This place is- odd.
Jack knows- some of these places. He knew more of them- when he first(?) got here. The longer he's been here, the less of the places he knew.
He never meets anyone- but he hears voices, off in the distance, and sometimes, when he lifts telephone receivers- he can hear- Sammy?
(The name sticks to his ribs, fills his chest with warmth. He can remember things. Soft mornings, warm coffee.
Sharp words, and that last morning.)
Jack can't always hear Sammy- more often then not, it's static, garbled whispers that sneak, insidiously, up his spine, and sometimes it's other people- but sometimes. He's there.
There's long stretches of nothing, in this place. Of wandering from door to door to door, not recognizing where he is until he suddenly ends up in that small radio booth in- Florida?
The name comes to him and sticks to his ribcage, just like Sammy's did, the first time he heard it over the phone.
He needs to-
It's more violent than before, this change. One moment Jack is standing in the vacant version of 1090, cold and molded coffee cups still on the desk, to standing in another radio station. He practically hip-checks the soundboard out of place.
He doesn't recognize this place.
Jack doesn't remember every place he's been to, here, (he can't remember a lot about being... here) but he would remember this place, he thinks.
It's well-lived in, despite the equipment being brand new and barely scuffed. Someone's got plastic dinosaurs marching across the top of the soundboard, and there are (probably blank) notebooks spread out in front of the mic on that side.
The other side has a hot-key set up for what are probably phone lines, headphones placed carefully on a set of notes like someone got up to get some coffee on break, and the handwriting looks- familiar.
It's empty, though, like every place has ever been since he got here, but rather than looking abandoned for years, with cobwebs and mildew and age, someone could have just stepped out of this room and turned the overhead lights out as they went.
The soundboard glows softly. He moves around it, to see if he can hop on a phone line and maybe hear someone, anyone- anything other than his own ears ringing in the silence. It's the first thing he's seen lit up in ages- phones rarely work, and the ones that do are normally landlines, not cells.
The only actual phone in the room rings, lighting up a different section of the soundboard entirely. Jack jumps six feet in the air, swearing viciously. His own voice echoes weirdly- not muffled enough for a radio studio, too echoed, but he chalks it up to not hearing himself talk in- God knows how long.
"Hello?" A man asks. It sounds like the guy who's on the radio with Sammy. Ben.
"This is King Falls AM- Hello?" Sammy asks.
"Hello?" He asks nervously. He's never been heard before. Interference chops up the air in his ear, increasing the worry in his stomach. "Can you hear me?"
The lights in the room flicker on, and the interference continues, but he tries his best to talk over it, even if he can't hear. "I can't hear you and your friend," He says, loud and probably too fast. "I love you!" Jack practically yells. He loves Sammy so much it's the only thing that keeps him warm. "Save us, if you can." Jack knows he's not the only one here.
"Jack, please-" Sammy's voice says, the break clear even over the static.
The lights grow even brighter, making Jack squint in the sudden light. "I'll be home." Jack swears.
The call drops, but Jack can still hear Sammy's voice- soft, and far off but- aha!
Jack tugs on the closest set of headphones, ignoring the way the static makes his teeth buzz in his skull.
It's still just bits and snatches, but Jack can hear- Lily? In King Falls?
He hears bits about- something about robots? And someone named Tim? Lily talks, not that Jack can hear a full word, something about "-ook, Death by-"
The lights, starting to dim back down, go back to full brightness. The shadows around him stretch and reach. Jack scrambles out of the seat, practically throwing the headphones off
but he's too
s l o w.
The shadows are colder than anything he's ever felt, slithering across his skin so quickly he can't do anything more than open his mouth to s c r e a m.
It's like watching himself from inside his head. His head tilts, but he didn't tilt it. His hands reach for the phone despite how hard he's trying to use them to claw the shadows out of him.
Whatever it is doesn't bother using the number pad, but just brings the phone up to his ear.
The static that filled what should have been empty air clears in time for Jack to hear Ben say, "We need to wait until the girls arrive, and then we need to-"
"Hello?" his mouth says.
"Hello?" Ben asks, cautiously.
"Jack?" Sammy asks, frantically. "Jack, is that you?"
"Oh, Sammy,", the thing wearing Jack's voice practically cheers. Jack can't say he disagrees; past the worry in his chest, he's missed Sammy, and to hear his voice, free of static, for the first time in- God, who knows- is a breath of fresh air.
Sammy's babbling in relief- asking where he is, telling him to stay put. "I'm home now, Sammy." The thing says, gesturing with Jack's free hand.
Lily's voice breaks in, desperately happy, breaking with relief, giving Jack something to focus on other than how cold he is. Jack wants to reach out for her, but the thing continues, ignoring her. "Follow the darkness, Sammy. It could be your home, too."
"Uh, Sammy-" Ben starts, cut off by not!Jack's tone getting colder, still not shifting it's attention away from Sammy.
"Don't you want it to be, Sammy?" It demands. "We can be a family again. Bring Lily, bring your new friends, too!"
Whatever is in Jack's body, it is cold, and it is hungry. It doesn't want Sammy because Jack wants Sammy, and Lily, and to desperately get to know Ben- it wants them because it is starving.
"What's going on- I don't understand-" Lily sounds- scared, now. Lily shouldn't be scared, she doesn't know what scared means.
"Jack-" Sammy starts.
"It's so amazing here," his voice continues, dreamily. "It's everything we ever wanted and more. Come. Come to me, Sammy."
No, Jack wants to scream, Run as far as you can, Baby, please.
"Do not interfere, Unwritten One." The thing in his skin snaps.
"Sammy, this thing isn't Jack," Ben pleads.
"Look in your heart, Sammy," It croons. "It is Jack-"
It's using third person, baby, please, realize-
"You get used to the cold." No, you don't, the only thing keeping me warm is you and-
"That's right." It states, like cold stone. "Don't let Lily boss us around anymore. She doesn't have to come. We can leave her all over again."
"Jack!" Lily snaps, shocked and hurt. I'm so sorry, Lily, I'll never leave you anywhere again if you go now.
The thing continues to talk, but Jack focuses on Emily and Ben debating on how to end however the thing is communicating. Jack tries to move again, control his limbs, hang up on his end, but the thing doesn't like that.
"Do you believe me now, Sammy?" It asks angrily. "You never did out there, but this? This could be different."
Jack's never wanted something to be less true in his life. "You always thought I was a joke. Well look who's laughing now."
No one's laughing. The air on both sides of the phone line is tense. "Everything I ever said was true. And it's mine."
Jack manages to wrench control of his free hand as the thing snarls, "It's all mine!" In a voice that doesn't sound like his, but just sounds demonic.
He loses control of it just as quickly, when it's voice softens back to his, offering, "And we can share it, Sammy!"
"Don't you want to be mine again?" His own voice pleads. "Mine, like you could never be in the land of the light."
"Jack- I-I love you,-" Jack can feel the 'but' coming, but he's too caught up in hearing those words after so long-
"You don't know what that means." Not!Jack says, cold and- slightly sad? "How could you love anyone else, when you couldn't truly love yourself, Stevens. How can you love without that?"
Jack winces, and maybe because he can't do much else, he can feel tears running down his face, even if the thing controlling him is unfazed. Sammy's self worth had been a work in progress before Jack had gotten absorbed in King Falls, and the guilt he feels in abandoning Sammy and possibly relapsing his progress is immense.
Ben steps in, still trying to pull Sammy away. Jack owes him both his own and Sammy's lives, probably.
"I can teach you how to love." It offers. "Don't you want to learn?"
"Sammy, come home to me. Here. Here at the Doorstep. Forever, forever and ever." It promises.
"This isn't Jack." Ben swears. "Sammy, let's go. Now."
"Ben, I-I don't understand-" Sammy sounds so lost. Jack wants to take him and pull him close. Sammy doesn't deserve to hear the poison this thing spews, and he definitely doesn't deserve to hear it in Jack's voice.
"Sammy, whatever this is, we will beat it." Emily promises.
"You'll never beat me, Sammy," It says, still refusing to acknowledge anyone but Jack's desperate fiancé. "You'll try. And you'll lose. They will lose," It says, acknowledging the group as a threat for the first time.
"They will die," It snarls in it's own voice.
"How many more people do you have to hurt until you realize you can't stop this?" It demands of Sammy.
It's losing control now, but trying to control his own hands is like trying to swim in molasses, and they barely respond at all. "You all will never stop this."
"Grab his stuff, Benny" Emily says, taking control of the room. "Sammy, we need to go, honey."
"Lil, grab that bag," Ben says, as he zips something up. "Yes, that-that one."
"You can't stop this, Unwritten One," Not!Jack says, still wrestling for control back. The echo effect on his own voice sends renewed goosebumps down his arms.
"Then I guess I'll die trying." Emily says, deadly serious.
"Yes," The thing says, finally gaining control back and taking his voice completely again, but it's focus is waning. "You will."
"Sammy, please, the car is running, we need to go-" Ben begs.
"Go?" Sammy asks desperately. "We can't go- it's Jack."
"Sammy, let's go," Lily demands, frantic.
"Lily- it's Jack, goddamn it, let me go, guys-" They must be physically pulling him out of the room- Lily could've done it on her own when Jack was taking care of Sammy, so he must be putting up a fight.
Please, baby, just go, Jack begs, silently.
A slap rings out, and Sammy quiets. "Sammy," Lily says. "I love you, but this-" Jack can practically see her gesturing, probably towards the phone- Lily always talked with her hands- "This isn't our Jack, and I need you to listen to me when I say that-" The tears in her voice clear up, but for a second she'd sounded- just like that fight, when she'd found out they were moving on without her. Scared, and tired and sad- "we need to get in that car outside and we need to go."
Emily agrees with her, her voice barely wavering.
"Ben-?" Sammy implores, probably as a last ditch effort.
"This isn't your Jack, Sammy," Ben says. "You know I will do everything I can to get your Jack back but-" His voice gains an edge. Kid's got a spine, hidden under all the love for his people. "We can't do that if we're not around."
"I miss him so much, Ben-" Sammy sounds so small. Jack would close his eyes if he could. He misses Sammy too, but if Sammy came into the Doorstep, they'd never find each other, always two rooms too separate.
"I know you do," Ben promises, "but fuck this thing, man, this isn't right, this ain't it."
"It's okay, Sammy, out the door, let's go." Emily urges.
"Come home, Sammy," it begs, one last time. "Don't listen to them. Come back to me."
It starts to lose it's grip again. "Your heart is in the void with me, don't you remember?"
Jack remembers hearing- something like that. He doesn't know if it's his memory or this thing's but Sammy's voice, cracked and tired, echoes in his head.
"Baby please, come home." It begs, and oh, that's dirty, turning their song against Sammy like that. It was the song that played the most on the first radio shift they'd ever worked together, before Lily joined the next day, what feels like centuries ago now.
"Come home to me!"
"Soon." It promises tone changing from a demand to a promise. A chuckle starts rolling out of Jack's chest, as Sammy starts saying his name and the door shuts. It continues as shadows pour out of him, leaving him slumped and panting over the desk.
It's over as soon as it had begun. Jack claws at his skin until his arms bleed, desperate to make sure none of that thing remains under his skin.
He needs- to get home. He needs to hold his sister and Sammy until that things words aren't even a memory to bother them, just a bad dream. No matter what it takes.
"I'm coming home," He swears to the empty radio office, even as he staggers to his feet. He's so far from where he needs to be, but the rooms are the blessed dark that means he's also far from getting it's attention. He's worried about Sammy and Lily, but not as worried as he as for himself- they have each other, and Ben, and Emily. Jack has himself and a strained sense of time.
"I'm coming home," He chants, door after door, room after room, through their apartment in LA, in Florida, in what must be the apartment the three of them share in King Falls, all of it.
"Tell the world, I'm coming home."