It felt sometimes like the written statements were worse than nothing. It was like--empty calories, like drinking water and eating ice until your stomach bulged, chewing gum until your jaw ached. Just as hungry, just as exhausted and dizzy and miserable, but somehow even less comfortably than before.
But to carry the analogy through--someone with a bulging stomach and an aching jaw was that much less likely to steal food out of hunger. So the written statements were worth it. Sometimes it even felt like he might be getting something out of it, an energy boost however slight, a temporary clarity in his swimming thoughts.
He heard the click of the tape recorder turning itself off and pushed his chair back. He stood up-- too fast, he knew it was too fast a moment before his knees buckled, not quite enough lead time to break his fall--and as colors swam before his eyes he knew that this was not one of those times.
Still clutching the statement in his left hand, the body of Jonathan Sims laid on the floor, eyes closed and perfectly still.
“--Jon? Jon, wake up or I will call an ambulance.” Daisy’s voice was insistent as Jon blinked his way back to consciousness. He half-expected to be in pain from a slap, but she hadn’t even been shaking him, and if he had been injured by the fall, his body had healed it already. She was standing, watching him; her arms were crossed but her face was lined with worry. He tried to sit up, and immediately fell back with a thump, drowning in dizziness, and closed his eyes again. Okay, no sitting up yet, definitely no standing.
“Daisy? Daisy, what’s--is everyone alright?”
“Yes, everyone’s fine. Except for you. What happened?”
“Nothing. Nothing, I--the dizzy spells. They started when I stopped... taking statements. They’ve been getting worse, I--you don’t--?” His eyes opened, watching her face as he bit back the question; she regarded him coolly for a second before averting her eyes with a curt nod.
“Yeah. I do. Never fainted from one yet. Guess I’ve got that to look forward to, then.”
“Yes, I--I suppose you do.” He exhaled heavily, reaching one arm towards her. “Help me up? Not standing, just--against a wall. I don’t--don’t think I can sit all the way on my own yet.”
Her hands were as cold as his. The wall wasn’t really a comfort, digging into his spine, but it was--better than not. Even though he kept threatening to slip back down to the floor, eyelids fluttering of their own accord. He was just--so tired, and so dizzy--
Daisy’s voice cut through the ache that was beginning to throb behind his eyes. “How long’s it been? Since you had a meal.”
He didn’t bother pretending she was talking about food. “Right before I fell. I had figured it would--help, with the dizziness. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough.”
Another long pause for her to scrutinize him. “An old statement?”
“Yes,” Jon snapped, and he hadn’t meant to be so harsh but it was right there, on the floor, where it had--apparently fallen from his hand, okay, that was fine--point is, she could see it, and she could see him, he wasn’t exactly in a great state to be wandering the city, and he was tired of everyone looking at him like he was a monster. Even if they had reason to. Especially because they had reason to.
“They’re not helping, are they,” she said instead.
“They’re helping enough.”
“Mm,” she said. “Bet they help as much as it’d help me to--I dunno, go birdwatching, try a scavenger hunt. It’s not the same.”
Jon took a long breath and then let it out, slow and shaky. “No,” he admitted. “It isn’t.”
“This. This whole thing. It’s not getting better, is it.”
“No,” Jon said, resting his head on the wall. “It’s not. The written statements--help, a little. But they’re not--”
“No,” he sighed. “They’re really, really not.”
“So,” he agreed. “I don’t--Do you think it’s ever going to get better? That it’s just--withdrawal? Get through the worst of it and then, then it’s over?”
“People can die from withdrawal,” Daisy pointed out.
“Well, we’re not exactly people, are we.” There was half a laugh in his voice, but it trembled, more bitterness than amusement.
“S’pose we’re not. Besides, you’re the one with the freaky knowledge powers, why don’t you tell me?”
“I… don’t think it is. I don’t know. But. It doesn’t--doesn’t feel like withdrawal. It feels like starvation. Like taking statements was keeping me alive, like I needed them. Though I guess that’s what every addict tells themselves, right?”
Daisy sank down beside him, back to the wall, head tilted up. “Yeah,” she said. “Guess so.” A longer pause stretched before she spoke again. “I think you’re right, though. About what we’re doing. I was… going to ask you, actually.”
“What--um. If you don’t mind telling me, I mean.”
“Not more than I mind everything else about this. --How long we have. I was going to ask if you… knew how long it’ll take. For us to die.” She looked down on the last word, down and away.
“No, I don’t… I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t even know if we will, I don’t--no. It’s one of my-- blind spots, I suppose you could say? I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a kindness or just another part of the torture. Not knowing when it’ll all end.”
Daisy rolled her eyes, and Jon got a flash of something behind them--an unfortunately true remark about him being pretentious and wallowing--but she didn’t say anything for a long while, and when she did, her voice was low. “When has... anything in the world... ever been kind to you?” she asked.
Jon laughed, at that, a short barked ha! before his face went tired. “No. No, you’re right.”
“Often am.” She was smiling, too, a little, but it dropped after a moment. “Don’t tell Basira? She doesn’t... I don’t want her to know. Any of this.”
Jon reached for her hand, squeezing it. With his eyes closed, that warmth felt familiar. Comforting. “Right, I--I won’t. Tell her, I mean. I’m not exactly thrilled for her to realize either, you know.”
“You think she’d try and stop you, if she realized? Bring you meals?” Daisy sounded as exhausted as Jon felt. Did he sound like that too? Probably did, if he was being honest with himself.
And then he processed what she said, and he almost laughed again. “What? No, God no. She’d probably give me a trophy. Jonathan Sims, finally killing his first monster.” He sighed. “It’s not--I don’t disagree with her. It’s the right thing to do. I--no offense to you, I’m glad that I got you out, but I wouldn’t have gone into the coffin if I wasn’t--well.”
“Suicidal?” Daisy offered. “--No offense taken, by the way.”
“I... suppose? Feels weird to hear it called that. I don’t actually want to die. To be quite honest, I’m--I’m terrified. One of my bigger flaws, really.”
“Mm.” Daisy squeezed Jon’s hand back. “I think it’s a pretty human thing, to not want to die.”
“Not really, it’s a very simple urge, even bacteria try to avoid death, look for… food. Some animals will starve themselves of grief, but it’s comparatively very rare.”
“Point is, I’m pretty sure you’re not the weird one here. Having a survival instinct doesn’t make you a monster. And it’s not--” She sighed, letting her head fall against Jon’s shoulder. “If I hunted again. I’m not sure if… Whatever was left, I’m not sure if it would still be me. If I’m going to die, I want it to be on my terms, while I’m still… myself.”
“I can… understand that. I just-- It just--” He drew in a breath, ragged and painful, and blew it out, trying to focus on the pins and needles in his hand. Sensation. “It just hurts, all the time, so much. And the others, they don’t--they don’t get it.”
“Yeah, it does hurt. Hurts a lot. That’s life sometimes, Sims. It hurts. But as long as you’re feeling it, that means you’re alive.”
“Yes,” he said, and his voice was still lost but his eyes had regained their focus. “Yes, I suppose it does.”
“Now let me help you up. Feeling sorry for yourself time is over for the day, let’s… make a mess of the Institute kitchen and ruin some perfectly good cookies, or... watch a bad movie instead of working, or, I don’t know. Whatever employees who can’t be fired do for entertainment in this place. I know Basira goes for drinks sometimes?” Daisy stood up.
“Right. Right,” he said, and to both of their surprise, his expression was not entirely unlike a smile. “No drinks, though. And I don’t know if I can get up off this floor for a while yet. ...Basira said you like The Archers?”
“I cannot believe she told you that. Fine.”
“No ambulance calls, alright?”
“No ambulance calls,” she agreed, sitting back down with a thump . A moment later, the theme tune for The Archers began to play, softening the silence. The name of the song was Barwick Green, Jon knew without ever having learned, and it was written in 1924 by Arthur Wood. His heart still fluttered fast and weak against his ribcage but when Daisy took his hand again her skin was warm against his, warm and real. Not alone, it said. I’m here.