out of this theater which he can recall he is very much not supposed to be inside of, since he had been trespassing when he first got in, and to find something, anything , that would help with his little… identity problem.

(He needs to step away from that stage, because he remembers a play he did not want to be a part of. A performance he’d struggled through despite himself. A role he’d been tied to - literally.)

( He remembers the spectator shouting and screaming and crying . )

Getting out was not actually hard. Sure, an alarm rang out when he pushed the emergency exit door open backstage, and he did have to run behind a corner and hide behind a trash can as the neighbours peeked out from behind their curtains and watched the source of the noise, but neither theatre employees nor cops showed up, and he was able to walk away after fifteen minutes or so - as per his still functioning if cracked watch - without trouble.

(He was definitely ignoring the fact that the cracks running through the glass seemed to spread further, in the metallic band around his wrist and the skin surrounding it. )

( He is definitely ignoring the fact that small shards seem to be missing, like a porcelain vase fixed in a hurry, pieces left in the dust underneath the furniture- )

The streets are… mostly empty. A few passersby, one or two cars driving slowly along the curb, almost no stores open around him as he walks by. Much as it was in the theatre itself, everything is calm, almost still, and oh so real around him. He breathes in, and morning air fills up his lungs even as the temperature of it eludes him still.

He registers from the corner of his eye those same passersby stumble upon taking a look at him, how their gaze goes either unfocused or uncannily sharp.

How some either squint as if staring at something blurry, as if their vision is suddenly beginning to fail them and everything has become indistinguishable from the background of the street. How they keep on staring until the growing headache forces them to turn away, and yet keep on stealing glances as if hypnotized.

How others yet widen their eyes in either shock or disgust - sometimes the latter following the former - as though taking in the finest details of his person until they cannot help but be repulsed by the feeling of wrongness exuding from him. How they sneer and turn away, taking the nearest turn to distance themselves away from the sight, and yet keep on stealing glances as if captivated.

He notices their heavy stares, notices their speeding walks away from him, notices that every single breathing person around recognizes what he already has.

Recognizes the other in him.

(He draws up his shoulders, grits his teeth, fists his hands. He feels vulnerable, nauseous, vivisected under their collective stare, their wide eyes, their knowing gaze.)

(Would they stare so much, if he were to turn around and smile ?)

He keeps on walking.

He walks, unsure of where he means to go - of where he would even be able to go, with no memories of a street, of a home, of a name. He walks anyway.

Any direction, as long as it takes him away from that theatre.

(From that performance, screeching sounds and blinding lights and twisting dance.)

( From that spectator and their sobs resonating into his head still- )

The sun is not that high up in the sky, and the city of London seems to be taking her time to wake up as he walks through her streets aimlessly. Where to go now ? Where to go in a city he recalls so vaguely he might as well have seen it on a fifty-year-old map once, through streets he thinks he recognizes until he looks closer and the memories become blurry, through alleys that seem to be one and the same - that seem to morph and twist and shimmer until they mimic the alley behind the theatre.

He stops, and thinks back on that phenomenon for an instant. The alleyways… changing shape into that of the very place he’s just fled… the one place he really really really doesn’t want to go back to… And it appears again and again, as if to bring him back there each time he tries to leave the main avenue.

As if to guide him - or to drive him mad.

So… So he avoids the alleys. Avoids branching off the path and keeps on walking forward, only turning when the avenue itself takes a curve. Avoids looking at the signs, in part because they appear to be useless to one who cannot apparently find a direction for themselves, and in part because he quickly realized he cannot read the signs at all.

The letters are there, an alphabet he knows and remembers learning through catchy songs in the past, the letters are there arranged in what he knows are words - words describing streets and landmarks and directions.

And yet he cannot read a single of those words.

He knows them, for the most part. Knows the word for street and avenue and boulevard, knows that the way he came stands the Royal Opera House and the theatre district, knows many landmarks one could find in London even if he cannot remember whether he visited them or not - he knows the words but he cannot read them.

(Not that he would have put much trust in anything written up there, considering he’d seen streets turning into other streets under his very eyes. What use would they even have, if they’d only lead him back right to the place he was trying to leave behind ?)

( Reading or no reading, there’s no winning here, is there ? )

He’s about to panic again, as the letters swim in front of his eyes the harder he tries to focus on them, as he stares at words he is supposed to know yet cannot find. He almost stops right in his tracks, hands fisted against his thighs, staring up at the undecipherable sign in furious and utter frustration-

Until he sees a neon sign flicker on the corner of the street, catching his attention fully.

The light - of a colour he cannot describe as it shifts between a dozen hues each second he stares at it - is harsh and bright even as the streets are lit by the sun. It seems to pulse and shift and burn, an after image of the sign carved into his retina even after he turns away from it as a last resort, when he cannot seem to simply close his eyes or avert his gaze away from the sign.

It is a mesmerizing, captivating, hypnotizing sight.

One that will not let go.

That is, until he spots the next sign.

And his trajectory - which, in all honesty, had just been a confused and miserable straight line following the avenue - changes. Instead of following unreadable signs and avoiding shifting alleyways, he spots neons - and he follows without hesitation. He doesn’t think even for an instant about the peculiarity of this… this attention, this attraction, this complete and utter trust in the spots and the way they light for him.

He follows.

And each step, even as he walks without trouble, even if he barely notices, even if he doesn’t stop, each step begins to hurt.

One step and his ankle throbs painfully - but he doesn’t limp and just keeps walking.

One step and his shoulder burns as he moves his arm to brush against the wall as he makes a turn.

One step and he feels a sharp pain in his side, where his shirt is ripped open and its red is darker than it should be.

Yet he keeps on walking, as aches and bruises and pains awaken without slowing his trek, as empty streets pass by and he notices nothing of them but the neon signs, as he twists and turns and squeezes into narrow alleyways he has no knowledge of without even a second of worry about his destination.

One step and he enters a grand boulevard, not a soul walking its streets.

One step and he stands before two cars parked haphazardly in front of old sooty stones.

One step and his toe hits the bottom of the stairs leading up into the burnt husk of a Domain.

(The word comes into his mind yet seems foreign in its origin, an idea echoing inside his brain yet born of another, a litany drowning any other reflection yet not even his own spiral of thoughts. It burrows and burns and carves itself a space there, a notion not so much acknowledged as it is forcefully and ungracefully carved into his other thoughts, a grand and uneven and profound crack much like a chasm threatening to swallow any other thought.)

( The word comes into his mind and echoesechoes echoes without rest, and there is anger and confusion and envy in that word as it repeats in a steady rhythm, along the beat of an unknown song. Over and over and over, that word, like an insult, like a question, like a prayer.)

There are no more neon signs to lead the way now, but he knows he does not need them anymore.

He doesn’t know where he is headed, not exactly - doesn’t know why either - but he knows where he has to go.

Up those stairs and down down down into the Domain.

One step up those stairs, and his chest begins to hurt . One step into the lobby, and his lungs begin to burn. One step into the corridor, and his stomach begins to knot. One step down those steps, and his head begins to ache. One step into the dark, and his body begins to crack .

(He hurts, he hurts, he hurts and he doesn’t stop.)

( He hurts and aches and cracks - and he feels alive.)

There is no light but he doesn’t trip, simply goes down the steps in a mechanical walk even as he feels his knees will buckle at any second under his weight, even as he feels his heels could shatter with the smallest impact upon the step, even as he feels his thighs flex and burn each time he bends his leg.

There is sound down there, and it seems oh so loud to his ears, ringing and echoing and giving him a terrible headache even as the litany keeps on repeating in his mind, so much more vivid than anything else he’s heard out on the streets since he woke up.

There are people down there, people unlike the ones he crossed paths with on the streets, people like and unlike him, people that he needs to meetfear join.

There is a Domain down there.

(A Domain, whatever that is, a Domain he needs to find, a Domain he needs to enter, a Domain he needs not to conquer but to find refuge in before- The thoughts that follow are nothing but the discordant melody of an instrument he is sure he has never seen before in his life, but can easily identify as if he’d been cradled in its notes since birth. )

( The calliope's song replaces the litany in his brain, and his steps align with its steady tempo. )

The door is open. The light coming from it is dim and eerie. An old man cowers against the wall. Two groups stand in a face-off.

He barely notices them, as the static fills his ears.

(The calliope's melody grows fainter, even as it keeps on guiding his steps, its sound more of a whisper now.)

( Almost in… deference. )

One step through that door - a stumbling, shaky, shambling step - and he feels his heart stutter.

He feels his heart speed up.

(The beeping sound has gone now, replaced by an unsteady, slightly irregular sound, lower and denser and stronger in the back of his mind.)

He feels his heart beat.

He looks up and sees the being right in front of him, in all of their small stature and wiry build and wild hair.

They stand in a sea of tape recorders - some of them running and filling the room with this omnipresent and ever-growing static noise, some of them turned off, inanimate, and yet seemingly hungry - and stare back.

They blink.

Their eyes are silver circles, enclosed in between long lashes and crescent bruises, no pupil nor sclera to be found. Only a solid colour, all the brighter from its dark frame.

Their eyes are mirrors.

And he Sees.

He Knows.

He sees the glossy skin and the dirty hair, he sees the untrimmed beard and the cracks along his cheekbone, he sees the joints along his fingers and the bloodblood blood dying his shirt.

He sees himself reflected in those eyes - himself in every detail so clearly it hurts - and he sees everything wrongwrong right .

He blinks - and it stings when he stares.

He breathes in - and it burns when he exhales.

He grips the door frame - and it aches when he pulls himself forward.

He hears a soft sound on his left.

He turns his head.

His heart beats.

His heart beats and it pounds against his chest.

His heart beats and it pounds against his chest as if trying to crack it open.

And Danny sees Tim.

Notes:

Hello again, hope you enjoyed ! As always, I'm always happy to read and answer to comments if the fancy catches you, and I hope to see you on the next chapter which I hope to post on October 31st at the absolute latest !

Once again, do check out GrimNiknil's story (see last chapters for the link) and have a nice day !

Chapter 32: 31. Chaos Comes and Goes

Summary:

It is a tragicomedy begging for a Deus Ex Machina.

And Michael 'lives' to serve.

It laughs, and the sound echoes ominously in the Domain underneath, startling all but two of its occupants.

Notes:

Its midnight here ive chaperoned candy gathering all evening Ill update this better tomorrow but eeeeeeee

Thank you GrimNiknil for betaiiiiijng and all the peeps on the server and all the readers !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Michael smiles as It hums a discordant little melody - the sound of it just shy of a twisted calliope broken in two mixed in with strings plucked with claws and nails raking over a board.

It is hanging over the door frame separating Its Hallways from the monotony of the world beyond, a smile curving Its features into smaller and smaller fractals. And that smile expands-sharpens-grows with each second It spends admiring the rubbles of the Archives below, delighting in the chaos blooming under Its eyes.

The chaos underneath is delicious-annoying-captivating enough for It to put aside Its… delicate relationship with the décor this show is taking place in - with the set of desks and walls and rows of spiraling-and-not stories, rubble and recorders and eyes-looking-watching-seeing-knowing on every centimeter squared of the surface below Its door.

The fact that these Archives are clearly different from the ones It had known-invaded-loathed under the terrible horrible sweet Gertrude does help It enjoy the proceedings all the more. It had seen a glimpse of it earlier, when Leitner had put a hand on the wrong door knob and had been whisked away in Its halls.

(Michael may or may not have been intending to catch either the Archivist - rather, It now knows, the Archive - or one of his friends, as he’d thought they were the ones to have come back to check on their library of horrors after the fire. It had been disappointing to find but an old little sad man there, coughing from a fire he’d failed to light properly - but the intent had existed once and led him to the hospital next.)

(As for his first intent, whether It had been intending this intervention as simply a little visit to the new assistants he’d met earlier or as a trap to get rid of the newly appointed Archivist and their records would remain Its secret, of course.)

It can take in the details now, in a way reminiscent of what Its shell once experienced on slow uneventful days while Robinson was away. It sees walls fractured and broken down instead of old wallpaper only just peeling, desks turned over and out of place, recorders strewn about where they were contained in Robinson’s office and hands back then. It takes in the disarray, the destruction, the change.

And as It breathes in like an old reflex, Michael can smell just the right instant of madness that has taken over one’s mind, when confronted with a place of suffering-grief-betrayal and the visceral need to annihilate it no matter the cost.

A perfectly commendable sentiment, a perfectly relatable bout of mania, and a perfectly justified course of action taken in consequence. And what a delightful and excellent job the Archive did of it, cracked floor and broken walls and a sledgehammer still on the ground among the debris.

(For this, he gets full marks, complete approval and a standing ovation straight from the Hallways.)

(Now if only It could have set broken down some more walls, ideally the supporting ones-)

The Stranger - his face an uncanny match to the picture It has seen in the Assistants’ den, as all Strangers past their first mold should be - stumbles through the door with the familiar creaking sound of plastic joints bending a bit too far. Even as he catches himself with one hand on the ground and leans against the doorframe for support, his eyes never leave the Assistant who named him.

Which of course means the Stranger doesn’t have even a chance to miss the horrified recoil of said Assistant, the man taking a step back into the upturned desk he’d been leaning against this whole time, almost falling over his colleague in his alarmed movement.

The Stranger and the Assistant - the brothers - are still staring right into each other’s eyes. One of them almost kneeling on the floor with a hand pressed against a bloody side, his eyes wide in confusion-shock-pain, the other propping himself back up with the hand of his colleague on his shoulder, gaze filled with hope-grief-fear.

It is a comedy. A tragedy. A theater scene that can find no resolution in itself, entangled so deeply in the volatile emotions of loving brothers turned avenger and monster. An act that seems an inch away from collapsing into a capharnaum of cries and screams and violence - or perhaps two inches away from crumbling into a wonderful reunion - and yet cannot seem to take a step forward, frozen in time-place-horror. A play leading two brothers to look at each other as if they’d never met before.

It is a tragicomedy begging for a Deus Ex Machina.

And Michael 'lives' to serve.

It laughs, and the sound echoes ominously in the Domain underneath, startling all but two of its occupants.

Both brothers jump in place but never let each other out of their sight, seemingly enraptured in each other's existence despite the hurt and the doubt and the fear. The Assistant Shelley had crossed path with a few times looks up, and a groan escapes her out of all things, between exasperation, annoyance and questioning as she looks back down at the Archive. The Lonely one frowns as he spots It, but doesn’t dwell on Its presence for long as he looks back down right at the current head of the Lukases - and isn’t that an offensive dismissal ? The plump woman not too far from them - someone whom Michael has not yet had the pleasure to meet, and someone who appears almost like a kind of… vacuum to Its perception - has a similar reaction, although she is more curious than anything about the Aspect of madness hanging from a door in the ceiling.

(Michael blinks once at the woman, Its smile even larger than before, and she stares back without a flinch. The complete and utter lack of even a drop of discomfort, let alone confusion or fear, washes over It like a frozen tide and leaves It wanting like none had before It met the eyes of the Archive.)

She turns away, and walks towards the Stranger with a folding chair, helping him up.

(How utterly intriguing, this new world that has opened up to It as everything Changed.)

The bookhunter offers him a nod, still standing slightly in between the Archive and the little duo of the Heart - or perhaps the ex-Heart, considering the state of his precious Institute - and the Lukas. The latter spares a passing glance for Michael as well before shifting back to his husband, mostly ignoring the sharp eyes of the Lonely assistant. The ex-Heart is staring at the Archive and doesn’t even seem to notice It at all, that rude man.

The police officers are pretty much still frozen in place staring between the Distortion, the Stranger and the Archive, not quite reacting at all, although the Hunter’s shoulders are raised very high indeed, fists closed tight.

The Archive, from his central position in the room - in his Domain and isn’t that still a delightful thing to think about - looks up at Michael with one raised eyebrow, eyes half-lidded in what It takes as an act of courtesy, from one creature of lies and twists to another of truth and mirrors.

(Michael hasn’t managed to surprise the Archive, of course - Its success back in the hospital room will probably be the first and last time It ever will escape his passive awareness, much less his searching gaze.)

(Oh well. There are still a few billion people to shock out of their sanity here and there.)

“The Distortion. Hello again.”

Michael smiles and hands down from Its door, not letting go of the door frame until Its toes hit the floor and It can follow up the movement with an aristocratic bow. The wide arc of Its claws reach the Archive, and one of them catches one strand of his hair, cutting it clean off.

The bookhunter - the very same who's so beautifully beaten the Librarian Michael had gifted to the Archive - suddenly does not look quite as unbothered by Its presence anymore, and the man lets out something close to a growl, like a little pretend Hunter, and the sound is echoed by the actual Hunter in the room. In between, the Archive doesn’t sigh, frown or groan. Instead, his eyes follow Michael’s as both Entities look down at the strand of hair down on the floor.

For an amount of time It has no desire to (account?) for, Michael - and the being it was before receiving a name through the trickery of an old woman, the surprise of one Assistant, the Change brought about by the Archive - has found that It, Its presence and Its actions have a clear influence on the world outside of Its Hallways, even if it is much less apparent out there.

There are of course Its visitors, turned raving mad little by little and sent out to spread their fear among the logically-minded masses until it is time for them to return to their new home. Michael has seen it over the years - the long straight hairs turning curly, the curly hair even curlier, the fractal patterns in the eyes and moles and scars, the colors shifting just so to become headache inducing to any average set of eyes, the bodies shifting slightly as the absence of time goes…

Michael has seen it all within Its Hallways, and It has seen it in the few that It has touched.

Like the Lonely assistant, as a matter of fact. The scar from their first meeting, something that should have been a fairly straight set of lines from something oh so similar to a predator’s claws, is now a beautiful fractal pattern spanning over the back of his hand. A mark - A Mark - visible for all to see, scarred over and indelible, one of the only ways the Spiral can ever let go of Its ever changing nature.

A claim cannot be absolute if it is prompt to vanishing, after all.

Yet as the strand of hair falls to the floor in between the Distortion and the Archive, it doesn’t quite curl up into a fractal as it usually would. Of course, Michael didn't truly expect such a thing, considering how completely overpowered and above It the Archive clearly was, and considering they were both standing in his domain. If he were to be honest, he’d expected nothing out of the hair strand - and cutting it might not have been an accident but it was not an intentional attempt at Marking either.

(It might be Madness personified, but Michael was not completely crazy thank you very much.)

(Suicide by ways of an eldritch library was not in Its plans right about now.)

Instead, the hairs do twist in something other than a fractal, each in their individual own shape, until they form the rough yet quite detailed outline of an open eye, eyelashes and eyelid crease and dark pupil included. It seems to stare up at them like some sort of very weird trompe-l’oeil.

The Archive blinks. The Distortion pretends to blink.

The eye on the floor blinks back, suddenly a real eye protruding from the floor, its iris full of clashing colors.

The Archive stares.

“That’s new."

The Distortion grjns.

Isn’t it ?

Their mutual observation of such an interesting phenomenon is sadly interrupted by a shout from the side - one which finally manages to rip the Assistant’s gaze away from his Stranger brother and catches the attention of everyone else in the room as well.

More chaos in the making, it seems.

Wonderful.

The Lonely assistant - whose shout is the one that caught their collective attention - has almost climbed up on a desk, scrambling to catch the other Assistant, the one from Shelley’s time. The woman is herself now up on the angle of the upturned furniture, arms extended over her head and on her toes out of all things, head thrown back and eyes wide open as she stares up at the ceiling of the Domain without blinking.

Michael looks up.

It and the Assistant stare together, and It smiles.

The Hallway Door, still wide open, is resplendent with its unending swirls of colors, fractals and spirals and indescribable shapes an hypnotizing and headache inducing sight getting fuzzier in the background of what seem, at first, like normal if painted neon walls. The Hallways behind are unending - a maze of madness to get lost in, body and mind and soul until one has, is nothing left but a grotesque twisting-growing-spiraling smile.

To Michael, they are both home-prison-graveyard and a fascinating sight to admire every non-second of Its existence - Its somewhat physical body shifting in tandem with the halls and vice-versa as they trap and confuse and consume, growing stronger and stronger despite the weakness of Identity.

To the Assistant, they seem like a puzzle she wants to pull apart with a scalpel.

(And somehow, Michael does not feel annoyed by such scrutiny, something It would so easily and bitterly associate with the Eye, with Robinson, with the absolute pain that had been the consequences of Its-his own misplaced and misdirected curiosity.)

(Somehow, It sees her bright eyes looking in, It feels her headache setting in as she refuses to look away, It sees her hair curl just a little -and Michael feels kinship deep in Its twisting bones.)

Well. If the Archive is not traditionally affected by the Distortion’s touch, this Assistant does not seem to follow the rules of the Hallways either.

“Sasha, please get down from the desk.”

(The Archive is not amused.)

(Killjoy.)

The Assistant tears her gaze away from the Hallways - and how fascinating it is, that she can simply look away with not even a compulsion from It Knows You to guide her sight away - and looks back down into the room, blinking once, twice, three times. Then she looks down at her feet, and almost loses her balance as if only just realizing her precarious position, in a moment very reminiscent of the old cartoons Shelley had watched in his childhood and teenhood.

It takes the Lonely assistant’s help to get her down, her gaze shifting between the floor and the ceiling quite a few times through the short descent.

The Archive is staring - not Staring, quite the polite thing he seems to be, all things considered - at Michael with a mix of annoyance and warning, before he turns his attention towards the Assistant to ask her to ‘please not look through the Door to the physical embodiment of screeching Madness’.

She nods, and looks up for a second again - and her smile is both awed and mischievous when she looks back down at the Archive. His sigh is profound in response as he turns back towards the bookhunter, and the overall tension in the room seems to go down just a bit-

The ex-Heart, of course, chooses this moment to explode.

“Get out of my Institute !”

The ex-Heart’s eyes are reduced to angry slits under his frowning eyebrows, his mouth twisted into a snarl around his shriek, when he advances towards the Distortion and the Archive again, only stopping as the broader form of the bookhunter takes a step between them. He only has eyes for the Distortion and the Archive, and when Michael decides to return his gaze, he sees in the steel irises a light that is familiar-but-not.

A madness that isn’t Madness, blooming within the ex-Heart.

How intriguing.

Michael wants to takes a step and pluck that madness - and the eyes around it - right out of this Watcher’s fragile, narrow little skull.

“Not much of an Institute left, is there?”

The Lukases are a fearless bunch - in a manner of speaking. Peter Lukas, the current patriarch, steps forward as well and his fridge-like frame easily counters that of the bookhunter in terms of intimidation, as he lays one hand on the Heart’s shoulder and seems to slightly pull him back. His eyes are elusive, however, pointedly staying away from the form of the Archive as he looks down towards his husband-not-husband and smiles, cold and indifferent and with a hint of fear.

The Heart seems to want to shriek at him next.

“Don’t you patronize me, you imbecile-”

“Well the Eye doesn’t seem keen on patronizing you any longer, so I thought I’d take its place, eh ?”

The tone is cold, biting yet jovial as Lukas pulls the Heart back and stares into the shorter man’s eyes - both a risky move and a delightfully exciting one, considering what Lukas is and the glint Michael has just seen in those same eyes - and seems to communicate with his possibly-still-husband in that exchange of looks. The bloodlust, the rage, the almost-but-not-quite-madness in the air does not lessen, still permeating the Heart’s aura like a cloak of overwhelming fury.

If the Heart had a knife, he would probably be driving it in the chest of the closest person in this moment.

(Although perhaps something crude like a metal pipe would suit him better, a truly inelegant and painfully banal weapon for a being who so eagerly pretends to be above all mortals and not in his suits - meat and fabric both.)

(The thought is fleeting, and the Distortion quickly lets it go despite its strangeness - where would It be if It stopped to ponder about every single peculiar thought that ran through Its pretend-brain ?)

The bookhunter seems to have enough of the silent conversation and strides over, shoulders relaxed and gaze hard as he speaks not to the Heart but to the patriarch.

“You should leave, Lukas. Not much for you to see here, is there ?”

Michael sees a clear gaze slip around the room, staring for a second longer at the Lonely assistant - and the rounder man looks back with a start, bringing a scarred hand up to his other shoulder in something of an aborted embrace of himself, the fractal mark in full display. Lukas’s eyes catch onto the detail and his smile grows colder still as he looks back towards the bookhunter.

“Wouldn't want to impose, of course. We’ll set up an appointment next time.”

And just like that, the Lukas patriarch pulls the ex-Heart away from the Archive and out of the Domain.

(The Heart's eyes are back to their usual sharp steel; the intriguing glint Michael had seen snuffed out - perhaps by whatever Lukas may have communicated, perhaps by something else entirely - and for a split second, his face breaks into an expression of pure horror, the emotion overtaking every feature and warping them into an ugly grimace. The madness has vanished completely - apart from the usual troubles of a two-century old bring - and the abruptness of its disappearance leaves the room reeling.)

(The Heart lets himself be led away, gaining control over his face again in seconds, yet his left hand holds a slight, almost unseen tremor as the couple walks to the stairs. What was that about ?)

There is silence, again, in the Archives as most of the population there stares towards the now empty door frame, the Heart’s heel click fading away as the couple walks up and out of the building. The assistants are staring maybe a little harder than any of them, almost as if their eyes would bug out of their skulls should they look any harder - and Michael does not think any non-Flesh entity would enjoy such an event.

The fearless one and the Stranger brother are the first to look away, one with obvious disinterest now that the Heart has left her line of sight, the other still obviously overwhelmed-terrified-panicking on his chair.

(If anything, Michael can understand what the brother is living-dying-suffering in this instant - plastic joints and cracked porcelain limbs and bruised flesh underneath his clothing, soft hair and hard not-skin and rushing blood, burning lungs and warm hands and a wildly beating heart pounding in his chest, a clear but how so misleading sign that he is alive when he should not be.)

(It is more than familiar with the pains of Becoming.)

“... I cannot believe that worked.”

The Archive is staring at the door, his face scrunched up in what probably amounts to a mix of confusion, annoyance and latent rage, his mouth pursed in a somewhat adorable pout. The bookhunter is almost snickering beside him, his own face clearly torn between a laidback and semi-serious expression, and the mischievous mirth that threatens to break through completely each time his eyes fleet just a bit too close to the Archive.

He seems to get a hold of himself however - through sheer force of will - when he fully shifts back to his comrade and takes a mock bow, black trench coat held between three of his fingers and thrown backwards in a casual parody of a knight's cape.

"Why, you're welcome, little Lord."

The Archive huffs - and it's an interesting sound, one that sounds perhaps fond if Michael had to put a word on it - and pointedly walks off from the piece of rubble he'd been standing on, losing yet another ten centimeters to his already small stature in the process, his hair flowing just like the trench coat cape did some instant before.

The bookhunter grins and follows.

(A powerful presence and a faithful knight, one Eye and one eye-adjacent, one small and absolute with this other strong and mortal. Both dead yet not.)

(Michael smiles and ponders about the assistant still gazing up at Its door once in a while.)

The Archive leans onto his cane as he stops in front of the Stranger, his eyes closing as he slowly sits down cross-legged on the floor and smiles up towards said Stranger, the fearless one and the brother who is approaching now, his body relaxed, his face a mask of neutrality, his eyes full of terror.

(This man could probably feed the lot of them for a bit, given sufficient incentive and the right kind of stimulation to suit each of their Betters.)

(The Archive would probably frown upon the mere idea. A pity, all of that humanity remaining inside him.)

"Danny ?"

The Stranger lifts his head and the brother swallows audibly, his smile holding strong, his eyes growing wet.

The Archive slowly lifts a hand to reach for the Stranger's knee, squeezing the plastic joint slightly under the ripped jeans, getting a small noise as a reward as the other looks down towards his own articulation in confusion-relief-fear. The Stranger swallows, a human reflex as he looks away from his own knee and back to the Archive, his voice raspy and hesitant as he answers.

"I-I umh. Yes, yes that's. That's my name."

"My name is Jonathan- well, Jon really. Only arseholes and angry friends call me Jonathan."

"I-"

The casual nature of the Archive's words seem to rip the Stranger further away from the edge of a panic attack - oh what sweet memories of Shelley's those were, something It will never regret losing - and back into the moment, as he blinks slowly and a small, shaky, wet snort escapes him.

"That- Ah, that's… Tim, that's how he-"

The Stranger dares turn his head towards the brother, and his smile is wobbly, unsure but present.

"That's what you said t-to Jessica right ?"

The brother still smiles, still stands with his shoulder relaxed and hands in his pockets, still watches with tears ready to fall.

He opens his mouth and only a ragged sob can be heard before he closes it. He doesn't look away, even as he brings a fist up and presses it hard against his lips, his shoulders beginning to shake. He curls up on himself, his other arm crossed over his stomach as if he was trying to hug himself.

He keeps on staring at the Stranger through his tears.

The Stranger's smile wobbles again and falls - not in fear, not in confusion, not in fear but in shared grief - and the brothers stare into each other's eyes again.

A tear rolls down a cheek and a dozen more follow. Only the Archive could truly say which saw the first fall.

Said Archive pushes himself back to his feet and cane, face full of sorrow - an emotion reflected in almost equal quantity in the assistant's, and in various amounts in the others, Hunter and Misaligned excluded as they just stand to the side in tension and confusion alike.

"A… a lot has happened since you went to the theater, Danny. If you are alright to wait for a bit, we could go somewhere more… comfortable ?"

The Stranger nods, hands trembling, almost reaching for the brother.

The bookhunter turns back towards the cops as the Misaligned one makes a noise of protest, but before that conversation can begin, his eyes once again land on the door frame and the boxes stacked just outside of it.

He looks down.

Inhales sharply.

And swears.

The Lonely assistant jumps in place and his gaze snaps from the brother to the bookhunter to the door, and he frowns himself.

“Hey, where did Leitner go-”

“What.”

Notes:

Comments and subs and kudos and bookmarks always beloved !!!

Chapter 33: 32. Unbalanced and Misaligned

Summary:

Basira stares and does not say a word.

The twisted thing stares back and grins.

And Daisy sees the very slight change on Basira’s face, the minute change in her expression - one she has not seen many times over the last few months of their assignment together, but one she can easily identify. Her mouth twists down, her eyes narrow, her shoulders grow taut.

She tucks her crumpled notebook and spins on her heels towards the bulk of the group.

Notes:

I did manage to get this out this month ! Wonderful
As always THANK YOU SO MUCH TO GRIMNIKNIL for betareading CHECK OUT THEIR FIC THEYRE WONDERFUL
And enjoy !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

If Daisy watches the doorframe long after the strange dangerous couple has left - not a trace of them left in the corridor beyond, not an echo of step for her to overhear, not a whiff of the strange metallic scent that had covered one of them for a small moment - it’s in part because they were extremely suspicious and had registered both as individual and as a collective threat.

A more immediate threat than anything else in the room, if her instincts were to be believed.

And they’d never stirred her wrong before, had they ?

(She never takes her eyes off a threat, not until she’s sure they have been thoroughly neutralized.)

(Not until the hole in the dirt has been covered back, not until the spade is tucked back under the tarp in her trunk, not until the case is stamped as closed by the Section chief.)

It is a big part of why she keeps her own eyes pinned on that door, the only entrance to the underground Archives, and not on Jonathan Sims as she’d been intent on doing before.

When Basira and she had been trekking through the soot-stained corridors, she’d caught on his scent just like she had back at the crime scene and in the hospital. And while she can acknowledge that something has changed in his scent, she is also quite convinced that it is still Jonathan Sims before her.

The same Jonathan Sims the secretary had accused with something akin to gleeful pleasure beneath the well-acted worry and shock in her voice, only to point towards the frailest man Daisy had ever seen in her life.

The same Jonathan Sims she’s instinctively scooped up in her arms when she’d seen his blood splatter on the pavement at his feet, his eyes widen in terror behind his round glasses, his body drop like a puppet robbed of their strings.

The same Jonathan Sims she’d stared at for what had seemed like hours, a small form on his hospital bed, drowned within the white sheets and the embrace of Gerard Keay, wondering whether it’d be better if he simply did not wake up.

(She thought then of an inhuman scent caught back on the scene, of blood too dark to simply be attributed to a medical condition, of eyes open wide with silver irises overtaking everything with no pupil nor sclera to be seen anymore. She thought of holding a fragile body-)

(She thought of a shovel and a deceptively small hole in the dirt and scared silver eyes staring up at her, nothing but a wet noise escaping his open mouth as scarlet dripped down on his ragged hoodie, his throat cut open into the very smile he never offered anyone. She thought of holding a fragile body and being seconds away from breaking it-)

Daisy does not physically shake her head to rid herself of the intrusive, almost too realistic images, but it is a close thing as her gaze shifts from the stairs beyond the doors to the soot-covered boxes stacked to the side and the place where the old man had been when they’d arrived.

Said old man has disappeared between the Institute Head’s arrival and departure, likely after the last intruder had entered the Archives and through the new wave of chaos that had.

She frowns, looking down at the empty spot and trying to feel for a scent, a trace, a sign of the man or his whereabouts perhaps. Is that old man also a potential threat ? Daisy would not think so, as she has heard nothing but pathetic whimpers from him much like those of her prey near the end, as she had felt nothing but the same frailty of the civilians walking around London, ignorant of the dangers lurking about and more than once becoming obstacles to her chases, as she had smelled nothing but a human scent barely tainted by the unpleasant smell of rotting paper.

If it were left to her instincts, Daisy would not have considered that old man a threat. Perhaps, given the right - or wrong, depending on the point of view - circ*mstances, he could have revealed himself as a temporary obstacle at most, one that would be easily overcome if need be, but little more. She’s crossed paths with a number of those over the years - grieving family members, paranormal investigators or ‘connoisseurs’, what she would call “monster apologists” on her more sarcastic days.

If she were to assign the old man to one of these categories, she would have pegged him as a paranormal ‘academic’ - not one to go out into the field, more likely to hide information or even people that could aid her in her chase. But he would not have registered as a threat, even if such a thing had occurred.

To her senses, he was but a human in the rolling waves of the London masses.

Of course, the reactions to his disappearance within the group, especially Sims’s and Keay’s, are leading her to reconsider - but that will come later. Right about now, Daisy needs to focus on the door and the possible return of the threat outside.

Because if she does not, she might just spin on her heels, jump on the thing sitting down in the chair in front of Jonathan Sims and rip his throat out with her bare teeth.

(And that is not even counting the twisted thing that has appeared from the ceiling, who registers both like a threat and not - yet not quite like Jonathan Sims does - and who is so unsettling she’s ready to claw out its curling hair if it will make it stop changing.)

(The only reason he - it - is not her main target is because it’s currently out of reach. As soon as she gets hold of a spade-)

If she had been anywhere else, at any other time, with any other person present in her vicinity, Daisy would have done it. No threat, no creature, no monster should dare approach her so close, display their faults so obviously, taunt her like this, and not pay for it with their lives.

But she is not anywhere - she is in the depths of the direct-road-to-a-Sectioning Magnus Institute, within a basem*nt that reeks of old paper and even older, yet somehow still fresh fear. This is not any other time - this is the very specific ‘chase’ of the possible arsonist group surrounding the person of interest that is now Jonathan Sims, and her plans for this specific encounter have been… set aside, now, because none of them accounted for this… mess. This is not just any public either - this is the partner she’s never brought to the end of a chase by choice, this is a group of possible obstacles on what amounts to their ‘terrain’ and who are at least in part hostile towards her,

This is the frail figure of Jonathan Sims standing amongst rubble and files and tape recorders just like a god would stand within their temple, in the depictions she’d seen of them back in high school...

This is Jonathan Sims, cane discarded to the side as he sits cross-legged in front of the thing on the chair and holds one of its knees with gentle pressure, eyes closed and smile crooked, scarred, kind.

This is Jonathan Sims, and when she finally allows herself to look back toward his small frame, the blood rushing in her ears loses strength again, until it is but a trickle far underneath the rest of her thoughts.

She should be suspicious of such a thing. She should be wary of it. She should be enraged.

But she is not.

She only feels gratefulness - and Daisy does not even know why, when the blood has led her for what amounts to close to her entire life and never failed her. She doesn't know why she feels nothing but acceptance of what could only be something trying to lead her astray by tampering with her own mind. She doesn't know why she feels thankful, as the noise that has been the only constant of her life since that fateful day almost disappears.

She only knows that the silence - or rather the now quieter sound of the blood is somehow right.

“Danny, I would like to know if you are in any pain right now. If there is anything we could help with before leaving m- the Archives, it would be helpful for us to know.”

Jon’s voice is like a beacon for every person present in the room, monstrous doorman included, as he speaks in a low voice to the stranger on the chair.

Stoker is leaning forward now, one hand gripping the back of the stranger’s chair in what could be a splintering hold, if Daisy had been in his place. His knuckles are white with effort, his mouth is twisted into a sarcastic smirk, and his cheeks are still wet with tears. Barker stands on the other side of the chair, her face a mask of placid indifference even as she keeps her place as the stranger’s guard. There is not even the slightest scent coming from her - beyond her deodorant - and Daisy almost physically recoils from such an anomaly.

(Her cat stares and Daisy wants to snarl at it but as she has been doing far too much over the last two days, she holds back.)

(She won’t let herself get down to this level.)

The thing in the chair is stuttering, even as Sims patiently waits for an answer.

“I-I uh. I was- I’m okay now ? I think.”

Instead, she listens with one ear to the essential conversation and lets another part of her attention drift towards James and Blackwood, the former no longer up on the precarious equilibrium of an overturned desk and the latter throwing James looks every once in a while, perhaps worried she might just pull her stunt again if not supervised. James seems focused on the stranger and Stoker, at least, and not quite likely to try and fly up to the door, or whatever her plan might have been.

“I don’t - I felt better once I. Got here ?”

Speaking of flying up… the twisted thing is back up, hanging upside down from the headache-inducing fluorescent door still wide open in the ceiling, only its torso hanging out from the frame - yet that part of its body seems longer than all of Jonathan Sims’s or even Barker’s. Its curling hair, against the most basic law of gravity, is like a monstrous halo around its head, a wide circle of lightning-strike-shaped hair strands or whatever strange figure it is trying to carve into their retinas-

“I see. I’d like to know if you will be okay going back outside - the car is not very far, nor is my flat.”

-or at the very least in Basira’s retinas, because she’s currently the only one boring her eyes into the twisted thing, her notebook crushed in her fist and her pen probably lost somewhere within the rubble around them.

Basira… has been sectioned a while ago, yes, but Daisy knows for a fact that her partner has never been confronted with the more inhuman aspects of their job. She’d seen her fair share of weird abilities, of course, between fire-wielding crazed cultists and a pseudo-immortal shooting himself in the head, but all of them had still looked human.

They’d pretended, for some, to be ashamed of what they’d become. Pretended that they’d wanted to turn back, to ‘make another choice’. Pretended they hadn’t meant to destroy families and communities, killing civilians left and right to satisfy their grotesque urges and rituals.

Pretending, if only to f*ck with the Section’s heads, to still be humans.

The door thing is not even pretending to pretend.

It’s just there, hanging from a door that shouldn't be like the world’s most disturbing wannabe acrobat, and it’s showing off in all of its disgusting glory - because It’s just the kind of creature to be proud of its horrific appearance, Daisy just knows it. She recognizes the gleam even in its kaleidoscope eyes, one of pure satisfaction as it presides over the room like some kind of twisted idol in the ceiling one could find in a church, grinning all the while.

Basira stares and does not say a word.

The twisted thing stares back and grins.

And Daisy sees the very slight change on Basira’s face, the minute change in her expression - one she has not seen many times over the last few months of their assignment together, but one she can easily identify. Her mouth twists down, her eyes narrow, her shoulders grow taut.

She tucks her crumpled notebook and spins on her heels towards the bulk of the group.

Jonathan Sims is just getting up - and the stranger on the chair is helping him up as he does, steadying him by the elbows as the smaller man dusts off his plaid skirt and pushes the voluminous curls of his hair behind his back, a strangely put together sight considering a) that they are in the middle of a wrecked basem*nt and b) that he had passed out out of nowhere not twenty-four hours before and had been in the hospital until two hours ago at best. The doll-thing on the chair makes a small noise as Sims holds out a hand and helps him up, standing face to face as the smaller one seems to check for unseen or undisclosed injuries. His knees seem to almost buckle as he takes a step forward, only for Stoker to come up from behind and support the monster with a nonchalant arm around his shoulders.

(And there is blood on the thing’s clothes, red stains spanning over his side, drops on the collar of his shirt as if he’d bled from the nose or mouth, splotches on his jeans. There is red but no apparent injury that Daisy can see or smell, the blood long having dried.)

(There are no apparent injuries, if she doesn’t count the many cracks in the monster’s skin, like porcelain on the verge of shattering after impact, overtaking half of his face and his left arm and the glassy look of the left eye. And of course she doesn’t count them - they’re not injuries, they’re just proof for closing the case on one new monster.)

Sims grabs his cane and turns around, angled towards the door… and Basira stops him before he can even take a step.

“No one is leaving.”

Each member of the group stops in their tracks - picking up discarded bags and flashlights, scooping up a few tape recorders, grabbing a mallet from a corner - when her partner’s voice resonates in the basem*nt room, her solid frame standing in front of the only exit.

“I don’t know what exactly is happening here, but you will answer my questions truthfully this time. This is non-negotiable.”

Daisy takes a step towards her partner and stands by her side, blocking the door as well. While the very… confusing mental state she’s noticed in herself for the past two days has not left her, and she doesn’t want to chase nor neutralize the obstacles or the potential threats here - twisted thing on the ceiling notwithstanding but it is still out of reach - she does want answers as well.

And just as her partner will, just like she herself always has, Daisy will do what it takes to get them.

Jonathan Sims stares back at her, and she sees his shoulders tense up - a small movement, no more than a centimeter or two, almost invisible underneath the mass of his hair - and his throat moving as he swallows.

The large scar drawn across it, tilted and ragged and deep, stands out starkly on his skin.

James steps forwards, hands held up in what is probably meant to be a placating gesture, and tries to defuse the situation.

“Officer Hussain, I understand your frustration with this situation but this isn’t really the best place for a discussion-”

Big mistake.

“This is not a discussion, Ms. James, this is a police investigation and you are a suspect.

Basira’s voice is cold, mechanical, indifferent. Daisy can see it in her eyes, though, can see in her dark irises something she has never seen in Basire before. Something she’s never considered she’d see either.

It’s not annoyance. It’s not contempt. It’s not impatience.

It’s barely contained rage.

(Basira has never been the one to let emotions as strong as this one possess and drive her. That’s a Daisy thing, that’s a rushing blood thing, not the calm frigid river Basira was in comparison. Daisy can’t recall a single time she’s seen something so strong, so overwhelming, so visceral in her partner.)

(It feels wrongwrongwrong. This- this is not Basira, no matter that Daisy has only known her for a few months, she knows this isn’t Basira-)

Jonathan Sims is staring into Basira’s eyes and his irises are just a bit too wide, his pupils just a bit too light, his hands just a bit too still. He has shifted just a little meanwhile her partner was focused on James, a small frame in front of the porcelain monster, in front of the bulk of the group. And he is staring at Basira, not like he’s analyzing her as it seems at first to Daisy.

Rather, it seems like he has realized something.

And Daisy… Daisy has never been one for blissful ignorance when something wrong stares her in the face. Not since she was a child, not since she got her scar, not since the blood first called.

“Officer Hussain-”

“I am not finished, Mr. Sims.”

This is not aggravation in her voice - it’s venom.

Bitter and sharp and lethal.

And so unlike Basira it hurts to hear.

Daisy almost takes a step away from her. Almost. If it had been any other officer, she would have.

But Basira is her partner. Basira is, in this mess, the one thing Daisy knows, when her own mind seems sluggish, when her senses have become dulled, when the blood has gone quiet. Basira is her partner and Daisy will never step away from her side like this.

(Jonathan Sims’s gaze shifts to her. His mouth morphs into a sad little crooked smile, and she wants to rip it off just as much as she wants to see it again.)

(This day needs to end, now.)

“You are all suspects in the case of the Magnus Institute’s fire. And you have given me plenty of reasons to take you in now, the least of them being your invasion of an active crime scene just a day after we’ve explicitly told you not to make waves.”

Basira has pulled her notebook back out, her pen poised on the page not to take notes, but in the usual pose she’d take when interrogating anyone in and out of the police station. Daisy remembers her partner explaining that the idea of their every word being written down would make people tense up, hesitate, stumble over their lies if they were to tell any, because they might try to be more meticulous in the construction of mistruths than they would be without the notion of a record being taken.

Her eyes are sharp, almost glinting in the dull lighting of the Archives, as she stares right in Jonathan Sims’s direction - and his little bodyguard Keay who’s moved just enough to step beside the small man - and goes on.

“I have also been informed that you, Mr. Keay, are not a stranger to arson, nor are you one to murder accusations. Perhaps we could reopen the case of Pinhole Books, find out some more… evidence, especially after your sudden disappearance from British soils.”

Keay’s shoulders tense up and he frowns harder than he had already been doing, hands curled into tight fists by his sides. He is a stark contrast to the man that had been laying in Sim’s hospital bed the day before, long badly-dyed black hair like an oil spill on his shoulders and blue eyes turning downright stormy.

The tattoos on his knuckles move with the flex of his fists, almost as if the eyes there were widening.

Sims, by his side, is frowning.

“And on the matter of harboring persons of interest, you did not really think we would let creatures walk away without a word, did you ?”

It’s then that Stoker, behind the Sims-Keay duo, seems to shake himself out of the stupor the bulk of the group has fallen into. He grins - a cruel, angry, co*cky little smirk that Daisy would have slapped off his face had she been either in an interrogation room or just in range - and leans forward with a laugh.

“And what, you’re going to stop all of us just like that, by yourselves ? We just want to go grab some coffee, nothing illegal with that, officer.

Basira stares.

“This is not a joke, Mr. Stoker. This is not some game you’re playing.”

Slips her notebook into her back pocket.

“This is the real world.”

Lets her hand linger there.

“Section 31 has a strict policy of containment and neutralization of any non-human or affiliated individuals. And you have all been officially flagged as hostiles as of a few minutes ago - you will not step a foot out of this Institute alive even if you were to take us down. As for resistance…”

When she lifts her hand again, her firearm is in her hand.

She aims.

(Despite Stoker being the origin of the “threat”, Basira’s gaze is still focused on Keay. Whether it’s because of his background - which Daisy had only passing knowledge of - or his furious expression, he is the one she’s leveling her gun at-)

Daisy’s breath hitches in her throat.

Basira has her gun in hand. She is aiming toward the group. She is holding one finger over the trigger.

What.

(While this is very much a f*cked up situation and Basira is very much not the type to pull out her gun at what was clearly a stupid and baseless provocation by a scared and co*cky civilian, Daisy cannot help but find the confident set of her hips and shoulders very-)

What.

No. Focus, Daisy, focus, things are very wrong, things are very wrong and not okay and things are becoming very very very dangerous in a hurry.

Because Basira has clicked the safety off.

And that’s when the feeling of wrongness turns into absolute panic.

What the f*ck is happening ?

Daisy is almost on her partner then - though she’s not sure if she’s about to wrestle the gun away from her, cover for her while she puts a few bullets in the monsters, protect her from what seems like a Gerard Keay two seconds away from charging or really anything - but Sims cuts her, and everyone else off as they shoot in shock and fear and protest.

“That is quite enough, Basira.

Daisy feels herself bristle as his voice fills the room not in the same echo that Basira’s just did, but in what sounds like a hundred or so of him speaking at the exact same time from every corner of the place, the sound underlined by something Other too. It’s grating against her ears, not because it is too loud or sharp or high, but because it is the kind of unnatural she’d silence with much blood spilled in the process, usually.

She doesn’t jump on Sims to rip him in two, of course. Instead, she looks towards Basira.

Basira does not bristle.

Basira freezes. Looks down at her gun. Chokes up.

And drops it.

A gunshot rings out in the room.

Notes:

Comments battle my depression

Chapter 34: 33. Uneasy Precedents

Summary:

As the upstanding citizen and fully basic woman Sasha indeed is, she doesn’t know much about the mechanics of guns.

She’s pretty sure, however, that firearms should not go off when hitting the floor, without an enormous amount of bad luck involved. And she’s pretty sure that she would be at the very least quite injured, if not outright dead, had it not been for Michael catching the bullet between Its impossibly long fingers with a whistle.

“Well isn’t that just cute~”

Notes:

Last chapter of the old year, first chapter of the new year who knows
Time is an illusion I am so tired I wrote this in two days after a month-long writer's block
ps this is super unbetaed because while GrimNiknil is the most awesome person they can't beta an unwritten chapter who would have thought please still give them love for putting up with me but most of all cause they're super duper awesome sauce bees knees
Please enjoy

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Sasha has never thought about the danger of firearms before.

At least, not in the very concrete thought process of “What would happen, were a gun to be aimed and fired right at me one day ?” and its various possible answers.

She is of course passively aware of the lethality of guns, if only because of news stories and her very own common sense when seeing something specifically engineered to hurt and kill, but also because of basic engineering and physics.

(It had been an interesting side-research, when she’d been studying alpheidae for a biology report in high school and had ended up delving into gun engineering for two sleepless nights, filling up a third of said report with a long comparison of claw versus gun, and the appropriateness of vernacular names.)

( Her teacher had been… concerned - about the sleep-deprived presentation a younger Sasha offered the next day, or about the notes on building more efficient firearms, even the present times her couldn’t say. )

But Sasha can admit she a) forgot most of what she’d then learned and b) indeed never considered the problem as one she herself would encounter in her life.

She knows more about racial profiling, coroner laws, and the Miranda warning than firearms - most of it she learned before entering the Institute too, as surprising as that had been to Tim - and has never thought it useful to rectify that pocket of ignorance.

After all, she lives in London, has a 9 to 5 job - just early enough to avoid most muggers - and is not a delinquent, much less the kind of criminal that would warrant guns .

(Her record is squeaky clean, and she makes sure it stays that way every month, especially after the more… eventful bouts of research work she’d done over the years and the close calls with Scotland Yard and other countryside officers.)

( Her record is squeaky clean, something that cannot be said about Jon’s criminal record out of all of them. Although it makes more sense, now, considering… well, his everything. )

As the upstanding citizen and fully basic woman Sasha indeed is, she doesn’t know much about the mechanics of guns.

She’s pretty sure, however, that firearms should not go off when hitting the floor, without an enormous amount of bad luck involved. And she’s pretty sure that she would be at the very least quite injured, if not outright dead, had it not been for Michael catching the bullet between Its impossibly long fingers with a whistle.

“Well isn’t that just cute~”

The bullet had been a mere centimeter away from her face.

The Avatar - the Aspect, Jon had once mentioned in his statement ? - shifts in front of her, Its tall body stretching and stretching until it seems like the wild curls of his hair brush against the Archives’s ceiling, 3 full meters above the heads of the mere mortals present in the room.

(And close to four meters above Jon’s head, of course. Not that she would ever say so aloud, at least where Jon could hear.)

( Lord, does she hope he can read her mind, though. )

The room - or at the very least its inhabitants, including the stoic Georgie Barker - is once again frozen in time. All eyes are on the gun still smoking on the floor, even as Michael seems hypnotized by the small piece of metal he is still holding between his long long long fingers, the sharp digits seemingly cutting into the material and leaving deep grooves in the small object.

Sasha sees from the corner of her eye the Distortion slowly bring the bullet up and up and up until it reaches the space where Its mouth should more or less be - and she sees when Michael sticks out Its tongue to swallow the bullet into what might be either a digestive system, a maze of fractals and intestines within Its body, or maybe just a portal into the Hallways that had themselves been described as a kind of stomach for the Aspect.

Basira - officer Hussain - is staring at her fuming gun, but her partner Alice Tonner seems able to rip her gaze away from the weapon to stare at Michael and Its… peculiar choice of lunch. Her eyes seem to glint, a sharp metallic reflection so similar to the bullet that has now disappeared who-knows-where, as she stares at Michael.

Sasha does not focus on the two of them for long, however. She is still looking at the gun, when she sees the billowing smoke cloud seemingly split in two.

(Why did the gun go off in her direction, when Hussain had been aiming at anyone but her ? Of course, the gun had fallen and hit the floor, Sasha could not expect it to stay nice and aimed at its first target, but why had the bullet gone for her out of everyone ? Even the angle of the gun now resting on the floor does not make sense, the barrel turned to the left of their group rather than herself on the right.)

( Beyond the physics of it, why had it turned to her when it should not even have fired in the first place ? Was it because she was supposed to die first ? Was it because she was becoming an unknown variable, overstepping her own lifetime now that Jon was so far along his own story- )

Sasha blinks, her own thoughts spiraling until she sees the smoke coming out of the barrel turn darker.

And something crawls out of the fuming hole.

A skinny, almost skeletal spider stumbles across the floor, its exoskeleton letting out the same smoke as the gun. Its walk is shaky, swaying, even unsure - if Sasha were to look at a person walking the same way and describe it - as it scuttles away from the gun.

Sasha has never really been afraid of spiders, nor disgusted with them, even as a child. She was always the type to observe bugs rather than squash or swat them away, and it always took her uncle grabbing the little things to save them from her mother’s wrathful newspapers for her to tear her gaze away.

(She was a very bored child. But she didn’t get the beginnings of a criminal record from it, eh Jon ?)

( God, she hopes he can actually read her mind. )

Sasha has no problems with spiders - except when one happens to hide in her hair and later crawl on her face. Even then, she would try a pacifist approach to the conflict rather than the immediate and complete annihilation of the offending party.

But this spider…

Lord, does she want to crush-trample-pulverize it.

She takes a step, ready to shift around Michael’s elusively placed limbs to reach her goal -

And Gerard Keay beats her to the punch, slamming his combat boot down on the pitiful arachnid with a vengeance.

Jon blinks, looks up at the man Sasha has deemed his undead bodyguard since day one, and the scowl that had taken up residence on his face when Basira began questioning them lightens into a smile.

And it is a bit creepy, spooky even, when his irises have blown up to take over the whole of his eyeballs, when the already pale pupil has all but disappeared, and there is nothing else but mirrors framed by dark lashes. The smile itself is crooked as always, a bit too large and sharp, and pulls at his scars. His clothing is slightly rumpled, there is a movement in his hair that Sasha chooses to ignore for now, and there is cement dust on his shoes and ankles-

Good lord, Jon looks like a weird little university professor who met the wrong end of a construction site and is now smiling at the poor living beings unlucky to cross his path.

He looks like a stray beaten-up dusty cat in a horror movie.

Why is he still cute then ?

“Thank you, Gerry.”

Danny - Tim’s brother, Tim’s dead brother, back from the grave or from wherever his body had actually ended up instead of within the empty coffin buried somewhere in London - lets out a choked little laugh as he leans back in his chair, his hands shaking on his lap. Tim’s hands are gripping his brother’s shoulders tight, now that the threat has seemingly been dealt with - the threat of the gun, that is. Martin’s eyes are still blown up wide, but he is staring at Gerard’s boot rather than any of them, probably worried or even offended on the dead spider’s behalf.

Georgie is looking at the cops.

Her phone is in her hand.

Her arm is up, aimed at the duo.

Her camera light is on.

Ah.

“Police brutality, my favorite.”

Jon’s smile twists into something of a smirk as Sasha hears a small laugh - a giggle really, as uncharacteristic as so many sounds she’d never heard out of him before this mess - escape him, his eyes crinkling in mirth. He’s eyeing Tonner even as the chuckles make his shoulders tremble, a hand quickly coming up to hide his mouth from the woman’s gaze as she turns towards him sharply.

It takes a few seconds for the context to kick in for Sasha, as her eyes flit across the room and its inhabitants.

Police brutality.

Alice “Daisy” Tonner.

Jon.

(Dark dark dark woods at night lit up by a meager flashlight behind him, a shovel resting against a tree just out of reach, a duffel bag gutted in the dirt besides a graying scarred hand.)

( A knife, a growl, a bloody pair of smiles- )

Oh.

Yes, maybe she’d be laughing too if she was in his position. Or cry her eyes out maybe.

Jon seems long past tears, though - his first chain of breakdowns notwithstanding, but Sasha will allow that traveling back in time to see all of the people he lost alive once again, and all the people he’d finally gotten rid of just as healthy, could be slightly hard on the psyche.

“This- this is no laughing matter !”

Hussain seems to have gathered her wits from their resting place on the floor beside her gun, because she is once again standing solidly on her feet, Tonner no longer hovering so close to her. The gun stays on the floor, almost forgotten as she pulls out her notebook again - and Sasha sees the others tense, feels her own back go taut at the sharp movement - and almost stabs through the paper with her pen.

Now, Sasha has never been the best at people-watching or any of those games of reading people, but she could infer that Hussain was very much not happy with the situation - nor Jon, even as his laughter dies down completely and he looks back towards her, his eyes back to the almost-normal-irises Sasha had gotten used to over the last few days.

Tonner’s eyes, in contrast, are still glinting.

“I don’t know what kind of trick you’ve set up, or what you’ve been doing to everyone in your general vicinity, Sims, but you will answer my questions now or I will arrest you for arson. Understood ?”

Jon stares at Hussain, one hand wrapped around the handle of his cane and the other on Gerry’s arm even as the smaller being takes a step forward to stand beside his pseudo-bodyguard. His grip on the trenchcoat seems just a bit tight - and the knuckles of his other hand are almost white, underneath the burns.

“Officer, I can assure you I did not burn down my place of employment - even if I had wished to, I could very much not have lit a fire on the upper floors while I was down here at the same time. As for tricks, I’m not sure what you mean. What kind of answers are you looking for ?”

Tonner scoffs before her partner can answer. She seems at the end of her rope as well, for all she has appeared to be the calm and reasonable half of the duo since they’ve shown up down in the Archives - a vast change from her almost feral demeanor in Jon’s hospital room, looking back on it.

“Oh don’t try that bullsh*t, Sims. Things have been getting weirder around London - monsters have been growing in numbers, and somehow your precious little library of Goosebumps rejects burns down, and you’ve gotten a promotion on the day all this crap has begun.”

“London is quite literally inhabited by millions of people, why would my promotion be proof of any involvement-”

I can smell the monster you are.

Well. That’s something to hear once in a lifetime, at least.

Jon and Tonner are having something of a staring contest, which in itself is interesting considering Jon has avoided almost all eye contact outside of Gerard ever since he ‘came back’ from his future.

His irises have overtaken the white sclera of his eyes - just as they had earlier when he was glaring down at the strange spider - and the silver of the mirror-like expanse seems to brighten to counter the harsh amber glint of Tonner’s eyes, her own pupils seemingly sharpening when Jon’s have disappeared again.

Tonner’s mouth dips into an angry snarl and she looks eerily like the lurking beast Sasha and everyone else had only seen a glimpse of, through Jon’s statement. In this woman, of average height and robust build and deceivingly soft blond hair, Sasha sees the warped creature she could become, given the right push.

And Sasha sees how she does not even need that push, that transformation, that beast, to be dangerous.

She is a predator, ready to strike.

“I can smell the monsters you all are, and I will rip your throats out if you don’t answer right now.

It is scary, of course.

Jon is much scarier.

When Sasha turns her eyes to him, she stops in her metaphorical tracks.

From the top of his meager 150 centimeters, with no heels nor rubble to stand on and give him a little boost, Jon still stands tall among their group. Not even Gerard’s presence right beside him - his broader figure as opposed to Jon’s as one could get without being Martin’s height and build - seems able to diminish the smaller man’s presence at that moment.

He stands, his cane held at an angle, his hands tight on the handle, and his eyes never leave Tonner.

If Sasha were to use a single word, a single adjective in this moment to describe her old-new-changed colleague at this moment, it would probably be… sublime.

Sublime, in the meaning the romantic writers, painters, poets of the early nineteenth century would express. Something so much larger than life, so beautiful it becomes near comprehensible, barely understandable, fully indescribable with mere mortal words, mere brush strokes, mere rich rhymes.

Jon stands tall, his eyes pools of silver, with no sclera or pupils. His hair is moving and Sasha finally allows herself to see and accept the fact that eyes are opening among the waves and curls, the same pools of silver glinting underneath the light of Michael’s open Door. His scars are pale against the dark of his skin, white lines tracing patterns of suffering and survival in so many lines it would take days to read the stories etched there. The one at his throat is the starker of them all.

Jon stares and Tonner stares back.

She looks like - is - a predator.

He looks like…

Well.

Is.

Something Other.

Michael’s soft laughter rings out in her ears like mismatched bells.

Sasha blinks.

And Jon’s shoulders sag even as Tonner looks away from him for an instant, her own shoulders almost to her ears. They’ve come to a stand still - although if Gerard’s slight surprise is anything to go by, Sasha isn’t sure Jon hasn’t just given up the fight on purpose at the first sign of weakness on Tonner’s part.

Maybe to avoid another shoutout ? If anyone were to ask her, she’d say it’s a good call just for that.

(She can still see the gun fall, she can still hear the shot go off, she can still feel the fingers snatching the bullet in front of her face and slightly scratching her nose in the process.)

( She can still feel her death come, only for that fatality to be slapped away by a twist in time- )

“Fine. Fine, alright, if we must…I suppose, well, I suppose I can do this here and now, even against the Web’s wishes.

Sasha can almost hear Jon’s teeth grind together on those last words as he pulls her away from her morbid thoughts. He seems exhausted now, in contrast to the eerie strength that had seemed to cloak him seconds earlier, and he leans more heavily on his cane as he turns around and walks back toward Tim and Danny.

“Answers. Fine. It’s not as if I’m still ignorant, anyways. Might as well-”

He seems to catch himself on the beginning of what might have been a tirade or some mumbling, even as he walks past the Stoker brothers and Georgie, to grab one of the fallen desk chairs that they’d pushed away when they’d prepared the Archives for the fire. He hoists it up, sitting down and rolling it back closer to Danny, using his cane as some kind of land-based paddle in what is, admittedly, a pretty funny sight.

His toes barely touch the floor - this is his chair, pulled away from the office earlier in the week when it became clear even being in his office with the door open was a source of stress for him, be it throughout their “work” day or their arson planning sessions and repetitions. This is the chair that goes up so much higher than the standard chairs the Institute provides, because Gertrude’s desk was ridiculously high for the armchair she’d left behind and Jon did have a modicum of care for his back when he was already having trouble with his knee.

(Tim had once deemed it a “cat tree chair” in the privacy of their 3 pm break around tea, eagerly explaining that Jon had basically been trying since his first days in research to hoist himself up to the same physical height as his colleague when sitting down.)

( Somehow, that had made Sasha laugh. Lord, what she wouldn’t do for that man, especially to see him smile when the bags under his eyes darkened too much. )

"Alright. Well, it seems that we are all on the same page on the fact that monsters exist, at least. Well, 'monster' is a reductive term of course but now is neither the time, place nor audience to discuss terminology - it’s not like they- we, I suppose, we don’t have a precise term shared among ourselves. Not that we share anything beyond a very f*cked up version of eucharist-”

“What are you even talking about, Sims.”

Hussain is back on track, tone placid and facial expression closed off. Wonderful.

“Right, yes, I suppose. You are both sectioned officers, and I’m sure you can both attest to the existence of monsters, as I’ve said. I never quite caught on how the Yard classified them, if they did at all, but the way other individuals with, ah, experience with those kinds of beings have found a… source, to the creatures you’ve encountered. Gods, of a kind.”

Jon turns towards Danny, cane tapping against the ground.

“Tim is more knowledgeable than I am about the man - or well, he was before I became- that’s not the point. The point is that a nineteenth-century architect named Robert Smirke was confronted with the same kind of individuals we all have - and more. And he ended up establishing a classification, with the input of other individuals similarly linked to those Gods.”

Of course, the Archival staff and co. have heard all of this before, but they still listen intently to Jon’s version of things. They’ve heard Gerard’s description of events - both as the ghost he’d been in Jon’s statement and afterward from the undead man himself - and read up on the original list, but Jon has never really… laid out his own thoughts.

(Sasha can remember broken pieces of memories relating to the Apocalypse, to an endless walk through a shattered world, to the guilty admission of liking the ruined Earth. Sasha can remember a powerless being suddenly thrust into the position of the apex predator, given what he’d never really had before - the ability to annihilate every thing, every being that had ever hurt him.)

( Sasha can remember how right it had felt, to stand in Jon’s place, to watch through Jon’s eyes, to feel Jon’s fists clench, as his eyes gazed upon a scorched, drained, broken Earth and found beauty within it - the same beauty, perhaps, Martin could still see in him now that he was- )

That- that was not the point. Lord, why did Jon’s statement have to be so vague in many areas yet so precise on so many she’s sure he might have loved to keep private ? This was not helping her “stalking” detox one bit. Hopefully, Jon cannot actually read her mind - he seemed oblivious to just how much he’d shared of his most inner thoughts and she’d like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

He doesn’t seem to know what has gone through her mind, as he continues.

“Smirke’s Fourteen, we call them. Eldritch entities, akin to gods of fear, like I said, which are based on the great fears of the living sentient organisms inhabiting Earth - which includes the entire animal kingdom. I won’t ramble on about them, it’s not - well it is important but that can come later, I- well. The point is, those gods and the individuals who happen to associate with them, they feed on fear. And the Institute, it’s basically some kind of pantry, or a hub to go out and get that fear, collect it and store it here- or consume it immediately, I suppose, the statements- anyways.”

Sasha is absolutely loving the fact that she’s not in Jon’s place right now - this seems like a right mess to explain, even when he actually basically knows everything. Although omniscience does not cancel out social awkwardness, quite obviously.

“The point is that the Institute and its Head back in the day, Jonah Magnus, serve one of those entities - Beholding, the Ceaseless Watcher, the Eye, it has everything to do with the fear of being watched, being known, being helpless and seen, that kind of thing. Elias - he’s just the last of the Heads, following in the footsteps of Magnus, if you want, trying to gather fear and terrify people through the Institute and its branches and sister locations. He’s trying to extend his power, his reach, while weakening the others to an extent.”

Jon looks back towards the cops, and his gaze may be human-ish again, but it is no less sharp and cold as he stares into Toner’s eyes again.

“He will kill you if you get in his way - He’s not like the beings you’ve encountered before. Elias is dangerous - and he is not usually unhinged like he was just a bit ago, I assure you. He is cold, manipulative, cunning, and will see many of us dead if given the chance. Don’t give him the chance.”

Hussain stares in silence. Tonner almost snarls, but seems to catch herself biting her lower lip as she glares at Jon, arms crossed over her chest.

“And what about your merry little band, Sims ? Even if I can’t take out that Bouchard man - which is still debatable, who knows what you and he might be up in your little, what, church, cult ? - even if I can’t take him out, why should I let any of you, why should I let you walk away from this ?”

“Why not ?”

You’re a monster.”

Jon nods, as if he was expecting the answer. He probably was, of course, but that does not keep Sasha, Tim and Gerard from bristling in various intensities, the latter glaring daggers towards Tonner. She glares back.

Jon does not comment on the various death stares above his head - Danny seems a bit worried beside him - as he hums.

“You got me into that ambulance, though.”

Tonner scowls but does not deny the fact.

“You were in the room while I was unconscious.”

She had been, hadn’t she ? Granted, Martin, Gerard and Hussain had been there as well and they’d been in the middle of the day in a Londonian hospital, but Sasha is not convinced that would have completely stopped Tonner, had she truly wanted to rip a throat out as she put it.

“Why didn’t you finish the job ?”

Tonner is refusing to answer, even as Jon is basically inviting her to rectify her “mistake” in the mildest tone Sasha has ever physically heard out of him. Why he is matter-of-factly stating that a clear threat had an easy shot at him and reminding them that they hadn’t taken it is beyond her.

Jon, of course, is far beyond her worried thoughts.

“Can you hear the blood rushing, Daisy, or is the silence too loud ?”

Tonner’s mouth snaps shut with the click of her teeth and she fully looks away this time, focusing on a truly entertained Michael instead of even a speck of dust in Jon’s vicinity. Her shoulders are still tense, her back is straight as a steel pipe, her chest puffed out in what Sasha would have theorized to be posturing if she didn’t think it was just Tonner’s usual body language default.

Hussain, beside her, is gripping her notebook too tight.

“Sims. Explain.”

Jon keeps staring at Tonner for a bit, and he seems pensive before he shakes himself out of whatever train of thought going through his brain, instead swiveling in his chair until he faces Danny, Tim and Georgie. It appears he is ignoring Hussain’s question - her order, really, and while Sasha can understand that frustration must be at an all-time high for her, maybe she should be noticing that her attitude has not been any help around here - until he actually speaks up.

“I’m sorry to have to do this in what might as well be a battlefield, although the destruction here was quite cathartic for me - still, my couch is much more comfortable than this chair, I promise you. But I suppose, well, you - and you, Basira, Daisy - you do need answers. And you, Danny, you deserve them, now rather than later. Lord knows few of us ever get them in time.”

He leans back in his chair, his cane now held across his lap, the handle rolling between his fingers. Gerard is behind him again, and Sasha herself takes a few steps to stand to the left of the two chairs, not too far from Tim’s slightly shaky hand, the other still resting on his brother’s shoulder.

Danny himself seems torn between terror and curiosity.

And isn’t that just a mood , as her nephew would say.

“What has happened to you - what has happened to me, a long time ago now… it’s called Becoming.”

Sasha is pretty sure this new topic won’t be much happier than anything that has come up in the past dozen of days.

Danny blinks, hands twisting in his lap with the characteristic sound of plastic grinding against plastic.

Jon smiles, and it is crooked, sad, bitter.

“Basically, it really sucks.”

And Michael, from his vantage point above them, laughs.

Notes:

Comments are necessary for the new year to not suck pretty please

Chapter 35: 34 (1). A Study in Becoming

Summary:

His attention is finally actually on Danny - or at the very least, as much of his attention as he can give without actively hurting the other Avatar. Better for both him and Danny that he not Look at a Stranger.

There’s no real need for such things anyways, if whatever entity standing there isn’t actively trying to kill one of Jon’s own, and therefore does not warrant everything in between discomfort and disintegration. If anything, the blame for any retaliation would be on Jon, as it’s only polite not to attack what has not threatened you, isn’t it ?

Of course, the rest of the Avatar “community” out there has not necessarily lent much credence to such basic decency in his past and experience, but no one could say Gertrude had been very polite either - and her truly excellent reputation had followed Jon to his grave and back. And as he isn’t looking for any kind of confrontation nor information, not this time, he’s hoping to build and nurture relationships of a more… peaceful nature.

Notes:

f*ck THNK YOU SO MUCH FOR 30 000 HITS HOW THE HELL
hello i am tired and sorry for the wait and very tired and please enjoy this first part of me rambling through Jon

this was 8k to I split it up, next part on the 31st if uni doesn't kill me first

As always, all my thanks to GrimNiknil for their absolutely priceless and tremendous support and help both moral and as a betareader, and thanks to my dnd group 'd'avoir raviver la flamme de l'écriture' !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Alright.

Jon takes a deep breath - filling lungs that are more used to the hyperventilation of terror than anything else by this point - and tries to put any and all of his worries aside, as long as they do not concern what is in front of his face or in reach of his hands, right at this very moment. That is to say, everything pertaining to Jonah, Peter, Leitner, Basira or the gun is put out of his mind, for now.

He can take some time to panic about all of that later - preferably in his flat or in his office, with the door closed and locked, and with only Gerry as a witness in the worst-case scenario, and no one in the best.

(His hand is now partially tipped to Elias, Peter is as usual an infuriating enigma and the two of them are clearly working together rather than one against the other - the only way to distract the two of them effectively, as far as Jon’s experience with them goes - Leitner is gone who knows where, Basira is still here and seemingly calm, and the gun has apparently been tucked away and is not randomly firing at his friends slash colleagues slash not-assistants.)

(Sasha had almost died againagainagain-)

So. His panicking in depth about all of those issues is filed away, for now.

For now, he needs to focus on what is actually around him physically, if only to avoid another sudden outburst from one of the persons he’d quite honestly least expected it from, at this point in time.

To think that Daisy has been the diplomat out of the officers’ duo, in this day and age of the non-overlord Beholding. Wonders - or perhaps side-effects of time displacements - never cease. Jon doesn’t think he’s ever seen Basira this… troubled, for lack of a better word, even when she’d had to pull the trigger on- well. On the very same person she probably never would have wanted to, no matter what.

It doesn’t matter. It is past-future-unraveled and it doesn’t matter.

Basira doesn’t even know any of them here, outside of Daisy - and if Jon can help it, she will not get to know any of them beyond this moment. If Jon can help it, Basira will step out of the Institute today, and never step foot into this world again, never fall into Elias’s claws, never hoist her gun up and… well, she would step out and never do that, is all. And perhaps, with luck, Daisy will be a step behind her, given the means to do so. He’d do the same, will try to do the same, for every person here apart from Gerry - for whom it would be foolish, if not downright stupid, to even think of pointing him away from a world he’d been nothing less than born into - no matter that this Basira is a stranger in all but name, as far as she knows.

(She’d left the force, once, and could have left most of the horrors behind if she hadn’t stepped in the Institute in the next breath. She’d probably do it again, given the chance, if only Daisy would either lead the way or follow - and it is his duty to make sure the Institute is never again her next option.)

(And it hopefully would not take the People’s Church and a dead colleague for it to happen, this time. Jon will have to pay Rayner a visit, soon enough.)

Jon blinks and actually forces himself to focus on the present moment instead of the many plans and encounters and ideas that have been turning and churning in his mind ever since they’d struck the match of the Institute’s fire - and effectively annihilated any chance to double back from their new path in doing so.

Which is as terrifying - Jon is an expert in that specific feeling - as it is exhilarating.

To finally have control. To finally be more than a piece on the board. To finally have agency within his own life.

It is so liberating it sends his heart into a frenzy.

And yet…

It is also so utterly terrifying it steals his breath away.

Such agency, and the chance to fix it all, and the potential to mess it all up again. To perhaps end up following the same steps on different paths. To perhaps find himself played with and against. To perhaps fail everyone again and even worse.

To perhaps strike the match for a revolution-

And end up right there at the end with nothing but corpses and blood and tears.

(To end up right there at the end, clutching at the very last thing you the Archivist, the New Pupil, the Archive could still care for, and feel it unravel around them like a thousand reels unspooling and pouring and cascading out of broken cassette tapes.)

(To perhaps end up right there at the end and watch SashaGerryMichaelMikeTimDaisyGeorgieMelanieMartin die all over again, and be the one to remain, grief and guilt and a broken world as his sole company.)

Jon takes a breath and looks up at Danny Stoker - someone he had never met before today. Someone who, to his knowledge, should supposedly be long dead, much like Gerry.

Someone who was, is, getting a second chance - even if it is one now intertwined within a world of horrors named and unnamed, even if it is one tainted with his death and what he Became beyond it, even if it is one that won't ever let him be the same - a second chance at living.

And someone on whom Jon really needs to focus.

(One would have thought that basically being the earthly vessel of an ever-watching godlike Entity would have done some good for his ability to focus for some period of time. And it has, in some moments - like whenever Gerry’s in his vicinity and Jon isn’t in the middle of a panic attack or a dissociative episode.)

(The rest of the time, though ? As memories and possibilities and worst-case scenarios sometimes dance in front of his eyes instead of the present ? As he sees shades and ghosts and corpses before and behind the living ? As he sees a barren-broken-burned world superimposed over this whole imperfect living one ? Not so much.)

Jon blinks, shakes his head once, and looks up again.

Okay.

Best not to look at Georgie, lest he sees her smiling face become a turned back.

Best not to look at Tim, lest he sees his body disappear in a blaze of wax and light.

Best not to look at Sasha, lest he sees the warped features of the Not-Them in her place.

Best not to look even at Gerry, lest he sees his body fade into the same intangible ghost he’d once been trapped as.

Best not to look at Daisy either, lest he sees fur and claws and a jaw clamped around his leg, the scene coated in blood.

Best not to look at Martin, lest he sees him vanish into the fog, lest he sees him disappear from his Sight, lest he sees him dying-die-dead-

Best not to look at any of them, just now.

He looks forward instead and exhales.

Danny Stoker, after all, has never been anything for Jon but a smiling face in a photograph and the Avatar sitting in front of him.

And in the horrible way many things do these days, it makes it much easier.

(Lord, what is his life ?)

(Or his afterlife ?)

Focus.

His attention is finally actually on Danny - or at the very least, as much of his attention as he can give without actively hurting the other Avatar. Better for both him and Danny that he not Look at a Stranger.

There’s no real need for such things anyways, if whatever entity standing there isn’t actively trying to kill one of Jon’s own, and therefore does not warrant everything in between discomfort and disintegration. If anything, the blame for any retaliation would be on Jon, as it’s only polite not to attack what has not threatened you, isn’t it ?

Of course, the rest of the Avatar “community” out there has not necessarily lent much credence to such basic decency in his past and experience, but no one could say Gertrude had been very polite either - and her truly excellent reputation had followed Jon to his grave and back. And as he isn’t looking for any kind of confrontation nor information, not this time, he’s hoping to build and nurture relationships of a more… peaceful nature.

As long as they get on with the program, of course.

Jon’s had done enough smiting for a few lifetimes, thank you very much, but he’s not above turning his Gaze towards those that might refuse to listen - especially if they are seconds away from ripping his or another’s throat out, among other things.

He’s done that in one life, and in his humble opinion, his experience is enough to fill the quota for himself and everyone else in this room. He’d like to keep the numbers that way too, if up to him.

And if everyone goes right, many a thing these days should be up to him and no one else.

Which is both as much a comfort as it is a fright he’d hoped he’d left behind in the crumbling Panopticon.

(Still. It is only polite, and Jon has been and is making a point to be as polite as he can with most entities he has or will cross paths with in this unexpected second chance. And just be polite and not a prick in general, as opposed to his usual reaction to potentially deadly and/or irritating things.)

(Though he will not shake hands with another Jude Perry, thank you very much. Not being killable does not mean such a burn won’t hurt again. And hurt quite a bit, at that.)

It doesn’t quite matter, anyway. Danny has given him no reason to be anything but polite - and Jon is long past his own tendency towards aggressivity when he feels unbalanced, wrong-footed, and uneasy.

It’s a blessing, truly, that the people around him will at least be spared from the worst of this side of him - even if Sasha and Tim even more so had suffered quite a bit of it in Research, what seems to him like years ago and what is only a week away for them. Martin, most of all, had never deserved a lick of what Jon had dished out as he buried himself in work, pretenses and hostility to try and combat his own inadequacy.

It is also a blessing, in a roundabout way, that it is this version of him and not the ‘original’ one that stands - sits - before Danny Stoker and holds in his hands the answers to a state of Being so alien, Michael’s explanation had probably been the most comprehensible of them all.

(Then again, Michael did have the closest experience to Jon’s way of Becoming - would it not make sense, for them to understand each other in that if in nothing else ?)

(Would it not make sense to have, rather than the Distortion against the Archivist, the Distortion smiling at the Archive ?)

It is a blessing that this Avatar with not the faintest idea of what he became and apparently, the faintest idea of who he was, does not meet the fearful eyes of the young Jonathans Sims but the knowing gaze of the Archive, who can lean forward, hold his plastic hand tight in his own scarred one, and offer to him what was always given too late to that same young Jonathan Sims and that same ignorant Archivist and that same broken Archive - be it by design or by misfortune.

Answers.

Genuine, detailed, complete answers to his questions, both spoken and not.

Answers given now and not whenever it best suits the mastermind of their lives - although Jonah probably cannot claim that title anymore, when his current main chess piece has not only left the board but also knows what all of his moves beyond it could be, and he himself is so far out of the loop.

Thank Beholding for a God in his head-in his body-in his soul, eh ?

“What has happened to you - what has happened to me, a long time ago now… it’s called Becoming.”

Danny blinks above him, a frown slowly settling over what Jon guesses might be too rigid features as he appears to try and decipher what exactly Becoming means in this context. His hands are back on his lap, fingers twisting together in something of a nervous tick perhaps

He seems… lost.

Jon smiles, and he’s sure it’s an ugly crooked thing on his face rather than anything even remotely pleasant.

He takes Danny’s hands in his own again, and exhales.

“Basically, it really sucks.”

The Distortion laughs.

If Jon wasn’t worried about devolving into either hysterical peals of laughter echoing Michael’s until he passed out, he would probably follow.

No, no. Focus. Danny. Becoming. Answers.

“But that’s not all it means, of course. There are some things… That is to say, there are some things you should know, that you need to know, about the whole… process and what comes after. What you being… here, implies.”

Someone shifts to his right. Jon makes a point not to look, when his mind is already so filled with disquieting tales of Becoming and transformation and horrid ends, when Daisy’s posture straightens. He can feel her eyes on him, and even that is almost too much for his nerves.

Almost.

But Danny is looking at him, of course, right into his semi-lidded eyes. His hands, with visible ball joints instead of hidden tendons, tremble in Jon’s. And the eyes embedded in that face of cracked plastic and lustrous skin are nothing like the glass beads one would expect to find on a doll or a mannequin - he still remembers crossing Orsinov’s gaze and how it made his skin crawl in some kind of fear-disgust-wrongness.

(It makes sense now, of course, more than it did then with just the uncanny factor to explain his visceral reaction.)

(To be one of the Eye, staring into a mockery of one of Its physical manifestations ? Blasphemous.)

Rather, they’re deep and colourful, glistening with spilt and unshed tears alike, and they are painfully human.

And Jon’s made mistakes, mistakes which have cost him his own humanity not just through the physical process and consequences of his Becoming but also through everything he did and didn’t do. Everything he failed to do, everything he failed to hold onto as his life slipped through his fingers like frigid water and left behind the numbness of grief.

Jon… Jon has not lost all of his empathy - or rather he hasn’t lost his empathy for those he’s loved and loves still, and he still holds within his chest a reasonable wish to preserve the world, even if it’s moreso tinted by Beholding’s newfound hunger than his own love for humanity. But it’s not quite the same as it once was, before the Apocalypse. Even then, walking through the ruins, he hadn’t so much wanted to save the world as he’d wanted to save the people in it.

Or even just a selection of them.

But Danny, whose eyes keep shifting to Tim even in what must be something of an uncomfortable presence - considering what Jon is - Danny who looks around in confusion and fear and curiosity so unlike Nikola’s carefully curated facade of emotions, Danny who can perhaps be like Mike and Oliver and Julia, who can perhaps live and be human-

Jon will do what he can for Danny to remain Danny - if only for the man himself, because he deserves better than to be punished for dying, once upon a time, and being brought back as yet another puppet of the fears - and perhaps even more so for Tim, who’s lost a brother once and should never have to do so again if it can be helped.

And Jon can try to help.

Or at least, he can describe in extreme, lengthy, painful details what makes him, what makes Michael, what now makes Danny a monster in disguise - and how to live with and beyond it, to the best of their abilities, instead of just rolling over to die and rid themselves and others of the burden.

Of course, it also implies describing in extreme, lengthy, painful details what makes Daisy a monster in disguise.

(He just hopes she will not try to cut his throat open again for the mere suggestion that she is anything close to the beings she’s hunted and killed for years now, with never a doubt that her actions were right and just as long as one more monster lay dead and buried at her feet.)

(She doesn’t seem to have a knife on her, but he will never underestimate Daisy - and even if she does not have a knife hidden somewhere on her person, it does not lessen his wariness. He’s learned his lesson well, even if he hopes for the better. Alice ‘Daisy’ Tonner, for as long as she lives, will never be harmless.)

Still, it is the exact knowledge that Danny needs, and he needs it now - and Jon can probably run to the tunnels before Daisy catches up to him, should things come to it. He cannot let fear stop him, not this time.

Those things, left silent and unknown and hidden ?

Usually a recipe for disaster.

Jon would know.

So he takes another useless breath, and goes on.

“Becoming… well, I’m not actually an expert on the topic, or rather not a direct one outside of my own… very messy experience with the whole process. Or I wasn’t, until I had to Become a second time- that’s another unnecessary can of worms, though-”

God, has it always been so hard for him to express himself ?

Has Jon not always been a verbose child, even back in the day where he’d talk his grandmother’s ear off until she left the room and closed the door in his face as a hint for him to shut up ? Wasn’t he the most well-spoken elementary student in their little seaside school in Bournemouth ? In their middle school tucked beside the church ? In their high school lost amongst the fields ?

Has he not gotten into university, to learn about classics and literature and research laws, thanks more to his projects and letters than any ‘glowing establishment’ in his file ?

He used to be able to speak without stumbling.

(Or he did, about anything, about everything, as long as it didn’t concern himself. He’d had a pretty awful time defending his research process and choices when thesis juries came, let alone how he’d grown thanks to it or that kind of rubbish.)

(He’d butchered his reasoning for researching ‘Frankenstein’ out of all things. Actually speaking about his feelings, his experiences beyond that one statement he now knows had been quite literally pulled out of him by an Eldritch listener, and actually manage to make it coherent ? Perish the thought.)

“I’m not an expert, not really, is my point - at least not in something other than an Archivist’s Becoming, and even that... But I’ve been the, ah, lucky witness to many a transformation, over the years and through statements- ah. I’m getting ahead of myself.”

Mike, Michael, Daisy, Peter, Julia, Jared, Helen, even Jonah.

Melanie’s aborted experience, Georgie’s failed one, Basira’s confusing evolution.

Gerry’s entire life, Gertrude’s decades-long resistance, Oliver’s unending dream.

Even the drawn-out agony of Martin’s walk into the thick of the fog…

Jon has seen - Jon Knows - a lot more.

(Probably more than he’d personally like, especially in the vivid details both statements and Knowing have granted him even before the Apocalypse, but he’s not quite his own person anymore, is he ?)

(Beholding’s answer within Jon’s mind is an echo of what seems like an aeon-old conversation. ‘So, what… You… you became him?’ - ‘No more than he became me. It is rare that someone I take finds their way into being me, but it does happen.’. It’s as straightforward as it gets, considering the original messenger and the different context, he supposes.)

“What it boils down to… What it boils down to is, there are things in our world, just behind a kind of… veil, if you will, that have some sort of influence upon us through specific feelings. Mainly, fear. These things, they’re, ah, reminiscent of… You probably have heard of Lovecraft’s works, even if only in popular culture - and I believe Tim mentioned reading them when you were younger- Well. Putting aside the, well, blatant and omnipresent racism, he did get one thing right in his paranoïa about… well, most things.”

‘Like you.’

Yes, Jon had once been as paranoïd as Lovecraft, minus the fear of math and the xenophobia. He doesn’t not see how that’s even remotely relevant.

Beholding sounds out a warped version of Tim’s snickers, and Jon once again has to keep himself from visibly scowling. It’s probably the thought - or mental image, in that case - that counts anyways, when it comes to Beholding and Jon’s head, and Jon is extremely competent in the projection of his own annoyance, with or without the aid of eldritch abilities.

“The entities he’s made up - the godly ones. The great monsters so far above mortality and human comprehension they can drive someone mad by their mere presence or sometimes even mention, those kinds of entities. Well, it’s all perhaps a little dramatic, but I suppose he wasn’t too far off the mark - who knows, maybe… Actually, no, he wouldn’t have been Magnus’s pen pal. Too much anxiety.”

Jon is pondering the likelihood of one of Jonah’s host bodies and identities actually reaching out to the writer - perhaps actually driving the man either mad or just inspiring his stories with some incentive or source material, who knows - when Sasha butts in, leaning in between Jon and Danny long enough to grab Jon’s attention.

“Pen pal ? I thought Jonah Magnus’s many friends and esteemed colleagues were his lovers. Lovecraft would have never fit the bill even without his being a nervous wreck.”

Notes:

hope it was a fun first part, feel free to comment !

Dialogue quote : Mag 101

Chapter 36: 34 (2). A Study of Marks

Summary:

“If, ah, I suppose the best example of a Mark like yours would be-”

And Jon, who Knows a whole lot of things nowadays if he should say so himself, when looking for an example that will actually relate to Danny’s Mark, comes up short.

Notes:

Hello hello, good morning good evening, I hope you've all been well over the last two weeks !
As promised, here is the second half of chapter 34, finalized about 30 seconds ago. As always, all my thanks to the wonderful GrimNiknil who is the most awesome betareader and friend out there - and no I do not take criticism regarding those claims - and helped me make this Frankenstein of a chapter, pieced up paragraphs and volatile ideas, into a manageable read !

Now, a bit of a longer and more serious author's note with a tl;dr at the end :
///
Before you delve into this chapter, dear readers, allow me to put this warning here : There is a f*ckton of world-building in this chapter, almost none of which is canon to MAG, and most of it does not come from the fandom either.

It is me, my oversteeped tea and 3am writing sessions which led to something of a Frankenstein chapter which our poor betareader had to comb through to get it readable (and thank you for that) and its messy.

Which means it's also a Jon chapter and while he can be omniscient, he's also influenced by his own feelings and experiences regarding the topics he's discussing (or trying to discuss).

Now Im putting this warning here, and will be putting it in the opening notes on ao3, because of a recent comment on another of my series which insulted my work while having a biased view of the fact that I write in character POVs.

While it has not happened in almost a year and a half on AJB, the experience does direct my thoughts in this warning and thank you for everyone who will read it and take it into account. I know the PoVs are very clear in AJB and no one in forever has taken my writing as "the bible of canon" but it has happened once now sooo.

Yeah.
///
Tl;Dr : I mess with the canon and fanon of MAG and AJB and if youre mean to me about it I will delete your comment

Now that this had been said, please enjoy your read !!!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Jon is pondering the likelihood of one of Jonah’s host bodies and identities actually reaching out to the writer - perhaps actually driving the man either mad or just inspiring his stories with some incentive or source material, who knows - when Sasha butts in, leaning in between Jon and Danny long enough to grab Jon’s attention.

“Penpal ? I thought Jonah Magnus’s many friends and esteemed colleagues were his lovers. Lovecraft would have never fit the bill even without his being a nervous wreck.”

Ah. Right.

… Actually, no, Jon does not want to dwell on Elias’s - or Jonah’s or any of his incarnations - century-old sex life and the potential intervention of many known figures within it. He's given himself enough nightmares looking up Benjamin Franklin and his sex cult during college, thank you.

(It had been a… phase of his, to delve into all of the dark secrets of prominent figures like Isaac Newton, Franklin, Gandhi and the likes, back when he’d been researching details about Chrétien de Troyes and the Arthurian cycles with the Mechanisms.)

(He can still remember many an evening spent with Jessica and Frank, chattering about the latest 15th-century scandal one of them had found. Good times. Also, truly proof that he was of the Eye from the start, isn’t it.)

“It’s definitely something we can, ah, ‘chat’ about, Sasha, but I really think it can actually wait as opposed to this. I- Well, I wouldn’t want to speak for you, Danny, but I think you’re like to know about what’s happening to you before I go on and screech about Elias and his hom*osexual harem - though for context, Jonah and Elias are, ah, one and the same, a man that has been alive for about two centuries. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, aren’t I.”

It is not a question - he knows how to be polite and prudent, even if he hasn’t exercised either of those qualities in the past, thank you very much - but Danny does take it as the invitation it is and nods, effectively steering the conversation away from Jon’s rambling and Sasha’s questions and back to Becoming.

Which is of course not any more fun of a topic.

“Ah, I suppose- Well, I suppose I should try to actually explain. Becoming is a transition from life as what you could qualify as a simple human into a being linked to Entities. I won’t elaborate on all of them just now, it’s a whole other can of worms, but- well. I can say that they are linked to great fears of the living beings populating Earth at present. Or, well, it might be more accurate to say they are our Fears.”

From the corner of his eye, Jon sees Gerry nod along and he can’t help but smile. Is Gerry proud that Jon remembers his explanation ? As if Jon could ever forget the first person who actually laid it all out for him without demanding half his life and mind in return.

“As you might have guessed, you are now linked to one of those. Precisely, one that is called The Stranger - like mine is called the Eye, or Beholding. And, ah, I should also say that there are cases where… One hasn’t really Become, but can be… touched by an entity. They either had or gain an affinity to one of those Entities, through their own fear or, or survival of those fears.”

Tim’s shoulders are so high Jon is almost surprised one or both aren’t yet dislocated. The man’s hand on his risen-from-the-grave brother is still only lightly clenched, in what Jon supposes is the light comforting pressure of a loved one’s touch meant to represent comfort and support, but the rest of his being is as taught as a bow strung far too tight and for far too long.

Hopefully, he will not snap - neither the wood and plastic that now make up his body, nor the cord that is his mind, in this bow analogy.

“The Stranger and the Eye are, I suppose, as antithetical as they come within the realm of those Entities - though the Spiral and the Eye aren’t the best of friends either, for obvious reasons- well. For understandable reasons. But they do have some points of agreement, whereas the only thing the Stranger could ever agree with the Eye on is a necessity for people to ‘see’ the uncanny to fear it- umh. Right.”

Georgie is staring at Jon just the way she used to do in college, back when his presentations went on for too long, when he stayed after class to badger their teachers about this or that free of his classmates’ staring and groaning, or back when he and the other Mechanisms spent hours rambling about this or that myth and epic while writing lyrics and picking tunes.

That is to say, she’s staring at him and telling him to both shut up and get on with it, just with a bend of her eyebrows.

(Always an efficient, to-the-point, terrifying woman, Georgie.)

( Beholding, how he’s missed - misses - her. )

“Right, ah. What… tell me if there are things you’d like to know, please. It will be… easier for me to stay on track, that way. At least on this particular topic.”

Danny blinks, suddenly dragged into the metaphorical spotlight - and better it’d be metaphorical, considering what the young man now is. Jon knows very well what would happen to him if it was the very light he once summoned shining down upon Danny, and nobody here - apart perhaps from Daisy, but she’d been eerily quiet - wanted that.

Tim squeezes his brother’s shoulder and the bearded man seems to shake himself a little, as if refocusing on the moment himself. He looks down at his own hands, examining the joints, before slowly grabbing the cuff of his frankly disgusting sweater and pushing it back to the middle of his forearm.

(Jon will not point out that said disgusting sweater is disgusting because it is covered not in mud stains, as everyone believes according to Beholding, but in a horrifying quantity of dried blood - Danny’s own, of course, because why not.)

( He tries not to think about it too much himself. He will discuss it with Danny later, if the man himself remembers. If he does not… well. Should Jon really help him remember what was most likely his very own skinning ? )

Danny stares at his forearms - plastic mimicking skin even in its porosity and malleability and shifting hues, yet still just a bit too smooth, a bit too cold, a bit too hard to the touch to be mistaken as anything but artificiality under his fingertips, themselves strange feeling plastic, Jon knows.

He lets out a shaky exhale, closing his eyes before he shifts his arm to show the underside of his wrist.

And the dotted line of scars there, wrapping around the wrist joint and climbing up along his arm and under his shirt.

“Are those… umh. Do these marks- I mean. Is this a normal thing for this uh, Stranger god creature ?”

Jon stares.

Stares at the dotted line, before his gaze shifts to his own arms, the cardigan just large enough that it has slipped over his wrist and lets him see a scattering of holes, a thin line, the edge of a burn… All of them had scarred in the exact same state, no matter the wound’s origin or age. All of them raised skin, more or less thick, and discoloured in the same way. Almost aesthetically pleasing in how uniform they look.

The scars on Jon’s body are Marks. He knows this, of course, and has Known it for a while as well. Scars cataloguing Fears, as they were meant to, for the Archive to rise and prosper.

Daisy’s scar, which he has seen once, can also be considered a Mark. The white hair strands Martin had gained in his hair once upon a time, the glow in Basira’s eyes, Mike Crew’s scar and light blue pupils, Oliver’s dark veins, Peter’s bloodless complexion, Elias’s fragmented pupils at the end… So many Marks Jon is either bearing in body or memory.

He can also count Gerry’s burns, the worm scars Tim once bore, Melanie’s bullet wound… Marks, of survival instead of Becoming, like most of Jon’s - if not all of them, but the whole deal has always been a bit of a headache when considering the Archive’s… everything, as stated before.

It is not surprising that Danny bears a Mark, as well. It is expected, rather, from Jon’s experience, that an Avatar should bear their Entity’s Mark to some degree - some as small as Callum’s eye bags and Mike’s ozone smell, and some as all-encompassing as Nikola’s and Michael’s everything . Though she was something else entirely too, not quite an Avatar-

No matter.

Danny has a Mark - a Mark that killed him.

And now he wants to know about it.

(Well. It seems the skinning detail will have to come out now, after all.)

( Now if Jon can just manage to be delicate, perhaps even tactful about it… Good lord. )

Jon opens his mouth, ready to explain - he has all the information Danny could need, doesn’t he, he’s not about to keep it for himself like an arsehole.

“It’s… Yes, it’s normal. It’s even standard amongst the ranks of Avatars. They’re not all the same, of course, and yours is, err. When people encounter these Entities, or rather their agents, and those encounters become… violent, or just frightening, and the, err, human makes it out, they’re more often than not Marked. It’s not always physical, and it’s not always a scar but it can be, of course. I mean…”

Idly, Jon waves a hand from his forehead to his torso, in an awkward way of displaying himself and his many, many, many Marks, most of them physical and painfully visible, much more so than Danny’s faint scarring.

“Of course, not all Marks are equal - for, ah, for example, my hair didn’t use to be this dark, and the grey hairs this silky, and these, err, these braids ? They’re not my usual style- well but that’s not the point. The point is, Marks are normal when you become… something like us. An Avatar. And physical Marks are not unusual at all.”

Does his library of scars offset the percentages of how many Marks per Avatar are usual ? Probably not worldwide, he’s only one person, but within London maybe ? Though London is rich in Avatars and marked people alike, probably in part thanks to Magnus and his harem, Hilltop Road’s great education style, and Nikola’s recruitment process, so perhaps not even here.

“And then, well, there are… two types of scars, at least in the way I’ve seen them ? There are, like I said, Marks of survival, the scars and the fears you get when you get out of these encounters, not unscathed but with your life and most, if not all of your sanity intact. People, normal people, or I should say, err, humans, can have those. Avatars, though, they can… well, have something more. What you have, I think, is a Mark of Becoming.”

Well, he’s back on the topic at least, isn’t he ? The initial topic at least. Somewhat. Bravo Jon. Now explain it all slowly and clearly, and don’t forget the man before you is not an omniscient monster and doesn’t Know all you do, please.

“If, ah, I suppose the best example of a Mark like yours would be-”

And Jon, who Knows a whole lot of things nowadays if he should say so himself, when looking for an example that will actually relate to Danny’s Mark, comes up short. He wants to point to one of his own then, because he has an archive full of them, but… It doesn’t fit either.

Because…It’s not quite the same, is it ? His Marks are of course the results of attacks, of Entities and their agents taking bites out of him, slowly turning him into the Archives. But his own Entity’s Mark, the Eye’s is more insidious than all of the others.

The most physical scarring Beholding may have inflicted on Jon is either the indirect process to form the Archive, or what Jon theorizes might be a truly horrific amount of scarring in his brain from how many times it must have been rewired. Probably. If science has any impact here. Which it might not have.

Still, the point is, Jon’s not too sure his experience with Marks is a good example. Apart perhaps from his own Stranger mark, of course, since it had been the one that had killed him for the first time - just like the dots along Danny’s arms cannot be anything but the remnants of his own death. But that’s not quite it either, since that Mark had been a combination of Nikola’s earlier… ministrations during his kidnapping - - and the NotThem’s entire stay in the Archives, messing with their collective heads - which had surely already led to a Mark by itself, why did Jonah have to make sure it stuck and left him in Nikola’s hands ?

The Unknowing unfolding around them when the explosion occurred and searing terror into his very flesh hadn’t been, ironically, linked to the Stranger so much as a gateway to Jon’s own End. Those burn scars might be the closest thing to what Jon would consider his own scar of Becoming - except, it hadn’t been, had it ? He hadn’t made the choice then and there, sealing his wounds and denying Death in favour of another. He’d spent months laying in the hospital instead, torn and lost and dreaming. It had killed him, had opened the door for the Archivist’s birth, but right now, Jon is looking for something specific and this doesn’t fit.

Maybe the scar on his tongue, the one Marking the birth of the Archive ? No, even that isn’t it. It had been self-inflicted, an attempt at stopping his Becoming and that of the world rather than being what had permitted it, and it had been such a feeble attempt too, and such a spectacular and damning and unforgivable failure - and that is entirely different from Danny’s Mark.

Danny’s Mark is the thing that killed him and the thing that supposedly stuck when he made the choice to refuse to die. And Jon… Jon doesn’t have that, not really. He’s a canvas of scars and stains and Marks, but he doesn’t have the neat little marks left on Danny’s limbs, travelling around his neck and behind his ears, looking like a perfect mix between scar and thread. He doesn’t have a mark that is both the end of his life and the beginning of another.

(Lord, Tim’s brother has been skinned to death. Was there no mercy, not even the slightest hint of one, that at least one of the Entities out there could just cleanly and quickly kill their victims before inflicting their horrific gimmicks upon them ?)

( Jon can feel the pointed feeling of a raised eyebrow - probably his own reflected back at him - from Beholding within his mind. Which, yes of course he is aware that the fear of something specific is the whole point of the Fears, but a man-turned-Archive can hope, can he not ? Good Lord. )

Daisy’s Mark is off the board - she would kill him on the spot, no matter how calm she’d been until now - and Georgie’s isn’t physical. Gerry’s tattoos don’t quite apply as far as Jon Knows, and his burns are a Mark but they’re not the right kind either - they’re a Mark of survival, not of Becoming, not the way Jon thinks about it.

Tim has no physical Mark, neither do Sasha nor Basira at this point, and Martin’s truly upsetting new Spiral Mark isn’t it either. Elias and Peter have helpfully left and wouldn’t have been of use either, Leitner is nowhere to be found and had avoided Marks anyways … And Jon is a mess.

That leaves basically no good example in their close vicinity.

Maybe he could… ask Oliver ? No, Oliver’s Becoming had been quite… thorough in making him anew, hadn’t it ? Mike, maybe, if he was careful about it- no, no, his scar comes from his encounter with the Spiral, not the Vast. Even Jared would be a better pick, though the whole point of the Flesh might render the existence of a specific Mark rather moot. Jane would be the same in that regard- oh, he does need to pay a visit to Jane too.

Rayner, Jude, Jane... Maybe the Montauk-Herbert duo, just to make sure they won’t pull the same move as last time, especially considering Gerry had taken away both the book and himself as their monster compendium . And then there’s the Wax Museum, and Ny-Alesund, and Gertrude’s deposit box, and her body is still down in the tunnel,s isn’t it-

And there’s Annabelle, who he cannot let run free for much longer after the whole incident with the lighter in the hospital and now the spider coming out of that stupid gun, Annabelle and her Mother who might be the only thing legitimately able to cause the Apocalypse again, Annabelle who once shot herself and Became-

Someone coughs, and Jon blinks away from Danny’s scars, and upwards.

Beholding, Michael out of all people just pulled him out of his spiralling thoughts. What has the world come to ?

(To a better one, hopefully. And a better ‘ending’, one that won’t include the actual end of the world. This time, it has to end right. It has to.)

( Jon knows he will not have the strength to stay human a second time, not anymore. Not the strength, nor the drive, nor the reason. His reason is gonegonegone- )

Michael grins above him, and Jon looks back, raising an eyebrow in question and shelving his morbid thinking aside.

“Perhaps I could offer some… additional insight, dear Archive.”

Oh.

Right.

Michael is still here, isn’t It ? Hanging above them, long spindly-twisting-curving body halfway tucked into Its Hallways and halfway hanging upside down - for what notions of Up and Down can subsist in an Aspect of the Spiral as strong and as unique as Michael - Its hands folded together and Its fingers curled like a macabre chandelier.

Perhaps even one tittering on the edge of falling, ready for Its chain to break and for Its sharp points to impale whatever poor soul had the bad luck of standing underneath Its coming weight.

Is Jon due for a new Distortion stabbing ?

Is it fate, or is it his own morbid curiosity that keeps on attracting his eyes back up to what seems like ever approaching blades coming for him ?

(At least he won’t have to pretend he managed to stab himself to the bone with a butter knife this time. And to his future reason, too. Small mercies.)

( Though Martin’s laughter, years-decades-centuries later as Jon recounted the sordid tale of his fractal scar and Martin had gleefully mocked his inability to lie decently, had made the incident into a fond memory, by proxy. )

“By all means. You, ah, have an experience as unique as mine, so perhaps the two of us combined… Though I supposed Oliver would be a good example too…”

“You do realize I do not have the faintest idea of how you Became, do you, Archive ?”

Jon blinks.

Ah. Perhaps the Distortion’s…warping of time does not apply to a future-past-apocalypse Jon has supposedly either left behind or over-written - at least not fully ? Of course, Jon has understood that this Michael does not know him as the Jon he currently is, the Apocalypse-time-travelerflavour of him - and of course, Michael had never actually gotten to meet this current version of Jon back in their time, considering It had been replaced an eternity and a half before everything came crashing down. But considering that Michael had sought out both Assistants and Leitner, and had offered the latter to Jon on a silver platter…

Ah.

That should have been a clue, perhaps. For all of Its mind games, the Michael that Jon had last seen disintegrating in a horribly beautiful array of colours would probably never have given Jon the Archivist such a boon - the very Archivist It had wanted to kill so terribly It had perished because of it.

It’s already a wonder this Michael even approached Jon while thinking he was still an Archivist - and had probably been prompted by what had led It to pop up in Tim’s flat unannounced.

Still, it made an awful lot of sense all of a sudden, the almost carefree way Michael had been acting around the whole affair of Jon and his plans. Beyond their… unspoken bonding as Distortion and Archive born of unwilling and engineered Becomings, this Michael also did not have the same baggage as Jon’s old, long-dead Michael did.

This Michael, for all It was already the Distortion, had never sunk Its claws into Jon’s body and smiled at the blood spilt - the most honest smile Jon had seen of It, up until the very end.

Beholding, Michael had never even seen Jon Become, had It ? Michael had died before Jon’s first death, after all. Helen had been the Distortion by then, haunting the Archives around Melanie and Basira while he’d laid in the hospital, dead to the world and the doctors, only kept away from the morgue by Elias’s influence and possible supernatural blackmail.

Even if Michael did know of what had happened in the life Jon had left behind, It wouldn’t know of Jon’s first Becoming, let alone the second. Good Lord.

Jon needs to make a chart of all of this. Some kind of notebook to sift through, because he is apparently incapable of making good use of the absolutely monstrous amount of knowledge and Knowledge contained in his mind without either forgetting entire planes of facts - or mixing up past, present, future, and the truly terrible effect his understanding of the Spiral has on his attempts at making sense of the timeline.

Michael is staring at him.

Right. Focus.

(Lord, why is this so hard ? His mind, pulled in a hundred directions at once, not a second of rest to be found, and he cannot stay focused for the life of him.)

( Even at the height of the Apocalypse, it hadn’t been that bad, had it ? Apart from that short stint as the Pupil, and in a completely opposite occurrence the whole mess of Salesa’s cottage… But none of those exist here. Jon should be able to focus. He needs to. )

He shakes himself, shifts in his spot on the floor, and nods slowly, in answer to Michael’s earlier question if nothing else.

Danny, above him, is staring back and forth between Jon and Michael.

“Sorry for the wait,” Jon winces.

The man blinks, once, twice. His hand is still splayed out on his thigh, palm up, wrist uncovered, dotted-line scars visible, but his gaze is shifting away from his own skin to roam over Jon’s.

Jon doesn’t have to Know nor See to be aware of the many Marks Danny finds there, but he can only wonder as to what the man thinks of them as he looks back up into Jon’s eyes and his own - so, so, so human and similar to Tim’s - soften terribly.

“It’s, ah. It’s okay, man. I’m, eh, guessing this is a lot for more than just me ?”

Well. He’s not wrong, is he ?

Jon nods, while Michael snickers and grabs his attention once again.

It’s body language - or what Jon can read of it without Looking too hard - is still open, and Jon actually manages to remember the whole point of his mental Michael tangent.

Right. Scars. Marks. Additional insight. Michael.

Okay.

Jon nods again, more so to himself than to anyone else.

Right. In the moment. Good.

“A-ah, please, the, ah, floor is all yours.”

He receives a smile in answer, just a little too large and crooked and twisting, and yet it is somewhat warm.

Good Lord.

The Distortion climbs down from Its Door, the wooden-not-wood plane closing and vanishing out of sight, frame and corridors included of course. Only Michael is left, and as Its feet touch the floor, Its body seems to shrink down from Its twisting towering height into something slightly more manageable.

(Of course, he is still much taller than Jon, but then again isn’t everyone else, even Elias ?)

( At least Callum had the decency to be shorter. Small victories. Over a literal child. )

Michael, looking more stable, more typical, more physically human than Jon has ever truly seen - or rather heard about - even when the entity was happily masquerading as Sasha’s coffee date, slowly turns Its back to their group. The back of Its sweater is as much of an eye strain as the rest of Its clothing - at least what Jon can perceive of it, when most of Michael’s back is covered by the twisting curls of Its blond hair tumbling down in a mad cascade.

The sweater looks a bit like spilt oil on wet asphalt, actually - if the saturation was upped to about 300%.

Michael does have beautiful hair, and Jon cannot help but allow just a little bit of his Sight to seep through the tight net he’s been holding closed around his abilities, just so he can witness the Lichtenberg strands of gold and the many, many, many singular hairs coloured just like the bright neons stripes crossing over a dying CRT screen, before the static took over completely - his Gran had been moody for a few weeks afterwards and had never bought a newer tv to replace it.

He’s still looking quite intently when Michael’s fingers - with an adequate amount of phalanges even if each digit is still much too long - reach back and pull said hair away from Its back - showing off the long strands to an intrigued Danny, who doesn’t seem even close to developing a headache watching the fractals, lucky man.

Jon’s eyes do not zero in on the revealed pattern, which actually seems to swirl as an oil spill would. They do not zero in on Michael’s neck and the strange constellation of beauty marks drawing a spiral there. They do not zero in on Its moving elbow and how the joint is behaving like some kind of children’s park roundabout despite its human packaging.

Michael’s distorted voice vaguely echoes in Jon’s ears, talking about the twists of Its body, the changing colours of Its clothing, the fractals in Its hair - and there is a little part of Jon that thinks that no, no, this still isn’t the kind of Mark he is looking for, Michael isn’t quite an Avatar and he was devoured by the Distortion, not just wounded, this doesn’t fit either - but he doesn’t focus on what Michael is saying.

Instead, Jon stills - his back straightening and his mouth clicking shut and his eyes narrowing - and stares at the dark, burnt, tar-like mark right in the middle of Michael’s back.

It would almost, almost have bled into the background and seemed like yet another pattern if strangely dark, if Jon’s Sight had been anything but All-Encompassing.

As it is, Michael shifts Its shoulders showing Danny Its hands, the sweater’s fabric grows taught, and Jon Sees.

It’s a hand.

Or, the shape of one, rather than a macabre cousin of that amputated hand from those old movies.

Still, as much as Jon would like to think further about those quite entertaining movies, the handprint there is too important to let himself be distracted.

Because in all of the twists and shapes and colours of Michael, which is Itself so far removed from human it’s a wonder It even presents himself to them in a form even remotely close to one - though that can be laid at Shelley’s and his specific Becoming’s feet, of course - that shape is starkly, darkly, terrifyingly simple.

It is just… a hand. Or the imprint of one, like the slight depression of a firm touch on the fabric, like velvet strands slightly displaced by a graze, like sequins shifting under the brush of a palm.

A hand. Medium-sized, slightly scrawny, with a crooked index.

A normal human hand.

Michael lifts Its sweater but Jon does not need his eyes to know what they will find underneath.

Still, his mind does pedal back when his eyes land on what dwells underneath the bunched-up fabric, and he revises his first opinion. The imprint on the sweater was nothing, nothing at all, just a trick of the light, a strange shape in the pattern, a blob of darkness Jon’s brain had shaped into something recognizable.

(It could have been nothing, he could have been mistaken, if it had only been the sweater.)

( Will Jon ever stop trying to lie to himself, even now that he is unable to ? )

Michael lifts Its sweater and there is a massive scar underneath, fractals upon fractals doubling over in a frankly dizzying pattern.

Jon feels Danny blink, feels Tim squint with tears in his eyes, feels Sasha stare until her eyes burn, feels Martin and Georgie turning away almost stumbling in place, feels Daisy not quite take a step back nor forward, feels Basira turn to her partner in confusion.

Jon feels Gerry’s mind stutter, and he knows his friend sees it too.

There, is the very same shape that had been dyed black into the sweater.

It could have been nothing.

Could have.

What’s seared into Michael’s skin is very much something, of course.

It’s the imprint, the stain, the mark of a hand on that sweater.

And underneath, is the scar

The scar is massive, it is horrifying, it is dizzying.

But even as it tries to confuse his mind, as all manifestations and Marks of the Spiral are wont to do, Jon’s eyes do not miss what is there, nestled among the raised fractals and sharp angles that look like Michael fell on a carpet of woven barbed wire and broken stained glass.

More so than the scars Jon believes Michael is trying to show Danny, more so than the raised ridges on Its skin that are of the Spiral, this is the real Mark.

Rather, another kind of Mark.

But it had shaped Michael no less, had it ?

The Mark a hand left behind, and a Mark who became the source of an explosion of scarred fractals, like a bomb gone off and the trenches left behind, like a lightbulb cracking and the shards laid around its remnants like a field, like the center point of the supernova that made the Distortion Itself.

And it did, didn’t it ?

That hand.

The very hand, of course, that spent perhaps a lifetime hidden behind a back, fingers crossed as its twin sent assistant after assistant to their death. The very hand that patted Michael Shelley’s back, in the cold of a country that had never existed, and assured him of his helpfulness.

The very hand, the very fingers, the very palm that had pressed in the middle of Shelley’s back…

And pushed him into the open maw of his end.

Gertrude’s hand.

And Michael Shelley’s death sentence.

Notes:

So I've been advised to give an example of the CRT Screen I've been describing, mainly because I wrote down "cathodic screen" and assumed that like the French people my age, everyone would know what such things are. Grim said "actually no"
And Janus Blinked - EnbyNeti (1)

I... think I was supposed to explain something else but I honestly forgoooot so don't hesitate to ask me in comments if the glaringly obvious unexplained thing comes up for you like it didn't for me !

Thank you for reading, don't hesitate to comment, see you guys next month !

Chapter 37: 35. Gear Shift

Summary:

“Peter.”

Really, Peter should have booked it back to the Tundra from the moment he was spotted in the hospital room - maybe even before that, when Elias asked him to play mailman out of all the things he could have used one of his few favors for. If he had, he could be around the Pole right now, perhaps enjoying the wonderful sight of melting icebergs and the low-level terror of the few scientists witnessing the event from just a bit too close. Their fear of dying up there, cold, drowned, alone, was always a nice little pick-me-up after a long day of navigating around.

“Peter.”

Notes:

Heeeey everyone, I'm still totally on time this is still absolutely the 30th I don't see what you mean by "late" ahaha

NOTE : This chapter in unbetaed, please be indulgent ! I've read over it myself but mostly to check for spelling and grammar, the syntax prrrrooooobably escaped me (though hopefully I haven't left weird question marks or french words here and there)
Please keep giving GrimNiknil lots of loves cause they've been at this with me for a year and a half now and even without directly beating this chapter I can assure you it probably woudln't have seen the light of day without them !

Please enjoy !

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Peter isn't the one to drag Elias out of the Archives and the Institute, which is a small mercy - the fury, the anger, the madness that had overtaken his husband for a bit down there has receded as soon as his eyes had left the scrawny form of the Archivist, and Elias had been stomping up the stairs in front of Peter just seconds after, taking the lead.

And while Elias doesn't seem completely crazy anymore, as he takes the stairs two by two and emerges within the sooty remains of the Institute's lobby in front of Peter, he is quite clearly ticked off. Pissed off. Quite cross with everything even.

Maybe that is why Peter is apparently the only one of them to notice the trembling figure of Jurgen Leitner scrambling out of the Archives and further down the corridor of the basem*nt. If Peter isn't mistaken - and he has gotten familiar enough with the Institute's layout over the years, from his few visits down there when there was one item or another Elias wanted to either gift him or brag about, the latter being more frequent of course - the old librarian had been stumbling towards the infamous Artefact Storage.

Perhaps, if the world decides to be kind to itself today, Leitner will find his end amongst the unpleasant, irritating or deadly objects nestled within - although his plethora of books and his years of survival, no matter that they are the result of cowardice and hiding rather than any real ability to defend himself physically, will probably keep the man alive long enough for him to show himself around these parts at some point again.

Truly the co*ckroach of their world, that Jurgen Leitner, even more so than Gertrude Robinson had once been - she'd had teeth and knew how to bite and rip out some tendon, at the very least. She'd had fire - a bit too much for Elias's taste, too.

Still, Leitner's escape, considering he'd seemed like the Archivist's prisoner - Peter didn't know much about… what do they call it, shibari ? But he is almost certain that wasn't the reason Leitner had been tied up - is mildly interesting and perhaps worthy of further investigating. Or at least, it might seem so to Elias.

That is, if Elias stops his furious stampede to actually notice and/or acknowledge the situation.

Which doesn't seem too likely at the moment.

In the back of his mind, Peter wonders if perhaps Elias hasn’t noticed the man’s feeble escape. Any other morning, any other day, any other week, Peter would not even dream of suggesting such ‘blatant blasphemy’, as Elias would surely put it, even to himself within the corridors of the Tundra.

But of course, this was very much not every other week, was it ?

The Magnus Institute, only two weeks after welcoming a new Archivist, has burnt almost to the ground - had been set on fire even, leaving only the basem*nt intact - and even if that is indeed the bulk of the place’s power, it is still a terrible blow against the Eye to have lost such a prominent and well-known institution, not only for their gathering of statements but also for their overall reputation within the community. Already there are whispers of agents of the Desolation being the cause, simply because the fire had been impossible to put out by mere mortal means before everything above ground had been turned to ash and soot-covered stone.

Most of the contracts binding the essential employees - that is the few still alive in Artefct Storage, the Human Ressources, the Librarians - and their lives to that of Elias have gone up in flames with the building, freeing the lot from their terrible fate with none of them the wiser. only about four or five contracts remain now, out of the forty Elias had kept in his own office for safekeeping, and two of those are the contracts of the precedent and current Archivists - one of them rendered useless by reason of Gertrude Robinson being quite dead, by Elias’s very own hand.

(Why has he even kept that contract, really ? Was he going to expose it besides Barnabas’s bones, before they too had gone up in flames ?)

(Really, Elias has the most obscure and quite frankly off-putting taste in décor - and that is saying a lot coming from a man who has both been raised in a grand mansion furnished with the most beautiful and unused furniture there could be, and a man who left it all behind for the hard, dark, cold metal walls of an empty cargoship rolling among the waves.)

The current Archivist, as mentioned, is also a very important variable to what Peter would consider a normal week even by Elias’s standards - in that he is absolutely, drastically, radically different from what Elias had anticipated, observed and reported of the little man he’s been all but physically grooming over the last five years. The meek little prey ready to become the chew toy of all those that Gertrude Robinson had once angered, the prickly and isolated little scapegoat ready to take the attention away from the Institute and unto himself, freeing Elias from the reputation Gertrude had given of the Archives. The wonderful little puppet, apparently approved by the Web itself, who should have been nothing but ready to be Elias’s next sacrifice upon the altar of his ever-expanding knowledge - and perhaps lifespan.

(Although Peter wasn’t too sure about the idea of a new vessel the likes of Sims.)

(For all the rumours, jeers and exaggerations running around, Peter wasn’t actually fond of the small and scrawny type, thank you very much.)

And the Archivist has a team too, this time - something Gertrude had never quite been able to manage, although she wrought destruction in solo well enough. Although she’d had a team up or two herself, hadn’t she, outside of the Assistants she’d led to the slaughter in the name of the greater good. One of them had been that good ol’ Adelard Dekker, and the other had been… Gerard Keay.

The very same that had stood by Jonathan Sims’s side - or laid beside him on a hospital bed - for the last two days at least, and likely many more.

Which, actually, should perhaps also be concerning - at the very least in Elias’s eyes.

Peter doesn't mention it either, no more than he brings up Leitner’s mad dash, watching his husband's back as they exit into the lobby and cross the soot-covered floor towards the (béant) doors of the Institute and the empty streets beyond.

For one, Peter Lukas is very aware that he doesn’t care about Leitner and his whereabouts, frankly. The man is but one amongst a sea of living beings upon this Earth - the very same masses that Peter enjoys watching to feel lonelier than he already is - and while he does register as a possible filling meal for Peter’s patron, it would perhaps be too much trouble to try and seize him. To work around the man’s books and failsafes ? There are simpler, less irritating and more filling meals to enjoy out there.

And of course, being the one to take out Jurgen Leitner, if the fact ever got out to a single mildly-social Avatar, would come with a fair share of fame and glory and recognition - if only in the network of avatars milling around London and its suburbia.

They would seek him out.

Thank him.

Acknowledge him.

Disgusting.

Peter could shudder just thinking about it.

Another reason is, of course, that the only one who would listen to his comment is currently, ah, psychologically indisposed ?

Of course, there is a wonderful flavour of loneliness associated with speaking in the empty, with sharing information left unheeded, or even whispering little nothings in an ear that is not listening. Peter is intimately familiar with such delicacies , as he has indulged in such things more than once, especially through phone calls with Elias - the latter busy in his office and Peter himself tucked away in the icy corridors of the Tundra.

And even if Elias wasn’t currently walking in front of him, fuming in a fit of non-crazed anger, Peter is almost certain Elias would not listen just now.

So Peter stays silent, despite the certain appeal.

It could be something of a, how to phrase it, a snack ? To satiate a mid-morning craving, to calm a deeper hunger on its surface symptoms perhaps - or just to be self-indulgent after such a chain of disasters and the weight of just a few too many pairs of eyes upon him.

Those very eyes that are, perhaps, also what stayed his hand - or his mouth, in this case ?

Those eyes that had been aware of Peter, in a way only those that know of the Lukases are usually aware. And there had been more of them than Peter would have anticipated, even within such a crowd.

Leitner, he’d expected would easily know of his family, even if they hadn’t planned for the man’s sudden… reappearance. Keay too, considering the man had met more than one Lukas - but Peter hadn’t expected him to be there either - he’d barely noticed him back in the hospital room, too… taken by the Archivist’s burning eyes.

The others, not so much. Lukases are not often seen nor recognized by just anyone - it’s offensive to even imply it, too, as many young or impolite individuals have learned over the years, though they never quite got to share that lesson afterwards.

It is not unheard of, of course, but still rare enough outside of fully-fledged Avatars who are actually close enough to the Lukases to have seen one of them around before - through functions or crossing interests in prey most likely, the second one more often than not ending in quite the scuffle with the more… foolish beings who didn’t quite get the hierarchy of their food chain yet. Rare enough that Peter has not crossed paths with such an individual outside of Elias’s fundraiser parties in about a decade.

It is too all the more unusual considering most of the beings in that room had been humans .

Well, apart from the were-cop, the little mannequin and Elias’s rogue puppet.

That last one could explain the awareness, actually. From their… confrontation in the hospital, it has become pretty clear that Jonathan Sims knows of Peter Lukas, in another dimension than just as one of the Institute's sponsors or as Elias’s wayward seafaring husband, as the rumour goes in HR according to Elias’s delightful and unimpressed secretary, named Rosa or something along those lines.

Adding to that, Jonathan Sims had appeared to bear a, how should he put it, a sort of resentment towards Peter himself. Which of course made little sense, considering Peter has never interacted with the little man before the hospital, and certainly has never done anything that could warrant such negative emotions.

Well, he perhaps has made a meal of one of the man’s friends or family, in the past, but how would he know, and how would Sims know ? The Lukases are unknown to the mortal world and their individual activities are known to very few among Avatars and the family alike.

Adding to that, even Peter ignores the name of most of his meals if they were not initially part of a wager with Elias or some rude thing that had brought his ire - or the pale copy he displayed - onto themselves. Which means not even Elias, as mentioned before, could have used such information to turn his Archivist against Peter - the information simply did not exist , when there are no minds to pluck it from - either from ignorance or from being lost to the Lonely - not even for Beholding’s favorite .

(Although, perhaps Peter should call him his ex-favourite, from now on.)

(And what does that mean, for Elias, his plans, and his status among them, to have been passed over for what the man himself might call a ‘rude little upstart’ ?)

Still, as it stands, it’s safe to assume that the Archivist Knows more than first disclosed by Elias, and perhaps Knows more than even his husband has privately been believing and keeping from Peter. How much he Knows, that is yet another unanswered question - and one that even Peter would truly like an answer to.

Regardless, it is also safe to say that Sims resents, perhaps even loathes Peter, though for no apparent reason. At least none that Peter is aware of.

Which does justify further that he would probably have told his little… teammates of Peter’s existence, considering they had also been in that room when Peter had entered, no matter that they hadn’t been able to see him. It was only logical to share that kind of information on a possible and very much dangerous threat, when one was not Elias Bouchard, and when one already held a, perhaps, grudge against said threat.

(Well, apart from the redheaded one, whose hand faintly shined of the Spiral’s touch. Their eyes had crossed, in the second Peter had thrown the card in the Archivist’s face, turned and fled.)

( A worthy potential meal, that one, his colors slightly faded by what seemed like a lifelong half-battled half-embraced loneliness. A worthy meal Peter would have sought out away from Elias’s paper and ink claws and into Peter’s own discrete and frigid ones, if the Archivist had not been… well. Whatever he is. )

Well, that’s the mystery of the… recognition solved, if Peter is right. And he may not be mister Elias “Avatar of the Eye Supreme” Bouchard - or whatever title goes around those days through the gaggle of young Avatars who’ve had the bad luck of crossing his bad side and surviving - but Peter is often right, especially about other people.

(Manipulating someone into abandoning their every connection and turning themselves into a shell of their former self is not a task easily accomplished without a minimum of knowledge of the human psyche, after all. And Peter has more than a little experience with these things, even if he only invests so much time on land when the itch of Hunger makes itself known.)

(He might not appreciate any kind of attention, but Peter Lukas is recognized as a Master of his craft within the community and the family, thank you very much.)

And on that thought, he is back on topic. On Elias not noticing.

Yet another thing, Peter should not have to mention it. Elias has always been, and should by all rights always be the one to notice and see these things, not Peter. Peter doesn’t care about people that aren’t either allies, pests or meals, and even then his ‘care’ is fleeting, distant and an abuse of the very word. He only notices things out of boredom, never out of curiosity - Elias notices things out of hunger and the need to always know what goes on around him, no matter the cost.

By all rights, Elias should have noticed both the Keay discrepancy and the Leitner situation.

And Peter is back on his first thought.

What if Elias hasn’t noticed ?

What if Elias is not only so far out of his depth, but so shaken by the destruction of his temple, that his abilities have paid the price ?

That would shake the status quo of the whole Avatar community - for a given definition of community, one which isn’t very traditional - of London and the United Kingdom, no matter how masterfully Elias has hidden himself away from the bulk of attention over the last decade or so.

It would shake the community just as the Leitner library’s destruction had, just as Gertrude Robinson’s death had, just as the fire just had not two full days ago.

It’s already shaken Elias himself, Peter can’t help but think.

(For the grand Head of the Magnus Institute, to let himself be consumed by rage so that he would miss Jurgen Leitner’s movement just a dozen meters away ? Preposterous and actually something that should by all rights be worrying, to a person that cares.)

( And yet it’s just like all of the other things Elias hasn’t noticed over the last few days. Elias hadn’t noticed the strange happening around his little Archivist from the very start. Hasn’t noticed his little Archivist’s growing powers. Hasn’t noticed his little Archivist’s friend group back in the hospital, nor down in the Archives. Elias hasn’t noticed quite a lot of things lately - even when he was indeed Looking. )

So Peter keeps his silence. Because he doesn’t care, because he doesn’t want to share, because he shouldn’t even have to, and because if he does end up having to, that’ll mean a crapton of other troubles for Elias and him by extension.

Perhaps it is time to go back to sea. For a few weeks or years.

Finally, they reach the steps outside of the Institute, even as Peter ponders over the whole mess that has clearly developed not quite around Elias’s smug little being, as it usually would, but around a frail and even littler figure standing around a mismatched group of humans, Touched and Avatars - and even the Distortion itself, that elusive entity he’d heard once or twice after the Spiral’s ritual had been thwarted by good old Gertrude.

“Peter.”

Really, Peter should have booked it back to the Tundra from the moment he was spotted in the hospital room - maybe even before that, when Elias asked him to play mailman out of all the things he could have used one of his few favors for. If he had, he could be around the Pole right now, perhaps enjoying the wonderful sight of melting icebergs and the low-level terror of the few scientists witnessing the event from just a bit too close. Their fear of dying up there, cold, drowned, alone, was always a nice little pick-me-up after a long day of navigating around.

“Peter.”

Or he could have gone and seen Simon. The old man had called him the other day, hadn’t he ? Just before the hospital, while Peter was milling around empty streets and watching some of Elias’s employees break off from the gossiping still present near the roaring fire, feeding off their isolation even in such a time of need, on their discontent from being sent to their empty homes when their workday was their only social opportunity - and on their underlying despair at being the type of person so completely lonely they could only be around other people at work out of all things.

“Peter !”

Now, here’s one interesting thing about Peter.

Peter is not an easily startled man.

He is usually the one to startle others, as it stands, through the fog and the cold and the silence that encompasses and sometimes makes up his entire being. He is usually the one to walk out of what had seemed at first glance like an empty corridor, to appear at the corner of an empty street - and yet offer a smile so empty whoever stands before him will not find any comfort in the presence of this new living being with them - to even have his ship exit the fog at the very last moment, fueling rumors of phantom vessels, washed out crews, ghostly captains and adding, of course, to the paranoia the navigating Lukases have been creating in about every three port worker around the world, their crazed tales a perfect tool of isolation by itself.

Peter has never been easily startled, even as a child, and has become even less so ever since he’s become the Head of the family - or perhaps since his path crossed that of the Magnus Institute in something other than whispers and rumors.

Still, the point stands. He is not easily startled.

Elias’s face, eyes wide and wild again, skin so pale it seems bloodless, just two centimetres away from his own nose, can be qualified as a good effort though.

Just a bit.

“What ?”

“What in the world do you mean, ‘what ?’ ?! I should be the one asking you that, you buffoon ! You’ve been staring off into space like some sort of ruffian walking through the streets to find their inspiration and almost walked into me !”

Now that Peter is looking around, he sees that Elias is almost pressed against the side of the car they drove here with, less than a meter between the metal and Peter’s chest for the man to stand in. His back arches along the curve of the car's body just so as he looks up towards Peter, a look of absolute annoyance carved into his face - where there is no more mad fury to be found. His arms are crossed over his chest, but the slight tilt of Elias’s wrist makes his supposed next action quite clear - if Peter had not finally focused back on him, Elias would have slapped him back into the moment.

And people wonder about their many divorces, really ? When Elias has once driven a fork through Peter’s hand for daring to laugh at his many complaints about Gertrude - and when Peter has once thrown Elias overboard from the Tundra when the man had stolen an excellent meal right from under his nose ?

“Peter, I will Look into your forsaken soul if you do not step back this instant.”

Ah, sweet threats. Amidst the pet names, the gambling over each other’s existences - or at the very least their mortal comforts, every decade or so - and the contests of fear-spreading amongst each other’s subordinates, the neverending threats to the other’s sanity, wealth and continued lifespan are really the thing tying their marriage(s) together. Threats to one another, threats against the marriage counsellor they’d seen a decade back, threats against the administration which had tried to refuse their third marriage…

They must have fed the Spiral without meaning to too, what with all the trauma that man must have had, pulled in between the Eye and the Lonely - he’s even spent their last honeymoon on the beach, hasn’t he ? Or was it the one before that, and their last he’d spent in Artefact Storage ? Who knows, but Peter does wonder if the bloke still works there, and whatever of his sanity might be left. Oh well, some sacrifices have to be made for some quality time between husbands, eh ?

Peter .”

Peter feels the familiar and oh-so-hated tingle of an Eye Looking at him a little too closely, and he does take a step back this time as asked, folding his arms behind his back and smiling genially - like Dumbledore, his late nephew had once said ? Peter wasn’t too sure about the comparison, or even the person Evan had been referencing but he’d taken it as the compliment it had probably been meant as, considering who’d spoken and the smile that had been accompanying it.

(Evan had always been too kind for the family he’d been born into. As a child, as a teenager, as a young man, he’d never let go of his kindness, of his easygoing nature, of his ability to build connections . Naomi had just been the last straw.)

(But then again, there had been many a Lukas child born only to find themselves serving the Lonely from a plot in their graveyard rather than out into the world.)

“Alright, alright, no need to be so touchy.”

Touchy ?! What in the hell is going on with you today ?”

“Well, I could ask you the same thing, no ?”

Elias is glaring but Peter suddenly finds he doesn’t quite care for Elias’s offence and anger right about now. As it so happens to be, Peter himself isn’t quite happy with the situation either, now that he’s out from under the Archivist’s eyes - and they’d almost burned, those eyes, piercing through his fog and never letting go even when he wasn’t doing a thing, when he hadn’t opened his mouth, when Elias had been spitting curses - and back in front of his frankly annoying husband, whose gaze had tingled but not burned as it once would have.

Elias is angry and he has Looked at him full front. Peter’s face should be itching from invisible burns from a mere glance. Yet it isn’t. It is only the slightest bit itchy, like a mosquito bite and not the maddening feel of peeling dead skin he’d expect after decades of the same exchange of burning looks and biting touches.

(For a long time, he imagine the feeling of Elias’s Eyes on him was what the witches of Salem and Pendle had felt as the pyres cracked underneath them, as the fire climbed up to embrace their body in the agonizing swirls of the blaze, as the townspeople watched and they burned for their fears and their superstition and their satisfaction.)

(Right now, it feels like a pesky ant climbing around on his cheeks, and the little he feels of what once pained him terribly annoys him as much as it concerns him.)

Is Elias losing his abilities ? His patron’s patronage, as Peter had said in jest down in the Archives ?

Has Elias not only been losing his temple, his puppet, his plan but also his touch ?

“First, your Archivist ends up being anything but what you promised me when you sent me in to do your dirty work. Then, that freak tape recorder in your office using my voice. Then, your mad display down there !“

Peter is not known to raise his voice often. It goes against his silent nature - he’s more used to displaying something of a soft cheery voice that blends in the background but still has the potential to sound ominous and threatening when the time calls for it.

(Naomi had compared him to a serial killer once, before Evan’s passing. Something about cannibalism. Really, that pair and their references…)

(Pity such isolating conversation - the two of them quickly delving into the books and television shows they were referencing meanwhile Peter was left ignored and ignorant, unable to relate to their interaction in any way - were a thing of the past now.)

“Mad display ?”

Elias seems seconds away from either stepping on his foot or driving away without him - but Peter can see the question, the slight confusion even in the slant of his eyebrows even if the tilt of his lips is still one of anger. The eyes, as always, are unforgiving steel.

“You screeched at the Archivist, Elias. Like a Siren .”

And somehow, that makes his husband stop.

Which is fair, in Peter’s eyes, because it had made him stop too.

They both know Peter is not referring to the kind of sirens now plaguing the minds of children all around the world, thanks to that idiot Walt and his happy retellings of grim - and Grimm’s - fairy tales, the horrors of which Avatars had been using as fuel for centuries, especially amongst such communities as the Dark’s and Desolation’s.

And they both know the comparison is not meant to be a flattering one.

Elias has many faults, one of them that he is of the most dramatic disposition Peter has ever seen - and he has met Simon Fairchild far too many times for his personal taste - but never in their joined lives has he been witness to Elias raising his voice not in a show of power or some display or grandiloquence, but in the unappealing shriek of an animal.

Sirens are creatures of the Slaughter, little more than mindless creatures and not at all the wonderful temptress the myths make them out to be. They hand around fogged-up harbours and swim around iceberg-strewn waters and those very specific places where hundreds have found their ends through one war or another, sinking to the bottom of the sea.

(As a matter of fact, there is a rather vicious bank of them around the Titanic’s final resting place - nothing like infighting amongst the dying to taint the water for decades. It’s plenty enough to feed the horrors’ ravenous little gills, as they drink in the fear and hate and bloodlust like oxygen-like gluttons with no sense of pacing. That pack might be one of the most well-fed of the present world, too - a lot of people had died when they’d been so sure they’d be eternal up on that amazing unsinkable ship, and had resented the world to the point of wishing they could drag it to the bottom with them.)

(Although the dozens that let themselves die did turn the water frigid with echos of the End as well and kept those Sirens… lethargic, for lack of a better term. Which was for the better, truly - no one wanted one of those rich children coming around for a dive and getting devoured by a Siren in full view of their retainers. Bad publicity, that - and a potentially very bad time.)

Sirens are a frightfully unintelligent, unappealing, unthinking bunch, and their shrieks are well known among the sea-faring Avatars - mostly members of the Lonely or the Vast - as the pathetically hungry sounds of little more than beasts.

And Elias has sounded just like one of them.

Which, once against and for all that Peter is as detached from mortal concerns as one such mortal can possibly be, is worrying.

Elias, at least, finally seems to focus back on the whole issue, and it is he that steps back this time - hitting the car in the same movement. His mouth snaps shut with an audible click, teeth not quite rattling but the noise just as unpleasant as he stares into Peter’s face and finds, quite probably, only honesty - or the pale copy that Peter is allowed to express - on his face.

“A Siren - how in Hell - We should…”

Elias, speechless. Peter has known the man for decades, and he can count on one hand how many times such a thing has happened. The bulk of them has happened over the last few days, including this one, which is once again concerning. The number of concerning things is concerning too.

(The first of them had happened back when Peter himself was a young upstart and Elias wasn’t Elias. It had been utterly satisfying to catch such a powerful Avatar of the Eye - no matter how well he hid himself from those less sensitive to the flux of powers - off-guard and to still his barbs from him, even for just a moment.)

(It had also been endlessly filling for Elias to refuse his marriage proposal - Peter had seldom felt this isolated and lonely before, and has never quite found that kind of feeling since. He’d asked Elias in marriage three times more chasing the rush - and had gained a husband that would happily feed into his need for neglect the fifth time.)

Elias purses his lips, and steps to the side and back to the driver’s seat, his face empty of emotions outside of the tight draw of his eyebrows creasing his forehead and accentuating something Peter knows his husband doesn’t like to think about - the years gaining in on him and this body of his.

“We’re leaving.”

This isn’t an answer to Peter’s questions and concerns, of course, but it is an action that is not driven by apparent madness nor told through some animalistic screeching, and that does make it acceptable. He follows, himself climbing into the passenger’s seat - although that might be a mistake, considering Elias’s… driving ability overall - and watches the empty street in front of them as the engine comes to life and they leave the Institute behind.

Where are they even going, though ?

Elias had been… unhinged, somewhat, when he'd driven them here what seems like hours ago but can't have been more than half an hour maximum, and hadn't had a plan beyond 'putting the Archivist in his place' - which has been a complete and utter success , hasn't it ? The Archivist is in his place, and that place is apparently out of Elias's claws and above the man in the hierarchy of the Eye, so much so that it has left his precedent favourite blindsided.

And now, here they are, in Elias’s car driving through mostly empty streets - which in itself is almost strange, but Peter does recall the CDC quarantining the block around the Institute on account of “potential toxic emissions from the artefacts contained within the building at the time of the fire”, so perhaps not so strange - with no goals fulfilled and no goals to walk towards.

Forsaken, how terribly Peter misses his Tundra. So much so that he almost feels it, that ache, beyond the simple lonely sensation of sitting in a car with a husband who ignores him when he’s not of use. What he wouldn’t give to be back on the seas and away from this mess.

Of course, on that foot, the mess gets bigger.

Because Elias swears, his foot slams down on the brake, and they hit the human figure that had been standing in the middle of the street dead-on.

“f*ck-”

The impact sends whichever idiotic pedestrian had been standing there flying, their body twisting once, twice, thrice… and a fourth time, the umbrella they’d been holding suddenly open and above their head as they right themselves in the air, easy as pie.

Peter sighs while Elias’s teeth, this time, do grind together in an unpleasant sound.

Of course, whatever else could be missing from this wonderful day ?

“Hello, gentlemen ! Fancy meeting you there !”

A young man, tanned skin struck through with lightning and blond as they come, sighs from the sidewalk, and Peter kind of wants to do it again too when he hears it.

Because really, isn’t that the only reaction one can have in the face of the terror that is Simon Fairchild ?

Notes:

Dont hesitate to comment !

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Chapter 38: 36. An Unlikely Challenger

Summary:

Only when the nerves grow too ragged to be ignored, does he turn away from the lobby and back down the opposite flight of stairs, already itching for the relative safety of the tunnels. Curse these fool worshippers of the thing down in the Archives for driving him out of the safe corridors of the underground labyrinth - don’t they know anything ?

Notes:

Heyyyyy so.
It's been a while hasn't it ?

(random rant underneath)
Yeah, second half of 2023 wasn't too great for most of my hobbies, only got one other fic written because it was a project deadline. Ajb, meanwhile, couldn't get a word down for months - and got super busy with a full-time internship then back to class and work and just - didn't manage to get back on my metaphorical feet on my personal time, couldn't find motivation, got myself really down, all of that.
So, I only kept up with stuff I committed to with other people and decided to put AJB aside until I could get a good grip on writing again. And THEN I kind of fell out of TMA altogether - so you know, this has been a bit of a fun ride.

Anyways ! This is a short one but please enjoy !!!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Jurgen does not look back even once, as he creeps up the stairs as silently as he possibly can behind the furious tornado that Bouchard has become and his Lukas companion. He does not look back towards the Archives as he watches the pair of them exit the building - instead, focuses on the shape of them that he had never quite gotten a good look at before from his less than ideal vantage point.

Only when the nerves grow too ragged to be ignored, does he turn away from the lobby and back down the opposite flight of stairs, already itching for the relative safety of the tunnels. Curse these fool worshippers of the thing down in the Archives for driving him out of the safe corridors of the underground labyrinth - don’t they know anything ?

(He remembers the young man dressed in black, his eyes a too bright blue as he slammed a fist against Jurgen’s face again and again in an erratic, furious rhythm - a familiar young man he more than once saw accompanying Gertrude near the end of her outings or whenever she had a Leitne she did not want to store.)

(This young man should know better - so why, why was he standing shoulder to shoulder with the thing that has taken over and destroyed the Institute to anchor its own power over Bouchard’s ? Naive, insolent, violent children-)

He shakes his head, huffing in disappointment over wasted years and a failed next generation, and focuses on the duo he just split from - for a given value of the word, given he hadn’t really been accompanying them in the first place - cataloging their silhouettes in stark contrast of one another not only in build and stature but also in the sharp difference in their body language.

Lukas, back in the basem*nt, had been standing strong yet one step behind, but despite his practiced placidity Jurgen had been able to catch the way his shoulders were raised just a bit too high for a casual posture - like Gertrude’s used to be even when she sat at her desk, if she was too high-strung from one victory or another failure to bother acting in front of either statement givers or her assistants. To have seen the current patriarch of the most powerful Lonely dynasty acting… bothered is more than a bit concerning, in and off itself.

Of course, Jurgen knows why.

That boy back in the Archives is a monster of proportions none of them have seen before, not even back when Agnes had still been walking this earth. It would rattle anyone, even the most well-established and empowered servants of Fear of the last two and then some centuries, be they the methodical and organized cults Rayner’s and then old Mangnus’ forays had made near tradition, or older Avatars yet that Jurgen has had the bad luck of meeting.

That young man- that monster… He is something never seen before.

Which means there is no good, no easy, no known way of either getting rid of him, or of protecting oneself for whatever he might do, if he proves malicious.

And at the very least, regarding Jurgen himself, he has proven very malicious in his intent indeed. Much the same can be said about his interaction with the old ‘power’ couple that had been the plague of Getrude’s day. No wonder Lukas had been acting so wary, even by his emotionless facade standards.

As for Bouchard’s reaction - or rather Bouchard’s… everything back there-

Well. Getrude always used to say Bouchard was a lunatic, he knows, but he’d never thought it’d be to such an extent.

A frankly disturbing extent.

The whole moment back in the Archives - and it is still going on, too, even as his outburst seems to be winding down against the ironic solidity of his husband’s intervention - was quite uncharacteristic for him, Jurgen thinks. He’d seen Bouchard the oblivious paper-pusher, Bouchard acting as a simple boss with a slight awareness of the Entities, Bouchard as a riddle-ridden taskmaster - for about a day, when he’d tried to see who exactly would be chosen to replace Gertrude. But never has he seen him - in the albeit few times he has seen him rather than heard of him through Gertrude - acts so… out of control.

Manic.

Unhinged.

Frighteningly, shockingly, unexpectedly so.

Though, Jurgen has seen him shoot an old woman right in the chest three times before, and Jurgen has seen the smile that had spread across his face as Gertrude exhaled her last breath and Jurgen has seen the spark in his eye as he brought the pipe do-

What ?

A pipe ?

No, no. A gun. A gun pointed towards Gertrude and a cruel grin and three loud gunshots. Blood pooling on the wooden top of her desk and staining the fabric of her armchair and soaking her shirt. That is what Jurgen remembers hearing, from his hiding spot in the tunnels that the ‘Eye’s favorite clerk’ hadn’t quite found yet. What Jurgen remembers seeing, after the door of the office had slammed shut behind a departing Bouchard - perhaps gone out to find a probable unstable statement giver or employee he could pin his crime onto - and he’d waited three hours spent spying from any other sound, before climbing up in the office to witness the corpse of his very last friend and ally in this world. What Jurgen remembers touching, when he’d lifted her up and away from the office, careful not to leave a blood trail behind that would lead to the tunnels, and found a room to set down her body in.

(Gertrude dead, there were little doubts that any number of Entities and more likely their servants would be clamoring at the chance to be the ones to claim her body - the Strangers first and the Desolation’s Lightless Flame not far behind. Even cremation would not save her remains from such a fate if there was even a chance they’d be stolen before he could spread them… So the tunnels it was.)

(And if he laid her down in the room she’d been setting up for the past few months with her most important sets of tapes, in the hopes that it would become her successor’s - miss James, was it - safe space and well of informations, effectively making the place a tomb not only for his deceased ally but also for any kind of peace any successor might have found in there, well- it was his business.)

(Now that Getrude was dead… he didn’t care much for an after, anyways.)

He grits his teeth, hands twitching uselessly behind his back now that he has seen his property stolen by the violent book hunter - what was his name again, Edward ? Wasn't he supposed to be dead anyways ? Was this another trick by the thing up there ? - and pushes the door of Artefact Storage open with a shoulder and some effort.

He needs… something, anything in there that can help him either get away - hide deeper than before - or kill this thing.

(Not that any hiding spot short of the Dark itself could hide him from a fully-realized Archivist, of course.)

(What is he going to do ?)

f*ck, he feels like a fool.

When the fire had started, he'd been so certain this would be a victory - up until he'd seen the Archives so well protected from the fiery end they should be meeting and had decided, against better judgment, to exit the safety of the tunnels and ensure their destruction. But as the first flames had reached the door and started to lick away at them now that he'd thrown the flame-retardant-filled boxes aside, and before he'd had the chance to slip back into the tunnels, the Distortion itself had grabbed him for whatever reason and most likely ruined his plans.

f*ck.

The Distortion is working - at least for now - with the thing down there in the Archives. An Aspect of the Spiral, alongside this abomination of the Eye - and all of those fool worshippers that bore marks from so many other fears-

Did they even know what they've done ?

This fire wasn't an ending of the Eye's presence in England - it was an uprising, a takeover, a shift in paradigm.

It was this thing's rise to power.

And not only was there no longer a Gertrude Robinson to stop it - her chosen successor was a turncoat clearly under this new monster's orders, if not outright control, and did not seem to even comprehend the enormity of this betrayal.

Gertrude had been a balance - a predator keeping the Fears in check beyond London, beyond England, beyond Europe. The Magnus Institute had been a seat of power few dared to go against directly.

And now, she was dead, and the Institute was a ruin for all Avatars to see.

The power vacuum left behind was enormous - and this thing had filled it.

This was a disaster.

Jurgen steps into another aisle of Artefact Storage, fear and anger alike warring in his mind as he discards one useless artifact after another harmful one, dismissing them as liabilities with rewards that could not be worth the risk.

He had lost everything to those fools - book, hideout and anonymity. Decades of careful work and skillful camouflage upended by a few upstarts and their monster pet. Did they not, do they not realize their mistake ? Their stupidity ? Their sin ?

Gertrude's successor is following a monster and will not stop it.

So…

So maybe Jurgen should.

He stops dead in his tracks in the middle of an aisle deep inside of the Magnus Institute’s Artifact Storage. The shelves have been somewhat emptied - has there been any looting at all since the fire ? If it is the case, London is in for a bad time, worse than the usual parade of Avatars and creatures alike that seem to love this damned town even with the omnipresence and underlying rule of the Eye weighing down upon them all. If there’s been any theft, he is sure that whoever took something from the Storage, whoever even crossed its doors, are completely ignorant of the horrors they’ve picked up in this ‘scam institute’.

Or perhaps it wasn’t looting at all.

Perhaps the thing down there used the fire to come here, pick and choose what it wanted for itself and its little thralls. Because why wouldn’t it want more tools, more leverage, more power ? All of these monsters are all the same.

Jurgen leans against a mostly emptied shelf with an angry sigh, hands clenched tightly in their binds as he bites his tongue. Why did Gertrude have to go and get herself killed just weeks before a monster of this caliber popped up in the landscape of Fears ? Why did she have to provoke Bouchard, let him enter her office so late at night when there was no one else left in the building, let him taunt and threaten and shoot her - and leave Jurgen with all of the work left to do behind ?

Getrude’s shadow upon London and the neighboring clusters of monsters has begun to fade away, replaced by an eagerness in the various servants of the Fears to go back out into the wide world and cause havoc tenfold after years spent in hiding of her non-discriminate wrath. And even a process that should have been slow, should have been halted somewhat by a new Archivist taking her place and hopefully taking over her crusade as well, has been sped up by the destruction of the Magnus Institute altogether.

The scales have shifted so far out of course none of them could have made any contingency plans for a disaster of that scale. And now that both Gertrude’s chosen successor and the violent teenager she’d considered her main aide have both decided to go and pledge themselves to a monster, there is only Jurgen left to take care of things.

His hand, as he pushes himself back from the shelf, brushes against a book.

Fine. Okay. Alright.

‘Perfect.’

Maybe Jurgen should do it.

If Sasha James has hitched her horse to the following of this new monster, if this Gerard individual has decided to go against everything Gertrude painstakingly taught him and follow this abomination, if those idiotic humans down there have all gone mad and decided Jurgen is the evil in this equation instead of turning their back on the thing and helping him, then he’ll have to do this himself.

Good choice.’

He clutches the book he cannot quite see in the darkness of the aisle, his other hand catching on the sharp edge of a dagger’s blade - some blood beading along the metal - before he fumbles to grab the handle, and he manages to free his hands more easily than he would have thought. A breath of air ghosts over his wrists - he left the door open, the wind must have gotten in over the ruined lobby and down the steps - as he pulls them free from the ropes and settles down, newfound equilibrium a blessing.

The book he slips in one pocket without looking at the cover, and the dagger in the other, the handle just in reach. There might be other artifacts around he should take, considering that the monster has all of his books and there is nowhere enough defenses to have against something this wrong.

He looks forward, thinking of the manifest he knows is tucked in a desk a little ways away, and of the entrance to the tunnels he’s pretty sure opened up in Artifact Storage at the very back. It should be easy enough to find even in the dark, and… he pats his pockets idly, absent-mindedly reminded that Gertrude had given him… there.

His grip settles on the warped metal of the lighter as though it has been made for him, and he flicks the light on.

‘Yes, dear. Follow the light.’

Gertrude is dead, Bouchard is crazy, James has turned before she could even do one thing right.

So maybe - so Jurgen has to do it.

‘My hero.

Notes:

I'll get on the backlog of comments soon, hope you enjoyed this short chapter !
Will try to get back to a monthly update but uh. No promises.

And Janus Blinked - EnbyNeti (2024)
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