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Bell, Book, and Candle

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Jon was reading out sections of Georgie’s battered copy of Encyclopedia on Ghosts out loud just to bask in the sound of his own voice when he heard a knock on the door, quickly followed by a choked scream, and a thump. 

He froze, instantly regretting his impulsive decision to sit in the living room instead of the much safer, and more emotionally secure, guest room. The real miracle of the entire situation was that Georgie had a guest room in London flat, but apparently an old roommate of hers had moved out and she had been making enough money and enjoyed the quiet enough that she hadn’t bothered getting a new one. Jon didn’t know what to do with the information that Georgie was more successful and highly paid than he was. It felt like he had blocked out the knowledge that they had once been playing a high stakes game, and seven years later he had received a letter in the post that she had won. He wasn’t happy about it - but then, very little about the situation had cause for anyone to be happy about. 

It was probably the police, Jon decided instantly, likely Daisy, intent on carrying him away to the police station where monsters would feast on his flesh and brag about how they had finally eaten his delicious, spiritually significant eyeballs. He slowly stood up, stashing the book under his arm, and crept into the guest bedroom. It was there that he locked the door, deadbolted it, shuttered the window, and hid under the bed. He clutched the book tight to his chest, feeling the sound of his ragged breaths as he sought to calm himself, listening intently for the sound of further knocking. 

But there was none. The flat was silent, and Jon caught only the faint traces of sunlight illuminating dancing dust motes from where he crouched under the dusty bed. He bit down a sneeze, and curled into a very tight ball. He experimentally wiggled the book open, but there wasn’t enough light to read by. 

Fuck. He had left the Admiral, which had been happily snoozing in a warm patch of sunlight on top of the fridge. If the police came by, would they kill him? It was just a cat. But he wouldn’t put it past Daisy. He should leave and rescue him - but what if that’s when they saw him? 

He wasn’t sure how long he stayed like that, too frightened to move, until he heard the sound of the door rattling again. He had almost nodded off, blood dripping in the empty caverns of his mind, but he startled awake with the sound of a key turning in a lock and familiar, light footsteps rustling inside. The Admiral meowed sleepily, as he always did when she came home, and Jon breathed a heavy sigh of relief. 

“Jon? Have you left the room today?”

If he didn’t leave the bed right now Georgie would catch him hiding underneath it, and that was unacceptable. Jon frantically tried to wriggle out from under it, but his legs had fallen asleep and they were cramping severely, and by the time that Georgie had unlocked and swung open the door of his room he had barely stuck his foot out of the bottom of the bed. 

Her trainers tracked mud over the carpet, and she bent down in front of him. Her floppy curls, perfectly coiffed in her undercut, poked underneath the bed first, and the rest of her round face with severe makeup followed. She raised an eyebrow at the sight of him, but had enough grace not to let the pity show. 

“Hiding under the bed, mate?”

“Someone was knocking at the door,” Jon muttered, carefully wiggling the rest of the way out. With little regard for his delicate condition, Georgie grabbed him by the collar the same way she grabbed The Admiral, and yanked him out. Jon yelped as he sprawled on the floor in an ungainly heap, scowling up at her, as she put her hands on her hips. “I had the situation under control!”

Georgie raised an eyebrow. She pointedly looked around the room. Jon had borrowed a whiteboard, a corkboard, many push pins, some yarn, and her printer. Stacks of paper and cassettes were piled high on top of the bed, and had fluttered to the floor. The rickety desk was sagging under his computer and the weight of his frantic plotted research. What was written on the whiteboard - the frantic, last ditch attempt to write out every statement by memory and classify them according to each respective Entity - objectively, probably looked like the ravings of a madman. 


“Yes,” Jon said miserably. 

“We made an agreement, when you showed up at my flat at one am and told me that you had to live here or the cops would arrest you.”

“According to the Ride or Die Pact of 2009,” Jon reminded her. 

“Which states, and I know what it states, because we wrote it out and filed it, that if we are ever in terms of genuine emergency we can call upon the other person for aid, and the other person is obliged not to answer questions or turn down the aid if it’s reasonable and would not harm you or anybody else,” Georgie reminded him back, as if they had not signed it in blood. “That was the agreement.”

“I’m wildly aware.”

“Key word being reasonable, ” Georgie said, “and I’m not convinced I’m not harming you or somebody else by letting you live here. Jon, I’m worried about you.”

The genuine concern, hidden underneath Georgie’s tough as nails exterior, cracked him. He reached out a hand silently, and she silently pulled him up as he wobbled on his feet. She brushed the dirt off him, and he let her, and he thought about hugging her. The way she smelled. The way her bow lips creased in a frown whenever he was stupid. 

“I can’t,” Jon forced out. “You - you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Jon, if you need…” Georgie opened her mouth, then closed it. “A mental hospital, I know you’re scared of them, but -”

“I’m not crazy,” Jon snapped. If there was anything he knew it was that. “I just need...more time. Please. Just a little more time.”

“Okay,” Georgie said, unhappy, but accepting, like everyone in his life was with him. “Okay.”

He didn’t tell her why he was hiding under the bed. And she didn’t ask again. 

When Jon finally did have the courage to glance out the window, there was nothing on the stoop. 

When Georgie came home the next day - which was the most interesting thing that happened to him every day - Jon was drinking himself into a stupor. 

There had been no intention. There had been no thought. He didn’t know if that was any better or any worse. But he was on the third statement that had been slipped through the mail slot, and on one notable occasion tucked into The Admiral’s collar, and they had been making his head fuzzy. In a strange way, he hungered for them. They filled him. He couldn’t just ignore them. But they caused him pain too, scared him and unsettled him, and when he found the cheap Tesco Whiskey that Georgie had shoved into a back cabinet he hadn’t even thought about it. 

He was on his fourth glass by the time Georgie came home, and his tolerance wasn’t what it once was. She stopped short when she saw him, crouched on the couch in ratty sweatpants and an elderly t-shirt from their uni days, a glass of whiskey clutched in his fist. 

She froze. Her knuckles tightened on her purse. A dangerous expression cracked across her face like thunder, and an unholy glint flashed in her eyes. Jon instantly felt ashamed, and more scared than he would like to admit. 

The exact moment that she lost her shit at him broke the silence. 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” She screeched, and Jon winced. She strode forward with two powerful steps, Jon shrinking back into the couch, and she wrested the glass away from him. In one smooth motion, without even thinking about it, she whirled on her heel and threw the glass at the wall. It shattered, raining glass everywhere, and The Admiral screeched. “Are you a fucking idiot? Drinking again? Have you lost your fucking mind?

Jon cringed. “Georgie -”

“I’m not interested!” Georgie screeched, and hot shame boiled in Jon’s gut. “Four years I deal with this shit, you say you’ve changed, that you’re done with it, and now we’re thirty and you’re crawling back to my apartment drinking again ? You said that you were sober!”

“I am!” Jon cried. “I’m just - stressed - I quit smoking!”

“I’ve seen the cigarette butts, asshole! It’s not that I care about!” Georgie stepped forward again, and Jon shrunk back, and she must have seen something in his face, because she abruptly stopped where she stood. She took a purposeful step back, then two, and did a picture perfect recitation of the deep breathing that she had to go through all that effort to learn years ago. “You’re not welcome in my house if you’re drinking again.”

“I know,” Jon said, because she had made that abundantly clear when she had thrown him out the first time. “It’s - I know. I’m sorry.”

“That’s what you said -”

“Stop yelling at me -”

“Meow,” the Admiral said, plantitively. 

Another fight. Boring. Jon was a bit too drunk for it. Georgie was a bit too forgetting of her anger management classes for it. It was amazing how they could walk these well worn paths, have the exact same fight they had twice a week in college and then some. 

Nobody in his life today knew. Jon was a new person now. He wore - he wore sweater vests, and he was a workaholic, and he actively dropped anybody who showed too much interest in his life, and nobody had any clue. Martin had never seen him drink anything stronger than tea. But it was Georgie who knew the ugly bits of him, and it was he who knew the ugly bits of Georgie, and they wielded their pasts against each other like swords. 

The fight ended, probably. Jon had problems keeping track of these things. He went to bed angry. She went to bed angry. The Admiral was left unfed, meowing and scratching at their doors until one of them - Jon forgot who - remembered to stumble awake and dump dry food into his bowl. 

At six am the next morning, against every ounce of judgement he had, still ashamed, still unmoored, Jon climbed into her bed and shook her awake. She awoke as she always did - all at once, from sleeping to alert, hair wrapped up tightly and frowning when she saw him in her bed. 

“Do you remember A Guest For Mr. Spider?” Jon whispered, because some things could only be said very early or very late. And he wasn’t as young as he used to be, and he was very hung over. 

“A little,” Georgie said, equally quietly. “That children’s book that traumatized you, right? School bully died when he stole it from you?”

“Did you believe me?”

Georgie was silent. Finally, she slowly said, “I run a ghost truther podcast.”

“That’s not what I asked.”

A long silence. The sun streaming in through the window, the cars honking outside, the sulfurous London air creeping in through the aircon. Life, happening irrevocably, with no rhyme or reason or meaning or knowledge. Billions of life forms, teeming, crawling, reproducing, with no idea of anything greater in their meaningless lives. 

“I think I do,” Georgie said, wondrously, as if she couldn’t believe what she was saying either. 

“Good.” Jon sat up, pushing the covers back. “Then let’s get started.”

She made her own hours - one of the few upsides of running your own ghost truther podcast - so he was able to spend the rest of the day explaining the situation to her. Such as it was. 

The summary, when he could somehow try to dredge up any sort of summary, was this:

Jon was not, actually, a librarian, like he said that he was on Linkedin. He was an archivist, which was like a librarian, for the Magnus Institute - yes, that one. He was actually, uh, the Head Archivist, it was quite a prestigious position - no, he didn’t know why he got it either, everybody had basically been under the impression that he had blown the boss for it. 

Yes, it should have been a warning sign that his boss told him to lie about his job on Linkedin. 

Anyway, Eldritch Abominations are real, and they exact their will and power in this world through objects, people, and forces. Yes, this is related to his job. It’s very related. It turned out, that when Jon signed up for his job, he had accidentally signed away his soul to one of these Eldritch gods, called the Beholding or something he wasn’t super sure, and now it owned his soul. This was why he didn’t quit his job when it was attacked by worms - yes - or when one of his employees was attacked and replaced by an identical double - yes, that happened too, it’s why he’s insisted on recording her voice every day - or when he found a librarian hiding in the tunnels underneath the basement and twenty minutes later the librarian had been beat to death with a pipe, probably by the same person who had murdered the last person who had the job, and that person was probably his boss, but his boss was both omniscent and had framed him for the librarian murder so now he was on the run. 

Georgie took this as well as anybody could take your ex-troubled ex-boyfriend showing up at your door on the run from the cops and sprouting conspiracy theories about gods and monsters and all seeing eyes. That is, silently, petting her cat, staring at the whiteboard of his conspiracy theories for a very long time. Eventually Jon finished telling her everything and was forced to stand there, biting his fingernails, as Georgie thought long and hard. 

Finally, she said, “And you haven’t finally had that schizophrenic break.”

“It was a major possibility,” Jon admitted. Schizophrenia had run in his family, and they were both uncomfortably aware of that, as well as the higher rates in Black men his age. “Especially since I spent most of the last few months experiencing severe paranoid ideations. I - I went to a clinic, to get it checked out, but they said I was perfectly fine. Just stressed at work. So we don’t think it’s that. Besides, it turns out that the evil changeling skin stealing monster had been making me paranoid, so that had a reasonable explanation.”

“Oh, so long as there’s that,” Georgie said. 

She thought again, a little longer, before finally shrugging. “Okay. I believe you.”

Jon’s jaw dropped open. He hadn’t expected to get this far. “You do?”

“Jon, we started dating because we were both supernatural geeks. And I told you about that that thing with Alex like a week after it happened. You chose the right ex-girlfriend for this.” She shrugged again. “Plus - yeah, you’re different. There’s a different look in your eyes. I thought it might be, you know, sobriety, but that’s not it. You’ve always had a bit of a thousand meter stare, but now it’s more of a thousand kilometer one. And your PTSD is a little off the charts, mate.”

“It is not,” Jon said, tautly. “We just agreed I’m not mentally ill.”

“Being chased by monsters trying to kill me and brainjack me would give me PTSD,” Georgie said reasonably, stroking her cat. “Two things can be happening here.”

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it. She wasn’t wrong. Again. Damn her. 

“Plus, like, your childhood -”

“Enough about my childhood,” Jon snapped. “We need a game plan for what to do next.”

“Kill your boss,” Georgie said instantly. She was sitting cross-legged on his bed, The Admiral having the time of his life on his lap, and Jon was still standing in front of the white board like an errant professor. Which they had definitely role played a few times, but that was nobody’s business. “Also, one day I’m going to convince you that getting taken by CPS as a kid and placed with a semi-senile grandmother was super duper traumatic -”

“I get it, I have intergenerational trauma, I’m a stereotype, lay off -”

“That’s not what I was saying!”

“I can only deal with five problems at a time,” Jon snapped. “We have to brainstorm how to murder Elias. Can you buy a gun on the black market?”

“I have a hook-up at my Roller Derby team, give me a week,” Georgie said instantly, reminding Jon why he loved her so much, even if it was in a different way than it once had been. “She’s been a little mental since her partner quit her job, though, so maybe two weeks. You’re also not getting your hands on whatever guns I buy.”

“Whatever.” Jon didn’t want to admit that he didn’t want to touch any guns. If this scenario ended up with him hiding behind Georgie as she pumped Elias full of lead - well, he wasn’t complaining. “The next step is lighting my workplace on fire -”

That was when he heard it again. The knocking. 

Jon froze, and Georgie froze too. His room was close to the front door, due to the layout of the flat, so he could hear it clearly. Georgie slowly slid off the bed as Jon froze in place, terrified, and The Admiral sensed the sudden tension and meowed loudly. 

“I’ll get it,” Georgie whispered. “Get under the bed again.”

“Take a knife,” Jon hissed. 

She did. Georgie had a lot of knives. 

The knocking rapped at the door again, louder this time, and Jon quietly slid under the bed as George grabbed a hunting knife half as long as her forearm and hid it behind her back as she disappeared into the living room.

The swish of a curtain, as she looked out the window. The heavy heave of Jon’s breath - much less severe, now that Georgie was here, now that he wasn’t alone, now that he had decided that he could trust her. With his safety, if nothing else. The slide of three deadbolts sliding back and of the door being wretched open. 

A thump, a slide, and Georgie’s throttled screech. 

He didn’t even have to think about it. Jon dived out from under the bed, throwing his door open and running into the living room. Nothing was hurting anyone he cared about ever fucking again - 

But it was just a teenager, small and lanky, with matted black hair brushing his chin and wearing an overly large black jacket and sagging jeans. He was lying on the ground of their flat, as if he had collapsed forward from where he knocked at the door, and Georgie was frantically checking his pulse and searching his pockets for a wallet. 

Goth teenager. Those weren’t exactly rare. The immediate conclusion that Jon’s mind jumped to shouldn’t have been the first one. The man that Jon was thinking of was much older, and long dead. It was impossible. Worse, it was nonsensical.

“He doesn’t have a wallet,” Georgie said, alert but never panicked. “Grab your mobile and call 999, now!”

“No need,” Jon said, tongue thick and fuzzy. “Likely experiencing some - psychic backlash, or some sort. I imagine the death of Jurgen Leitner had more far reaching consequences than we thought.”

Georgie abruptly let go of the kid - who couldn’t have been older than fifteen - and stood up, holding her hands in the air. “Please don’t tell me the My Chemical Romance fan is a skin snatcher. I can’t handle that today, Jon. I just can’t.”

“Help me get him into my bed,” Jon said grimly, grabbing his shoulder, and Georgie made a show of crossing herself before she picked up his legs. 

Jon had a lot of questions for Gerard Keay, and he was going to answer every one. 

Gerard woke up three days later. Two days where Jon had to convince Georgie that the kid didn’t need a hospital, one day where she gave up and called in a nurse friend of hers to look at him only to have the nurse friend ask her why she was examining a perfectly healthy sleeping teenager. Three days where Jon sat at his bedside, staring, wondering if the death of Leitner had freed or cursed Gerard Keay. If Gerard would be upset that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to kill him himself. 

He had definitely been ‘fighting the good fight’ or whatever since he was this age. His mother had been...well, his crime of murdering her had once seemed more evil than it did now. If he even had really killed her. At the very least, it was the most interesting thing to happen to Jon since he had started trapping himself in Georgie’s flat. The extra house guest seemed to stress her out a little, which Jon could always tell by the ferocity of her workout regimes, and whenever she seemed too stressed Jon would silently cook dinner and put it in front of her. 

Overcome with guilt over not being able to manage any expenses at all, Jon had picked up a lot of the household chores, and Georgie had remarked several times how nice it was to come home to a home cooked meal every day. Not that Jon was great at cooking, but he found himself with an increasingly large amount of time to practice. Besides, it was just following instructions, wasn’t it? Anybody but Martin could do that.

Jon was trying very hard not to think about the Martin and the fact that he thought Jon was a brutal murderer. Or, worse, that Martin still believed he was innocent. 

Gerard woke up on the morning of the fourth day afterwards, when Jon and Georgie were eating the omelettes Jon had made before Georgie schlepped off to the studio to do whatever it was she did. He shambled out of the guest room, giving them both a severe start, blinking blearily as if he really was just a fifteen year old who had woken up from a fifteen hour nap. 

He collapsed in a chair, hunching over profusely. “Tea, please.”

“You’re awake!” Georgie cried, very unnecessarily. “How are you feeling? Are you injured?”

“I feel great,” Gerard said, before falling off his chair. 

Jon hurriedly put the kettle on, before very carefully picking Gerard up and depositing him back on the bed. The Admiral made this difficult, weaving between Jon’s legs and trying to trip him up, but he finally managed to get him back on the bed at Gerard glared balefully at him. Georgie hovered anxiously, which was so far outside Georgie’s usual problem solving strategies of “attack with a cricket bat and question later” that it made Jon anxious too, and by the time that Jon finally managed to get Gerard both into bed, both he and Georgie were anxious messes. 

“How are you alive?” Jon burst out, as Gerard blinked sleepily at him. “Does Elias know you’re here? Why are you a teenager?”

“Magic, he shouldn’t, and magic,” Gerard said blankly. His voice was high pitched and reedy, and brown roots poked out through the top of his black hair. “Is that geriatric fuck finally dead?”

“Yes, Elias beat him to death with a pipe,” Jon said. George gasped from behind him - he hadn’t gone into as much detail when he told her about it. “Gerard, what is going on? Why are you here? How did you know where I am?”

“You should be careful how you ask your questions, Archivist,” Gerard said, voice slurring. His eyes closed and he slumped back on the pillow. “You might...get answers…”

And he was out like a light again. Jon was ready to shake him back awake when Georgie put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head, and he was forced to settle for creeping back out of the room and turning out the lights. 

He slept on the sofa again that night, neck cramped and overlong legs sprawled over the edge of the arm, until Georgie silently padded into the living room to get herself a glass of water and saw him. She shook him awake - although he hadn’t been sleeping at all, and whispered to him. 

“You can sleep in my bed. It’s big enough.”

Jon knew better than to argue, and somehow he didn’t even want to. He rolled ou, and crawled into Georgie’s bed after her, and they slept at opposite ends. Sometimes his foot brushed hers, and he thought of the million times his foot had brushed hers in the night, back when they were different people and nobody called Jon ‘The Archivist’. 

Was his life less dangerous back then? Definitely. Was he happier? Probably not. He had been a disaster, a barely stitched together collage of mistakes and neuroses, and Georgie had been little better. Now he was old, and about in his mid-twenties he had started overcompensating by being as boring and straight-laced and distant as possible, and that had worked for a time. 

But maybe his innate ability to fuck up his own life had just been forced to come out a different way, or he had bottled it too hard until it exploded, and he had accidentally started serving an Evil God That Saw All. He hadn’t meant to become Head Priest of a cult, but these things accidentally happen sometimes, don’t they? Was this just something that happened to people sometimes? Jon had no barometer. Would it ever be possible for him to go more than two months without self-destructing?

He had gone too far in the opposite direction. He had pushed too hard on the ‘gotta do it alone’ thing and ended up alienating Martin and Tim, and that hadn’t been the plan. There had to be a balance. Surely there was some cheat sheet, some list of instructions for how to live a life happily. If there was, Jon hadn’t found it. 

It was strange. He was on the run from the cops, he had lost his flat and all five of his possessions, his life was constantly under direct threat, and he was worried about how to be happy . Surely that shouldn’t be his biggest priority right now. Yet, somehow, it was. Jon didn’t want to die a sad sack who nobody gave a shit about. 

Martin would care, but he had fucked that one up. Georgie would probably care, and he had thought that he had fucked it up, but their relationship seemed oddly unfucked right now. That was it, so far as people who tolerated him. It wasn’t too bad. 

He fell asleep in fitful starts and stops, and he dreamed of getting so drunk that Georgie screamed at him again, except he was drinking a bottle full of thumbtacks, and they choked him, and shredded his throat until everything he was came spilling out. 

The day after next, when Jon had become so bored of reading and evil entities that he actually started binging Game of Thrones on HBO Go, Gerard woke up again. He knew better than to try to move this time, but he yelled loudly enough for Jon that he was able to effectively communicate being awake anyway. 

“Can I have some toast?” Gerard asked plainly, when Jon stepped in. 

“We have some ginger ale too,” Jon said, already mentally plotting out the fridge. “And some oatmeal’ll do it, of course. Obviously tea. I’ll be right back. Do you want more pillows?”

“I’m okay, thank you.”

Georgie was still at work. Jon made Gerard breakfast, wondering how his life had gotten to this point. 

It was only after Gerard had crammed the toast in his mouth and started gently slurping up the oatmeal that he finally explained the situation, in careful and meticulous detail that truly illuminated everything.

“Yeah, fuck me if I know,” Gerard said. “I was dead - not as fun as MCR kept making it out to be - and now I’m not. Or maybe I am. Maybe I was actually trapped in a book or something. Don’t remember how I died. Gruesomely, I think? Whatever.” He stopped and blinked. “God, I am the most hardcore goth in the entire world. I died and came back to Earth. I’m like Jesus of Suburbia.”

“Very impressive,” Jon said dryly. “Why are you a teenager?”

“Age is but a number,” Gerard said wisely, cramming more toast in his mouth. “You’re bad at doing the Archivist Thing, you know.”

“ ‘Archivist Thing’?”

“Yeah. Miss Gertrude was better at it.” Gerard gently sipped at the tea, which was black and very cheap. “I could never get anything past her. She was like my third grade English teacher. But you - you’re asking me all these questions, and I’m not even being compelled to answer. And when I do, it’s not all dramatic and detailed and spooky. You have to want the answer out of me, Archivist. Miss Gertrude described it like...strings in a harp. You have to pluck the right ones before you get what you want out of me.”

“I’m not interested in mind controlling you,” Jon said, horrified. “And - and I’m on leave from my job. I was fired. I quit! I’m not the Archivist anymore.”

Gerard shot him a flat look the way only teenagers can, the one that said ‘I bought every Korn album ever released but you’re the idiot’. “Trust me, unless Elias decides to bump you off too, your job security can’t be beat. And are you sure that you’ve never elicited a statement out of someone who didn’t want to talk? Someone who told you a painful memory although you aren’t sure why?”

Daisy flashed through his mind, the particular blankness to her eyes when she told her her statement, and Jon shivered. He wasn’t stupid enough to think that he was truly free of the Insititute. The way the Statements kept arriving at the flat was enough to dissuade him of that notion. 

“How do I stop it from happening?” Jon asked numbly. “Any of this?”

“How do you stop the tide from rising?” Gerard asked rhetorically. “How do we stop our slow descent into mental illness? How do we fight the alcoholism that’s so pre-programmed into us? How do we stop Climate Change? We can’t. It’s fate.”

“I don’t believe in fate,” Jon said. He chose not to address Gerard’s uncanny knowledge of Jon’s past. Maybe he, too, served - something. Or maybe he just rebelled for a living. It seemed safer to serve. 

“A cosmic destiny? No, I don’t believe in that either. But is it fate when the child’s mother takes him to his first day of school? Fate, when the dog gets packed up in the crate for the vet? It’s unavoidable for the kid and the dog, isn’t it? There’s nothing they can do to change it. They aren’t at the top of the food chain. I think that’s this situation.” Gerard sipped at the tea again. “We are the dogs being told we’re going for walkies when our owner’s taking us to the vet to snip our balls off in the great game of life, Archivist.”

“Your talent with metaphor is unparalleled,” Jon said flatly. 

“Thanks, I got an award for my writing in middle school.” Gerard carefully placed the tea back down on the tray, frowning up at Jon. “I still can’t move. I can, a little, to get to the bathroom and back, but for more than a few minutes - nope.”

“There’s no medical precedent for the after-effects of coming back from the dead,” Jon reminded him. “You may still be sick for a while.”

Gerard looked down, fisting his fists in the thick comforter. “If I can stay with you and your girlfriend for a while, I’d appreciate it. I really - I really have nowhere else to go right now.”

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it. Gerard was trouble. Gerard was the supernatural beating Georgie’s door down. Gerard was every Leitner hot on his heels, and who knew how many Entities besides. 

Gerard was a kid, with a dead, murderous mother and a father who was likely the same way. A kid with no place to go, as Jon had once been. As Georgie had once been. 

“She’s not my girlfriend,” Jon said, instead of dumping his childhood all over a fifteen year old who already seemed to know all of it anyway, “and it’s not my flat, so it’s her choice. But - but I can’t imagine her saying no.”

“This good deed will have karmic consequences,” Gerard said flatly. 

“Good...good ones?”

“Just consequences.”


That night, after Jon had texted Georgie to come home with a thick stack of library books for Gerard, who seemed too good for a television, Jon sat with Georgie at the kitchen table as she frantically tried to rearrange her budget for three people and a cat in London. 

“I’m sorry,” Jon said helplessly, useless as ever. 

“It’s unavoidable,” Georgie said, mouth drawn tight and eyebrows furrowed. Her hair was piled high on her head, and she was dressed in small shorts and a hoodie. She had been very happy to see that Gerard was awake and talking, and Gerard was much more polite to her than he was to Jon. “We’ll make it work, Jon. You don’t have anywhere else and he doesn’t either.”

“If I withdraw some money from my account -”

“Then the police’ll find you in two seconds, and we’ll both go to jail. No thanks.” Georgie made another line in her notebook. “We should plan for a month, at least. He needs clothing, we can get that from the charity shops, and some toiletries. I know how kids eat, so we’ll have to do a lot more cooking. Will we need medical supplies?”

“I don’t think so,” Jon said. “I hope not. Georgie, I...I can’t thank you enough.”

“We discussed the Pact, Jon,” Georgie said briskly. 

“We both know that this is far beyond the pact. This is above and freaking beyond, Georgie. Seriously, if there’s anything I can do -”

“There’s not, so don’t make any promises you can’t keep.” Georgie flipped the notebook shut, and clicked the pen off. The flat was dim, shadows thrown in odd corners with the hodge-podge of scattered rugs and throw pillows and soft golden lights. It had always looked cozy and livable, unlike Jon’s apartment. There was almost nothing in there he couldn’t replace. “I don’t abandon children. Or my friends.”

“He may be actually thirty, I’m not sure.”

“He played my Pokemon X copy for half the day.” 

“You do that on your free days, too.” Jon sat up straight and adopted a mock-stuffy tone, forcing his accent to be something even posher. “Meanwhile I, Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist, do nothing on my days off but more work. Like a true Briton, I have time for no leisure besides scones and tea.”

Georgie giggled. “You’re just too good for lowly Pokemon.”

“I’ve never even heard of it,” Jon blathered, puffing his chest out ridiculously. “I grew up on the rolling hires of Statford on Yorkenshire, under the careful guidance of my great-great-grandmother Margaret Statford-Yorkenshire-Devon-Windsor The Third -”

“You grew up in a council house and you know it!”

“No, you must be mistaken. I could have sworn that I grew up in a manor in the Scottish moors -”

“I was next door, you dick!”

But she was laughing too hard to properly get the words out, and soon Jon was laughing too, and although they muffled the sound in observance of the sleeping Gerard, Jon couldn’t help but realize that his heart felt light for the first time in - in a very long time. 

Georgie was still giggling, clearly the idea of Jon having actually grown up as a card carrying member of the inbred elite hilarious to her. “Is that really what all of your coworkers think you’re like? Because you fake that accent? Martin must think you’re fifty .”

“You joke, but I’m convinced they think I was born in a library.” Jon sighed, the reminder of work an effective can of water splashed on his happiness. “I can’t regret deciding not to divulge any personal details to them. It made disappearing - well, rather easy. Everybody’s out of danger this way. Me, Martin, Tim. Everybody but you.”

George rested her chin on her hands, looking at him with half-closed eyes. “Isn’t the thought sad, though? That nobody would know you? That you could die, and nobody would even know the shitty council house that we grew up in?”

The image of Not!Sasha cracked across his mind like lightning, and Jon shuddered. To die like Sasha died...with nobody knowing her face, nobody knowing the sound of her voice or the curve of her was far worse than being unknown. Yet there was something unbearably similar about it, to realize that one could die without ever having released that mask. “I have grown...uncomfortably acquainted with the prospect, yes.”

“I’m an entertainer, Jon. I love the thrill of thousands of people listening to my voice.” Georgie’s gaze remained fixed on him, piercing, questioning, but warm. “Ever since I was a kid I’ve been obsessed with being known. I’ve always needed people to understand me, who I really am. That was what I liked about you - we were similar, and we had known each other for so long, I felt as if I was finally with somebody who understood every centimeter of me. I’ve always needed to express myself. I can’t bear the thought of dying with nobody having known who I am. What do we leave behind but our imprints, right? If there's somebody out there who knows me completely, even after I pass, did I even really die?”

Jon was silent. Weirdly, irrationally, he thought of Martin. What did it mean, to be unknown, but to be cared about anyway ? Finally, all he could say was, “Loneliness is a terrible thing. But to be known and understood is...terrible, in its own way too. I’d rather have nobody know the real me than to have somebody know who I truly am, and reject me.”

“But you’ll never be accepted if you don’t take that risk,” Georgie argued. “We all open ourselves up for heartbreak when we allow ourselves to become close to somebody. Our hearts heal when we’re rejected. But an acceptance is forever, isn’t it?”

Jon didn’t say anything. He found his fingers drifting to his hair, which he had long since given up on making manageable, and settled around his face in a puffy cloud which was far from professional. 

“You keep on pretending to be somebody you’re not,” Georgie said lowly. “I swear, if you were a woman you would relax your hair.”

“We can’t all be activists, Georgie -”

“You always have to be straight passing,” Georgie cut in ruthlessly. “You always have to act as white as possible. You always have to act as educated and upper-class and straightlaced as possible. You’re always apologizing for existing. Why are you so embarrassed to be you?”

“What’s good about me?” Jon snapped. 

“I had to lock you in the bathroom until you admitted you were ace -”

“I don’t need labels!”

“I don’t regret breaking up with you, Jon,” Georgie said finally, and there it was. There was the elephant in the room that they had been talking around this entire conversation. “I deserved better than to have a toxic, addict partner. And - and I had my own shitty problems, and you deserved better than them. But it was not - it was not a rejection of you. I still loved you. What happened then, was not me seeing you and deciding that I hated what you were. It was just me deciding that I couldn’t be on your sinking ship. I knew the kind of person you were inside. You didn’t have to change. And - and now you’ve overcompensated. You’ve gone the other way. You can’t dump all your problems on other people. But you can’t pretend you’re a robot, that you’re not human. There has to be a middle path here, Jon. I just...really, really want you to find it.”

Jon wanted a drink. 

He inhaled, and exhaled slowly. There was nothing he hated more than admitting he was wrong. But, if it was Georgie… “I ruined a few relationships at work,” Jon admitted. “Because I was scared. And I...hurt some people. But...I’m not sure I’m completely human anymore either. I’ve changed. Involuntarily, somewhat. I’m not the same boy you met in high school.”

“I’m not the same girl,” Georgie smiled weakly. “I’ve changed too. We’re quite a pair. Why don’t we try to change for the better, Jon? Together? I’ve always needed your help, and your push, to do the right thing. So long as we’re in this together, we should work together. You were always a good teammate to have.”

“Yeah,” Jon said, weirdly choked up. “I’d like to have that too.”

Was that enough? Could it possibly be enough? Was it that easy, to mend a relationship snapped in half by two sets of hands like a wishbone? 

Neither of them had any interest in getting back together. But in being friends again...was that possible, for somebody like Jon? For something like what Jon was turning into?

He didn’t know. But, at the end of the day, they climbed back into the same bed, and Georgie explained the plot of the Pokemon games to him in a quiet whisper until he fell asleep. 

Chapter Text


The next day, Jon decided to man up and face reality. 

But first he made breakfast for Georgie and Gerard, who respectively kissed him on the cheek and who made a face at the display of public affection, and cleaned up the living room to free it of his neuroses. He organized the guest room display, elicited a surprisingly detailed quantity of information from Gerard that was invaluable regarding the nature of the Entities, and vacuumed. He sat down and tried to re-work the budget, he made Gerard lunch and convinced him to watch an episode of Game of Thrones with him, and tried not to be mildly creeped out by how quickly Gerard was powering through the stacks of library books Georgie was bringing home every day. He was a much faster reader than Jon. 

When Georgie came home that night they all played Scrabble in the living room, him and Georgie and Gerard, and it got so incredibly competitive between him and Gerard that Jon almost strangled a fifteen year old. He kept on playing words in Latin and then pretending that he didn’t know the difference between English and Latin. Halfway through, Georgie told them a story about a ghost who haunted Scrabble boards, which was almost certainly made up but was somehow spooky. Jon joked about a Scrabble Leitner that spelled out the date and time of your mother’s death, and Gerard said with a straight face that it existed, freaking Jon out until Gerard broke into laughter and tried to play an entire MCR song lyric. 

Gerard passed back out quickly after that, and Jon and Georgie stayed up late at night again, swapping old high school stories - Georgie of the gang she used to run with, Jon of the bullies he used to subtly destroy. 

Jon thought about trauma. The childhood kind. And of Mr. Spider. 

There was a certain quality about a scary thing that happens to you as a child, he thought. Something big, and dark, and mysterious and terrifying. Adults wouldn’t tell you what it is, in case it would somehow make the situation worse, or as if you wouldn’t understand. 

And many kids didn’t. They didn’t understand permanence, or prison, or why Daddy wasn’t coming home anymore. Why he never would. But sometimes, Jon felt as if he still felt that large and strangling presence above him. When he recorded statements in his office, when a dog barked too loudly or a phone rang with a shrill beep. Why arguments made his body react as he was being attacked, every nerve freezing up and his throat closing. Why he felt so, so watched. Why he was so scared, all the time. 

The giant, childhood entity of fear and confusion. Most children, even those with normal lives, had felt it: when they got lost in a busy mall, when a grandparent died. When something bad happened that they didn’t understand. It felt, somehow, the same as the Beholding did. 

Did an Eldritch Abomination give him PTSD? Or did his PTSD just feel very much like it? Did the fact that he apparently worked for it mean anything? The eye’s pupil? 

It occurred to Jon that maybe he didn’t know how to live in safety, that he could not thrive unless his life was actively disintegrating in some way. 

“I should get therapy,” Jon said out loud. 

“Oh my god, I am begging you,” Georgie screamed, from where she was sitting next to him on the couch with her feet in his lap watching Buzzfeed Unsolved. 

“You really should,” said Gerard, who for all they had known had been asleep on the ground. 

It occured to Jon, very unhappily, that for once in his life Martin was right. 

The next day, around noon, Gerard was lying on the couch reading another improbably thick book, and Jon was trying to put together a summary of his categorizations on each statement according to each Entity. He had been trying to get a decent sense of what each Entity even was, and he tried asking Gerard about it, but judging by the way that the kid blanched and skittered from the room every time he mentioned the concept it was probably best to drop it. It had been a few days since a new Statement had come in through the mail, and he...needed more. He didn’t want to analyze this too thoroughly. 

There was a knock on the door. 

Gerard turned the page on his book as Jon froze. “Did Miss Barker order a package?”

“She wouldn’t dare,” Jon said. He slowly stood up, as the knocking continued. “Let’s get into the guest room, quickly.”

“Hey, I’m not wanted by the cops for murder -”

“You’re also legally dead,” Jon hissed. 

“I got better.”

The knocking got louder. “Hey, Georgie!” A voice called, faintly familiar even though it was muffled. “Open up, I know it’s your day off! I brought beer! And new employment!”

Uh oh. Even worse than the cops: Georgie’s friends. 

“If we don’t move she’ll go away,” Jon hissed. 

“I know your lights are on!”


“It’s okay,” Gerard reassured him uncharacteristically, “if we don’t answer the door she’ll assume that Miss Barker hates her and wants her to go away.”

“You’re probably in the shower. I’m coming in!” the voice called, and the signature sound of a key rattling in the old lock echoed through the apartment, and the door swung open, and Melanie King walked in. 

She was wearing a thick coat and pumps, and was wearing a lot of makeup. She was holding a six pack of beer by one hand, and a spare key in the other. Her curly red hair, falling down to her shoulders, was light and fluffy and combed, and she seemed extremely surprised to see Jon standing in the middle of the living room like a deer in headlights and to see Gerard lying on the couch reading a book. 

Then she did a double take, tipping Jon off to the fact that she recognized him. He didn’t blame her for the second’s hesitation - he was wearing contacts instead of his usual glasses, a hoodie and sweatpants and a sock with a hole in the toe, and his normally clipped short hair had grown into an unmanageable afro. He also had been getting enough sleep lately, which had to be a change from the last time she had seen him. 

“Uh,” Melanie said. 

“I can explain,” Jon said, panicking. 

“He really can’t,” Gerard said, going back to his book. “Close the door behind you, please.”

Melanie closed the door behind her, still staring at him. She looked him up and down, and Jon could practically see the frantic attempts to compare his unemployed look with his professional one. He had also dropped the stupid accent, which couldn’t have helped. 

“You’re...that Archivist bloke,” Melanie said, narrowing her eyes, as if she wasn’t even certain. “Jon Sims. Why...why are you in Georgie’s flat?”

“I live here,” Jon said blankly. 

“No you don’t,” Melanie said, equally blankly. Then an expression of fury cracked across her face. “Have you been dating her? Did she not tell me she had a boyfriend ?”

“Are you dating?” Jon cried, confused. 

“We fuck!” Melanie cried. “But not really? Are you her boyfriend?”

“They’re practically married,” Gerard said, flipping the page of his book and not looking up. 

“I’m okay with you fucking her, I don’t care!” Jon cried, throwing his hands up. “And we shouldn’t be talking about this in front of the teenager!”

Whose teenager is that?

“Nobody’s!” Jon reconsidered how that statement sounds. “He’s my - cousin?”

Melanie looked at the very pasty Gerard, then at him, who was not overly dark skinned but impossible to mistake for white. “Uh huh.”

“Jon and Georgie adopted me,” Gerard said, flipping the page in his book again. “I’m practically their kid now. It’s pretty great.”

“That’s not accurate -

“Everybody at work is saying you killed somebody -

“Why are Youtubers talking about my rap sheet?” Jon cried. 

“I work at the Magnus Institute now!” Melanie yelled. “That was why I came over!”

“Why are you working at the Institute?” Jon screeched. 

“Why are you married to my friend with benefits and have a kid with her?!”

“It’s complicated!”

Gerard, at some point, had reached over to the nightstand and picked up the landline, and had called Georgie at work and began talking into the phone. “Hi, Mom, your girlfriend and Dad are fighting. I’m scared. Can you pick me up.”

“Wait,” Melanie yelled, “are you the reason why Georgie gave me all her whiskey and told me to hold onto it for her?”

“Yeah, Daddy’s an alcoholic,” Gerard said, having way too much fun, and Jon groaned. 

This was fine. Everything was fine. 

In the twenty minutes it took for Georgie to come home from work and brave the London traffic, Jon and Melanie had caught each other entirely up to speed on how batshit their lives were, that Jon was not actually a serial killer, and that yeah his accent was faked, leave it alone. 

As it turned out, Georgie had actually been acting pretty suspicious lately. Ever since she came home from India, Melanie had been flat barred from visiting her flat, and she had almost no time to hang out or grab drinks. She had been putting in more hours at work lately, suddenly she was getting rid of her whiskey, Melanie was a little afraid the romance was dying, so she resolved to confront her at her place in a coat and - okay, wow, there was nothing under that coat, please borrow some sweatpants, I beg of you. 

“Quit,” Jon was saying, spitting it through gritted teeth. “Quit now. Leave. Once you work there for too long you can’t quit.”

“Yeah, Stoker’s already given me the rundown.” Melanie popped some gum, scanning the stacks of paper Jon had dumped on the coffee table with a professional eye. She wouldn’t make a bad archival assistant. “Probably too late now. Besides, I’m not afraid of some old man. What’s he going to do, sexist me to death?”

“You really should be,” Jon said darkly, but Georgie chose that moment to walk in. She froze in the doorway, staring at Jon and Melanie crouched around the coffee table, and Gerard still lying on the couch leafing through his book. “Oh, hello, honey.”

“What’s up, sweetie,” Melanie said, making exaggerated kissy faces at her. “When were you going to tell me about your secret boytoy, huh?”

“I’ve had both dreams and nightmares that started like this,” Georgie said weakly. She glanced at Gerard, who hopefully had never featured in either. “Have they killed each other yet?”

“No, I very effectively defused the situation. You’re welcome.” Gerard looked up and batted his eyes at her. Jon had the sneaking suspicion he liked her best. “Can I grab me some biscuits from the pantry, please?”

“Of course, honey. Melanie, so good to see you break into my home. Jon, what the fuck.”

Jon sighed, and proceeded to explain the situation a second time. 

At the end of the second explanation Melanie was no less suicidal, but more impressed with how fucked up Jon’s life had gotten. Georgie looked strongly as if she had been putting in too many hours at work only to come home and find her ex-boyfriend and current friend with benefits plotting how to murder their boss. Gerard looked mildly amused by the entire situation, as if he had no skin in this game whatsoever. Maybe he didn’t. Jon wondered what it did to you, to hunt Leitners ever since you were a kid, to kill your mom, to die and come back (?). Maybe everything was vaguely funny after that. He knew, better than most, how you either laughed or cried. 

“Well,” Melanie said finally, after Jon had gotten up and had started quickly boiling water so they would all have something to eat tonight, “I have a hook-up from our roller derby team. I can get my hands on a pistol. If Elias tries anything, I’ll just kill him or some shit.”

“You can’t just murder your boss,” Georgie said, horrified. 

Melanie shrugged. “I’ll only do it if he tries to murder me first. Can he mind control me?”

“He can read your mind,” Gerard said. He had moved onto playing Pokemon, which he obviously still didn’t fully understand, but seemed to enjoy. “So if you go in there planning on assassinating him he’ll know right out.”

Jon almost burned himself on boiling water in his shock. “So if Melanie walks in, and she knows where I am -”

“ - then Elias knows where you’re hiding? Undoubtedly.” The chime of a captured Pokemon echoed from the DS. “But he already knew anyway. Aw, yeah, Eevee!”

“Elias knows where I am?!” 

“Yeah? Jeez, Archivist, you’re dense.” Gerard’s tongue poked out of his mouth as the happy chimes of bike riding sung from the console. “The best thing Melanie can do is to keep her head down. Don’t worry about it so much, Archivist. You’re on the winning side here.”

“I’m not on Elias’ side,” Jon said brittly, pouring pasta into the pot and salting the water. “He’s a maniac.”

“Think of yourself like Darth Vader,” Gerard said, in a way that he probably thought was helpful. “You’re pretty high up in the ladder of a powerful force. You got cool psychic cyborg powers. So long as you don’t antagonize the Emperor too much, you’re fine. Why worry.”

“Darth Vader died in those movies,” Melanie pointed out. 

“I’m not going to try to topple the Beholding by myself, obviously,” Gerard said, as if any of them knew anything about his goals or motives, “So you don’t have to turn to the side of good for me. So you should be fine.”

“I don’t want to be evil!” Jon yelled. 

“But you want to live, don’t you?” Gerard pointed out. “Would you rather die a good guy or live in service of an entity that may or may not be a little evil? Aren’t we British? You should be used to this.”

The room fell silent, as everybody thought about it. Jon considered it too. He knew he was a coward. He would do almost anything, swallow any indignity, to remain alive. Even if it meant that he - that he worked for a murderer, if it was a choice between that or being murdered, he knew what he would pick. 

But if Elias asked him to kill somebody else? If Elias asked him to commit great evil, or to manipulate people, or to - to blow up Alderaan?

“I would rather die than be used to kill other people,” Jon said, and he didn’t know how true it was until he said it. “I’ll never do anything that’s against my morals. On purpose.”

“Same,” Melanie said decisively. “If Elias tells me to lick his boots I’ll just shoot him, I don’t care how many weird mind powers he has. Pompous ass. I’m not scared of that geriatric shit.”

“I think he’s like fifty.”

“I thought Jon was fifty, you never know with people anymore.” Melanie nodded sagely. “Whatever happened to black don’t crack, Jon?”

“Melanie, just because you’re fucking a black woman, that doesn’t mean you can make those jokes -”

“Don’t say the fuck word in front of the fifteen year old,” Jon hissed. 

“Oh come on, ” Gerard whined, “I almost kicked an old man to death because his books are shit and I can’t say the f word?”

“Everybody in this room has a rap sheet, you aren’t special,” Melanie said flatly. 

“I didn’t kill anybody!” Jon protested. “I’m innocent!”

“Drunk and disorderly when you were seventeen,” Georgie said instantly. 

“Oh, that cop deserved it.”

“Strangely enough, deserved it doesn’t determine whether or not it goes on your record.”

“Pasta’s ready,” Jon announced, tossing a strand at the wall and nodding approvingly when it stuck. “No shop talk over dinner.”

“I hate this family,” Gerard said. “Hey, a Pikachu!”

Over dinner, they ended up arguing over Star Wars (they were all Prequels fans but Gerard, who was an OT purist), Melanie and Georgie washed the dishes, and Jon helped Gerard stumble to bed. He avoided looking at the stacks of papers, as if he didn’t look at them then things would be okay, as if he would never be forced to do anything he didn’t want to do. As if he had not sold his soul to a demon, and the demon would come to collect any day.

Elias had always known where he was. He was letting Jon stay away because - because why? It amused him? Why was this happening to him?

There was nothing Jon hated more than not knowing. Recently, more than ever. He needed to know why this was happening to him. What was happening to him. But maybe some things you weren’t meant to understand. 

Jon wasn’t brave, but he was cowardly enough to know what he could live with and what he couldn’t. He would never use this strange power, his ability to force confessions out of people, the way sometimes his eyes saw farther than they ought to be able to, for evil. To hurt. Jon was a human , and if he couldn’t be a good person then at least he could be a normal person. 

When he turned out Gerard’s lights and stepped back into the living room Georgie and Melanie had cracked open the beers, and he didn’t miss the way Georgie slid the reminder of the six pack far away. They were still sitting in front of the coffee table, and Jon folded himself onto the floor on the other side. They sat in silence for a minute, two of them drinking, one of them resenting himself for his choices that made it so impossible to have one beer. 

“So,” Melanie said finally, “d’ya, like, wanna have a threesome?”

Georgie literally did a spit-take. Jon choked on his own spit. 

“Jon and I aren’t fucking,” Georgie hissed. 

Melanie raised her eyebrows. “Really? Because he’s hot, and I noticed he’s sleeping in your bed, and you seem to be coparenting a child. You’re kind of married. I don’t care, we were never exclusive, I was just surprised. I also, like, quite don’t want to be the other woman. To my boss.”

“We...used to date,” Jon said awkwardly. “We broke it off, for, er, personal reasons.”

“Ah.” Melanie took another swig of her beer. “Welp, offer’s open.”

“We’re platonic,” Georgie said firmly. “Platonic coliving, bedsharing, coparenting situation here.”

“Uh huh.”

“I’m actually asexual,” Jon volunteered, for the first time in his life, but they had been bonding quite a bit over the course of the day. 

“Cool.” Melanie took a very long swig of her beer before grinning suggestively at Georgie. “Super cool how I’m cucking your sexy husband by having sex with his hot wife -”

“Oh my god,” Georgie - giggled! Giggled!

“Fucking my boss’s wife, how scandalous,” Melanie purred, and then leaned in and whispered something in Georgie’s ear, making her flush again, and Jon desperately wanted a drink. 

“I’m going to bed,” Jon said loudly, and stood up. “You two - er, have fun.”

“You’re sleeping on the couch, you minx,” Georgie giggled, slightly batting Melanie’s arm. “Good night, Jon.”

“Offer’s open!” Melanie called. 

“Gerard is in the next room - ” 

“Sleeping with your boss would basically be the least unethical thing to happen at that office,” Georgie said thoughtfully. “Jon, if the only reason you’ve never gotten together with Martin is because you’re awkward about being his boss, I really don’t think you should worry about that anymore -”

“What? Martin doesn’t like me. Don’t be ridiculous. He’s like that with everyone.” Jon rolled his eyes, and despite his best judgement he leaned down and pecked Georgie on the forehead. “Goodnight. Things’ll look better in the morning.”

“Cheers to that,” Melanie said, optimistic despite everything. The last thing Jon heard before he closed the door to the bedroom was Melanie saying to Georgie, “So, like, you never said he was secretly a himbo -”

When Jon slept that night he dreamed of eyes, but that was nothing new. 

So that was how Jon teamed up with his flatmate/ex-girlfriend/coparent’s friend with benefits to infiltrate his workplace that he was taking a vacation from by virtue of being on the run from the cops. 

It turned out that the Institute had grown somewhat strange. Everybody felt the absence of Sasha, and Melanie was a poor substitute. Martin was jumping at shadows, and Tim was growing increasingly sulky. Nobody suspected Elias of anything, which just went to show, and Daisy was still sniffing around. Melanie knew better than to voice what she knew. Elias, for whatever reason, did not vocalize the fact that he could read her mind. An awkward stalemate loomed. 

Gerard seemed to regain his energy, and soon he was leaving the flat in the morning and disappearing for hours. A fifteen year old wandering around London by himself would have worried Georgie and Jon, but considering how remarkably...self-sufficient Gerard was, it was probably fine. He came back one night with a large sack of money, passing it to Georgie with no explanation, but they couldn’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth. 

Soon, they began to wonder if Gerard would be...moving on soon, or whatever he did, but he came back home every night, and they ate dinner every night. Melanie joined them frequently, plotting with Jon and slipping him as many Statements as she could, and Jon continued receiving Statements in the mail. He didn’t know why - or didn’t want to know why - he needed them so badly. It should have felt like an addiction, but instead it felt like a hunger. The difference was thin, he knew that better than anybody, but it was there.

Jon had never gone so long doing this little work. He was going insane. He was very good at shutting himself up and not moving for long periods of time, but it was most important to him to feel like he was doing something. This wasn’t doing anything. Melanie was doing more than him, and they hated each until until a week ago.  

It was movie night, that it happened. Georgie had come home from work exhausted, but Gerard had been so excited over the movie night they had promised him that she had shrugged on her coat and promised to walk with him to the Redbox and the convenience store to pick up some snacks and a movie. Jon had waved them goodbye. They would be back in ten minutes, tops. They had closed and locked the door behind them, chatting about Gerard’s Pokemon team. 

Someone knocked on the door. Once, twice, three times. Less than a minute after they had left. 

Jon’s first thought was that Georgie had forgotten her keys or her wallet. But she didn’t knock like that - she just rattled, never introducing herself, just coming inside. It couldn’t - and the knock was so familiar - where was the knife? Where had Georgie hidden the knife?”

“Let me in, Jon,” a voice echoed from the other side of the door. It was unmistakable. 

Jon - Jon couldn’t help it. He didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t being controlled, or puppeted, or used. But he walked forward and raised his hand anyway, and with a shaking grip he unlatched the deadbolts and unlocked the door, and let Elias in. Because he was scared. 

Elias stood at the doorway, looking exactly the same as he ever did. He could have stepped out in the middle of his lunch break: cut short white hair, bushy white beard, yet a face almost unlined. Tailored grey suit and pale London Fog thick cotton coat. He stepped forward, and Jon stepped back, many more paces than he strictly needed to. 

“Get out,” Jon said weakly, much quieter than he had meant to. He wanted to be strong, to yell and shout and slam the door in his face, but somehow all he could think was - is he going to kill me too? Is he going to kill me because I left? “G - get out.”

“Don’t be silly, Jon. I’m not here to kill you. What a waste of resources.” Jon pulled out a silver pocket watch from a voluminous pocket and flipped it open, squinting at the face before flipping it closed. “I just thought I’d give you the heads up in person that you’ve used up your compassionate leave and vacation time, and that you ought to be back at work by Monday. We’ve been hard at work training the new hires, and retraining the old ones, so we’d appreciate your help back at the office.”

“I’m not going back,” Jon said quietly. He was uncomfortably, awfully aware of the fact that his hair wasn’t picked, and his shirt was dirty, and his sweatpants had holes in them. “You can’t make me go back.”

“I don’t have to make you,” Elias said, almost confused. Almost - he tilted his head, furrowed his eyebrows, the very image of confusion, but it was fake. Jon knew it was fake. “I smoothed over the police issue for right now. The issue of Jurgen Leitner’s murder should be very neatly swept under the rug. Congratulations, Jon. You’re no longer a wanted man. I know you’ve been wanting to go back to work the last few weeks. You’ve done an effective job working from home, with the resources you have. I’m just here to give the all clear.”

“I don’t want -”

“You don’t have to want,” Elias interrupted. “You just have to do. That’s all the Eye requires of you, Jon. That you read the statements. That you get the testimony. That you observe. That you even...archive. It’s not a complex job. And it’s not one you can just quit.”

“Too bad,” Jon said brittley. He even barked a short laugh. “Sorry, boss. I quit. I don’t work for murderers. I’m not going to do your dirty work for you. I - I’m not afraid of you either.” Elias raised an eyebrow. “I’m not. Do whatever you want to me, I don’t care. I don’t even know why - why you let me stay away this long. I don’t care. You can’t make me do anything.”

He crossed his arms, like a petulant child, and Elias just cocked his head and stared at him. It was strange: there was one place in the world he felt safe, and Elias was in it, and it wasn’t safe anymore. And Georgie and Gerard would be back any minute. 

Finally, Elias said, “Are you having fun, Jon?”

“I - what?”

“Are you having fun?” Elias repeated slowly, as if he was very dull. “Playing housewife here, in your ex girlfriend’s apartment. Taking care of a crazy matricidal child. Is this fun for you?”

Jon didn’t say anything. 

“I know you enjoy it. I know it means something to you. To have a family. It’s something you never thought you’d have again, right? It’s something that you thought you’d never have for yourself? What would you do, Jon, to protect them? To preserve their lives?”

Jon stayed silent. Elias looked around the apartment, making a show of taking it all in. 

“Pretty fragile place, these London flats,” Elias said. “So easy for them to go up in smoke. With no fire escapes, too. That has to be against OSHA.”

So that was it. Jon wouldn’t kill anybody to preserve his own life. But to preserve Georgies and Gerard’s -

“Fuck you,” Jon whispered. 

“You don’t have to like it,” Elias said, almost surprised. “You don’t have to like me. You just have to do it. Come back to work, Jon. Take a few statements. Serve your god. It’s what’s best for your family. That’s the job of any man, isn’t it? To provide?”

Wildly, but not irrationally, Jon wondered who dumped Gerard on his doorstep. Had it been Elias, or one of his agents or allies, all along? Had the goal of these weeks off been so that he would form these connections, to secure strings to his back for a puppetmaster to tug? Had the only way they had found to control him was to give him something to lose?

He had been better off with nobody, caring about nothing. He had been better off when it was just himself. When there were no movie nights, no Scrabble, no late nights talking. He hadn’t been happy, but he had been safe. 

Jon looked at the ground, aware he had been beaten. If he was ever even a player. “Monday. I’m not going to make this easy for you.”

“You never do,” Elias said cheerfully. “Good day, Jon.”

“Get out of my flat.”

“Are you still coming to the potluck? We need paper plates.”

“Get out!” Jon screamed, and something psychic reverberated between them, and Elias turned on his heel and left. 

Leaving Jon alone, in an empty flat, desperate and helpless and hopeless, wondering what he would have to do in order to survive this time. Wondering what depths he was going to have to sink to, to keep Georgie safe. She wouldn’t even be in danger if it wasn’t for him. This was his fault. 

But he could fix it. No, not fix it - manage it. She didn’t even have to know. 

And - wasn’t this what he wanted? The police were off his tail. He could go back to work. Things could be normal again, maybe even better. At least he knew where the monsters were now. Knowing was always better than blissful ignorance. And now he had someone to go back to. Was it worth the noose around his neck? Around theirs?

The sound of footsteps climbing the stairs, the sound of feet scuffing outside, the sound of voices, and of a key rattling in a lock. He must have been standing there lost in thought for longer than he had realized, because Georgie opened the door again with Gerard close on her tail. They were smiling at each other, joking about something, and Gerard was holding a large pizza very carefully.

They stopped short when they saw him, and he didn’t want to know what they saw in his eyes. Fear? Some strange alienation? Gerard recognized it first, his expression sobering. It took Georgie a little longer, looking sweetly confused when she saw the way he was just standing there. 

“It’s over,” Gerard said, “isn’t it?”

“No,” Jon said. “It’s not.” He turned to Georgie, who seemed increasingly panicked. “I’ve been cleared of all charges. I - got a call. I can go back to work again. Thank you for letting me stay here, I can’t thank you enough, but I think I can go back to my flat now.”

“I - what? What?” You haven’t paid up the rent in a month, they’ll have let it go by now.” Georgie looked between him and Gerard, trying to find something in their grim expressions. “Did something happen?”

“No,” Jon hedged. He doubted Elias would have let him lose his flat. It seemed against his meticulous MO. “It’s just - time. To go back. This has been good, Georgie, but -”

“It’s time I move on too,” Gerard said, still clutching the pizza. “I should probably go back to Leitner hunting full time -”

“Okay, fine, don’t tell me what happened. See if I care.” Georgie stomped in, throwing her jacket off and tossing it on a sofa, and Jon carefully hung it up. Gerard trailed in after her, putting the pizza on the coffee table. “But I’ve been having so much trouble making rent lately, I don’t know how I’m going to afford it all by myself. Having another person to split it with sure would help.”

“Oh. Oh!” Sudden guilt washed over Jon. “If you really need a roommate, I’m sure we can find someone -”

“On such short notice? In time for next month’s rent? That’s impossible. If only I had a flatmate, with a good job, who was about to ask for a raise from his boss, then I could only make rent.” Georgie dramatically collapsed on the couch, flinging a hand over her eyes, panicking Jon and Gerard immensely. “If only I had a young man around to help me lift heavy things.”

“I can stick around and help out with rent,” Jon said quickly, “just until you find someone else.”

“I can lift heavy things and read a lot of books,” Gerard said quickly. 

“But I wouldn’t want to inconvenience either of you,” Georgie said loudly. “If you have to move on, leaving me alone again in my big empty flat, then I’ll just deal with that. It’s not like I haven’t been alone my entire life.”

“Georgie, I can stay,” Jon said quickly. “Look, I’m not moving out. Alright?”

“I can get a part time job and help with money!” Gerard said. 

“Oh, if you two insist.” Georgie sat upright, grinning widely at the both of them with gleaming white teeth. “Now: who wants pizza and the Blair Witch Project?”

Jon had the sense he had just been manipulated, but somehow he didn’t mind. 

Monday morning, Jon woke up bright and early, and dressed in his best t-shirt and baggy jeans. He brushed his teeth, didn’t bother picking his hair, threw on some sunglasses, and made breakfast for everybody as he packed his and Georgie’s lunches. Georgie woke up after him, then Gerard, and he read the newspaper as they chatted sleepily about their plans for the day. Gerard had muttered something about trying to find the Leitner that Jurgen had with him when he was murdered. Georgie was doing some audio mixing for the podcast. Jon thought about hard labor. 

He had wondered many times as a child why people worked bad jobs. Why construction workers got up at the crack of down and carried heavy things all day, why McDonald’s workers slung burgers from sunup to sundown. He had never considered at the time that it was because they had children and wives to feed, and that it was deeply important to the personal ethos of many men to provide for and protect their family. He certainly hadn’t understood it. 

Until now. Until he realized quite how many things he would do if he had Georgie’s safety assured. Even Gerard. She didn’t need his money as much as she had probably let on, although it was uncomfortably necessary. London was one of the most expensive places in the world to live and being a podcast host did not pay very well. But there were certain things that Jon could do. Certain things that only his new powers could do. And if he could do something good with them, if he could help instead of hurt - didn’t he owe it to her to try? 

Jon had no idea that he would enjoy being a housespouse as much as he did. He would miss it. In an ideal world, maybe he and Georgie could share a flat, and he could be a writer, staying at home as he wrote his book...but the world was far from ideal. They all knew that. 

“Aren’t you normally at work by now?” Georgie asked him. It was nearly seven. “You’re going to be late.”

“Oh,” Jon said, “I have no intention of being on time for work ever again.”

He had always thought that he needed work to live. But maybe he needed a purpose. And this - this counted. 

He waved Georgie off to work, and he and Gerard cleaned up the place a bit, and then he finally caught the tube to the Institute. But he did stop for coffee first. His accounts had been unfrozen. 

When he finally rolled into the Institute at 10 am, it was in sneakers, a t-shirt, jeans, and sipping Starbucks. The secretary at the door’s jaw dropped when she saw him, and Jon casually saluted her with the coffee cup. 

“Morning, Sabrina. Lovely weather we’re having. Nice and cloudy.”

“Mr. Sims,” Sabrina said, eyes wide. “You’re - you’re back? Everyone was saying that you -”

“Killed someone? Yep. Definitely me. Watch out, might do it again. Not sure yet.” He kept walking, throwing a jacket over his shoulder. “Later.”

Judging from the different reactions of people in the Institute, there were two sorts of employees: 

  1. Employees who did not know what was going on. That was Jon, until a few weeks ago. They stared at him when he walked past, still likely convinced he had murdered someone, and whispered behind their hands as he walked by. Jon grinned very, very widely at these people, which just scared them even more, because everybody knew the Head Archivist didn’t smile. 
  2. Employees who knew what was going on. This was Diane, who smiled a small smile at him when he stopped by Artifact Storage, and who almost bowed to him, and called him ‘Archivist’. This was the janitor, who just nodded at him. This was Maxine in payroll, who passed by him in the hallway, and didn’t meet his eyes. This was Jacob, who signed in new Statement makers, and who saw something in Jon’s eyes that frightened him. Jon didn’t smile at these people. He didn’t like the fact that he was one of them. 

He burst into the Archives, which was just a fancy word for the basement where they hid away the Head Archivist and his Minions so they couldn’t hurt anybody, with unprecedented aplomb. 

Everybody was already there, obviously, bent over their desks and studiously working away. At least, they had been before Jon had burst in. When he kicked the door so hard it thumped against the cement wall, three heads rose in unison. One of them was where Sasha should have been - Sasha, whose face he didn’t even remember - and it hurt his chest, but seeing Martin’s face light up when he saw him almost fixed it. Jon had no idea when Martin had gained the ability to mend his broken heart, but he couldn’t complain.

Martin, at least, looked happy to see him. Tim looked like he had sucked on a lemon. Melanie just looked shocked. 

“What’s up, sluts,” Jon said, sipping at his coffee. “Guess who’s been exonerated of murder.”

“Jon!” Martin cried, standing up, then sitting down, then standing back up, then sitting down. What a mess. “You - you really didn’t do it? Not that I thought you did! I had faith in you, the whole time.”

“Suck-up,” Tim muttered. 

“He wishes,” Melanie muttered. 

“Yeah, I was framed.” Jon strode inside, tossing his jacket on the ground - he could give so little of a fuck right now - and leaning against the wall. “Impromptu staff meeting, right now. We’re going to have some changes around here. But we have to make it quick, because I feel like recording a few statements and then leaving at…” He checked his watch. “Maybe before lunch? It doesn’t take that long to record statements. I gotta stop by Elias’ office, spit in his coffee, that sort of thing, but that doesn’t take too long either. I want to be out of here by lunch, at least.”

“Are you drunk?” Tim asked, eyebrow raised. “Have you finally lost it?”

“Timothy Stoker. Tim, Tim, Tim.” Jon took another long drag of the coffee. “I wish I was drunk right now. Alas, my wife would kick me out.”

“Your what? ” Martin screeched. 

“They’re not exclusive,” Melanie said quickly. “Very much not exclusive.”

“Anyway, Tim, I recognize and agree with your concerns. You’re a very valid and beautiful man. I have simply had a sort of epiphany. A realization. I have decided that from now on, I will do the absolute minimum of work here. I cannot quit. None of us can. We are all trapped here, in this unending hell, forced to work for forces we don’t understand, made to submit to a god we do not worship. It is the act of greatest revolution under capitalism to commit time and productivity theft. Therefore, I will embark on this journey of praxis by doing as little work as possible. I invite you all to join me.” Jon took a very, very long drag of his coffee. “I also figured it was best to divulge to you all that I am Head Priest of an organization founded around worshipping an omniscient entity, and that Elias is a serial killer. Melanie, you’re in charge of explaining this.” Melanie saluted. “Martin, I love you. Tim, I respect you. Melanie, you’re a crazy motherfucker. Jon out.”

Then he went into his office, and shut the door. 

He recorded a few statements. He made no effort to organize any papers any more, at least not according to a system that could possibly make any sense to anybody other than him. He, in fact, started making plans to completely rearrange every file system according to the most esoteric of guidelines. It would be a thousand times more confusing than Gertrude’s ever was. He was not making anyone’s life fucking easy.

He recorded some normal statements. With his tape recorder, he recorded some...Statements. 

At almost noon exactly, Martin knocked on his office door. He didn’t know how he knew it was Martin. He just did. 

“Come in, Martin,” Jon called. 

Martin poked his head in - and, yep, that was a cup of tea. Jon smiled at him as Martin put it on his desk, which seemed to wig him out more than anything else he had done so far. Including, possibly, murder. 

“I emailed you the background research we’ve complied,” Martin stated, twiddling his thumbs together as Jon took a long, slow sip of the tea. “And followed up with those participants. Andrea’ll get back to us, but Jason is refusing to return our calls. That’s pretty normal, haha. Don’t blame him. I’m sorry, wife?”

“Relax, it was just a joke. It’s me and Georgie’s inside joke. Just something we call each other.” Jon thumbed his phone on and showed it to Martin. On the lock screen was a picture of him, Georgie, and Gerard sitting around pizza and watching TV. There was grease around Gerard’s mouth. His background was the Admiral, chewing on a cat toy.“That’s us and the wee bairn. She’s my ex, technically, more of a flatmate these days. Mostly, she’s my emotional support bisexual. That’s where I’ve been for the past month, if you were wondering. Very dull. Glad to be back at work, truly.”

“You have a kid,” Martin said flatly. “Why - why are you telling me so much about your life. You never say anything about your life.”

“Not my kid. We found him in the gutter, kinda. And because it doesn’t matter, Martin. Nothing matters.” Jon leaned back in his chair, swiveled back and forth experimentally. “We are helpless flotsam in the river of creation. We are ants and God is holding a magnifying glass. We are dust and the Entities that control our lives are vacuum cleaners. We are -”

“Jesus, I get it!” Martin yelled. “You had an existential crisis! I get it! Congratulations! But you couldn’t call ? Or text ? Send a messenger pigeon? Anything, Jon? I was scared!”

Ah. Jon, quite abruptly, felt a little ashamed. He put his feet back down on the floor - they had been propped up on the desk, scuffing the hardwood, and folded his hands on the table. “I...didn’t want to put you in an uncomfortable position.”

“Like there was anything comfortable about being interrogated by the police for hours,” Martin said bitterly. “I would have covered for you, you know. I did cover for you.”

“I know. I...I’m going to trust you from now on, Martin. Starting now.” Jon picked at a healing scab on his hands. “Now that I know who my enemies are.”

“Elias,” Martin said flatly. “Melanie told us.”

“Yes. I tried, for an exceptionally long time, to do it all on my own.” Jon  scratched at a scar, the same circular scars that trailed all the way up his arm and encroaching onto his neck. But he had given up on wearing turtlenecks. “That ended up with me being blackmailed into becoming high priest of an evil religion. I’m rather sick of it. I’ll be on your side, Martin, for however long you’ll have me.”

“I…” Suspiciously, Martin’s eyes were very big, and somewhat wet. Jon abruptly became concerned that he had made Martin cry. Dammit! He couldn’t be nice at all, could he? Here he was, doing his absolute best to be nice to Martin, and he was still upsetting him! He couldn’t win! “I see. Jon, I -”

“Get out of my office!” Jon yelled, panicking. 

This also panicked Martin, who quickly saluted, even if he did appear to be openly crying. “Yes, sir! Also, Elias wants to see you!”

“Dammit.” Jon got up, abruptly remembering that Georgie had not made him quit smoking, and dug around in his pocket for a pack and a lighter. Smoking in the archives was the stupidest thing possible, but…”Thank you, Martin. Take the rest of the day off. Or week. Or, actually, I hear Scotland is lovely this time of year.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Martin said blankly. “But I’ll pass that on to Tim and Melanie.”

Jon hoped they went home early today anyway. What could he do, fire them?

“Jon. Come on in, he’s waiting for you.”

Rosie smiled warmly at him, as she always did. There were three picture frames on her desk, sporting three rosy cheeked children. Jon couldn’t stop staring at them. Had he threatened them? Did she even know? Was she here of her free will?

“Hey,” Jon said suddenly, “how’s parental leave at the Institute?”

Rosie beamed at him. “Wonderful! You get two extra weeks if you swear your infant to the Eye and baptize them in goat blood. But, between us, I found that baby goat blood works the best. Is Mrs. Sims expecting?”

“Oh, we’re decided not to have any expectations,” Jon said quickly, “since we don’t want to be let down. Excuse me.”

He didn’t knock on Elias’ door, but there was no way he didn’t know he was coming. He barged in, instead, lit cigarette lazily dragging smoke in its wake, and pasted on his fiercest scowl only to find Elias calmly sitting behind his desk, typing away at a laptop as ever. It could have been a scene from his first week at work. It could have been a scene from last month. But, of course, it was not, and it never could be. 

“What,” Jon ground out. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t scared. He wasn’t -

“ - scared? Honestly, Jon, don’t be dramatic. Sit down.” Elias sighed and ran long, lithe fingers through his beard. Jon did not sit down. “It’s good to see you returning to work with such...enthusiasm. I’ve been fielding complaints all day.”

Jon pulled a mock-sympathetic face. “Am I being unprofessional? That’s disgraceful. Maybe you should let me go. For the sake of the company.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I simply gave the employees some light further training. You shouldn’t be encountering any problems there.” Elias picked up a piece of paper from a stack on his desk, and held it out to Jon. Despite his best sense, he found himself stepping forward and taking the piece of paper. “Do me a favor and read out loud.”

“What, this? Why didn’t you just email it to me?” He scanned it quickly. It looked like a Statement. “What do you mean by further training?”

“Assuming your assistants keep their heads down and one of them doesn’t go through with her assassination plot, you won’t ever have to find out. Just read it out, Jon. It is a key part of your job.”

Uncomfortably reminded of the noose around his neck, Jon grit his teeth. He flopped himself down on the comfortable leather chair in front of Elias’ desk and began to read out. As he read further and further he found himself easily slipping into the trance that all Statements carried with them, and he felt some invisible power open its eyes and begin to Watch. Suddenly, Jon was no longer in Elias’ office. He was there. He felt it, everything that they felt. He had lived a thousand lifetimes, died a thousand deaths, and still he kept crawling back every day for more, because Jon’s life was so empty, and the Statements filled him. 

I think my stepdad is watching me (Jon read). 

My mom won’t believe me. She says that I need to get over the divorce, just like she did, and accept Paul in my life. I just think she doesn’t want to be a single parent. But there’s something about Paul that’s just so creepy. It’s the way that he looks at me. I’m feeling constantly watched, even when I’m in my own room. Mom won’t let me get a lock for the door, so I’ve started wedging in my chair underneath the handle. But nothing seems to work. Nothing seems to be enough. I still feel so creeped out. 

Paul’s some kind of high end banker. Mom says we’re lucky to have him. But I don’t feel very lucky at all.

I don’t have any hard proof yet - nothing that’ll convince Mom, at any rate. But he always seems to be around when I’m coming out of the shower. Sometimes I catch him in my room when I come home early from hanging out with friends, for no reason at all. He asks me...questions...never mind. But, more than that, I’m just getting this bad vibe. 

I did find some spyware in my computer. Remote webcam access. But Mom doesn’t get computers, and when I tried showing it to her it was deleted. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. I don’t feel safe. I hate just feeling so watched. 

Do you remember what it feels like, to be a powerless teenager? To have nowhere to go? To have no power, but to be old enough to know when something’s wrong? 

I have two little sisters. Eight and four. I don’t want anything to happen to them. 

Jon put the statement down, fighting the urge to throw up. 

“Good job,” Elias praised, as if Jon wanted that from him. He was still typing away on his computer, as he had been the entire time Jon had been speaking. “This statement was given to the police, and never followed up on. It was, unfortunately, anonymous. Can you tell me the full name of this stepfather?”

The police? There was nothing supernatural about it at all? Then why was it Jon’s problem? How was he supposed to know the full name of some random - “Paul Jackson,” Jon said suddenly. He had just known. 


“8422 Sunset Boulevard.”

“Where did he hide the webcam files?”

“Hard drive, in his desk drawer. Key’s under the mattress. Password to the files is ‘redsox’, with an x.” Realization hit Jon on the head. “We’re blackmailing this guy.”

“Yes, I’m afraid the price of printer ink’s been going up.” Elias continued typing, the only sign of any amusement a twitch at the corner of his mouth. “Thank you, Jon. You’re free to go.”

“Are we turning the files into the police?” 

“How’d we get money that way?” Elias asked, as if he was surprised. “Honestly, Jon, the apocalypse is expensive. Good day.”

“The what ?” Jon pinched the bridge of his nose, standing up. “You know what. I don’t care. I don’t want to know. I’ll deal with this tomorrow. Funnel some of that blackmail money into my raise, I have extra mouths to feed.”

“If it makes you feel any better, very soon it won’t matter.”

“It does not.

And on that witty retort, Jon left Elias’ office, slamming the door behind him. 

That night, he sat around the dining room table with Georgie and Gerard, carefully picking the peas out of his fried rice as The Admiral tried to steal strips of beef off the table, wondering if there would still be takeaway places after the apocalypse. 

“ - but enough about the relationship drama of the ghost hunting community. How was work, Jon?” Georgie asked, reaching out with chopsticks and dropping some wontons on her plate. “Melanie adjusting to the job okay?”

“Not bad,” Jon said, tongue sticking out of his mouth as he made sure none of the peas touched any other parts of the food. Gerard, whose plate held nothing but meat, didn’t seem to be eating anything, but at regular intervals the food would disappear. Jon had decided not to question this. Either he was feeding The Admiral or there were dark forces at work. “Melanie doesn’t respect me as a boss, but I’m not surprised about that. Tim’s stopped taking out his frustration and powerlessness on me and has set up a dartboard in the Archives with Elias’ face stapled to it, so that’s nice. Martin’s as useful as he ever is. The usual.”

“Do you know anything else about Elias’ plans?” Gerard asked, tilting his head slightly as he gazed with unblinking eyes at Jon. 

“Nope,” Jon lied. 

“Liar,” Georgie said. 

“For someone who prizes honesty, and who is slowly growing omniscient, you sure lie a lot,” Gerard noted, making a strip of mogolian beef disappear.

“Don’t you have homework to take care of,” Jon asked, unamused. 

“I don’t go to school,” Gerard said. 

As if she didn’t actually already know this, Georgie seemed somewhat startled. “Should you be going to school?” She looked at Jon. “Should we be sending him to school? Are we bad parents?”

“I’m not actually fifteen,” Gerard said irritably. “You have no idea how long I’ve been fifteen.”

“Meow,” said The Admiral, pleading for more beef.

“We were bad parents already,” Jon said. “And if you’ve been fifteen for, like, a decade, that doesn’t make you not fifteen. That just makes you a very extended teenager.”

Georgie nodded sagely. “The extended adolescence of the post-industrial youth.”

“I hate this family,” Gerard said. 

“What’s for dessert?” Jon asked. “Oh, sherbert, very nice.”

“That was a surprise ,” Georgie hissed. “How are we going to do Christmas if you already know everything we’re going to get you?”

“I’m going to hate the jumper, but I’ll pretend I like it,” Jon said. “It’ll be too scratchy.”

“I hate this family,” Georgie said. 

After dinner, after Gerard cleaned up and started doing what little dishes they had as The Admiral begged for more food, Jon snuck onto the fire escape with a cigarette and a lighter with a web etched into its side with an origin that he couldn’t remember. He lit up, the motions overly familiar and oddly calming, and took a deep drag as he leaned on the rickety metal and stared into the dark grey sky, illuminated softly by London lights. 

They should - they should all go out sometime. To the country. Didn’t Harriet still live out there? He knew she and Georgie stayed in contact. They could all go visit her, maybe take Gerard too. He hadn’t seen her in years. He knew that Gerard had travelled all over the world in his search for Leitners, but Jon and Georgie had barely left London in their lives. He wanted to see the world before...whatever was going to happen to it happened to it.

The Rapture, maybe. The Chosen would be saved and the damned would be left to stay here. He would rather be one of the damned, but he knew that he didn’t have much of a choice about it. If he stuck with the winning side, if he kept Georgie and Gerard on that side too, if he protected Martin and Tim and Melanie, then everybody he cared about could escape whatever was about to happen scot free. And everything would be fine. 

It was an exercise in futility trying to convince Elias that he was loyal. Fuckin’ mind reader. But he could at least convince him that he wasn’t going to act against him, because it was true, and because it seemed all that Elias wanted. 

“Wanna talk about it?”

Jon started. He hadn’t even heard the window creak. But Georgie was sitting on the windowsill, bare feet knocking against the wall, her own joint clenched between two fingers. Jon silently held out his lighter as she stood up and leaned against the railing with him, staring out into the street. He lit her joint as they watched the cars peter past on the street, chugging along with slow melancholy, the shambling of drunks. 

“Not really.” 

She took a long drag of the joint, finally seeming to lose some of the tension that she carried around with her in her eyes. She had wrapped her hair for the night in a colorful scarf, and was wearing nothing but a tank top and short shorts. “Tell me.”

“Georgie -”

“If we’re going to be a team,” Georgie said, “you need to tell me.”

He told her. Hesitantly, haltingly, before picking up steam. About Elias’ visit, about the statement (not a Statement, but still pretty bad), about whatever might be coming. 

She was silent for a long time after he finished speaking, and they smoked in silence. The smells mixed odorously, tickling Jon’s nose, but as the nicotine rushed through his veins he felt himself relax. He should quit, but - but did it matter? 

“Remember getting dragged to church every week?” Georgie said finally. “I believed, but you didn’t. I think I mostly liked all the singing and dancing. You - you hated the noise. Just sat in the pew and read when everyone else was singin’ and clapping their hands. Your grandmother used to box you around the ears for it.”

Jon stayed silent, ears tingling with phantom pain. 

“ ‘Why couldn’t he just be normal?’, my Mama used to say. ‘Why can’t that boy just be normal?’ But I liked that about you.” Georgie took another drag from the joint. “I remember talking with some members of my family in 2012. Some of ‘em really bought into the whole Rapture thing. And when it didn’t happen, they just got back up and went about their days. But I asked Auntie Martha - what if it did happen? What if the Rapture happened, and none of us were saved? I got a good earful for that.”

“The Rapture was the first thing I thought of too,” Jon said quietly, because at the end of the day he remembered those long hours at church too. “But I don’t know if these Entities are going to be as - as discriminatory, as God would be. Maybe the only thing I’m doing is hastening all of our dooms.”

“Don’t say the word doom, it’s so melodramatic.”

“It’s the literal apocalypse, Georgie.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have to sound like a movie character about it.”

That actually got a laugh out of him, when he had been afraid that nothing would again. Georgie laughed too, light and airy and a little nasally, and they stood in companionable silence in the prickling cold of the London air. Jon let himself imagine how the city may have looked like a hundred years ago, in the London of his childhood storybooks - the cobbled streets, the dim glow of the streetlamps. The yellow fog that rubs its muzzle on the window panes, that lingers upon the pools that stand in drains. 

It had been his habit, ever since he was a child. Jon had always lead a life half-steeped in fantasy. When he was very young, he even had difficulties determining the difference. But some part of him always knew. There had never been any doubt that Mr. Spider was real. As much as he would like for his life now to be the work of a strange dream, a bizarre fantasy, he knew that it wasn’t. He had never had a dream that he had thought was real. 

“I don’t want to die, Jon,” Georgie said quietly, so low he almost thought that he imagined it. “If it’s selfish...I don’t care. It’s not like I’m scared, but...I just don’t want to die. I don’t think I’m going to Heaven. I want to keep Gerard safe, but I don’t know if that’s my place. Please, Jon, whatever you can it.” For the first time, she turned her head to look at him, and there was something razor edged and flinty in her large brown eyes. “Do what only you can do, Jon. You owe me that.”

Maybe that was what kept them together, the mutual stubborn cling to life. Jon wondered if it had anything to do with all those childhood Pentacostal sermons on hellfire. It wasn’t unlikely. “I’ll do it,” Jon whispered, just as low. “Whatever I can.”

She didn’t say thank you. It didn’t seem appropriate, to thank someone who had promised to do something that would likely end up being extremely morally dubious if not outright villainous just to keep you alive. 

Hours later, after the dishes were done and they had moved conversation onto lighter things, after they watched a few more episodes of Game of Thrones as Gerard pretended to read a book by the glowing lamplight, Jon stopped into Gerard’s room at near midnight to find him still up reading. It wasn’t a book that Jon recognized, and he refused to Look deeper to see what it was. He had tried doing that once with one of Gerard’s books, and it felt very much like the psychic equivalent of staring into the sun. 

“Georgie and I’ll be going to bed soon,” Jon said, into the gloomy room. It was depressingly bare. Once he got paid, they ought to go shopping. Put up some...Fall Out Boy posters or something. “You ought to tuck in too.”

“Sure, whatever,” Gerard said, making no motion to turn out the light on his nightstand, continuing flipping through the book. 

Jon sighed, and walked forward to gently sit down on the end of the bed. Gerard looked up from the book, politely interested in whatever useless old man gibberish he was going to sprout off about now. He was barely thirty! 

“Normally, at this point I’d be saying something like...let’s come up with a plan,” Jon said haltingly and slowly, “but so far every plan I’ve ever had has turned out something awful.” His botched attempt at a murder mystery. Destroying the table. Colluding with Leitner. Has he ever made a good decision? “I don’t suppose you have any ideas.”

“To stop the apocalypse?” Gerard asked, and Jon choked on his spit. In retrospect, why was he surprised that he knew? “I do. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ask directly, though. I’m a little invested in keeping them from you.”

“Understandable,” Jon said. “You know that you’’re working to stop the apocalypse, and you’re living with the man who’s trying to help start it, right?”

“Yes.” Gerard stared at him, unblinking. “Don’t worry. I won’t kill you, like I killed Mum. I’m rather fond of you. I’d rather have you as the Archivist than any other viable candidates alive.”

High...praise (?), but implicit was the statement that Gertrude made an all around much better Archivist. Fair and true. Bit more crazy, though. “I’m sorry we’re on opposite sides of this.”

“We aren’t.” The lamplight glittered off Gerard’s eyes, reflecting in the gloom. “I have a few plans that use you, so long as you’re willing to go along with them. Elias shouldn’t notice. And I don’t think any involved parties want the Unknowing. I’m working on that too. I’ve been working on it for a while, I think.”

Whatever the Unknowing was. “ careful?” Jon cringed, aware that he had very little say or understanding in what Gerard did. “I...worry.”

“You’re right to. But thank you.” He looked back down at his book, but it was clear that he wasn’t really reading it. “...thank you for a lot, actually.”

Thank you for the privacy. Thank you for not making me answer your questions. Thank you, at least, for letting him keep some secrets. Well. Jon believed that teenagers deserved privacy. Maybe, even, thank you for letting me stay. 

“I was hoping you could tell me,” Jon said delicately, careful not to phrase it as a direct question, “why you’re...still here. Not that we don’t want you here! Georgie and I don’t mind. But from what I understand, you don’t tend to stay in single places this long.”

“I usually don’t. It’s not safe. They all find me, in the end.” Gerard flipped the page of his book. “Staying with you...protects me from all of them but one, in a weird way. You’ve made it clear I’m not to be harmed. Thanks for that, you didn’t have to. But, for the time being, I’m safe from every master but yours. And yours is biding its time. So it’s fine. For now.”

“I can’t keep you safe from the Beholding,” Jon said. He didn’t know if it was a warning, or a question. Could he? If he tried?

“Soon, you won’t even want to. Goodnight, Jon.”

“Goodnight,” Jon whispered. “Sleep well.”

But they both knew that was unlikely. 

Chapter Text


A few days later, Gerard texted him. This was unusual, since Gerard never texted him anything but pointed advertisements to local grunge band shows or reminders to pick up milk. 

Gerard: get Martin to distract Elias from 11:00 to 11:20. 

Jon laboriously typed out an answer. He didn’t text very often, or at all. Jonathan: Can I know why?

Gerard: no

Gerard: also were out of milk

Hm. This must be the ‘I will manipulate you for the good of the world’ thing he had been mentioning earlier. Jon quickly threw together a stack of papers and stapled on the very top a print-out of some of the favorite conspiracy theories he had made up a few months ago when he was losing his shit. 

He checked his watch. It was 10:55. Dammit, Gerard!

He kicked this office door open, stepping into the main archival rooms. The usual scene greeted him: Melanie working, Tim taking his afternoon siesta (his peak productive hours were when Jon was out of the building, because Jon being present in a one mile radius aggro’d him so much he couldn’t do any work), and Martin making a house of cards. Jon gave Melanie another month before she gave up actually doing any work, but maybe they would all be dead by then, so who cares. 

“Martin!” Jon called. Martin started in his seat, destroying his entire house of cards and sending them tumbling down in a flurry of cardstock. “Important job. Read out this entire stack of paper to Elias for twenty minutes. Waste his fucking time.”

Martin bolted upright, saluting. “You can count on me!” He faltered. “Wait, does it have to be from that stack of paper, or can I like, ask for a raise, maybe recite some poetry -”

“It is absolutely mandatory that you start reciting your poetry at him,” Jon responded, with as straight a face he could as he handed over the thick sheaf of papers. “Godspeed.”

They all watched Martin run out the door. Melanie looked a little shocked, while Tim had woken up due to the commotion and also looked as if he needed a stiff drink. Jon was just thinking about how cool and heroic Martin was, which was a very platonic thought he had about all of his friends. Well, he had two friends, and one of them was his ex-girlfriend. Were he and Martin friends? Martin had said so explicitly, and at length, but maybe he was lying. They got lunch together sometimes. Was that friendship?

From his office, his desk phone started ringing. Tim winced, and Jon narrowed his eyes. He resented anybody calling him on that phone, and he hated the presumption on his time. Just email him, fuckers. 

Jon stalked back into his office and grabbed the phone off the base. “How dare you call me.”

“Mr. Sims?” It was Sabrina, the receptionist. “Are - are you alright?”

“Almost never. What do you want.”

She had, somehow, remained free of Elias’ “continued employee education”, which Jon could only assume meant strapping them into a chair and making them watch brainwashing videos for two hours a la Clockwork Orange. This meant that she was still afraid of him, instead of tolerantly amused. “A teen boy who says he’s your son is here. He says you left your lunch. Although he seems to just be holding an empty paper bag. Should I buzz him in? He’s refusing to sign the guest log.”

“Yes, and quickly. Send him in. Thank you.” Jon smashed the phone down on the console, all the pieces coming together. There were so many better covers to use for Gerard coming in to see him, and the kid refused to use any of them. 

He popped back into the office room, politely ignoring the way that Tim and Melanie had been blatantly listening in. Tim had crawled out from under the desk, sitting in his chair and blatantly messaging men on Grindr. Melanie, bless her, was pretending to do work. 

“Are we getting another eyewitness? There’s been quite a few lately,” Tim said, as if he cared. “Love seeing the looks on their faces after you brainwash them to steal their secrets.”

So did Jon, but unironically. “No, it’s a personal visitor. You should stop messaging that man, he hasn’t disclosed the fact that he has a wife.”

“Fuck you.” But Tim closed out of the conversation anyway before hiding his phone under his desk and, nominally, out of sight. He hesitated, thumb lingering over the screen. “...what about this one?”

“Into weird shit.” Jon wrinkled his nose. “Fuck you for making me See that.”

Tim looked strongly as if he had finally found a use for Jon. “What about Jacob?”

“Kinda racist, but, like, if you’re into that…”


“I hate this place,” Melanie said. 

“It took you that long?” Jon asked. “Ian’s clean. He thinks you have a good smile and he’s a banker. I’d try him.”

“I really hate this place,” Melanie said. 

Of course, that was when Gerard walked in. It took Jon a second to recognize him, considering the fact that he had a Snapback and a hoodie drawn up to cover his face. Sure enough, he was carrying an obviously empty brown paper bag. Melanie waved cheerfully at him, and Tim obviously noticed the gauges in his ears and the Panic! At The Disco hoodie. He narrowed his eyes. 

“You forgot your lunch, Pops.” Gerard balled up the paper sack and tossed in the garbage. “I have to do everything around here.”

“What a thoughtful child I have,” Jon drawled, crossing his arms as Tim choked on his own spit. “Whatever you’re here to do, you better do it fast. Martin’s distracting Elias.”

“Were you ever going to tell me you have a freaking kid?” Tim yelled, shocked. 

“You didn’t know?” Melanie said. “Wow, bad employee.”

“I have a picture of him on my desk,” Jon pointed out. 

Gerard, without missing a beat, walked forward and entered the door to the Archival Library, which was very large and somewhat creepy and where most of them did some of their more occult research. It was where they kept all of the recorded Statements. It was also where the trap door to the tunnels were, and Jon poked his head into the room as Gerard walked directly for the almost invisible trap door, kicked it open, and disappeared into the depths. 

Smart. Elias couldn’t see inside the tunnels very well, and Jon served as appropriate plausible deniability to everybody else. With Martin distracting Elias from seeing him enter, and presumably leave, the tunnels, he could infiltrate the most heavily Watched area in the world. Jon would have to make sure to delete the security recordings, if Gerard hadn’t already set up precautions for that already. 

“Sorry, did he just go into the tunnels?” Tim stood up at his desk, abruptly panicked. “Did we all just let him?”

Jon waved a hand. “Gerard can take care of himself. Much like his Mum that way.”

“Ger - was that Gerard Keay ?” Tim yelled. “I thought he was dead! And - and an adult?”

“Common misconception,” Jon said, with a straight face. “Goths actually don’t age, or die. They can only be killed by other goths.”

“That doesn’t sound quite right,” Tim said, looking dubious. 

Melanie shrugged, twirling a pencil. “Hey, who here’s omniscient? Is it you?”

Tim sat back down, looking both skeptical and furious.  

Meanwhile, Jon kind of wanted to go after Gerard and make sure that he didn’t stumble across any corpses - that seemed like the kind of thing a fake parent should do - but he would probably hurt more than he helped. Gerard could take care of himself. He wasn’t actually fifteen - probably. Maybe. Debatably. 

Besides, Jon was very talented at fucking up monster hunts. And Leitner hunts. Maybe he was a coward. Or maybe he was growing acclimated to his role as the Observer, as someone who sat back and watched how things played out. As someone who was impressively useless. 

He anxiously paced the offices of the Archives for twenty minutes, uncomfortably aware of the time passing, stopping himself from Looking into Martin and Elias’ conversation. Elias could always tell whenever he was Looking, and it was useless trying to spy on him. It would only alert him to foul play. Regardless, he was uncomfortably aware of Martin’s extremely bad and very extended arguments for a raise. 

At 11:15, the trapdoor thumped, trainers scuffled on the floor, and Jon flung open the door to the Archive library to see Gerard very quickly slamming the trapdoor and latching it shut. Something thumped on the bottom, straining the screws, but Gerard sat on it until it subsisted. He nodded at Jon, who fought the strong urge to hug him. He couldn’t help but notice that the pocket in his hoodie was bulging a little more than before he went in, but Jon worked very hard not to notice anything more than that. 

“Don’t go in there for a while,” Gerard said, as if Jon went in there at all. “It should fall back asleep in about a week.”

“Noted,” Jon said weakly. “You should go.”

“Yep. Thanks for your help. Come home early tonight, Mum’s making stew.” Gerard slipped past him into the main offices, nodding at the two assistants. “Nice meeting you all. I was never here.”

“We still down for Family Feud Night on Saturday?” Melanie asked cheerfully. “Me, you, and Georgie against Jon?”

“That’s not fair,” Jon protested. 

“Yeah, for us,” Melanie said. 

“I’m kinda scheduled to murder somebody that night, but I’ll see if I can pencil you in,” Gerard said with a straight face. He left the room without any further goodbyes, closing the door securely behind him. He was running out of time. 

“Stay safe,” Jon said, to the empty door, feeling useless. 

It was barely five minutes later that Martin returned, looking as if he had just had a close encounter with a viper, but also seeming rather proud of himself. It occurred to Jon, somewhat guiltily, that Martin would have liked to meet Gerard. Of course, they would all likely be safer if they never did, but…

He didn’t say thank you. He knew, the same way he knew many things, that he didn’t need to. From the way that Martin beamed at him, he probably understood. 

The next time Martin entered his office, dropping off some more paperwork and some tea, he stopped at the door for a long time and looked at Jon. Just looked at him, in a strange, searching way that Jon couldn’t quite identify. He seemed as if he was assessing something, or thinking very hard. 

“I don’t know what happened,” Martin said finally, hovering by the door. “And...and I know things have been quite bad lately. What with the omniscience and no longer being human and our boss being a psychopath and everything. But you seem happier, Jon. I’m glad to see it.”

Before Jon could say anything, before he could possibly think of anything to say, Martin left the office and closed the door shut behind him. 

He had been consuming, because that was the only word that made sense for what he was doing anymore, quite a few more Statements lately than usual. Georgie had to yell at him not to bring them home with him, because they ‘creeped her out’ and ‘made your eyes go all buggy like that, seriously, are you okay?’. She kept him on the straight and narrow, kept him from growing obsessed. Gerard did too, in his own inscrutable way. It helped. Really. 

Except for the fact that Jon, at heart, was still the same nine year old boy who devoured every Sherlock Holmes story there was. When he opened up the kitchen cabinet to reveal a sheaf of paper fluttering out, he didn’t even bother to try to stop himself from reading it. When he pushed back the covers of his bed to reveal a cassette nucked neatly under the pillow, like some demented tooth, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on. One time, a Statement was folded into a paper airplane and bonked him on the head as he walked down the street. 

He had thought that since he went back to work, whatever mystery patron who hand delivered him the Statements would give up. Apparently they had just felt the need to get more creative. 

Moreover, they were thematic. Statements were thematic more than you might think, but they all seemed to revolve a certain thing. A certain concept. A circus, a flame. A fear. 

He brought up the issue with Elias, the next time he was forced to speak to him. Guess it was ‘officially’ a meeting about ‘your lax work habits’ and ‘chronic absenteeism and disrespect for company policy’, but like, what was he going to do, fire him?

“The fuck is this?” Jon asked, tossing the cassette on the desk. “And why did you leave it in my bed ?”

“What makes you think it was me?” Elias said, not looking up from his computer. Tim had been experimenting with how many phishing emails he could give his work information to, and so far they had been extremely productive in making it rain for the con artists. Elias seemed busy. 

Jon shot him an unimpressed look. “Who else is that invasive? Just put them on my desk like a normal person.”

Elias sighed, fingers lingering over the keyboard. “You know how sometimes pet owners will put their cat’s food inside difficult bowls for enrichment for the cat?”

“Yes?” Georgie had one for The Admiral. “Hey. Fuck you.”

After that, he tried to record the ‘special’ Statements somewhat surreptitiously. He didn’t know why, but he had the sense that they were somehow a secret. But was anything a secret, anymore? Did that word still have meaning, to him or to anyone? 

Maybe that was why he didn’t tell Melanie anything about Jude Perry other than to track her down. Maybe that was why he even almost went by himself. He felt the need to investigate this case down to its end, like a real detective. Not like an Observer, who sits back and waits and listens. He wanted to be someone who acts.

Except he remembered Gerard’s words. None of his plans ever worked out. And Jude Perry, whoever she was, seemed dangerous. He didn’t want to die without Georgie ever knowing where he went. 

So he did something that went against every fiber of his strange, misplaced convictions, and told Georgie the problem over a beer (for her) and a hot chocolate (for him) late at night after Gerard had gone to bed. They enforced a strict 10 o clock bed time - rather, Georgie did, who didn’t seem worried by Leitners but was concerned over teenage boys wandering London at night and something called ‘sleep debt’ that Jon, honestly, thought was fake. 

“This woman sounds like she’d kill you as soon as look at you,” Georgie said, setting the beer down and digging into some ice cream. “Are you sure you have to talk to her?”

“Yes on both accounts. You understand the paradox here.” Jon carefully sipped at his hot chocolate. It was good. Not beer, but in many aspects even better. “I’d prefer not to die -”

“Me and Gerard agree.”

“ - but I can’t leave this mystery uninvestigated.” Jon licked away his milk moustache and Georgie shoved more ice cream into her mouth. Cherry vanilla. “I don’t suppose you got that gun hook-up?”

Georgie shook her head. “Nah, my mate on the team’s disappeared. She’s gone feral - more than usual, I mean. Melanie told me a week ago that she was bothering her about where you were...she seemed kinda maniacal about it, so she lied and said that she didn’t know. Anyway, have you tried to see if your superpowers work over the phone?”

Wow, weird teammate. Who had an interest in Jon personally? Hopefully this would never come up again. There were more important things to worry about right now. “I’ve never checked,” Jon said honestly. “And really, Georgie, they aren’t superpowers, they’re manifestations of my service to an ancient god.”

“The Pope does that and he doesn’t get any cool shit,” Georgie said, crossing her arms. “They’re superpowers. Here, I’ll get my mobile and go out to the balcony, see if you can get me to confess my favorite television show in kindergarten.”

They weren’t superpowers. But, honestly, Jon liked the sound of it. Humans had superpowers. Like...well, Jon didn’t read comic books, but he was aware of the Flash or whatever. It didn’t make him not a person. It just made him a different type. 

The nature of Jon’s abilities were a bit more ‘evil’ or whatever, but they were useful. Interrogations...a passive ability, but a useful one, for the man who wanted to understand. 

“Honestly, being a pope who can control minds, I think that makes you a Jedi,” Georgie said over the cell, after Jon finished learning that she had been a rabid Care Bear fan. “It’s like a force mind trick. Like Obi-Wan does in Episode IV.”

“Not Darth Vader?” Jon asked, a bit sourly. “Isn’t that more appropriate?”

“Yeah, but you never see Anakin mind tricking anybody. The metaphor breaks down.” Georgie was silent for a long moment, breathing into the mobile. He could see her, through the glass sliding doors of the balcony, leaning against the railing again. Seperated. “This has so much sexy potential that’s wasted on you.”


“Like, ask me all the sexy things I want to do to you, and I have to tell you about them. If you’re a little kinky it sounds like it’d be quite fun.”

“What are all the sexy things you’d like to do to me,” Jon said flatly. 

“Absolutely none,” Georgie said immediately. “I have no idea how I was ever attracted to you. You’re a beautiful man on the outside, but it’s in such a tragic way if you actually know you. Like a male model left out in the rain, abandoned by his owners.”

“That’s flattering,” Jon said frostily. Then what she said actually caught up with him. “Wait, are you saying that I’m objectively sexy and that’s not just your weird taste?”

“You were voted sexiest man in our high school and uni yearbook.”

“I was also asked by every student I have ever met in uni if I played basketball, because Oxford is full of shallow, posh idiots -”

“Who you spent four years desperately trying to imitate -”

“You’re the one who went out on a date with a mountain climber -

“I wanted my Hungarian! I have needs, Jon!”

“At least I have a calling as a phone sex operator,” Jon muttered, ending the call. 

Despite how annoying she was, Georgie had a point. Jude was just too dangerous to show up in person, with no backup and no warning. This was a much better idea. He should let Georgie draft all of his ideas from now on. 

So that was how Jon, early the next morning, told everyone that he’d be working from home and called Jude Perry on the phone. 

The conversation could have gone worse. She threatened to hang up on him several times if he asked her too many leading questions, but Jon had grown very talented at avoiding the use of question marks. She also seemed to know where he lived, which...wasn’t good at all, but maybe she had been lying.

All in all, he got out of the situation with a melted phone and the location of one Mike Crew. Could be worse. Jon made sure to pat himself on the back, and to thank Georgie. He tried to bring up the situation to Gerard, to get his input, but he seemed very busy buying large dark cloaks and candles that smelled like blood. He told them that he would be staying out late that night, and Georgie told him to bring a snack to the cult meeting he was infiltrating. Jon sometimes wondered at his life. 

In fact, the most alarming thing that came out of that entire exchange was the fact that Jude now had his number. He had, somewhat foolishly, assumed that this wouldn’t come up again. 

As usual, he was wrong. He found this out when he was settling in for bed next to Georgie, thinking about how he ought to spend his somewhat unfairly large paycheck on another bed so Georgie could have hers back, or at least a larger one. His phone buzzed. This was, obviously, unusual. 

Jude Perry: yo u got a h00kup

Jon dropped the phone on the duvet. Georgie glanced over at him, from where she had been typing away on her laptop and giggling. Sexting Melanie again. Gross. “Jude Perry just texted me,” Jon said, and Georgie lifted an eyebrow. “Asking for a...hookup. What do I say? I can’t just not respond, she’d murder me.” 

“Give me the phone,” Georgie said, and Jon gratefully passed it over. 

Jon (but actually Georgie): What do you mean?”

Jude Perry: I got 50 quid give me some coke

Jude Perry: I toasted my old guy and u looked leik u sold coke so thats y i didnt kill u

Jon: I had a Adderall thing in uni but I haven’t touched hard drugs in years :/ Plz find someone else. 

“Did you have to be that honest?”

Jude Perry: pussy

Jon: Actually this is his flatmate. Jon said u were a lesbian? Do you have a snap?

Jude Perry: yeah its toasted_marshmellow add me

Jude Perry: archivist ur a PUSSY for making ur gf text me

Jon: Yeah he is. Im dead_girl_walking ;P

“Okay, that’s it, phone back, please.”

Georgie passed him the phone back, opening up her own mobile. Her eyebrows raised. “Wow. A nude already. Nice.” Georgie lifted her top and quickly took a picture. Jon politely averted his eyes. “Hey, what filter looks best? Jon, look. Should I do black and white? Jon, you aren’t looking.”

Jon briefly reconsidered taking up Adderall again. 

Anyway, hopefully the conversation with Mike Crew would go well. He wasn’t part of any death cult, so it would probably be fine. He would take the day off and be home early, just in time to cook a nice big dinner for everybody. 

And everything would be fine. 

It was not fine. 

He was subjected to the psychological equivalent to being pushed off a thousand story building. He hadn’t heard a word Mike Crew had said, hopefully the tape recorder had picked everything up just fine. And then Daisy beat him up a little, as if she was a high school bully before Georgie started beating their heads against the pavement. Actually, she beat him up a lot, ow. Jon had only been strangled in the sexy kind of way before. 

“He’s murdered two people,” Daisy had hissed, as she ground her boot into his chest, standing on top of him aiming a gun at his head. Basira was there too, probably. Jon could hear his voice, but he was currently being pinned to the floor and couldn’t move his head around. He really didn’t want to die here, even if it would be best for everybody. “Maybe more. I’ve done one monster today, might as well do another.”

Elias probably wouldn’t let it happen. Probably. He was hard to replace, but...just as replaceable as Gertrude Robinson, in the end. 

Daisy had gone through his wallet, had found his AA coin. She had given him a disgusted look, but tempered with something else too. Hopefully it was recognition of the humanity that Jon wasn’t sure he still had. If he was a monster now...well, he didn’t feel any different. He wondered if all the monsters that Daisy had killed had felt very different, in the end. Mike Crew did. Maybe Mike Crew was his fate - distant, with glazed and pale eyes, sociopathic. Jon had been accused by a great many people of all three of those traits in uni. 

“Elias did it,” Jon croaked through a bruised throat. “He admitted it to me.”

“And I’m supposed to believe you?” Daisy hissed. “You’d say anything -”

“Jon’s creepy boss killing someone he worked closely with makes a little bit more sense than Jon killing somebody he’s never met, Daisy,” Basira said sharply. “You said he can compel the truth out of people, right? Then I don’t think he’d lie. We can prove it. Have him mind control Elias, make him confess, get it on tape. Put a real murderer, a real monster, away for good.”

Daisy was silent for a long moment, face stony. Jon tried his very best to look unassuming, which considering his situation wasn’t hard.

She still appeared to be deep in thought when his mobile rang. Daisy froze, staring at his scattered bag where she had thrown it on the ground. Jon grit his teeth. 

The crazy (ex?)-cop stepped off him, still keeping the gun trained carefully on his back, and bent down to pick up the mobile. She squinted at it. “Why’s Georgie calling you?”

“She’s my girlfriend,” Jon wheezed. “I said I would be home hours ago. She - she must be worried.”

It wasn’t even a lie, except for the girlfriend bit. Jon didn’t head out the door to interrogate a personification of fear before telling somebody where he went . He wasn’t stupid. Okay, he had tried, but then Georgie had yelled at him and told him not to be stupid. 

“Georgie? Georgie Barker?” Basira sounded shocked. “You’re the loser ex-gang boyfriend that she’s trying to score a piece to protect?”

“Are you behind Melanie trying to get a gun from me too?” Daisy demanded. 

“Wait,” Jon coughed, “are you guys the roller derby hookups?” He paused. “Wait, she said I was in a gang? Well, it’s accurate enough, I suppose…can I answer that, please?”

Daisy pursed her lips, but shoved the ringing phone at him. Jon sat up, coughing weakly and massaging his throat, as he answered the phone. “Hullo, love.”

He has never once in her life called her that. “Gerard said that you were in trouble, I didn’t know you had a gun pointed to your head,” Georgie joked weakly, unaware that Jon had a gun pointed to his head. “Where are you? Do I need to call 999?”

The last thing they needed was cops seeing him bury a body. And he didn’t want to get Basira in trouble. “I’m not really in the mood for meatloaf,” Jon said weakly. “I’m going to be staying late at work tonight, so put the bairn to bed for me, alright?”

“ you actually have a gun to your head?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Daisy scowled at him and brandished the gun again. “Hurry it up, freak.”

“I’ll be at the Institute in ten,” Georgie said brittly. “No - no, Gerard, you can’t come. I’ll be there in ten. Don’t die, you idiot.”

Jon hung up on her, and silently passed the phone back to Daisy. She stuck it in one of her pockets, aiming the gun at him carefully as he stood up. He looked her in the eyes, and hoped to god she saw some last vestige of humanity there. “Elias threatened Georgie and the kid,” he said. “He said that unless I did what he said he would hurt them. I had no choice.”

Daisy swallowed. “He has shit on me too.”

“Then I think we’re on the same side,” Jon said lightly. “If you can stomach working with a monster. I’ll get a confession from him. You what you do. Then we never have to see each other again.”

The forest was fraught with tension. Basira looked back and forth between them, anxious and more than a little confused, and Daisy looked like she was at war with herself. 

Finally, she said, “Get in the car.”

Jon has almost died many times. 

The first time was the most memorable, and probably the most traumatic. It had opened him up, cracked his ribcage so that all of the evil could flow in. His memories of his father getting arrested, of his mother walking out, are hazy and ill-defined, but he could recite every page of Mr. Spider with crystal clarity. It scarred him. Or marked him. 

He told the story to Georgie the first time they got drunk together in uni. He never told her in high school, afraid of what she would think, but after a few months in uni something had seemed to change in Georgie. She had never been a particularly fearful person, but something about her seemed number. He spilled the secret of his worst memory to her, and in turn she had told him about what had happened a few weeks ago with Alex Brooke. They had believed each other, and Jon was drunk enough that they had fucked. It was the first time that Georgie had asked him to choke her, and when he was too drunk to do it to her satisfaction she had flipped him onto his back and done it to him. 

They had been dating since they were fifteen, but after that some things were different. 

The second time he almost died, and the third and the fourth and the fifth, were alcohol related. He had to get his stomach pumped a few times. One time, he had drunkenly stumbled too far to the edge of the cliff. Georgie, with her lack of fear or restraint and constant daredevil need to push farther and harder, had never been good at moderating herself or keeping an eye on him. They were bad influences on each other. There had been drugs, maybe too many drugs. Georgie preferred relaxants, Jon tended towards dabble either hallucinogens or productivity enhancers. What could he say? It was Oxford. 

She had wisened up and grown serious before him. She had always felt insecure about her place in Oxford, with her rough accent and lack of any elite independent school education, and during senior year she had abruptly decided that she was Serious now, a Real Adult. Her boyfriend, who still drank like a freshman and popped Adderall until he stayed up for three days straight writing his essays, was another childish thing to leave behind. 

Maybe that was unfair to her. He had been an addict, and she hadn’t been. He had wanted to end the relationship too, sick of her anger issues and her lack of sympathy.  Maybe it was that incongruity, that tore apart a seven year relationship. 

It turned out that once you graduated college, going on benders every weekend didn’t mean you were cool and fun anymore. It meant you missed work, that you didn’t turn up to job interviews on time. You weren’t a hard partier, and you weren’t living your best college life. Actually, it turned out that you were just an alcoholic. And that was abruptly pathetic. 

Jon went sober at twenty four, just after his grandmother died. He had nothing, until he had The Magnus Institute.

They broke a lot of laws as they got into Daisy’s car and speeded towards the Institute. 

The first stroke of luck he had all night was when he and his entourage of terrifying police brutality lesbians ran into Martin on his way to the cafeteria, clutching a plastic lunch box and looking surprised to see him. More surprised to see Basira. Shocked, when seeing Daisy. 

“Ah,” Martin said faintly. “So she found you.”

It turns out that Daisy had been dropping by the Institute frequently looking for him, but everybody had the sense she was kind of bugnuts, and had lied and pretended that they hadn’t seen him. Easy, when he was home so frequently. 

“Something off with this place, Daisy,” Basira hissed, awkwardly shifting where she stood. Daisy had obviously noticed, the way her hand hovered over her gun. “The employees - there’s nothing in their eyes.”

“Hey,” Martin said, somewhat affronted. 

“Their two bossess are freaks,” Daisy said flatly, making both Jon and Martin sputter. “Of course they’re fucked. Take me to Elias’ office. Now.”

“Best do as she says, Martin,” Jon said, shooting a significant glance towards her gun. “We’re here to find out who killed Gertrude and Leitner.”

“But everybody knows that was Elias,” Martin said, confused. “It’s, like, public - okay, okay, going!”

Rosie didn’t seem surprised to see them. Maybe that should have been the first warning. 

Elias didn’t seem very surprised to see them, either. But that was no surprise. 

His favorite way to enter Elias’ office was kicking the door open, but this time Daisy did it. She strode in, gun at the ready, and pointed it solidly at Elias’ forehead. Jon slunk in after her, Martin lingering at the door, terrified, as Basira brought up the rear. 

“Bouchard,” Daisy said, voice hoarse and eyes wild. Jon knew, as he knew things, that she had been wanting to do this for a very long time. 

“Detective Tonner. Ms. Hussein. Jon. Martin.” Elias’ voice was perfectly bland, as if he had scheduled in two angry cops, his head priest, and Martin in his office to try to kill him. “Curse this sudden yet completely expected betrayal.”

“When I’ve betrayed you you’ll know about it,” Jon said, blankly. “I’ve been kidnapped by angry lesbians. While out investigating your tapes.”

“Honestly, Jon. I have a ransom fund for business trips. You should have mentioned.”

“How much?” Basira asked, both interested and unemployed. 

“Martin, you should probably bring in the rest of the assistants,” Elias said. “They ought to hear this. I want to make it very clear I’m telling all of you this of my own free will.”

“We all know you’re a murderer! ” Martin yelled, throwing up his hands. “It was super obvious! And Jon told us!”

After that, everything progressed roughly as expected. 

The chessmaster, the puppetmaster. The man Jon hadn’t quite managed to outsmart just yet. If Jon had ever really outsmarted anybody. He was used to being the smartest person in the room - or at least the person in the room who knew the most - and having one person reliably around who managed to make him look like an idiot every single time was infuriating. 

Thank god for Tim and Melanie. When they eventually filed in, they didn’t even do Elias the service of looking surprised. Just bitter, and resentful. Jon suspected that, on some level, Melanie had thought that they had all been exaggerating about the danger. That was out the window now. Maybe she would finally stop being such a try hard. 

“Sir?” Rosie’s voice crackled over the intercom. “The police are here. And Mrs. Sims.”

For the first time today, Elias looked surprised. He carefully pressed a button on the console. “What do you mean, Mrs. Sims?”

“She’s - ma’am, you can’t go in there!”

Jon found himself smiling. 

Footsteps echoed down the hall, and less than a second later the door was kicked in for the second time in five minutes. Georgie strode in, carrying a very large cricket bat, looking murderous. She looked at Jon, raising an eyebrow, and although Jon got the impression that she was asking who had been pointing a gun at him he pointed at Elias anyway. 

Then, before anybody could react, before Elias could say a single word, Georgie strode forward and clocked Elias on the head with the cricket bat. 

Georgie was an athlete. Georgie was very strong. Georgie had a volleyball scholarship to Oxford, and was on a roller derby team now, along with three other sports. Elias hadn’t even had time to blink. He fell out of the chair and his head smashed hard on the edge table, in a way that looked very painful, and he collapsed in a rough heap on the ground. 

From where he was standing it was a little hard to tell, but there was a lot of blood on the desk. And some - gray. Gray things. 

Georgie peered over the edge of the desk. Everyone else seemed to be in shock. Martin was screeching softly to himself. “Is he dead?”

“No,” Jon said, surprising himself. “But, darling, you are so sexy.”

“Yeah, I know. Sorry it took so long, the train was late and I had to convince the kid not to follow me and everything.” Georgie walked around the edge of the desk, prodding Elias with her shoe. “Why are the cops here? I can’t get bagged again, I’m already on probation.”

Then Elias groaned. Georgie quickly danced back, holding her bat out, and Jon reached out and grabbed her and pushed her behind him. Elias stood up slowly, gritting his teeth, eyes unfocused, blood splatter and brain leaking down his head. 

“I didn’t see that,” Elias gritted out, and Jon pushed Georgie further behind him despite her protests. “My fault for growing distracted, I assume. Ms. Barker.”

“How are you alive,” Melanie said flatly, eyes frantically flitting to Georgie. 

Elias laughed hollowly, gently sitting back down in his plush leather chair. Daisy and Basira were pale, and Tim was cursing in a steady stream under his breath. Martin just looked disappointed. “A lot worse than you have tried to kill me, Georgina Barker. You’re lucky you didn’t succeed.”

Jon grabbed her wrist. “Don’t threaten her.”

Elias worked his jaw, and everyone heard the bone pop. “Weaknesses, Jon. That’s what humans are. That’s what they are to each other. Speaking of weaknesses. I believe those cops in the front are looking for you, Daisy.”

That was how Jon gained another employee. Why not, supposedly. 

The police left. The assistants left. Daisy left, and Jon wasn’t sure if she worked for them now too. The only ones who didn’t leave were Jon and Georgie, because Elias had asked him to stay behind, and because Georgie refused to leave him alone. Jon didn’t know if she knew that he was alone with Elias all day, but he appreciated the sentiment. 

There was still blood on the floor, on the desk, on the chair, on Elias’ cashmere grey coat and matching suit, matting his close cropped hair. Elias didn’t seem bothered by it. Neither did Georgie. Jon let himself rely on her strength, clasping her hand tightly in his, not caring if Elias saw. 

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on now?” Jon demanded. 

Elias leaned back in his chair, twiddling a titanium pen. There were words engraved on it, too faint to be made out. If Jon focused, if he looked with something other than his eyes, he could read the words. To Elias. Happy Anniversary. Love, Peter. “I don’t think I will. You’re welcome to try, of course.”

Jon stalked forward, gripping the edges of Elias’ desk and staring straight into his slate grey eyes. Grey eyes, grey suit, grey hair, grey coat. “What is your plan for the world?”

Elias’ face twitched. He smiled faintly. “Try harder.”

“Gross,” Georgie said, somewhat hypocritically. She pulled a face, twisting her hands around the cricket bat. “Why are you such a righteous cunt? You need to leave Jon and I alone. He’s doing everything you want.”

“I can’t. He and I are linked through service to our master.” Elias smiled winningly at her, and she scowled at him. “Jon is the Archivist. He wouldn’t be satisfied with a cheatsheet, with easy answers. You know as well as anybody that he’s not the type to make anything easy for himself. He must discover the truth for himself. That’s the only thing that will please our master.”

“I never chose this,” Jon hissed. 

But even as he said it, he knew it was a lie. It burned his tongue. Elias hummed, glancing between him and Georgie. “You didn’t choose to become an alcoholic. Except you did, didn’t you? Every beer you had, that was a choice. Every time you binge drank. That time you knocked a hole through your dorm wall. Whenever you could tell Georgie wanted to have sex with you, but you couldn’t handle doing it sober, so you drank. When you got alcohol poisoning three times. Those were all choices. Our world is made of choices, Jon, and very rarely do we truly know what any of them mean, but we make them nonetheless.”

He had never told Georgie about some of that, and he turned his head away from her struck look. Maybe he was an addict to the end. 

“You’re not a good person, Jon,” Elias pressed on. “You’d set the world on fire to keep yourself warm. You have a relentless drive for the truth - not because of any idealistic dreams, but because you can’t bear not being the smartest person in the room. But you do love, and you can let people in, and that’s what makes you valuable to me. A man with something to lose is a man who can be controlled. Do you see now?”

Jon worked his jaw. What could he say? It was true. As always. “What do you want me to do.”

“Jon,” Georgie whispered. 

And Elias explained the Unknowing. It sounded - well, it sounded a little like saving the world, not destroying it. Jon wanted to protest that he would have saved the world anyway, that he didn’t need to be threatened into it, but he wasn’t sure if that was true or not. At the very least, he wanted to be there when it ended. 

“Of course, the Unknowing gets in the way of our plans,” Elias explained, arranging a few papers. “So it can’t happen as the Stranger conceives of it. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

He’s not doing it. Find some other pasty. Find some other idiot who’ll dance to your tune. Jon didn’t give a shit about saving the world, he just doesn’t want to die. But if he turned his head just a little he’d see Georgie, still gripping her cricket bat, and he knows that he still has debts to pay. 

“Fine,” Jon spat. “I’m sick of this conversation. Georgie, let’s go.”

He reached out to grab her hand - he forgot when his hand slipped free of hers - but she shook him off. She lifted her bat, and even Elias shrunk back a little. Jon, for his part, severely did not want to test what Elias said about him dying and taking them all with him.

“I have a question,” Georgie said. “When I was eighteen, I was marked by Death. Wasn’t I? I don’t feel fear. Was that what that thing was?”

“It’s adjacent,” Elias said. His eyes were firmly on the bat. “Gertrude always called it The End, but -”

“ - super don’t care. I care that you’re trying to manipulate Jon through me.” She narrowed her eyes at him, and Jon had a thousand flashbacks to her famous uni temper tantrums. Their coffee table had never been the same. “Jon will do what you want. But in exchange, you will stop using your omniscient powers on me and the kid. I’m moving flats, and you aren’t going to follow us. I’m not going to exist to you. Got it?”

“What makes you think I can’t make you sign a contract too?” Elias asked, seemingly amused. Seemingly. 

“You can’t scare me. You can’t intimidate me. And I’m marked by something far more powerful than an Eye, Elias.” Georgie’s knuckles whitened around the cricket bat, and for a second Jon was convinced that she would do it. “From now on, we don’t exist to each other. And in return I’ll make sure Jon commits your apocalypse.”

“You might not survive it,” Elias said. 

“I’m not scared of death.”

They stared at each other for a long moment. 

Finally, Elias said, “You can’t escape me, Georgina Barker. Not so long as you continue your involvement with Jon and Gerard and Melanie. Not so long as you still have thoughts or insecurities or wants. Not so long as you’re human.”

“Leave,” Georgie said slowly, “my family alone.”

Elias was silent, as if he was thinking something very slowly coming, before he put his pen down. “I’ll update the files. Good day, you two.”

“Also I want a raise,” Jon said, so long as they were there.

“What, again? That’s the second time in two weeks,” Elias said, before Georgie raised her bat. “Christ, fine, just get out.”

They got out, and Jon tried not hard to feel as if he was escaping. 

They didn’t say a word until they were both out of the Institute, standing on the street outside. Somewhere along the way their hands had found each other’s, and they gripped each other tightly on the street outside. In the frigid air, amidst the London noise, for the first time in a very long time Jon turned to Georgie and embraced her tightly. 

“I’ve killed you,” Jon mumbled into her shoulder. “This is my fault, if it wasn’t for me showing up at your door you’d never have been involved in this.”

“I’ve been close with Melanie for months,” Georgie said softly. “If it hadn’t been you then it would have been her. And I don’t care. This way I know what’s happening. And this way I can protect my idiot friend.”

He carefully separated from her, unable to fight a giddy smile. “You bashed his brains in with a cricket bat. That was the coolest thing I’ve seen in my life.”

“You think so?” Georgie said cheerfully. “I’ll do it again, if I have the opportunity. He’s a real ponce. We should get home, Gerard is probably scratching up the wallpaper by now.”

“Are we really moving?” Jon asked, having not been consulted on the matter at all. It had...surprised him. Not that his life didn’t have very many surprises anymore - the Unknowing, for instance - but usually he at least had a suspicion these days. “I didn’t even know.”

Melanie abruptly looked a little sketchy. “Well, Melanie and I were talking...and it’s been really hard to see her lately...and I thought you having your own room again might be nice.”

“Ah.” Say no more. “Think I’ll be able to swing honeymoon leave?”

Georgie beamed at him. “Never know until you try. What’s he going to do, fire you?”

That was about when Jon’s body abruptly remembered that he had been beaten up, choked (not in the fun way), and held at gunpoint for far longer than he usually liked, and he almost sagged to the ground. The adrenaline drained from his body in a sudden rush, and all that was left was bone-deep tiredness. 

He had a lot of work to do. None of it he particularly wanted to do. But he would. Because he had made the choice, again and again and again, and if Jon was anything he was unforgivably himself. Jon had made the choice to involve Georgie, made it every day, and he had to make up for that. Maybe it would end up being the right choice - it already felt like the right choice, and even if she hadn’t been able to solve anything she had at least been there with him. If it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t have had anybody who could stand up for him. 

He had made the choice to continue pursuing the truth, and it slid him further and further along the path to the devil until it was no choice at all, and Jon knew that he would have been better off with a happy lie instead. But he wasn’t that kind of person. All he could be was himself, and all he could do was live with it. Live with what he would have to do. 

Georgie caught him by the collar, kept him standing upright, and slung one of his arms around her shoulders as she helped him walk back home.

Chapter Text


They ended up taking that honeymoon leave after all, after some fastidious and straight-faced lying. After all - what was he going to do, fire him?

That sentence was rapidly becoming his motto. Jon did the honors of adding Basira to the unofficial office group chat, which was just full of everybody bitching about their lives and arranging to go day drinking during work hours, and telling her not to bother coming in until he comes back from vacation so he can give her a proper introduction to the archives. 

The Archivist: Georgie, Gerard, and I are moving so we’ll be busy with that for a while. We’re also talking about visiting some friends in the country. Melanie I think you’re invited to this. 


No Longer Newbie: so romantic going out to the country with my fwb, her husband, and their kid

The Archivist: I sincerely want to reiterate that the marriage thing is a joke and that we’re just friends and also that Gerard is not actually fifteen or our child. 

FUCK THIS: ur literally on honeymoon leave idiot lmao

Basira Hussein: I can’t believe you were the ex-gang boyfriend the entire time. I can’t believe it. She complains about you every roller derby meeting. 

Basira Hussein: Yeah, you’re a little married. 

Basira Hussein: How do I change my nickname? 

The Newbie: Oh, never mind, figured it out. 

2 Good, 2 Pure: Do you need any help moving? I’m really strong and I can lift heavy boxes! :D Also please explain how Gerard Keay is alive you never explained please 

The Archivist: He implied he was a ghost the other day, which I still don’t know how I feel about. 

The Archivist: Thank you Martin but we have it covered. :) We’re packing up right now. Gerard’s taking care of it with one of the Leitners he found. 


“Jon? You have the plates packed up?”

“Yeah,” Jon said, guiltily putting the phone back in his pocket. He tried not to talk in the work groupchat too much - nobody wanted their boss always lingering in employee spaces, and he hated groupchats anyway - but it had been growing increasingly necessary as he went more and more rogue. He was well aware that they had their own groupchat without him, that was mostly complaining about how terrible he was, because Martin had guiltily spilled about it with no compulsion from him after a week, but everybody needed a place to vent. “Coming!”

Besides, Jude Perry was still texting him every time she forgot that he didn’t sell coke. Georgie had started recruiting him for some of her more, ah, artistic photographs, a job he bore with a British stiff upper lip but made him feel very weird. Georgie had stared mentioning off-handedly how she was going to meet up with Jude and Anabelle for drinks sometime soon, and if that was the same Annabelle that Jon was thinking of then he had some major concerns.

He couldn’t control her, etc, etc, but he did tell her that if she was going to have a lesbian threesome with Avatars of eldritch entitites then to please keep it out of earshot of Gerard. Not that anything could probably traumatize him at this point, but it deflected very well from Jon being traumatized. Also that he was about 1/3rd omniscient, please remember that, and that statistically the less he wants to know something, the more likely he is to know it. Yes, thank you for inviting me, you’re missing the point. 

He picked up the box carefully, stacking several on top of each until he could waddle to the living room. They had almost finished, having taken most of the day to put all of Georgie’s little knick knacks and Jon’s books and Gerard’s CDs into boxes and stack them in a teetering pile in the center of the living room. There was a lot of delicate recording equipment, which Georgie insisted on handling herself, and a lot of antique books and confidential statements, which Jon insisted on handling himself, and Gerard refused to let either of them see inside his desk drawers and bookshelf. One box was just filled with Leitners, and Georgie had maniacally applied so much tape to it it seemed impossible to open again. The box smelled strange, and seemed to hiss intermittently, but Gerard had sworn that he hadn’t brought anything overly dangerous into their home. For the sake of sparing them all from Georgie’s wrath, he hoped not.

The Admiral was very solidly locked inside a cat carrier, placed in a spot of honor in the dark crevices of the bookshelf. He was yowling, loudly, and Jon felt very bad for him.  

Gerard, himself, was wandering around the flat with his nose deep in a book, holding a large stick of chalk and making random markings on random pieces of furniture and walls. He sometimes told Georgie or Jon to move the couch here, or to stack these chairs in the center, and absolutely everything had to be off the floor, but in general nothing had any rhyme or reason. He muttered to himself under his breath, chin tucked into the collar of his MCR t-shirt. 

Almost everything they owned was piled into the center of the living room, with as much furniture as they could fit in the center. The couch was at the bottom, with chairs on top, and boxes on top of those. Finally, they were able to more or less focus the entire flat into one small area, packed absolutely tightly with stuff. Jon balanced the box of plates underneath the couch, wondering why they were doing this at all. He knew better than to ask. 

“So when are we signing the lease?” Jon asked, watching Georgie try to reshuffle the boxes to fit. “I haven’t even checked the new place out.”

“Gerard said he’d take care of it,” Georgie said, finally giving up and shoving a box of stuffed animals on top of the television. “Honey, you are taking care of that, right?”

“Can fifteen year olds sign leases?” Jon asked blankly. 

“If we want to survive the Unknowing and the Beholding’s Apocalypse we need someplace underground,” Gerard said, walking into the living room and closing his book shut with a snap. “And a place that Elias can’t see. I’ve been working on something that should work.”

“Elias said he would leave you two alone,” Jon said hesitantly. 

“And you believed him?” Gerard said, which, point. He brandished his stick of chalk. “Move inside the circle and stay very still. Is everything ready?”

“The entire flat’s in my living room,” Georgie agreed. She carefully sandwiched herself between the couch and one of the five bookshelves, for the first time looking a little nervous. Jon quickly followed her. Wait, did she not know about this either? Why did they leave all of this up to the kid? “You don’t mean underground literally, do you? We’re not going to live in a hell dimension, are we?”

“If what I understand of the Beholding’s goals is correct, we’re all going to be living within a hell dimension very soon,” Gerard said seriously. “Is that what you mean?”

“No, I mean that I would like some natural lighting in the new place.”

“Oh. Yeah, it has nice windows. I think. I’ve never been in.” Gerard carefully drew a large circle around all of their items, which took up almost the entire living room. He stood inside it too, opening his book back up and flipping through it. “Michael set it up for me. It’s probably fine.”

“Michael The Distortion Michael?” Jon asked quickly, and maybe a bit too loudly. 

“Yeah, he’s part real estate agent now.” Gerard flipped through the pages of the book, pursing his lips. “He’s chill. I met him in a mosh pit. We’re mates.”

“We really have to talk about the other kids you hang out with,” Georgie said weakly. “You shouldn’t spend time with any bad influences.”

“I’m the bad influence on him, mostly.” Something began to glow in Gerard’s eyes, and Jon abruptly developed a splitting headache. He hissed, clutching his temples, and Georgie placed a calming hand on his back and began rubbing gentle circles into it. Jon breathed carefully in and out through his mouth as Gerard began chanting something in a low voice. It began low, but then grew higher, louder and louder, until it was echoing through Jon’s mind and sternum and heart. 

It was in a foreign language, something Jon understood to be long dead, but when Gerard said the words he understood them. He understood them in the way he understood many things, in the way he understood the precise location and temperature of every star, in the way he understood the way the planets sang, the way that butterflies in Brazil beat their wings. There was so much to understand that Jon understood nothing, knew nothing, only sometimes remembered. It was not so much knowing as it was remembering, or an intuitive understanding. Unable to recall the Lord’s Prayer, yet once prompted with the first word able to recite the entire thing. Muscle Memory. 

“I come, I go, I leave, I see,” Gerard said, or something said through Gerard. “I leave my home and I enter a new place. Love and location bind me. The Spiral Detects me. The End sentences me. The Eye sees me. I will be your eternal slave, O loved one, so long as you let me die in pronouncement of your glory. I come with the Archivist. It is the End of All Things. I come, I go, I leave, I see.”

Gerard’s hair stood on end, floating upwards. Irrationally, distantly, Jon thought of being seven, thought of endless summer days and Howl’s Moving Castle. Thought of the movie with Georgie, watched many years later over painting toenails and sloppy kisses. He was still chanting, but Jon was no longer listening. Strange northern lights danced outside their few windows. The walls seemed to press in on them, expand, contract, pulsate, breathe. The floor buckled and shifted. Georgie’s nails dug into his arm, her other hand pressing into his back. She kept him upright. Jon felt a little as if he was dying, or as if something was killing him. 

Nine years old. Church. Old woman with sagging jowls, speaking in tongues. The holy spirit overtaken her, the preacher screamed, pressing a hand to her forehead to exorcise the demons. Every limb spasming, the woman spoke nonsense that made others in the audience weep. Singing, clapping, loud loud loud. Like a nail file rubbing against his ribcage, Jon would curl up into a ball and press his hands over his ears. Such a weird little boy. A girl in a pink dress sitting across the aisle from him, her eyes turned his way, always looking, half a decade later. At fourteen she had said, do you want to get out of here and smoke some weed in the back lot and he had said yes, the beginning. 

The beginning of the end was the first time his Grandmother said that he asked too many questions - 

“There’s the door,” Gerard said. “Come on - Georgie, grab the Archivist, please, he’s looking a little faint.”

When Jon looked up he saw that a door had appeared in the middle of the wall that hadn’t been there yesterday. It was an ordinary looking cheap door, but very different from all the other doors in the flat. Gerard moved towards it with no hesitation, and after only a second Georgie began following him too, carefully pulling Jon along. 

The door opened - or maybe Gerard had opened it - and Jon walked through the threshold, ears ringing. He stepped over the edge of the world, and fell upwards. 

The world stilled. Jon heaved, unsteady on his feet, held up only by Georgie’s tight grip. His eyes must have closed, because he found himself opening them. 

He immediately knew something had changed. His first thought was the time of day, because the pattern of lighting in the room was different. But when he looked up he saw that it was the windows: the windows were different. 

The floor was hardwood instead of carpet. They were in a spacious living room, completely bare, but beautiful cream walls and a high ceiling. A hallway lead out of it, an ajar door opening the way to a big and pretty stainless steel kitchen, and a staircase wound its way up the foyer. Georgie released his hand and walked further into the living room, gasping when she saw all their furniture and items piled high in the center, just like they left them. Jon looked backwards, and saw that the door they had walked through was gone. 

Birds tweeted outside. There was no sound of cars rumbling past. The air smelled...strange. Musty, like a home that hadn’t been inhabited in a while, but also curiously...non-polluted. 

The first thing Georgie did was unlock The Admiral’s cat carrier so he could jump out, but the second thing she did was unlock the door in the foyer, unlocking it and sticking her head outside. She gaped at what she saw, and ran out into the front yard. He heard the distinct sounds of screaming. Jon quickly ran out after her, almost tripping over a floor lamp. But when he stepped outside onto cool, plush grass and saw the exterior of the building, his jaw dropped too. 

It was a house. A real house. Two stories, front wrap around porch, and a rocking chair

“It’s Victorian!” Georgie screeched, jumping up and down. “We have a Victorian house!” 

“Are we even still in London,” Jon said dizzily. 

“Er, yes. Notting Hill, actually.” Gerard was standing on the porch, rubbing the back of his neck. “It should still be close to the Institute and the studio, so hopefully the commute’s alright.”

Georgie screamed, looping her arms around Jon’s neck and practically suffocating him as she jumped up and down. Jon wheezed, frantically trying to work out the price of this place. Homes, detached homes, in Notting Hill were - wow. “Er - fantastic, Gerard, but how much -”

“Michael sorted it out for us. You and Georgie own it outright. I had to trade him a signed copy of my favorite Death Cab For Cutie album.” Gerard scowled. “You’re reimbursing me for that, by the way.”

“A truly equivalent exchange,” Jon agreed, still lightheaded. 

“Not at all, ” Gerard complained. “That thing was limited edition.”

That couldn’t be the only price. There had to be another catch. Michael was going to show up at their doorstep asking Jon to murder a litter of puppies and Jon would have to do it because Georgie had started crying on the dewy front lawn of their new house from sheer happiness. 

“I haven’t lived in a house since Dad died,” Georgie was saying, thick trails of tears running down her face. “It’s been council houses and dorms and flats since I was fourteen. Mum and I used to have the prettiest house when I was so little. But we sold it, and - and I thought it was okay that I’d never live in one again, but I have one. This is ours, Jon. Jon, this is forever.”

Until the world ends. But Jon bit his tongue and looped an arm around her shoulders anyway, and she hugged him tightly. Gerard walked up to stand beside them quietly, gently holding a purring Admiral and staring at the house too, and on impulse Jon slung an arm around his shoulders too. Gerard tensed, as if surprised - Jon rarely touched him - but after a second he relaxed. 

They stood on the front lawn together, for a precious few minutes as the birds trilled and shrieked above them and the earthworms wound their way through the soft dirt below them, heedless of the world or of tomorrow. 

There were four rooms (“Maybe you could invite Martin to stay over in the guest room? Or it doesn’t have to be the guest room. Think about it!”). A balcony. A washer/dryer in unit. There were ownership papers, and a little something else Gerard forgot to mention. Namely, false identities. 

John and Ginny Simmons, with cousin Jerry. Hilariously transparent, but unable to be tracked legally. Entirely under the table. Their neighbors were looking forward to meeting them. They were now legally married, which made Georgie laugh long and hard. But they had wanted their privacy, and they had gotten it. While Jon was inside the house, he couldn’t feel anything watching him at all. For the first time in years, he felt almost free. 

They played Scrabble that night, Jon trouncing them all solidly, making Georgie so crabby they settled on playing the Game of Life instead. They planned out the housewarming party they would hold when they invited over Melanie, Martin, and the others. Jon and Georgie played rock-paper-scissors for who got the home office (Georgie, to convert it into a studio, because Jon had been strongly warned against recording statements at home). The Admiral, of course, got a spot of luxury on top of the washing machine. 

Three days later, they really did take that vacation. They all packed into a rental car, since none of them owned one, grabbed Melanie in the process of her trying to buy rat poison to spill into Elias’ tea, and took a trip down to Alfriston, East Sussex. Gerard insisted on visiting a castle nearby, and Jon ended up playing tour guide about the history of the castle that he didn’t know a minute ago, annoying the real tour guide and Melanie. Georgie and Melanie held hands the entire time, and Gerard took pictures with a Polaroid. 

They crashed at Harriet’s, who was ecstatic to see Georgie and Melanie and somewhat shocked to see Jon, as if Georgie had been lying that they were hanging out again these days, and she showed Gerard the hives of bees she kept in her garden. Gerard was enraptured, somewhat worryingly so. Jon read trashy books on her couch as Harriet, Georgie, and Melanie caught up on gossip with old friends and swapped news about the Youtuber scene. 

“How’d you all get the time off work?” Harriet asked. “I love being self-employed, so I can take whatever time I want, but I hear you’re in the private sector now, Mels.”

Melanie sipped her tea, thick red curls brushing against her shoulder. “Jon’s my boss, so that’s all sorted out. Jon’s on honeymoon leave himself, and obviously Georgie’s self-employed too so she give herself her own honeymoon leave. Very flexible schedules, all told.”

Harriet gasped. “Honeymoon? Georgie, you didn’t mention! Where’s the ring!”

Melanie snickered, twisting around in her seat to leer at Jon. “Yeah, Boss, where’s the ring?”

Jon didn’t look up from his book. “She’ll get one when you get over your fear of commitment and make it official.”

She threw a teabag at him. Georgie blushed, sipping at her own tea. “It’s a farce, but legally Jon and I are married these days, yeah. We mostly just did it to fuck with his boss.”

“Tax purposes too,” Gerard called out through the open back door. He was standing in the garden, communing with the bees. 

Georgie nodded. “And tax purposes.”

“We’re working on a theory it’ll help us survive the apocalypse,” Melanie added. 

“Ah,” Harriet said weakly. “Well. Who wants biscuits?”

Jon slept on the couch, Melanie and Georgie took the air mattress, and Gerard insisted on sleeping outside next to the bees. Jon made a few off-color jokes about Gerard joining the Corruption, but Gerard had just given him a very serious look and told him that bees were the natural antithesis to the corruption and to ‘stop being racist’. 

When he woke up the next morning, so early the dim sunlight was still glinting off the dawning fog, Georgie was sitting on the front porch with a blanket wrapped around her drinking a mug of tea. He joined her, bringing his own blanket and stretching it out to fit over her shoulders too. She passed him the mug and he took a slow sip, letting it pool over his tongue, and she passed it back. It was deathly quiet, and the air was strange and clean. 

“I was trying to think of times we’ve had sex that you weren’t drunk,” Georgie said softly. “And I couldn’t.”

“That says more about me than you,” Jon pointed out. He didn’t know how many weekends he went without drinking back then. Not a lot. Life for a genius young Oxford student was just that hard, supposedly. “Don’t feel poorly about it, Georgie. That’s what he wanted.”

“I know it’s stupid,” Georgie said, voice tinged with bitterness. “But I wish I had the powers you do. The - the mind trick. So you could just be honest with me. So I could finally know everything about you that I wish I did.”

“You do know everything about me,” Jon said, somewhat stunned. He had always thought of her that way, as someone who knew him down to his dirty soul. “You’ve seen me in my most vulnerable places, Georgie. I’ll tell you anything you want.”

But she just shook her head, curls bouncing. “I don’t. I don’t know why you started drinking. I don’t know why you stopped. I don’t know what those six years we didn’t talk were like for you. You say you’re honest, but you dodge and obfuscate and outright lie. I never knew you. I didn’t even realize that you didn’t like being with me.”

She leaned against him, clutching the mug tightly to her chest, and Jon carefully slung his arms around her shoulders. She leaned her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat, and Jon leaned down to whisper in her ear. “I liked all those times you tied me up. The blindfold…”

Georgie giggled. “None of my partners after ever liked that as much as you. You know, in retrospect, we didn’t do nearly as much consent negotiation as we should have.”

They had been stupid kids. “Remember that one time Labor Day weekend? At Kevin’s poolhouse?”

Don’t remind me.” 

“Don’t remind you ? The rope burns didn’t leave for weeks.”

The birds chirped, lazily and sluggishly, weighed down by the fog. Jon was abruptly glad: glad that they were in a place where they could talk about it, that they could laugh instead of cringe. They were good memories, and a messy end didn’t invalidate them. They had been important, and good, and even if Jon hadn’t been as into some aspects as he pretended, he had liked others plenty fine. 

“Am I a monster?” Jon asked lowly. If anybody knew, if anybody at all did, she had to. If anybody could. He laced a thread of compulsion into his words. He had grown better at doing it on purpose recently. “Do you think I’m inhuman?”

“I don’t know,” Georgie said, reaching out with a chubby finger and twisting it into his cheek for compulsing her. “Is Darth Vader more machine than man? You’re just doing what you have to in order to survive. I think that’s very human of you. You’ve always been the most human man I’ve ever known.”

“That’s not necessarily a compliment,” Jon pointed out. 

“It wasn’t. It was just true.” Georgie breathed against him, light yet deep. “Whatever you can do now...whatever about you is different from the way you were before. It’s not better or worse. Just different. Sometimes I think that life doesn’t ever really get better or worse. Just different.”

“I like controlling people,” Jon admitted. 

“So do I? We just established this.” Georgie glanced upwards, and slanted him an amused look. “Although you were never really that good at the dom thing.”

Correction: he had done it once, then Georgie said that he sucked and she did it for the next three years. “My immortal master feasts upon the fear of innocents,” Jon said, somehow completely straight faced. He felt strongly as if he was making a joke, but he knew it was true. Sometimes jokes were like that: funny because they were true. “A lot more than that’s changed in five years.”

“True. Well, Martin’ll be happy.” Georgie slanted another glance at him, but somehow her expression was more speculative. “So you’re still into it, huh? Despite the fact that you don’t have sex anymore?”

Jon felt his cheeks darken and refused to look at her. He didn’t even want to try to parse the Martin comment. “None of your business.”

“You know, none of the girls I’ve slept recently have been as great a partner for it as you. A little bit of platonic BDSM never hurt anybody.”

“That’s not even a thing.”

“It’d be really fun,” Georgie hinted. 

If he had outright said no, she would have dropped it, but Jon did find himself thinking about it. It had been a while. A long while, actually. And it had been fun…

“You’re thinking about it!”

“Ask me again after the vacation,” Jon deflected, and Georgie subtly fist-pumped. 

But part of him - maybe the part that revelled in fear, the part that held fear in his hands like his heart and ate of it - was a little excited too. 

It wasn’t until Jon rummaged in his satchel to browse the internet on his laptop hours later that he found the Statement. It was carefully placed in a manila folder, stashed between clean underwear and his laptop, waiting patiently for him. It wasn’t until he saw it that he realized how hungry he was, how some part of him needed it like food and water. 

Was it an addiction? Hadn’t he gotten better? Once an addict, always an addict?

He had once read in a research article that recovering from food addictions was much more difficult than cigarette or alcohol addictions, because you can’t go cold turkey from food. Maybe it was like that: necessary for his body to continue functioning, but inherent within that was a little bit of a psychological dependence. Impossible to wean yourself off completely. He didn’t even want to try. 

He sat in the bathroom, clutching a miniature tape recorder that he had also found in his stachel, whispering out the Statement and feeling like a criminal. A bee buzzed near the window, alighting on the frosted pane, and Jon couldn’t fight a smile. 

He didn’t know what it was that he loved so much. Was it the fear? The excitement, the adrenaline, how alive it made him feel? Why did anybody like listening to horror, to listening to scary stories told in the dark? They reminded you that you were alive. That, despite everything, you were holding on. Living in fear of death reminded you that you were still here, that you were still alive, and Jon knew better than most how far you could go through life feeling completely dead inside. 

Georgie had never admitted it, but Jon knew. She felt dead inside, even though she was relatively happy. Without any fear, without the pulsing jackrabbit rhythm of a heart or a throat closing up or your limbs deadening to numbness in a flood of adrenaline, you were dead inside. 

But it gave you a certain kind of strength, a strength that Jon relied upon. The same way he relied upon Martin’s endless fountain of care, he needed Georgie’s strength. Maybe he couldn’t do this alone. Maybe, even if he could, he shouldn’t have to. 

Jon stashed the recorder back in his pocket, folded it up and pressed it in his belt, and unlocked the bathroom door to join the others. He had a vacation to enjoy, while vacations still existed. Before Jon destroyed them. Before Jon killed all of them. 

Or maybe they would all be fine, and things would just be different. 

The first day back at work, with a brand new ten quid plastic ring on his finger from Target courtesy of Georgie via much drama and crocodile tears and Gerard buying a marriage officiant’s degree online, Jon was forced to attend a new employee orientation. 

It was for Basira, nominally, but for some reason every Archival assistant had gotten the email. It hadn’t escaped Jon’s attention that his group had been the only ones so far to avoid re-education, or whatever it was that was happening, but he had assumed it was because they all already knew the nature of their contracts. Now he was beginning to think that they had escaped it because they had all known better to complain to him about it. 

He had received an email early that morning from their HR rep (they had HR?) telling him to show up to administer a lecture on workplace safety protocols. Jon wondered why he had agreed to take this managerial position at all. Oh, yes - copious flattery from Elias and a larger paycheque. Always effective incentives. 

At the time, Jon had just been stuffed about someone finally recognizing how smart he was. Despite the fact that he didn’t have the experience, education,, Jon had finally been recognized for how clever and rational and competent he was. How lucky. 

Basira showed up to her first day thirty minutes early, dressed in smart slacks and a blouse, hijab a somber grey and freshly cleaned. She was clutching a briefcase, and was very jumpy. If Jon sat in his dark office, all the lights turned off, and pressed his hands over his eyes until he saw stars he could see it: her watching every employee out of the corner of her eyes, wondering if they were brainwashed or evil or just stupid, wondering how she was going to get out of this. She had a gun in her bag. She hadn’t seen Daisy since she tried to kill Jon. Is she okay? She shouldn’t feel guilty. Or maybe she should, this was her fault - or was it inevitable, from the first day she stepped foot into the Magnus Institute?

A pounding headache attacked Jon’s temples, and he gasped and opened his eyes. He groaned, fishing around in his desk for some Tylenol and popping them into his mouth in a practiced motion without opening his eyes. He dry swallowed them, and shut out all thoughts of Basira. Close the eye. Close the eye. Shut your mind. Martin knocked on the door of this office - no, wait for it. 

Jon rode the tides of his headache for a period of time he couldn’t tell, until knocking echoed politely through his office. 

“I’ll be right out, Martin,” Jon called. He heard the muffled sounds of cursing from the other end of the door. He sighed and scooped his laptop and an armful of folders into his arms, wishing that his job was just Statements and drinking tea with Martin and having Tim throw wadded up bits of paper at him during meetings. 

He wasn’t the last one to arrive at the new employee orientation. That was Tim, who strode in twenty minutes after it was supposed to have started, glaring at Melanie, who was walking with him. Jon knew, even without his omniscience, that they had been competing to see who could be the most late. Martin had come shortly after Jon, nose deep in a reference book, but when Jon smiled at him he cautiously sat down next to him at a fold-out table and smiled too. They were one of the empty meeting rooms upstairs, the kind that actual employees tended to use more than they did, and there was coffee and donuts in the back of the room. Basira, of course, had been waiting there first, sitting primly with her hands in her lap. 

There was a woman Jon vaguely recognized standing at the front, messing around with a laptop connected to the projector. She was short, with a wide smile that took up too much of her face, with a name like Hope or Joy or something like that. It was Joy, there was no point in pretending he didn’t know. 

“I didn’t even know we had an HR,” Martin whispered to him as Melanie and Tim finally walked in. Melanie was wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants, and Tim was wearing his now usual jeans, flannel, and leather jacket. “I don’t remember being hired by anybody but Elias.”

“We do have to pretend we’re an actual organization,” Jon said back, slouching in his seat, folding his arms, and closing his eyes. “Most organizations have HRs.”

“I didn’t get an employee orientation,” Martin hissed. “Why am I in one now?”

“Best not to worry about it,” Jon said. “Wake me when I have my presentation.”

“What are you even going to present on?”

Jon flapped an arm. “I’ll figure it out when I get there.”

“Now that we’re all finally here,” Basira said loudly, sounding somewhat as if she had been sitting in that chair for fifty minutes, which she had been, “Can we finally start? The Metro never was this badly run.”

Tim snorted through his donut as he took his seat next to Melanie, very far away from Jon. “If you joined The Magnus Institute expecting managerial competency I hate to disappoint you.”

“Oi,” Jon said sleepily. 

Martin puffed himself up angrily. “Like you could do any better, Tim! Jon’s doing his best!”

“His best isn’t very good,” Melanie said, downing a beer, where had she even gotten that?

“Says the woman who’s failed to assassinate Elias three times in the past week -”

“Oh my god,” Basira said. 

“If we could all get started, please,” Joy said, bright white teeth drowning out all sounds of refusal. “Great. It’s so good to see some old and some new faces here today. I’d like everyone to give a very special welcome to Jonathan Sims, the Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, Blessed Be His Eyes. Let’s all give him a hand.”

She clapped. Nobody else did. Tim boo’d. Jon folded up his hoodie and tried using it as a pillow. 

“Is there anything you’d like to say to our new recruit, Mr. Sims?” Joy hinted. 

“Feel free to steal all the office supplies,” Jon said, without opening his eyes. “Oh, and, uh, all hail the eye and all that.”

“How wonderful!” Joy clapped her hands, and pressed a button on the laptop to switch it to the next slide. “First up: the history of our illustrious institute. There’s a detailed biography of Jonah Magnus, written by our director Elias Bouchard himself. It’s in the first person, a stunning literary technique.”

“That is so strangely detailed,” Martin muttered. 

“Next up: fire safety!”

Jon fell asleep. 

He dreamed vividly and painfully, as he did so often these days. It was like the dreams took up physical space in his mind, poking and prodding, weighing him down. They felt like sharp objects placed in his stomach, striving to escape through layers of flesh and fat and bone. Jon was distantly aware he was wearing pyjamas in them. 

He dreamed of a very large eye. No - it was a photograph of an eye, black and white. It felt somehow like a man’s. It felt somehow like his. 

THIS IS THE EYE. Something said. 

The scene changed. Jon saw himself. He was very tall, and overly skinny, and his hair was puffing everywhere in an uncontrolled afro. He ought to start tying it back. He was losing pencils in it. 

THIS IS YOU. It said again. 

Flip. Like a children’s toy in a happy meal, what are they called - a Viewmaster, the same one he had a child. The exact same. Another image. Jon again, but - different. He was looking at you, this time. THIS IS THE ARCHIVIST. 

Flip. A world on fire. A home, burning. A wife - not his - stumbling out the door, her flesh melting, clutching a baby, its eyes boiling out of its sockets. THIS IS WHAT WE WILL CREATE TOGETHER. 

Flip. An emergency exit. THIS IS A FIRE EXIT. USE IN CASE OF A FIRE. 

Flip. A mannequin, dancing in an endless ballet. THIS IS AN ENEMY. 

Flip. The eyes again. One of them was closed. It was winking. THIS IS A SECRET. TELL THE ARCHIVIST YOUR SECRETS. WE ALL FEED. 

“Mr. Sims? It’s time for your presentation.”

Jon jerked awake, gasping for air, and rocketed upwards. Joy was looking at him, with dead and glassy eyes and a too-wide smile. When he looked around he saw that all of his assistants were pale, sitting stock-still in their seats, eyes glassy. Melanie was breathing heavily. Tim was whimpering a little. 

They looked - not quite there, in the same way that most of the workers at the Institute were not quite there. Jon abruptly started wondering what had been in that presentation he had slept through? Was it the same was what he had dreamt? He still felt like himself, so much as he ever felt like himself. What happened?

“Uh. Right, right.” Jon stumbled upwards, dumping his laptop and files into his arms before, on second thought, leaving them where they were. He glanced at Martin - who was not moving save for a minute twitch of his hand - and somehow stumbled towards the front. Joy nodded at him respectfully, and clicked down the aisle in her improbable heels to sit at the back. She gave him a supportive thumbs up. 

He hadn’t been joking about not bothering to prepare a presentation. It wasn’t like he’d be able to get through the entire presentation without Tim heckling him, Melanie drinking her way through it, Martin loudly yelling over Tim about how good he was doing in a somewhat patronizing way, and Basira probably giving up her affected politeness and flipping the table. But they were silent, just staring at him, unmoving. Melanie sat up perfectly straight. Tim wasn’t mocking him at all, not even semi-affectionately. And his eyes, Jon saw…

“My name is Jonathan Sims,” Jon said, through a dry mouth. He had to do something. If he couldn’t protect his employees, could he even protect himself? “Most of you know me as the Archivist. I have made it my purpose in life to both stop and start the Apocalypse.” Joy gave him a big thumbs up from the back. “I...possess abilities some may consider unnatural. When - when I first gained my abilities, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” Jon looked at Tim, and forced some aspect of his mind open. It felt like using his thumb and forefinger to pry open an eye. “Timothy Stoker. What is your worst memory?”

Tim opened his mouth, then closed it. He started breathing heavier. Jon knew, on some level, that this wasn’t right, but this was the only way to break the brainwashing he had. “My brother was eaten…”

He spilled into the whole story, but Jon was barely even listening. Tim always fought the compulsion, every time. He was gritting his teeth now, even though his eyes were glassy. 

But he was telling it. Jon pressed harder. “Forget about that. What’s your most regrettable sexual encounter?”

“I was eighteen,” Tim said, voice monotone yet quavering. Some part of him was afraid. Jon ate it. “My first frat party, and I was nervous. It was my first time away from home for that long, and I really wanted to make friends. I drank a little bit too much, and found the courage to flirt with the first guy I saw. He was a real burly type. I thought that uni was going to be better. But - fuck!”

“Excuse me,” Joy piped up from the back, “is this part of the presentation?”

Jon turned his eyes on her, grinding her down. “Joy. Do you even like this job?”

“I can’t quit,” Joy whispered, eyes wide. “I want to quit so badly, but I can’t. I have a wife and children, and I have to provide for them. But something is so wrong about this place. I don’t know what to do. Am I even real? Sometimes it feels as if my life before here was just a dream.”

Okay, he didn’t actually care about her. Tim was beating his hand on the table, cursing heavily and thoroughly. Basira was shaking, something wild in her glassy eyes. She was new, she probably would be the most resistant to it. Jon stepped forward and put his hands on her desk, leaning in. “Basira. What’s the nature of your relationship with Daisy Tonner?”

“None of your fucking buisness,” Basira said, and Jon grinned. Score. 

He leaned in further, seeing something flicker back to life in her eyes. “Tell me - what is the nature of your relationship with Daisy Tonner?”

“She’s my partner...fuck. Fuck!” Suddenly, violently, Basira threw her head down. It collided with the desk with a sharp crack and a thump, and Jon jumped backwards. That sounded incredibly painful. But it must have worked, because when Basira raised her head again she had a small cut swelling up on her forehead but her eyes were crystal clear. “Fuck you, mate! What the fuck was that! Ouch! Fuck!”

“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Jon said, taking a few steps backwards for good measure. “Help me wake up the others. What was in that presentation?”

“I don’t remember - shit. Melanie!” Basira scrambled out of her chair and walked back a few rows, crouching in front of Melanie and shaking her shoulder. “Wake up! Fuck it!” 

Then she slapped Melanie across the face, hard. Melanie cursed too, hand rising up to meet her reddening cheek. Melanie glared at Basira, eyes slowly re-focusing. “What was that for?”

“Jon’s trying to kill us,” Basira said frantically. 

“Oi,” Jon protested half-heartedly, trying to shake Martin awake. It was no use asking him to recall embarrassing stuff - Martin did that voluntarily. “I wasn’t consulted on this.”

“My second most regrettable sexual experience,” Tim was still rambling. Basira slapped him hard across the face too, and he fell on the floor. When he scrambled back up he was glaring hard at Jon. “ Fuck you, buddy!”

“Excuse me,” Joy said, standing up from her chair. She didn’t look panicked or confused or alarmed. She didn’t look like much of anything. “Was there an issue with the presentation?”

“Sit down in the corner and tell the wall every scary thing that’s ever happened to you,” Jon said sharply, and Joy quietly sat down in the corner and began to mutter to herself. His archival assistants shot each other panicked glances, but Jon didn’t care. He was still trying to shake Martin awake. He didn’t want to punch him. “Martin. Wake up, the Institute pulled some Clockwork Orange type shite. Martin. Martin, please .”

“Shove off.” Tim pushed Jon aside, expression furious. “You did this on purpose, you absolute piece of -”

“Stop it, Tim,” Melanie cried, tugging at his arm. “Jon isn’t here anymore voluntarily than the rest of us, lay off!”

“That shit about Danny was fucking private ,” Tim yelled, before punching Jon in the face. Jon rolled with it, because he knew he deserved it, and found himself launched backwards onto the desk. Melanie grabbed Tim by the collar and pulled him off before he could assault Jon any more, and Basira crouched by Martin as she slapped him awake too. “Apocalypse starting motherfucker -!”

“He’s not waking up!” Basira cried, slapping Martin again. “He’s not -”

“I’m not starting the apocalypse on purpose ,” Jon yelled, affronted. “Elias took away the choice from me -”

“There’s always a choice, Jon!” Tim yelled. “There’s always a fucking choice, you’re just too much of a coward to do the right thing! You’d set the world on fire to keep yourself warm! Fucking literally!”

“Elias said he’d kill Georgie if I don’t -”

“Elias is going to fucking kill me!” Tim screamed. “Forgive me if I give less of a shit about your girlfriend than my own life!”

“What was in that presentation,” Melanie muttered. “Why do I see fire and ash whenever I close my eyes.”

“Is it too late to quit this job?” Basira asked weakly. “I don’t need money all that much.”

“Martin,” Jon said, slowly and purposefully and forcing his Eye open so wide it watered, “are you going to let Tim insult me like that? He’s hurting my feelings. I’m so sad, Martin. I’m going to cry. This is bad for my mental health.”

Martin, whose eyes were glassy and pale, twitched a little. 

“I’m not getting enough sleep, Martin,” Jon said ominously, and Tim had the good sense to shut up. “Oh, look, I didn’t each lunch today. Do you have some extra crisps, Martin?”

It was almost instant, the way his eyes snapped back into focus. Martin coughed, back almost doubling with the force, and he wheezed a little as Jon scrambled back to his feet and vigorously patted Martin on the back. 

“My head feels weird,” Martin rasped, coughing harshly. 

“That’s because I slapped it a few times,” Basira said sympathetically. “Let’s get out of here, then. Unless Jon has anything else he wanted to address in his presentation?”

“Let that woman go, Jon,” Tim said lowly, and it wasn’t until then that Jon realized that Joy was still muttering at the wall. Tears were trailing down her cheeks. With a guilty squirm in his stomach Jon released the compulsion, and Joy slumped over to the ground. He hoped she would be alright. If she was real. At every job he had ever had, he had always suspected HR reps of being zombies. 

“Let’s take an early lunch,” Jon muttered, and everyone else nodded in mute agreement. 

They did. For good measure, Jon told them all to go home early too. He overheard Basira muttering to Melanie if it was always like this, and Martin seemed very tired and sleepy for the rest of the day, but he wasn’t overly focused on that. He was thinking mostly of fear. The fear of Joy, and the fear of his friends. How good it tasted. He could have had them say anything, if he had really wanted. Do anything. 

After they all went home, Jon walked into Elias’ office without knocking. He was sitting at his desk, doing paperwork, as he always was. He didn’t seem very surprised to see Jon - but then, he never was. 

“Don’t do that to them again,” Jon said, heart pounding in his chest. “Do it to whoever else you want, just not them.”

“It was worth a try.” Elias scribbled his signature in long, looping cursive on the bottom of a page and set it aside, reading through another one. “You have a nice honeymoon? I remember my first honeymoon. The love was still alive back then. But, truly, my best honeymoon was my third one. Bermuda. Divine.”

“You got three different people to marry you?” Jon asked, disgusted. 

“Same man, three times. Five, actually,” Elias said immediately. “It all started in 1953, when I was young and naive. Peter was handsome, grizzled and mature, and I was in love at first supernatural encounter. After only five months of candlelight dates, he asked me to -”

“Okay! Okay, I don’t care!” Jon pressed his hands over his ears. “I’m actually very uninterested! I can go the rest of my life without knowing this, thanks!”

“A week straight of passionate lovemaking,” Elias said, expression wistful. “It was illegal back then, of course, but that never stopped us. We were - well, not young, but in love. But it all ended in disaster, when he met another man on the open seas, and -”

“II’ll just go now!” Jon yelled, very loudly, and turned around to leave. 

“When your abilities blossom into full maturity, you’ll know everything about everything,” Elias warned. “It’s a beautiful curse. Get used to it. Now, the third divorce, that was the kicker.”

“Fuck you, Elias!”

“Try not to traumatize our slave HR representatives next time, Archivist,” Elias said. “They’re so hard to replace. Practice on the accountants, I don’t need them sane for their jobs.”

“Fuck you, Elias!”

He slammed the door behind him, feeling somewhat played. 

Georgie must have heard about his disastrous first day back from Melanie, because she had dinner fully cooked by the time he got home and fielded Gerard begging for a new piercing. Jon was too tired to do much other than give her a hug, ask Gerard how his new Deviantart account was going, and monotonously shovel jollof rice into his mouth. 

“I’m excited about the new sponsor,” Georgie was saying, sponging up her stew with agege bread. “It should bring in so much more money for the show. We’re thinking of making ourselves a network, too. Get together with some friends - I’d ask Melanie if she wasn’t, you know, indisposed - and team up to tell fun ghost stories from all over the world. What do you think?”

“My coworkers hate me because I’m a trauma vampire and they’re right to,” Jon said dully. 

Gerard slurped up some soup, very noisily. “Like from Twilight?”

“Yes, Gerry, like from Twilight.”

“I like Twilight,” Gerard said. “I tried giving a copy to Trevor but he started yelling at me. He just doesn’t appreciate good literature, I think.”

“I dunno, I found the werewolf stuff a little racist,” Georgie said. 

“I know some good science fiction and fantasy written by Native people, about Native people, if you’re interested,” Gerard volunteered. 

“Oh, that sounds great, honey. Have you read Darcie Little Badger?”

“I love her!”

Jon checked out of the conversation and let himself think about nothing, feeling the soup fill his stomach, listening to his family talk about ownvoices fantasy. 

That night Georgie found him rummaging through the cabinets, not sure what he was searching for. She gripped his hand from where it was pushing aside bread and cans of chili, looking up at him with wide dark brown eyes. 

“I don’t keep alcohol in the house,” Georgie said. “You know that.”

“Yes - yes, of course.” Jon pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling unspeakably tired. “Forgive me. I should go to bed.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Georgie asked. 

“Not much to talk about in my descent into the Dark Side,” Jon said numbly. “I’m not sure my personal feelings on it.”

Georgie stared at him for a long time, and Jon didn’t know what she was thinking. His powers were oddly muted in their new home, with its two stories and balcony and wood paneling. It was a relief, in the best of ways, but sometimes it left him feeling oddly blind. 

Finally, she said, “We don’t have to talk.”

Jon looked at her, and raised an eyebrow. He knew what she was talking about. 

“Given any more thought to what we talked about at Harriet’s?”

He had. A lot. He looked back at the cabinet, restlessly shoving some items around. “...I thought you said that you didn’t find me attractive anymore.”

“I don’t want to have sex with you,” Georgie said, reflexively glancing backwards to make sure that Gerard’s door was shut. But his room was upstairs now, their living room oddly empty of furniture. They planned on going shopping soon. “That’s not the part you liked. I think you’re having some control problems, Jon. You have these new abilities and they’re scary, and you don’t know what they’re doing to you. You can make anybody tell you their biggest secrets with just a sentence. Of course you’re scared by it. Wouldn’t you like to put it down?” 

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it. “And you said that you felt like you didn’t know me,” he joked weakly. 

She smiled at him. “That’s what friends are for.”

Jon wasn’t quite sure if what they were discussing was a friend thing, but he found himself smiling back at her anyway. He drew out his phone and typed out a quick list of do’s and don’ts  with safewords on it (at the top was that his trousers stayed on, at the bottom was that Jude Perry was not to know about this). He showed it to her, waited for her to carefully read it over, and fought the urge to twiddle his thumbs as her eyebrows raised. 

“You hated the ball gag in uni.”

“Ah, people change.”

“Great.” Georgie smiled wickedly, and abruptly Jon felt a bit frightened. “Let’s get started.”

They were interrupted about halfway through by the ringing of Jon’s mobile. 

Jon, obviously, could not pick it up, so Georgie reached over and grabbed it for him. She glanced at the screen, frowning. “It’s Martin. I didn’t know he called you very often.” She pressed accept on it, ignoring the way Jon’s eyebrows skyrocketed upwards. “Hey, Martin! It’s Georgie, I don’t think we’ve met. Jon can’t come to the phone right now, he’s a little - tied up. Can I take a message?” She nodded, pursing her lips as Martin blabbered over the phone. She was dressed in just some very nice lingerie (“To get me in the mood!”), but Jon’s jeans were still firmly on. Jon breathed deeply, feeling very relaxed. They should do this more often. “Uh huh. I understand. Well, it’s not really my place to say, but what happened really wasn’t your fault. I know Jon appreciates your support a lot. He tells me about it all the time. Oh, yeah, totally. He’s just private. No, he’s on the toilet. He’ll be there a while. Maybe call back in - uh, actually, I’m sure you can just talk tomorrow, can’t you? Uh huh. You seem like a very nice man, Martin. You should tell your feelings to Jon. Hmm. Yep. Tim - that’s the angry Chinese dude, right? I think we’ve fucked? Haha, small world. Wow, that sounds mean. Listen, Martin, I’m going to be real with you. You’ve kind of got me coitus interruptus right now. Right. Talk to you later, then. Bye! I’ll tell Jon hello for you!” She put the phone down on the nightstand. “He seems nice.”

Jon gave her a look which he very much hoped communicated ‘I’m going to have to deal with that at work tomorrow.’ Georgie, as usual, didn’t care. 

“Is he cute at all?” Georgie started flipping through his photo album. She squinted at it, which Jon knew for a fact was mostly just pictures of case files for reference. However, there should be at least one photo of Martin holding a cute puppy. “Oh, the guy who looks a little like the grown-up version of the kid from Up? He’ He looks like he’d, like, make me pancakes after.” Jon was not thinking about this. Jon was not thinking about this. “Jon, that’s your ‘It’s unethical to date my subordinates’ face. It’s unethical to psychically compel your subordinates to spill their trauma, but you do that. What’s bothering you about this?” She paused a second, as she apparently remembered the situation. “Fine, I’ll ask afterwards. Are you good? Nothing’s too tight?” Jon shook his head. “Great.” She rolled off him, landing next to him on the bed, and pulled a book from the nightstand. “Let me know when you’re good. I’ll hang out here until you’re done. I told you this would be fun.”

Jon, with some difficulty, craned his head and tapped his eye socket. Georgie raised an eyebrow at him, but she smiled too. “Blindfold? You sure?” Jon nodded. “Okay, kick me when you’re done.”

After that, Jon found himself drifting, and for the first time in a very long time he thought of nothing much at all. 

This was calming. Maybe they should do it more often. 

At two forty five in the morning several days later a door opened into Georgie’s bedroom that wasn’t there before. 

Jon woke up abruptly and sharply. He was enjoying being the little spoon as Georgie’s arms were slung around him, and he didn’t want to move, but he was forced to crane his head a little to see the door. It was cheap looking, and didn’t look like any of the doors in the house. There was something inherently wrong and bad about it. 

It opened, revealing a swirling vortex behind it, and a lanky figure with too-big hands and curling blonde hair cascading down its shoulders stepped out. Jon blinked sleepily at it, still feeling a strange kind of reverse-hangover. 

“Archivist,” Michael trilled. A voice like a headache with eyes like television static, Michael dressed like it walked out of the infinite hallways of a 1970s mod hotel. “I hope you are enjoying the house.”

“What do you want?” Jon asked, except it might have come out like something a little closer to ‘Whadyawan’. 

Michael...shrugged. “Want to grab a beer?”

Jon blinked at it. “Michael, it’s three am.”

“That’s when all the Avatars get beers.”

“...can I invite Georgie?”

“We like her better than you, so sure.”

Jon poked Georgie awake, switching on the nightstand lamp with his other hand. “Georgie? Georgie, the Dark Avatars want to get some beers with us.”

She was awake instantly, jerking upright and blinking blearily at Michael. Michael waved. “Are we going to the pub? At…” She checked the clock. “At three am?”

“That’s when all the Avatars get beers,” Michael said again. 

Georgie shrugged, swinging her legs out of the bed. “I’ll get my coat.”

That was how Jon ended up helping shrug his best friend into a coat and walking through a mysterious corridor filled with twisting doors and ugly runner carpets at three am, in pursuit of alcohol. Jon, obviously, didn’t drink, and he very rarely associated with any of the Avatars in a personal capacity, but Georgie seemed to be friends with them all...somehow...and honestly, why not? 

As they walked down the corridor, sometimes Michael shot him glances out of the corner of his eye and...giggled. Jon didn’t really want to know what he was seeing, or what he was laughing about - except, of course, for the very large part of him that did. Georgie was yawning, and chatting easily to neither of them in particular about her opinions on Michael’s interior design choices. 

“Oh, I didn’t choose it,” Michael laughed, a rough scratching sound that sounded like snow on a dead channel. “That wallpaper was here long before I was me.”

“Before you were you,” Jon said, slowly trying to parse the words. “Before you took that form?”

“Before this form took me,” Michael corrected sanguinely. 

“Wow,” Georgie said, impressed. “Love how freaky you are. You’re friends with Gerard, right? How’d you two meet?”

“I am every mosh pit in the world,” Michael intoned ominously. “Every time you get turned around, every bump and grind, every crowd you get lost in. And he liked my shirt.”

His shirt, right now, was a burnt orange polo with a frilly collar. Jon decided not to ask, as Michael stopped them in front of a door that hung halfway up the wall. He reached up with his ridiculous hands and twisted it open, and clamored up the wall like a bug to crawl through the door. Jon and Georgie watched him disappear through the door silently. 

“Can we go back to bed,” Jon asked finally. 

“Fuck no. I’ve been trying for ages to get into the inner circle of these guys.” Georgie elbowed him sharply. “Besides, you need friends. Remember what I’ve been saying. Maybe this can be like a...weird support group for anthromorphications of evil extra-dimensional entities.”

“You just want to get drunk and make out with them,” Jon accused. 

“I have needs , Jon. You wouldn’t understand.”

“All I’m saying,” Jon said, as he helped hoist Georgie up the wall into the gaping doorway, “is that you have a perfectly good friend with benefits who is not evil or a murderer or who has tried to kill me -”

“She’s tried to murder Elias like three times by now,” Georgie said, before vanishing into the open doorway. “Hey, girls! Guess who I brought!”

Jon sighed, and climbed up after her. 

He crawled out of what seemed to be a bathroom, directly into a pub. As his eyes focused to the difference in lighting, Jon looked around and saw a few pool tables, wooden siding, and a disturbing amount of cowboy memorabilia. Elvis records hung up on the wall, and the pub seemed to be lacking in booths and heavy on a jukebox with rickety tables. Was this a bar? Were even were they? Jon had forgot to bring his phone, so he couldn’t exactly check. 

It was deserted - not unusual, for three am - save for a group of people crowded around a table. Women, actually, almost entirely save for Michael. Jon expected to recognize them, but save for Jude Perry’s smirking face he didn’t recognize a single one. Actually, there was one woman -

“Helen?” Jon asked, shocked. “What are you doing here?”

Helen winked at him, overlarge hands clutching a frosted beer bottle. Michael was sitting next to her, spearing chips on his talons. “Evenin’, Archivist. So...kind of you to join us.”

Okay. So she was a monster - Avatar - whatever too. Whatever. Jon couldn’t say he was entirely surprised. He didn’t really care about anything anymore, to be honest. 

“Ew,” a dark skinned woman said, smirking and sipping a very large and very fruity looking drink. Jon noticed that there was no bartender. That was...probably for the best. “Who invited the male?”

“Michael’s here too,” Jon said, exhausted. 

“Michael’s a nonbinary icon,” a tall and burly white woman with cascading brown hair said, sipping what looked like whiskey. “Don’t be fucking rude.”

“Oh. Ah, my apologies,” Jon said awkwardly. 

“Google Maps will not work for you for a week,” Michael said affably. 


“Jon’s sober so he’s playing babysitter,” Georgie announced imperiously, flopping down on Helen’s lap and snatching a lot drag out of her beer. “Girls, you will not believe the night I’ve had. Who wants to hear about the Archivist’s fondness for bondage?”

Literally everyone at the table started buzzing with excitement and giggling. In some cases, literally buzzing. Jon’s cheeks turned extremely red and he carefully slid in next to Georgie, directly across from a tall woman he didn’t recognize with an oddly long neck. She smiled at him, small and cute, but Jon couldn’t help but notice how odd her skin was. looked like it didn’t fit quite right. 

As Georgie launched into an exaggerated and sexualized tale of her and Jon’s bondage adventures, the woman sitting across from him leaned over the table and  gently dragged her long fingernails on the wood. Scratch, scratch, scratch. 

“Archivist,” she breathed, oddly breathy and high pitched. He would have thought that she was flirting with him if he wasn't ...well, him, and if he wasn’t reasonably sure that Georgie’s fucked every woman at this table. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Where did you go, Archivist?”

“, moved recently?” Jon pulled uncomfortably at his collar. All of the alcohol, and personifications of evil, were making him anxious. “Our new house as some, er, protections.”

Her face fell into an image of disappointment. But just that: an image. Like a frowning Barbie doll. “Oh. But I so wanted to visit. I have a favor I wanted to ask of you.”

“I’m off the table,” Jon said quickly. “Very dedicated to my wife, I am.”

“Dude,” the smirking girl leered, “if you let me and Georgie tie you up sometime, I’ll consider getting those spiders out of the Institute.”

“Matrimony is so interesting,” the woman said, as Jon honestly gave it a second’s consideration before realizing that the other woman had to be Anabelle, and therefore under no circumstances. “A lifetime is a long time to spend in someone’s bed. It’s the longest time you have. Yet you say...yes, this person. This person will do. Forever. Neither of us will change. We will always feel this way. So stupid.” She cocked her head at Jon. “But that’s not what I care about. I’m wondering if you can dig up some skin for me.”

That piqued Jon’s curiosity, but then the drinks arrived from...somewhere, and all of the scary demon lesbians started gossiping about which Magnus Institute member was probably worst in bed. Jon both super hated this topic of conversation and was incredibly fascinated by it, so his attention drifted away from the doll woman and onto everyone’s speculations about if Elias’ five divorces meant he was terrible in the sack or very, very good. Disturbingly, everybody expected Jon to know this. 

After four hours, everybody save Jon was exceedingly plastered, Jon was babysitting a throwing up Julia, who he enjoyed because she was the least crazy and didn’t hit on him, and Georgie was making out with Jude Perry again, against his wishes. The doll woman, who had eventually been introduced to Jon as Nikola, never quite took her eyes off him, but once Jon agreed to grab her the skin or whatever she left him alone. He wasn’t fussed about it. He’d just...use his omniscient powers, tell her, and move on with his life. No big deal. Even if she was, somehow, the creepiest one at the table. 

But, somehow, along the way he had been drawn into an interesting conversation with Helen about the development of their strange powers. She seemed...a little different from the way he had last seen her, but Jon was different back then too. She didn’t seem evil, or worse. Just different. 

Maybe that could be Jon. Not evil or worse. Just different. Except he had been a little bit more evil lately, and Jon was afraid that if becoming a monster didn’t make you a bad person, then it really was his fault. That he was somehow responsible for his own actions or something. 

He should...apologize to his subordinates. Some of the stuff he’d done had been out of line. Was it possible, to be both powerful and good? 

Georgie kept on telling him that he needed friends, allies, people on his side. Jon still didn’t quite understand why. He had her and Gerard, and that was all he needed. And Martin, supposedly. But, somehow, getting drinks with this rowdy gang of lesbians was...almost fun. When was the last time Jon had fun? Was life worth living if it wasn’t fun? When had he given up on being happy?

Somehow, Jon had the sense that despite the looming apocalypse that this wasn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Jon had the rest of his life to be getting on with. He had spent the last few years convinced that he was going to die at any time, but somehow now...he felt almost immortal. Was that the powers? Or was that just being vaguely happy?

Eventually, when Georgie starting toppling off Helen’s lap more than she was actually getting to business in it, Jon politely peeled her off. Everyone else was just as drunk, and Jon occupied himself with setting them upright and making sure nobody was choking on vomit or anything. He carefully pried a baggie of cocaine away from Jude, giving it to Nikola in hopes that it’d keep her away from it. Julia was now clutching a knife, which he also confiscated. Jon wondered if he had been invited because they knew he was sober and they needed a babysitter. 

“Yes, that is the only reason why we invited you,” Michael said cheerfully. He - they? It? - drank three times as much as everyone else, but didn’t seem even tipsy. “And, well, Nikola was very insistent. Most everyone here thinks you’re obnoxious, really.”

“Everyone thinks I’m obnoxious,” Jon said flatly, hoisting Georgie up from the ground. She was floundering and flopping about a bit like a particularly active dead fish, so he sighed and picked up her up bridal style. She giggled and looped her arms around his neck. “Darling, will you be alright to take the interdimensional portal hallway home?”

“Johnny,” Georgie sang, making Jon wince. Nobody called him that anymore. Only two people ever did, and one was long dead. “Give me Helen back...I need her...Johnny, I have needs….”

“You’re drunk,” Jon said flatly, hoisting her higher. Michael smirked and snapped their fingers, making the bathroom door spring open. “Thank you. Please don’t trap us inside forever, I can’t handle her for that long.”

Michael hummed, propping their chin on a curving claw. “I promised Gerry I wouldn’t. You’re far too entertaining, Archivist. For now. So...different from Miss Gertrude. She was always...anyway. You don’t remind me of her at all.”

“Yes, I’m much more incompetent and easily manipulated, I get it,” Jon said irritably, dodging Georgie’s attempts at sloppy kisses. “Stop that, Georgie, we were joking about the marriage thing. No, bad, stop.”

“It’s a good thing,” Michael said lightly. “Miss Gertrude was the kind of person the world needed, I think. Don’t mistake me. I would eat her heart if I could. But she would have - and did - anything to keep the world safe. But you don’t care much for the world, do you, Archivist? You don’t care for right and wrong. You just want to keep you and yours safe. That sort of man is much more dangerous. You’re going to end up killing us all, Archivist. But I think you’re more likely to save us too.”

Jon was silent, quietly digesting the information. It seemed as if Michael and Gertrude knew each other - but Gertrude probably knew a lot of people. It didn’t mean anything. He probably opened up tunnels to hell in her office too. 

Finally, as Georgie succeeded in planting sloppy kisses on his cheek, Jon said, “Does that make me inhuman? If I don’t care what happens to the world, so long as the people I love are safe?”

“It’s the most human thing of all,” Michael said mildly. “But perhaps it is best to stop thinking in terms of inhuman and human as synonyms for right and wrong. Humans are capable of the greatest cruelties. The Entities are not good or evil. They simply are.” He trilled another laugh. “Next time I see you, Archivist, I will kill you. That’s just a warning.”

“Cool, get in line.”

What else was he supposed to say?  He didn’t want to get into an argument about it when Georgie was sticking her hands down his shirt. He shrugged, nodded goodbye to the assembly of drunk women, avoided looking Nikola in the eyes, and climbed back through the doorway for home. 

Where they did land, eventually. It was quiet, and despite how much time had passed their blinking bedside clock read three am. Jon felt as if he had lived five lifetimes. He still had to - to get Nikola’s skin or whatever. And hopefully never run into Michael again. But that was a problem for tomorrow. Skin, skin...why did that make him think of taxidermy?

“You’re thinking about work again,” Georgie whined, as he dropped her unceremoniously onto the bed. Jon sighed and held out the water bottle she kept on the nightstand close to her mouth, which she eagerly took and began chugging. “Remember when we used to do this in uni?”

“Every weekend? Yes.” It was their Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday ritual: get drunk, whether at home or at a pub or at a club, and fuck, then watch trashy telly and throw popcorn at the screen. It had, most of the time. Georgie had always been a pretty horny drunk, like she was a pretty horny sober person, but sometimes she was an angry one too. For every rose colored memory of popcorn and trashy telly, he had another one of her throwing her wine glass at the telly as he hid behind a couch. “Why did we stop?”

Because they had run out of wine glasses to break. Because Jon had been rapidly running out of functional livers, of which he only had one. Because she zigged when he zagged, and she had thrown him out of her house with the understanding that he was never to come back. Until, of course, he did. 

“Because we’re stupid,” Jon said fondly, and when Georgie surged upwards to kiss him on the lips he let her. She separated from him, face flushed, and Jon wondered what was on his own face. “Georgie, please.”

“You don’t know how empty inside I am,” Georgie said, collapsing back on the bed. Jon pulled off her socks and gently wrangled her coat away from her, drawing up the covers tight around her chin. This topic again. It made Jon want to hide all the glassware. “I’m always just filling holes with...with stuff. I always gotta go harder, do more, be more, to fill up that emptiness. I’m so empty, Jon. What’s wrong with me.”

They both knew. The question wasn’t worth a response. Jon silently turned out the lights instead, and changed into his own pyjamas by sight, and crawled in next to her. When had they started sleeping in the same bed as her again, although there was no reason to? Which of them was scared of the dark? 

“Just go to sleep,” Jon whispered. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“You always just made me feel emptier,” Georgie whispered. “I’m sorry I threw all those glasses.”

“That was seven years ago, Georgie.”

“I never said sorry,” Georgie said, right before she fell asleep. 

Jon stayed awake for much longer, staring at her sleeping face outlined softly in the dark, knowing more than he ever wanted but unable to understand. 

What was the point? What was the point of knowing the time and date the Challenger exploded, of knowing when the first star died, of knowing the Eye’s grim future for them all, if he didn’t understand ? He couldn’t even understand Georgie, and he knew her better than anyone. He knew Tim’s dirty secrets, but he didn’t know how to make him not hate him. He knew Martin’s everything, but didn’t yet understand why he stuck around. What was the point of his power? What good was it? What good was Jon? 

Maybe that was what Elias was talking about, as much as Jon hated to insinuate that he was anything other than a gibbering moron. If he never found something out for himself, he could know, but he could never understand. 

He didn’t remember falling asleep. But he dreamed about playing cards with Martin, and Martin got three kings but Jon got a full house, and Martin was so upset by this that he kissed Jon, which was a turn of events so surprising they both went to go get tacos afterwards. 


Chapter Text


The next morning Georgie, through a killer hangover, stole Jon’s phone and texted all of his subordinates. This is what she said:

Jon: Hey all this is Mrs. Sims :). I just wanted to invite you all to Jon & I’s housewarming party! It’s going to be tonight at 6pm so be there or be square :) Hope to see you all there! :)

The results were in almost immediately. 


Melanie: also I’d love to come babe <3

Jon: haha babe <3

“Okay, you’ve lost phone privileges.” Jon snatched it back out of her hands as Gerard chewed on his weetabix like a cow with a cud. “Don’t sext your girlfriend on my phone, that’s a breach of workplace etiquette.”

“Brainwashing your employees is also a breach of workplace etiquette,” Georgie reminded him, as if she had any more morals than he did. “Gerard, pass the sugar, please.”

Jon: This is Jon again. I am coming in today, but I’m doing some legwork for a case so I’ll be out again. Tim, please do the follow-up research for the Jones case while I’m gone. 

Tim: hard pass

Jon: On the work or the party?

Tim: bothhhhh

Basira: yeah sure sounds fun whatever

Martin: I’d love to come to your housewarming Jon!!! I can bring cheese if that’s okay??? What’s the address we can all head over after work!

Jon: Can’t say the address online, Elias has probably wiretapped us. I’ll slip it you all somehow. Also it’s not my party it’s Georgie’s. I was not consulted on this. 

“I don’t think this is a good idea but it does sound funny,” Gerard said, drinking soggy milk from his bowl. “Archivist, check your messages.”

Jon did, and was surprised to see that he had been added to another group. He hadn’t received an invitation. Also, like, who else did he know? 

The group was titled ‘ARCHIVE ASSISTANT MEME BANK AND UNION’. Uh oh. Jon had the feeling he wasn’t supposed to be a part of this one. Messages were coming in fast and thick on it, and Jon resisted the urge to scroll up to see what else they had been discussing. 

Tim: like fuck I’m going to a creepy party to get mind controlled again! What would we be doing, sacrificing goats?! Jesus fuck this noise

Basira: its sketchy as fuck but it’s probably just going to be a normal party. Workplaces do that, right?

Tim: not ours

Melanie: guyz this is 100% georgie it’s fine. She’ll probably stop jon from trying to eat our brains. She’s usually pretty good at that. Their house is completely normal.

Martin: We should give Jon a chance, guys. :c He’s really trying here

Tim: so fucking tired of you saying that martin!

Martin: super fucking tired of your attittude tim!

Melanie: the girls are fightinggggg

Basira: Stop. We should go. Knowing this place, attendance is probably required. So long as there’s no, like, demonic games of truth or dare, it’s fine. Georgie’s chill. She’s a good influence on him. 

Basira: Daisy hates me being alone with Jon so she’s probably going to tag along tho

It was a very good thing that Jon was not the kind of person to get offended when people talked about him behind his back. He knew the effect he tended to have on people, and he knew that he was...a bit difficult, to put it kindly. He was not shocked or offended by any of the conversations that his assistants were having behind his back. If anything, it was tamer than what he expected. Jon repeated this to himself very firmly, over and over again. 

Georgie peered over his shoulder, eyebrows rising. “Holy shit. I didn’t know it was that bad. Jeez, Jon, I’m sorry.”

“It’s honestly nothing,” Jon said firmly. He switched back to the main groupchat. 

Jon: This is purely a social event and attendance is not mandatory. 

Nobody replied to that message. On the main one. On the side one, Tim was keyboard smashing. 



Basira: what the shit

Martin: Hi Jon! 

“Smooth,” Georgie said. Jon flicked some Wheetabix into her face. Gerard was playing on the phone he had mysteriously acquired with money from a source Jon wasn’t sure of. “I’m trying to help you, you know.”

“That’s what I keep telling them,” Jon pointed out, “but it seems none of us believe each other.” He hesitated. “Do you remember much of last night after we got home?”

Georgie blinked at him. Gerard visibly plugged his ears before standing up from the table and scooping up the Admiral so he could cover his ears too.  “No? Didn’t we just go back to bed?”

“Sure,” Jon said, because although he wasn’t much in the habit of lying he was occasionally known to make an attempt at tact. “We’ll have to pick up some snacks for the party tonight. If anybody shows. Thanks for consulting me on that.”

“You’re welcome!”

On the train to work, Jon found himself feeling a bit peckish, so he turned to the elderly woman he was sitting next to and asked her about her relationship to her husband. She seemed happy enough to have someone to talk to, and a willing audience, and Jon appreciated her detailed description of the London Blitz. 

When he actually got into work, he was surprised to find himself...well, not in a good mood, because his life was a bit too stressful for that, but he didn’t feel awful. What was the word...content? Like things were how they were, and there was no use fighting them when you could enjoy them instead?

Jon shook himself harshly, and forced himself to stare into the distant and lidded eyes of passerby coworkers. It wasn’t okay for them. Just because Jon was - was benefiting from this arrangement, didn’t make it alright. 

He silently climbed down the steps to the basement and halted outside the door to the Archives. He could hear the muffled sounds of impassioned conversation inside, the familiar strains of Melanie and Tim yelling at each other as Martin tried to defuse. He couldn’t hear Basira, but that was when she was deadliest. 

He was doing this to protect them. Why couldn’t they see that?

...why was he even bothering, anyway? They weren’t his friends. They, actually, super actively hated him. Save Martin. He was going through a great deal of effort and stress trying to keep them safe. They were adults. Couldn’t they keep themselves safe? 

He thought of Daisy, the way Elias knew the best way to pull her strings was to take Basira hostage. Tim, how he had been driven almost to a breakdown by the death of his brother. Melanie, how she had been worn increasingly thin, the way she refused to admit how much she really cared about Georgie because she knew where attachment got you in this business. The way Martin cared so much, about everyone. 

They didn’t have to be friends. They didn’t even have to like each other. But what Jon felt about them was oddly deeper, the way they felt like extensions of himself, the way they were all stuck together on this sinking ship. Nobody else would fight for them. If he had to be a monster to keep them safe… what was monstrous about that?

He opened the door and walked in. The room fell dead silent immediately, and Jon noted wryly that this, at least, they all could agree on. 

“Morning, all,” Jon said to the suddenly awkwardly silent room. Melanie was up in Tim’s face, and they had clearly been shouting at each other. Basira was sitting at her desk, drinking whiskey, as Martin wrung his hands. “I wish to make it clear that I am not purposefully spying on anybody here, and I have not done so in a year.” Skepticism was written clearly across all their faces. “I also want to mention that the party is Georgie’s prerogative so you wouldn’t be offending me if you don’t come. In fact, ah, I don’t enjoy parties, so if you all wanted to be very busy I wouldn’t complain.”

He knew the exact second he said it that it was the wrong thing to say. An evil grin grew across Tim’s face, close to his old teasing grins, yet much more malicious. “In that case, Boss, I’d love to come. Meet the family .”

“Georgie insinuated that you two...ah, knew each other,” Jon said awkwardly. Martin flushed deep red, and hid his face in his hands. 

“Hold on,” Melanie said, growing increasingly delighted. “Have we all -”

“I have work to do!” Martin squeaked, and turned very sharply on his heel, and walked straight into Jon’s office before closing the door behind him. Jon wasn’t sure what to do about this. Granted, coming into work the next day after Martin had...interrupted him and Georgie only to realize that Martin was incapable of looking him in the eyes without going beet red and leaving the room was extremely annoying and somewhat embarrassing for the both of them. He couldn’t exactly explain that they hadn’t been doing anything. Martin had just been getting over it, too. 

“I haven’t,” Basira said crisply. “Can we go back to work, please?”

“Anybody here still works?” Jon asked blankly. 

“When you aren’t playing Sherlock Holmes and making us grab your clues for you, we do occasionally do shit, yeah,” Melanie said. “Granted, mostly murder attempts, but can’t blame a girl for trying.”

“I really love how resentful all of my employees are that I ask them to do things,” Jon said in amazement. “Yesterday I asked Tim to file something and he called me lazy. Really loving all of this.”

“Please,” Melanie snorted. “ Your employees. As if you pay us. You only got the job because Elias thought the way you ignored personal boundaries was so sexy.”

“The other day you told me that my mother was having health problems,” Basira pointed out, making Jon wince. “And when I asked you how you knew that, you said that you had deduced it when you were obviously using your creepy mind powers. Not exactly world’s greatest detective.”

Jerks, all of them. Jon sighed and pulled out his phone, intending on staring at his lockscreen picture of Georgie and Gerard for moral support, but instead saw the private assistant’s groupchat blowing up. Despite...none of them being on their phones. Jon, despite himself, opened it up. 




“Jesus christ,” Tim said, drawing out his own phone. He leaned back in his chair and yelled, very loudly, “He can see those messages, idiot!”

“Did you know Elias has five failed gay marriages?” Jon asked. “He told me all about them. Willingly, even.”

“Oh, god, please spill this tea,” Melanie said, dropping all pretense of working. 

Jon briefly considered telling Martin that he was not actually straight - but that wasn’t appropriate for a workplace environment. Martin probably didn’t want to hear that kind of thing from his boss. He didn’t want to cross any boundaries or anything. Besides, just because nobody else in Jon’s life was entitled to any privacy from him didn’t mean that Jon wasn’t entitled to privacy about his personal life. He’d tell Martin eventually. Not a big deal. 

“Wait,” Jon said, something hitting him over the head. “Is Martin gay?”

“Holy shit,” Melanie said. 

It wasn’t a big deal to call Daisy, have her meet him at the creepy taxidermy place, have a very nice little field trip with here where he almost died again, and then have his house party afterwards. That was a normal thing to do. It wasn’t like Daisy scared him or anything, ha ha. 

She did keep doing this thing where she would get a little too deep into his personal space, as if it wasn’t a terrifying thing to do, and then wait for him to say something about it. He was too scared to say anything about it. And she knew. She flipped a penknife open, and shut, and open, and shut, and Jon found his hand reaching to cover his throat. 

Anyway, great ally to have, good friend, glad they’re on the same side. He had never been grateful for Elias’ blackmailing tendencies before but he was now. 

However, as a result, he was the last person to show up to his own party, and he unfortunately did so with Daisy in tow. Melanie must have disseminated their address somehow, because Jon had forgotten to do so, and when he toed his shoes off in the lobby and hung up his bag and called out “I’m home!”, a chorus of voices greeted him. 

He stepped into the living room to see all of his assistants, plus Georgie, crowded around a coffee table, playing...what else, other than Scrabble. Even Gerard was there, sticking close to Georgie and looking somewhat self-conscious. Georgie was sitting on Melanie’s lap, but when she saw him she brightened and wriggled off, jumping up and giving him a big hug. 

“What took you so long! I thought you were skipping your own party!”

“Oh, I would never,” Jon laughed nervously. He knew better. Georgie had thrown him a graduation party when they were eighteen, and the consequences of trying to skip out on that had been dire. “I brought...Daisy?”

“Hullo,” Daisy said blankly. Georgie separated from him and stared at her. They stared at each other for a long, awkward second. Basira half-rose from her seat, clearly used to intervening for Daisy, but Jon subtly shook his head. The two women stared at each other for a long second, and Jon wondered how Daisy handled someone she couldn’t intimidate. 

Finally, Georgie said, “Brought any beer, you feral pig?”

“Done boning half of London, you slut?” Daisy shot back. 

Then they hugged. Jon didn’t understand women. 

“But, like, seriously,” Georgie said, once they separated. “If you try that again I’ll kill you.”

“You aren’t the only one,” Daisy said significantly, glancing towards a worried Basira, and Georgie nodded once sharply. “Tell me. What’s your plan?”

Georgie winced. “Like beat him over the head with a cricket bat again?”

“We’re going to have to do better than that.”

That was how, very abruptly, the room got roped into a very complex discussion over the best way to kill Elias and bury him in a shallow grave. Melanie, Basira, Daisy, and Georgie had a great deal of ideas. At least Georgie was throwing out all the ones that involved taking Jon along with Elias. Tim joined in too, with more enthusiasm than useful ideas, and Martin looked so stressed he was actually drinking a beer. 

Jon sat down next to him, glancing over at his list of scrabble letters. A bad hand, but he could have made something out of it. It seemed as if Martin was losing, though, and quite badly. Well. He hadn’t exactly gone to Oxford. Or even had a high school diploma. Jon felt, abruptly, a little like one of the classist idiots he had always sneered at in uni, while secretly desperately longing to be one of them. Maybe he had finally gotten his wish. 

“You have a nice house,” Martin said, tugging at his collar. He was looking around, cataloging every inch of it. It was a nice house: wooden, beautiful, with arching ceilings and plush carpets. They were still in the process of actually filling it with furniture, but they had time. A little of it. “It’s, ah, very homey. Good place to...raise a family.”

“Dad, can I have a beer?” Gerard asked loudly, fingers inching towards Melanie’s abandoned drink. 

“No,” Jon said sharply. “Not until you’re eighteen.” He turned back to Martin, who was clutching his own drink a little tighter, and ignored Gerard protesting that he wasn’t actually fifteen. “And, ah, Martin, that whole’s a joke. It really is a not real thing. Georgie and I are just friends.”

But Martin just glanced at Gerard, who was pouting over not being allowed a beer, and at Georgie, who had just threatened Daisy a second ago. For him. And he didn’t really need to say anything much at all. 

Had the situation gotten out of control? Was it really not a joke anymore? Of course he didn’t like her like that, but was there something else...some third kind of love, a third kind of relationship, that was beyond friendship, that was just right of romance? A family, that you could decide for yourself, because you had nothing and nobody else? 

If that kind of relationship existed, Jon knew, then it wasn’t limited to just Georgie, or even Gerard. If what defined that group was people he would die, or lose himself was nearly everybody in the room, no matter how much they hated him. Why did he feel this way? Was it another false emotion, some eldritch instinct from the Beholding so the Archivist would keep his Assistants close? Or was it just Jon, lonely as ever? 

He had been silent for too long. Martin was growing anxious, sputtering again and focusing on the wrong things. “Oh, you never got a drink! Here, I can get you one. Do you like beer? I brought a six pack, and some biscuits, your favorite kind -”

“I don’t drink,” Jon said firmly, the words sawdust in his mouth. For some reason, he felt the need to add, “Five years clean. Mostly.”

“Oh.” Martin sobered and stared at him a little, completely unheeding of how Georgie had ran up the stairs into Jon’s bedroom and had lugged out his conspiracy board so they could make plans to kill his boss on the other side of it. “You - you never said.”

“You never asked.”

They sat in awkward silence for a minute, as Tim lost his shit over the entire Unknowing thing that Jon really hadn’t seen fit to tell them about. He should probably handle that. But, for some reason, the only person he could look at was Martin, who he had just told a very shameful secret to, who looked - accepting. Like he knew, and he understood, and like this didn’t change how he thought about Jon at all. Was this what he had meant, back then? By loving anyway ?

“I did lots of Adderall in uni too,” Jon volunteered, “but it always worked weird on me. It helped me with time management and focusing and everything. Should have stuck to Xan, honestly.”

“That’s how Adderall is supposed to work,” Martin said blankly. “Are you, like, ADHD?”

“What?” Jon opened his Eye, asking the Beholding. “Shit. I am. Fuck. That explains so much. Fuck. Damn.”

“You’re so goddamn stupid,” Martin whispered, stars in his eyes. 

“Excuse me,” Tim shouted, waving an empty beer bottle. “Are we going to explain the fucking evil clowns killing us all anytime fucking soon?”

“God, what’s with you and clowns!” Melanie cried, throwing up her hands. “You started crying when I said that Pennywise was hot!”

“Babe, I really don’t know what you see in Pennywise,” Georgie said. 

“You dated Jon for seven years. We’re both clownfuckers,” Melanie shot back, and Basira and Daisy ‘oooh’d under their breaths. Martin looked strongly as if he wanted to argue but was blushing too badly to do it. Gerard pressed his hands very firmly over his ears. 

A very large part of Jon wanted to ask Gerard what he knew about the Unknowing. He had to know something, even if just in his adventures with the Leitners. But a larger part of him knew that the minute he pushed Gerard would leave, that if he did get anything out of him it would not be consensual, and that was one line he didn’t want to cross. Not yet. If he could keep Gerard out of all of this somehow he could, but he knew that he was decades and a death certificate far too late for that. 

“They’re all evil,” Tim hissed, extremely worked up. He jabbed his finger at the complex board, lying out all of Jon’s convoluted trail trying to find out what the Unknowing was. The most recent addition was ‘Nikola - skin???’ in the center, circled with a thick red marker. Had she mentioned a last name? That should help. “Tell us everything you know about this, now. I have - I have enemies, Jon.”

“Do we have to talk about work,” Jon said weakly. “I wanted to win at Scrabble…”

“Now, Jon!”

So he explained, horrifying everybody and ruining the mood. They had all had pieces of the puzzle, but Jon had been afraid that if he told them everything then they might do something irrational and run after trouble. Gerard had excused himself very soon after he started explaining, looking even paler than usual, and Georgie had peeled off to go check up on him and tuck him into bed. The others just drank, looking pale too. Daisy, at least, looked satisfied knowing why they were chasing after skin. She hadn’t really seemed to care before. 

Finally, Jon stood up, inching close to the door. “I want to pick up some extra...fruit snacks for Gerard’s lunches. I’ll just pop on down to the corner. No problem. Be right back. Take care.”

He quietly left the house, quickly fishing the lighter and pack of fags out of his pocket, and lit one in a practiced motion as he strode down the street. He needed some air. Their questions, their thoughts and fears and traumas, had been stinking up the room. He wished that Tim hadn’t brought up the Unknowing at all. Why couldn’t they have just one nice night? Who knew when they would have another one? 

Enemies. But everyone had their own reasons for leaving perfectly good publishing jobs and working in a stupid paranormal institute. Jon had been at rock bottom, and the Institute was the best job he could find at the time. That was...a surprisingly common story, actually. Maybe Elias preyed on people like them. The weak, the unmoored, the traumatized. It seemed that Elias made a habit out of hiring people who didn’t have much to live for. 

Jon was beginning to understand that he wouldn't live to a ripe old age. He wondered how much longer he had. Hopefully Georgie would get to keep the nice house. 

“Archivist. It’s so good to See you.”

In the dim corners, a shadow rippled into a smile. Jon recognized the curling brown hair and lithe, lanky limbs of Nikola, lingering in a London alleyway. He slowed down, staring dumbly at her silhouette in the night. 

“Nikola?” Jon squinted into the alley. “It’s been a day. I don’t have your skin yet. I’m working on it. What are you doing here?”

She giggled, like air. “It’s so hard to get into your house, I figured I’d wait for you to leave. Are you having a party? And you didn’t invite me? Rude!”

“It’s work friends only,” Jon said apologetically. Something nasty occurred to him. She glittered a little bit in the shadows of the streetlamps. Sequins and rhinestones, and a tailcoat striking a shadow in the night. “Nikola? What’s your last name?”

Nikola cocked her head, small grin popping onto her face. “Well, my father created me, so I figure I should have his name. Nikola Orsinov, at your service. Archivist, I have a most wonderful idea. I bought a subscription to a magazine in the mail, and they gave me a big crate of moisturizer! I couldn’t possibly use it all by myself. Want to come with me back to my dun - house and have a sleepover?”

A great deal of oozing puzzle pieces made out of human flesh were beginning to slot into a terrifying picture depicting the exact circumstances of your death. Jon abruptly began sweating. “That’s so funny. We were just talking about you.”

“Oh! Good things, I hope?”

“Yeah, great,” Jon said, through gritted teeth. “Well. Really must be going home -”

“I can walk with you,” Nikola said cheerfully. 

Jon didn’t move. Neither did Nikola. 

“It’s hard to find,” Nikola said, “ unless you lead me straight into it. Then it’s pretty easy. I don’t suppose you want to do that, do you?”

Jon was silent. 

“I love Georgie,” Nikola continued, impossibly breathily and cheerfully. “She’s so much fun when she...mmm. She doesn’t even care that I’m not know. She’s so impulsive. She’d make some real bad choices if she thought you were in trouble, huh?”

Jon was silent for a long, long moment. 

He chose his words carefully, when he did say something. “It’s a good thing I’m not in trouble, then.”

  Nikola smiled wider. Too wide. 

“In fact,” Jon said slowly, drawing out his phone purposefully. “I’m rather interested in your moisturizer collection. Why don’t we go have that sleepover right now? I’ll text Georgie. Tell her not to worry. We wouldn’t want her interrupting...a private party.”

“Oh!” Nikola clapped slowly - once, twice, echoing brightly through the deserted street. Too deserted, really. “Let me decide what you’ll say. I do so love games.”

Jon: I have to leave for a very long time. If you follow me I’ll make you regret it! Love, Jon! 

Jon: P.S. Tell Elias that I’ll be nice if he is :)

“This doesn’t sound anything like me,” Jon said finally, attempting to pocket the phone when Nikola snatched it out of his hands. She scrutinized his lock screen, the soft glow luminating her painted-on black eyes, as if trying to decode a language she couldn’t understand. “Are you sure you don’t want me to send a message that’s less...conspicuous?”

“I’m a conspicuous person!” Nikola giggled. “I have to knock you out for this bit, Archivist! Good night! Have sweet dreams!”

“Wait,” Jon said, heart jumping into his throat, because some part of him was a cowering animal, only human, that was afraid of pain after all this time, “We don’t have to be violent -”

“But I love it so much!”

And what felt like a metal rod bashed him over the forehead, like how Elias’ pipe struck Jurgen Leitner all those months ago with a meaty thwack thwack thwack, and he knew no more. 

Jon dreamed, for a very long time. 

He dreamed of skin against skin, of Georgie on top of him. He dreamed of screams, of glass thrown, of cowering drunk behind a couch. He dreamed of the disapproving words of his grandmother. He dreamed of his father, throwing him up and down, up and down, his mother’s laugh. 

He dreamed of an Eye, the only one left who loved him. Of running further and further and faster and faster but never getting any closer to its holy radiance. Of knowing that Heaven was just intimacy with God, and yearning for Heaven. 

He dreamed of church, long and boiling and sticky in summer afternoons, dozing in the pew as the women danced and sang. He dreamed of a teen girl next to him, in a prim frock and Mary Janes and a wicked smile. It had been love, back then. 

He dreamed of a thousand tea mugs slid onto his desk. One, two, three. Martin’s smile. Holy radiance. Light. Light. Light. Blinding. Death. Terror. Fear. Desecration. A death, wide awake. 

Sometimes he entered states which were less like dreams. Nikola was there. He was lying on the floor, then, just lying there. They would talk - she would talk, he was usually gagged, and not in the fun way - and they would try out moisturizers. He tried to explain Georgie’s cocoa butter skin care routine, but he didn’t understand it himself, and there was a gag anyway. 

It was more inconvenient than anything else. He didn’t know how long it happened. Like a fever, or a very bad hangover, it felt like it would last forever, and then it was over. 

Michael showed one point. Probably. Jon was feeling a little more back into it by then. He felt very clean, but also very hungry. 

“I told you, Archivist,” Michael trilled, grin not really a grin at all. “Next time I saw you I would kill you.”

“I thought you were a liar?” Jon said. Maybe. He was still a little woozy. He felt very...very moisturized. 

“Not this time. Not like Gertrude. I don’t hate you, Jon. But I can’t let the Beholding’s plans happen. Any of its losses is a win for us.”

Huh. A good guy. Jon was impressed. “You knew Gertrude. An assistant. She doesn’t love her Assistants like I do, you know. Mine are...buddies. I eat them.”

“Weird!” Michael said, impressed despite themself. 

Then they gave a Statement. And Jon realized something very important, something he didn’t fully understand until Helen showed up and rescued him because she “had fun at pub night last time, we should do it again”, and he stumbled into Georgie’s bedroom and made her scream and almost bash his face in with a cricket bat she kept near her bed. 

Michael was a monster. As monstrous as you could get. Not quite Michael Shelley, but not fully The Distortion either. More. Never less. He was in there . Maybe Jon could be too. 

“Jon! Jon, baby, wake up! Jon!”

But all he could do was pass out on Georgie’s lap, and dream again. 

“ - no, you cannot come over, I’ve had my kid triple the ward protections on the house. Nobody’s coming in or out anymore but us. No exceptions. Babe, I’m sorry, but - I know. No. I don’t think so. I’ll let you know. Yes. How’s Martin? Yeah. Okay, I have another call to make, bye. Love you. I know. Bye.”

The door creaked open. Jon’s eyes cracked open. Just the two. He saw a fuzzy image - the big door to the master bedroom open, Gerard lingering in the doorway. The blobby form of Georgie was pacing up and down the length of the bedroom, placing call after call. Gerard stared at Jon, who was very cozy under a lot of covers. A little overheated, actually. 

“Hello? This is Mrs. Sims. I need to speak with Elias Bouchard. Yes, it’s an emergency. Thank you.” Silence, save the tapping of her boots on the hardwood. Jon was so warm he wanted to go back to sleep. “Elias? I found Jon. Thanks for being fucking useless about helping, by the way. Yeah, he seems fine. He’s sleeping it off. No injuries. None of your fucking business, cocksucker.” Long pause. “He’ll get back when he fucking gets back. He hasn’t woken up yet. I’ll let you know what he says. If you promise to fucking do something with the information. No, I don’t give a shit about worker’s comp! Die!” She threw the phone at the wall, and Gerard quickly dived forward to catch it. “Cocksucker arsehole - Gerry, don’t repeat those words.”

“He’s awake,” Gerard said quietly. 

“He’s what?” Georgie turned around, and she must have seen how his eyes were cracked open. She gasped, running forward to crouch by the side of the bed. She looked as if she hadn’t been sleeping much over the past month, and her hair was messily wrapped up in a scarf. “Jon? Jon, honey, are you okay? Can you talk? Gerard, get him some water.”

Jon cleared his throat as Gerard disappeared out the door again, head still swimming. “I’m fine. Were you scared?”

“You know I don’t get scared,” Georgie said brusquely. But she did reach out a hand, and she took Jon’s hand in hers. “But I do get worried. And mad., your hand is really soft. It’s really nice, actually.”

“Nikola and I had a sleepover,” Jon said, before falling back asleep. 

This time he dreamed of nothing, which was a relief that couldn’t be described. 

When he woke up again it was to the sounds of discussion again, Georgie talking into a mobile. Jon felt very floaty and warm, and focused on snuggling deeper into the covers. He saw a water bottle on the nightstand, and with great effort reached out a hand to take it. 

“No. I’m sorry, but no. Nobody’s entering the house anymore. He needs rest anyway.” She was silent for a long moment, a voice humming on the other end of the line. “Knowing him, probably as soon as he can walk. I’m keeping him here for at least a few days after that, I can work from home. No, I’m sorry. Yeah.” Another long silence. Jon quietly drank the water. He couldn’t have been gone for longer than a day or two, since he didn’t particularly feel that hungry. He doubted Nikola would remember to feed him. “He said it was Nikola. Which, like, rude. I thought I had a good thing going with her. See if I get drinks with her again.” Long silence. “Hey, I don’t get on you for your choice in men, don’t get me for my choice in demons.”

“Is that Martin?” Jon rasped, sitting up a little in bed. Georgie glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and when Jon shifted position he saw that she was sitting next to him, a laptop balanced on her lap and audio editing software up on the screen. “Give me the phone.”

“Sorry, hold on a second.” Georgie covered the microphone with her hand, frowning at him. “You just woke up. You need more rest. Are you hungry? I can make you some toast.”

“Give me the phone.”

Georgie sighed, and uncovered the microphone. “Jon’s awake.” She winced. “Please quiet down, I’ll pass the phone along. Don’t stress him out, he looks like shit.” 

Finally, Jon grabbed the phone from her and pressed it close to his ear. Martin’s yammering voice immediately filled his ears, calming him down immensely. “Jon? Jon! Can you hear me? Are you alright? Elias had us looking for you for a month , he tried not telling us but it was so obvious - are you dead? Are you tortured? What happened? How did you escape?”

Hm. Maybe it was too early for Martin. “Yes. Yes. No. No. Nikola Orsinov grabbed me so I can conduct the Unknowing or something and she held me in a wax museum. Michael, who tried to kill me, then Helen saved me. Tell Elias this, I’ll be up in a few days to yell at him.” Jon yawned widely, cracking his jaw. “G’night. Thanks for worrying.”

Then he ended the call, and Georgie neatly plucked the phone from his hands. He settled back under the covers, ready to go back to sleep, but Georgie was already shoving a granola bar into his hands. “No way mister. You have to eat something. Did Nikola, like, feed you your own flesh? She does that to people all the time.” She eyed him warily. “You don’t look like you’re missing any flesh.”

“Everyone’s freaking out for me disappearing for a few days,” Jon grumbled, shoving the granola bar into his face. 

Georgie shot him a disturbed look. “Mate, you were gone for a month. I would have thought you were dead if Elias wasn’t convinced that you were fine.”

For the first time Martin’s words fully processed through Jon’s mind, and he almost choked on the granola bar. 

Before he could say anything about it, he heard the faint sound of meows. Georgie sighed and bent down before scooping up The Admiral, who was wriggling with excitement upon seeing Jon. “Sorry about this. I’ve been trying to keep him out so you can rest, but he’s so happy to see you.” She deposited him on the bed, and The Admiral eagerly ran forward and began rubbing his little head all over Jon’s face and purring. Jon couldn’t help but laugh, reaching out a hand to pet him back. Georgie smiled down at both of them. “I guess we were all worried.”

Jon opened his mouth to protest - that nobody would worry about him, not really, that he wasn’t worth it, that he had been fine so all worry was useless - but something possessed him to close his mouth. Maybe it was Knowing that they were now missing three ceramic plates, thrown at the wall in a fit of impotent rage two weeks ago, or that right now Helen was wandering endless halls, looking desperately for something she would never have again, unable to even remember why she wanted it. 

 “Thank you,” Jon said finally. “You...really didn’t have to.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Georgie said crisply. She passed him a favorite, well worn Arsene Lupin mystery from the nightstand, settling in next to him. “You’re not leaving this bed to do anything other than piss for the next day at least. Doctor Barker’s orders.”

“I’d like to see your degree,” Jon grumbled, sticking his nose in the book. But he was right not to protest too much: he barely made it through a few pages before he was asleep yet again. Who knew being kidnapped for a month was so exhausting? Or had he only been kidnapped for a few days, and had he spent a month wandering through endless halls? He didn’t know. He didn’t even particularly care. 

He had to stop the Unknowing, and he didn’t have three days to waste. 

After he confronted Elias after an aggravating forced three days of recovery, Jon went home and sat at the dining room table. Georgie was sitting on the sofa in the adjacent living room doing some work from home, research for a new episode on the podcast, and Gerard was locked up in his room again. 

Jon took a deep breath, in and out. Elias had asked him if Gerard had told him that he had worked with Gertrude. Maybe he had mentioned it off-handedly, with dinner or over a board game, but he knew that he hadn’t. He had been very good at keeping those secrets. 

He took a deep breath, in and out. Georgie didn’t seem to notice, chewing her headphone wire as she focused on her work. He should get her out of the room for this. Maybe do it at the Archives. 

“Gerard!” Jon called. “Come out here, please!” 

The soft thumps of music paused, and in a minute Gerard’s head poked out from the stairwell. “What?”

“Sit down,” Jon said. Georgie paused her music, looking between him and an abruptly cautious Gerard. He climbed down the stairs with heavy thumps, large sneakers squeaking on the carpet, and cautiously dropped onto a chair opposite Jon. 

“What’s all this?” Gerard asked, shifting in his seat. He glanced left, then right. His gaze caught on the recorder Jon had placed in front of him, and froze. It was recording. Jon, of course, hadn’t touched it. “What’s...what’s wrong?”

“Gerard,” Jon began, taking a second for a deep breath. His Eye was opening. Something had awakened within him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it. “I need to stop the Unknowing.”

“What’s going on?” Georgie asked, taking off her headphones. “Jon? Gerry?”

“You know more than you’ve been saying,” Jon said firmly, and Gerard shrunk back. “I need you to tell me what you know. What you investigated with Gertrude.”

Gerard hunched in his seat, drawing his baggy jacket tightly around his torso. His expression was taut, and almost scared. It was an unusual expression on him. Jon didn’t like it. “You never asked.”

“I know. I’ve been respecting your privacy. But I need to know now. The fate of the world is at stake here, Gerard.”

“I can’t,” Gerard snapped. “It’s - it’s a blur. I can’t say anything.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

He didn’t know what was in his own expression. Most of Jon was just chasing down the Statement, willing to squeeze until the flesh yielded. Wasn’t that all it was? Just flesh? 

“I’ve been working on it,” Gerard snapped. “What do you think I’ve been doing for the past coupla months? Gertrude and I spent months tracking down every loose end we could. We got nothing, nowhere. She died without having stopped it. We failed. I’m still trying, but I’m failing too. I can’t help you.”

“Gerad Keay,” Jon intoned sharply, leaning forward and feeling something rise within him. “Tell me everything you know about the Unknowing.”

The monster within him reared up and roared when Gerard opened his mouth, eyes wide and terrified. It felt like falling off a rollercoaster, like stepping into deep water, like opening your eyes. Jon wondered if he was smiling. 

Then a hand slammed down on the tape recorder, pushing it off and yanking out the cassette tape. It was Georgie, who very calmly dangled the cassette tape between two fingers in front of his face before snapping it in two with her bare hands. 

Jon launched out of his seat, when something strange happened. He meant to say, ‘That’s mine!’, and tear it out of her hands. But what he ended up saying instead was -

“That’s me !”

“Too bad,” Georgie said viciously, as she tore the cassette into shreds. Gerard was mumbling to himself quietly, fighting the compulsion quickly and effectively. Could Gertrude - had Gertrude -? “You act badly, your toys get taken away. Gerry, go to your room, please. I need to talk with Jon.”

Gerard quickly skittered to his feet and ran back up the steps. Jon suddenly had a very bad feeling. Had he done something… wrong…? No, Jon always did what was best for humanity. And Georgie and Gerard. Everything he did, he did for them. 

Georgie carefully sat across from him, where Gerard had sat, and folded her hands on the table. There was a familiar expression on her face, and Jon instinctually looked around the room to make sure that there was nothing within arm’s distance for her to throw. She never, ever threw anything at him , but...well, things got broken. Less so than seven years ago. But all of their tempers had been fraying lately. 

“I’ll give you a Statement, Jon,” Georgie said pleasantly, and some part of Jon perked up. “Would you like that?”

“Yes, of course,” Jon said, patting down his pockets in search of another tape recorder. Surely he had another one in his pockets, he was never without them. “Statement of Georgie Barker, regarding -”

“ - a promise made to Melanie King,” Georgie said. “Statement begins. I’ve been living with my ex-boyfriend for about four months now. It’s been pretty stressful, but I don’t mind. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have monsters constantly threatening to kill me, but that’s alright. I probably would have gotten involved anyway through Melanie. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Besides, I’m not scared. I’m not the kind of woman who’s easily intimidated. If it means helping out a friend, I guess I’ll do almost anything. I don’t like going back on my promises.” Georgie leaned forward, eyes glinting. “But there’s something off about my ex-boyfriend, you see. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it’s like he just goes away inside, and I’m left living with a stranger. You can always see it. His eyes grow unfocused, as if he’s looking far away, and he says something that he couldn’t possibly know. I don’t particularly mind. I’m not the most normal person either. But he has these odd moments of cruelty. Not the kind of cruel I get - where I get really stinking pissed, and I don’t think my actions through before I do them. But when Jon gets like that, it’s like he knows exactly what he’s doing, how much he’s hurting you, and he likes it. He likes it.” 

Jon abruptly began to have a very bad feeling about this statement. 

“I’m not sure I would call it inhuman. It’s very human. Cruelty, hatred, greed, self-centeredness...those are the most human traits of all, aren’t they?” Georgie shrugged listlessly in faux casualness. “A month back, I invited his coworkers to a party. I always think he needs more people than just me and this kid we took in. At one point, Jon stepped outside for a smoke. Sure, whatever. Some people can’t live without their addictions. Jon’s one of them. None of us realized anything was wrong for about two hours - I was late in checking my phone. At a certain point, obviously, we all started talking about him. We had been planning how to bump off Elias Bouchard for a while, and Melanie and Tim were convinced that Jon was part of what was keeping them at the Institute too. Melanie said that you two were always in Elias’ office, conspiring. That you didn’t even want to get rid of him. That you liked your new position. I disagreed. I see firsthand how much Jon hates Elias. I think he hates him now more than ever.”

This was a bad Statement. It didn’t make Jon feel good. It actually made him feel kind of bad. 

“All of Jon’s Assistants had their own stories about him, same as mine. How he goes away inside. How he’s never acted quite right. I keep saying it’s the ADHD, but I don’t know anymore. I think Jon, at his core, is someone who would sell his soul for infinite knowledge. And I think he did. I’m not here to judge or anything. But his coworkers, although they seemed to like him, seemed genuinely afraid for their lives around him. So I promised Melanie. If Jon ever did something unforgivable, that if he ever really became more monster than man, I would take Gerard and run. We both deserve better. I won’t set myself on fire to keep someone else warm. I don’t want to play unconditionally supportive girlfriend when I’m not even getting good sex out of it. If Jon ever did something that was too much, that would be it for us. That too much doesn’t mean...working to start the Apocalypse. I kinda want to be on the winning side of that. It’s not fucking with random people neither of us know. I could care less about that. But when Jon loses his last anchors to humanity, and I hate it but I know that’s me and Gerard and his assistants, that’s it. When he doesn’t give a shit about us anymore, he’s lost it. Statement ends.”

The moment passed, and the bubble popped. Jon exhaled heavily, filled but not satisfied. It was more a mockery of a Statement than anything else, really. Whatever had filled Jon passed through him silently, like a ghost, or a wandering gaze. 

What Jon had just done hit him over the head like a brick, and Jon buried his face in his hands. “I’m sorry.”

“Super don’t care,” Georgie said. “Look, I get it. Daddy’s under a lot of pressure at work to give results. But you know I can’t stand bullies. That’s what you’re turning into, Jon. Not some special cool sexy monster thing. Just a bully.”

“This isn’t about my performance review,” Jon snapped. “This is about us dying . And my skin being flayed from my flesh and worn like a coat. Which will happen. That isn’t a hypothetical. Unless I get this figured out, that will happen.”

“Jon,” Georgie said quietly, “this path you’re on will kill you just as surely as Nikola will. Your body will just be walking around afterwards. You have to keep who you are.”

“I don’t know -”

“I’ll tell you.”

A head was poking out from the stairwell, staring at the scene, and Jon awkwardly stood up from his chair. It was Gerard, looking somewhat haggard, clenching a worn spiral notebook in his fists. 

“You don’t have to tell him anything you don’t want to,” Georgie said sharply. “Were you listening in on all that?”

Gerard climbed down the steps, walking until he was hanging on the back of Georgie’s chair. He was keeping her between him and Jon, but that was probably fair. He reached forward and tossed the notebook lightly on the table, and Jon had to fight not to snatch it out of mid-air. He began leafing through it immediately, scanning the pages for any helpful notes. 

“I wasn’t lying,” Gerard said stubbornly. “Miss Gertrude never told us much, or trusted us with anything. We ran into a lot of dead ends. Like, a lot, a lot. There was this one pig...anyway. The farthest we got was America. That’s where I…”

He fell silent, shuffling his feet, and Jon bit his tongue down hard to prevent himself from asking any further questions. The notebook was...scattered, but he was already seeing glimpses of helpful information. 

Slowly, almost painfully, Gerard said, “There are two bits to a person. The body, and the soul. That’s one way to look at it. You can also look at it as the Yin and the Yang. The thing, and the nothing. The self, and the not-self. When I died, Miss Gertrude did...something...that split me in two. Body and soul. Or Yin and Yang. Thing and nothing. Self and not-self. You know.”

“Gerard, what do you mean?” Georgie asked, so Jon wouldn’t have to. 

He swallowed, wringing his hands. “I think my corpse is in America. I think you’ll get some good information from him. It? I really can’t tell you any more. I died years ago, but the last thing I remember after I died was waking up on your front step. I didn’t know why I was fifteen...inside and out...but there’s always a part of us that’s a kid, right? When you never got to be a kid, when it’s drowned by your shitty Mum or whatever, that part of you is preserved in amber. In life, sometimes I just felt like an overlarge kid. I know I didn’t grow up right. Now in death…does that help?”

Both Jon and Georgie were silent for a long moment, staring at each other in horror. None of the parenting books had prepared them for this. Nothing could possibly prepare anybody for trying to comfort a traumatized fifteen year old who had been killed and ripped from his body in some sort of parapsychological torment. 

Finally, Georgie cautiously asked, “Do you know the gravesite?”

For the first time, Gerard perked up a little. “No gravesite necessary. I should be preserved inside a Leitner. Miss Gertrude...anyway, I should still be attached to the page of my skin. I dunno where it is, but that shouldn’t be too hard for the Archivist, right?”

Hideously, that sentence took a few seconds to fully permeate Jon’s brain. Georgie was quicker on the uptake, judging by the way she casually took a mug left out on the dining room table and wound up to throw it against the wall before she took a deep, calming breath, and carefully replaced the mug on the table. Jon fought a full body cringe. 

Instead, all she said was, “America, huh? Think Elias’ll pay for that?”

“You are not coming,” Jon said flatly. 

“You can’t stop me,” Georgie said, maniacally cheerful. 

“I’d like Mum to come,” Gerard said, almost timidly. 

“Elias won’t pay for it,” Jon said, almost desperately. 

Like she was wielding a weapon, Georgie brandished her mobile. She pressed a button on her contacts list, holding the phone up to her ear and winking at Gerard. “Hello, Rosie? It’s Mrs. Sims again. Doing good, how are you? Listen, may I speak to Elias? It’s quite important. Thank you, Rosie. All hail the Eye!” A long pause, Georgie absently humming a faintly familiar theme tune. “Hullo, Elias. No, Jon’s fine. I thought you ought to know that I’m scheduling a business trip for Jon in that Unknowing business. Oh, this is the first time you’re hearing of it? Shocker. Anyway, I just wanted your approval for comping three tickets to the States. Yeah. Why would we go to China? Never mind. Great. Great. Super. We’ll get him home in one piece. See you at yoga with Peter next month!” Georgie hung up, beaming at him. “Don’t underestimate me, bitch.”

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. “ Yoga ?”

“I keep my enemies closer, Jon,” Georgie reminded him. “I’m very invested in surviving this apocalypse on the right side. Anyway, go get packed, I’ll book us the tickets. Gerard, don’t bring any Leitners onto the plane, you don’t know how they’ll interact with the air pressure.”

“Do a few days from now,” Jon said, still somewhat dizzy from this turn of events. Was Georgie coming along just to keep an eye on him? Or did she want the free vacation? He was beginning to suspect that he didn’t know her as well as he thought. “I have some things I need to wrap up at the office first.”

“If you promise not to brainwash anybody I care about on your way there,” Georgie said, almost cheerfully. 

“...nobody you care about.”

“Can we see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?” Gerard asked, growing increasingly excited despite the fact that America had to be the site of his biggest trauma. “I want to have a seance with Elvis!”

“Let’s get legally married in America by Elvis in Las Vegas!” Georgie exclaimed. 

“Still?” Jon asked, despite himself, barely managing to keep the compulsion out of it. “After all of that, you still want to make those jokes?”

“You beautiful himbo,” Georgie said fondly. “I’m taking my revenge right now.” 

He didn’t like the sound of that. 

But that night, when the power crawled through his limbs until he couldn’t breathe, he shook Georgie awake and whispered in her ear. She agreed, pressing a sleepy kiss to his cheek, and slid off the bed to go fetch the rope. 

He hadn’t told her anything about what happened. Only the scarcest details, for everyone. But she seemed to know, because when she came back it was with silk ties instead and not ropes, and she triple checked his comfort five times as often as usual. Jon hadn’t been sure either, if this was going to be yet another thing that was ruined, but instead it just made him feel safe. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe the difference was Georgie.

She hadn’t said it. Which was for the best - Gerard had been listening. But he was pretty sure she would kill him, if she needed to. Before he could hurt her. She was practical like that. Jon wasn’t.

Georgie anchored him down, and Jon let loose. 

Chapter Text


After a while, he finally recognized the tune of the song that Georgie had been humming ever since she started planning their ‘work vacation’. Embarrassingly, it took her throwing a big red trench coat and a red hat at him before he realized the joke. Jon wore them anyway, because he appreciated gifts from his wife. Gerard seemed kind of sulky about missing the concert coming up, but he had been frustratingly tight lipped about his feelings on reuniting with his corpse - whatever that meant. Jon had apologized three times to him, and he had accepted them with magnanimity, but Jon was afraid that he had lost some trust. Probably for the best. Trusting him too much didn’t seem like a very good idea. God knew Georgie didn’t. 

After a day wrapping shit up at work, chasing down some crooked traffic cop and extorting him in a way that probably should have made him feel worse than it did, and shaking hands with Daisy in the tunnels below the Institute, he felt marginally better. 

But he couldn’t help but linger, in his conversation with Daisy. She was wearing a long sleeved shirt and cut-off shorts, and Jon didn’t know what she was doing with her days now but he didn’t particularly want to know. Her blonde hair, as always, looked like it had been roughly chopped off at the chin with a knife. The large shirt concealed a bulge at her hip, and at the small of her back, and in her boot. Jesus. 

“Daisy,” Jon found himself saying, starting and halting. “In your opinion - is there such a thing as a good monster? Maybe a monster that doesn’t hurt anybody?”

She just shot him the most unimpressed look that he had ever seen. “Have they killed people?”

Well. Jon hadn’t. But every other monster he had ever met, save perhaps Helen, had. “Killing someone just because they’ve killed someone else seems a bit barbaric, doesn’t it? I mean, positively American of you.”

“America has it right,” Daisy grunted. “The death penalty is neccesary to the functioning of a civil society. Plus they have the second amendment. You can just buy guns at supermarkets. It’s incredible. They don’t even do background checks. It’s a utopia.”

“Uh,” Jon said, feeling a little like he had been trapped in a conversation with his uncle that didn’t believe in climate change. 

“Plus cops there can do whatever they want. I had to get sectioned to do whatever I wanted.”

“Can I mention that you almost killed me, an innocent man -”

“ - you’re not a man, and you’re barely innocent,” Daisy said brusquely. “I should have killed you back then. It would have been...what’s the word, pre-emptive. You’re going to end up killing somebody or causing the apocalypse or something. I should have killed you back then, but I didn’t, and now you’re being too useful to kill. I’m going to regret it, not having killed you back then. But that’s a decision I’ll have to live with.” She paused a beat. “I’ve lived with a lot of decisions. I can live with one more. Besides, Basira and Georgie would kill me. And I like you.”

Somehow, out of that entire very disturbing monologue, what caught Jon was - “You like me?”

“Yeah. You’re funny. Anyway, good luck in America. Bring me back a snowglobe.”

“Right,” Jon said, and quickly moved ‘buying a novelty snow globe’ to the top of his American To-Do list. 

But, really, hadn’t Daisy killed people? Hadn’t she killed human beings? By her narrow viewpoint, didn’t that make her a monster too? Or was it not really a question of morality at all, had she been obfuscating, was the real problem that they had unnatural powers and that made them something to be stamped out. Was it okay to kill people so long as they deserved it and all you had was a gun? Was it not okay to live your life if you had powers that made some feel uncomfortable? What if Jon ate the fear and terror of only bad people? 

That seemed to be Georgie’s preference. Maybe it made him no better than Daisy. And Jon didn’t know if he knew how to differentiate between good and bad people. Everybody he had ever met was a little bad, save perhaps Martin. Basira and Daisy had been crooked cops, Melanie had five attempted murders under her belt, Tim was just a jerk, and Georgie could be a bit of a psychopath occasionally. Martin wasn’t perfect - he was still terrible at filing - but he was probably the only thoroughly good person that Jon knew. And Jon had treated him terribly. Does that make Jon evil? What was evil?

Michael Shelley, or what was left of them, had told Jon that following your nature couldn’t be evil. Jon wasn’t inclined to take moral advice from somebody who was about to kill Jon for something he hadn’t even done, but something about it had rang true to him. Were lions evil for killing other lions, or was it just the law of the jungle? But man was rational - was he? - and could choose to act against his nature. Humanity could. That was its prerogative. Avatars...Jon wasn’t sure. It seemed that Michael had chosen to act against their nature, and had been slaughtered for it. 

This kind of thinking spun Jon in a circle until he decided that he was going to outsource his morality to Georgie. Not that she was a paragon of morality - again, that was probably Martin - but she was one of two people who could exact real consequences on him for doing something shitty. The other one was Elias, who reacted to absolutely everything Jon did with a thumbs up and a raise. At this rate Elias was feeling more and more like a neglectful parent who Jon was doing his absolute best to disappoint but couldn’t quite manage it. 

He packed extra Statements, as a snack. Georgie packed her travel microphone so she could do an America special for the show. Gerard attempted to pack a few Leitners, which had been vetoed, so he packed twelve of his favorite gauges instead. 

The flight was about nine hours, but Elias had shelled out for good tickets with an attached note that read ‘Have fun! - Peter’. Jon didn’t want to analyze this too closely, but Georgie seemed cheerful about it. She started telling him about everything she knew about Elias and Peter’s romantic life, and there were very few things Jon didn’t want to know, but this was one of them. 

On the bright side, the look on the customs officer’s face when he saw no less than five tape recorders on Jon’s person was priceless. 

Both he and Georgie worked on the flight as Gerard read a book. About halfway through Jon got bored and started interrogating the tired eyed businessman about his life, and listened supportively as he spilled details of his homosexual affairs. Then his life got boring, so Jon moved onto the next one, and Georgie rolled her eyes as Jon extracted sordid details from half the plane. This was fun. 

“You’re such a freak,” Georgie muttered, but she was eyeing him speculatively. “Cover me as I raid the minibar?”

“I’m not joining the mile high club with you,” Jon said flatly, listening supportively and nodding at the right moments as the young woman cried about her girlfriend leaving her. 

“Please. That was 2014. I’m not an ameteur.” 

But Jon walked up with her and distracted the bartender by asking him how he got his spider trauma (a story unsettlingly similar to Jon’s - he was rapidly developing a hypothesis that about one fifth of the population has experienced a traumatic supernatural event) as Georgie nicked tiny bottles of whiskey from behind the counter. 

“You two are so freaking embarrassing,” Gerard muttered, sticking his head in his book. 

Unfortunately, Georgie refused to tell Jon too many details about how she had planned the trip. Jon had told her that they needed to be in Chicago to pick up a Statement, and she did something mysterious with texting one of her thousand girlfriends on her phone while giggling before cheerfully telling Jon that they had some ‘locals to show us around!’. Jon wasn’t sure how he felt about this, but he knew that he didn’t have much of a choice in it. 

It wasn’t until they touched down and they were all forced to walk through a truly astounding amount of security measures to retrieve their luggage that Jon realized what, exactly, Georgie had been planning. Standing past the gates, texting on her phone in all of her six foot two glory, was the heavily muscled and terrifying Julia. Accompanying her was an old man, who looked slightly put off to be here. Georgie squealed when she saw them, running forward and surprising Julia with a big hug. 

Jon followed at a much more relaxed pace, Gerard hovering near his elbow, as Georgie jumped up and down and squealed about their trip to Julia. Julia was nodding, mouth quirked in a smile, and she waved lightly when Jon walked up. 

“Good to see you again, Mr. Barker. What brings y’all to America?”

For a stupid second, Jon wondered how she had gotten to a pub full of English Avatars - but, then, some part of Jon suspected that the pub hadn’t quite been in England either. Or anywhere in time and space. It was none of his business. He had assumed she was an Avatar too, but she seemed - well, almost sane. But maybe Jon did too, on first blush. 

“Work,” Jon said lightly. “Georgie managed to swing a few more comped tickets out of my boss and the rest was history. I didn’t know you lived in America, Julia.”

“Its open roads go on forever,” she said cryptically. The old man was squinting at Jon suspiciously, and Julia nodded at him. “This is Trevor Herbert, my work partner.”

Jon squinted. “The vampire hunter?” Something slid neatly into Jon’s mind, a gift from his god. “Wait, are you Julia Montauk ?”

Julia narrowed her eyes. “Yeah. Why?”

“I’ve read your Statement,” Jon said eagerly, as if this made them friends and not a voyeur into her greatest childhood trauma. “About your father? Glad to see you’re doing well!” He turned to Trevor, who now was definitely clutching at something large in his pocket. “And you - we all thought you were dead! Wow. What a coincidence. Small world, right? I assume you’re still hunting vampires.”

Everybody stared at him. Two with suspicion, two with exasperation. Georgie facepalmed. 

“Say that a little louder, why don’t you,” Trevor groused. 

“If you’re with the fucking Eye, if you ask me any questions you’re dead,” Julia said flatly. 

“Jon, please let me do the talking,” Georgie begged. 

“You are so embarrassing,” Gerard mumbled. 

That was how Jon ended up sandwiched in the back seat of Julia’s 1967 Chevy Impala, Styx blaring on the cassette player, listening to Julia and Georgie reminisce about their summer love affair between explanations of how she and Trevor were vampire hunters. Why in America? Why, that was where all the vampires were, of course. 

“In Twilight they all live in Oregon because it’s cloudy,” Gerard piped up, back on his favorite topic. “Why wouldn’t more vampires live in Britain, then?”

“Twilight doesn’t get anything right, kid,” Julia grunted. Trevor looked mutinous - and Jon abruptly remembered that Trevor and Gerard had met before - he had to assume while Gerard was alive. God, did everybody know each other but him? “America’s big. Like, you can fit the entire UK in Texas three times. More vampires to squash. Plus certain entities have less of a foothold. The food’s loads better, too.”

“Oh, can we go to a real American diner?” Georgie begged. “Please, please, please?”

“Please, please!” Gerard piped in. “Please?”

Julia sighed. “Fine. After we finish murdering this vamp we’re hunting.”

“Wait,” Jon interjected, panicked. “We’re hunting a vamp right now ? There’s a kid in this car!”

“The Hunt waits for no one,” Trevor intoned ominously. 

Julia nodded. “Hustle never stops. Hold on, I’m going to pull up the speed a bit.” The dial on the dash climbed higher and higher, until it was hovering somewhere near the number 90. Which was in miles, so it didn’t mean much to Jon. 

Gerard was, apparently, noticing the same thing Jon was. He looked at Jon, worried. “Is 90 miles a lot? How much is it in kilometers?”

The question fed the answer into his brain, and Jon silently thanked the Beholding. Even if he could have just, like, Googled it. For free. Without having to start the apocalypse or eat trauma. Being a servant of the Beholding was a little like buying Netflix when you know perfectly well how to just pirate everything you want to watch anyway. “144.841 kilometeres,” Jon rattled off immediately. “Which is - holy fuck, Julia ! There is a child in this car!”

But Georgie just laughed, and Julia laughed too, and they roared down the infinite highway into the American horizon until they heard the telltale sound of a siren behind them. Daisy’s casual remark on how America was her platonic ideal for police brutality sent Jon into a panic. 

Wait. Wait, oh no! “Julia, Georgie and I are black, the police will definitely murder us,” Jon said, panicked. “I read about it on the news, black people are like - we’re a very vulnerable population, Julia. Please do not make me die in Illinois, that is the worst place to die -”

“Relax,” Trevor said, and where did that shotgun come from? Where did the shotgun come from?! “We’re all just meat to it.”

“Aaaaa,” Jon said. 

Anyway, that was how Jon participated in his very first Stranger murder. Not participated. More like watched, unwillingly. Georgie, at least, seemed thrilled. She filmed the entire thing on her mobile. Gerard was just fascinated, pressing his face against the car window as Trevor shot the thing dead. Jon desperately wished he was back home, where at least if things didn’t make sense and tried to kill him then at least he understood the units. 

Then they all went to a diner. Actually, it was more like a truck stop, a ramshackle building placed squarely in the middle of the infinite American plains. Jon couldn’t believe how much corn these people grew. This must be the world capital of corn. Corn and shitty churches. There was just...nothing. So much nothing. Did people even live here? Was this a wasteland? 

As Julia and Trevor hid the body in the boot, which was also full of guns what was this country, Jon frantically placed a few calls to the Usher Foundation. They reacted to him with a would-be-worrying-if-he-wasn’t-so-used-to-it level of kowtowing, having been working on finding some record of Gertrude since he had called them before he left for America, but they were very sad to report that they had no record of her visiting. Jon was planning on visiting anyway, because they had to have some statements on the Unknowing, and maybe some hint of where Gerard’s body was, because so far he had no leads about that. All Gerard could tell Jon himself was that he had died in Pittsburg, but after a few calls to a few hospitals he received nothing useful save for some information on a book and another terrifying insight into Gerturde’s personality. The Leitner, obviously. Where was it? Nobody knew. Best place to look would be the Usher Foundation, but they refused to look at the Leitners they had under storage without Jon there. Ugh.

“How does an entire hospital just lose a body?” Jon muttered. “And how did you all work for a psychopath for so long without realizing?”

“Not everybody is as bad a liar as you, babe,” Georgie said, pushing open the door of the diner and striding inside. “C’mon, I crave American hamburgers. I hear they’re the size of your head. Oh, and chips!”

“They’re called french fries here,” Gerard said helpfully. 

The diner was kitschy and perfect. Red vinyl booths, Elvis memorabilia on the walls, and a sagging dusty jukebox in the corner. The few denizens were bent over newspapers or phones, shoving burgers into their mouths like cows on a cud, and Georgie and Gerard excitedly elbowed each other. Georgie even took pictures. Jon sighed and slid into a vinyl seat, Georgie following him as Julia and Trevor walked in, hands suspiciously bloody. Jon tried not to think too hard about how the hospital said that Gertrude had been posing as Gerard’s Mum - or Mom, he supposed. Maybe it was habitual for him. 

The waitress seemed unimpressed by all of them, and by the way Georgie eagerly bought the stupidest milkshake she possibly could. Jon cautiously ordered a salad, which Georgie vetoed and ordered a gigantic bacon cheeseburger for him instead. Gerard wanted a milkshake too. Trevor and Julia did not seem as impressed as they all were. 

“I’m interested in how you two met,” Jon said awkwardly, folding his hands on the sticky table before thinking better of it and keeping them in his lap. He was getting better at being careful not to phrase his questions as actual questions, glancing between Georgie and Julia. Georgie shrugged, carefully fixing her makeup in her compact. 

“I was about - what, twenty six? It was right before she moved here. I was doing some investigative reporting for What The Ghost and she was a witness -”

“It was actually a vampire that I had killed, but I didn’t want to tell you that,” Julia said. 

“Oh, I ought to issue a retraction, then. Anyway, she was hot, one thing lead to another, you know the drill. When she moved to America we agreed to break it off. It was a mutual thing.” Georgie shrugged, batting her eyelashes at Jon. “Is my eyeliner smeared?”

“You look great,” Jon said dryly. “I wonder if you knew if she was an Avatar.”

“Which answer would make you happiest?”

“Noted.” Some things Jon wasn’t meant to know. But he couldn’t help but notice that Trevor was staring at Gerard strangely, who had his face buried in a copy of Blood and Chocolate. “Is anything wrong, Trevor?”

“Lad, what’s your name?” Trevor grunted. “You look awfully familiar.”

Something - and Jon knew what that Something was - told Jon that it would be a bad idea to drop Gerard’s real name. Why? Well, his not to wonder why. The Beholding told Jon to do something, he did it. “Ah, Michael.” There were like a billion Michaels. Jon knew two. “Michael Sims. He’s my cousin. He’s been staying with us after his parents died.”

“It was very tragic,” Gerard said gravely, grokking on immediately even if he didn’t know why. Good kid. Georgie looked confused too, but she didn’t push it. Julia and Trevor looked at Jon, then looked at Gerard, then back at Jon.

“He’s adopted,” Jon added. 

Before anybody could question it, their food arrived, which was really a great deal of food, wow, and Gerard scampered off with some coins that Georgie slid him to go play the arcade machines tucked in a corner. Jon settled for glaring balefully at his burger. It was fat and greasy and all around very unappetizing. The cow that helped create it had been a very big name in its farm. A real cultural leader. Now it was in his burger, which was sopping with bacon, which just made Jon think about the monster pig. 

“Maybe I should be a vegetarian,” Jon said finally. 

“You eat people’s feelings,” Georgie said frankly, shoving her burger in her mouth with reckless abandon. “How is that vegetarian?”

“I think of it as shearing sheep,” Jon said philosophically. “A little bit of discomfort for them. But they’re ultimately left unharmed. And I get nice wool out of it.”

“You’re a psychopath,” Julia said, impressed. “I love it.”

They spent lunch updating Julia and Trevor on what they were doing, Apocalypse Near, Apocalypse A Little Farther, and Georgie’s love life. Their lives, so elegantly summed up at ‘Jon’s a little bit evil and Georgie is the nexus around which the entire supernatural world turns’ was a little ridiculous when laid out all bare like that, but it wasn’t until that Jon mentioned that they were in America searching for Gerard Keay’s body that Julia began to look somewhat ill and Tervor started clutching his knife even harder. 

“What do you want with it?” Julia asked harshly, putting her burger down. 

Jon blinked, caught off guard. Or maybe he wasn’t. “Well, we don’t want the literal body. We think maybe he was trapped in a book. I need the information he had about the Unknowing, and probably to put his soul to rest or some such. It seems rather cruel, doesn’t it?”

Julia’s lips thinned. “Yes. Rather.”

They ate in awkward silence. 

The faint beeps of Gerard’s arcade game echoed through Jon’s ears in the oddly silent diner. Jon wondered, not for the first time, what it meant to protect someone. To keep them from harm. To minimize the amount of danger in their lives. Was it to keep them from all scary things? Or was it to give them the weapons to fight the scary things themselves?

It was a little too late for Gerard. He was long dead, and they all knew it. But still Jon felt it, that strange tug in his husk of a heart, the only part of him left that knew that more knowledge isn't always a good thing. Jon had never really been able to protect anybody. Maybe all he could do was to avenge them. Georgie wasn’t safe. Maybe it was too late for her too. During the apocalypse, would she survive? Could Jon guarantee it? 

“Hey.” Georgie kicked his foot, fluttering her eyelashes at him in a very non-Georgie way “Wanna go make out in the bathroom?”

What. What? “Er,” Jon said, flustered. “If - if you want?”

“Great.” Georgie grabbed Jon’s greasy hand and slid them both out of the vinyl seats. ‘If you’ll excuse us.”

As Georgie pulled him towards the double doors, Jon distinctly heard Trevor say nostalgically, “Ah, young love.”

The bathroom was unisex, single stall, and sticky with a substance that Jon had to work very hard not to Know. It was not very romantic, or sanitary at all, and Jon pulled at his collar as Georgie locked the door behind her. There was ugly art on the wall, a poster for a Livestock Show or something. What was America. “Listen, Georgie, I want you to know that I do enjoy kissing sometimes, but I really have to be in the mood, like it has to be a real moment for me -”

“Good christ, Jon,” Georgie started, but Jon barrelled over her. 

“I need you to respect my boundaries, and part of those boundaries are not making out in random bathrooms. Plus we aren’t actually dating in any romantic sense, and I don’t want you to feel entitled to this sort of behavior -”

“So we both know they have the book, right?” Georgie interrupted him, and Jon clicked his mouth shut. “Because I don’t want to make out with you and that’s what I was actually worried about here. Julia and Trevor have Gerard’s Leitner. The one that - killed or trapped him or something. I don’t think they’re going to part with it willingly.”

Oh. Jon blinked, hard. “I think you’re right. Good work, Georgie.”

“You are so bad with people,” she said dryly. “It’s a good thing I’m here.”

“Yes, rather.” Jon thought hard, and a recollection of what Gertrude had been doing with Gerard’s body sprung to mind. “The first Leitner Mary Keay ever found. It bound someone’s skin to a book, and from that you could call up the ghost. Gertrude knew of it, and I’m guessing it may be in the possession of Julia and Trevor now.”

“Separation of body and soul,” Georgie muttered, leaning against the chipped and wobbling sink. “That’s what Gerry was talking about. They must know where it is. That’s why you felt the need to lie to them about his name. They know his name.”

“I could ask -”

“ - and they would leave our assess in the Middle of Nowhere, Nowhereshire,” Georgie reminded him. “Your powers are only good for bridges we don’t want to burn. People resent when autonomy is taken away from them.”

“What’s the big deal?” Jon asked, unimpressed. “It’s just free will. How much of it do any of us really have, anyway?”

“Thanks, I told Melanie I’d write down whatever creepy thing you say this trip and you’re really beefing up that list.” Georgie sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You distract them. You are great at that. Gerard and I are going to break into their car and rummage through their boot full of guns, see if there’s anything useful there. Hopefully they won’t know anything’s wrong and we still have a ride out of here with two Avatars who don’t want to kill us.”

“I don’t have a good track record of things not wanting to kill me,” Jon said seriously. 

“I know, that’s why I’m here. Without me you’d die in a day.” Georgie looked upwards. “You hear that, Eye? I am the sole thing keeping Jonathan Sims alive.”

“We know,” Jon intoned seriously. “You Will Be Rewarded.”

“That’s on the list too, just so you know.”

“I’m alright with that.”

Jon took a second to fish through his pocket, withdrawing his lighter. He didn’t quite remember where he had gotten it, which was unusual, but he smacked it into Georgie’s palm anyway. “You’ll need this. Take Gerard, be quick.”

They escaped the bathroom quickly, after Georgie took the opportunity to mess up his hair (which he had given up on cutting and settled for pulling into a tight ponytail that made him look like a friendly druggie, in his opinion) and quickly kiss him on the lips. She pulled him out of the bathroom, giggling, but quietly separated from him and went over to the Arcade area to check on Gerard as Jon slid back into his seat. 

“So,” he said, folding his hands on the sticky table. “If you two are up to making a statement, I’m curious about how you met.”

Julia and Trevor looked at each other, then shrugged. Behind them, Georgie and Gerard snuck out the back door to the parking lot. 

The Statement was good. Jon loved it, personally. Had all the right bits in it that made a proper statement. He hoped the Eye was happy with it, if the Eye felt things like ‘happiness’ or had feelings at all. Sometimes Jon felt as if it did. Curiosity, maybe. Maybe that was the only one. He had the feeling he entertained it. 

That being said, Jon couldn’t grow too invested in the Statement. They were arranged so Julia and Trevor had their backs to the window, so Jon was forced to focus on Julia’s face instead of the way Georgie picked the lock of the Impala in the parking lot with Gerard standing guard. He nodded along when Julia told about how she met Trevor when Georgie practically disappeared into the boot of shotgun death. He made appropriately interested noises when Georgie emerged triumphant with a book and started reading from it out loud as Gerard freaked out. And he was forced to try to lengthen the Statement as long as possible when a ghostly, much older version of Gerard appeared and started monologuing at a shocked Georgie and an infuriated Gerard. Jon saw out of the corner of his eye Georgie rip the page from the book, stuff it in her pocket, and grab Gerard’s hand as the ghost version of himself disappeared. 

Twenty minutes later, after their food had grown cold, Georgie and Gerard returned to the booth. Georgie had a wide grin on her face that couldn’t help but seem a little forced, and Gerard looked strongly as if he had been crying. 

“Sorry for the holdup,” Georgie said breathlessly. “Michael had to throw up a wee bit. The long car ride and the burger didn’t agree with him, I’m afraid.” It was believable - Gerard looked strongly as if he was going to be ill, or that he had been ill. “Are we ready to go?”

They were, and soon enough they were back on the infinite expanse of road. Jon ached with the need to find out what the hell that ghost shit was, but he would have to wait for the opportunity. 

They crashed at a motel five miles out from some Midwestern City Jon couldn’t remember the name of, waving goodbye to Julia and Trevor. They had ended up being pretty nice. Hadn’t tried to kill him once. That was always a positive interaction in Jon’s book. They could rent a car from the motel, and get the rest of the way to the Usher Foundation by themselves. If that was still the plan. Jon was having to grow used to not knowing what he was doing. 

It was only after they signed into the motel room, dropped their luggage onto the grimy beds, and Jon quickly scrubbed his mind of the knowledge of what had happened on those beds, that Georgie silently withdrew a folded piece of paper from her pocket. She also withdrew a tape recorder from her other pocket, an unfamiliar one to the both of them. Gerard curled up into a ball on the bed, resting his forehead on his knees, and once Georgie passed him the paper and the tape recorder she walked over to go sit next to him, rubbing calming circles in his back. 

The paper in Jon’s hands...didn’t feel quite like paper. He looked down at it, and rubbed it a little. It felt oddly...fleshy. 

Jon played the tape recorder. Listened carefully. Gerard, the one sitting on the bed, held his hands over his ears tightly. Georgie had a particular expression on her face - like his pain was her pain too, like seeing him hurt had hurt her. 

He also recognized that look on her face. It made him want to hide behind a very large piece of furniture. 

“Should I…” Jon said haltingly. “Should I read it?” Nobody said anything. “Gerard, I won’t read it unless you say that I can.”

“Just burn it,” Gerard said bitterly. 

“We don’t know what that’ll do to you,” Georgie said instantly. “You could disappear.”

“Then let me!” Gerard yelled, yanking his head up. Tear tracks were clear down his face, ruddy and puffy, and Jon was shocked by the display of emotion from the stoic kid. “I should be dead anyway! I am dead!”

Jon and Georgie just looked at each other. This was so far beyond their very limited paygrade as parents that it wasn’t even funny. 

Finally, Gerard spat out, “Read it. He has stuff he wants to say to you.”

It felt like dark magic. It felt like a fucking bizarre thing to do in a motel room, with a tube telly that played CNN instead of the BBC. But Jon read it out, carefully and hesitantly, and fought to contain his horror and amazement when Gerard Keay appeared in the motel room. A different Gerard Keay. 

He was an adult, yet looked shockingly similar enough that it was a miracle Julia and Trevor hadn’t recognized him. It was a look that worked for a teenager in the early 2000s, but not really for an adult. He looked tired, more tired than anything else, and like he desperately wanted a cigarette. It was strange, unbelievably strange, and somewhat disturbing. Seeing Gerard grown up like this, into someone so bitter and tired - it wasn’t what Jon wanted. But since when did he ever get what he wanted?

“And who might you be?” Gerard asked, unimpressed. Adult Gerard. He walked over to the foot of the bed that Teen Gerard was lying on, sitting down on the edge and resting his elbows on his knees. “The Archivist Ms. Barker was telling me about?”

“I imagine you must not be a big fan of Archivists,” Jon said, through a mouth feeling like it had been stuffed full of cotton. “I - this is a bad situation for everyone.”

“Yeah, no shit.” Adult Gerard sighed, rubbing his forehead. “Got any smokes? Your girlfriend didn’t.”

Jon silently pulled out a pack of fags and his lighter and passed it to Gerard. It went straight through him. That didn’t happen with his Gerard. Jon internally resolved to call the adult one Gerard and the teen one Gerry, otherwise this was getting too confusing. “Sorry about that.”

“I only told Ms. Barker what she needed to know because she promised to burn my page,” Gerard said, scowling at the way the cigarettes passed through his hand until Jon silently took them back. “If you’re going to go back on that promise then I’m not telling you shit anymore.”

“I’m not going to go back on it,” Jon said hesitantly. The cassette held nothing but Gerard’s statement, and stopped short right as Gerry started speaking. He wanted to know what they talked about. But it was really none of his business. “I’ve been - Georgie and I have been keeping an eye on the other half of you. I didn’t know this Leitner had that - unique side effect.”

“Nobody did. I’m not sure it does.” Gerard eyed Gerry out of the corner of his eye, who was resolutely refusing to look at him. “I dunno what the fuck is up with that kid. I had no idea I looked so stupid as a teenager.”

“You look stupid as an adult,” Gerry snapped. 

“Well maybe if you weren’t such a sad sack -”

“It’s not my fault, asshole!”

“You’re a loser,” Gerard said viciously. “Always running after Mum all the time. You grow up and you spend the rest of your short life running after Gertrude who, by the way, traps you in a book. Always looking for another Mummy figure. Congrats, kid. You found one again. How long before she’ll fuck you over too?”

“You don’t know anything!” Gerry yelled. “You’re just a pathetic old man!”

“You’re a stupid kid! Stupid, matricidal -

“It wasn’t my fault!”

“You’re going to hell!”

“That’s quite enough,” Georgie said sharply, and both Gerards shut up. “Look, I get it. If I ran into my fifteen year old self, I would - well, I might choke her to death, I don’t know. But this isn’t helpful. We want you to pass on, obviously, and we will do everything we can to make that happen. Gerry.” She turned back to Gerry, who looked on the verge of tears again. “What do you want? Do you want to pass on, or do you want to stay here? Jon and I will support whatever decision you make.”

Gerry fisted his hand in the comforter, clutching it tightly. “It’’s dumb, but I’m scared.”

“That’s not dumb,” Georgie said gently. “I think that’s something everyone’s scared of.”

“Not you,” Gerry said.

“No,” Georgie said. “Not me. But I wish I was. It’s a good thing, what you’re feeling.” She turned back to Jon. “Will burning Gerard’s page make Gerry go too?”

For a brief, stupid second, Jon was amused that Georgie had independently decided to go by the same nickname system. But the reality of the situation quickly caught up with him. Jon squeezed his eyes shut up and opened his Eye, searching hard, pleading to the Beholding for any sort of answers. But it was silent, as it always was in matters related to the Unknowing, and all it gave Jon was a splitting migraine. 

“I don’t know,” Jon grit out, rubbing his temples. “I can’t tell. My omniscience is - well, I’m not omniscient.”

“You Archivists are all the same,” snarked Gerard. “Always so convinced you know everything, when you never know anything useful. How many Assistants have you thrown to the wolves, Archivist? To save the world, how many would you?”

“None,” Jon snapped. “I don’t give a shit about the world. I’m trying to save you .”

“If you don’t burn my page, you’re leaving me in Hell for all time,” Gerard said, with a kind of calm surety that shook Jon. “If you really cared about me, you would burn it no matter what. I’ve told you all I know about the Unknowing. Do it.”

But it wasn’t Gerard that Jon cared about. It was Gerry, who was practically shaking on the cheap motel bed, looking more scared than he ever had. More scared than he was when Jon had forced answers out of him. 

“Jon,” Georgie whispered. Looking to him for answers. Wasn’t she the one without fear? Why couldn’t she decide? 

But this wasn’t her job. She had just come along to support him, or keep an eye on him. Jon looked down at the page in his hand, at the lighter in his other. 

The Archivist. Holder of great power. It had made him feel good, to have that title. To have the responsibility. Maybe it had made Gertrude feel good too, to be the sole heroine in charge of saving the world. It was hard to trust other people. It left you vulnerable. Even when they weren’t being threatened every day.

He should have just come by himself. Dealt with everything by himself, worrying nobody, never having to rely on anyone else. Maybe he would be dead by now, but at least the decision would have been up to just him. But was it worth it, to live like that? Alone, forever? 

He walked around the bed until he sat down next to Georgie, in front of Gerry. He held out the lighter and the page to Gerry, staring straight into his eyes and trying to transmit courage he didn’t feel. As a parent all he wanted to do was protect him from everything hard, and this was the hardest thing of all, but it wasn’t his fight. It wasn’t his life. Jon didn’t have the right to make these decisions for other people. Gertrude had thought that, and all it had gotten her was a lonely death. 

“You have to choose,” Jon said quietly, as Gerry silently took the offered page and lighter. “I don’t know what’ll happen if you burn this page. But whatever you decide to do, Georgie and I will support you.”

“Kid,” Gerard whispered, “ please .”

Gerry clutched the page and lighter in his fist. He looked down at it, hand shaking so bad it was rattling the paper. His eyes were wide, and he looked strongly as if he was looking down the face of his own death. Like he was holding his own skin in his hands. 

What would happen, once they burned the page? Would both Gerard and Gerry disappear? Or would only Gerard? Would some other thing, something unexpected, happen? Jon needed to know, but he didn’t. How could he be so useless?

Gerry looked up at Georgie, whose face was still creased in concern, and before any of them could think Gerry had wrapped her in a tight hug. “I’m sorry,” Gerry said. “This was - this was good. What you gave me was good. I had a big hole in my heart where - where somebody like you should have been, and you and Jon filled it. Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Georgie said, clutching him tightly. “But please don’t go.”

Gerry wriggled out of her grasp, and looked seriously at Jon. Before Jon could think better of it, he hugged him tightly too, and Gerry buried his face into his shoulder. “I am very sorry,” Jon whispered. “You deserved better than this.”

“I guess I did, huh?” Gerry said, releasing him. He wiped at his eyes with his free hand. “It’s weird. I deserved more than my life. It wasn’t all bad, but - but I would have liked something normal too.” He looked at Jon seriously, almost grimly. “Jon. When you destroy and remake the world. Can you make it someplace that’s...I don’t know. Can you make it fair?”

I don’t know, Jon wanted to say. I don’t think that’s possible. I didn’t even know I was supposed to destroy and remake the world until you just said it. But what Jon said instead was, “Of course.”

Gerry set his expression. He held the page up, held the lighter beneath it. He stared at them both for what felt like a very long time to all of them. 

Then he looked back up at Gerard, at the tattooed eye that stretched across his clavicle, and before anybody could react he leaned forward and hugged him tightly too. 

“I forgive you,” Gerry said. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”

Jon couldn’t see Gerard’s expression, but he could imagine. “Idiot,” Gerard said. “I’m supposed to say that to you.”

A small flame flickered on the lighter, and Gerry lifted it to the paper. He was still hugging Gerard when he burned away. 

The room filled with an awful stench, like sulfur and meat, and Georgie silently got off the bed and opened a window. Looking away. Jon couldn’t. He kept staring at Gerry - Gerard - waiting for him to disappear, waiting for him to burn up too. 

But he just stayed crouched on the bed, bent over himself, holding a page of flesh by two fingers until it burned into ash. 

Georgie didn’t look away from the window. “Is he…”

“He’s still here,” Jon said, and when Georgie turned to face Gerard he saw that she was crying. She stepped back to the bed and hugged him deeply, and Jon hugged them both too, and the blowing breeze from the window blew the ash far away. 

Gerard was a little different after that. For one thing, he helped Georgie raid the minibar on the flight back. For another thing, there was now a gigantic eye tattooed across his clavicle. Jon thought it was a little tasteless. Georgie was proud of her goth son. 

He spent a large part of the ten hour ride back chatting with Jon about their favorite books, and why Breaking Dawn was such an insult to the first three books of the franchise. He played poker with Georgie and fleeced the other passengers. He even helped Jon get the life stories from passengers foolhardy enough to protest that Georgie was fleecing them. First class was really something. 

“Is this moral?” Jon checked in with Georgie, as he wrung the Swiss bank account details out of a CEO. She was Snapchatting them doing it. And Jon had promised to outsource morality to her lately. 

“They’re rich. There’s nothing we can do to them that isn’t moral.” Georgie giggled as Gerard carefully logged into the CEO’s Chase account and withdrew all his money. “This is going to your uni fund, Gerard.”

“I don’t think I legally exist,” Gerard pointed out, whispering something to the CEO that made him start weeping and swear that the events of this flight were nothing more than a bad dream. “Will uni still be around when you destroy and remake the world, Jon?”

“No, we’ll just all wake up knowing all of human knowledge,” Jon said wryly. He was joking. He didn’t know what the Beholding’s apocalypse would entail, and Gerard had been frustratingly silent on the matter. “The secretary for the Usher Foundation almost cried when I told her that I wouldn’t be making the trip there after all. Think they’re scared of me?”

“Who wouldn’t be scared of you?” Gerard said loyally. 

Georgie just snorted. “Who would be scared of you? All you can do is just play a really intense game of truth or dare. Now ask that guy for the passcode to his phone so we can take selfies on it.”

“Hey, how long will it take until you can’t die?” Gerard asked, making the CEO they were terrorizing turn pale. “Becoming an Avatar cured Trevor’s lung cancer, didn’t it? And June Perry self-immolated and still lived.”

“Didn’t save Gertrude,” Jon pointed out, which stopped that topic of conversation short. Gerard’s expression shuttered blank, and Jon remembered that Gerard now seemed to remember his life in much more complexity than he had before. Jon frantically held up his Kindle. “Would you like me to read you the first chapter to Fellowship of the Rings again?”

As always, this perked Gerard up. “Yes please! You do such good voices!” 

“Oh, is it read aloud time?” Georgie asked, giving the CEO his phone back and patting him on the hand. “We were never here. Wait for me, I love hearing Jon read out loud shit.”

Maybe things would be okay. Even if they were only okay until they touched back down in England, even if they were only alright so long as Jon sat in a cushy airline chair with his family around him listening to him read out the tale of Bilbo Baggins’s eleventy-first birthday party, that was okay. If things were alright for this moment, he could pretend that they would be alright forever. 

But it was just pretend, just like their family was. Gerard constantly searching for that parental figure, Georgie constantly searching for someone who will stay and give her stability, Jon constantly searching for people who wouldn’t leave him alone again. They had found each other, perfectly matching neuroses. Jon and Georgie had always been bad people in the worst possible way for each other, but they were twisted together too, like roots in a tree. They had always made each other worse, but at their best they made each other better. They grounded each other. Even if it was a farce, it was a farce all three of them had accepted. 

How long could you tell yourself a false thing was true until it was true? How long did it take until you could convince yourself? Had it already happened? Was it even false at all? 

They touched down in England, and Jon found himself thinking: home again. 

When they trudged into their Victorian home in Notting hill, rubbing eyes and yawning behind fists, Jon found himself thinking: home again. 

When he collapsed into the bed that he shared with Georgie more nights than he slept in his own, he thought: I’m home, I’m home, I’m home. 

Melanie was acting strangely. 

Actually, all of his employees were acting strangely. Jon returned to work after a day taken off so he could catch up on jet lag, triumphantly bearing American goodies. He had gotten a snowglobe for Daisy, featuring one of those fuck-off giant lakes in the area, and for Basira he got a really gorgeous copy of the Qur’an he had found in a charity shop for a few “dollars”. For Tim he had gotten a tacky American flag tank top, Melanie a novelty shot glass, and he had agonized over Martin’s gift so much Georgie had randomly grabbed a mug espousing Midwestern pride. He was in a good mood, happy to be back at work, and ready to get cracking on preventing the apocalypse so he could install a nicer one later. 

“What’s up, sluts,” Jon called, kicking the door open. “I’m back from the States and they have so many guns, good lord -”

But when he stepped into the Archives it was dead silent. Everybody was bent over their desks, working quietly away on their computers or reading books, not chatting at all. Tim was awake. Melanie was typing up a report. Basira was reading a book about evil circuses. Martin was...filling. Martin. 

“Uh.” Jon faltered, scanning the room. Everybody glanced up sharply when he walked in, expressions tight and unhappy. “Who died?”

It wasn’t a joke. He was counting heads, trying to remember if he had seen Daisy around. Melanie’s expression crumpled, looking both miserable and furious, and Jon instinctively slammed his Eye open to make sure that Georgie and Gerard were alright. They were - Georgie was editing her American edition of the podcast and Gerard was bothering the employees at the local vinyl shop. 

“Jon.” Martin stood up, wringing his hands. “Good to see you back. We, uh, have a few reports to make on our progress stopping the Unknowing -”

“Fine, great,” Jon interrupted brusquely. “What happened? Why are you all working?”

“We do work here, Boss, ” Tim said acidly. “What do you think we do all day when you’re off galavanting in the New World?”

“Technically, I was murdering Gerard Keay,” Jon corrected. “But he asked me to, so it’s fine.” He met Tim’s eyes, and wove a thread of compulsion into his words. He saw it hit Tim, saw the way he clenched his jaw and a vein on his forehead bulged. “What happened?”

“Elias happened,” Tim snapped. “He gave out performance reviews .”

“Oh.” Jon stopped short. “Yeah, I got mine a while ago. He said...uh, good job, gave me another raise. Why, what did he tell you? Honestly, I didn’t think he was very serious about them.”

That was when Melanie started crying, and Martin rushed over to comfort her, and Basira frantically patted her on the back, Tim screamed at Jon until he was forced to retreat to his office and lock the door just to be safe. He was forced to type up his report about what he found in America amidst the sounds of Melanie’s crying, of Martin’s quiet soothing and offerings of tea, of Basira’s dangerous silence. It made him uncomfortable, and guilty about his good mood. What had Elias even done to her? He was annoying, but not scary

A memory clocked him across the head, of many months ago. Elias showing up at the flat, casually wondering about the number of fire exits as Jon stood there and sweated. If he thought Georgie and Gerard would make it out in time. It seemed so far away now, like it was just a joke between them instead of a real and present threat. There were so many things scarier than Elias now, that weren’t on his side. 

Were he and Elias on the same side? They both worshipped the same god, served the same master. It should be that simple. Jon didn’t want to acknowledge that it wasn’t. 

He sighed. He wasn’t much in the habit of ignoring reality. He stood up from his chair, scraping it against the hardwood, and unlocked the door to his office to poke his head into the main room of the Archives. 

“Melanie,” he called, tired. “My office, please.”

She stood up, still scrubbing at her face with a washcloth that only Martin would have provided, and stalked towards his office with her shoulders hunched up to her ears. 

She threw herself into the rigid wooden chair in front of his desk, and Jon fought the urge to sigh again as he sat down on the other side. She folded her arms and slouched against the back, like a teenager, and Jon folded his own hands on the desk. 

“I can’t help if I don’t know what happened.”

Silence. Melanie looked past him, at a random spot on the wall. 

“You can either tell me of your own free will, and have the ability to choose what you tell me, or I can compel you. I need to know so I can help you.”

“How kind,” Melanie dripped, the venom in her voice matching Tim’s. “You always give Georgie that much of a choice at home?”

Something cold with a ragged edge flared in Jon’s chest, and he fought to keep his expression placid. “Never say something like that to me again.” He was… rewarded with Melanie’s flinch. “Melanie, please tell me what happened so I can go tell him never to do it again. He’ll listen to me.”

“You’re in cahoots,” Melanie snapped. “Tim’s right. You’re always holed up in his office, plotting shit, and disappearing for weeks. Bet he has you in demon boot camp.”

“I disappeared because I was kidnapped !”

“Were you?” Melanie said, expression vicious. “Because you didn’t seem all that injured. You just escaped all by yourself, and what, walked home? Evil clown lady kept you for a month, didn’t feed you, didn’t give you water, and you come back with soft skin? And you tell us nothing about anything that happened, going on about how you don’t remember?  Forgive me if I’m not an idiot.”

Okay, that’s it. Jon forced his power through his words, sinking them deep in the compulsion. “What happened between you and Elias?”

She told him. Quickly, easily, yet fraught with emotion and tension. She was a good storyteller - but then, they all were. Jon listened with a stony face the entire time, taking in the short Statement. 

Halfway through, Martin knocked with a short rap on the door and walked in with a stack of files and a mug of tea. The sight was so intensely familiar that it was calming to Jon, but there was a fraught tension in the way he slid in and placed the files and mug on Jon’s desk. He paid more attention to Melanie instead, watching the way she didn’t pause or take a breath as she recited her Statement in a dull, monotone voice. Martin’s expression tightened, looking distinctly unhappy, and Jon fought the urge to squirm in his seat. 

“You’re dismissed,” he said quietly, and Martin slipped back out. 

They both felt it when the compulsion snapped. Melanie exhaled, sagging in her seat, and Jon scrubbed at his face with both hands. He felt as if he should say something, anything comforting, but before he could try to dredge something up Melanie was already standing up from her seat. She wasn’t crying anymore. She looked a little as if she wanted to slip rat poison in his coffee, which was so thoroughly Melanie it actually reassured him. 

“Fuck you ,” she hissed, turning sharply on her heel and stomping out the door. She slammed it behind her. 

Jon kneaded his forehead again, pulling the files Martin brought in closer. He would confront Elias later. For right now...sweet, sweet paperwork. 

He had to hold a staff meeting. He wanted Martin’s help in combing the Archives and looking for any mention of skin. Setting Nikola’s precious skin on fire had to do something useful, or at least Gerard had said that it would. He already knew what burning skin smelled like by now. He should start doing that research, get everybody on it with the new information he had. 

But something stopped him. They needed a little space. Maybe in a few hours their tempers would have cooled. It was still disconcerting, the way he didn’t hear roughhousing and joking and arguing through the thin door to his office. Made the place seem a little lonelier. 

Hours later, long after Jon had lost track of time searching his notes and trying to make sense of them, Martin knocked on the door and slipped in. He wasn’t holding anything, which meant that he wasn’t even going to pretend to use a pretense for coming in, which meant that this was a Serious Conversation. Jon sighed, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms across the chest. Martin radiated quiet, severe disapproval. 

“Did it occur to you,” Martin said crisply, before Jon could even begin to defend himself, “that you could have just asked me or Basira what happened? To avoid re-traumatizing Melanie by making her relive the whole thing?”

It had not. It hadn’t at all. Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat, abruptly put on the defensive. “I wanted to...respect her privacy…”

“By, and I repeat myself, re-traumatizing her? I don’t know if you’re an idiot or a jerk,” Martin said severely, and Jon reeled back. Martin had never said anything like that to him. He was so...nice. “You don’t always know best, Jon. Actually, I can count the number of times you know best on one hand. With fingers left over.”

“I’m trying to protect you from Elias -”

“Do you want a medal? That’s literally your job. It’s our job to do whatever you want and subject ourselves to your gross invasions of privacy, and it’s your job to protect us from Elias. You were gone. And you didn’t. And then you came back, and did to us what Elias is doing to us every day.” Martin took a deep, steadying breath, and Jon found himself lost. “You failed. That’s fine. You were gone, and - and the Unknowing is more important than any one of us. But you are literally the only thing standing between us and that Clockwork Orange brainwashing shite that everyone else is getting. So, Jon? Get your fucking shit together.”

This was… the most harsh Martin had ever been towards him, ever. Because he hurt Melanie’s feelings . Jon was blown away. He hadn’t known that this was what would make him snap. It was also weirdly hot, which Jon refused to acknowledge. 

“Uh. Yes. I will. Thank you, Martin. I - appreciate it.” 

Martin nodded crisply, mouth set in a firm line, before leaving the office and closing the door shut behind him. Although it was silent, and far out of sight, Jon Knew that Martin then proceeded to have a miniature freakout over yelling at Jon, what if he smited him with evil demon Avatar powers - or, worse, what if he thought Martin hated him now? Should he got back and apologize? No, it was for Melanie! He’d just have to make Jon a - a gift basket or something. But not an apologetic one. A ‘hope we’re still friends’ one. 

Huh. Could Jon read minds? Or did he just know Martin very well? Did it matter?

He waited until all of his assistants had gone home, Martin leaving last, before Jon quietly left his office and walked up the basement stairs, up two more flights, brushed past a cheerful Rosie, and stopped in front of the door to Elias’ office. 

Jon’s powers had grown. They were growing every day. His kidnapping had kicked them into high gear, but every step closer he got towards the Unknowing felt like an awakening. Weeks ago, it would have been impossible for Jon to hide anything from Elias. Today...maybe he could manage it. If he put an element of truth into it, showed Elias what he wanted to see. He didn’t know if it would work, but he didn’t know everything. 

A deep breath, and a soft exhale. Jon’s hand lingered over the doorknob. He cleared his mind of everything but how it felt to consume fear, the headiness of opening the Eye, the satisfaction of an apocalypse well conducted. 

Jon - the Archivist - walked into Elias’ office.

Elias, obviously, was not surprised to see him. Jon felt his face settle into a blank mask, eyes clouded and far away, and Elias looked up. He felt his Eye on him, the lingering presence drifting behind him whenever he was in the Institute, the prickling feeling of being watched, and with power that he hadn’t known he possessed Jon pushed it away. 

For the first time, the older man looked surprised. But he didn’t mention it - maybe it wasn’t polite to acknowledge the thousand petty extradimensional tug of wars you played - instead mildly stating, “Did you enjoy your work trip?”

“It was informative,” Jon intoned. He strode up to Elias’ desk and tossed the manila folder with his report on it, scattering a few papers. “But that is not why I am here.”

“Indeed. I Saw the drama this morning. Unfortunate, but necessary.” Elias raised an eyebrow. “Surprising response from Martin, typical response from Melanie. Most other people would not nearly be so blase as I was about a murder attempt, Jon. I think she got off relatively light. That office could use a little more...order.”

“I will take care of it,” Jon said flatly. “Leave the discipline of my assistants to me. The Archives are mine.”

Another prod, more forceful. Jon let it see a glimpse of his mind, just what it wanted to see, before pushing it away again. He was rapidly developing a killer headache. 

“Are you even capable of playing bad cop?” Elias asked, twirling a pen in his hands. The same one Peter had given him, the engraved titanium one. “You don’t exactly have a need to be liked, but I’m afraid you don’t have the stomach for it.”

“I’m no Gertrude,” Jon stated. He leaned forward and, reaching out a hand, grabbed Elias’ tie and reeled him in. All it did was make Elias smile, but that was the point. He soaked his words heavily in the compulsion, battering down every hatch Elias had. “I’m far more of a loyal servant to the Eye than she ever was. Are you loyal, Elias?”

Elias gasped, but made no attempt to escape from Jon’s grip. He just grinned instead, wider and wider. “More than you could possibly understand.”

“Then trust the Eye’s judgement in choosing me,” Jon said flatly, dropping him back on his chair. He was at least thirty centimeters taller than Elias, but sometimes it was impossible to feel anything but small and stupid in front of him. But nobody made him feel stupid. Not anymore. “Don’t break my toys.”

“Duly noted,” Elias said - gasped, actually, had he been clutching him that tight? He  rearranged his tie, flashing a winning grin at Jon. “You’re coming along very nicely, Jon. Or is that what you want me to think?”

“Think whatever you like,” Jon said cooly. “Good night, Elias.”

“The Eye didn’t choose you,” he pressed, still smiling that Mona Lisa smile. “The Web marked you, and I hired you. I had to spend years hollowing you out before you were ready for this gift.”

“If that’s what you think,” Jon said, “then you’re too blind for this job.”

He left the office quietly, but it wasn’t until Jon had thrown his things in his satchel and had funnelled into the train home that he was able to relax. He exhaled deeply, and let every unacceptable part of himself rush back into his mind: Georgie’s hand in his, Martin’s smile, Gerard’s unblinking eye tattoo. The full power of the migraine hit him like a freight train, and he was just barely capable of disembarking the train and stumbling home. It took him three tries to get the keys through the door, and when he sat down on the couch with his head in his hands he had resolved to never move again. 

Hours, or minutes, passed. Jon kept his hands very firmly pressed over his eyes, trying very hard to think and Know nothing at all. Focus on your breathing. Focus on yourself. Jon still existed. Whoever he was, whoever that messy and cruel and good person he had been, was still there. He couldn’t lose it now. Georgie would kill him. 

“Good evening, family, you will not believe the day I’ve - Jon, are you alright?”

A soft weight on the sofa next to him, cool fingers rubbing into his shoulders. It did help, just a little. He heard Gerard’s scratchy, creaking voice behind him. “He’s been like this ever since he got home. Psychic kickback, I think. Or just, like, stress.”

“Jon? Honey, are you alright? Gerry, grab us the migraine medication and some water please, that’s a good lad.”

After a minute, or some period of time, Jon felt a small hand grab his own and press some pills into it. He threw them back without thinking about it, and the same hands carefully pulled him up and pushed him up the stairs into his own bedroom. It was too bright, but then the lights were extinguished, and Jon was gently pushed onto the bed. His shoes became separated from his feet, the comforter was drawn up around his chin, and someone lightly kissed his forehead. 

He didn’t know what happened after that, because he fell asleep quickly. 

He woke up again some time later, when the door to his bedroom creaked open. He opened his eyes, rubbing the sleep from them, to see Georgie standing at the door with some toast and coffee. She saw him looking back at her, and carefully put the food on the nightstand near his bed. 

“Don’t let me oversleep for work tomorrow,” Jon rasped. Georgie bent down, smoothing his unruly hair down with her palm. 

“Since when do you care about that?”

Melanie hadn’t told her. That’s - that’s surprising. He had thought that they were close. The idea that there were complicated relationship dynamics emerging that he knew nothing about infuriated him. 

Was it him? Did Melanie think that Georgie was on his side now, not hers, that she couldn’t be trusted anymore? Jon didn’t want that. He wanted Georgie to have someone fill that role in her life, to have a woman like Melanie in it. He didn’t want to ruin that for her. If he made her choose, who would she choose? He didn’t want to know. 

They had been friends, maybe, in a fashion. Comrades in arms, at least. He didn’t know if they were even that anymore. 

He didn’t want to be lonely. 

“Ask Melanie,” Jon settled on finally, reaching out and taking a small sip of the coffee before chugging it. “Georgie, I - I may have to do some things which seem rather bad.”

“I bought a new coffee machine with the money we stole from that capitalist douche,” Georgie said promptly. “Can’t be that bad.”

“Worse than that,” Jon said lowly. “To - people I care about.”

She stared at him, with big brown eyes, rich and dark. “If you had to choose,” Georgie said lowly, “between us and the Eye, who would you choose?”

The answer intensified his headache until Jon was almost screaming with it, clutching his head and curling up. Georgie gently massaged the back of his neck, in the specific way that he had always liked, gently easing the pressure. 

Who did Jon work for? Whose servant was he? This wasn’t what he wanted. When had he started wanting this? He had thought he was free. Georgie had told him a thousand times to do what he had to do in order to keep them all safe. He would. He was. But what if what he had to do was endangering them? His head swam with the conflicting questions that had no answer, and he did not so much fall asleep as pass back out, Georgie’s light and nimble fingers rubbing soft circles into his temples.

The next morning Jon dressed in pressed slacks, a button-up white shirt, and a blue vest. He threw on a soft brown blazer over it, pulling his hair into a tight ponytail that puffed at the end, and buttoned up the collar to hide as many worm scars as possible. It was close to what he wore when he had first started this job. Nothing close to the jeans and t-shirt he had been wearing lately. But he had to sell this. Or at least sell that he was pretending. He also threw on some untinted sunglasses, not that it was ever particularly sunny. He would look like a douchebag wearing them indoors, hopefully. 

Georgie had laughed at him when he came downstairs and Gerard took a few photos for his ‘cringe comp’, whatever that meant, but the tension was unmistakable. Jon kissed Georgie on the cheek and ruffled Gerard’s hair, keeping the sensations close to his heart, wishing deeply that they lived a life that was just a little closer to normal. 

He got into work early that morning, and holed himself up in his office until a solid thirty minutes after everyone had arrived. He had some leads on where to find Nikola’s skin, and some excellent ways to burn it. Daisy might be a help here. He had to implement some way to get her to report to him on her movements. If he was her boss. It felt like he was. But...there was the question of if anybody could tell Daisy what to do. 

It took a little while, but he heard his Assistants chatting quietly to each other amidst the sound of papers shuffling or recorders whirling. They had their own separate room for recording Statements, or more frequently they just used his office if he wasn’t in, but he sometimes heard them recording in the main office room. Mainly Martin, if he thought nobody was in there, when somebody was in there. 

He couldn’t procrastinate anymore. Jon sighed and stood up, putting the sunglasses back on and straightening his vest and blazer. Showtime. 

Jon stepped out of his office, silencing the entire room very effectively. Silencing everybody, in fact, save Martin, who had his back to him and hadn’t heard the door open. 

“ - so then I’m just standing there, with a completely falsified CV, and I figure - well, no way he can know, right? A masters in parapsychology definitely exists, right? I googled it! And like, what does the job even need? Filling? Who can’t file? Then the worst thing in my entire life happened, which is definitely this job, and now I’m wondering - hey, is a masters in parapsychology even real? Except every time I google it now , my computer starts bleeding. That’s not normal! Are - are you guys alright?”

“Glad to see we’re all on topic,” Jon intoned, and Martin whirled around. He opened his mouth, then closed it, then blushed very heavily. “Staff meeting, everybody. Gather ‘round.”

Abruptly, Tim stood up. His face was tight and drawn, and Jon abruptly remembered the labelled statement he had found on his desk after he had returned. So it had been the death of a brother. What would Tim do, for his brother? Almost anything, it seemed like. Leave a good job. Abandon a good life. To work here. That was loyalty, and love. “I have to go to the bathroom. Start without me.”

“Sit,” Jon said slowly, decisively. “Down.”

Tim sat down, lips pressed into a thin line. 

“Good. First off, I’d like to address the elephant in the room here.” Jon walked over and stood in front of all of the desks, instead of his usual position sitting in a chair next to Martin’s desk or leaning against Basira’s desk. “I had a discussion with Elias yesterday. He’s been…disappointed in some of our professional decorum around here. Showing up late, lack of respect for our patron, murder attempts, the like. I’ve assured him that things will be very different from here on.” He met each of their eyes, slowly and purposefully. Martin looked frightened, Melanie and Tim looked mutinous, but Basira just looked thoughtful. He had never quite gotten a good sense for her. It frustrated him.  “From now on we show up on time, and stay for our shifts. We are polite and respectful to our managers -” him and Elias, went unstated, “ - and our coworkers. We do our work with faith and care, and if we have any complaints we feel comfortable addressing them with me or Elias. Understood?” 

Everybody save Martin glared at him. But nobody argued. That was the important thing. He had been afraid about Tim - well, he had been afraid that he would have had to make an example out of Tim. 

“Great. Now, second order of business. I have some different avenues I’d like each of you to investigate...” 

  He doled out assignments, they all nodded along and put on their best faces, and the minute Jon turned back around and locked himself in his office they all broke into furious, offended whispering. Jon reclined in his seat, kicking his loafers up on the desk as he carefully listened to how even Martin wasn’t defending him anymore. It seemed the camps were split between ‘Jon’s evil and we gotta kill him’ (Melanie and Tim) or ‘Jon’s evil and we gotta kill the evil thing that’s possessed him’ (Martin and Basira). The sentence ‘Jon would brainwash us into revealing our childhood trauma to him but he would NEVER make us come to work on time’ was said. Excellent. 

About ten minutes before he knew that they were all going to leave for lunch Jon casually strode into the office again, cheerfully ignoring the way they all froze up like deer in headlights. He hoisted his paper bag aloft, filled with Gerard’s attempts to pack him a lunch (so, raw meat). “I thought we might all eat downstairs today!”

Tim masterfully fought a scowl. “Since when do we - ow!” Martin had elbowed him, who actually looked excited that Jon was eating with them. Or…something. He wasn’t sure why Martin would be excited. 

“But we’re already in the basement,” Basira said flatly. 

“Oh, you know,” Jon said, still magnanimous, “the other basement.” He stared meaningfully at the door to the Archival Library, which was full of cassettes, Statements, papers too spooky for the Library to touch, and a trapdoor. Everybody save Martin’s eyes widened with recognition, and they all casually picked up their lunches, filed into the room and disappeared down the trapdoor as Jon carefully didn’t look anywhere near it or think about it. Martin had to be towed along by Basira, but that was typical. 

By the time that Jon had descended the rough-hewn and slippery steps, his assistants were all already at each other’s throats. He was beginning to think that their group dynamic wasn’t the healthiest. They should go on retreat. Or something. 

“ - doubt we’re going to get axe murdered by him, Daisy would slaughter him,” Basira was saying, arms crossed and glaring at Tim. 

“You never know, do you?” Tim said nastily. “If we’re going to do it, this is as good a spot as any. Elias can’t see here. If we just -”

Martin was wringing his hands, yet again. “I think this is deeply unnecessary -”

“Good, we can finally talk.” Jon landed on the floor of the tunnels, and everyone whirled around to look at him. He carefully took off his sunglasses and folded them into his pockets, aiming for a winning grin but probably coming off more as a pained grimace. “This should give us some measure of privacy. The tunnels have been specially constructed to avoid Elias, and although I’m still attempting to get a sense for how Gertrude evaded Elias for so long, I’m not sure that I -”

“What do you want?” Tim snapped. “If you’re here to intimidate us some more, save it for after lunch -”

“He doesn’t mean that!” Basira said quickly, grabbing Tim’s arm and yanking him back. “He’s just - he’s just stressed.”

“It is so much work keeping you alive,” Melanie hissed to Tim. 

Jon held his hands above his head in mock surrender, feeling almost good. Almost. They were trying to keep each other alive. At least that was something. Granted, it was at the expense of trying to make him quite dead, but you couldn’t have everything. “I wanted to let you all know, in privacy, that I’ve finally gotten a swing of the art of shielding my thoughts from Elias. You see, the key is showing him what he wants to see. It’s all sleight of hand, right? Like a magic trick. It’s wildly difficult to discriminate what you know yourself from what the Eye tells you. So long as Elias sees exactly what he wants, or what he expects, he won’t go digging any further.”

They all stared at him. Jon bounced on the balls of his feet, excited and full of energy, finally glad that his assistants understood how hard he had been working and how rebellion was more possible than ever before. They would show Elias. Jon had a plan now, finally, and he was working off more information than he had ever had before. He knew the names of all of the Entities now! Would the others be interested in hearing them? Oh, he could make up a little leaflet, or a report -

“We know,” Melanie said shortly, scowling at him. Tim elbowed her sharply, and she elbowed him back with twice as much viciousness. “Distraction. And how these tunnels dampen his powers. We’ve been using them as a meeting base while while you were gallivanting off in the States. ”

“Oh.” Jon deflated a little. That was one way of going about it, he supposed. Not as effective as his way, or as subtle. But he supposed they didn’t have to deal with Elias one on one as much as he did. His way worked for his life, basically. “Well, that’s good. If we just - just combine these tactics, we have a real fighting chance. Go team!”

Everybody stared at him, identical expressions on their faces, as if they were all sucking on the same lemon. Everybody but Martin, who looked rather as if he had decided that he was the sole person on the team who could explain to Jon that a giant spider had eaten The Admiral. 

“Jon,” Martin said haltingly, “I understand that you’re...very stressed out right now, but -”

“Whose side are you on,” Basira said flatly, crossing her arms and flexing her improbable muscles at him. Jon abruptly wondered where Daisy was. She seemed to spend most of her time smoking in the library, hoping a spray spark would send the place alight and giving Diana a panic attack. She also seemed to be chauffeuring him around a lot lately, as if she was his Secret Service or something. Which was fun! He bought her kolaches. She had enjoyed her snow globe. Were they friends now? “Was everything up there...what, a performance?”

“Yes? Yes, obviously. That’s what I’m saying.” Jon waved around Gerry’s notebook, which he had finally been able to decipher as notes about the 14 Fears of Man and Beast. He had trouble deciphering them before his conversation with Gerard, because most of the notes had fallen along the lines of “End - Welcome To The Black Parade, Flesh - Teenagers, etc’. “If we hide our activities from him, we can successfully gather…blackmail on him or something. You all can figure it out. I’ve been occupied moving against the Unknowing. I managed to smuggle a right limb from Officer Mustermann back from Chicago, and -”

“Why?” Basira cut in ruthlessly. “Because what we are trying to do is getting him kicked out of this place so we can all leave. Is that what your goal too, Jon?”

Jon stopped short. “Even kicking him out wouldn’t work,” he said blankly. “He’s the beating heart of the Institute. The Eye would never allow you to leave.”

“And we do everything based on what the Eye wants,” Tim spat. 

“Yes? That’s how this works.” Jon tugged at his curls, unspooling them and releasing them, allowing them to bounce back into their natural shape. “You all have to set your sights a little lower.” Like, say, surviving the Apocalypse. Sorry, the Ritual. That was its name. Watcher’s Crown. What was it? It would be so exciting finding out. “You can’t just…punch a god in the face.”

“Like to see me try,” Melanie muttered. 

“Jon,” Martin said, lowly but firmly, and Jon found his attention snapping to him. He looked firm, yet sad. “How’s progress on stopping the Eye’s Apocalypse going?”

“Can’t we worry about the Stranger’s ritual before the Beholding’s?” Jon said irritably. As if he wasn’t overworked enough. “I can only try to have us all survive so many apocalypses at once.”

“So that’s the goal, then?” Basira asked sharply. “Survive? Not stop? Do you even want to stop the Eye’s Apocalypse, Jon? Because if you don’t, we aren’t on the same side.”

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it. He tried desperately to think of a good thing to say, a nice placating phrase that would make all parties happy, but he waited too long. Disgust crossed Basira’s features, a grim resignment passed over Tim and Melanie’s, and Martin just looked sadder. 

Had he given up? When had he given up? It must have been a very long time ago, if he couldn’t even remember. Jon didn’t think of himself as the kind of person to roll over and throw up his hands, but he hadn’t thought that he was capable of a lot of things. 

Did he want the Ritual to happen…? Of course not. But there were a lot of things that Jon didn’t want to happen that happened anyway. Like student loans, or capitalism. You couldn’t stop them, any more than you could stop a boulder rolling downhill. The best you could do was get out of way of the boulder. What an act of hubris, of misunderstanding, would it be, to think that you could stop gravity by willing it hard enough. 

He took a deep breath in, and out. Firmly, as genuinely as he could, he met each of their eyes and said, “The safety of each of you, and my family, is my utmost priority. Everything is second to that. I’m… sorry, but that’s the way it is. It’s the most I can guarantee. Actually stopping the Ritual… I wouldn’t fight you, if that’s what you decide to do. I’ll help, as best as I can. But if we must be on seperate sides, then we must. My goals will not change.”

Strangely enough, he saw it in Tim first. A strange thoughtfulness, a slow realization. Then he saw it in Basira, and then Melanie. The same thought, the thought that had crossed Jon’s mind months ago: maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to hedge our bets. A backup plan never went amiss. 

Then Tim shrugged, and a shockingly genuine, if shaky, smile stretched slowly grew on his face like the sun poking out from behind the clouds. “So what’s the plan, Boss?”

“We’re not going to like it,” Melanie muttered. But she was shooting Jon a contemplative look too, almost sizing him up. “If Jon’s going to be our token evil teammate, I vote for Basira as leader.” 

“Agreed,” Tim said quickly. “Martin votes for her too. Daisy, obviously. All in. Basira’s new leader.”

“Hey,” Martin protested, half-heartedly. “I didn’t - okay, fine.”

“I am your superior ,” Jon said, scandalized. 

“Only officially,” Basira said sweetly. Or as sweet as Basira ever got. “If you have any problems, bring it up with Daisy. I’d like a report on your findings from your trip by the end of today, if you please.”

“Whatever.” Jon rolled his eyes, holding the notebook up. “Now who’s going to help me distract Elias so I can raid Gertrude’s storage locker?”

But Melanie had called him a teammate. And maybe that was the most important thing.

Every hand in the tunnels went up. Basira quickly started texting Daisy, if she had even stopped. Tim and Melanie quickly started hashing out a plan, using Basira and Daisy as the distraction while they got into the storage locker. Tim was being watched too closely, but he would serve as a good diversion - if Tim got himself caught - no, no way! But if Tim walked around very loudly planning something, then that would distract Elias enough for Melanie, Martin, and Jon to get to the storage locker. Martin just wrung his hands and chewed his lip, shooting frightened glances at Jon as if he desperately wanted to tell him something. What a strange man. He was one of the few people left who Jon just didn’t understand. 

Georgie had told him many years ago what his problem was - one of her many opinions on his problems, back then. You always have to be the hero, she had said. You always have to play Superman. He had protested at the time, but she had been right. Jon always kept all of the information to himself so he could hold all the cards, so he could play big damn hero. When he was in trouble, he never reached out. Everything was the Jonathan Sims show, all the time. 

Now he couldn’t be the hero. That wasn’t his role here. It was to be Darth Vader, or Draco Malfoy, or Vegeta, or something. He had to let go of that, give it to someone else. He didn’t know why it was so hard. 

Case in point: Basira clapped him on the shoulder and told him that she was going to cause a distraction. He wasn’t allowed to know what it was . But that was fine. Just fine! Also, try to make your trip quick, thanks, don’t know how long the building’ll hold. 

He quickly pried up the loose floorboard in his office, scooped up the key, and brandished the address of the storage facility. “Let’s get lunch offsite,” he said loudly, as Martin nodded fervently and started ranting for an exceedingly long time about his favorite kebab places in London as Melanie pretended to bitch at him over it. 

But, hey - who was the most iconic character in Star Wars? Luke or Vader?

Chapter Text


The storage facility advertised how climate controlled it was. This worried Jon, for reasons that he hadn’t quite identified yet. 

What worried Jon the most was the fact that when Melanie pulled them into the parking lot, Gerry was slouched against the wall of the building, tapping away at his phone. He didn’t look up until Jon clamored out of the car and ran up to him, slightly panicked, slightly mad. How had he known that he would be here?

“Mum put in parental controls on your phone,” Gerry said, without looking up from his own mobile. “We can track where you are.”

“Then how did you get here before me ?”

“Hullo, Martin, Ms. Melanie,” Gerry said, pushing off the wall and stashing his mobile in his pocket as he nodded at Martin and Melanie, who were approaching them cautiously. “Ready to go in?”

“Didn’t know this was a field trip, Sims,” Melanie said, shooting him an unimpressed look. Jon shrugged helplessly. He didn’t control Gerry. 

The storage unit itself, once they cracked it open, was musty and dusty. Martin sneezed several times as they walked in, keeping oddly close to Jon as Gerry and Melanie walked ahead and immediately dived into its dim depths. Melanie managed to flip the light switch on, illuminating the depths of the medium sized storage unit, and Jon was forced to wonder how far she had paid in advance for it to still be kept up years after her death. 

He had expected a lot of papers in boxes, and on a certain level that was true. However, there were quite a few things in here that were much more than papers. Metal footlockers, locked trunks, and ominous antique furniture lined the locker. Melanie tried the lock on several of the trunks, growling as they stubbornly refused to open, but when Gerry pulled out a hairpin from his unruly mop of black-dyed hair and bent over one of the metal footlockers, he had it open in moments. 

Melanie craned around him, gasping softly. “Shit. Some little old lady.”

Oh no. Jon sighed, squeezing the bridge of his nose. “If it’s corpses, we are not calling the police. We are locking it back up and continuing the search. We can’t afford to be squeamish about human remains in the abandoned storage facilities of old women anymore, so go ahead and -”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Melanie asked, impressed yet horrified. “It’s just guns, Jon, Jesus. Look at her stash.”

“Oh, just guns?” Jon walked over and peered inside. Indeed, it was five rifles carefully laid out in foam, with accompanying shotgun shells. Melanie eagerly bent down to pick one up, but Gerry slapped her hand away and started lecturing her about gun safety. “Thank goodness. Well, keep an eye out for corpses, anyone. We don’t know what happened to the rest of Gerald’s body.”

“I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life, I hate my life,” Martin muttered under his breath in a fervent mantra. 

There was always something interesting about exploring an abandoned life. Jon had always loved exploring old basements, abandoned church storerooms, the forgotten corners of Oxford. He loved nooks and crannies, discovering uncharted territories. When he was younger, one of his favorite activities to do with his grandmother had been plundering antique stores. There was a certain kind of history in those places, so cramped that you had to wind between the furniture as you explored the detritus of a thousand lives and two hundred years. A captain’s desk from the 1800s, a mod lamp from the 1960s, a decrepit chair from 1920 - it had all been so exciting to Jon. Like a book come to life. Jon had always thought that you could tell everything you needed to know about a person from their attic. 

He didn’t particularly want to know Gertrude, as much as Jon could ever want to not know something. An interesting woman, no doubt, maybe even a hero - but not a particularly good person, either. He remembered tagging along with Georgie as they attended panel discussions about tearing down Confederate statues in the States. An ugly history should have no monuments. Empires built off the backs of slaves, founded in glorification of cruelty, shouldn’t have anything more than a cautionary footnote in the textbooks. Never forget, but never glorify, too. Jon didn’t know where this fell. He wanted to learn these lessons, understand why she had done the things she had done…but he had no desire to glorify, either. 

Had she known something he hadn’t? Overwhelmingly likely. Was there something in this storage facility that would open Jon’s Eye, make him realize that the only way to save humanity was to blow up Martin or something? He didn’t know. He didn’t even particularly want to know. 

A great deal of posters, with the eyes cut out. Guns, ammunition, various firearm paraphernalia. A parachute. Many, many, many books, many of which Gerry started stuffing in his backpack. Teddy bears with button eyes hanging loosely by a thread. Shipping logs. Old Atlases. Chairs missing one leg. A record player, even a motorbike. A VHS copy of the Sound of Music. A mannequin, covered by a shroud of black velvet, which they quickly recovered. A case full of books that Gerry screamed at Melanie not to touch, which he also quickly shoved into his backpack holding them by two fingers, as if they were about to explode. A broken lamp. Fireworks. A mysterious implement that only Jon understood to be a flamethrower. A sniper rifle. 

Every so often Gerry would shout, “So that’s where it went!” or “Hey, I remember this!”. He sounded excited each time, and Jon was reminded just how recently Gerry regained all of his memories. It had been like pulling teeth to get him to admit that he was missing time at all - the words he had always used were ‘it’s a blur’, and ‘we never really got anywhere’. It wasn’t until they burned Gerard’s page and the two halves merged that Gerry even admitted that he hadn’t remembered much of his life after his teenage years. Maybe he hadn’t wanted to admit how much of a teenager he really was. 

Maybe this was therapeutic for him. Or maybe, considering how she had trapped him in a book for years, he wanted to burn the place down. Jon wasn’t sure.

Eventually they informally split up, with Melanie and Gerry disappearing into the opposite end and Jon and Martin ended up crouching over a dozen open boxes and leafing through the endless files for anything helpful. Martin rambled endlessly, apparently trying to lighten the mood or something, as Jon flicked through hundreds of pages with his Eye strained wide open to try and get a sense for if a page was important. If there was a page in here that told him how to stop the Eye’s Ritual, would the Eye tell him? Or would it get him to think it was unimportant? Well, that was what Martin was here for. 

Martin, who seemed oddly sweaty. He kept on picking up a box, setting it down, pulling at his collar, and awkwardly shooting glances at Jon every two seconds. It wasn’t until they had been at it for almost ten minutes that Jon realized that this was the first time he and Martin had been alone since he bitched him out over hurting Melanie, and that Jon was a bit evil now. Not that they were alone very frequently at all, actually. He could pretty much count the circumstances on his fingers. Abruptly, Jon felt as awkward as Martin did. 

“I can leave,” Jon blurted out, standing up abruptly and wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. “I mean, I should join Gerry, and I can send Melanie over here -”

“That’s alright!” Martin blurted, equally awkwardly. “I mean, you can go if you want -”

“It’s not that I want, it just might be a good idea -”

“Really? I mean, if you want, I wouldn’t mind -”

“It may be a good idea -”

“Don’t do anything on my account -”

They stopped short, staring at each other, and Jon couldn’t help it: he laughed a little, almost awkwardly, hoarse and strange. He hadn’t heard his own laugh in a very long time. It sounded a little creaky, and very disused. But Martin smiled, and it didn’t seem so bad.

“I’m sorry for getting mad at you the other day,” Martin said, not looking up at Jon. He rifled through the box instead, flipping through page after page. Some were bound, in official style cheap plastic rings, while some were just clipped together. “I’ve been a little stressed out. Understandably, I think.”

“You were right to,” Jon said, surprising himself. He crouched down, slowly and cautiously, but eventually settled onto his butt and started flipping through papers with him. “I mean, I was being a right arse.”

“You were.”

“Thanks.” They worked in silence for a long minute, but for some reason now Jon was thinking much more about what he wanted to tell Martin than the papers. Which wasn’t the point of this whole thing. “Er. Martin.”

“Yes?” Martin’s head snapped up, disturbingly sharply. 

“I…” Jon started sweating. He hadn’t thought this out. “I just wanted to tell you that I, er, don’t really want you to be scared of me. In private. Be scared of me in public, if you want. But just because I’m the conduit for an Eldritch personification of mankind’s fear of being watched, and I eat trauma and can make you spill your worst secret, and also I’m your boss, doesn’t mean I want you to be scared of me.” And you seem very scared of me literally every second you aren’t yelling at me for being dumb, Jon didn’t say. “Friends aren’t scared of each other. I don’t think. That’s it.”

“Oh.” Martin stared at him for a very long second. “I’m not scared of you.”

“Oh.” Well. He had misread that. “That’s good.”

“I mean I used to be,” Martin said quickly, “back when I first started, but that was just because you were very tall and dressed like an English professor and I had never gone to uni and - yeah. You got, um, less scary, after the whole...fear monster thing.”

“Oh. That’s good?”

“Yeah, I mean, my predominant emotion is still fear, but that’s more like fear for you,” Martin babbled, as he shifted anxiously through papers without really even looking at them. “You keep on putting yourself in dangerous situations and I can’t really help, because what’s a cup of tea going to do when you’re fighting gods? I’m not really good for anything in this team anymore, I don’t think. I mean, Tim and Melanie and Basira and Daisy are all really scary and smart and can kill things, and you and Gerry know like, everything, and Melanie keeps telling me about how Georgie has connections everywhere , so I don’t really know what I...contribute? Does that make sense? It doesn’t have to. I’m not good for much, I mean. So you don’t have to worry about me.”

“That’s not true,” Jon said, and found himself surprisingly heated about it. “Martin, you do a lot for us. You’re the only person who actually makes an effort to have all of us get along. I mean, you’re always defusing a situation. That’s important. If I had the ability to defuse a situation, I’d be in so much less mortal danger. That’s more important than knowing how to stab something. Don’t put yourself down.”


Martin’s cheeks glowed very, very red, and abruptly Jon felt a little self-conscious too. He didn’t normally compliment Martin. Normally he did the opposite, actually. Maybe he should be more openly supportive. 

“And...on a personal level...” Jon began awkwardly, even as his cheeks burned. “I like having you around. You always…caring…it’s annoying, but it’s nice. I’d miss it, if it was gone. If you were gone.”

“Oh.” Then Martin stood up very quickly, blushing very hard at this point. “Jon, there’s something I have to tell you -”

But he had stood up too quickly, and he knocked over a cardboard box teetering on top of a very large stack of identical boxes, and the box was sent careening straight onto the floor. Jon expected to see giant stacks of papers go sliding out and fluttering all over the floor, or at the very most a dozen tape recorders, but instead what tumbled out of the box was a box full of what looked like skinny bricks wrapped in black duct tape. Stamped on the bricks in skinny white letters was ‘CHARGE DEMOLITION M112 WITH TAGGANT’, and Jon Knew immediately that this was C4. 

Posthumously, with some excellent comedic timing, a single slip of paper wheeled out of the box and fluttered to the floor. 

“Whoops! Sorry! Sorry!” Martin bent down and picked up the C4 . “What’s this? Bricks? It’s awfully light…”

“Martin,” Jon said, very calmly, because he knew how Martin panicked. “Please put that on the floor and step away from it.”

“The label’s in Korean. Let’s see if I remember any of it from Duolingo. That Owl is scarier than Elias, sometimes.” Martin turned the brick of live explosive around in his hand, squinting at it. “Something about…I think that word means with…”

“Martin,” Jon said, forcing his voice to keep as level as possible. “Slowly put that on the ground, or I will tell Tim about Manchester.”

Martin slowly put it on the ground, looking very betrayed. “You really have to work harder on establishing personal boundaries, you know. And stop blackmailing people!”

“I will stop blackmailing you when you stop picking up explosives .”

Then Martin screamed, and Melanie and Gerry came running, and Jon found the Statement, and they all agreed that it was perhaps best to leave this very dangerous location before anything blew up. Or before Martin blew something up.

That didn’t stop Melanie from taking the C4. Jon didn’t want to know. 

They did end up finding the skin, though. Or what was left of it. Another dead end, then. 

Gerry and Melanie, at least, seemed happy. Gerry’s backpack was significantly more stuffed full of mysterious books than it had been when he walked in, and Melanie was quietly muttering to herself about all of her plans for the C4 that Jon sincerely tried very hard not to hear or know. Martin seemed a bit as if he had just picked up and played around with a brick of C4, but he also kept on shooting furtive glances at Jon and then looking away. Jon hoped that he hadn’t been lying when he said that he wasn’t really scared of Jon. That wasn’t what he wanted. 

Not from Martin, anyway. 

The drive back was awkward and filled with tension, partly from Gerry’s stuffed backpack and partly from the C4 in the boot, but somehow also because Martin kept on looking at Jon and Jon didn’t know how to make him stop. He tried searching for something to say, trying to realize why, but all he got was a stunning quantity of Martin’s shitty poetry downloaded into his brain. 

“Wow, nice long lunch guys,” Melanie said loudly, spinning her keys in her finger as she parked in the street with reckless abandon. “Good working lunch.”

“Quite,” Jon said. But he hesitated, glancing at where Martin sat next to him. He wanted to say - he wanted to say - he said - “I would appreciate it if you stopped likening my skin to a, er, mocha color. You can just say black. I won’t be offended.”

" Thanksfortheadvicereallygoodtalkingwithyou, ” Martin screeched, before throwing open the door of the car and rolling out, making his great escape. Jon wondered what he had said wrong. Martin really was a neurotic soul. 

Gerry just sighed from the front seat. “You’re going to be living with Mum forever, aren’t you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jon asked, somewhat offended. “I happen to like living with your mother.”

“Pay no attention to me,” Melanie muttered, gathering her purse and opening the car door. “I love the situation. Love never being allowed into Georgie’s home because of ‘security’. Makes it real easy to get some alone time with her. Absolutely love my boss wanting to live with her, forever , and never thinking about my needs -”

“I keep on telling you, you have to ask her out. She needs commitment from you,” Gerry coached supportively. When had this happened? What? 

“But the timing never seems to be right, what with the whole apocalypse thing.”

“There will always be an apocalypse.” Gerry patted her arm. “But there won’t always be a Georgie who’ll wait for you. You just have to take the plunge. I promise she likes you back.”

“What is this,” Jon said. 

“I just feel like her top priority is Jon,” Melanie confessed, and Jon began awkwardly opening the car door as silently as possible so he could escape. “I mean, he kinda seems like a full time job? How’s she going to have time for a girlfriend when her entire life is occupied with her own work, and her adopted kid, and with babysitting her deranged ex-boyfriend?”

“I’m very low maintenance, but Pops isn’t,” Gerry said solemnly, as Jon quietly slid out of the car seat in a frantic, yet subdued escape. “She needs a partner, something permanent. I know things are hard for her right now, but I think that if you make the decision to support her then you’re sharing that burden. I mean, it’s not as if she doesn’t have her own baggage.”

If Melanie said anything else to that Jon didn’t hear, because it was none of his business. He had work to get done, anyway. And C4 to plant. And a Martin to deal with, somehow. 

Despite himself, he sympathized with Melanie. He would much rather be stopping an apocalypse than dealing with his feelings. Hopefully the two would never intertwine, ever, and saving the world would never have anything to do with his personal attachments. 

Yep. That was the most likely outcome. Jon’s personal life would never, ever have anything to do with anything ever again. Especially not Martin. Who was not a part of Jon’s personal life. Yep. 

He was sunk. 

After Jon finished terrorizing his colleagues, plotting on how to overthrow his boss, breaking into his predecessor’s personal effects, discovering her illegal firearms, and stealing her explosives, he went to Tesco’s with Georgie. 

He pushed the trolley down the aisle as Georgie consulted the shopping list. Walker’s crisps, Heinz beans, Wheetabix, jam. Radishes, onions…dragonfruit? Avocado? Since when do they eat avocado? 

“Honestly, I think the problem is, like, systemic in the industry.” Georgie bent in front of the shelves, frowning at the print-out coupon she clutched in a fist as she compared the brand with the thousand different varieties of curry spice the store sold. “It’s very much a who-knows-who game, which makes it hard for people of color and especially women of color to break in. I’m doing my best, but it just feels like such a boy’s club, you know?”

“I see what you mean,” Jon said, trying to remember if he had seen a recipe for avocado toast bookmarked on Georgie’s laptop. Wait, tofu? Why was tofu on here? Were they vegetarian now? “Have you considered organizing a panel about it at GhostHuntersCon?”

“Oh, that’s such a good idea.” Georgie straightened, feeding some cans into the basket. “I think I could whip up some other women of color to sit on it. Do you think Marisa Demaya from Ghost All Night would be interested?”

“She’d say yes. What about Nicole Offerman? Didn’t she guest star in Ghosts and Ghouls? A trans woman might have some valuable insight.”

“Oh, good idea. Tomoko Lam too, I think. I think she helped produce on Buzzfeed Unsolved too. Do we need more soy milk?”

“I think Gerry drank all of it.” Jon pushed the trolley down the aisle after Georgie, as she walked ahead with surety born of a thousand visits to Tesco’s. He couldn’t count the number of times he had gone grocery shopping with her. She had gotten her license before him, but he had been the only one in the house who did the grocery shopping for himself and his grandmother due to her bad hip, so she used to always take him and they would split day old dollar donuts from the bakery with the change left over. He had relied upon her for a lot. “I think the house has a few more Leitners than it did yesterday, so be prepared for that.”

“What does that have to do with soy milk?” Georgie stopped in front of a package of imported Japanese food, looking conflicted. Hello Panda, with happy pandas proclaiming chocolate in every bite. “These look so good…”

“Then get them.”

“It’s a waste of money.”

“I’m gratuitously overpaid.” Jon reached over, over her head, and tipped the package into the trolley. “Why are we buying avocado and tofu?”

“Black bean, tofu, and avocado rice bowl,” Georgie said defensively. “We need more vegetables and fresh fruits in our diet. We both still eat like college students. Hey, look at this potholder. Rubber grips!”

“We don’t need a potholder,” Jon pointed out, and Georgie reluctantly put it back. “And I’d say we still eat like kids from poverty, Georgie. Tofu and avocado just isn’t us. We had beans on toast three times last week.”

“Since when do you admit that?”

“I’m rather tired of lying to myself,” Jon found himself saying, somewhat surprised by it. “Do you you remember Mrs. O’Malley? From across the hall?”

“Cricket and Werther’s? Obviously.” 

They wheeled down the aisle, avoiding a tired looking mother clasping the hand of a squalling three year old. Jon wondered if the three year old would ever reach four. “We were sixteen. I was helping her move some boxes for ten quid. You had tagged along, and were listening to her tell a story about the Blitz. You remember that, you were always interviewing people?”

“I had an investigative reporting phase,” Georgie admitted grudgingly. “Brought that stupid tape recorder along with me everywhere.”  Instinctually, they both peeked through the trolley and Georgie’s purse and Jon’s pockets for a tape recorder. They found one playing beneath the bananas. Georgie sighed and stuffed it behind the tins of flour, pushing along into the next aisle. “But yeah. She told us about how she had hunkered down in her church. So?”

“I remember what she said,” Jon said, almost nostalgically. “How, in bad weather, she still felt the reverb of the bombs in her teeth. She got the news that her big brother had died months later. He had died that day. For the rest of the life she wondered, if she heard the bomb that killed him. She hadn’t known it, but she did. At eleven forty five pm, ten miles away, the bomb that killed her brother echoed through her ears. He didn’t scream, but she wondered for the rest of her life how it felt to have the flesh melt off your bones…she would be wrong, each time she imagined it. It was much more painful, more painful than she could even understand.”

“Right in front of my salad, Jon?” Georgie asked, tossing a bagged salad into the trolley. 

“Right. Sorry.”

They moved into the meat section in silence. Georgie deposited a rash of bacon into the trolley, and Jon shivered as he thought about pigs. Finally, Georgie asked, “So what does it feel like?”

“What does what feel like?”

“Being bombed.”

“Hm.” Jon opened his Eye as Georgie read the advertising on the package of ham. “Not everything feels like something else.”

“Huh.” They dodged a bickering couple in pregnant silence. As if she couldn’t stop herself, Georgie asked, “What’s the apocalypse going to feel like?”

“Which one?”

“Hate that sentence. Zero out of ten response to that question.”

“Sorry.” Jon thought hard about it as Georgie deliberated over two different flavors of soy sauce. Classic, or spicy? “Do you still hang out with the conduits of evil and fear that work to exert their god’s will upon this sinful earth?”

“The Avatars? Yeah, Jude, Anabelle, and I had a threesome the other day. So?”

“Stop telling me things.”

“Fuck you.”

Jon pinched the bridge of his nose, hard, trying to wipe the mental image that had unfortunately downloaded itself into his brain. “Maybe you can ask them? I mean there’s like, fourteen Entities, and they each have their own, so…”

What ?” Georgie whipped around to face him, jaw dropped. “Fourteen? How are we going to prevent all of them?”

“We aren’t?” Jon shrugged. “All we have to do is prevent the Unknowing. I’m second in line, so I just have to try and arrange things so nobody can destroy anything after I do it.”

Georgie stared at him, stopped in the middle of the aisle. “Are you going to do that by… destroying the world so thoroughly that nobody else can do it? Also, isn’t that kind of an unfair advantage, just because you’re second? Aren’t some of the Entities allied? If all of the apocalypses are competing, then who wins? Would the Unknowing also help The End’s ritual, or something? Didn’t Helen save your life? Julia and Trevor helped us. Nikola didn’t even hurt you. Why are all the Avatars helping you or keeping you alive if your ritual would cancel out theirs?”

Jon shrugged helplessly, unwilling to admit that these were all questions he hadn’t asked and hadn’t thought to ask. 

For the rest of the trip Georgie was nose deep in her phone, and Jon sighed as he picked up the Lunchables that Gerry demanded of them frequently. He hoped that Melanie was having a good time with that C4. 

It wasn’t until they had combed the store for the rest of the free samples, that Georgie had picked up the pita chips and hummus, and they had gone through the self-checkout and packed the groceries into the car, that Georgie passed her phone to Jon as she slid into the driver’s seat and drove them home. She chatted easily about her work, and Jon awkwardly had to admit that he had no fun work stories lately, and they swapped easy stories and recollections of their childhood. It was domestic, but in a way that was so familiar to Jon anything else just seemed strange. 

He wondered what shopping with Martin would look like. What getting groceries with him, what making dinner with him, what playing board games would look like. Day after day. It was an aspect of him he had never seen. Jon was beginning to wonder if there was a great deal more to Martin than met the eye. Or The Eye.  

Some part of him wanted to tell Georgie about the unbearably awkward conversation he had with Martin, but another part of himself didn’t. It seemed weirdly private. 

When they were finally ready to leave the grocery store parking lot, Georgie finally passed her phone to him. He looked down at it, and at the groupchat app currently open on the screen. Titled ‘SEXY HOT WOMEN MARKED BY EVIL’. Of course it was. 

The first message he saw was…hm! Jon scrolled past it very quickly. 

“Sorry, you’ll want to start a little bit below that. Don’t scroll up. I know how much the female form disgusts you.”

“Some things I don’t need to know about Jude Perry, Georgie!”

Georgie: Hello ladies I have a question!!

Georgie: so the hubbie is telling me about his plans for world domination and theyre VERY WEIRD can anybody give me some insight?? Thanks!! Xoxo

Helen: Should I haveeee let him dieee? Sorryyy I’m new at this.

Georgie: no honey you’re doing amazing

Anabelle: yeah stan helen!! Queen!!! You’re so good at this!!!

Anabelle: @georgie yeah the plans are kind of weird right now!! Can’t believe im saying this but i agree with the arch*vist its unfair how by the time nikolas cracked the world open like an egg and the mean burberry twinks put the eye in the sky maybe THEN can my spiders eat everyone. Its not fair. We shouldnt get sloppy seconds

Georgie: babe weve talked about eavesdropping

Anabelle: how its fun and sexy?

Jude: can we invite nikola back in this chat -_-

Georgie: im still mad at her!!!!

Jude: UGH get over it she was doing you a favor!! I’d pay big $$$ to get an arch*vist out of my house for a month!! And his elbows were ashy!!

Anabelle: rt

Helen: I likeeee it when archivists areeee in my houses : )

Anabelle: anyway ya we heard that your boytoy isn’t totally into the whole apocalypse thing and obv we arent totally into him doing it either so we wanted to know if he wanted to like parley or whatever? 

Georgie: I mean like if there’s going to be 14 of them I’d rather Jon do it than anybody else? No offence? 

Anabelle: what do you not want your carbon atoms turning into spiders? :(

Georgie: No?

Jude: For The Last Time Belle Nobody Cares About Spiders!!

Jude: Consider: fire. Fire, everywhere. Your worst enemy is on fire. Australia is on fire. You’re on fire. Your eyeballs are on fire. Fire. Firefirefireifre

Helen: Australiaaas already on fireeee

Jude: yeah where do you think ive been

Helen: I did Brexit :)




Jude: anyway legit ya we should talk. Burberry twink sux and if even his own guy doesnt like him we can do shit with that. Like you scratch my back ill set fire to urs?

Georgie: I dont think that’s how that idiom works

Helen: ill host. Check your bathroom when u get homeee :) also i want thoseee hellooo pandaaas.

Jon didn’t really like the sound of any of this, actually. Was ‘burberry twink’ a reference to Elias? That was hilarious. 

“Do your friends hate me?” Jon asked, as Georgie skidded the car to avoid a pothole. “They keep censoring my name.”

“I think they think the Eye’s annoying? I’m not sure. I don’t think they hate you personally. I honestly try not to get mixed up in any of it.” Georgie’s hand drifted to her pocket, where she normally kept her cigarettes, and Jon silently picked up a box from where it had been crammed onto the dashboard and lit it up for her. She rolled down the window and took a deep drag, and Jon silently rolled down his window too. “I mean, like, they haven’t killed you yet. So.”

“Somehow I feel as if you have a lot to do with that,” Jon said wryly. 

Georgie just shrugged, but she smiled a little too as she took a long drag. “I need your ridiculous paycheck to afford avocados. A single mum can’t make it on a podcaster’s salary alone.”

Went unsaid was the fact that, about a week ago, Jon had updated his life insurance policy and will. He knew Georgie had done the same. If his assistants had any sense then they’ve done the same thing. Jury was out on if his assistants had sense. 

When they got home they roped Gerry, who had been lying on the couch doing what looked like arts and crafts with a Leitner, into putting away the food, and although Jon desperately had to go to the bathroom for normal bathroom reasons he found himself pacing the living room, biting his nails. 

Parley? What did parley mean? Were they going to trick him out of sacrificing the world for the Eye? He couldn’t trust any of them. Not even Julia, she had trapped Gerry in a book, she was just as evil as the rest - and Nikola least of all. Who could trust them? They were monsters. Same as Jon was. Jon wouldn’t trust himself if he met the bloke in a dark alley. 

Maybe he could sell out Elias, bump him off. No, they’d all die - he wasn’t kidding about that. Maybe he could disentangle Elias from the Eye, cut him off from his power. Maybe the power could be Jon’s instead. Everything could be Jon’s. 

Maybe he was a greedy person. But maybe that wasn’t so bad. When everything was yours, nothing could hurt you. And it seemed like far too much wanted to hurt Jon and his family. How could he protect them? He shouldn’t need Georgie smoothing everything over for him all the time. 

“Hello. Hello. Food. Food? Hello!”

“I’ll make dinner in a few hours, Gerry,” Jon said, distracted.

“What?” Gerry called from the kitchen. Jon stopped short and peered through the doorway into the kitchen. Sure enough, Gerry was putting away food as Georgie stuffed Hello Pandas into her mouth. 

“Food? Jon! Food? Pick up? Hug?”

Jon looked downwards. The Admiral was sitting on the floor, gently lashing his tail and staring up at Jon with baleful, wide eyes. 

“Oh no,” Jon said. 

“Pick up!”

He sighed, and bent down to pick up The Admiral. He promptly began purring as Jon held him in his preferred configuration (like a baby), bouncing him slightly. 

“Honey,” Jon called to the kitchen. “We have a problem! The cat’s talking!”

Georgie poked her head into the living room, eyebrows raised. She saw Jon hugging The Admiral, and The Admiral purring up a storm. “Like, to everyone?”

“Love,” The Admiral meowed. Jon’s heart melted. 

“Did you hear him talk just then? It was so cute, Georgie!”

“So, not everyone,” Georgie confirmed. “Cool. That’s - that’s really something, Jon. Do you want to have dinner before or after we meet with the other Avatars and overthrow your workplace and world domination plans? You said you were making jambalaya.”

Jon sighed, rubbing The Admiral’s nose with his own. “Best do it now.” He looked down at The Admiral, who was staring up at him adoringly. “You’re the only motherfucker in this house who gets me.”

“I have to poop,” The Admiral meowed. 

“I love you too.”

Well. At least someone cared. 

He gave Gerry a quick hug, told him to call Daisy if they didn’t return in an hour, and watched in alarm as Georgie spent twenty minutes picking out an outfit and doing her makeup. She looked like a complete thirst trap, but if that was what made her happy, fine. 

Then he summoned up all of his courage, bravery, resolution, and hid behind Georgie as she opened the door to their master bathroom and stepped inside. 

Jon hadn’t really known what he was expecting. His bathroom, for one. Maybe a pub again. But what he found instead was what looked like a tattoo parlor. A spectacularly grimy one, small and cramped, long and narrow with walls covered in grotesque pieces of artwork. The art was small and detailed, and Jon wanted to step forward to get a better look at it, but Georgie easily wove her way past the rickety chairs in the waiting area, strode past the large plush tattooing chairs, and waved at the clump of women sitting at the far end around a counter and till. 

Jon followed her, much more anxious about it, as Anabelle leapt up from her chair and kissed Georgie on the cheek as Jude leered at both of them. Jon flushed, crossing his arms and trying not to wish that Georgie would come back over so he could hide behind her again. 

It was at this point that he realized that the women - Anabelle, Jude, and Helen, who winked at Jon too - were absolutely surrounded by a stunning quantity of open cans of beer, and that there were even larger piles of unopened crates of beer behind them. Georgie eagerly fished one out from behind Jude, cracking it open and taking a long drink. 

One of those get-togethers, then. Jon was regretting a lot of his choices right now.

“Archivist!” Jude raised her beer, as if in toast. “Took you long enough to get here. Come on, we’re bitching about Jonah Magnus again.”

“So sick of him and his stupid rich boy husband,” Anabelle muttered, taking a long swig of her own beer. “One percenter assholes. What about giving the rest of us money? I want money. Being an avatar of spiders doesn’t exactly pay . The Web doesn’t even know what money is.”

“Jonah Magnus?” Jon asked, confused. “Isn’t he dead?”

Everybody stared at him, even Georgie. Helen’s pupils were spinning. 

“Dude,” Jude said, unimpressed. “That’s so sad. Your own sugar daddy doesn’t tell you shit, huh?”

“Please don’t tell us about the ethical obligations of sugar daddying again,” Georgie said, long suffering. “I’ve told you dozens of times, I’m not interested in monogamy right now.”

“Baby, come on! I’d treat you so right!”

Oh, Jesus christ. “Let me guess,” Jon said, too tired to even care. “Jonah Magnus faked his death, found immortality, and changed his name to Elias Bouchard?”

“Close enough, whatever,” Anabelle said, flapping her hand. It flapped about a little too loosely. “How much is he paying you to walk around his office in like, a tailored vest and spit shined shoes? Does he have you dropping files, and then sexily bending down to pick them up? Come on, you can tell us.”

Jon opened his mouth, then closed it. Finally, he managed to sputter, “I was not hired because I was - because I was sexy!”

“You would not believe how much he gets paid to be sexy,” Georgie said enthusiastically, before telling them the number. Every Avatar in the room groaned, even Helen. 

“That’s just not fair!” Anabelle cried. “Why does your Entity know what money is? I work for spiders !”

“I was the top real estate agent in London and now I’m reduced to this,” Helen grumbled. “Why do you get paid twice as much just because you’re tall -”

“I get it,” Jude said wistfully, eyes far away. “I hired this secretary with tits out to here, and I managed to coerce her into letting me do her right on her desk.”

“You know,” Georgie said slowly, eyeing Jude, “if you wanted to rp that, I’d be totally down.”

“Oh, man, are you doing anything later tonight?”

“Can we please start discussing the apocalypse now?” Jon asked desperately. 

The apocalypse, as it was, was this:

Every Avatar knew that it was their role and joy in life to initiate the Ritual. They all agreed empathetically on this. What greater act of devotion to their god was there? The Ritual turned the world from a forest to be hunted into an all you can eat buffet of your favorite food. And what was better than that? 

Except, well…(as Jude explained)...when you burned the world down, the upside was that everything was consumed within firey passion, etc, etc. But if the world was cinders, then there was no more cocaine. No more hot women or hookers. Once everything was burned, there was nothing left to burn. And there would be nothing to burn for thousands more years. Short term fulfillment, certainly, but long term? Not particularly. They all believed in a good workplace balance, and in taking pride in their work, but you could only set things on fire for eight hours a day before you wanted to go home and do some nice cocaine. 

And Helen would never presume to put Helen’s desires above the Spiral’s, as they had all learned the lesson that was taught to Michael very well, but, well...being a real estate agent had been her calling. Surely you could do both? The Spiral’s ritual created world that had no room for real estate agents. Or, really, anything else. 

There was also the matter of timing. 14 Entities, one world. There had been quite a few uncomfortable board meetings over it, ones that had involved every Avatar in a room and fighting over who got what slice. For about a hundred years there they had been planning on dividing up the world into who got what…except then The Vast and Simon Fairchild started making a stink about how nobody actually lives in Antarctica, so he wanted the United States instead, except the Hunt already had the United States, have you tried Russia? - no, the Spiral got Russia - and the negotiations devolved all over again. 

So they were just stuck in, like, this awkward situation, right? Everybody was trying to get their Apocalypse in first so they could carve out the biggest chunk for themselves. Except everybody was cheating about it too. The Lukases and the Fairchilds were always in cahoots, which meant that The Lonely and The Vast were always working together. The Avatar for the Beholding and Peter Lukas had been married on and off for about two hundred years now, and nobody who didn’t have a net worth higher than even Jude’s got into those boy’s club meetings. So The Lonely, The Vast, and The Beholding were always working together except when they weren’t, Rayner was always trying to backstab everyone else as if the Dark ever did anything, the Flesh, the Slaughter, the Corruption, and the Hunt were all practically the same thing and were also super gross, and the Stranger had set up this machiavellian type shit typical of the Web but that was also completely incomprehensible. 

Relationships between the Avatars and the Powers kept building up and breaking down depending on the century. Depending on who was sleeping with who, who was mad at who, and who thought who was a complete tosser, each Ritual could be pushed forward or back by hundreds of years. 

“So that brings us to the situation now,” Jude explained, smashing back another beer. By now everybody was thoroughly smashed, having talked over each other dozens of times over the course of the explanation until it was nearly impossible to follow at all. “The Beholding’s always kind of split in two, ever since Gertrude decided she hated Magnus’ guts. And Magnus and the Archivist are two halves of the same whole, or so I heard about it, which is severely impairing the effectiveness of that system. Right now I’d say…Jared, which is the Fleshy dudes, and that whole crew, are kind of licking their wounds after how Jane tried to stop the Beholding’s Ritual.”

“Is that what she was doing?” Jon asked, horrified. 

“I’m not sure if she knew she was doing it, but it’s sure as hell what the Corruption wanted.” Anabelle shrugged, earrings tingling on her shoulders as she sipped a glass of something far stronger and more pungent smelling than beer. “Rayner’s down and out cuz of my queen Basira. God, I wish she was single. Buried’s working with the Stranger on the Unknowing. I think the Slaughter and the Hunt are building up to a few new Avatars, but this late in the game I don’t fuckin’ know why. I think Julia’s too hard to control or something. The End’s ritual isn’t for another fucking hundred million years so I think it’s just straight chilling right now. Unless it’s doing something through Georgie, I don’t know.”

“Cheers,” Georgie said, draining another beer. They were all sitting in a circle at this point, and Georgie was leaning heavily against Jon. Everybody was looking a little lopsided except for Jude, who had drunk five times as much as anybody else, and Jon, who was sober still. “God, this reminds me of when I tried working an office job for two minutes. Shit was bureaucracy up to your eyeballs. Glad I skipped out on all that crap.”

“I wonder if the End is doing something through Georgie,” Helen hummed, spearing her beer with a prehensile finger and sipping through the crack like a frat boy. “We never used to all get together and hang out like this before we met her. The boys had their own club, but we didn’t have ours. It’s much better this way.”

“Hell yeah,” Georgie cheered. “Girl power! Let’s go, lesbians and bisexuals!”

They all clinked glasses and chugged. Jon was a little worried about getting home in time to make Gerry dinner, which was a stupid thing to worry about when the fate of the world was at stake, but teenage boys did get hungry. 

“So what’s the plan?” Jon asked desperately. “I don’t think Nikola will work with us -”

“I can probably convince her,” Georgie said. 

“Georgie,” Jon cried, exasperated, “you can’t convince somebody out of their millenia long plans to turn the world into a feeding ground for their god by fucking them .”

“It worked for those doctors I met,” Georgie protested. “What was her face, Erika Mustermann? She said the lay was so good she was done serial killing! I hadn’t even known that she was a serial killer!”

“Did you still get her number?”

“I have a type.” Georgie burped, but shot the other Avatars contemplative glances. “You know, I get how you can’t really go against your powers or whatever. But you still want to come out on top in this whole Ritual business, right? My idea is that, instead of everybody trying to get their own Ritual to come out on top, we support one Entity’s ritual. And in return, we’ll make a world that looks like what we all want.”

Everybody stared at her. Jon tried very hard to look like, hypothetically, the perfect candidate for this. 

“What would that look like?” Anabelle asked. Intrigued. 

“Well, the problem here is - we like the world, yeah? It’s full of great terror and tasty people and cocaine and sex and fun shit.” Georgie waited patiently until everybody nodded. “Most of your Entities don’t want that anymore. All genocide, all the time. No patience about it. Like slaughtering every cow in the world instead of penning a little bit off and eating those as the other reproduce. But the waits and listens, right? It watches. It loves terror. Experiences. Life itself. I think, if you get the right guy on the job, and the right Entity, then you could be eating fear for the rest of time.”

“But the world would look basically the same,” Jude said skeptically. 

Georgie shrugged. “I don’t know. Jon and I don’t know much about what the Ritual entails. Nobody really seems to know. But I know that you would get to burn whatever you want, whenever you want. And, if the Beholding is the predominant Entity, then your Entities don’t get to control your lives anymore.” She shot a glance at Helen. “Tell you who you can or can’t be.” 

She leaned in, eyes glinting, and almost unconsciously the others leaned in with her. “And in my opinion? The best part of this is that the boy’s club doesn’t get a say. Elias, Peter Lukas, Simon Fairchild…they wouldn’t be the Avatars who helped usher in a world where every Entity gets to feast. That would be us. No more exclusionary, misogynist bullshit.”

“And it’s coincidental that your boyfriend’s the new top dog?” Anabelle asked, crossing her arms. 

But Georgie just shrugged. “I’ll be fine no matter what. But, Anabelle, remember those reports from the Amazon? How it’s literally on fire? You know how many spiders live there? You and Jude can’t coexist. The Buried and the Vast can’t coexist. Sooner or later, we’ll run out of things to Slaughter. This is why alliances between the Entities don’t work, they’re always edging each other out. But if you have an Entity that reshapes the world for favor of maximum carnage, maximum chaos...everybody wins. Most importantly, we win.”

“A world with pure fear,” Jude said, almost wistfully. “All chaos, all the time. I can...I can do whatever I want. No more sacrifices. I wouldn’t have to burn something I wanted to keep. You really think your idiot can handle it?”

“Alone? Obviously not.” Georgie’s eyes glinted, and Jon knew that she had them. Hook, line, and sinker. He wondered how long she had been planning this. “But with your help, maybe. Speeding up the Ritual, implementing it before the Unknowing?”

The other Avatars looked at each other. Surprisingly, it was Helen who hesitantly piped up. 

“The Archivist must be marked by each Entity, I think. That’s what Michael thought, at least. You’ve been marked by quite a few already, but there’s still quite a few left…”

Horrible flashbacks of every instance of grievous bodily harm flashed through Jon’s mind, and he shuddered. He didn’t particularly want to get beaten up by anyone else, thanks. Georgie must have thought the same thing, because she quickly said, “Marked? Will only scars work, or will any other kind of mark function?”

A slow grin spread across Jude’s face, and Jon shrunk back. He didn’t like this at all. “I can think of an alternative method.”

“I don’t like this,” Jon muttered, and Georgie elbowed him sharply. 

“What other kind of mark will -” she stopped abruptly, eyes growing wide, and she looked around the shop they were sitting in. “Jude, baby, you’re a genius.”

“Honey, tell me something I don’t know.” Jude stood up, crumpling the now empty can across her forehead. “Strip, Archivist boy.”

Jon squeaked. 

It was halfway through Georgie wrangling Jon’s shirt off his head and Jude firing up the tattoo gun, and every other Avatar in the room getting even more plastered, that the door to the tattoo parlor was kicked open. Jon, who had his shirt pulled half-way up his head, couldn’t tell what the hell was going on, but the way Georgie froze did not bode well. 

“Hands fucking up.” An incredibly familiar voice echoed through the tattoo parlor, and Jon felt Georgie’s hands immediately release him and jump into the air. “Where’s the Archivist.”

“Daisy!” Georgie cried. “He’s right here! We’re having some girl bonding, want to join? What are you doing here?”

“I’m fine, Daisy,” Jon said, long suffering. He had completely forgotten what he had told Gerry before he left. “We’re doing...uh, commemorative tattoos.”

Silence. Jon finally finished taking his shirt off, turning to face Daisy. Her face was stony, her close cropped blonde hair falling around her chin. Most importantly, she had a gigantic fuck-off shotgun in her hands. She was staring at him, and then all the Avatars, and then back at him. 

“Right, then,” Daisy said. “None of my business. Drag me out here for nothing.” 

“If it looks like a weird orgy, I haven’t been able to talk the Archivist into it yet,” Jude said cheerfully, plugging the tattoo gun in and listening to it whir. “Want to stick around, Hunter? I can do you next.”

Horrifyingly, Daisy looked as if she was considering it. “How good are you with one of those things?”

“I’m made out of wax and I just had ten beers. You tell me.”

Daisy grunted, but she lowered the shotgun and walked closer. She narrowed her eyes at Jon, who began to feel very self-consious about yet another judgemental lesbian knowing that he had nothing resembling a six pack, but she dropped herself into the stool next to the tattoo chair and grabbed a beer for herself out of the crate. 

“I’m up shit creek without a paddle if anything happens to you,” she said to Jon, while still managing to seem very unconcerned about it. “Might as well make sure nothing happens.”

“Aw, Daisy,” Jon said, touched. 

“We aren’t friends.” She glared at Georgie, who was eyeing her contemplatively. “Not on your fucking life.”

“I didn’t even ask!” But she turned to Jude anyway, giving her big puppy dog eyes. “Can I help design it? I have a really good idea.”

“Please don’t let her tattoo a burning corpse on my back or something,” Jon said weakly, cautiously sitting down on the plush chair. He wasn’t going to like this at all. He desperately wished he was drunk. It felt a little like he had friends now. 

“Please. I save burning corpses for people I like.” 

“That’s reassuring.”

Jon didn’t have any tattoos. He wasn’t scared of needles or anything, he was just indecisive. It took three months for him to work up the courage for a haircut, he could never get a tattoo for himself. 

But the world was bound to end before the year was out, and Daisy was cracking open an old paperback book next to him, and Georgie was eagerly bent over a piece of paper with Jude sketching something out, and Helen was making noises about inviting Gerry too. Jon, would you terribly mind an eye tattoo? No? Just a little one, then? 

Would everything be alright? Was that possible, for people like them? For things like them? 

When he opened his Eye and looked at Daisy, he saw something new there. Something growing, something that had taken root in every inch of herself. She wasn’t aware of it yet. But it was there. And it was coming. 

“Well, if we’re going to do a Watcher’s Crown ritual, we might as well do it right.” Jude fished around in her pocket, which seemed far deeper than it had any right to be, and withdrew a small baggie full of a crushed green plant looking thing. She shoved it at Jon, who took it warily. “Eat this. Do not Look to see what it is, just eat it.”

“I think Georgie would disapprove -” Jon hedged. 

“Jon isn’t allowed cocaine,” Georgie lectured, from where she was drawing what looked like a giant, gnarled tree on a piece of printer paper. “It’s bad for his tummy.”

As if he was an elderly dog? Jon couldn’t even work up the energy to be offended anymore. “It’s a psychedelic,” Jude said shortly. “Eat it or it won’t work and we don’t get your stupid apocalypse. Plus seeing you trip would be fucking funny.”

Jon sighed. He wasn’t going to get out of this. He glanced at Daisy, who still appeared to be reading her book - Alice in Wonderland, actually - but was looking at him instead. “Please make sure nobody does anything untowards while I’m out of it,” he said, long suffering. She just nodded. Jon sighed again and, pinching his nose, dumped the contents of the baggie in his mouth. 

It tasted like...1994, neighborhood comic shop, dusty and droll, licking bright red Bottle Pop candy leafing through Superman comic books. He laid down on the recliner, attempting to feel comfortable. He hadn’t taken a psychedelic since he was 24. His trips always tended to be very interesting, and he was fairly sure that he had met the Beholding for the first time when he was eighteen in a night that ended up in Georgie’s bed and his first homosexual experience, but once he got older they just made him paranoid. Same with weed. 

...fuck, starting up that weed habit again last year to deal with the pain of worm scars had been a terrible idea. 

“Please don’t put anything too ugly on my body,” Jon said weakly, folding his hands on his chest and staring at the ceiling. “Are you even a licensed tattoo artist?”

“Please, Jon,” Jude said, revving her gun. “I am a Wall Street banker.”

“That’s not overly -”

Whatever else Jon had to say, he abruptly forgot, as the world fell away. 

Jon woke up from the dream of his life. 

He was on his knees in front of a figure, short but somehow looming over him. He was clasping the figure’s hands, head bent in supplication. She was wearing only black lingerie, the same set she dragged him along to help her buy. The figure’s hands were small and warm, and Jon eagerly pressed himself into them, aching for their warmth. He was so cold. 

“If you had to choose,” the figure said, echoed, betrayed, remembered, “between me and the Eye, who would you choose?”

Jon was sobbing. He couldn’t choose. He couldn’t choose between life and death - but which one was life, and which one was death? He couldn’t choose between light and darkness, truth and deception. He needed them both so badly. 

But he had waited too long, and now he would have neither. The figure melted onto the ground, like slow and viscous fluid, and Jon cried out as he dropped to his hands and knees. The liquid oozed into the  earth, lost to him forever, and Jon desperately wanted it back. He scratched the cold, cool earth with his fingernails, desperate and sobbing, wanting her/it/them/all back. He wanted them. They were his! He had never had anything but this!

He pressed himself into the earth, scratching and scrambling, until he felt himself melt into it too. He shifted lower into the ground, falling headfirst into the cold and dark claustrophobia, and Jon choked on dirt as he became nothing more than dirt, and so much more than himself. Bugs crawled through his skin, putrid rot overtook him, and he rotted away. 

No movement, in the dirt. Trapped and pinned, like a butterfly under glass. It choked him, never letting him drown, and Jon didn’t stop falling. He fell through the center of the earth into the pits of hell, into licking flames that ate at his body, through hell into the grand and endless sky above. He fell through the sky, endlessly, feeling nothing but terror. The slip, the jump as you fell asleep, feeling as if you were falling but jerking right awake. Fear, primal. Reminding you that you were alive. 

He tried pumping his legs, as if he was running, and began getting the sense that he was being chased. He touched down on the ground, feeling his legs crack underneath him, and started running for his life. He ran through endless corridors, always lost, never certain of his direction or purpose. Something was behind him, something with a knife or teeth that clashed, and he couldn’t run fast enough. He was never a very fast runner. He ran as fast as he could until he stumbled and fell from exhaustion, colliding onto the ground, and what chased him caught him and tore him apart into meat. 

But as he was torn apart, he found the fear leeching away. He started feeling a little...bored. Even endless terror got boring, kind of. Anything could get monotonous. And in Jon’s life? In the endless existential terror that rocked every second, knowing that if he put one toe out of line all of his friends, his family, and the world died? What was this? This was boring. 

What was scary? The thought of taking one more drink, and not being able to stop. Saying something so cruel to Georgie that she leaves forever. Gerard growing up to have the kind of life where he gets trapped in a book that leaves him in a painful state between life and death. Not being able to quit your crappy job. All your coworkers talking about you behind your back, hating you, for reasons you can’t control. Being a bad person, an irrevocably evil person, and not being able to do anything about it. Having no parents left, no mother who would take you into your arms when you were scared, no father who would support you. Being all alone - even more than being Lonely, knowing that nobody would care if you died. That was Jon’s life. Had been his life, at one point. 

 God, Jon thought, step up your game. Was this Hell? Hell was a joke in comparison to life. Maybe life was harder than anything an uncaring god could dream up. Maybe life was hell. 

His problem was always that he thought too much. He could dream up a thousand tortures better than this. 

Jon never…thought to it, as he used to think to God. He didn’t like thinking about it at all, actually. But maybe this time…

A figure coalesced in front of him again, and this time he did recognize it as Georgie. Her hair loose and curling along her chin, big dark brown eyes, beautiful as always. He was kneeling in front of her again, but he knew it wasn’t Georgie. There was nothing behind those eyes. Or, rather, only ever one thing. 

But he took it by the hand again, and bowed his head. He had imagined this moment - well, not exactly this - so many times as a child. Every long, sweltering afternoon in church, he used to imagine conversations with God. What did he say? What had he said back then, so important as to be worthy of bending God’s ear?


Of course. Jon licked his lips, wondering if it was possible to lie to this thing. If that’s what this was. But he knew. On some level, he had always known. His mouth was dry. 

“Beholding,” Jon said, heart thumping in his chest. “I am your Archivist.”

It just stared at him. It wasn’t very impressed with things that it already knew. 

Come on, come on. Impress it. But what about Jon was impressive? He had just been hired because he was hot. He couldn’t lie to it. Couldn’t convince it that he was some sort of true believer. If anybody was it was Elias - Jonah - but Jon had never been like that. 

It was strange. Maybe he wouldn’t even feel this way in real life. But here, wherever they were, whatever he was now, he felt more himself than he had in months. 

“Would you like a Statement?” Jon asked, because that was all he had to give. 

It looked down at him. Another stupid question. 

Jon cleared his throat, and begun. “Statement of Jonathan Sims, regarding the worst fear he has ever felt. It is all I have to give to you. Statement begins.”

He was there, when his grandmother passed. 

Sitting by her bedside. The hospital room was always just a little too cold. A nurse was there, doing…he didn’t remember. He just remembered how he had been reading a book - Slaughterhouse V - when it happened. One of those thousand machines had started beeping, and the nurse had begun doing something mysterious yet frantic, and suddenly so many more nurses came in. It was too late. He just tried to stand in the corner, and not get in anybody’s way. 

He watched her frail body shudder and shake. That wasn’t the scary part. He watched the machines beep and the nurses talk to each other in frantic, low tones. That wasn’t scary either. He clutched a book in one hand, thumb marking the page he had left off at. So it goes. 

What was scary was seeing her die, and feeling nothing. Numbness. Coldness. A frigid cliff leading into an empty crevasse. There was nothing inside Jon: no feelings, no thoughts, no sorrow. Just a bland emptiness. 

It hadn’t scared him at the time. What scared him was when he signed the papers, collected her things, was softly escorted outside, and he stood at the outside entrance to the hospice, and realized that he was alone. 

There was nobody left who cared about him. Nobody who could care or notice if he drank himself to death. That had never been the goal - just an unfortunate close call many different times - but now there really was nothing stopping him. It was Jonathan Sims, now and forever. Just Jonathan Sims. 

It felt very, very bad. But after he stumbled to the corner store and bought two jugs of vodka, it started feeling pretty good. 

He didn’t need anybody. He couldn’t trust them not to die on him, or leave him. He was better off without Georgie, anyway. She had been such a shite girlfriend. Always - always throwing shit. Who did that? What a freak. All of his friends, he realized once they broke up, had really been her friends, so he was isolated. Gran had never actually cared about him. She had resented him. 

It was better to hate, and choose to be alone, then it was to be alone by accident. So Jon hated, and drank, and cursed, and drank, and resented, and drank, and swore that he would never need anybody else ever again, and drank…

Some random passerby found him. The only person who would care, it seemed like. Passed out in a pool of his own vomit in a gutter. A common enough sight in the streets of London, except apparently he hadn’t been moving. 

He woke up in the hospital. Down the street from where Gran died, actually. It had apparently taken a few days, but he woke up. His first thought was: damn. Damn. 

It hadn’t been a conscious decision. Just a lot of little, smaller ones. 

But the fear wasn’t quite loneliness. That’s not what he was saying. The fear was that he would die unknown. Nobody would know anything about him, know that he was suffering, know that he was in pain. He would be a Jo(h)n Doe in a hospital, unloved, uncared for. All his life, Jon had always wanted to know , he was just built that way - but who would know him? 

Several months in the hospital outpatient. A nice little job offer, the week after he was released. Maybe Elias had seen that moment, the lowest moment of his life. 

I know you have. I know you saw it. That’s it, isn’t it? The worst, ugliest memory I have? I’m giving it to you. It’s yours now. Are you happy?


But I do. You need me, because I’ve lived on this stupid fucking Earth. If you want it to be yours, we have to work together. I understand it like you don’t. I know what you don’t know. What happiness feels like, what pain does. 


What else do you need?


I just told you - I don’t want to die unknown. 


I know. Thank you. But in return, I want something. 


No. Every power I’ve shown so far, that’s been taking away parts of myself and replacing it with you. I want something in return. I’ve given you everything. I just need this one little thing. 


The world. 


The Eye smiled at him. Jon was still kneeling before it, a knight to his queen. He kissed its hand, because it was Georgie’s hand, because that hand was the Eye’s. 

“If you had to choose,” the Eye said, “between me and the Eye, who would you choose?”

“You, of course,” Jon said, standing up and kissing it deeply. “I love you.”

And it loved him back. And everything fell apart. 

“ - so there, I was, barbecue sauce up my pussy - hey, he’s waking up!”

He was waking up. The first thing he felt, besides the grating tones of Jude’s voice in his ear, was the warm press of Georgie’s hand in his. It had never gone away. He was lying on a comfortable chair, on his stomach, and when he shifted he definitely felt many bandages wrapping all the way up and down his torso. He opened his eyes and sat up, promptly regretting the action. 

Wait - Jude hadn’t finished an entire back tattoo in the span of - however long it was he had been out, right? Right? Hopefully? Whatever. He just hoped he hadn’t missed work, he didn’t know how he would explain this one to Elias. 

Georgie was sitting next to his chair, hand still firmly in hers, and she seemed excited to see him up again. Daisy was sitting in a chair near the till, reading a different book, and all of the other Avatars were in the same position he had left them. Sitting around in a circle talking, completely smashed. He could only mark time by the quantity of beer cans they were surrounded with. There was a veritable sea. All in all, when Jon looked at the clock, he saw that only about five hours had passed. Maybe they did teach tattooing in Wall Street Banker school. 

“Jon!” Georgie exclaimed. Jon winced as his back prickled, but carefully checked the configuration of all of his limbs. He actually felt alright. Normally, after a night of weird dreams - and he remembered every second of that weird dream/hallucination, thanks, also ew - he felt spectacularly unrested, but maybe selling your soul perked you up or something. “How are you feeling?”

“Fantastic,” Jon said honestly, before bending forward and kissing her. She made a startled sound, but didn’t tear away. Anabelle whooped. She tasted sweet, and like infinity. He kissed her long and deep before separating. “Do you still have that strap?”

“Obviously,” Georgie said immediately, before her brain caught up with her. “Wait, what? Holy shit, Jon!”

“Am I invited please ,” Anabelle begged. “I promise there won’t be any spiders.”

“Welp,” Daisy said, standing up from her chair. “That’s my cue. Bye, guys.”

“See you at work tomorrow, Daisy!” Jon called, waving goodbye. “Remember to fill out your timesheet!”

“I hate my fucking life,” Daisy said, before stepping out the door over the edge of the universe. 

Why were they waiting? What were they sitting around for? Jon leapt up, barely recognizing the pain in his back, and dragged Georgie up with him. He kissed her again, pressing up against her as much as he could, aching for that warmth. 

“See you two later!” Jude called. “You’re welcome , by the way, Archivist!”

“We won’t forget the deal,” Jon called back, grabbing Georgie’s hand and pulling her towards the door. “Thank you for everything!”

He pulled the door out of the tattoo parlor open and stepped into - Georgie’s bedroom. Thanks, Helen! It was dim, lit only by the streetlamps shining through the gauzy curtains over the windows, and as usual when inside the house he felt his powers dampen. But it was like trying to stop a rushing tide, a river that coursed endlessly through him, water that hollowed him out into empty crevasses. Jon had sold his soul and all he felt was joy. Joy, that the world finally made sense, that he could look at somebody he loved and see only bright, shining light. 

His shirt was already gone, so that was easy. Trousers for last. He kissed Georgie again, sinking deep into the spiralling infinity within her. He reached out for her shirt, grabbing the hem to help her lift it over her head, but when she batted his hands away he stopped kissing her and retreated. 

“What’s wrong?” Jon asked, somewhat betrayed. “I know you have condoms.”

“We’re not doing this while you’re high,” Georgie said sternly. She stepped away from him, holding her hands up in the air. “You’d regret it when you’re sober. If you want to start sleeping with me again we’re having a mature discussion about it tomorrow.”

Wow, since when was she no fun? Normally that was Jon’s job. “I’m perfectly sober,” Jon whined, but Georgie’s doubletake may have betrayed him. “Is it that unbelievable that I’m in the mood once a year? Honestly, I’ll - I’ll take a test or something. I’m just in a good mood.”

“You have never, ever initiated sex with me sober, so forgive me if I don’t believe you.” Georgie frowned at him, but there was an element of something worried in there too. “You were out for hours, Jon. And you were...writhing. I just don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Forgive me if I want to live a little after I sold my soul,” Jon said, and he didn’t realize how loudly he had said it until the end. His voice was scratchy, actually, and somewhat hoarse. Had he been screaming? He couldn’t be sure. “I might as well do something before I die. I want to go out with a bang. Literally!”

Georgie narrowed her eyes at him, searching. Searching for what? Jon’s Eye was stubbornly closed, but in a strange way. He had the sense it was...waiting. A refractory period? “You’re being weird.”

“I think you’re the one being weird,” Jon said petulantly. He sat down on her bed and started pulling off his shoes. If they weren’t going to go for it he might as well get some sleep. “Weird and…and short.”

“Okay, that’s it. You’re still high. And you’re sleeping in your own bed tonight.” She gently grabbed him by the arm and guided him upwards, even as he was still taking off his other shoe, and pushed him out the door and across the hall into his own bedroom. “Let me know if you need any water or anything. I’ll take my thank yous for saving the world tomorrow, thanks.”

“I don’t think I’m human, Georgie,” he said wondrously, as if this was the first time he had realized it. But maybe it was the first time it was true. 

“Yes, tell us something we don’t know.” Georgie settled him onto his bed, helping him finish pulling off his shoes and drawing the comforter back. Jon grumbled over it, but he settled into bed. He did feel...somewhat dizzy. His head was pleasantly numb, buzzing with a thousand flies, and the Eye wasn’t Seeing. “Give us a yell if you need any water or something. You have work tomorrow, so I’ll see if I can wake you up in time.”

“No,” Jon slurred, and he realized for the first time that he had been slurring. “I’m really not human. I’m hollow. A hollow, lightning struck tree. Georgie, so many people walk around empty…just corpses, puppeteered by electrical signals. I’m full of stuff now. Full of...of everything. But am I full of…love?”

“Goodnight, Jon.”

“People are so stupid,” Jon whispered. He didn’t know if Georgie could even hear him anymore. “You can know every inch of them, and still not understand.”

“That’s what makes us people, Jon.” So she could still hear him. She stood against the doorframe, silhouetted in empty ways by the dim and flickering lights outside. He saw only the outline of her, framed in her curves and curls, and he understood why the Eye took her shape. She was the only thing left of his childhood, of his history. What was more valuable than that? What did Jon love more than himself? “If we could understand each other fully, then it just wouldn’t be exciting anymore. We’d be machines, putting in two and two and always getting four. Married couples, you know…they can live together for sixty years and never know each other completely. That’s how they can do it.”

“If you knew me completely,” Jon said, through a thick tongue. “Would you still love me?”

“I know all the worst parts of you. Isn’t that the same thing?”

He had never told her about his worst memory. She didn’t know the depths of himself. Neither did Martin, but he had said the same thing. The human capacity for self-delusion was remarkable. Or was it Jon who was deluded?

If she said anything else he didn’t hear it. He fell asleep again, and dreamed a few very banal, yet weirdly erotic dreams. 

He woke up with a headache so bad it was like someone was splitting his skull in two with a pickaxe. He screamed, very loudly, and knew nothing other than pain for a very long time. It was simple, short yet long, a moment stretching into infinity that took five hours. It was every hangover he had ever had - which was very many - compiled and compounded into one. It felt like the entire world was being crammed into his mind and he was breaking under the pressure - which, of course, he was. 

Voices sometimes emerged through the pain. He didn’t know how long he screamed, or how long he was awake, or what the point of anything was. If he was still alive. He was busy learning how many heartbeats a mayfly lived, how it felt when the gazelle was torn apart by the lion, how many times the jaguar licked its teeth in a lifetime. He knew how many books lived in the Boston Public Library, and the pain Jurgen Leitner felt as he died. He knew the shape of every snowflake that ever fell, and why bad things happen to good people. He knew where aliens existed, and the language that they spoke to each other in the singing of nitrogen atoms. Every paradox made sense to him, and was ultimately answerable. He knew the solution to the trolley problem - as always, the winning move is not to play. 

“Hi, Rosie, Mrs. Sims again. I need Mr. Bouchard, it’s another emergency. Yes, please ignore the screams. Thank you.” How magnets worked was downloaded into Jon’s brain, which was actually a very useful thing to know. “Hi, Elias. How are you? I’m doing great. Yes, the screaming is Jon, why the fuck did you think I was calling.” A long pause. “None of your business.” Another pause. Jon understood the depths of depravity of the cuckoo bird. “Oh, thanks, that’s helpful. Look, I’m massively hungover and this endless screaming isn’t really helping me out. Don’t you have any insight here?” Another pause. “Wow. That’s comforting. You’re omnipotent and you don’t know? Weak. He won’t be in today, so deal with that. Thanks. See you at yoga on Wednesday if my husband doesn’t die. Yes, I’ll file the stupid form. Bye.”

A long - something. A long moment. His eyeballs were drilling icepicks into his brain, which was an unfortunate comparison because now Jon knew absolutely everything about the history of lobotomies. He wanted a lobotomy right now, but he had the sense that this was roughly the opposite thing. 

“Gerry, why don’t you go relax at Starbucks for right now, okay? You don’t need to hear this. He’ll be fine. Come on, I’ll give you some money.”

“ he going to die?”

“Honey, come on. Buy yourself a pastry, okay?”

Gerry remembered what it was like to die of a brain tumor. It was a lot like this. 

When Jon woke up for good, it was the next day. Three am in London. He opened his eyes, rubbed the sleep from them, and knew that both Georgie and Gerry were asleep. All of his employees were wondering if he was alright, or if he had been kidnapped again, or if he was just skipping again. Elias had refused to say anything about it, just that he was taking a sick day. Georgie, somewhat foolishly, hadn’t texted them, assuming that Elias would tell the truth. 

Jon went downstairs and drank two quarts of water before going back upstairs and falling back asleep. He dreamed through the life of a man from 7th century Guam. It wasn’t overly interesting, but the skies had been clearer back then, and when the man looked at the night sky after he finished his daily work he felt a profound sense of insignificance in the world that was comforting to him. He saw more stars than Jon had ever seen. 

He woke up the next morning at six, and went downstairs to make breakfast for everybody after pissing, showering, and stretching his hair into a ponytail. He made eggs and bacon, which was much easier when you knew the perfect time when they would be done. He still had a bit of a headache, so he drank some more water. 

When Georgie walked down the stairs she was surprised to see him. You didn’t need to be omniscient to know this - her eyes widened, her mouth parted slightly. There were thick bags under her eyes. It would have been quite obvious to anyone. 

“Jon? How are you feeling?”

“Quite well, thank you.” Jon scraped the perfectly cooked eggs and bacon onto a plate, setting it on the table with salt and pepper, and Georgie cautiously sat down. “Some psychic backlash from the ritual. I apologize for all of the noise. The process would have been much less painful if we had done it the normal way, but having your brain expanded is never fun.”

“Uh huh.” Georgie cautiously ate her eggs, eyebrows skyrocketing up when she realized that they were better than usual. “Do you feel any...different?”

“From yesterday? Yes, my head hurts less.”

“Different from last week.”

“Kind of. It’s hard to explain.” Jon turned around, holding his hand over the toaster a second before the toast shot up and catching it in the air. He took a bite out of it, tasting the proteins. “It’s like...the difference between having to sit down and work out on paper your arithmetic, and having memorized the twelve times tables. I no longer have to Look for things. I just know them. I suspect my appetite will be quite a bit larger. Psychologically, it’s difficult to tell at this stage. I feel very calm about things. I think that’s a difference.”

Georgie looked up, intending on saying something cautious yet supportive, when she froze. A bit of egg slid off her fork. Annoyingly, he didn’t know what bothered her. It could have been any number of differences. It seemed as if people, as usual, were his ‘blind spot’. Such as it was. 

“Jon,” Georgie said tightly, “there’s something wrong with your eyes.”

“Is there?” Jon asked, surprised. “They don’t look any different.” He knew this for a fact. Same color as they always were - light brown, same color as Georgie’s but a different shade. A little weak, causing him to need reading glasses. Another thing that made him look a bit older than he was. He always lost his reading glasses when he was younger, misplacing them when drunk, but he supposed that he would never lose them again. That was convenient. 

“They’re dead,” Georgie said flatly. “There’s nothing in them. Like a corpse.”

What does that even mean? Jon grabbed his phone from the counter, turning the camera front facing and frowning at his own reflection. They were just his eyes. There was nothing different about them. Dead - how unobjective. “I don’t see it,” he said, unimpressed. 

“Jesus christ, you weren’t just high. That ritual, like, scooped you out.” Georgie put down her fork, looking abruptly sick. “This is my fault.”

“Partly,” Jon allowed. “It was your idea. But it was also Jude’s, mine’s, Elias’, and the Eye’s, so don’t blame yourself. Is that what you’re doing? Blaming yourself? I can’t tell.” Jon put the phone down, and actively racked his brain to try to remember what cheered her up normally. Kissing? He walked over to where she was sitting and tried to kiss her on the lips, but she just turned her head away from him with a tight expression. Why didn’t that work? “I don’t want you to be sad, Georgie. Tell me what would make you feel better.”

“I’m going back to bed.” Georgie stood up abruptly, cramming the last bit of bacon in her mouth and skidding the chair against the linoleum. She walked out of the kitchen and back up the steps, and Jon was frustrated to discover that he couldn’t quite tell what she was thinking. He tasted trace elements of guilt, horror, and frustration, but also sadness. Not fear - never fear - but something much more primal than that. Anger. Anger at who?

Gerry came down twenty minutes later, as Jon was eating his own food. He, unlike Georgie, noticed Jon’s eyes immediately. He froze in the doorway, eyes wide. Jon knew for the first time that, ever since they burned Gerard’s page, his heart didn’t beat. Did he even have one? Yes, he did. 

“Shit,” Gerry said. 

“Hullo, Gerry,” Jon said, like he said every morning. Best to try to keep this natural. Gerry panicked easily, as teenagers were wont to do. “I made you breakfast.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Jon?” Gerry asked, backing up slowly until his back hit the wall. His fists were clenched. “Where’s Mum?”

“She’s upstairs. She said she was going back to sleep but she’s lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling.” Jon ate more bacon, and knew that its pig had been rather stupid, even for a pig. It was very interesting how Gerry switched between names for all of them - starting with Miss Barker and Archivist, moving into their names, but frequently calling them ‘Mum’ and ‘Pop’ as sarcastic nicknames. Or that was what he wanted them to believe - some part of him always meant it, when he called them that, not sarcastic at all. He had never seen such great Mummy issues in a human being. “I promise I’m still Jon. Although, I suppose if I wasn’t, you’d have no reason to believe me and I’d have a great deal of reason to lie. If I seem different, it is because we did a speed-run of the ritual the other day. I got a bit...stretched out.”

Gerry just stared at him, eyes wide, before turning and fleeing the room. This made Jon feel somewhat bad, for reasons he couldn’t identify. That frustrated him too. 

He left for work, rejoicing in the short walk to the Underground as he understood how many footsteps had tread where he walked. London was a city with a rich and fantastic history, and Jon knew all of it. There was no corner in London, no brick or stone, that had no story. Some human or animal had touched every inch of it. Even the forgotten bits, the seemingly abandoned underbellies, simply had a more far reaching story than most. Shakespeare walked these roads, so had Queen Victoria, so had thousands of beggars with stories just as rich and beautiful as theirs. In fantasy, in the minds of millions of people, Sherlock Holmes had run down these streets, holding a magnifying glass and shouting that ‘The game was afoot!’. Ebenezer Scrooge, Oliver Twist, Pip, all lived on in the halls of memory, existing in the most real way there was. Eliot wrote poems about it, and far greater poets than he had too. A girl, once upon a time, had sat on the stoop that he was passing, and thought about how beautiful the world is. A man died on that street corner, feeling his life bleed out of him, knowing this was The End. When Jon clutched a pole in the Underground, he was touching the leftover sweat and bacteria of thousands and thousands of hands. A million lives, all his. All Jon’s. 

It would all be gone in a month, of course. That was what made it beautiful. 

Jon whistled a song a fifteenth century goat herder had made up, that no other human soul ever heard, on his way to work. 

Chapter Text

“Mr. Sims? Mr. Bouchard wishes to speak with you in his office.”

Sabrina had been turned long ago. She was a competent secretary: not exceptional, but functionally so. Her mother was an opioid addict, but her father had been doting until he died. Elias really did specialize in the dregs of society. Jon approved - those were the ones with the most interesting stories, not that Elias thought of them that way. Was his habit of hiring exclusively queer people for the Archives consious or subconsious? Were gays easier to control? This warranted further investigation, although Jon was now aware that Gertrude had thrown the third brick at Stonewall. Good for her. Nobody alive had known that she was a lesbian, but Jon did. 

He glanced to the side to nod at Sabrina, and she froze stock still when she saw him - or rather, perhaps, saw his eyes. Was it that obvious? She nodded shakily, almost more of a bow, and Jon allowed himself a sharkish grin. He felt the heavy weight of Elias’s Eye looming down at him, and he easily batted it away. Annoyance. 

By the time he entered Elias’ office, he had been forced to shove away his Gaze three more times, and he was growing slightly ticked off. When he opened the door Elias stood up, a peculiar expression on his face that Jon couldn’t quite interpret. He stopped short when he saw Jon, seeing the same thing inside of him that everybody else seemed to see, and his face paled very interestingly. Jon found that he liked the expression on Elias. He had always rather thought himself too clever. That was the downside of being two hundred, he supposed. Victorians were just Like That. 

Another assault on his mind, an attempt to pry into his thoughts. Jon slapped it away so harshly that Elias’ neck cracked with it. Jon smiled pleasantly at him, which only made him blanch again. 

“Satisfied, Jonah?”

“Jon,” Elias said, but that word meant something else in his mouth. “This was...faster than I anticipated. How…?”

“If you can’t find out, I don’t think you deserve to know.” Jon kept smiling. He had the sense it was unsettling. Elias slowly sat back down. Or, Jonah? No, it was just a little too weird. Plus he wouldn’t want to deadname him or whatever. “Let’s just say I had a metamorphosis, of sorts. I’d show you, but the wounds are still healing.”

“I see.” Elias licked his lips, and Jon saw him visibly fight for the familiar douchey control that he draped over himself like a cloak. Control freaks, all of them. As if just because you knew meant you understood. People killed as if they could create a life exactly as meaningful and rich as easily, as if knowledge and a mind could be replaced. Death was a waste . Why did none of the other Avatars see that? “The Unknowing is in a month. If you wish to - to conduct the ritual, I’ll need at least a week to wrap up affairs here. Get things sorted out and ready, that sort of thing.”

“Oh? That’s strange.” Jon stepped forward, dragging a finger lightly across the wood of the ornate chair in front of Elias’ desk. Antique. Everything in the room was antique, actually. He was a man of his comforts. “I wasn’t aware I abided by your schedule.”

There it was. A minute catch in his breath, quickly smoothed out. Elias was avoiding eye contact. Was there something unsettling there, in his eyes? “Of course you don’t. Whenever you’ll ready, I can accomodate.”

Jon loosely flopped into the chair in front of Elias’ desk, draping his too-long legs over the arm, and propping up an elbow on the other arm and resting his chin on it. It wasn’t his favored posture, but he enjoyed the statement. “You remember Gerard Keay.”

“Do you wish Georgie Barker and Gerard Keay disposed of?” Elias asked quickly. Not eagerly, but quickly. 

“Of course not,” Jon said, instead of ‘I’ll kill you if you touch them’ or ‘I carved my soul out of my body with a paring knife and fed it to my god so they would be safe’. That wasn’t the impression he wanted to send right now. “I’m a man in love, you know. Anyway, Gerry said something very interesting regarding his afterlife. He said that the Leitner split himself in twain. A body and a soul, a yin and a yang, a heart and a mind. He’s one of the most knowledgeable humans on the supernatural on Earth, although he doesn’t know it. I think that you and I, Elias, are similar somewhat to that. Heart and mind. Soul and body. You called yourself the beating heart of this institute. You’re good with people. Playing around in their minds like a child in a sandbox. But the Archivist is an operant of the world. I’ve never been good with people like you are. I can’t inject thoughts into their minds, or read their minds like you can. But I don’t need to, do I?”

Elias was silent. Carefully choosing words. But Jon pressed his advantage. He leaned forward, and whatever Elias saw in his eyes made him tense. 

“What’s the one secret you can’t bear for anyone to know, Jonah?” Jon wondered out loud. “What is the one thing that Peter can never know, or else he will never love you again?”

“I have given every secret I have to the Beholding,” Elias said thinly. “Same as you. I do not appreciate these attempts at intimidation.”

“We can taste your fear, Jonah,” Jon said lightly. “It tastes like...mmm.” Good. So good. Jon found himself arching his back, stretching his fingers. “Does Peter know that you were the one who made him so lonely?”

Elias was silent for a long moment. Jon was too. He could wait. Finally, Elias smiled thinly. “I’ve never had an Archivist come so far. I’m almost proud.” He bent his head slightly towards Jon, a clear surrender. “There is no need to blackmail me. I know my place here.”

If anybody did, it was him. Jon shrugged and stood up, cracking his fingers. Time to get to work. He was very hungry. With a flick of his mind, he shuttered every inch of the Archives from Elias’ Sight. Elias shuddered, gritting his teeth. It must have felt like having one of his eyes plucked out. “That’s enough of that, I think. I hope you enjoyed your little kingdom while it lasted, Jonah. High man on the mountain.”

Elias grinned again, and this time it was much more real. “Our kingdom will grow soon enough.”

“Yes,” Jon said, disinterestedly. “As it must.”

He left the door open behind him. That unfortunate chore was over with. Time to get back to where he actually enjoyed being. 

When he entered the Archives it was empty, and it was the work of a second to realize that nobody had come in yet. They were probably all assuming he wouldn’t be in today, so they could relax a bit and come in late. Well, he didn’t care. Elias wouldn’t care anymore, either. Jon felt as if he made his point quite well. He wouldn’t be a problem now. Glad that was solved. 

Unless Elias was disloyal to the Beholding. Jon didn’t know why he would be. Jon was more disloyal to the Beholding than he was, and Jon was a solid 20% Beholding right now - which, when viewing the Beholding as a rather strong espresso and Jon himself as hot frothy milk, was actually quite a kick of a concentration. Was the caramel syrup in the espresso of his personality his love for his friends? Must investigate further. 

He entered his office as if he was crawling back into bed. He felt so warm and safe in its cramped quarters. He bent down, dragging out from under his desk a cardboard box filled with five hundred sixty five Statements. A bare fraction of those were true Encounters, but that was no issue. It was all life, wasn’t it? 

Jon reclined in his chair, kicking his oxfords up on the scuffed table. Everything was coming up Jon. The Apocalypse was right on schedule, he knew the direct trajectory of the butterfly beating its wings in China to the spin of a hurricane in South America, and he was looking forward to his back healing enough so he could get a look at his new tattoo. 

Yes, everything was good. It was July 1st, and he had a beautiful month to look forward to as he experienced the world before it all ended. 

Many hours later, a knock on his office door. Right on time. 

The Assistants had been fighting furiously among themselves for almost an hour on who would do it. Georgie had mass texted them the situation ( Georgie: “Jon’s evil again but for real this time :( We got it under control tho“) and they had been angrily group huddling since then about what to do regarding the situation. As usual, the chips fell according to their respective problem solving tactics: Daisy and Melanie favored the Hunt and Slaughter, Basira favored Daisy, Tim favored idiocy, and Martin strongly desired to pretend none of this was a problem. And, as usual, Martin was sent in like a lamb to the lion to appease Jon. Why Martin, every time, Jon didn’t know. Voted the least likely to stab Jon out of annoyance? Possessor of the most caretaking and peacemaking personality? Jon’s favorite? Was he Jon’s favorite? Jon dearly wished that Elias wasn’t possessing all of the Beholding’s emotional intelligence. He would like some. Just a little would be nice?

Jon burped a bit, shuffling the statement (“There was a ghost, I heard you compensate?”) under a stack of other statements. He felt a bit nervous. First impressions are everything. Not that this was his first impression with Martin - actually, they had known each other for quite a while, but it was the spirit of the thing. “Come in!”

Martin stepped inside. The first thing Jon noticed was that there was no tea. He was a little crushed. 

Martin’s expression was firm, brave and well-set. He faltered just a little bit when he saw Jon’s face - why did everybody get so spooked by it - but it just seemed to make him gather his resolve. He closed the door firmly behind in, and walked closer until he was standing behind the chair in front of his desk. Jon was forcibly reminded of his little chat with Elias that morning, the odd mirror of positions. Poetic cinema, probably. 

Oh. Something strange was happening in Jon’s chest. An emotion. An emotion! It was...alright, he couldn’t identify it, but it was an emotion. He was proud of himself, and a little exasperated. As if it was an outdoors cat that wandered back inside whenever it felt like. 

Martin opened his mouth, then closed it. Jon waited patiently. Martin had a speech memorized, which Jon wasn’t privy to the contents of, but now that he was here and staring deep into Jon’s eyes it all seemed to flee from his mind. Jon kept waiting patiently. 

Finally, Martin cleared his throat and said, “What did you do?”

Another emotion, this time identifiable: slight offence. Jon leaned back in his chair. “What makes you think I did something?”

“Alright,” Martin said, brittley. “What did Jon do?”

“I am Jon.” At Martin’s skeptical face, Jon shrugged. “Solid 80% Jon in here. It was only 90% last time you saw me, you know. It’s not that big of a change.”

Martin snorted, waving a hand in front of his own face. “Yeah, tell that to whatever you got going on in your eyes.” Was nobody going to explain that to him? Whatever. “Fine. Jon, then. What did you do that got you eaten by a monster?”

“It was Georgie’s idea. I was just going along with it.” Jon paused a beat. “Also, psychedelics.”

“Of course. Of course.” Martin pinched the bridge of his nose, and breathed deeply in and out. “Go in and let us know if Jon’s evil, they said. We’ll be waiting right outside with knives if he tries to kill you, they said. Why is Jon going evil every two seconds, it’s getting tedious, they said.”

“Wait, my slow descent into monsterhood and the sacrifice of my soul to keep my loved ones safe is tedious ?”

“Yes! You have this martyr complex that keeps on fucking with my life every two weeks! I’m sick of it!” Martin threw up his hands. “Just commit, Jon!”

“I’ve never been good at that.” Jon couldn’t believe where this conversation was going, frankly. “Is this habit where you react to worry and stress with frustration and snappishness new? I wouldn’t have expected it of you, Martin.”

“Nobody ever does,” Martin said, and that was real bitterness there. As real as Tim’s, or Melanie’s. Jon found himself fascinated by it. He wanted it. He wanted it very much.

Actually, he kind of wanted Martin? Was that normal?

Wait, Martin was still talking. “I’ll just go, then. This is pointless. I’ll tell the others that you aren’t going to axe murder us anytime soon, probably. I think Tim wants to talk to you, amazingly, but that’s your problem. I’ll just...yeah.”

Amazingly, strangely, weirdly, Jon found himself saying, “Stay.”

Martin paused. He shot Jon a strange look, one almost impossible to decipher. He was so frustrating. So obvious, so easy, yet so indecipherable. “What?”

“Stay,” Jon said again. Weirdly, he found himself adding, “Please. Sit down.”

Martin drifted towards the rickety chair, still eyeing Jon like he was a wild animal. Which, fair. “Jon never asks me to stay when he has work to do.”

“Maybe I’m not Jon anymore,” Jon offered casually. He didn’t really care one way or the other. How much of you was you? At what point, when Alzheimers ate the brain down to 90, 80, 50 or 40% of its previous capacity, were you not there anymore? What an esoteric question. Unanswered. Nobody called Alzheimer’s patients inhuman monsters. “Sit down, Martin.”

Should he tell them he took care of the Elias problem? Martin sat down, looking somewhat sulky about it, somewhat scared, so maybe not. 

Jon leaned forward, eyes boring into Martin’s own dark eyes, and Martin leaned back. “I’m not good with people. But you are.” 

“Uh,” Martin said. 

“I know things. Everything, actually. I know where you were born. How many breaths you had taken before your mother gave you up - three thousand six hundred forty five, by the way. The amount of coins in your pocket. The number of books you read in grade school. How you’ve always had somewhat of an affinity for the Web, how the chips settled with the Beholding, how the Lonely’s trying to poach you. You’re popular with the Entities, because you’re a fearful person.” Jon leaned back a little, tilting his head. “But besides your proclivity for experiencing fears so deeply that you attract the attention of Eldritch terrors, you’re quite boring. You’re a boring, normal person. There’s nothing fun about you. Dull and tedious. You aren’t brave and courageous like Tim and Basira and Daisy, or quirky and intelligent like Melanie and Georgie and Gerard. You’re just you. Even you’re tired of yourself.”

“Wow,” Martin said, voice brittle and eyes tired. Maybe the words would have hurt Martin of a few months ago. Made him cry. Not today, though. Jon didn’t fucking know why. “Good Elias impression. Are you done?”

“The only thing really special about you,” Jon said, in a facsimile of cheerfulness, “is how obsessed I am with you.”

That stopped him short. Martin’s eyes widened, his breath sped up. Facts, which should say something about his emotional state, which really told him nothing at all. When he spoke, his voice was high and squeaky. “R - really?”

“Really! I don’t get you at all. You’re so…obvious, but so confusing.” Jon tilted his head again, staring unblinkingly. “I think I’ve got you figured out, but then you do something confusing. Like standing up for Melanie, or scolding me when I’ve frustrated you. I know the plan you’re drawing up with the others. The Martin I thought you were would never fuck over Elias like that. There’s some key here I’m missing. And you’re so good with people. You really get them. You really got me, really understood what I needed to hear when I was in trouble. I can’t do that at all. In some ways, Martin, you’re much smarter than me. And I know everything! It’s so strange. I love people. And you’re such...a person!”

Martin was beginning to look a bit green. “Right. Can Elias hear this?”

“Elias knows who’s really in charge of the Archives now,” Jon said dismissively. He leaned forward again. He was so hungry. There was nothing left to know. “Can you sit here and tell me everything? Everything you know about people, and the world? I’m so fascinated. I want to know what you know about people. How they tick, how to make them do what you want. I bet you know. Tell me, Martin. I want your Statement.”

If he had been a bit green before, he looked as if he was going to violently throw up now. He stood up abruptly, hands clenched. “I have to go back to work. I’m sorry, Jon, but I don’t have time. Have some - filing to do.”

“I’m your boss,” Jon said, annoyed. Another emotion. “I decide what is worth your time or not. I want you to tell me what makes you tick.”

“You’re so smart,” Martin said, voice tight like a piano wire. “Tell me what I told you months ago. About you and me.”

Jon blinked, fetching the information easily. “That you’ll always be my friend. No matter what. That I can’t chase you away.”

“That’s right. I’m your friend, Jon. And I’m telling you, as your friend, that friends don’t bully friends. Do you get that?”

Jon nodded eagerly. Information! Good information! “Got it. Anything else?”

“Consider it a practical lesson,” Martin said crisply. “One I’ll demonstrate now. By leaving.

And then he did. He just walked out the door. Jon blinked, left alone in an empty office, off-balance and somewhat disturbed. Had Martin just...not felt like giving the Statement? So he didn’t ? Was that how this worked? 

Jon didn’t lie. Anymore. He obfuscated and misdirected and worked impression management hard, but he didn’t lie . That was not the truth, which he didn’t like. So he hadn’t been lying when he said that he was a little bit obsessed with how confusing Martin was, because it was true. And he hadn’t been lying when he said that he wanted Martin to tell him how to make people make sense, because people made sense to Martin. Jon was a lot of things, but he wasn’t really a mind reader. 

But he had been misdirecting. Because Jon was obsessed with Martin, but that wasn’t why. He was obsessed because Martin loved him, no matter what, and Martin was his friend, and Jon didn’t know why. He didn’t have the history of Georgie. He didn’t have the desperation of Gerard. He just liked Jon, and wanted to be his friend. Why? Why? Why? 

If he knew why, then maybe he could make him stay. 

He stayed in his office the rest of the day. He could think about everything, and he did, but mostly who he thought about was Martin: whose life he knew in every inch, but who he didn’t understand at all. 

On his way out after work he ‘ran into’ (Jon had planned it to the second) Tim, who was exiting the tunnels and who was spitting mad over being caught. He hadn’t had as much time to explore and stalk as he would like, what with all of the crackdowns lately, but Jon still supported his endeavours. He told Tim as such. 

“I don’t give a fuck what you fucking approve of, you creepy pissant!” Tim screamed at him. Jon winced. “I’m going to murder some clowns, you have fun with your sitcom drama of a life! I don’t care! Leave me alone and get your creepy, dead eyes out of my life!”

“That’s logistically not really possible,” Jon complained. 

“I. Don’t. Care.” Tim breathed deeply between gritted teeth, looking strongly as if he wanted to jab his finger at Jon’s chest but he knew that it would lose him the finger. “Keep auctioning off pieces of your soul to your god. I don’t care. I don’t worship anybody or anything. I refuse to submit. I’m going to take vengeance for Danny, and if I have to use you and this Institute to do it I will.”

Jon shifted awkwardly, winding a finger around the end of his ponytail. “The others talk behind your back about how they’re worried that you’re suicidal.”

“So what,” Tim said bitterly. “It’s none of their business.”

“They’re real, you know,” he said quietly, and Tim abruptly shut up. “All of them save me. They’re who they’ve always been. I Know. They’ve always been your friends...and I consider you a friend too...and none of us want anything to happen to you. So I’m asking, as somebody who used to be your friend, to be careful. I’d be pretty torn up if anything happened to you.”

Tim scoffed bitterly, but somewhat wetly. “I doubt you have feelings anymore.”

“A life is an entire world,” Jon said sincerely. “When a life is extinguished, a world of information is lost. That’s the worst thing of all to me.”

“Whatever.” Tim looked away, jaw clenched. “ least you, I understand. You’ve always been so fucking obvious, Jon. Was it alcohol or drugs?”

“Little bit of both, but mostly alcohol.”

“Right. I know people like you. Always compensating. Never quite...stable. Takes it all out on someone else, because you can’t help but externalize your own shit.” Tim was still avoiding eye contact. Maybe he just couldn’t bear it. “I didn’t used to be like that. Used to be a very normal guy. Perfect little life. But nowadays...I get it, a little. Maybe you’ve just had a shit hand. I don’t fucking know. I don’t care. Everybody’s life is hard. Maybe I just need to stop pretending I’m the only one. But...I can’t live the rest of my life like this. Don’t try to stop me.”

Then he pushed past Jon, heedless and uncaring, and stalked away. 

“Good talk!” Jon called after him. No reply. Of course. 

As much as he enjoyed the concept of him and Tim being narrative parallels, Tim was a bit of a jerk and Jon didn’t want to associate with that kind of thing. All he wanted was to go home, have his beautiful wife cook him a nice meal, help his darling son with his homework, have loving vanilla sex late at night, and sleep the sleep of the just. Was that so much to ask for?

Visualize the future you want. Jon unlocked the door of his beautiful Notting Hill house, slipping off his shoes in the lobby and shouting into its depths. How great to be out of work. He couldn’t wait to go back tomorrow. “Honey, I’m home!”

This was real life. This was the point of having an Archivist at all. Experience as much of humanity as possible before the Eye ate the world, so they could finally understand its depths. He, Elias, the Eye - a triptych forming a whole. Son, Holy Spirit, Father, if you wanted to go for that kind of thing. Body and Mind. Heart and Soul. Downright poetic. Maybe Georgie made pork chops -

“Now! Read it!”

Then Jon underwent the psychic equivalent of being grasped very firmly by both his ears and was ripped in two. He screamed, and passed out. 


When he awoke again, Georgie and Gerry were crouched over him. Gerry looked very concerned. Georgie was holding a very large knife. Never a good thing to wake up to. 

Jon meant to ask for the license plate of the truck that hit him, but what came out of his mouth instead more closely approximated “Jlkajsldjf?”

“Oh, good, you’re awake.” Georgie brandished the knife unsettlingly close to his eyeball. “And your eyes look...more normal. Are you still evil?”

“Maybe he was just tripping on, like, the good stuff,” Gerry suggested, with the uncertainty of a fifteen year old who had always dreamed of doing drugs but who had never quite managed it. 

“The Institute guys said he was omniscient. That he ate a hundred Statements.”

Jon quickly tried to remember the number of heartbeats in the average fly’s lifetime. And...he didn’t know. He didn’t know. He didn’t know!

He would have bolted upright if the knife wasn’t so close to his eyeball. Instead he squirmed and coughed. “It’s gone. What did you do ? Is it permanent? Please tell me it’s permanent.”

“Nope.” Georgie reluctantly lifted the knife and stepped away, holding out a hand to hoist Jon back up. He took it gratefully, choosing to ignore the way that Gerry was still somewhat hiding behind Georgie. “The bairn just beefed up the protections on the house big time. It’s like Fort Knox up in here. No Eyes in or out. Besides, like, you, I guess. You’ll probably go back to being weird as soon as you leave.”

“Great.” Jon’s stomach roiled uncomfortably, and he slapped a hand to his mouth. “I’ll go throw up now, then.”

Then he did so. For an hour. By the time he was finished Georgie was sympathetically sitting next to him, rubbing his back and offering him a bottle of water. He could hear the faint sounds of Gerry downstairs preparing - or, more likely, microwaving, the boy couldn’t cook - dinner, and tried to focus on that instead of how familiar the scene was. 

“You really...not scared me, but you know,” Georgie whispered. “Melanie was yelling about how you sold your soul again, was me. It was all my idea. You just went along with it. I should have checked before I had Jude fuckin’ Perry do batshit rituals on you.”

“It was necessary,” Jon said, which he had been repeating to himself an awful lot lately. “You did the right thing. It was fairly genius, Barker.”

“Not... barking mad?” Georgie tried to muster a weak smile for him, but it fell flat. “Don’t lie to make me feel better. This is all my fault. All of today, when Gerry and I were trying to figure out this spell, I kept on thinking - what if he doesn’t get better? I’ll have killed my best friend. Just because of some stupid plot .”

Then she was sniffling, which horrified Jon because Georgie didn’t cry, and he gently sat back down and leaned against the bathtub. He gestured until Georgie scooted closer to him and put her head on his shoulder. He threw an arm around her, letting his heavy weight settle across her shoulders. Hopefully it was reassuring. If he couldn’t be there for her anymore, if he never could be again, he could do this. 

“The goal was preserving the lives of my family and friends,” Jon whispered. “Not mine. You did everything right. I’m sorry that things can’t be perfect. But nothing ever really is, you know.”

“I wish it could be,” Georgie sobbed, face ruddy and red. “I just want a world where bad things stop happening to us.”

“I know someone who can make that happen,” Jon said lightly, and was rewarded with a watery smile. “I hear he’s quite handsome.”

“Oh, shut up. You’re only sexy in a rat kind of way.”

“Don’t only blame yourself,” Jon said suddenly. “I got myself into this. Elias manipulated me, but I knew what he was doing and I let him. It was easier.” Georgie’s hair smelled like Kiwi and Watermelon. Her cheap shampoo. They could afford nicer, but she still used it. Long habit. “I’m always...well, Martin was right. And so was Tim, actually. I’m always making everyone else deal with my shit. It’s not fair. You have your own problems, and because I can’t even deal with mine now you’re dealing with two.”

“It’s why I broke up with you the first time,” Georgie pointed out. She looked down at the tile, expression tightening. “We didn’t acknowledge it back then, cuz you thought you deserved it. But Jon, I was an epically shitty girlfriend.”

“You weren’t -”

“I was. I don’t want the world to end having never said this. I was awful. I made our house violent and toxic. I was coming off a depressive coma, I couldn’t understand or feel fear anymore, and you never fuckin’ said that me throwing shit scared you so I just didn’t notice. No, that’s not right. You didn’t feel safe enough to say that me throwing shit scared you, so I never stopped.”

Jon was silent. The admission was uncomfortable. Men shouldn’t feel scared of - but that was stupid. Jon was scared of everything, all the time. Melanie and Daisy and Basira and Jude and Nikola were the scariest people on Earth. 

“It’s not easy to love an alcoholic,” Georgie said finally, “or someone with as much PTSD as you had. But that’s no excuse. When you moved back in, I was - I wasn’t scared, but I was worried. That we’d just fall into the old patterns again. That you and I were - destined, is that weird to say? Destined to always fall back into our old dance, always hurting each other? I didn’t know things could get better.” She took a deep, shaky breath. “But they did. We fixed something that I didn’t think could be fixed. And now, with you, I feel like I did when I was a kid again. Before all this happened. You always were the best parts of my life, Jon. I’m happy to have you. I love you. I’m sorry I killed you.”

Then she started crying again, and Jon held her close, and felt a raw burst of love in his chest so strong it was overpowering. Could the Beholding feel it? Could the Beholding See, the messiness and ugliness and tenacity of people?

Sometimes it felt as if all humans ever did was hurt each other. Maybe they did. But people couldn’t live without each other either. Maybe destined was the right word for it - maybe people were doomed to hurt each other forever, because being alone was so intolerable.  

Or maybe bad things could be made into something good. Maybe someone as bad and unlovable and wrong and twisted as Jon could be made into something good. Maybe something as corrupted and wrong as the Earth could be reformed into something good. Maybe the Beholding - 

Maybe Jon wasn’t unlovable and wrong and twisted. Maybe he just made mistakes. Maybe now he had the chance to correct them, finally. He had spent so long trying to make up for the fact that he was alive that he had forgotten to live. Why had it taken him so long to figure this out? 

“I’m alive,” Jon said. “I haven’t given up yet. Neither should you.” He kissed the top of her head gently. “You’ll have to deal with evil me for a while, though. I am sorry about that, but it’s necessary. Just stay away from him. He is - fascinated with you. Or with how I feel about you. Don’t give him what he wants.”

“Ew.” Georgie wrinkled her nose, hiccuping slightly. “Evil you doesn’t get Georgie kisses.”

“I collect experiences,” Jon said slowly, testing the words in his mouth for truth. “The deal I made with the Eye - that I act as its agent on Earth, that involves living as a human does. Having every experience. The omniscience is almost unlimited, but the price is that any blind spots hurt like - like a speck in your eye. I think I sacrificed my - morality, my conscious, my empathy. I’m only kind of feeling them now. I - the first thing I did was assert dominance over Elias, then I ate an impossible number of statements, then I -”

“Hit on Martin?” Georgie asked wryly. “He was freaking out in the groupchat about it.”

“What? No, Martin’s making stuff up. He’s just very interesting to someone who doesn’t understand people, I think.” Jon paused contemplatively. “I did want to eat him, though. I still do.”

“Wow, what a thing to just randomly drop.”

“Then I was nice to Tim? God, I’m tired.” Jon groaned, using his free hand to rub circles into his forehead. “And I have to do this again tomorrow. For a month. I can’t do this.”

“If you don’t the world ends.”

“Great. Let’s get started, then.” He glanced at her. “Television? Takeout?” He paused a beat. “Does not evil me get Georgie kisses?”

“Only if you use that omniscence to give me a deep muscle massage. I fucking deserve that shit.” 

“Selling my soul was truly worth having the knowledge on how to give the world’s best massage downloaded into my brain,” Jon said dryly. 

Just a month of this. Just a month.

They helped Gerard with dinner, or more accurately rescued it from him. They did end up ordering Chinese takeout, and they ate it around the coffee table with chopsticks whose origin Jon did not know. They watched an episode of Westworld and chatted all the way through it, complaining about plot holes. Gerry sat on the couch next to Jon and rambled about the book he was reading in excruciating detail. They played Scrabble together, and both he and Gerry let Georgie win. Then they all went to bed, and it turned out that Jon did know how to give a massage, and they kissed a little bit before going to bed and sleeping the sleep of the just. Or the insane. 

Jon had terrible, terrible dreams that night. He didn’t understand them when he woke, and they slipped from his mind quickly. 

It was only the next morning when Georgie helped Jon change his bandages that he finally saw the tattoo. They stood in the large master bathroom as Jon looked at himself in the mirror, Georgie silently biting her nails. 

It was a tree, gnarled and grey, stretching from his shoulder bones to his waist. There were fourteen branches, each in various stages of decay: one struck by lightning, one infested by bugs, one clearly burnt. If Jon looked closely, he could see screaming faces in the withered knots of the trunk. It was disgusting, but beautiful. Something about it was deeply evil, withered and cruel, and it stretched easily across Jon’s body. 

Jon couldn’t stop looking at it. It hypnotized him. How had Jude created this is only five hours? 

“Do you hate it?” Georgie asked, anxious. More anxious than she had been over him being evil. He really adored her priorities, sometimes. They were grounding. “I know it’s, like, uncomfortably photorealistic.”

“I like it,” Jon said, surprising himself. It was his body. It was a decision he had made, something he had done to himself, and it was a work of art. It wasn’t necessarily what he would have chosen, but maybe there would still be time for that. He would not die and leave an unmarked corpse. “I like it. Thank you, Georgie.” 

And when she beamed, that made it a little worth it. 

A month passed like that. It felt both very long and very short. 

Jon wanted to experience everything, to know everything. He had chopped off pieces of himself and fed it to the Eye, and the heady gift it gave him in return was more than enough. It was beautiful. Jon spent hours in his office, Looking far away, living the history of the world. It was gorgeous. The only thing that stopped him from being completely wrapped up in himself and keeping tabs on the other Entities were his Assistants. 

They were so interesting. He didn’t understand them at all, but there was something keen and sharp about each of them. He followed around Daisy for an entire day, just asking her question after question, which she was amazingly tolerant of. Daisy was really something. She hadn’t known how far the Hunt had sunk its claws into her until Jon had informed her, but the way she had reacted was so interesting. Nothing like Jon’s reaction. Just a nod, an acceptance, confirming something she had already known. To know something subconsciously versus consciously - what was the difference?

He did whatever he wanted. He spent an entire day in Elias’ office, needling him, drawing out the secrets of his immortality. Elias was terrified of him, which was delicious. Nobody else seemed to be - Melanie and Tim rolled their eyes whenever he tried to boss him around, and Basira was just as interested in the omniscence as he was. He could answer her own questions for hours. She had been especially interested in their five hour conversation about the Golden Age of Islam, which was also the time period where the first temple to the Beholding had sprung up. Jon remembered those days as if he had experienced them himself - the excitement, the bold human headiness of inventing science like no human had ever seen before. The possibilities had been dizzying. Invention of the zero - what a way to split society and history! There was a before and after in that, an understanding of your place in the world when nothing was nothing against when nothing magically became something . It was science, and it was magical, and that was the same thing. 

But Martin - Martin was the most of all. Martin didn’t look annoyed or exasperated when Jon asked him about how to know if someone was sad, or if you ever hurt someone’s feelings. He just answered things, in simple yet complex ways, in a fashion that made Jon think

“But why can’t we bully people?”

“Because it makes them feel bad.” Martin had been organizing stacks of papers, somewhat uselessly, but attended to the task with such a singularity of focus that it made it seem like the most important job in the world. Jon was fascinated by it, leaning against Martin’s desk and bothering him as everyone else made the barest showing of working. 

“So? That’s not my problem.”

“Seeing other people feel bad makes me feel bad.” Martin shrugged. “When I make someone happy, I feel happy. It’s quite selfish.”

“That’s fascinating.” Jon hopped up on Martin’s desk and sat on it, crossing his legs at the knee. “So the output of your happiness is equal to the effort you put into other’s happiness?”

“No, but it’s worth it.” Martin flipped through another stack of papers. “I think the point of society is to help others. If society doesn’t have - healthcare, if we don’t take care of the sick and the elderly and the disabled, then what’s the point of having it at all? What’s the point of living together? We might as well be animals. I think a very special thing about humanity - and some apes, I guess? - is how we form tribes to support each other. If I’m in a bad spot, my neighbor or friend helps me out, because when he’s in a bad spot it means I’ll help him. It has to be reciprocal. Otherwise we don’t trust each other and the whole thing breaks down.”

Fascinating conversations with Martin. Jon didn’t know why he wasn’t recognized as a genius among everybody. The way Martin’s weird little brain spinned getting tea for somebody into maintaining the fabric of human society - it was so nonsensical, but it made the perfect kind of sense. 

The Beholding would let someone starve to death in front of it, if it was starving to death in a particularly interesting way. And every starvation was different! But Martin said that saving someone from starving to death made you feel good, and promoted the growth of society. The Beholding was never wrong, and everything it did was always correct and holy and good, but Jon was definitely feeding this experience to it and letting it make its own decision. 

Suffering...bad? Suffering bad?! The Beholding didn’t know! Neither did Jon, because the part of him that may or may not have thought so only resurfaced in the safety of his own home. And he forgot it again when he left. If it wasn’t for those precious hours of sanity, he didn’t know if he would be as...inoffensive as he was now. At the very least, he didn’t want Georgie and Gerry to see him like that. He tried to keep it away from them, when he knew enough to know. 

Unfortunately, trouble found him. And by trouble he meant Gerard, who was waiting by the entrance to the Institute two weeks after he had sold his soul as Jon was leaving for the day. He was reading a well-creased book, frowning over its contents, but quickly stuffed it into his baggy cargo pockets when Jon walked out.

He was about to go home. There was only one reason why Gerard would wait by his door: if he wanted to talk with The Beholding, not the Jon that loved him. Self-punishment? Or a complete lack of self-preservation?

“Your mother wouldn’t want you speaking to me,” Jon said cheerfully as Gerard eyed him. He was slouching still, baggy band t-shirt and cargo jeans slung sloppily on his frame. Inappropriate clothing for July. 

“That’s why she doesn’t know.” Gerard’s fingers instinctually twitched for a cigarette before he remembered that he had quit. “Let’s get food. There’s some shit we have to discuss.”

Mother, Father. It was the oddest kind of joke, the kind that wasn’t funny at all. It was the farthest thing from true. But there was something about it, something almost sacred in its comedy. Gerard had begun it, as a way of needling him - but who had changed it? Even Jon didn’t know. 

“I know a nice tucked away place that caters towards the more supernatural elements of London,” Jon said, falling into step next to Gerard as they walked away from the Institute onto the street. “They say that the meat is real -”

“Burger King,” Gerard said. “We’re getting Burger King.”

“You don’t even know what I was about to say!”

“I like Burger King,” Gerard said flatly. “It’s the aesthetic.”

What aesthetic?” Jon asked, fascinated. He didn’t know immediately, which made it worth following up on. “Grunge? Punk? Emo? Antifa? Counter-culture? Heavy metal?”

“Gerard Keay aesthetic.”

The kid drove Jon insane. How had they even gotten mixed up together? Had they both been that lonely?

The Burger King was nice, because Chelsea was nice, and crowded. Small, moddish, coated in crawling families with squealing children. Gerard went up to the counter to order as Jon scared a family out of their seats, sliding into the vinyl that had seen five years of depravity and now Jon, who was five times as bad as that. Gerard hadn’t bothered asking for his order. Sometimes he seemed to know things in the way that Jon knew them. Other times he seemed to know very little at all. But Jon had the sense that Gerard had never taken any shortcuts when it came to his knowledge. Very few people in the world (fifty three, the majority Lukases) had been born and raised and grown into the supernatural arts. He didn’t know how special he was. 

Martin had been trying to coach him in the value of being nice, so when Gerard slid back into the seat clutching a tray and, mystifyingly, a paper Burger King crown, Jon stretched his lips into a smile. The way Gerard recoiled, it may have been more intimidating than he intended. 

“You’re a very special lad,” Jon said supportively.

Gerard started eyeing the exits. Okay, so that had come out as weirder than he had meant it to. Being a human was hard and confusing. “Thanks or whatever. Listen, you can’t tell Georgie I went to talk with you. She’s told me a million times not to interact with you when you’re like this. So you can’t tell her.”

The burger was fresh and steaming, and Jon knew far too much about it to properly enjoy it. He plucked it off the tray anyway, unwrapping it delicately. He was going to do this right. First, he tore off a strip of paper and stuffed it in his mouth, chewing it delicately before swallowing. Greasy. Then he ate the sticker. “Why did she prohibit you from talking to me?”

Gerard scowled. “She said that you’d probably try to kill me or eat my fear or hurt me or something. But you wouldn’t. You’re still Jon. And Jon only ever did that when he was desperate and scared. You don’t seem like either of those things.”

“True.” Georgie, of course, was right. “You are missing something. I eat fear when I feel like it. But I’m not going to do it to you because I love you, and bullying your family is bad.” Jon was very proud of himself for knowing this. Melanie had stressed it to him very excruciatingly. None of his assistants felt good about him living with a teenager. “But tell me why I shouldn’t tell Georgie.”

“Because you love me?” Gerard hazarded, as if he didn’t believe it. At Jon’s skeptical look, he changed tacks. “If you don’t tell her I’ll answer whatever questions you want. Within reason. Voluntarily.”

A deal. Jon perked up. He loved deals. He didn’t come out on top of this one, when he could make Gerard tell him whatever he wanted, but he considered it his job as a parent to teach the next generation on how to manipulate Eldritch gods, so he would reward the behavior by playing along. 

Another new experience. The Beholding, even The Archivist, had never been a parent before. Or a husband. Not any Archivist who got to this stage, anyway. How had the Beholding ever thought it knew everything, when it hadn’t known this?

“Deal.” Jon finished eating the paper and started in on the burger. He cautiously picked it up, only to realize that he must have picked it up wrong somehow, because all of the toppings and the bun slid off. He scowled at the tray, which now hosted something far closer to a salad than a sandwich. “Ask your question.”

Gerard hadn’t touched his sandwich. As he leaned across the table, eyes alight, Jon wondered if he’d give it to him. “What are your plans for the world once you destroy it?”

Slimy lettuce. Jon crunched it into his mouth. “I don’t know.”

Gerard opened his mouth, then closed it. “You - you don’t know ?”


“You’ve been planning this for the last millennium and you don’t know ?”

“Had a plan. It was a good plan.” Jon wistfully remembered it. The blood. The screaming. The eye in the sky. Gorgeous. “Would have inverted every atom in the world, smash realities together, have monsters roam the streets. Fear an endless buffet for all. The Eye doesn’t really look forward to things, but it was looking forward to that.” Oh, were those french fries? Jon pulled a stash over and started methodically cramming them in his mouth. Salt, grease, potato. Classic. No french fries in the apocalypse. “We’re undergoing a bit of a last minute revision here. The big one is, of course, the fact that I recently allied with the Web, the Desolation, and the Spiral in an attempt to change the outcome of the apocalypse so that humankind would still somewhat survive it. But, of course, the real reason behind that is that Jon is the best candidate for Antichrist we’ve had in millenium and he refused to do anything that would hurt you. So at least a handful of people need to survive this. Since the alliance, we’re thinking a lot more than a handful. It’s up the air.”

Gerard just kept staring at him, eyes wide. His dyed black fringe dangled in front of his eyes, pubescent acne sprouted on the bridge of his nose. “I - you were going to change all of your plans. The entire Ritual. The Apocalypse. For - for me?”

“You’re surprised,” Jon noted. “I suppose you’ve never had anyone love you enough for that. Between your mother and Gertrude, I’m not surprised. Gertrude was a real character, but she was narrow minded. She didn’t believe that love could save the world.”

“Can it?”

“What else can?”

Silence broke over them for a little while, Gerard clearly thinking furiously hard about something. Jon dumped the rest of the fries in his mouth and then started eating the container as he thought about what he wanted to ask him. Something that Jon didn’t already know, which was hard. What about Gerard had never quite made sense to him?

“My turn. Why do you still love Mary Keay?”

Gerard looked surprised, but the expression quickly metamorphosed into bitterness. “I don’t. I hate that bitch.”

“That was an embarrassing attempt at a lie.”

“Ugh. You’re so annoying.” Gerard slumped in his seat, crossing his arms. “Love doesn’t make sense, Jon. Or whatever you are. I hate her, she was an awful Mum, she sucks, got me put in prison, everything. If she could do it, she did it. But she was all I had when I was...actually this age, I guess.” He paused a second, contemplative. “We don’t really stop being kids, I think. We just grow out. Like rings in a tree: sure, you’re 30 or something, but inside you is the Jon at 29, and the Jon at 28, and all the other Jons too. I have all the rings in the Gerard tree that’s an adult who hates her...but there’s a part of me that’s still nine, eight...fifteen...that still wants her. Wants what I never got, I guess. That answer your question?”

Not at all. But before Jon could begin to complain Gerard’s mobile rang in the dulcet chords of ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’. Gerard slipped it out of his pocket, scowled at it, and immediately answered it. There was only one person who Gerard actually answered the phone for, and Jon was rewarded with the sound of Georgie’s frantic voice on the other end of the line. Technically, he shouldn’t have been able to hear what she was saying, but he was omniscient. But Jon had decided that the napkins tasted better than the droopy tomatoes, so he started chewing on those as Gerard blanched and listened in. 

Jon’s late coming home from work! “Really? That’s bad.” I know! Do you think he’s eating souls or something right now? He usually comes straight home. I’m very concerned! “Uh huh?” Do you know where he is? “No…?” That sounds like a lie, Gerard. “Uh…?” Where are you now? “Burger...King…? I’m eating a burger.” I’m tracking Jon’s mobile. Hold on. “Wait, I don’t think that’s necessary -” Gerard. Why is Jon also at Burger King? 


Jon snickered as Gerard got royally reamed out by Georgie for talking to ‘Evil Jon’, which was rude. He thought regular Jon was quite a bit ruder than he was, really. He was a lot funner these days. More...appreciative of life. He leaned over the table and quickly snatched the mobile from Gerald, ignoring him squeak, and pressed it against his ear as he held it with two fingers. 

“ - going behind my back is unacceptable! Get home, now!”

“Don’t be so hard on the kid,” Jon said easily, settling back into the vinyl seat. “He just wanted to trade apocalypse tips. I’ll get him home safe and sound.”

“I told you we don’t talk when you’re like this,” Georgie said sharply, and Jon winced. She had, at length, after Jon had hit on her one too many times. “Get him home and don’t use your Beholding powers on him or you aren’t getting any dinner.”

“Aw, honey. Am I such a bad father?”

You’re not the person who agreed to take him in. Get him home now .” And, without another word, she hung up on him. Jon was left scowling at the mobile. Hanging up on a man who was 30% deity. Rude. Maxwell Raynor didn’t have to put up with this. 

Maybe he was like more of a fun uncle. Except that left Gerard fatherless twice over, which was just sad since he was already out two moms and batting for zero on his third. This kid was depressing. Jon just didn’t do depressing these days. That was for schmucks who weren’t omnipotent, and aware every second of exactly how many people on earth were tripping on a banana peel (fifty seven). 

But Gerard was fiddling with the Burger King crown that he had somehow extracted from the cashier, unfolding it and forming it into a circle. He smiled faintly at Jon, holding it up. “Watcher’s Crown. Get it?”

Jon did get it. The concept of the Watcher’s Crown being a Burger King crown made him laugh. A sharp bark, almost surprised, almost shocked. It was funny. Jon hadn’t laughed outside of his home in two weeks. Gerard looked pleased, and Jon made a show of bowing his head so Gerard could place it with care on his head. 

“And with this crown, I proclaim you king of the world,” Gerard said loftily, putting on a bad posh accent. “May your reign last one thousand years.”

“I am honored,” Jon drawled. But he smiled at Gerard, who smiled back, and Jon thought that maybe he understood love. 

If love was something held between Gerard and Mary Keay, was it possible to understand? Was he capable of understanding the bizarre love that thrived between Georgie and Jon, who were not even really married or even dating, yet were something distinctly different from best friends? Even the love between Jon and Georgie and Gerard, this messed up little family that had nobody but each other, bound together by nothing but a hollow joke? What about the love between Jon and Martin, which was so real and powerful and aching yet completely indecipherable? Daisy and Basira, Melanie and Georgie, Elias and Peter - not even romantic love followed any rules of earth or heaven. Did any of it make sense? 

To think that they almost destroyed this without understanding it. Jon didn’t want to destroy anything until he understood it first. 

They took the tube home together, Gerard’s nose in a book and Jon’s Eye watching an intimate encounter between an Italian woman and a French man in a German bakery. Someone in the Philippines was laughing the sweetest laugh in the world, an unselfconscious giggle-snort. It was beautiful. 

When they finally got to their little house on Notting Hill, Georgie was waiting outside with crossed arms. Gerard quickly hid behind Jon, eyes wide, but Jon sighed and picked up by the scruff of his overly large hoodie and dragged him forward until he could deposit him on the stoop of the house, looking up at a very unimpressed Georgie. She was in a bathrobe, hair wrapped up - it was her day off, so much as a podcast show runner had days off - and looking very, very unamused. 

“I will be having words with you later,” Georgie said, jabbing her finger at Gerard. He hung his head. “In the house. Now.”

For some reason, Jon clapped Gerard on the shoulder. “She was just worried, Gerry. The world isn’t exactly safe these days. Just say you’re sorry.”

The poor kid slunk inside, looking more abashed than Jon had ever seen him, but when he tried to follow him Georgie blocked his path. 

That was new. She never talked to Jon when he was still pumped full of God Juice (which is what Melanie called it, which Martin and Tim hated very much). She didn’t look very happy with him either, which was unfair. She didn’t get to decide what Jon did with his time!

“Leave him alone.”

“He came to me!” Jon protested. “I didn’t even brainwash him at all!”

She narrowed her eyes, not believing him for a second. “You didn’t compel him to give any answers, or bully him, or said cutting yet true things. You were perfectly nice.”

“I was.” Jon nodded fervently. Her approval was important to him, for reasons that were a mystery even to him. “Just ask him. We had a nice father-son bonding moment.”

“You aren’t his father.”

“Well, obviously not. His father was the subject of a botched Leitner experiment. Nice guy. Good at filing, exceptional coffee maker. Bad choice in women.” Wait, he was getting off track. “Obvious statements aren’t very exciting, Georgie. Can we talk about the solution to the Fermi paradox instead?”

“You aren’t my Jon,” Georgie said flatly. “Which means that you don’t get to play nice. I’ve had to watch my friend slipping away from me since - since we were fifteen and he had his first beer. I’ve had to watch it again over the past year. I hate it when you pretend that you’re him. You’re none of the good things about Jonathan Sims.”

“But I’m the bad things,” Jon pointed out, confused. “I’m the inquisitive mind, the quest for knowledge. The way he would push until you cracked. The part of him that’ll always be an addict. A person isn’t only their good traits, Georgie.” He awkwardly tried to clap her on the shoulder, but she pulled away. “I’m all the parts of him that made him fall in love with the Ceaseless Watcher. Did you not know, Georgie?” Jon tilted his head, boring his gaze into Georgie’s eyes. She looked away. “Did you not know that your Jon isn’t coming back? I’m all you have now. You should get used to it.”

Georgie’s lips set in a thin line. “We’ll see.”

But she stepped back anyway, and let Jon have clear access to the house where they would all be safe from the Eye, if only for a little while. He knew, and she knew, that the solution was stopgap. Once the apocalypse came, nowhere would be safe. “I love you like he did,” Jon found himself saying softly. “That’s a good thing that stayed. It was that love for you, and for everyone, that made him feed himself to me. It tasted...wonderful. Like nothing you’ll ever experience.”

Georgie was silent. Jon pushed, just a little farther. 

“You told him to do whatever he had to in order to save you. It was your idea for him to sell his soul at all, and he did it because he trusted you. Did you not mean it?”

She looked up at him, eyes glinting. “I mean everything I say.” She reached up on her tip toes and kissed him on the cheek, with a vicious surety that had always been unique to her. “Rip their damn hearts out, Jon.”

Wow. He really did love her. Would she tie him up if he asked?

Jon went inside, and once he overcame the splitting headache, he joined Georgie in yelling at Gerard for consorting with Avatars behind his parent’s backs. Or in front of them, as the case may be. 

T-Minus two weeks to the apocalypse. Better spend it playing Scrabble. 

T-Minus one day to the apocalypse. How the time flies. 

Actually, right now time was crawling. Jon was sitting on Elias’ desk cross legged, deconstructing his douchey desktop clock to feel how it worked. Elias looked exceptionally pained over this - the clock had been worth thousands of pounds, and was a gift from Peter - but knew better than to say anything about it. Jon refused to admit that half the fun is getting a rise out of Elias. He was always so polite about it before he went home and ranted at the wall about how obnoxious Jon was and kicked it several times. It was so funny. 

“You know what’s been bothering me?” Jon asked out loud, throwing an important looking gear over his shoulder. “Why do you only hire gays for the Archives?”

Elias took a deep, calming breath. But his grip on his pen was very tight. “Believe it or not, it is simply coincidence. My criteria for employment are more stringent than sexuality.”

“Oh, like if they can write a fake CV?” Jon turned the clock around in his hands, marvelling at human ingenuity. Whatever happened to the sundial? He missed the sundial. “I think you were lonely. Littlest Victorian homosexual in his finishing school. Benjamin lied when he said it was a phase. He just didn’t think you were attractive anymore.”

Elias gritted his teeth. That was really quite bad for them. He’d be in dentures by the time he was eighty. “When will your Assistants be here?”

“What? Oh. I forgot to tell them to come.” Jon lazily took out his phone, typing out a quick message to the group chat. “Sorry about that. We can talk about Benjamin’s civil partnership while we wait for them. His life partner was exceedingly handsome. And very rich. Banker, I think. They lived together in domestic bliss for eighty years. Everyone thought they were cousins!”

Jon (Evil): uhhh meeting @ elias office right now its apocalypse time lmao

Melanie: i HATE how he mastered phones

Tim: dont feel like it

Melanie: yea sitting this one out 2

Martin: Thanks for the advance warning Evil Jon I really appreciate it. 

Basira: I’m busy :/

Daisy: same

Jon (Evil) : Love how you’re all too busy to attend a workplace meeting on how to stop/cause the apocalypse! Which is TOMORROW! Show up!

Tim: TMRW?!

Basira: fucking christ, a LITTLE more warning?

Jon (Evil): sorry i was 2 busy listening 2 flies fuck in china 2 remember to acct 4 how small all ur brains r

Sure enough, it was the ‘world is ending, show up whenever’ text that sent them all running. He didn’t blame them for not wanting to show up: Melanie still sometimes got panic attacks in Elias’ office, and although Jon had reassured them all that Elias couldn’t see within the Archives anymore and that he was very firmly under control none of them seemed to believe him. Or, rather, none of them were sure of Jon’s own motives. Maybe they just didn’t realize that there was a hierarchy here, and Elias wasn’t quite at the top anymore. 

Martin came in first, obviously. He waved and smiled supportively at Jon, and did not acknowledge Elias, which made Elias angier than any snippy comment could have. Jon eagerly waved back, always happy to see Martin. He made his heart feel very warm and fuzzy. Which he had originally interpreted as indigestion, but was now categorized into ‘mystery feeling’.

“Martin! I gave a homeless man two quid this morning and didn’t ask him about his life trauma!”

“That’s really great, Jon,” Martin said supportively. Jon stared expectantly at him. Martin sighed, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a sticker sheet. He peeled one off - it was from Frozen, a little image of Olaf the Snowman telling the lucky recipient that he enjoyed warm hugs - and handed it to Jon. “Good job.” 

Jon ate the sticker promptly. Elias kneaded his forehead. 

The others filtered in quickly after that, all varying stages of resentful and panicked. Daisy and Basira entered together, with Daisy’s hair a little mussed and Basira’s hijab just slightly askew. Jon was about to congratulate them on secret underground tunnel makeouts when he remembered that it would “not be tactful”. Melanie hovered at the back, arms crossed and clearly uncomfortable, and Martin quietly stood at the back with her and opened the door to let a breeze through. Jon nostalgically wished he was petting The Admiral right now, who he was best friends with and admired highly. Tim’s eye was twitching. He was also holding a very large knife. 

“Good, we’re all here.” Elias folded his hands on the desk, trying his best to look official despite half his desk being covered in expensive clock crap and the other half being covered in Jon. “So we can all get started, then. As we hopefully all know by now, the Unknowing is scheduled for tomorrow.”

“As if it’s a meeting ,” Martin said in wonder. 

“We have a location and some reconnaissance, thanks to Tim and our Archivist.” Elias nodded at both Jon and Tim, who looked somewhat put out that he had gone through all the effort of dramatically breaking into the office yelling that the clowns had stolen Gertrude’s skin only for Jon to act surprised that he didn’t already know. Jon was aware of how annoying he was. “You likely don’t all need to go. Miss Tonner, Miss Hussein, and the Archivist should be sufficient. However, if -”

“I’m going,” Tim said firmly. “I didn’t waste three years of my life working in a shitty converted Victorian house to not even be invited on the death clown murdering spree.”

Elias looked at Jon. They all saw it. Jon hummed, picking up a gear and inspecting it. He experimentally licked it, tasting its atoms. Oxygenated. “Only if you promise not to actively try to get yourself killed. I don’t need all my assistants for the ritual, but a few would make it easier.”

“Great.” Basira looked more bummed out about this then being chartered to fight evil clowns. “Am I going to have to hold the goat still as you slaughter it or whatever?”

“I’ve never seen a goat die,” Jon said, interested. “Where is it? May I see it die? Just for fun. Not for ritual purposes.”

“Then you may not.”

“...what if I said it was for ritual purposes?”

“I’m out,” Martin said, shaking his head. “Sorry, guys, but I dunno how much good I’d be in a fight. I’m kinda, a bit scared, actually? I mean, I really don’t like clowns. And I can’t hold a gun. Or place C4. I think I’d end up hurting myself, actually. But if you really want me there -”

“That’s fine,” Elias said quickly. “I was thinking that you and Melanie could stay here, hold down the fort. If the Archivist thinks three assistants would be sufficient.”

“Basira shouldn’t come,” Daisy said, seemingly bored, secretly stressed. “All we need is me for the bombs and Jon for the spooky shit.”

“Fuck you, of course I’m coming,” Basira said. “You need backup.”

“That’s what Jon is for.”

Everybody looked at Jon, who was eating the minute hand of the clock like a french fry. He froze, the arrow hanging out of his mouth. “What?”

“Count me out,” Melanie said, holding up her hands. “I’m with Martin on this one. I’m more danger to you guys than the evil clowns if I’m holding a gun.”

“If we’re all done voting ,” Elias said frostily, flipping open the omnipresent tape recorder on his desk and slotting in a new cassette. “Then I have a quick Statement for you all to hear. It should prove helpful in preparation for your trip. Oh - don’t worry about expense reports, or anything like that. Hopefully the Institute won’t exist after tomorrow.”

Everybody shot each other anxious looks save Jon, who spat out the clock hand in frustration. Completely indigestible. 

“We’ll save them,” Martin said finally, attempting a weak smile. “You never know, right?”

“What the fuck does this ritual even entail, Jon,” Daisy asked, crossing her arms. The only sign of stress was a single vein jumping in her forehead. Jon sympathized. Daisy was so cool. She and Basira were the ultimate power couple. He “shipped” it hard. “You keep refusing to tell us.”

“According to ancient scripture, it begins with the ringing of a thousand bells. Then the seas boil, every bird falls out of the air, and every baby screams simultaneously,” Elias jumped in eagerly. God. He was such an apocalypse fanboy. He had totally been jerking off to the thought of this since the 1950s. “The ritual itself is supposed to take three days -”

“I high five every Avatar and say some shit,” Jon said, bored. “I didn’t tell you because it’s not that interesting. I already high fived all the Avatars, so I just gotta eat Nikola and it’s fine.”

Everybody stared at him. 

“Like,” Tim said slowly, “take her Statement?”

“No, eat her,” Jon said pleasantly. “She’ll be wearing Gertrude’s skin, and I’ve never eaten that before, so I want to try it.”

Everybody kept staring at him. 

“Well!” Elias said, clapping his hands together once and grinning broadly. “Let’s get right to it, then!”

The Statement was fantastic. Really, high quality Statement. Jon approved of it highly, and was mildly upset that Elias had felt the need to hide it. He had worked his way through the vast majority of the Magnus Institute Statements collected over the last roughly 200 years, and Elias had started desperately calling the Usher Foundation and their Chinese branch for access to their servers and their own records. The phone call had been so funny: it had started out with very professional remarks along the lines of “Blessed are we, our savior has come to Earth in human form. Yes, the human form is the annoying and stupidly tall sexy new Archivist I told you about. Yes, we worship him now.” before twenty minutes later devolving into  “Oh my god he’s driving me crazy I hate him so much.” 

The room was dead silent after the Statement finished. Jon burped, satisfied with the Statement, before popping it out of the recorder and experimentally attempting to shove the cassette in his mouth before Elias snatched it out of his hands and stashed it deep within the depths of his desk. 

“You’ll leave immediately,” Elias said quickly. “Good luck, all hail the Eye, now please leave my office. All of you. Get out.”

Luckily, everyone was eager to leave. They all looked somewhat traumatized, and especially Daisy, Basira, and Tim looked as if they regretted agreeing to go with him. Jon thought it was funny that they thought they had a choice. Except Tim. Jon had tried very hard to control Tim and failed miserably. Completely unmanageable, that man. Bugfuck insane. 

Because he was not a total jerk, Jon easily reassembled the clock as he made no effort to get up from Elias’ desk. It took him a second to even realize that Martin hadn’t moved. Still wringing his hands, hovering near the back of the room, his eyes flitting between Jon and Elias and back again. 

“Is there anything you’d like to discuss, Martin?” Elias said, sounding more exhausted than he had felt in decades. 

“Uh, yes. I have just a question, actually.” Look at Elias, look at Jon, look at Elias. Jon cocked his head, drinking in the nervousness. Despite the cute little plan that they had been half-heartedly trying to keep from him, he was still scared of Elias. Or because? Was it a put-on? “What’s, er, going to happen to Jon? After the ritual?”

“And you ask me this...why?” Elias looked strongly as if he never wanted to hear the name Jonathan Sims again. 

Martin just shrugged. “Jon doesn’t know. You spent so long setting this up, I just figured you would have some sort of plan for the Archivist post everything.”

“What makes you think I don’t know?” Jon said, offended. 

“If I was the Beholding and I needed a vessel, I wouldn’t exactly tell the vessel I would burn it out if I used it too hard,” Martin said, shrugging again, and rocking Jon’s world. 

He looked down at Elias, whose face was carefully blank. “Is that true? Elias?”

“Nothing about the ritual is as predicted,” Elias said quickly. “I take full responsibility for that. Introducing some players to the field -”

“Holding my wife and kid hostage,” Jon said cheerfully. 

Elias twitched. “ - may have been a mistake.”

Jon hissed through his teeth. “Jonah Magnus admitting a mistake. Last time that happened was - what, 1963? When the restaurant you selected for Friday date night turned out to be terrible? Astounding.”

“It is anybody’s game now,” Elias said firmly, as if Jon hadn’t spent hours remembering every mildly embarrassing thing that had ever happened to Jonah Magnus. When you lived that long, it was quite a bit! “I admit I did not hire Jon with the full expectation that he would survive the procedure. But understand the chances of us getting this far had been infinitesimal to begin with. I’ve gone through eleven Archivists. They all disappointed, in one form or another. Truth be told, I did not have high hopes for Jon. He has exceeded my wildest expectations.”

“He figured that this decade was a wash, so he just went with the hottest candidate,” Jon whispered loudly. 

“Be that as it may,” Elias said firmly, not even fucking denying it anymore, “Jon is honored to give his life for the Beholding. As am I. As any of us should be.”

“Lie!” Jon said, making a little CinemaSins ‘ding!’ noise. “You’ve never had any intention of failing to survive this. Your idea of complete bliss is standing in the ruins of the world, left with all the time in the universe to read your books. Like in, oh, that old Twilight Zone episode. Time Enough At Last, right? Your life is far too valuable to sacrifice. That’s for the pawns. Like me.” Jon glanced at Elias out of the corner of his eye, and whatever Elias saw there made him freeze. “The joke is on you, old friend. The Beholding and I struck a deal. I’m too valuable now. I gave it myself, so it gave me the world. I’ll decide who dies and who survives this. It said so. It doesn’t lie.”

“Then you’re an idiot,” Elias said pleasantly. 

Awkward silence stretched across the room. Martin winced. Elias seemed to realize what he said too late, and he was far too proud to take it back. Jon hummed, kicking his feet against the desk and scuffing the antique wood. Older than Elias, even. 

The Daedelus Astronaut. Yes, he would work. Jon reached out and grabbed the crushing despair, the loneliness, the feeling of seeing something much larger blot out the sun in front of you. Feeling like an ant under God’s magnifying glass. The ultimate knowledge that you were going to die, and that your spirit would be left drifting in the black forever. 

Then he crammed it all in Elias’s brain. The ability to influence thoughts like this wasn’t normally part of his skillset, but he and Elias were like two computers accessing the same cloud server. Like a child at a faire experiencing a brain freeze from slurping up their slushie too fast, Elias screamed, clutching at his eyes, bending over sharply as if he could protect himself from the pain that was purely psychic. Jon, having never heard Elias scream before, listened attentively before yanking the memory back like a yo-yo. Martin had gone pale, tense as if he wanted to run forward and make sure Elias was alright, but anxious as if he hadn’t forgotten that they would all sell Elias to the Desolation for one corn chip. Which one would he pick? What role would he play? This was almost as interesting as watching people scream in pain.

The decision only took a second. Maybe it was the look in Jon’s eyes that had done it, the way he eagerly sized both of them up. Martin quickly stepped forward, bending over Elias and encouraging him to breathe. It took a few seconds - Elias seemed to need the coaching - but the minute Elias straightened and exhaled he shot Martin a look so icy that Martin held up his hands and stepped away. 

“If that’s all,” Elias said, as cooly and easily as if nothing had happened at all, “I have a lot of preparations to make for tomorrow.”

“The others are done loading up the boot of the car,” Jon said, hopping off the desk. He left the clock behind: half-finished, slightly broken. What once was previously beautiful was now a ruinous wreck, destroyed by something so little as injecting a little bit more space between its parts. “Don’t worry, Elias. I find doing the same thing twice so tiresome.”

“I’m rather used to it,” Elias said dryly, and Martin and Jon quickly escaped the office. 

They walked in silence next to each other back down the hall, both of them waving to Rosie and Martin politely holding the door open into the parking lot. They could see Daisy, Basira, and Tim arguing over how to arrange the trunks, and where to stash the secret cache of explosives and guns. Melanie was leaning against the car, calling Georgie and speaking to her in low tones. Martin simply stood next to Jon, no longer the picture of the nervous assistant. 

“That wasn’t nice,” Martin said lowly. 

Jon huffed. “I never forgave him for what he did to Melanie.”

“I’ve forgiven you for a lot worse.”

“Yes, but I don’t like him. Such a self-important servant.” Jon dug his hands into his trouser pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. “He’s as true believer as they come, but he just views the Eye as a method to accomplish his own ends. Power, wealth, immortality. It’s all there for Jonah Magnus. I was nothing to him. He threw me away .” He was surprised to find the bitterness in his own voice, the pain underneath. “If it wasn’t for him I’d still be me. Now I’m someone else, and he’s telling me I can’t even have that. I’m going to save us all, Martin. Is that so hard to believe?”

Martin was silent for a long second, watching Melanie’s fiery red curls glint in the sun. “Yeah,” he said, “a little. You knew he was right. That’s why you got mad.”

“Good luck with your own revenge scheme,” Jon said, walking forward so he could open the passenger car door and slide inside. “Go ahead and burn down the Archives, that sounds funny. Enjoy the break from lecturing me.”

“Make good choices!” Martin called after him. “Have fun with the apocalypse!”

“You’re saying you’ve had this go bag packed for a month and you still forgot the toothbrushes?” Basira yelled from outside, enraged. 

“I don’t care about my dental hygiene when we’re probably all gonna die tomorrow, Hussien!”

“I want more guns,” Tim complained. “What if we run out of ammo? Do we have a hatchet?”

“The hatchet’s underneath the front seat, Stoker,” Daisy growled, slamming the boot. “Remember to use the toilet before we go, it’s a long drive.”

“Road trip,” Jon sang quietly to himself. 

“And remember your earbuds,” Daisy called out, maternal as ever, “so we don’t have to listen to Sims’ rambling the whole time.”

Jon let the sound of voices wash over him as he relaxed in the front seat. They had all been packed for a week, ready to leave at any time. He should call Georgie, let her know. She had been having a busy few days at work, struggling to get the latest episode out in time. She still cared. She had complete faith that she would survive this, that Jon would guarantee her safety. Gerry didn’t believe for a second that Jon was going to save him. He couldn’t let her down, or prove Gerry right. Jon understood debts. 

Some part of him wanted to share a dramatic goodbye with Martin. A stirring speech, a heartfelt declaration of...something. Even if Georgie was confident that they would survive this, and even if Jon didn’t want to admit it, he wasn’t nearly as sure. Jon held the world, but no matter what happened at the ritual, things would never be the same. Destruction was inherent and inevitable. It was only reconstruction that was debatable. A storybook goodbye seemed appropriate. But some part of Jon understood that Martin had lost the opportunity forever to say goodbye to the only Jon he cared to say goodbye to.

Last road trip of existence. Some part of him was glad to be doing it with his friends. Better buckle in. 

Statement of the entity that used to be Jonathan Sims, regarding what may be his last day on Earth. Statement taken direct from subject. Statement begins. 

The drive up had actually been somewhat pleasant. I had never travelled much, but there was a pleasing routine about the act of the road trip. The stopping by the convenience store for snacks and Red Bull, the way Daisy insisted on cranking her rock music up loudly to try to cover the sound of Basira and Tim’s fights over architecture, how I was saddled with the role as navigator. Tensions were high, everybody just a little bit nervous, but my assistants are very used to living on the precipice of death. Not even I scared them anymore. Absolutely none of my assistants are impressed with me. 

I spent my time staring out the window into the infinite sky, watching the clouds roll past. I knew how they were formed, of course, and where each droplet of water originated from. I read in a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not when I was eight that every water is reused and recycled through the water cycle, and that the water you drink from your glass could be the same water that Queen Elizabeth I drank. It’s not quite accurate, and statistically improbable, but the concept had held a lot of appeal for me as a child. That nothing was ever over. Would it be more accurate to say him? 

Every acre of Britain has a history. Traded through an unbroken line of hands of ownership, trampled by endless quantities of cows. There used to be a factory town there, before the factory closed down and thousands of people were driven from their homes. Here, a famous movie shot a bit scene. A teenage girl lost her virginity on that grassy knoll. She regretted it later on, as an adult, but at the time she had been very excited. She had gone on to invent a better type of jet rocket propulsion. Good for her. 

I can’t stop thinking about what Martin said. What Elias insinuated. Had the Eye lied to me? Does it withhold information that it thinks I wouldn’t like? I’m content to be manipulated - what are any of us, but puppets on a string? - but I don’t like being lied to. But maybe it doesn’t count as a lie if I had never truly believed it. The idea that I could strike a deal with an omniscient fear entity where I came out on top...I’ve never even made a good plan in my life. Maybe I should just take delight in being a tool. Just nice to be invited to the party, right? 

The worst feeling in the world for me as a child was feeling stupid. I did anything and everything to prevent that feeling. I thought maybe selling my soul for omniscence would at least make me feel a bit better, but now I feel stupider than ever. Can’t I win?

I feel like I only just figured out the meaning to life after I died. I’m happy to be a puppet for my god, but I can’t help but wish that Georgie and Gerry and I had - more time. I don’t think this is the end of my story. I don’t think it should be. I’ve never thought this before, but I think I deserve to live. To have a life. I think everyone deserves that, really. No matter how bad or monstrous you are. 

Anyway, this isn’t much of a statement. I’m just thinking out loud. The others are all making final statements too, wills and such, and I wanted to feel included, so - oh, hello, Daisy. Are you here to kill me?

“Don’t be so dramatic.”

Jon just raised an eyebrow, and let his gaze drop to the gun she had strapped to her hip. He was lying on his AirBnB bed, staring at the popcorn ceiling and letting his mind drift. The others were all winding themselves into anxious spirals, but despite what Elias said Jon knew that he would survive this. Unless the Eye did not wish for him to survive this, in which case he would eagerly accept his death. 

Daisy walked inside and shut the door behind her. She was clutching something in her hand, something that immediately sparked a personal kind of recognition. She walked over and sat on the floor next to the bed, leaning her back against the edge, and Jon sat up and swung his legs over the side so he could slide down to sit next to her. 

He had never quite understood Daisy. Anger issues, police brutality, the Hunt - yeah, yeah, yeah. But there was something besides that to her. A strong sense of justice. A desire for a good world. It made her interesting. Elias did know how to pick them. 

“Take a look,” she said lowly. She held it out in front of Jon, letting him see through the round glass into the resin and plastic landscape inside. It was simple, just the skyline of Chicago, but it fluttered with torn little pieces of glitter and paper that rustled in the sterile vacuum of the snowglobe. “You bought it for me. Do you remember that?”

“I don’t forget things,” Jon informed her. “I’m physically incapable.”

“Do you remember why you got me this?”


She didn’t smile at him. She just looked at him, very intensely, in a way that she hadn’t stared at him since she had tried to kill him the first time. As if she, too, desperately needed him to make sense. As if she could only be safe if she understood him. “I asked for a snowglobe, and you got me one. You thought it was beautiful, and you thought of me when you saw it. Do you know why I wanted a snowglobe?”

“No.” Jon scooted a little closer to her, craning his head so he could get a better look inside the globe. “You’re being very interesting.”

“It’s a little model of a life,” Daisy whispered. Her crystal blue eyes, like a frozen lake, were wide and filled with something that he didn’t understand. “A little picture, in 3D. Perfectly still. But when you shake it…” She gave it a few good shakes, and the paper and glitter erupted into a whirlwind. “It changes. The paper flies in different ways each time. You never shake the same snowglobe twice.”

She gently handed it to him, and Jon gave it a good shake himself. He saw that she was right: that every time he shook it, the paper flew just a little differently. Like a real snowfall, or a real rainstorm. Endless entropy, infinite possibilities for chaotic change. 

How could you put the universe in a bottle? How could you reduce it to something understandable? You couldn’t. There would always be that x factor, the impermanent variable. If Jon sat down for a hundred years and worked out the physics for each possible permutation of the snowglobe, then he could fully understand it, but you couldn’t do that with life. People weren’t so quantifiable. 

Something Georgie said, what felt like a lifetime ago - if people did understand each other, then it wouldn’t be exciting anymore. You’d put two and two together and always get four. It wasn’t right. 

“People don’t really get me gifts. Too scared of me. You were scared of me too. I like it when people are scared of me. But it means that sometimes I feel - misunderstood.” Daisy grimaced, as if saying the word ‘feel’ was allergic to her sensibilities. “I like beautiful things. That’s why I asked for a snowglobe. And you just got me one. You were so happy to give it to me, as if it was a peace offering. As if a stupid snowglobe would make us friends. But I could see that you chose the most beautiful one. As if you knew that I liked beautiful things.” She tilted her head a little, close cropped blonde hair brushing against her chin. It was always ragged, as if she cut it by hacking it off with a knife. “I got it then. That I didn’t really understand you. Although I thought I did. I had almost killed somebody who I didn’t understand. You could have - I’m not saying you are - but you could have been a really good person deep down, and I almost killed you. Then I started thinking - how many people have I hurt, who were good people deep down? Or could have been? Kept me up at night.” Snow swirled in its endless eddies in the globe, and Jon gave it another good shake. “Then I decided that I didn’t care and that  you don’t deserve to live if you just run around killing people without even thinking about it, but you get my point. People - they’re worth keeping around sometimes, yeah? Even if they’re real bastards. I’m a bastard too. I don’t really anticipate surviving tomorrow. But I find myself...wanting to be different. Just when it’s too late. Maybe because it’s too late.”

“This is the most interesting conversation we’ve ever had,” Jon said politely, “but, like, what?”

“The world isn’t comprehensible,” Daisy said slowly, as if he was a particularly dim witted child. “It will never make sense, not even to you.  You say you’re omniscient, but you don’t even understand people. If you kill the world tomorrow, then you will never have the chance. Life isn’t supposed to be understood. It’s supposed to change. Death is bad because...after, you don’t change no more. I don’t want to die.” She stood up abruptly. “I’m going to bed. Don’t fuck it up tomorrow.” 

And with that, as quickly as she came in, Daisy left. But she left the snowglobe, and Jon climbed back onto the bed clutching it in one hand, shaking it again and again and again in hopes that he could understand everything about it, experience everything there was to experience. 

It was Jon’s privilege and right to end the world. He knew and understood this. You didn’t just renege on deals with the Eye. It took severance pay very literally. 

People were awful, nasty, vile creatures. No better than insects, really. Very few of them were good, and nothing they did made sense. But they had the capacity for good. The world was headed in a downwards spiral to a heat-induced apocalypse, but maybe things could get better. If the world ended, it would never get better. If his friends died, they would never change in the delightfully infinite way that people were capable of. Jon Sims, the person, would never change again. He was gone. But Jon Sims, the Archivist, could. He had a choice. 

Infinite choices. Too many to predict the outcome. Too many to ever understand. 

Snow fell in soft storms on the miniature world, and Jon spun in a world slightly larger, but no more comprehensible. 

Chapter Text

The 'Moving Wax Works of the Royal Court of England' was the first business that could reasonably be conceptualized as a modern waxworks exhibit, opened by Mrs. Mary in Fleet Street in 1711. It enjoyed immense popularity and novelty, and its more well known cousin Madame Tussauds opened in 1835 on Baker Street. In a certain way, there is nothing more English than wax works: taking something good, and nice, and promptly stuffing it for grotesque display for the public enjoyment. The British were obsessed with stealing everything, taking the wide wonders of the world and stuffing it within the cramped confines of London, and then charging a penny for the privilege to witness it. It was similar to taxidermy: most of the early taxidermied corpses were stuffed exotic walrus or tiger skins, brought back to England on sailing ships by triumphant hunters, and promptly stuffed full of cotton by artists with more enthusiasm than sense. The resulting taxidermied animal was usually mangled beyond recognition: the walrus filled to bursting, left with no room for its saggy skin, the tiger misshapen and lumpy. Then they called it art and charged to see it. Freak shows, human zoos - all the same. All born from the relentless English desire to make the special and unknowable a commodity. Even human corpses weren’t safe - the process of embalming was popularized when the corpse of Abraham Lincoln went on tour, and they were forced to keep the corpse fresh and lifelike enough for the whole country to see it. 

Modern iterations of the Stranger relied on uncanny valley, the awful CGI familiar to any child who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s. Plastic and fake, smiles stretched into happy faces for children, yet nobody truly bought the illusion. Early robot women, who smiled and said thank you yet did not feel - so, the ideal woman. Chatbots and Omegle. But earlier than that, perhaps the first iteration of the Stranger, lay within clockwork and gears. The endless attempt to make something as close to human as possible, by replicating the body but not the mind. A figure that moved and bowed its hat, a bird that really sang, a mouthpiece that really talked, a racist caricature that really played chess. But it was always so lazy and half-fulfilled. How do you make a robot to play chess with a human? Put a human inside it, of course! Vision too large for their means, attempting to create an identical experience to something humans could authentically create a hundred years later with Deep Blue.

The only aspect of it that didn’t make any sense was the clown thing. What was scary about clowns? It made no fucking sense. Was it the aspect of caricature, the way the facepaint mimicked ancient Greek masks of tragedy and comedy? Was it the same element that made children cry when they saw large animal suited mascots - not knowing who was really under there, an empty shell that walked and talked? 

If they had consulted him on it, on what normal human was the most uncanny and inhuman, Jon would have had an immediate answer. Alex Trebeck. Fox News anchors. Women with too much botox to smile a real smile. Every game show host ever. Political commentators. Edward Norton. Those were people who smiled, but had nothing in their eyes. Scientologists, specifically video compilations of Tom Cruise laughing and that one long Scientology video where Tom Cruise was trying to convince you to join his cult and he kept on smiling that demented smile. That was far scarier than a perfectly nice working-class man engaging in an aspect of theatre with a long and respectable history trying to entertain you. The real horrors were the wealthy, Nikola. Take notes. 

“Jon. Shut up.”

Whoops. Had he been thinking out loud again? Jon winced as Daisy continued steadfastly fixing the bomb to the load bearing pillar. Basira was covering her back, gun up and jumping at every little sound, as Tim stood next to Jon holding a very large axe and scowling at the dark. 

The Waxworks was, in the immortal words of the best thing to come out of Britain in the last fifty years, bigger on the inside in a way that they hadn’t really anticipated. Jon would have warned them, except his own omniscence was strangely dampened. He was still capable of telling Daisy useful things like where the load bearing pillars were, but the Stranger’s influence was so heavy and thick in this building it choked him and clouded his vision. He barely even knew what was in the other rooms. Like a human. It was disgusting. It made his skin crawl. 

The others were tense, and dealing with it by quietly bickering about the relative quality of each waxworks. Tim kept insisting that one figure was supposed to be Amy Winehouse, when Basira kept on arguing that it was Cher. They hadn’t yet dragged Jon into it, despite him frequently attempting to offer the answer. 

It was quiet. They had waited for a time when no figures seemed to be coming in and out, but they all knew that this close to the Unknowing it shouldn’t be this quiet. Nikola was going to catch them eventually, and when she did she was going to do a lot worse than moisturize him. 

“Got this one,” Daisy whispered harshly. She straightened, pulling her own gun and looking around. She had the rest of the C4 stuffed in a cheap satchel, which bounced ominously against her back whenever she walked. “Which one’s next, Jon?”

“Where are they,” Tim hissed, twitching bodily whenever anything or anybody made a noise in a way that made his axe swing in very unsafe ways. “This place should be coated in them right now.”

“I just think that the Stranger should pick something scarier than clowns,” Jon complained. “The Beholding updated itself for the modern age perfectly! We live in an age of information, of government agencies watching you through your webcams, of CCTV. We have specificity. We’ve been eating the terror of being unable to quit your job for months, and that’s just from you all! Clowns are so 1980 -”

“Somebody gag him,” Tim said. 

The two ex-cops shared a look which read ‘I am fully aware of how the police disregard the privacy of private citizens and Jon is very sexy and correct so we shouldn’t gag him at all’, or something close to it. 

Honestly, if it wasn’t for CCTV, the Watcher’s Crown ritual would have taken at least fifty more years. Edward Snowden had also done a great job of speeding up the timescale by ten years. Elias had sent him a gift basket. Jon was right and he should say it. 

Or maybe he should say it at a different time, because Tim was staring deeply into the eyes of a waxwork of Queen Victoria. He walked around it, from side to side, frowning deeply as he clutched his axe in two sweaty hands. 

“Are its eyes following me?” 

“Can we all focus?” Basira snapped. “Let’s start in on the next room before they all get back.”

“No,” Jon said, squinting at the shadowy figure of Victoria too. “Tim’s right. That’s no optical illusion.”

The waxwork figure blinked slowly. Jon slapped a hand over Tim’s mouth to stop him from screaming. 

“We have to go,” Daisy said. “Come on.”

But Jon was hypnotized by the figure. He reached out a hand and prodded the waxwork. It was hard, but it also gave way a little bit under his finger. There was something meaty about it. The answer came to him quite clearly. 

“Oh, they’re meat!” Jon said, delighted. “A body dipped in wax! How novel!”

None of the others threw up. But that’s because they were used to this. Most others would have. Jon was very proud of them. 

Instead, Basira just grabbed his hand, like a mother reigning in an unruly toddler. “We’re moving on. Don’t touch them.”

“We have to save them,” Tim muttered under his breath, as if he was trying to convince himself of it. “We can’t blow up this place, we have to save them…”

Jon didn’t have to be omniscient to know what he was thinking: what if, under the shell of Amy Winehouse or Queen Victoria, there was Danny, screaming away, unable to move or breathe or think or do anything else but scream?

“If we don’t blow it up then we all die,” Basira hissed, and she towed Jon along behind her as she followed Daisy into the next room. Where the faint strains of calliope music could be heard, and the sound of angelic choirs. Everybody was talking too loudly, too wrapped up in the horror of bodies wrapped in wax, to hear. Jon considered telling them, but - well, it would be more interesting to see their surprise. And their terror. These three had always been his greatest food source. 

Daisy was the first to hear it, the first to crack open the door and hear the dulcet sounds of singing and organ music. Her back was turned to him, but he Saw the look on her face clearly as anything: the way it whitened, the way her jaw slackened in horror. 

She closed the door just as quickly. 

“We can’t go in there.”

“We have to blow up every room, Daisy,” Basira said, Jon poking his head out from behind her. “Whatever’s in there, we can handle it.”

“Stay here and I’ll do it,” Daisy said roughly. 

“No way I’m leaving you without backup.” Basira shoved her way past Daisy, ignoring the way she growled, and opened the door herself. “It can’t possibly be any worse than the room full of blinking - oh.”

She closed the door. She took a deep breath, breathing out through her nose. 

“Do I want to know,” Tim said. 

Who wouldn’t! “The Anglerfish is conducting an orchestra of skinned corpses,” Jon said cheerfully. “They’re not all very good singers, but they’re doing quite well all things considered.”

“Ah. Of course.” 

Jon carefully extricated himself from Basira, and walked over to prod the door open again. They all peered through the crack, staying absolutely silent as they watched the show. 

It really was something. They looked into a giant auditorium, far larger than the small building should reasonably have contained. Sitting in each of the wooden seats with velvet cushions were mannequins of different shapes and sizes: some made of wood, some made of plastic, others hewn from material still bleeding. Some of them were crying. Some were trying to escape. Most seemed resigned to their fate. 

On the stage, a monster best left undescribed was leading a chorus of skinned corpses in a rousing song. They reminded Jon very much of anatomical drawings in medical textbooks, the way a body without skin would be shown so each muscle could be helpfully labelled. It was like that, only they were bleeding, and appeared to be in awful pain. That was the worst part of it, Jon noted objectively. That they knew what was going on, and that they were in pain. Sarah Baldwin was in there somewhere, Daniel Rawlings. Screaming. Not knowing that their body parts were being reassigned to far greater purposes. 

That was the fear of it. You, not being you. You, being stolen and used for somebody else’s bloody end. To put it crassly, it was a form of rape. There was something so personal and inherent about the body, and seeing somebody else take the only thing in the world that was yours without permission was just scary and bad. Jon remembered faintly the feeling of being afraid that Nikola was going to steal his skin. He couldn’t summon up that feeling now, only an interest. It felt as if he was reading a particularly interesting passage in a textbook. 

The others were very scared, and they all shared the identical emotion of “I want to throw up but I am too scared,” but they were all brave enough to hide it. Maybe they were getting strength from him, taking cues from his nonreaction. The thought was nice. Jon liked being relied upon. He always had, every part of him. 

“We can’t blow this up,” Tim whispered again, far more harshly. “They’re still - they’re still moving. They’re feeling pain.”

“They’re already dead,” Daisy said flatly. “We need to put them out of their misery.”

Basira nodded silently, afraid that if she opened her mouth she would throw up. 

Then Tim and Daisy started lowly bickering over whether or not to indulge Tim’s death wish, but Jon was focused on far more important matters. Like the way the music reached a crescendo - it really was beautiful, but only a being who was a solid half fear entity could ever see that - and the way the thick velvet curtains that were really not velvet at all slowly rose on the stage. Standing in the center, shining in a glimmering spotlight and wearing a beautiful ringmaster’s uniform studded with glittering rhinestones, was Nikola. She held a whip, and a pearly red smile. 

“Will everybody take their seats!” Nikola trilled. “Including our most recent visitors! The show is beginning!”

“Run!” Daisy screamed, but it was too late, and nothing made sense anymore. 

From that moment on, Jon’s world operated on two levels. It split apart, like tearing two ply toilet paper into two different translucent sheets. On one level, Jon and his assistants filed quietly into the auditorium and took their seats in the front row of the auditorium. They all sat quietly, hands in their laps, shaking with repressed sobs as the show began. 

On another level, nothing made sense anymore. 

His hands were his feet were his hands were his teeth were his spine. What were hands? Move them - no, what was there to be moved? Where was his mind? Who was he? What was a mind at all? He drifted, incognizant and unknown, blinded. Falling straight from omniscience into unknowing like Icarus from heaven, the psychic shock was so painful it felt as if his heart was being ripped out. What was a heart? Ripped from where? 

Hollowed out again. Lonely again. Nothing was around him, and nothing was something, only void that was so so so much. He stood alone, if standing was what he was doing, in a drifting fog of emptiness and everything. Faint sounds of singing, of sobbing, of desperate calling for comrades, all meaning nothing and something because vocal cords were everything and nonexistent. 

He didn’t know how long he was like that. It could have been seconds or days, assuming time was even a thing that was a thing. But he was acutely aware of his dual nature, the dual nature that he had for longer than he had known, and even as who he was cried, something that was far older and wiser than him stood up from the chair and began slowly walking forwards. 

“Grimaldi,” Something said. “Having fun?”

Grimaldi tittered a laugh, bending down and extending a hand to help that Something onto the stage. “I’m so full I could burst. It was really neck and neck there for a little bit, Ceaseless Watcher. You cheated with your alliance, so mean of you. But I won! Are you going to be a sore loser about it?”

“You have not won yet.” That Thing looked down at what it was, which was so familiar. “I am burning out this body far too quickly. If Jon doesn’t return in…ten minutes, he won’t have any blood vessels to come back to.”

“Your Archivist is so funny!” Nikola laughed. “I’ve never met a human as funny as him. He thinks himself so kind and good, when he is willing to sacrifice the world. So human, yet so willing to barter that away!” She drooped a little. “If I had humanity, I would never waste it. I’d be human all day long. I’m a little jealous.”

“Humans are like that,” the Ceaseless Watcher informed her. “It is so painful to be human, but it is so good. They can’t reconcile it - having such hurt and pain and love and softness inside. It’s a contradiction, so they burn up. They lean on things they make to make being human tolerable. If you were human, Nikola, you’d very much hate it. You wouldn’t realize what you missed until it was gone.”

“Do you hate it?” Nikola asked, tilting her head. “You’ve been part human for months now. It’s the most I’ve ever seen an Entity stuff themselves inside an Avatar like sawdust since the Spiral went all…that! It drove the poor creatures insane. Jon seemed a little insane too. Was it a lot for you?”

“I learned things I never could have learned otherwise. So it was worth it. I was very foolish, to think that I understood people.” The Ceaseless Watcher did not blink, because it did not have to, but it kind of wanted to. “You need…empathy and sympathy. Some love for them. Then you can torture them even more effectively.”

“Oh, yes!” Nikola clapped eagerly. “Watch what I’m going to do now! I’m going to use… get this…Jon’s feelings to make him sad! I really have nothing better to do.”

The Eye smiled. “Feel free to try. I will See it.”

Jon? Who was Jon?

Was Jon him? 

Did he have a self?

A self that was all him, that was nobody else? 

A self that was - that was childhoods hiding beneath pillars of charity shop books? Staring out the window of your fourth grade classroom, watching the butterflies roam? A self that was having your hair brushed and picked and buzzed short? Buying a backpack with Power Rangers on it, excited for your first day of second grade? It was plastic, and smelled like plastic, but it was holographic too and shimmered in the light. A self that hated sitting in church, listening to the hymns and prayers, that didn’t like dancing along or eating the communion wafers. A self that visited his father in prison once, twice, and never again. A mother that left, but her hair had been so long that he used to play with it and twist it into patterns. Gran making him dinner, Kraft Mac and Cheese, but he had loved it. Middle school, trainers scuffing against linoleum. Destroying the lives of bullies through strategic blackmail. Needing to know. Needing to know. Needing to know. 

A girl smiled at him from across the pew. A girl painted his toenails. A girl watched VHS movies on his bed, and kissed him. Oxford acceptance letter. Joy. Months, years lost to drinking. Suicide attempts numbers one, two and three. Glass shattering on walls. It was his. It was all he had! No matter how bad it had gotten, no matter how many people he had lost, it was his life! Nobody else could have it!

His leg was his leg, nobody else’s. It got him from place to place, pedalled bicycles, kicked Martin in the shin when he was being annoying. His hands were his hands, they typed and created and touched other hands softly. His skin was his own, and he would not be ashamed of it. It would not make him feel stupid or lesser, because he had no other skin. Love for women and men and everything in between, the height of intimacy in the clasp of hands, that was his. It wasn’t bad, it was him. Nothing about him was broken or wrong. It was just Jon Sims, just him. It wasn’t anything less or more. 

How could Jon have sacrificed this for something as stupid as knowledge? How could he have given up the only life he would ever have for something that did not understand him? He would give every second of his life to the people who loved him, spend every day to support them and love them and give them his time. Why would he waste that on something that did not love him?

Do what only you can do, the girl with the big brown eyes had told him. He had sacrificed it all for her and the young boy with the greasy hair and the tall man with the angry scowl and the short man with the happy little smile and the woman with the fiery red hair and the woman with the cold eyes and the woman with her nose tucked in a book. But - but couldn’t anybody die? They hadn’t needed Jon to sacrifice himself, they had needed him there. But it was the one thing he couldn’t give. 

How many times had he realized this? How many times had he gotten his stomach pumped and thought - never again? How many lessons had he refused to learn?

“I wouldn’t regret dying,” Gertrude told him, “if it wasn’t for the fact that you were my replacement.”

Jon was standing alone in an endless void, and Gertrude stood in front of him. She was exactly as he remembered: bone white hair, pinched and narrow face with a thin mouth that hated you, eyes with nothing inside. She stood stiffly, hands clasped in front of her, disapproving down at him. God, everything about her had always reminded him of his fucking Gran. 

“I’m sorry,” Jon moaned, clutching his head. “I’m sorry I’m a failure.”

“I didn’t throw people I cared about on the pyre so you could go soft,” she said, slicing Jon’s heart into ribbons. “I sacrificed a handful of people to save seven billion. But you couldn’t even do that. What kind of selfish, immoral idiot puts the lives of six above seven billion?”

“I couldn’t save Sasha,” Jon groaned. “It felt so bad. I missed her so much, I never wanted to feel that way again. I was scared of sadness. It’s the one thing I can’t bear.”

“You’re boring,” Gertrude said. “Just another lazy, low class alcoholic. Black men never amount to anything. You’ll spend the rest of your life wasting away on welfare.”

“Shut up!”

“You have any children you’ve abandoned? Oh, wait. You’re a failure of a man, too. Impotent and effeminate. Your father would be ashamed - but he died in prison, didn’t he?”

“Stop it, please!”

“You want to know what your mother did after she left you? The new family she started? The more loving husband, the better children? Every time she looked in the face of your half-sibling, she thought to herself - thank god it’s not Jonathan again. I couldn’t handle having a child that awful one more time.”

“Please,” Jon sobbed, “please.”

Then it wasn’t Gertrude anymore, but Sasha. Soft, sweet, wonderful Sasha. Her curly long hair fell over her shoulders, her glasses pushed up on her nose, her bow lips and big eyes. She and Georgie would have loved each other. They would have gossiped - Georgie would have hit on her, but Sasha would have laughed her off -

“You killed me and you didn’t even remember,” Sasha said. “You forgot my face. To think! The man who knows everything, couldn’t bother remembering the face of the woman he was in charge of keeping safe. I died while you were hiding from worms. I died in pain. And you looked in the face of my killer and absolved her from guilt. At least Tim wanted revenge. You didn’t even care.”

“Stop it,” Jon said, heart breaking, wanting to die. “It wasn’t my fault.”

“But what happened to me was.” Tim, tall and strong and so dead inside. “Too focused on your stupid suicidal ideation to stop me from losing it. Too wrapped up in your own suffering to notice anybody else’s. You know I’m not going to survive this.”

“Tim,” Jon screamed, and somewhere far away but very close by Tim remembered his name was Tim. 

Jurgen Leitner. “You stepped out for a cigarette and let me die. You played nice with my murderer. Didn’t you even care?”

“Oh, fuck off,” Jon said, “you were an asshole.”

Somewhere, somewhere that was three hours away, Gerard Keay sat on a bed. He was reading out loud from a book, a book stolen from a very special collection. All of his plans had gone off the rails, but that was what plans did. This - this, he could do. 

He invoked the name of the Hunt, and Daisy ripped Breekon and Hope apart. There. That saved her life. Or doomed it. Gerard wasn’t sure. 

A copy of Gerard stood in front of Jon, eyes cold. “You killed me.”

“I didn’t!” Jon yelled. “It’s not my fault I didn’t know how to be good enough!”

Basira, practical to the end, thought - I have to save Daisy. But who was Daisy? Daisy was who Basira loved. Who was Basira? Someone who had a gun and who could protect Daisy. That was it, then. That was all she needed. She always was her rock. 

“Isn’t it?” Georgie. Georgie, of course. Georgie, always. “I don’t even need to tell you what a shitty boyfriend you were. You know how much I hated you. Now I’m stuck with you, and all you can do is whine and moan at me. You ruined my life. The greatest mistake I ever made was loving you, because you won’t fucking go away.”

She wouldn’t say this. Georgie was a cigarette on a balcony, painted toenails on a bedspread. This wasn’t her. It was a lie, and there was nothing Jon hated more. 

“Georgie.” Jon stood - when had he started crouching, trying to protect himself? He stood, and saw her. It wasn’t her, of course it wasn’t. It hadn’t been her in that dream either. It had been something far different, wanting something from him. Wanting him to be something he wasn’t. “I am sorry. You deserve someone better, and all you got was me.” He really hoped she and Melanie made it out of this okay. He liked them together. They were good for each other. “But I am very tired of you being used to manipulate me. Martin was right, my martyr complex is too - where’s Martin? You aren’t going to throw him at me too?”

Georgie shrugged. “Who cares about Martin?”

“I do,” Jon said, surprising himself. “I always did. When I look at him I see - a future that I can have. He’s forgiven me, and he’s told me I should forgive myself. I want - I want a future that has him in it. I always did. Isn’t that a good enough reason to live?”

“You won’t have much of an opportunity,” Georgie - Nikola - the Beholding - sang. “It’s all coming down, like the London Bridge. Are you ready to taste infinite fear, Archivist?”

“No. I want my life back. I want a life at all, actually.” Jon almost surprised himself when he said this. He hadn’t even known it of himself. “I’m kind of sick of throwing myself on every spear. I want to live. And I’m not going to let you take that from me. It’s mine.”

“Not anymore,” Nikola - Grimaldi - The Ceaseless Watcher - said, and reached out a spindly hand towards his heart so she could rip it out and eat it. 

But she never had the chance. In one reality, in the reality with flesh and bone and blood, Tim was awake. He knew who he was. He knew that he was someone who hated, very very much, and that was enough for him. And he knew that Jon was somebody who he, against all odds, didn’t want to die. He clutched an axe in one hand and a remote detonator in the other - they hadn’t trusted Jon with it, they had given it to Daisy, when had Daisy lost it? - and had climbed on stage while Jon was wailing and crying. And he stood behind Grimaldi with his axe high and screamed

“Hey, fucker! Leave him alone!”

Then he slammed the axe down. 

It lodged itself in the wax, of course. But Nikola did turn to look at him, Jon’s body looking not very surprised at all. All they had been doing was standing on stage together, listening to the ceaseless choir, hearing London Bridge falling down. 

“That hurt!” Nikola said, surprised. She turned to Jon’s body, who just seemed bored. “Why did that hurt?”

“You’re of this world now,” the Ceaseless Watcher said. “Isn’t Tim fun? I like him so much.”

“Oh, how boring of you,” Nikola said, a second before she reached out a hand and clasped it around Tim’s neck. With her other hand she filched the detonator from his grasp, flicking it away straight into Jon’s hands. The Ceaseless Watcher held it disinterestedly, wondering what it would taste like. “Honestly, why do you hate me so much? You’re so annoying.”

Tim gargled something. 

“You killed his brother,” the Ceaseless Watcher said, bored. 

“Did I?” Nikola seemed to think hard about this. “I kill lots of brothers. You shouldn’t take it personally. Oh, no, wait! I remember now! The sexy little man who was such a big Grimaldi fan! I turned into my old form just for him! What a dish. He screamed so good. Would you like to scream like him?”

She released Tim’s throat, leaving him gasping on the ground. She lengthened her fingers into points, wickedly sharp and gleaming. The Ceaseless Watcher waited. It was very talented at that. 

“I’m going to kill you,” Tim gasped. “You’re going to regret -”

What Nikola was supposed to regret, nobody ever found out. Nikola slid a finger through his neck before he could finish speaking. Skin, cartilage, bone, nerves, and muscle came cleanly off. Tim’s head rolled on the floor. Blood spurted. Somewhere, a woman screamed. 

Nikola turned back to the Ceaseless Watcher, covered in blood, smiling at him. She had killed Tim to get a rise out of it. “Do you still like him? How do you feel?”

The Ceaseless Watcher stared at the corpse of Tim. It slumped onto the ground. It had been quick. “Bad. But not surprised.”

They had been friends. Jon, the Beholding, and Tim. But Tim would never say anything ever again. He would never yell at Jon, or wear leather jackets, or curse at him in Mandarin. He would never do anything interesting ever again, never have an experience or learn something. He had known things that he had never told anybody, and now nobody would ever know them. The Beholding felt loss. It felt. Its heart, Jon’s heart, hurt. 

Jon felt himself in his body again. He felt his limbs, his organs, his heart pumping and blood rushing. It was uncomfortable, because the Beholding took up every centimeter, and there was no room left for Jon. This was what he had sold. 

Why? Why hadn’t it started the ritual yet?


Ah. Waiting and watching. 


I get a choice?


Jon was coated in blood, watching Tim’s body cool, hearing Basira shoot round after round after round into Nikola and Jon’s body both, undiscriminating, seeing nothing but evil. He couldn’t feel it. There was no choice at all. 

He felt the depths of despair, and knew that this was the final condition of the Ritual that nobody had been told, not even him. 


Jon repeated the right words. He said all of the correct things. He lit the pyre that would light up the world. And he stepped back. He didn’t care anymore. 

Let it burn. 

Jon, do what only you can do. 

Watcher’s Crown. Get it?

It’s about the anyway. 


You never shake the same snowglobe twice. 

I don’t worship anybody or anything. I refuse to submit. I’m going to take vengeance for Danny, and if I have to use you and this Institute to do it I will.

“It’s about empathy,” Georgie said, taking a swing of the bottle of Jack before passing it to Jon. She hiccuped as Jon took a swing. They were sitting on the balcony of the flat they shared, looking over London and the lights studded into the concrete like trapped fireflies. 

“What is?” The whiskey burned as it went down, but at this stage in the night it always did. Sloppy drunk, teetering and wild, unravelling until you were so many soft things. 


“That’s stupid,” Jon said bluntly. “You can’t spend the rest of your life caring about other people all the time. That’s exhausting. People who call themselves empathetic are liars. All people really worry about are themselves. We’re all just shallow, self-serving apes, at the end of the day.”

Georgie hummed, head lolling. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, but isn’t it worth it to try? Isn’t empathy what makes us human instead of animal? What keeps civilization together?”

“I don’t really give a shit,” Jon muttered, taking another drink before passing it back. “All I’ve ever had is myself. All I need is myself.”

“What about me?”

“What about you?”

“Fair.” Georgie stared silently into the distance, curled up on their cheap plastic chair as they watched over London. Like gods of their own, perhaps. “Do you remember how this night ends? Jon and Georgie get into a drunken fight. They say things that can’t be taken back. This bottle…” Georgie lifted the bottle of whiskey. “Gets turned into shards of glass. Every time you see a bottle of Jack after this, for years, you want to throw up. You never say anything.”

“I didn’t know what love meant, back then,” Jon said, surprising himself. He was still drunk, still fuzzy and faded, but he was now aware of his presence in many different times. In no times. Was the world over already? Felt like it had just started. “I thought love was a selfishness. That it was a complete devotion, that changed you. I know now that love is about...loving who they are even when you aren’t there. Loving them for just existing, or just being them. Unconditional acceptance, I suppose.” Jon hiccuped slightly. “Empathy, I think, is when you choose to love someone for no reason. It’s hard, but I think you can love just about anyone or anything this way. Maybe it’s even possible to love the whole world.”

“That’s stupid,” the Beholding said, irritated. “You can’t love everybody. You don’t know them. They could be terrible people.”

“But they could be good ones, too. Isn’t that what counts?”

“We had an agreement,” the Beholding said dangerously. “I’ll save who you love. That’s seven people. That’s Georgina, Gerard, Martin, Melanie, Daisy, Basira, and Tim. Tim’s a wash, but you got all the others. Isn’t that enough for you?”

Jon stared up at the night sky. There were no stars visible, but he knew they were there. That was faith. “Tim’s gone. When he died, it was the death of a world. His world. He wasn’t good to me, but he could have been good to someone else. I don’t want anyone to suffer like he suffered, ever again. Never again.” He looked at the Beholding, who was looking increasingly furious. “You said you’ll save who I love? I love everyone. If you don’t abide by these terms, I quit.”

The memory disintegrated, shaken into furiousness by the word ‘quit’, and Jon was ripped from existence. 

He was nameless, formless, without existence or voice. Everything was the Eye. It stared. And it was him. 


I just did. 


Nope. I quit. 


You said you’d give me the world. I want it. If you don’t give me it, then I’m not doing anything else. 


Not what I meant. I meant that I want the power to keep everybody I loved safe. And I decided that I love the entire world. So the entire world has to be safe. I decided that. 


I just did. 


Love is a choice. 


Don’t you listen to Martin?


I don’t care. 


And then Jon existed again. 

He looked down at himself first. He was himself: tall, gangly, dressed in a sweatervest and khakis and Oxfords. Very much himself. He looked around. White void. Nothing after nothing after nothing after nothing after nothing - 

Okay. Let’s take stock. What do we have? Himself. And that’s it. Well, that should be good enough. 

Let’s create the world, then. He promised the other Avatars that he would create a world where their gods can feed and where they can live for a long time. So it won’t be a utopia. Good. Utopias sound boring. 

Nothing else existed. All of his friends were gone, zapped into nothingness. Jon was all there was right now. But what would they want? Well, they would probably want the world back. Could Jon do it? Was he brave enough?

Let’s start small. Jon tried to visualize his house, but it slipped away from him. He couldn’t remember every detail of it. Well, he hadn’t been living there for very long. Let’s try something easier. Let’s do The Magnus Institute. 

In his mind, he walked through the halls of the Institute. Reconverted old Victorian building, check. Knowing what he knew now about Jonah, of course it was. Painted brown, with a giant porch and a tower on top. A walled off balcony. Let’s have it. 

Then it was in front of him. It wasn’t there in the last second, if seconds existed in this world, but now it was. The Institute, exactly the same as it always had been for the last six years he had worked there. He knew it by heart. Jon climbed up the familiar steps, remembering to add a creak to the third one, adding flecks of peeling wood to the door, and stepped inside. 

Let’s do the foyer. Old magazines, check. Uncomfortable vinyl couches, check. There’s the reception desk. Boom. Flickering light up above. Big chandelier, that light was. Scratchy rug with an ugly eye pattern, there you go. 

Let’s walk into the back. Jon constructed the hallways, adding more ugly eye wallpaper - wow, everything was eye themed, huh? - as he walked down the halls. Ugly (eye themed) art. Break room, it needed a coffee machine and a refrigerator. Stacks of gross creamer. There you go. This seemed a little more homey now. 

Jon rapidly made some stairs, and climbed down into the basement. There was the hallway that lead to the Archives on one end, and Artifact Storage on the other. Let’s make Artifact Storage…terrifying! That was it. Now let’s do the Archives.

Jon opened up the door to the Archives, making the nameplate old and dusty. He stepped into the familiar open office space, the six desks in the middle pressed up against each other ringed by towering bookshelves. There you go. Martin’s desk first, with his dumb knick-knacks. Tim’s, with tons of pictures and fidget toys. Melanie’s, covered in knitting. Basira’s, stacked tall with books. The chair next to Basira’s, where Daisy always sat. Let’s toss in a door to the library, fill it with Statements. Oh, that’s right - Jon quickly added the huge library upstairs, with all of its parapsychology and occult books. He had read most of them himself, so it was easy. Let’s add in the recording room, which he knew so well. Should probably zap in Elias’ office upstairs, if he had to. Add in all of the giant portraits of the previous directors along the wall, which was just himself , so stupid. Toss in the trapdoor and the tunnels, can’t forget those. Jon’s office last: small, cramped, full of papers and recorders and the detritus of his life. The Keurig that made them all tea. Jon’s big, bulky desk. His desk lamp. His chewed pens. Jon’s life, all of it, every inch. 

He couldn’t spend this long on every building in the world. Jon needed to speed this up a little. He went outside, not so much walking out as willing himself out, and stood in the vast emptiness of the void again. The Institute was perfect, but it was missing scenery. 

Jon zapped into existence the lawyer office across the street. The real estate building next to that. The doggy daycare. The plant nursery. The bookshop. The store that he didn’t even know what was inside. Let’s add in familiar London streets. Let’s put down every street in London. Baker Street, where the game was afoot. Big Ben, even! Jon had been to Big Ben! The Eye, couldn’t forget that. The Ferris Wheel, not the literal Eye. Buckingham Palace, obviously, God Save The Queen. His favorite restaurants, they all needed to be in here. His late night walking routes. The little corners and crevices where he stole a moment alone with a cigarette. 

Notting Hill. Jon constructed Notting Hill with care. His favorite corner store, Georgie’s favorite coffee shop and her favorite bar too. Their home. He built it from the ground up, knowing every brick and tile and winding staircase. His foyer, leading into the living room and dining room, the kitchen with a fridge stocked full of produce, the stove with a burn from where Gerard had turned up the heat too high. Gerard’s room, filled with punk rock posters and thick books. Georgie’s studio, stacked with recording equipment and editing software, Georgie’s room, all of her plush comforters and psychedelic art. Jon’s own relatively bare bedroom, but his comfy bed and the books he had stacked on the nightstand included. He placed every book he had ever owned into the house with care, and stood back and stared happily at his work. 

But then he encountered a problem. He had only ever spent long periods of time in London. He could create the council house where he grew up, and he did, and he could create his childhood church and Georgie’s childhood home, but he wasn’t familiar with anyplace else. 

But hadn’t he listened to so many Statements? He knew so many lives. So many people, from everywhere. So let’s create the small town with the giant pit, that one had been lovingly described. Let’s create the house with the darkness monster in it that could be held off by a tight blanket. Let’s make a New Zealand farm. Jon had experienced thousands of lives in his own, and he made all of them. Every house, every home, every village and town and city. Let’s create that, every life that deserved living. 

That was the United Kingdom taken care of. Let’s recreate that Welsh forest, the one that had burned down. Let’s build it again. Didn’t Jon make the decisions now? 

But what about the rest of the world? Jon had been to America, had stared out the window in endless Midwestern corn. He could make corn, could approximate O’Hare and Chicago and that diner. Let’s do that. Hadn’t he seen much more America on television? He saw a documentary on New York one time. Let’s make that too. 

Jon had been omniscient for a solid month there. He dug his hand deep into those memories, filled his mind with everything , everything that had ever happened and ever lived, every plant and animal and life and death. Jon dumped out his omniscience on the ground, spread it out, and rebuilt the world from memory. 

There it was. World was back. But it was empty. Where was the people? Jon needed those too. He plundered his memory, returning to live everybody who was alive. Georgie, watching TV on the couch. Gerard, reading next to her. Basira, reading a book in her own home. Daisy, her head in Basira’s lap, as Basira stroked her hair and Daisy stared at the ceiling. Martin, writing a letter to his mother before scrapping it. 

Every Avatar, too. Jude and Anabelle and Helen. Put them back. Even Elias, that asshole. Put him at his desk, sunlight streaming in and glinting on his hair, doing his favorite activity of scheduling pointless meetings. Jon’s mother, sitting on her porch in her Kent home, watching her grandchildren play in the grass. 

That was it. The world was back in order. Fear monsters still reigned, but that was alright. People had evolved alongside the Entities, tangled around each other like roots in a tree, and to take away fear would leave this new world very cold and empty. Humanity could have a little fear. They made good movies with it. 

Every song ever sung. Every book ever written. Every movie ever played, even the mediocre sequels. Every painting ever painted, every drawing ever made. Every podcast ever recorded, What the Ghost and Ghost Hunt UK. Why not? 

Every animal. Every plant. Even every stupid spider, Anabelle would kill him if he left them out. That was it. Was that the whole world?

Jon stepped back from where he was constructing a blueberry bush, wiping his hands on his trousers. He plucked a few blueberries off the branch and tossed them into his mouth. They burst happily on his tongue, bright and juicy and beautiful. 

How long had he been at this? It felt like only a few moments, but also like forever. Time didn’t really exist. That was alright. He would put that in last. He was almost done. 


“Whatever,” Jon said, saying the first word in the new world. “You got what you wanted. Congratulations. You now understand the entire world. It’s constructed from you, and from me. The Ritual is completed. You should be happy about that.”


“Too bad. I made a promise, and I intend on keeping it.” Just for fun, Jon plucked another blueberry off the branch. They tasted so bright, like summer in the country. Wait, shit, he had almost forgotten seasons. Jon quickly added in seasons - oh, but that means that the world has to tilt. Space! Jon quickly made infinite space. Just for fun, he also made aliens. “They’ll worship you, you know. Our relationships with the Entities are going to be a little different. We deserve to know what dickish Eldritch monsters control our lives. Knowledge is going to be for everyone, not hoarded like gold.”


Jon lifted his hand, and noticed that the Burger King crown was still on his head. He couldn’t help but smile. Gerard. 


That was true. Jon thought about it, willing a few more daisies to sprout on the ground. He was somewhere in Wales, he thought. Or was it Argentina? 

“Does the world have to be exactly the same?” He asked himself. “I’m omnipotent. I can make it a little differently.”


“You remember how it felt when Tim died,” Jon said, exhausted. “Is that what you want? It was bad. Is it too much to ask that we have some good?”

The Beholding was silent. 

Experimentally, Jon focused his Gaze on every Avatar. With a deep breath, and a hope that they would appreciate this, he cut them all off from each Entity. Anabelle was just Anabelle now - a bitch, but not a supernatural one. Jude was just a Wolf of Wall Street. Helen, a real estate agent. Not so bad. Elias…hopefully he would be able to get along without reading everybody’s mind anymore. Lukases were just rich people, Fairchilds were just richer people. Nikola just a doll. That was it. That was all of it. 

“There,” Jon said, propping his hands on his hips. “No more Avatars, at least for now. Hopefully the Entities will learn to get along with just horror movies for a while.”


“Deal with it.” Jon looked around, feeling as if he should be happy. He was, he was content, but there was something missing. Something that he should be able to do. 

Experimentally, he thought of Tim. Tim, tall and strong, heavily muscled and proud of it. Dark eyes, big smile. Brown leather jacket, tough jeans, boots and a flannel shirt. He had dressed differently a long time ago, but this was the Tim that Jon remembered. Yelling at him, throwing around axes, subverting the law by seducing every cop on the force attracted to men. A good person. Jon wanted to see him again. He was his friend, and he didn’t have a lot of those. 

Then, as if by magic, Tim was back. He was lying on his bed, peacefully asleep. He would wake up in the morning, when the world restarted. 


“Then I’ll bring back the unnatural deaths,” Jon whispered, and the Beholding didn’t try to stop him when he brought everybody else back too. 

Sasha, beautiful and smart Sasha. Danny, Tim’s overachiever brother. Gerard, the real one, whose brain tumor had been far from natural. 

Not Jon’s Gran or his Dad, although he missed them. It hadn’t been fair, but it had been natural, and of this world. But everybody whose time had been cut so cruelly short, Jon can fix. Jon can bring them back. 

Just this once, everybody lives. 

Every statement giver who had died soon afterwards. Everybody who died in a statement. Put them all back. It wasn’t fair. Their lives were cut so unfairly short, mangled by eldritch creatures that should mind their own fucking business. Give it all back. Give him back the teenage bully that had stepped into a spider’s parlor and never looked back. Even Jurgen Leitner. Even Gertrude. Dead before their time. Give them back. 

By the end of it, the world was populated again, and Jon was gasping on the floor. It had taken a lot out of him. This hazy dream was fading, and the clocks were beginning to tick again. He stared at the bright green grass, clenching onto it and getting dirt underneath his fingernails. His chest heaved, and sweat dripped from his face. 

Shined oxfords entered his field of vision, and when Jon looked up he saw himself standing above him. But it was a different him, with terrifying eyes: eyes that were black pits, more like marbles than flesh, reflecting light with nothing inside. It was so horrifying, so unnatural, as if Jon was taxidermied with glass sewn into his eye sockets. He was staring down at Jon with a blank face. 

“You broke your promise to me,” the Beholding said. 

“But I kept it to everyone else,” Jon gasped. “I made too many promises, too many deals. I couldn’t make everyone happy. I should have just tried to make myself happy. I wasted so much time. I want to live.”

“You know the price for this,” the Beholding said. “Nothing is free.”

“I’ll keep working for you,” Jon said. Begged? No, said. “I’ll be your Archivist for as long as you want. I owe you that.”

Besides, when he wasn’t getting tossed around like a rag doll or hollowed out like a grapefruit, it wasn’t a bad job. He had liked it, for a while. 

“Yes,” the Beholding said. “You will. But you owe me something else.”

“Then take it,” Jon said. He bowed his head. “I am, as always, your loyal servant.”

“Liar,” the Beholding said. It crouched down, tilting Jon’s head up. “But thank you. This world…I am looking forward to seeing what flourishes within it.”

“Yeah, me too,” Jon said, a second before the Beholding reached into his eye sockets and ripped


“Boss? There’s someone here to see you.”

Jon pressed a key on his keyboard that paused his screen reader, sliding his headphones off his head. He heard the door creak open, and the familiar scuff of Michael’s heels matched the cheery tone of his voice. Another pair of footsteps followed him, unfamiliar, and Jon abruptly remembered that he had agreed to talk with the newest interviewee today. Whoops. What was his name again? Somewhere Elias was laughing at him. 

Well, better hide it. Jon stood up from his desk, smiling politely as he felt Tiresias’s wagging tail hit him on the shin. That was unusual - he didn’t normally like new people. “Come in, Michael. Do you have our candidate with you?”

“Sure do,” Michael said. “Martin, this is Jonathan Sims, our Head Archivist. He’s quite brilliant, if I do say so myself. I’ll give you some time to talk a little bit about the position, then I can hand you back off to - ah, Jon, Martin’s holding out his hand.”

“Whoops! Sorry!” Martin’s voice was high pitched and soft, almost squeaking. Jon smiled again, much more real, and stuck out his own hand for Martin to shake. Despite his soft voice, he had a very firm grip. “Sorry again. Ah, it’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Sims.”

“Everybody calls me Jon. Well, save Gertrude, when she’s mad at me. Go ahead and take a seat.” Jon sat back down, careful not to step on Tiresias’ tail. “Thank you, Michael. Is Eric at lunch yet?”

“Yeah, he took off early today. Said Gerry has a doctor’s appointment.”

Ah, that’s right. Jon hoped they were having the father-son bonding Eric was so excited about. He was a good person and a great assistant, but Gerry seemed very hesitant to rekindle that relationship. He still spent most nights at his and Georgie’s, preferring being with his foster family over his biological father - but lately he had been speaking more enthusiastically about the rock shows Eric would take him to. All things in due time, he supposed. 

“Very good. Thank you, Michael. Leave the door cracked?”

“Of course. I’ll be back in ten. Bye, Jon. Good luck, Martin!”

His footsteps receded, and Jon was left in his office with Martin Blackwood. Tiresias’ tail was still thumping against his shin, which was an unusually intense degree of emotion from the otherwise very relaxed dog. He must really like Martin. Well, Jon didn’t decide to hire people based on if his seeing eye dog liked them, but he was considering it as a factor. 

“Right.” Jon refused to admit that he had forgotten to go over Martin’s CV. In all fairness, he had been very swamped lately. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, Martin? Your background, your interests, why you want to work here. That sort of thing.”

“Oh. Right!” Martin cleared his throat, and Jon imagined him sitting up a bit straighter. “Well, I’ve been working in paranormal research for - I want to say almost a decade, now? I’ve mostly done Archival jobs, so this position is definitely in my wheelhouse, I’d say. I’m also very comfortable with Research and footwork. On a personal level, most of my research so far has been more Web aligned, but lately I’ve taken a personal research interest in the Eye, and the Magnus Institute really is the best place to study and work for the Eye! I’m perfectly aware of the risks, of course.” 

“Understanding the risks is the most important thing,” Jon said dryly. He leaned back in his chair, rubbing his fingers against the soft leather. “Well, we’re definitely a bit short staffed right now. We just had a large quantity of assistants quit - not for any bad reasons, but their lives just took them in separate directions. Sasha James and Tim Stoker wanted to take some time off to do some backpacking, and Basira Hussein and Alice Tonner wanted to start up their own PI agency. You can see that we get all kinds here. Melanie King, an old assistant, still comes through occasionally to do some research here for her show. There’s been a bit of a change in management, as well - our old Head retired about...oh, three years ago? Last time I checked he was in Greece with his husband. Or ex-husband. Our old Head Archivist succeeded him, and she’s a real battleaxe.” She and Jon fought frequently, over everything, but in Jon’s defense her filing systems were terrible. “So you can see that it can be fairly exciting around here.”

“I like exciting.”

“I bet,” Jon said, believing him completely. “As for duties...well, we’re currently working on a big overhaul of the system. We’re digitizing everything, to make the Eye’s testimonies a little more accessible to the public. I’m overheading that, though obviously I can’t help out too much. Once they’re digitized I tend to read them out to perform the ceremonial duties of the Head Archivist, which is feeding the Eye. As an assistant you’d be taking Statements a lot, some filing, that sort of thing. Forgive me for asking, Martin, but it is relevant in these kind of duties - are you an atheist?”

“I’m unaffiliated right now,” Martin said. “Uh, had a thing with the Lonely a while back - but nope, nothing right now.”

“You understand you’d have to become affiliated with the Eye to work here. It’s very droll, I have to wear a stupid robe and everything.”

“Yes, I’m aware.”

“Excellent. Well, we’re all very impressed with your credentials. It’s definitely a chaotic workplace, but I’ve always found it very rewarding. Do you have any questions for me?”

“Uh, yeah. Have you ever met the Eye, personally? I hear that Head Priests do that all the time.”

Ugh. Head Priest. Jon much preferred the title Head Archivist. “Once, in my past,” Jon admitted. “I don’t remember it very well. The memory of the event was likely payment for whatever caused the meeting. Well, part of the payment.” Jon waved a hand in front of his face. It was best to get it over with outright, before Martin could hear any of the lurid workplace gossip about what had happened. “The upside is that I am mildly omniscient. Fair trade, I suppose.”

“Mildly?” Martin asked, clearly interested yet trying hard to be polite about it. “How is one…mildly omniscient?”

“Good question.” Jon smiled a half-smile, feeling indescribably…fond? Martin seemed like a nice character. “I have a somewhat direct line with the Eye’s knowledge. Think…Google, but psychic. Not any more useful than Google, unfortunately. It’s the world’s strangest party trick, but useful when a we

bsite I need isn’t accessible with a screen reader. Would you like a demonstration?”

“Oh, please. Can I ask you what to ask?” 

“Certainly. Don’t ask anything you mind me knowing. And best to save the ‘What’s the meaning of life’ questions for when you’re drunk enough to deal with them.” Georgie had learned her lesson about asking him stuff like that years ago. One time she had asked him how many roaches were in the walls of the Notting Hill house they shared, and his answer terrified her so much she couldn’t sleep that night. She had called him the worst housemate ever the next morning, and threatened to rearrange the furniture. 

A moment of silence, as Martin clearly struggled to think of something innocuous. “Er…what was the name of my first love? Easy enough.”

How sweet. Jon smiled, and carefully opened his Eye, the only one that was still functional. “His name was Jonathan Sims. That’s cute.”

They both sat in stunned silence for a second, as what Jon said caught up with him. Almost instinctively, Jon asked for more information, and received a download so heavy and thick it almost gave him a migraine. Tireseas barked and leapt up, nosing against Jon’s leg as he warned him to make sure he was sitting down in a comfortable position. Information exploded - no, bloomed - in Jon’s mind. Almost distantly, he heard Martin make another uncomfortable sound. 

Almost immediately, the door opened again. He must have yelled. Darn it. “Jon? Jon, are you alright?”

Michael. He was a sweet boy, but somewhat overbearing. He could be a bit overly conscientious with helping Jon and making sure he got around. Combined with the occasional migraines, he was worse than Georgie. 

“I’m alright,” Jon coughed. “Just - expected a text file, got a video. No issues here. Thank you, Michael.”

“Michael The Distortion Michael?” Martin yelled, confirming that he had received a similar download. He had never quit, not really. None of them had. 

“I’m getting you your Tylenol,” Michael said firmly, “I’ll be right back. Don’t overexert yourself.”

Then the door closed shut again, leaving them both alone. Jon didn’t know what to say. What could he say? What could possibly -

“You know,” Martin said, almost in shock, “I think I'm a much more qualified candidate than you were expecting.”

“Most definitely,” Jon said, somewhat dizzily. 

“I mean, what other assistants have experience running from worms?” Martin laughed highly, almost hysterically. “And changelings and evil mannequins? And dealing with you ?”

“It’s a full time job,” Jon agreed, his heart growing light. Light in a way that he had never quite felt. It was, after all, a brand new universe. “Are you sure that you’re up for it?”

“I already promised, didn’t I? I’m with you, Jon. I’m with you anyway.”

“Quite.” The future stretched out in front of them, clear and bright. “Well. You’re hired, obviously. And - and invited to dinner with me and Georgie. And her girlfriend, Melanie. And our foster kid, Gerry. Well, her foster kid, I’m unofficial. You know him, I think.”

“I think I do,” Martin said. “I’d be quite put out if you didn’t hire me at this point.”

“Right. Martin, may I ask you something - rather inappropriate?” Suddenly, Jon’s mouth was rather dry. “Before I ask, I know that things may - may have changed. And obviously your job here isn’t dependent on your answer. If you say no, I’ll never mention it again. After all, it was a very - a very different situation. And I know I’m different now.” He didn’t have to say how different. “But if you - would you - if I -”

“You’re useless,” Martin said, and Jon could hear his wet smile. “Yes. Idiot.”

“Alright,” Jon said, light headed. “That’s that, then. Dinner? At a nice restaurant?”

“I would like that very much.”

And they sat there, smiling at each other like idiots, when Michael came back in, holding two Tylenol and very confused as to why both his boss and the random new interviewee were crying.