There is, for no reason at all, a cup of tea on Jon's desk.
He has no idea how it got there or what he's supposed to do with it.
Well, drink it, possibly, unless it's... prank tea or, or poisoned tea, or... something. He doesn't think his colleagues dislike him enough to try and bait him with rat poison disguised as tea but, well. He knows he's difficult. He knows he's gotten more difficult and less avoidable since he was promoted to Head Archivist, and made the possibly-mistake of convincing Tim Stoker and Sasha James to abandon their perfectly nice Research positions to help him with the rat’s nest, which might have ruffled some feathers and inspired some petty payback. Tea with ink in it probably wouldn't be out of the question.
Jon sets down the reference book-- which was the only reason he left his office long enough for this to materialize in his absence-- on the other side of the desk, just in case tea is about to launch itself out of the cup to cause general ruin and inconvenience. He hooks two fingers gingerly in the handle of the mug to swirl it around a couple of rotations. Nothing obviously vile rises to the surface. It appears to be perfectly normal black tea, with a bit of milk. No way to tell if there's sugar (or salt, for that matter) dissolved into it.
It's still warm.
This raises a number of questions. Who brought this here? Was his absence at the time it was brought here intentional? Why would someone bring him tea? What would they stand to gain from bringing him tea? What is he, personally, expected to do about them bringing him tea? There are a lot of variables, none of which Jon feels particularly equipped to address. This is one of the many reasons why he prefers, in general, that no one does bring him tea, or ask him about his weekend, or interact with him at all in anything other than a strictly professional capacity. He isn't... personable, or good at personhood in general. Nothing about Jon invites curiosity or friendliness. Rather the opposite. It's even a little bit by design, these days.
And now someone has left tea on his desk.
Maybe... someone... forgot their tea. Maybe they came looking for him while he was in the library and just... left it on his desk accidentally.
Yes, that seems... plausible. He'll just leave it alone. Someone will come collect it eventually.
People do not bring Jonathon Sims tea.
It isn't done. It never has been done-- not at home, not at school, not at any of his workplaces. He and Georgie each got their own tea because they were both adults who had wildly different ideas about what tea should look like-- specifically, Georgie had strong opinions about tea and Jon didn’t have any opinions about tea but had strong opinions about her opinions-- and it was just best for everyone if they didn’t acknowledge that the other person had tea at all. (This is their compromise so that Georgie stops unplugging and absconding with the microwave to prevent Jon from using it to heat water. It’s efficient, and she’s wrong.) Jon doesn't even bring himself tea, as a rule, because it would require leaving his desk for several minutes at a time to go to someplace other than the library and, in the best case scenario, encountering someone who might expect him to make small talk or eye contact. (The worst case scenario generally spirals out into something involving second-degree burns, so he doesn’t consider the worst case scenario. The best case scenario is sufficiently bad already.) In this, as in all aspects of his life, Jon involves as few other human beings in the process as possible. What with the advent of self-service groceries, he doesn't even need to involve a checkout operator anymore. The world is full of little ways for Jonathon Sims to avoid having to interact with people.
Martin Blackwood, newly-minted archival assistant, has apparently not received this memo, because he is standing in front of Jon's desk with a ceramic mug. It’s steaming slightly.
Jon doesn’t actually know much about Martin. He knows that Martin was in Research for some time before Jon was employed, despite his apparent lack of academic rigor; that he is credulous (not an ideal trait in a researcher, in Jon’s opinion, even in this particular field); and that he likes people. Or, possibly, wants to be liked by people. Either way, not someone Jon spent a great deal of time around-- he lacks the basic social charms necessary to avoid stepping all over someone like Martin Blackwood’s feelings, and probably did so more often than he meant to on the very few occasions they interacted. That situation isn’t likely to improve with increased proximity, but Elias insisted that Martin would be suitable for the position, so here they are. This is what Jon gets for not being able to remember the names of more than two of his fellow researchers when asked.
Jon stares at the cup in Martin’s hands, nonplussed. Martin stares down at, possibly, Jon's face, with a fluttery and uncertain attitude that Jon thinks is probably anxiety. It's awkward.
This might explain the tea of mysterious provenance from two days ago, which Jon had eventually tipped into a potted plant when no one came looking for it. He has been observing the plant. It hasn't died yet, but that's not conclusive.
"What," he snaps, when Martin just continues to stand there looking at him. Jon is not that interesting to look at, so presumably there’s some reason he’s doing it.
"Um," says Martin, "I've brought you some tea? If you like?" His hands make a little nervous profferring gesture as if he was going to set the cup on Jon’s desk and thought better of it.
Well, that at least suggests a perpetrator if not a motive. Jon wonders if Martin would reveal a motive if asked. People, in Jon's experience, do not actually answer direct questions if they can help it. It's a great inconvenience to him personally and the advancement of humanity generally.
"Why?" he tries, because sometimes if he just asks a vague question people will come up with the specifics on their own, and that can be nearly as informative as getting his actual question answered.
“B-Because… tea?” Martin says, which is not even remotely illuminating. Trust Martin to be the outlier.
Jon glances up in the general area of Martin’s face long enough to get an impression of his big, dark, nervous eyes and a wavering little frown that he seems to be trying to convert into a smile by sheer willpower-- Jon has no idea what Martin can have been expecting, but apparently it wasn’t interrogation-- and turns back to his files, wiggling his fingers vaguely at the farthest possible corner of his desk.
“Yes, fine, go away,” he says, optimistically.
Martin does go away. He leaves the tea.
Jon catches himself glancing at the cup suspiciously three times over the next twenty minutes, before he finally sighs and drags it close enough to inspect. It looks much the same as the last cup, although it’s better described as lukewarm at this point. Jon dips the end of a pen in it, experimentally. Nothing dramatic happens. He’s not sure what he was expecting.
After some consideration, he puts the end of the pen in his mouth. Jon does not chew on his pens-- nasty habit, ruins teeth and writing utensils alike, also it’s unsanitary, also his grandmother would have had a fit if she had ever noticed, not that she would have been likely to-- but it seems marginally safer than actually drinking anything.
It tastes like tea. Also, plastic. That’s the pen, presumably.
Right. Mystery solved. Normal tea. Martin being Martin. It’s fine. Jon puts it out of his mind and gets back to work.
At sometime around half past seven, when he realizes he probably should finish notating this file and then actually go back to his flat, he also realizes that the cup is empty.
It doesn’t stop. Or perhaps, more correctly, it escalates.
Every day there’s a cup of tea on his desk. Sometimes he notices Martin arriving, and sometimes he doesn’t-- sometimes, he’s pretty sure, Martin deliberately times it when Jon is out of the office for some reason. There have definitely been occasions when Martin must have come in when Jon was working and he just… didn’t notice. Which doesn’t say much for either Jon’s local awareness or his interpersonal skills, he’s sure, but that’s nothing new.
For the first few days, Jon expects something to materialize out of the situation-- unpleasant additions now that it’s been confirmed that Jon is drinking the tea, however cautiously-- but it’s always just… tea. Normal, actually fairly nice, tea. Slightly different each time, admittedly, but not in a way that appears to be malicious or even mischievous. If anything it gets a little better with each iteration.
The only persistently irritating thing about it is the irregularity of the timing. The intervals between Martin’s arrivals in Jon’s office bearing tea-- and, if Jon is very lucky, his actual follow-up reports-- are, as far as Jon can tell, entirely random.
Hi, mouths Martin silently, gesturing with a mug at Jon’s desk. He pauses, hovering half in the doorway, when he realizes there is absolutely nowhere to put it down because Jon has twelve case files spread over his desk in various states of completion.
Jon jabs the stop button on the tape recorder and does his absolute best not to glare because he is not, strictly speaking, angry with Martin right now. His absolute best isn’t very good, so he’s not surprised when Martin cringes.
“U-um,” bumbles Martin, finally committing to entering the office in his entirety and meandering his way towards Jon only to hover, loomingly, blinking down at the mug in his own hands. Jon is reasonably sure that he doesn’t do the looming intentionally. He’s reasonably sure that Martin has no idea what size he actually is and that he could probably pick Jon up bodily and throw him across the Archives like a small dog. It’s one of Martin’s very few redeeming qualities. “I brought… do, do you need… some help?”
“No,” says Jon quickly, because he trusts Martin’s investigative skills about as much as he trusts the statement-givers themselves, which is to say: he doesn’t.
“Oh. Y- no, right, um. I’ll just, I’ll-- did, did you want, where should I?” He traces a vague circle in the air with the mug.
Jon can just see that at any moment tea is going to slosh over the rim and destroy, at best, a number of questionably-documented case files. That’s if it doesn’t manage to hit the laptop and destroy that too. (The tape recorder will be fine, he’s sure, which is a shame, because if it was ruined in a tragic workplace accident maybe he could convince Elias to at least update to something that wasn’t manufactured in the early 90s, but so it goes.)
He does not, precisely, plan to reach out and take the tea away from Martin before this can happen. Which is unfortunate, because if he had planned it maybe he wouldn’t have grabbed Martin’s entire hand on auto-pilot. Jon freezes. Martin freezes. The tea, mercifully, at least doesn’t spill. That is literally the only upside to this situation.
Martin’s hand is very warm. For an absolutely wild second Jon cannot imagine why that would be the case-- are his hands just very cold?-- but obviously it’s because of the tea, which is warm, and Jon is an idiot, and he should let go immediately. He does not let go immediately. His brain, having gotten him into this mess, has apparently decided to now stop delivering input to his limbs.
“D-did you…” Martin begins, and then trails off, staring at him.
With what seems like a very disproportionate amount of effort, Jon snatches his hand back. Martin sort of deflates, very slightly, presumably relieved that his boss is no longer inexplicably holding his hand.
“Y- I, just-- anywhere, just put it… anywhere,” Jon mutters, hunching over a document and scribbling pointlessly just to keep his fucking hands occupied.
He resolutely ignores all the little aborted words Martin stammers as he hesitantly puts the cup down, and absolutely does not look up until he hears Martin shuffle out of the room, gently closing the door behind him.
Then he drops his head to the desk and sighs aggressively until there’s no more air in his lungs and he feels a little bit less like he’s going to vibrate out of his own skin.
The tea is fine.
Jon does not immediately notice that Martin isn’t in. It isn’t until he receives a text about it, in fact, that he looks up and realizes he hasn’t had any interruptions all day. Sasha is out investigating a case, and Tim has been either working diligently or pretending to work diligently while he ‘protests the abuses of capitalism by underperforming and dedicating time to more valuable pursuits like, for example, getting a date, Jon, you should try it some time’. With Martin home sick, the possible reasons to intrude on Jon’s privacy are essentially nil, and he’s been able to get an astonishing amount of work done.
Of course, now it’s past nine in the evening and when he opens the door to his office the Archive is dark and quiet and empty.
He should probably go back to his flat.
Instead, he wanders out to the break room-- yes, he does know where it is, Tim, it’s just not a productive use of his time to be in it-- and fixes himself a cup of tea. Everything is strange and loud in the cavernous silence of an Institute entirely empty except for him. He watches the timer and opens the microwave before it can beep, stirs sugar into the tea without letting the spoon clang against the sides of the mug.
He’ll just finish filing what’s already on his desk.
The tea sits near his laptop and goes cold.
Martin continues to not be in.
In a slightly abstract way, with most of his attention on his actual work, Jon thinks this is for the best-- everything is more efficient when Martin is away. Jon is more efficient when Martin is away.
(It’s been a while, though. This seems like a long time to be out with a stomach bug.)
After nearly two weeks, it occurs to Jon that there might actually be some sort of consequences for Martin’s absence if it continues any longer. He’s not sure if he has any actual feelings about that, other than a vague impression that maybe he can get Martin replaced with someone who is more familiar with library science than with tea service, but it’s probably something he should actually be thinking about in some capacity.
Of course, the capacity he ends up thinking about it is: has Martin actually gone to see a doctor? Because two weeks definitely seems like a long time to be laid up.
Some kind of parasite, Martin texts, and then stops responding when Jon tries to get more information.
Which. Is fair. Because they aren’t friends, and Jon is his boss, and he probably wouldn’t be thrilled if Elias started asking him about the specifics of his medical history.
Someone should make sure he isn’t dying? For paperwork purposes if nothing else.
Someone who isn’t Jon.
He floats this idea to Sasha. She gives him a very long look, raises one eyebrow, and turns back to her research. Tim, across the office, cackles.
In retrospect, he thinks it’s the parasite thing that irks him the most about the whole Prentiss situation. There’s a distinctly smug quality about it, as if he should have been able to put the clues together just from that and known that it wasn’t Martin he was texting with. Like he missed something obvious, and Martin had to pay for it.
Of course, Martin is significantly more worried about the “crimson fate” nonsense, but that’s so transparently intended to be sinister that Jon is almost a little bored with it. He does wonder if Martin is fully aware that he’s stopped bringing anything red into Jon’s office, including several mugs that had been in regular use, but it doesn’t seem worth bringing up.
That also irks him, in a way he’s less certain of. Not the specific mugs in question, just the fact that they continue to materialize on his desk. This shouldn’t irritate him. It’s a welcome return to normalcy after a disruption which was more capital-B Bad, from every angle, than he had realized at the time. Martin’s absence had been a mild distraction in the back of his mind, but looking back on those memories now it was a constant error-- a rotten tooth that had finally crumbled to reveal the hollow. Having Martin back in the Archives doing Martin things should resolve that lingering incorrectness. Martin is back, and alive, and not eaten by worms, and continuing to be mildly incompetent at filing (and not doing field research at all, which isn’t favouritism, it’s practical, Tim and Sasha are better at it anyway and also won’t linger over dangerous situations because they have a complex over not getting enough positive feedback from Jon) and also-- and this, for some reason, is the bit Jon keeps stumbling over-- making tea.
Which is normal. It’s a normal thing to do. It’s a normal thing for normal people, and also a normal thing for Martin, and nothing about Martin puttering around the Archives like some kind of beneficient beverage elf in the wake of being terrorized in his own flat for two weeks should be off-putting in any way. Probably. Jon’s not an expert in that area.
Unfortunately the only person he could reasonably quiz on the subject without overcomplicating his workplace relationships would be Georgie, and: no. This is not a conversation he is going to have with Georgie. So he’ll just have to figure it out the old-fashioned way-- with a spreadsheet.
In the end this clarifies very little, but Jon does at least feel better having the data to hand.
By the time Martin actually clears his throat to get Jon’s attention, there’s no telling how long he’s been standing at the edge of the desk waiting. Jon certainly has no idea, and isn’t about to ask. He just blinks up at Martin, a little dazed as always by the interruption and vaguely aware that the lack of a mug means that this is a different interruption than has become usual.
“Just, just checking, um,” says Martin, in the usual way, “Did you know it’s almost two?”
Jon did not know, but shrugs one shoulder ambivalently anyway. “I suppose.”
This inexplicably seems to make Martin more nervous. “Right. It’s just, well, you didn’t go to lunch? Did, did you… are-- is everything-- I can get you something?”
Jon squints at him while he tries to remember if he has, in fact, eaten anything today. He is not, per se, hungry, though experience has taught him that this isn’t a guarantee that he has actually eaten. “That’s… not necessary, Martin.”
Jon has never actually seen irritation on Martin’s face before-- mostly he sees confusion, concern, anxiety, and what seems to be a permanent veneer of optimism and hope overtop all of it, even in the slightly uncomfortable climate produced by the threat of hostile worms-- so it takes him longer than the expression actually lasts to identify it. As usual, he has no idea what he’s done wrong, so he just files it away for future reference.
“I know it’s not-- just, I’m just… checking,” says Martin, strangely brittle.
“Okay?” Jon tries, without much hope, “That’s fine?”
“Right,” Martin bites out, and spins immediately on his heel to leave.
Jon watches him go, baffled. He has no idea what possesses him to ask, “Is-- are, did you? Eat?”
Martin pauses, one hand on the doorknob, and half turns to look at him, quizzical. This is an improvement over annoyed, so Jon suppresses his automatic impulse to look back at his desk and just taps all his fingers on the wood a couple of times while he waits for this to process.
“Yeah?” Martin says, “A couple of hours ago.”
Jon blinks. Right. “Right,” he says, stupidly, “Yes, because-- lunch. Is a thing that. Yes. Of course.”
Martin smiles at him.
It is not the usual nervous smile, uncertain of its welcome. Jon isn’t sure he could describe the differences if he had to, but it is different. Better anchored, maybe, or warmer, or just… preferable.
He’s going to need a new column on his spreadsheet.
“Lunch is a thing, yeah,” Martin says, “I’ve got another sandwich in my desk. I’ll just go get it for you.”
And then he’s gone.
Jon stares at the door for a long moment, trying to clear the static out of his mind, and finally looks back down at his desk. “Right,” he says, and starts trying to figure out which papers go with which case files so that he can make some kind of space.
(Someday, Jon will think about the attack on the Archives and be angry in a cold impersonal way. How dare she (they, it, anyone) come into his place and touch things. Pretend to see with her false fleshy eyes. Swallow words that belong to him. Frighten his assistants. Interfere. It is not her place. It is his place.)
In the moment, his prevailing thoughts are “this is gross” and “we’re all going to die”.
(That’s unacceptable, of course. So they don’t.)
Jon cannot believe he has allowed himself to be bullied by Martin-- Martin-- into actually taking the entirety of his sick leave. He isn’t sick. He’s full of holes, and admittedly taking a lot of painkillers that are doing at best a passable job of actually managing pain, but that is not the same as sick. He isn’t contagious, and he should be allowed to go back to work. It’s inhumane, probably, to make him stay in his empty flat and stare at his books without having enough energy to read any of them and want to clean all the surfaces in his home in a way that’s probably borderline pathological and, in general, not know what to do with himself.
On the third day of what he is not officially calling his Confinement but which is definitely, absolutely his Confinement, Jon puts a mug of water in the microwave, assumes that somewhere Georgie has just had a sense of great wrongness in the universe, and dumps a packet of PG Tips in to stare at for a couple of minutes.
After half an hour of reluctantly sipping the bitter and increasingly-lukewarm result, he is forced to come to the conclusion that he’s forgotten how to make tea. This is Martin’s fault, somehow, he’s sure.
He drinks it anyway, sullenly, staring at the tap on his kitchen sink and wondering how much his landlord would kill him if he filled in all the plumbing with cement.
Over the course of the next month, Jon does in fact clean every surface in his flat, several times. He also re-organizes his books twice, convinces himself to stop walking through every room of his flat three times before he goes to sleep and to stop keeping all of the doors open at all times, consequently stops sleeping for three days and starts doing all of that again, almost gets himself squashed into a paste by the mysteriously moving tunnels beneath the Institute, kills six spiders that he’s aggressively choosing to believe were normal house spiders that didn’t want to eat him and were dying purely for their crimes against small insects and, on three separate occasions, forgets to take his painkillers and has to just lie on the floor with the heels of his hands pressed into his eye sockets until he can summon up the energy to go hunt them down and take them and then lie down some more until they kick in.
He doesn’t try to make tea again.
At one point he ventures as far as the cafe down the street to get tea there. It’s better than his tea, but not actually, in fact, good. Also he is seventy-percent certain that the person in line behind him tried to follow him to his flat, and he ended up having to walk aimlessly around London for an hour, which was not ideal. So he doesn’t do that again.
Technically no one told Jon that he couldn’t come in at 6AM on the day he is finally allowed to return to work, so that’s what he does.
A couple of hours later, while Jon is already well stuck in and stupidly grateful to have work to do again-- potential imminent murder notwithstanding-- Martin slides a cup of tea directly under Jon’s nose and gives him a nervous little smile when he looks up.
“It’s nice to have you back, Jon.”
The discovery of his predecessor’s corpse in the tunnels, murdered by perfectly mundane means, somewhat validates Jon's initial concerns about the possibility of poisoned tea. In fact, he decides the next day, eyeing the cup which Martin might have left on his desk or which someone else might have left on his desk pretending to be Martin in order to sneak under his defenses or, or, which Martin might have left on his desk having already snuck under his defenses by accustoming him to receiving tea which isn't poisoned only to now deliver tea which is poisoned-- the point is, he can't drink the tea.
He upends it into the same potted plant that the original cup went into, what feels like decades ago.
It doesn’t make him feel any better about the situation.
It turns out that identifying whether any given consumable has been poisoned (and/or drugged) is not practically possible by a casual analysis. For one thing, too many of the potential substances are tasteless, odorless, and colorless, or near enough as to make no difference. For another, he would probably need a full forensic lab and the relevant experience to use it in order to reliably detect any of the potentially hundreds of things that could kill him, neither of which are reasonable acquisitions. He supposes he could ask Basira if she has any suggestions on the subject, but he isn’t sure he actually wants to trust her quite that far.
Much more practical to only consume things that come in tamper-resistant packaging.
So not random cups of tea.
He has to stop watering the plant. He has a vague idea that overwatering leads to root rot.
It isn’t like Jon wants his coworkers to be possible murderers. It’s just that it’s extremely plausible that at least one of them is, and Jon would like very much to not be murdered. He isn’t totally convinced that not being murdered is an option for him at this point, but forewarned is forearmed or something and, look, Jon was never good at letting go of mysteries. This is hardly the first time it’s gotten him into potentially fatal trouble, it’s just the first time he’s been keenly aware of the potential fatalness of it so far in advance.
He thinks he kind of prefers the ignorance, but it’s too late for that now.
In an abstract way, Jon actually feels a little less hemmed in whenever Tim loses his increasingly frayed temper and has a shout at him, if for no other reason than that it seems unlikely to be the behaviour of a subtle and malicious assassin. Which doesn’t rule out other kinds of murder, obviously, but at this point Jon will take what he can get.
In a much more immediate way, of course, it makes him nervous when people start shouting in general, and Tim in particular gets aggressively loud and dangerous-seeming when he gets going. Jon tries not to make it too obvious that he’s keeping the desk between them as Tim stomps around his office.
He looks like he’d like to start throwing things. Or shooting someone.
He won’t, probably. Probably. Sasha and Martin are just outside. Someone would notice.
Jon doesn’t even remember what he’d said to start this particular tirade off, but he suspects that whatever the original complaint was, it’s gone off the rails at this point.
“And god, Martin’s bad enough without you leading him on, as if feeding you infinite amounts of tea is going to make you any better!”
This, specifically, seems like it is more Martin’s problem than Jon’s, but Tim doesn’t seem like he’s interested in constructive feedback.
“You know what your problem is,” Tim demands, slamming his hands on Jon’s desk and looming down at him. Tim’s looming, Jon is pretty sure, is a more intentional thing than Martin’s variety. “You’re a selfish, entitled, weird little creep.”
Jon watches him blandly and waits for a more interesting analysis. He’s heard this one before. It’s accurate, probably, but it’s not exactly an innovation.
“You’re not the only person on the fucking planet who has feelings!”
“I know th--”
“Do you?” Tim interrupts, leaning in, with a smile that’s almost exclusively an excuse to bare his teeth. Jon concludes that opening his mouth was, as usual, a mistake. “Oh poor Jon, so fucking traumatized, better excuse all his crazy bullshit.”
“Um,” says Martin, cracking open the door and peeking through the gap warily, “Everything… okay? In here?”
“Christ not this again,” Tim snarls, spinning abruptly to wrench the door open-- Martin stumbles back a little bit, startled-- and stalking past him without another word. Martin watches him go, eyebrows knitted, and glances at Jon uncertainly.
Jon waits a couple of seconds for his pulse to slow down, resigns himself to the fact that it’s not going to, and clears his throat. “Yes. Martin. Everything is… fine. Go back to work.”
The plant dies.
Martin, it turns out, has been lying to him, but it’s about the most mundane thing on Earth and Jon could not possibly care less that Martin doesn’t have the qualifications for his job. He survived nearly being eaten by worms twice, which is the sort of thing no one is qualified for, so it’s probably fine. Really, at this point, he’s over-qualified-- the rest of them only survived nearly being eaten by worms once.
Martin Blackwood’s resume fraud is possibly the best news Jon has ever heard in his entire life.
Although it does explain some things about his general lack of academic rigor.
Assuming neither of them is murdered in the near future, Jon will have to see if he can find his old college textbooks. He’s thoroughly scribbled in most of them, but they should still be of some use if Martin wants to catch up.
Sasha stops dead on the threshold of his office and just… looks at Jon’s desk for a long moment. It would be a stretch to call it staring, but she’s definitely looking at something. Jon glances over his desk, baffled, and squints up at her uncertainly.
“What’s that,” she says finally.
“That,” she says, tilting her head vaguely, “It’s cold.”
Jon blinks down at his own desk in mild confusion for a moment before he realizes that there is, in fact, a cup of very cold tea sitting on the corner. He has no idea when (probably) Martin snuck in and left it there. During a statement, maybe. He can’t confirm that it was Martin, though. Definitely can’t drink this one.
“Oh,” he says, “Nothing, not, just Martin, probably. You know. How he is.”
Sasha looks at it for a moment longer, and then smiles, abruptly, like a flash of sunlight-- lightning-- bioluminescence-- from beyond a thunderhead. “I’ll just take it away from you.”
She sweeps in and carries off the mug and leaves a pile of paperwork in its place, the door swinging gently closed behind her, before Jon can even say, bemused, “Alright.”
(Later, listening to the thing that isn’t Sasha laughing as it stalks him through his own goddamn Archives, he’ll remember that. He’ll wonder what offended her-- it, because it isn’t Sasha-- so much about a cup of tea. He’ll think, vaguely, about tannins and chemical elements and compositional incompatibilities.
It won’t be until much later that it occurs to him to think about connection and care and the warm protection of home-places and home-people.)
The fact that he can’t remember what Sasha looked like bothers him more than it probably should.
He understands why he can’t remember. He’s read the statements, and they’re very consistent on that point. That’s how it works.
But she was one of his. He should know. And he can’t shake that feeling.
He should know.
In retrospect, it probably should have been obvious that it was Elias, both times.
Also in retrospect, immediately fleeing the scene was perhaps not Jon’s best-considered plan.
In his defense, it had been a very long day.
It might be nice if he could pretend that there was a good reason his relationship with Georgie disintegrated, but there wasn't. It was all very human, which-- considering the increasingly inhuman context of Jon’s life-- is actually nice in its own way. He said hurtful things. She said hurtful things. She was more right than he was, as ever. By the time it had ended Jon barely knew what had actually happened, how he had lost track of all the pieces of that relationship, much less how to go about putting it back together. Puzzles were never his strongest suit-- he could organize all the pieces, sort and label them into a hundred categories, by shape and size and color, but he never could quite figure out how to make them fit together.
So he hadn't tried. He'd accepted it as another in a string of failures to understand other people and picked up the next task in his list, the next project to distract himself with. It was no one's fault but his own that it had been the Institute.
When Georgie was asked, though, she usually told people that they had broken up because Jon’s tea habits were heathen.
“You put the milk in first Jon,” Georgie says, well past patience and into frustrated throttling gestures, “Because the tea stays hot longer that way, it’s science.”
“It’s a lot of extra work is what it is,” says Jon, hunched over his mug of half-completed tea defensively. He has a premonition, probably of the mundane variety, that if he leans forward enough to get the milk Georgie is going to snatch his cup and dump it down the sink, which wouldn’t be a great loss per se-- it’s her tea if she wants to waste it-- but it’s the principle of the thing.
“Only because you refuse to put the kettle on like a civilized person!”
“I’m one person, I make one person’s worth of tea, I don’t need a kettle.”
“This is why you’re still single,” Georgie tells him flatly.
“Pretty sure there are other factors,” Jon says, and chances reaching for the milk.
Georgie does, in fact, dump his tea down the sink. Jon doesn’t even bother rolling his eyes about it.
“Nope,” she says, rinsing out the cup and pouring a little milk into the bottom while she glares at him. “It’s entirely down to your refusal to learn how to make tea properly. That is your sole flaw as a human being and a partner. If you would just learn how to make proper tea, that Martin fellow would fall all over you.”
“Oh, shut up,” he mutters. The Admiral, sensing weakness, takes a flying leap directly into Jon’s knees and claws his way up to his lap. Jon tolerates this with the ease of long practice and because petting the Admiral gives him something to do with his hands.
“I’m telling you,” she says primly, putting the kettle on the hob. Jon sighs loudly and she ignores him. “A boy like that cares about the important things in life. Comfortable clothes, good food, correctly-made tea. I bet he brings you tea all the time round the office. Or... brought, I guess, sorry.”
“No, it-- it’s fine, yes, Martin makes a lot of tea, well spotted.”
She squints at him and gestures emphatically with a spoon. He feels vaguely threatened, but that’s par for the course with Georgie. “Right, and how does he make it?”
Jon can already tell that this is somehow a debate and he’s going to lose it. He picks up the Admiral’s front paws and lifts him so he can stare into the cat’s grumpy eyes. “Why is she like this,” he asks.
“Oh my god, you don’t even know!” Georgie shrieks in despair, flinging her hands up and nearly sending the spoon spinning into the ceiling. She remembers it at the last second and jabs it towards Jon instead. “You don’t even know how your crush makes the tea he brings you! What were you doing in secondary school?”
“Learning Latin,” he says, before his brain catches up with his mouth, “And I, hey, no, I do not have a crush on Martin Blackwood, Georgie, Christ.”
She gives him a strikingly familiar oh, Jon look which he could, frankly, go without seeing ever again. It always makes him feel like he’s a particularly stupid pet and she’s about to tell him that he can’t sit on the furniture until he learns to be people.
“I don’t,” he says again, though at this point there’s really no hope of her believing him.
True to form, she puts the spoon on the counter and crouches down to scritch the Admiral’s ears and peer up into Jon’s face. He watches the Admiral curve his entire face towards her fingers, the traitor, and tries not to look like he’s bracing himself for an attack.
“You know,” she says slowly, “Just because you and me didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you’re broken. You’re allowed to like people, Jon.”
At this point the kettle mercifully intervenes by emitting a hellish screech that makes both of them jump and the Admiral rocket off into another room. Georgie makes a face at him, uses his shoulder as a brace on her way up, and continues haranguing him about proper tea-making procedure instead of expecting him to answer.
He might have to invest in a kettle just for its value in derailing conversations he doesn’t want to have.
Jude Perry burns him, which he supposes he should have expected. He decides, on balance, that it could have been worse.
Michael Crew tries to make him tea. (He isn’t offended, but he doesn’t really have a better description for the visceral rejection he feels at the idea. He’s spending too much time chasing down monsters and it’s ruining his fear response, probably.)
Then Daisy kills Mike and comes very close to murdering Jon while she’s at it, of course.
Objectively speaking, he was safer in the Archives.
He is keenly aware of the irony.
Confronting Elias about murdering two people would probably have gone better if he wasn’t at least two or three steps ahead of all of them. Which makes sense, with the knowledge that he can just… observe whatever he wants, at any time, at will. Which is just… great.
Not that Jon’s attempts to keep secrets were a) very effective or b) very useful, in the end, but the fact that he might as well not have bothered because his boss has supernatural oversight is very… he’s just very tired, at this point.
And now, because he hasn’t ruined enough lives yet, Jon has gotten Basira trapped in the Archives with the rest of them, and Daisy on an extremely thin leash that she’ll probably strangle him with someday.
At least no one’s dead. Everyone but Martin is still apparently furious-- Tim and Melanie are probably getting along like a house on fire, and are liable to burn down everything around them at this rate-- but that’s… fine. He’s getting used to that. Alive and angry is better than eaten by worms or beaten to death in his office. He’ll take it.
Getting kidnapped by a murderous circus was not on Jon’s agenda, but honestly, nothing that happens to him these days is intentional or desired. He should probably just start expecting the worst possible thing that could happen to be the thing that will.
The worst part isn’t even really being tied up, or Nikola’s incredibly disconcerting obsession with the condition of his skin-- which, if he wasn’t gagged, he would be protesting, because: his skin is covering in worm holes and burns and, really, just an ever-increasing catalogue of scars, no amount of moisturizing is going to improve that. No, the worst thing is how much he just… wants to watch them. These not-people made of plastic or sawdust or tallow, going through all the motions of humanity with clumsy eagerness, delighted by their masks and disguises. Pulling each other apart and making themselves new and studying him in return, counting his fingers, mimicking his posture, practicing their horrifying smiles on him to see how he’ll react.
It isn’t even that they’re doing anything interesting, really, in the grand scheme of things. It’s just that they’re Strangers, and he wants to understand them.
Sometimes, he even thinks he does.
Jon doesn’t like to think about Gerry.
He hopes-- god, he hopes-- that he did it right. It hurt, burning the page, removing that knowledge from the world, blinding an Eye, which he’s choosing to believe is a sign that it worked.
It’s a strange feeling, like a missing limb that he never had, a phantom in the corners of his heart that never belonged to a body.
He didn’t really even know Gerard Keay. They weren’t friends-- they were barely even acquaintances. Gerry didn’t want anything to do with him, really-- Jon was a means to an end, to an End. He doesn’t deserve anything else, honestly, not with how much he struggled with holding up his half of their devil’s bargain.
He doesn’t like to think about it.
(But sometimes he thinks: Gerry deserved someone better to send him off. Gerry deserved a mother who wouldn’t turn him into a thing. Gerry deserved better than anything that happened to him.
And sometimes he thinks: we can do better than this.
And that’s always a dangerous thought.)
Jon does not think he likes Gertrude, the more he learns about her. But he can at least admire her extremely straightforward plan for the Unknowing.
She probably wouldn’t have gotten herself blown up with it. But Jon’s getting used to not measuring up to his predecessor.
Later, when he’s back to being mostly made of meat and electrical impulses, Jon will understand this as dreaming.
At the moment, he doesn’t understand it at all. As an experience it doesn’t really invite understanding.
(That isn’t accurate. It invites all kinds of understanding. It just isn’t any of the kinds he has access to, yet. Yet.)
He watches; or, possibly, he is the act of watching. Nightmares unspool around him, looping endlessly, and when no one is asleep it’s his own mind that is opened and laid out in neatly vivisected slices, a space for Mr. Spider and a space for Jane Prentiss and an infinite future for Watching. Sometimes he’ll catch a glimmer of something liquid and light, just at the edge of his vision, not quite ready to come into focus but waiting.
Sometimes he’ll take a step and find himself in a dark wood. Schwarzwald. It smells like bergamot and honey, and steam rises slowly from the damp earth, and it’s comfortable and warm and there is nothing to watch. But it isn’t a scraped-out place in his dreams, a story that has ended. It isn’t something that’s been taken away from him. He thinks maybe he never had it. He thinks maybe it’s waiting for him.
The trees talk to each other in one soft voice, and the sound is familiar, like poetry. He can’t understand them. The next step he takes always takes him away.
That’s fine. He’ll find himself there again eventually.
He always does.