February 15th, 2018
The entrance to the hospital room was utterly unremarkable. It was identical to the other doors which lined the corridor, plain and white with a curtain-covered square window, identifiable only by the numbered sign hung neatly above the door frame. Nothing about the sight implied that what lay beyond was in any way different from the other rooms.
Not even the coiling black tendrils moving through the air, clipping through the walls and doors like a video game glitch, stood out, because this was a hospital, and similar veins weaved in and out of many of the rooms there.
Oliver Banks took a deep breath-- an old habit, mostly, his lungs had after all long since stopped having any function-- and pushed the door open.
In some ways, the inside of the room was almost exactly the way he’d expected it to be. White walls, white floor, a plain bed with an equally plain nightstand and a pair of somehow even more plain fold-up chairs. Monitors and cabinets, and a locker meant to keep the patient’s belongings. A man-- the Archivist-- laying cold and still on the bed, dead in all but brain, tendrils of the very End itself coiling and twisting over his flesh yet unable to truly dig themselves in.
In another way, it was very much not .
Sat in the window frame, one leg up on the stool and body leaning against the glass in a way that would be terribly unsafe for anyone concerned about preserving their life, sat a semi-transparent figure who Oliver had never seen before. A young person, seemingly a man but Oliver was not one to assume such things, with long black hair and more eyes tattooed on his body than was frankly reasonable. They didn’t pay any attention to Oliver as he walked in, gaze instead remaining fixed on the man in the bed.
This wasn’t the first ghost Oliver had seen. Uncommon as they were, the world was small and humans were many, and any densely populated area was bound to have a few of them hanging around here and there. He was still surprised. Maybe he shouldn’t have been, given the way avatars of the Beholding did have a remarkable tendency to attract weirdness of all kinds, but he’d really thought he’d get to do this alone with the Archivist. Nonchalant as the ghost appeared to be, Oliver had no doubt they’d start paying attention if he started ranting off his statement like this. Awkward.
Then again, awkwardly being observed was kind of the Beholding’s thing, wasn’t it? He shrugged and sat down in one of the fold-up chairs. Hard plastic, terribly uncomfortable, but at least marginally better than just straight up standing .
Oliver blinked. The ghost had spoken. Not so much to him as at him-- surely they must be aware that people shouldn’t be able to hear them-- but they had spoken nonetheless. Their voice was deep and echoed in that way that only the voices of the dead could. He probably shouldn’t acknowledge it, probably shouldn’t respond. Or maybe he should? He really didn’t know what the social etiquette was in this situation.
“Yeah, I. I suppose I am,” he said, looking up at the ghost.
The ghost started, jumping up and phasing through the glass as they tried to right themself.
“You can hear me?” he asked.
“Yup,” Oliver replied, “I can, uh, see you too, for that matter. Nice tattoos.”
The ghost just stared and blinked, clearly unsure how to process this situation. Oliver didn’t blame him. If he’d gone around being invisible and inaudible to everyone for the last… however long the ghost had been dead, he would react the same way. Probably. He wasn’t actually sure. It seemed a reasonable reaction.
“I was-- uh. I’m here to give a statement? If that’s okay?” Oliver asked.
“Sure,” shrugged the ghost, “I don’t care. That said, uh. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he’s kind of in a coma.”
A tape recorder clicked on. Oliver shared a glance with the ghost.
“That’s alright, I have a feeling he’ll hear it just fine,” he said before taking a deep breath. “Um. Hello, Jon. Mind if I call you Jon?”
March 24th, 2018
“Banks, right? Oliver Banks?”
Oliver jumped. He was in his apartment, the door was locked, and there was not supposed to be anyone else in here. In a brief panic he whipped his head around, only to sag and sigh in relief when he pinpointed the source of the voice.
Before him stood-- well, hovered, really-- a familiar ghost. It was the youth who’d been following Jon around, when he went to give his statement. They were see-through and gloomy and as visibly dead as he’d been last he saw them, and given the properties Oliver had observed so far, completely harmless.
“Ah, uh, yes, that’s my name,” Oliver replied, swiveling his chair around so he wouldn’t have to keep craning his neck, “Can I help you?”
The ghost bit their lip and looked away, shifting and fidgeting but clearly trying to hide it.
“Jon did something stupid,” they said, “Walked into the goddamn Buried. And he didn’t even tell anyone. You’re the only person who seems to be able to actually hear me, so I came here hoping you could do something about it. Or whatever.”
Oliver blinked, taking a moment to process what he’d just heard, then sighed .
“Of course he did,” he said, resting his face in his hands, “Right. Well. I uh-- I can try to call someone at the Institute? Not sure they’d believe me. Don’t really know what else I can do.”
“What do you mean that’s all you can do?!” the ghost snapped, “Why can’t you just-- go over and help him, or something? It took me so long to find you and all you’re giving me is this ?”
Oliver flinched. He took a deep breath.
“Do you know where you are ?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“What does that-- why does that matter?!”
“It matters because we are at least five hours from London, and that’s ignoring traffic laws. If Jon’s not out by the time I’d be anywhere near the Institute, he’s never coming out, and that’s that. I can’t. Help you.”
The ghost stilled.
“Besides,” Oliver continued, “I uh. Even if I was there, I don’t know what I could do.”
“Oh,” said the ghost again. They slumped visibly, and grew even more transparent.
“Sorry,” Oliver said, frowning. “Do you still want me to call?”
“Doesn’t really matter, does it?”
“Probably not, no.”
“...Can I stay here, for a while?”
“Uh...” Oliver paused. On the one hand he didn’t actually know anything about this ghost, other than that they were probably harmless, and he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted this stranger in his house. On the other, this kid was clearly not doing well and Oliver didn’t actually know of anyone else he could send them to. And since he didn’t have anything planned for the evening anyway, well… “Sure.”
“Thanks,” the ghost shot him a quick smile, “I’m Gerard. With a G.”
“Nice to meet you, Gerard with a G.”
Gerard rolled their eyes, but their lip twitched in amusement.
“Nice to meet you too.”
Gerard left, after a few hours, looking significantly more… Oliver wasn’t sure if “healthy” was the word, given he was dead, but he looked better . He wasn’t sure why, but the fact that he’d been able to help the ghost sparked a weird glint of joy in him that he couldn’t quite place.
Over the months that followed, Gerard took to popping in on Oliver now and then. The ghost would bring news about what was going on at the institute and whine about Jon’s self-destructive tendencies, and in return Oliver would tell him about the cute cat he’d seen walking home yesterday or show him fun clips he’d found on the internet. Once, Gerard somewhat shyly asked if Oliver could let him listen to the new Fall Out Boy album from back in January, because he’d heard it was a thing but couldn’t exactly interact with any technology on his own, and Oliver had laughed and said of course. The music wasn’t *quite* Oliver’s taste, but the way Gerard’s face lit up when it played made it more than tolerable.
June 8th, 2018
“I’m worried about Jon,” Gerard said, laid down on Oliver’s couch with his face fixed on the ceiling.
“Aren’t you always?” Oliver mused, looking up from the book he was reading, draped over his armchair in a way the designer had never intended.
“Yeah, but like, more than usual,” Gerard frowned, “He’s been… acting weird. Weirder than usual. He’s… just the other day, he made a random woman on the street give him a statement, Oliver. It’s like he’s addicted. I mean-- maybe it’s just an Archivist thing, but Gertrude was never like this.”
“You knew Gertrude?”
“Hm? Oh- yeah. I was… her assistant. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“That’s fair,” Oliver nodded.
The silence that stretched out after those words was tense and uncomfortable, and Oliver had no idea how to fill it. He figured he was supposed to say something , give advice or comfort or literally anything helpful, but he didn’t know what to say. Gerard didn’t seem to know either.
Eventually, Oliver decided he’d had enough of this. He leaned back and closed his eyes, concentrating, and when he opened them again the world had a desaturated tint and Gerard looked much more solid. He sat up straight and felt the odd disconnect of his dream-self dislodging from his physical form.
“Dude, what the fuck,” Gerard said, and his flat voice sounded less echo-y than it would usually. “Did you just die or something?!”
“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Oliver chuckled, “I died a long time ago. This-- this is just me, well, dreaming, I suppose. I wanted to try something.”
“You died-- oh, right, End avatar.” Gerard rolled his eyes, but there was no malice in the action. “Try what, exactly?”
Oliver simply got up from the chair and walked over to the couch. Gerard sat up immediately, a confused look on his face as he looked back and forth between Oliver’s physical body and his dream-self.
“This,” Oliver smirked as he plopped down next to Gerard and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. It was cool, but solid, and Gerard tensed in shock at what Oliver suddenly realized must’ve been the first human contact he’d had in years . “Sorry, is that too much?”
Oliver started to pull back, but a somehow even colder hand grasped his and pulled his arm back close.
“No,” Gerard said, still a bit tense and still confusedly looking back and forth between Oliver and his body, “No, this- it’s. Nice.”
Gerard shuffled closer, leaning on Oliver, and Oliver let him.
“I, um. Figured you could use a hug.”
“Sorry I didn’t think to try this earlier.”
It probably wasn’t actually okay, Oliver thought, but, well, it’s not like he could change the past. He gently pulled Gerard closer, and the ghost responded by tucking his head under his chin.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
Gerard-- or Gerry, as he eventually started insisting on being called-- spent most of his time around Oliver, after that. He'd still check up on Jon regularly, just to make sure he hadn't gotten himself killed or anything, but for the most part he stayed with Oliver now. Oliver didn't mind. In fact, he did the opposite of mind. Being with Gerry so much-- it was the closest human connection he'd been able to have since the whole death prophet thing started, but more than that, he got the feeling... even if they'd met under different circumstances, even if they'd both been regular living humans, he would've been happy to be around this man in particular. This nerdy goth who laughed at his jokes and lit up like a light bulb when he suggested they go see the newest horror flick together just to laugh at it. He... didn't have words for what he felt yet, didn't dare put anything solid on it, but he knew one thing: He wanted to stay with this ghost for the rest of his un-life, and he was pretty sure the feeling was mutual.