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Watch, But Not Take Part

Chapter Text

Since Jon woke from his coma all the tapes in the Archives seem to have their own steady hum, like distant music. Some are louder than others, some sing more seductively. The ones he recorded direct from their subjects have a particularly comforting thrum, like the purring of a cat sleeping in his lap. As he flips through the box where these tapes are stored—he doesn’t remember why he started filing them separately, just that he did—he feels calmer than he has in a week. Ever since Jared Hopworth sunk a misshapen hand into his torso and pulled his ribs out.

(The memory of the physical pain is nowhere near as bad as the profound sense of violation and defilement, worse than the memory of worms burrowing into his skin)

He knows that feeling this soothed by his box of stored horror is yet another sign of his own monstrousness, like a serial killer pawing over trophies taken from his victims. He can’t help it, however. As he flips through the tapes, searching for Daisy’s, he feels calmer and stronger than he has since…

Since that thing he did only a week after waking up, that thing he did again after Melanie stabbed him, that thing he is pointedly trying not to think about. The thing he tries to tell himself is no worse than what is on these tapes.

(Oh he knows that’s a lie, can see the helpless look in their eyes when they tell him their stories, and wonders if his own eyes looked the same when the Boneturner was digging through his chest.)

There aren’t very many of these tapes, there’s no reason for him to take as long as it does to locate Daisy’s. But he flicks past it again and again before he spots it, misfiled next to statement #0161203. Jon stares at this tape for a long time, throat going so dry it makes an audible click when he swallows. He tries to think of Daisy and Daisy only, but he pulls out statement #0161203 along with statement #0160112. He tells himself that he isn’t going to listen to it now, but he sticks it into his cassette player anyway.

Martin, are you sure about this?” His own voice, hardly recognizable to him two years later.

(Two years, it doesn’t seem right. He couldn’t have started falling in love with Martin Blackwood almost two years ago)

“I just want to make a statement about what happened to me. I mean, it… it’s what we do.”

Jon has to hit the “stop” button at the sound of Martin’s voice.

He’s been out of his coma for over a month, and he’s spoken to Martin twice in that time. The first conversation had been the hardest. Up until that moment he still had hope that there was some kind of misunderstanding.

When he woke up in hospital he’d been surprised Martin wasn’t there. Even after Basira told him Martin was working with Lukas and that they didn’t see him much these days, Jon still stubbornly expected Martin to come. We had a date, I know I missed it but he’ll understand, Jon told himself in the long hours he spent alone in his room with nothing but his thoughts to occupy him.

The doctors told Jon they wanted him to stay a few days for observation. He read a different truth in their eyes, and he didn’t need any supernatural powers to do it. They wanted him to leave as soon as possible, they’d throw him out in nothing but his gown that exposed his bare arse to the world if they had their way.

They were afraid of him. The nurses were skittish when they took his vitals and brought him medication he didn’t need and didn’t speak to him anymore than was necessary. Each time it happened Jon couldn’t help but think of how Georgie told him this wasn’t how it was supposed to go, how she didn’t answer when he asked if she’d rather he was brain-damaged or dead.

Although he supposed the way she walked out less than a minute later with an air finality was answer enough.

Jon was in hospital a full two days after waking up. Martin didn’t come. Jon tried emailing him from one of the hospital computers, but it bounced back from both Martin’s personal and work addresses. He didn’t know Martin’s mobile by heart, and his phone was long gone, lost in the confusion after the Unknowing.

(The second to last text he received from Martin was a list of show times for a movie called God’s Own Country, along with a link to the Dim Sum menu of a Chinese restaurant in Soho. The last was simply “Come back.”)

Martin never came to the hospital, and he wasn’t waiting at the Institute when Jon returned. Days passed as Jon struggled to orient himself to his new world, to the lost six months. For him it was as though he’d spent the night with Martin only a few days prior, they’d parted with a kiss and plans to see each other again. Jon almost said “I love you” at several points, but held himself back. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say it yet. He was bad at relationships of all sorts, they were minefields he had long since stopped trying to learn a safe path. Jon always stepped somewhere he wasn’t meant to, half the time not even realizing there’d been an explosion until the other person froze him out.

(Jon learned long ago he was easy to get rid of. The first time it happened was when he began secondary school. Term started and Ben St John, his best friend, stopped talking to him. There was no warning, one day Benji just stopped inviting him over and never returning Jon’s calls to invite him over. Term started and Benji sat at lunch with a new group of friends while Jon was left by himself, struggling to find out what he’d done wrong. It happened again at university, with Lewis. Jon thought they were friends, but apparently he’d been “leading Lew on” and using him to experiment with his sexuality. Jon had to hear this from Lew’s new boyfriend instead of the man himself.)

At first Jon tried to tell himself he was being ridiculous, that this was Martin. Martin wouldn’t. Still as more days went by with no sight of Martin he couldn’t stop himself thinking this was all so familiar. Jon did something wrong, violated a rule from a guidebook everyone else had but he didn’t even know existed.

As much as this thought hurt the alternative was even worse—that Martin wanted nothing to do with Jon because he didn’t believe he was the same person that came to his flat all those months ago. That the person Martin had kissed and held and asked on a date was dead, and Jon was nothing but a monster.

{Melanie accused him of much the same thing, screaming, “Something has been in hospital. Something that’s got your face…you don’t know me. And I don’t know you, so stay the hell away from me or I swear I will-“ Then she’d come with in inches of attacking him.)

Jon’s first conversation with Martin was…inconclusive as to which of these assumptions was the correct one.

(“Martin, it’s, I-I haven’t seen you!” Martin shuffled awkwardly and simply said sorry, like he hadn’t insisted on taking Jon on a proper date after making love to him or woke him with a smile or clung to his hands at the tube station desperate for every second. Instead this Martin was busy and wanted to leave even as Jon cast about desperately for a conversational topic to make him stay. Besides the obvious one, that Jon had come back, and whatever he’d come back as he still loved Martin desperately.)

After that conversation was the first time Jon took a statement from an unwilling subject. He hadn’t meant to; he’d just been so exhausted and weak since his coma. Statements helped but the boost they gave him faded quickly. After speaking to Martin depression just made the exhaustion more acute, the hunger sharper.  Jon went to Tesco’s although he knew none of the food on the shelves could tough the ache in his gut or his heart. Then he looked over and saw the worker stocking the shelves and knew. Without a second’s hesitation he walked up and said, “Tell me your story.

Afterward he felt better, stronger, more awake than he had since…since he couldn’t remember when.

(Another lie. The last time he felt like that was in the shower, being held against Martin Blackwood’s sturdy chest. Hopeful of the future and secure in the knowledge of what he had.)

Jon brushes these memories aside, forcefully ejecting the tape of Martin’s statement. He does nothing for a few seconds but breathe in and out, sounding harsh and raspy in his own ears. Then he puts in Daisy’s tape. Fast forwards through the beginning, Daisy telling him that Basira was only stringing him along because he was a suspect. Hits “play” at the exact moment she begins her statement. Listens.

He tries to remember how Daisy was during the Unknowing. Everything is a confused jumble of sensation, but he does remember hearing a feral snarl and screams. Remember laughter, and remembers the wet sounds as she attacked whatever creature she had found. Remembers how at the start of the Unknowing she'd pulled a gun on him. She’s been in that coffin for eight months, lord knows if there’s anything of Daisy left.

He hits “stop” when Daisy reaches the end of her statement. Rewinds to the beginning and listens again.

(His second conversation with Martin left him even more confused. More coldness, a request to please stop finding him. In that moment Jon was sure that whatever Martin had felt for him before it was gone. He either thought Jon was a monster, or was angry it took him so long to come back, or had simply mourned him and moved on in the six months he was in a coma.

“What happened, Martin?” Jon asked. When did you stop loving me, did you ever, did I get it wrong, what did I do.

“You died.”

“I came back.” I came back to you, I said I would.

“Yeah. And I’m not going to let it happen again.”

Jon still doesn’t know what Martin meant by that, though he has driven himself crazy over it. Did he mean he wouldn’t let Jon die again, that he working for Lukas as part of a bargain for Jon’s safety? Or did he mean Jon returned as a monster, and whatever he was working on would stop him coming back? Or neither of those things, by “it happening” did he mean suffering Jon’s death all over again, so was therefore isolating himself?)

The tape unspools as Daisy finishes her statement once again. Jon stares at the recorder for a few moments, unsure of what to do. He’d promised Melanie he’d wait until Basira returned before attempting his plan. Get her advice. Would she insist on coming with him to rescue Daisy herself? Jon thinks she would. He’s not sure exactly what Daisy and Basira are to each other, whether their bond is simply a result of so many years of dividing the world between “us” and “them” or something else.

But he remembers the anguished expression on Daisy’s face when Basira signed her life away to Eye. And remembers Basira smiling fondly when Daisy tried to make her turn on the radio so she could listen to The Archers.

Jon hits rewind. Stop. Play.

This was a long time ago. I’d been police for two years. I wasn’t even with the Met back then. I was based up in Lancashire with a road policing unit. This is before the Highways Agency took most of the grunt work, so there was plenty to do—“

Just like that Jon makes his decision. He won’t lose anyone else, won’t let Basira trap herself, won’t let Daisy stay in there any longer than necessary if there’s even a chance he can get her out. And he thinks he can get her out. If he can't...then he doesn't think it's a bad thing. One less monster in the world; and it's not as though this time he recklessly promised someone that he would come back.

Chapter Text

Time is a meaningless concept in the grip of Too-Close-I-Cannot-Breathe. Jon goes into the coffin and does not return for three days, although in his memory it sometimes seems like it was weeks. He doesn’t know how long it takes for him to reach Daisy—he reckons it was less than a day, but beyond that there’s no narrowing it down. The rough-hewn steps last for a very long time, closing in on him and growing steeper with every step down. Eventually he reaches a point where there’s no more room to turn around. He stops to rest, to gather himself, and when he does there’s a groaning from deep in the earth and the walls…get closer.

“Oh,” he says, and starts walking. He walks for hours, for so long he has to stop again to catch his breath. The walls just press closer in on him. After the second time this happens he hears his tape recorder click on.

The sound causes an almost Pavlovian response, and Jon starts talking, describing what is happening to him. “I’m not sure how long it’s been. The steps ended, eventually. There’s passages, but-it’s very, uh… It’s close. I’m having some trouble, but. I’m going the right way. I know it—“

Eventually even these narrow passages end, and he’s crawling on his hands and knees. He has only the distant sense of Daisy and the weak light from his torch to guide him. He tries not to stop, even for a second, but there’s only so much of this he can take before exhaustion takes him. He drops his torch during the longest pause, when he collapses flat on his stomach. He hears it shatter, and the light is gone. There’s nothing but blackness, the smell of earth. He’s dizzy and exhausted and so, so very thirsty. His knees and elbows have been scraped so often he barely notices the pain, and he wonders if he’ll get any more scars for his collection.

He doesn’t pass out, and he certainly doesn’t fall asleep, but the vision that flashes through his mind is too vivid to be a  mere memory.

****************************************************

When Martin asks him to lunch Jon accepts with only a few token protests for form’s sake. Jon has long since stopped being irritated by Martin dragging him off to eat, a thing he’s been doing since the incident with the being that calls itself Michael. Martin had been the one to find Jon afterward, trying ineffectually to tape the wound shut with plasters out of the first aid kit. Martin had also been the one to bully him into going to the A&E, and Martin had been the one to let out a snort of disbelief when Jon told the doctor stitching him up that he’d done it himself with a bread knife.

They eat lunch at a cafe a few blocks away from the Institute, sitting at a table by the window. As they eat the Jon thinks not for the first time that Martin has a very nice face, even though most people wouldn’t think it was worth a second look. Jon, however, has given it a second, third, hundredth look by this point, noting down every detail. Large, dark blue eyes underneath a pair of particularly expressive eyebrows a shade of auburn that’s a bit darker than his hair. Martin has a very wide mouth, and when he smiles Jon can see that his eyeteeth are crooked. Martin has a short nose with a little curve at the tip and smattering of freckles at the bridge. His cheeks are round, and turn pink with alarming frequency. Jon could see him described as “baby-faced” were it not for the strong jaw and a hit of stubble.

“Jon?” Martin says, raising his eyebrows, “Are you listening?” He doesn’t sound annoyed, and those expressive eyebrows are quirked with amusement.

“Sorry?” Jon says, blinking.

Martin huffs, “You zoned out for a minute there.”

“Sorry,” Jon says, face feeling unaccountably hot, “Just…just thinking of a statement I researched today.”

“Real one?”

“Of course not,” Jon says, fiddling with the corner of his napkin, “I don’t expect to see a real statement for weeks at least. You know how it is.” It’s the week before Halloween and Institute is always inundated with statements during this time of the year. Almost all of them obviously false, and the majority of his days have been spent disproving them. It’s nice, to do something closer to work instead of obsessing over Gertrude’s murder. In fact, for the first time since Prentiss attacked Jon feels…like himself. He even got a full six hours of sleep last night.

“I suppose you’re right,” Martin says, “Research had me looking into a few of them. After my first day I started being more sympathetic to your skepticism.”

“I told you, I did that because—“

“I know, I was teasing. I’ve actually…it’s been nice, hasn’t it?” Martin says, unknowingly echoing Jon’s thoughts.

“Yes, it has,” Jon replies. He smiles at Martin, who smiles back with pink cheeks. Jon feels hot again, and to distract himself takes out his phone to check the time. He’s startled to see it’s quarter to two. “Good lord,” he says, “We should’ve been back at the Institute fifteen minutes ago.”

“You’re the boss. Just tell Elias this was a business lunch if he asks,” Martin says even as he puts on his coat and scarf.

It’s crisp and cold as they walk back to the Institute. The sky is overcast and starts spitting down rain after less than a minute of walking. Jon has forgotten his umbrella but Martin hasn’t; he opens it and Jon steps closer to him without thinking. It’s so automatic and natural that Jon doesn’t think anything of it until later, or of the way they fall in step despite Martin’s longer stride. They discuss the most absurd statements they’ve looked into that day, and Jon throws his head back and laughs at Martin’s story of a pensioner’s haunted tea cosy. By the time they reach the Institute the rain is coming down properly and they’re pressed together, Jon’s shoulder against Martin’s bicep. He can feel the muscle even through the layers of their coats; Martin might look soft at first glance but there’s plenty of strength to him. Jon already knew this—even Tim occasionally recruits Martin for help lifting boxes—but he’s seldom felt as aware of it as he does now.

Jon remembers feeling completely at ease, not even a ghost of his paranoid suspicions present. If they had been—if anything tried to tell him this was all a game of Martin’s to throw off Jon’s investigations—he would’ve just laughed.

****************************************************

Jon is jerked out of these memories by a man’s voice shouting out from somewhere in the darkness. He gasps, inhaling a mouthful of dust and grit when he does. He coughs, throat already aching from thirst.

“Help me! Oh god, if there’s someone there please!”

“Hello?” Jon cries out, triggering another coughing fit.

Please! I’ve been here for so long, save me, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe…”

“Where are you?” Jon shouts hoarsely, “Head toward the sound of my voice—“

I can’t breathe! I can’t move! Please, have pity, don’t leave me—“

Jon starts toward the sound of the other man’s voice, which loses coherence after a few minutes. He can’t tell where it’s coming from, down here in the earth he can’t distinguish between up or down or far away. He’s not sure how long he casts about, trying to narrow down the direction.

It’s only when he pauses to catch his breath, the walls pressing in, that he realizes he can’t feel anything. Not his anchor, not Daisy, nothing. He’s adrift, lost in the earth, nothing but darkness and the crushing weight of creation upon him. This lasts for only a few panicked seconds before he feels the twinge in the space his rib used to be, and senses that distant thrumming that he knows is Daisy.

The man is still shouting and weeping, begging for help. Jon grits his teeth, tasting soil. He can’t help this man, all he can do is get lost himself. Jon isn’t here for him, he’s here for Daisy. He has no connection to any of the other poor, lost souls trapped down here, no way of reaching them. He steels himself, and starts crawling toward Daisy once again. He hears the disjointed shouts for help for a long time. Finally it dies down, and in the silence he hears the tape recorder click on.

****************************************************

“Daisy! Daisy!”

Jon!”

“Daisy, can you reach me?”

“I can’t…I can’t see you…”

“Follow the sound of my voice!”

“Is that…I can’t…”

Fingers clutch at his own, startling a cry of pain out of him. He’s been dragging himself through the tunnels by his fingertips, at some point half his nails had been torn off. Despite the pain he clutches back, relief overwhelming him.

You’re real,” Daisy says, his own relief echoed in her voice.

His relief is short-lived. Less than a minute later he realizes he can no longer feel his anchor, he’s adrift in the buried. He knows then that there’s no way out. Despair overwhelms him.

“This is- This is forever deep below creation,” he tells Daisy, “Where the weight of existence bears down. This is The Buried, and we are alive. There isn’t even an up. Oh god. What have I done?”

He feels his mind starting to break, and he longs for it, although part of him knows it won’t. He’ll be trapped here forever, aware.

Daisy’s fingers tighten on his again, “Not…not alone, though.”

His despair doesn’t leave him, but it’s no longer the overwhelming, panicking thing. “Not alone,” he rasps out, voice hardly more than a whisper. She hears him though, if the way she squeezes his fingers is any indication.

****************************************************

Daisy wants to talk.

Jon asks her questions, and she answers. She talks about the Hunt, the way she let it in, used it to hurt people. So many people, some who didn’t deserve it.

She was going to kill him after the Unknowing. This shouldn’t surprise him, but it does. She tells him how he appeared in her dreams, how she knew he wasn’t human and had to die.

He tells her he’s even less human now. He does not say that if she killed him there’s no one to kick up a fuss over it, not anymore. As he speaks he hears the distant rumble of the buried.

“Yeah. Well. At the moment, I don’t care.”

“And if we get out?” Jon asks, the rumbling growing louder.

“But we can’t get out,” Daisy says.

“No, no we can’t,” The rumbling fills the world, the wrath of the Buried coming down upon them. Jon cries out, and he distantly hears Daisy’s whimpered apologies.

In the midst of everything Jon has another flash, another vision too bright and detailed to be a memory.

He feels weight on him, pressing him down, but it’s not the weight of Choke, and it’s not crushing him. Instead it’s anchoring him, holding him firmly in place. Keeping him exactly where he’s meant to be; unlike how the Buried makes him feel unmoored and like he’s drifting even farther away from above ground. There’s no dirt that scrapes him raw, there’s just soft skin and hair. Under his back are soft sheets, he’s in Martin’s bed after they finally managed to get all their clothes off. Jon’s on his back with his arms over his head, Martin has a hold of him by the wrists and is bearing down with all his weight. Jon’s never felt this paradoxic feeling of completely letting go while at the same time being held so firmly in place.

Jon remembers moving together, remembers how their voices overlapped as they cried out, the mattress springs squeaking obscenely and the headboard striking the wall. Later Jon will feel sorry for any of Martin’s neighbors, now his entire existence has shrunk down to the hot skin pressing against him, a blanket smothering out the flames of fear that have laid desolation to everything inside him, an anchor weighing him down so that he can’t drift away—

Just like that Choke is back, ruthlessly tearing him away from this memory of safety and contentment. He’s alone, he’s all alone, the weight of creation pressing the air from his lungs, grinding his bones, eventually they’ll be crushed to powder.

Martin!” Jon cries out. He tastes dirt in his mouth, “Martin! Where are you, don’t leave—“

Fingers grip his, too slim and small to belong to Martin.

“Jon, it’s me…” Daisy whimpers out, “Not alone, remember? Not…not alone…”

“Not alone,” he repeats even as he gives himself into terror. Just when he thinks it will never stop the dirt eases up and Jon can breathe again. It’s as Daisy said, it knows when to let up before his mind breaks. Jon thinks he’s crying but it’s impossible to know down here. His eyes haven’t stopped watering since he opened the lid of the coffin, a never-ending supply of dust and grit irritating eyes.

Time passes, and Jon does nothing but breathe in and out as best as he’s able, fingers linked in Daisy’s.

“Jon?” Daisy rasps out eventually.

“I’m still here,” he says, voice raw and weak.

“Will you…” she lets out a shaky laugh, “I just…will you talk to me, some? Doesn’t…doesn’t matter about what. Just. Want to hear another voice.”

“Yes,” he says, “I can…” he casts about for something to say. There’s plenty to talk about, things to catch her up on. Let her know how Basira is doing. Melanie. The attacks on the Institute. The Unknowing. He even considers confessing to her about the people he’s fed on—the supermarket worker and the woman with her story of a fresh grave every birthday. The latter in particular seems appropriate. So much horror, it all sticks in his throat.

“Jon?”

“Sorry,” Jon coughs, “It’s just…there’s just been a lot going on.”

“Would it help if I asked you questions?” That shaky laugh again, “That’s fair, right? Put y-you…in the interrogation chair for once…” There’s no malice in her words.

Jon lets out a shaky laugh of his own, “Suppose you’re right.” He waits for her to ask questions, expecting ones that pertain to him being even "less human" now.

Instead what she says is, “You were…you were shouting for Martin. Just now.”

Jon blinks, “Yes?” He’s not sure why she’d care, they’d had minimal interaction, and Martin at least didn’t like her.

“How…how long were you sleeping with him before…before the Unknowing, then?”

For a few seconds all of Jon’s terror and claustrophobia is drowned out in the weight of sheer mortification, “I…I…what? I’m sorry…but what?”

A rusty chuckle from the dark, “I could…I could smell him on you, that morning. When we picked you up.”

“We showered!” Jon protests, snapping his mouth closed when he realizes he’s given himself away. It’s not that he’s ashamed of what they’d done, it’s just…thinking about it makes his throat burn.

“Not that sort of smell,” she says, “It’s…with the Hunt, you get a sense of things. Not omniscient spy powers like your boss, but I can…sniff out connections between people. So…how long?”

“What difference does it make,” Jon says.

“If it was more…more than a week, then Basira owes me ten quid…”

“We weren’t…that…that was the first time,” he laughs bitterly, “The. Um. The only time.”

“Oh,” Daisy says softly, then, “Sorry.” They’re both silent for several minutes, “Do you…do you want to talk about it?”

“No,” he says, voice catching. He swallows, the taste of earth an inescapable sensation, “I…yes. Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Sounds about right,” she says, “What happened? He seemed well besotted with you, few times we talked properly.”

Jon gives another bitter chuckle, “Where do I start. I left for the Unknowing, promising him I’d come back. Then…you were there. I don’t know if you remember how bad it got…Tim died.” He pauses, “So did I, I think. They say I was in a coma, but…” he swallows, “I only woke up a few months ago, to find out he’s working with Elias’ successor. Peter Lukas, who’s family connected to the Lonely. And naturally he…he doesn’t want anything to do with me, not anymore. I don’t know if…if it’s because I’m a monster, or he’s mad at me for leaving him.” He lets out a harsh laugh, “Or because I’m just that bad at sex.”

“One of those things is not like the others,” Daisy replies.

“I know. I’d…I’d prefer it, if that were the reason, and not because I…not because he’s, he’s afraid, or…or disgusted by me, for what…” Jon can’t continue, can’t begin to properly articulate what he means.

“Sorry,” Daisy says again, and she sounds like she means it. “I…I understand what that’s like. Tess…my first real girlfriend…she, uh…we broke up for the first reason.”

“You…you being a monster?” Jon asks.

“Yeah. Although I didn’t realize it for…for a long time. She didn’t like…how I hurt people. Even before I was police. Made me angry, because obviously I’d never hurt her, and besides some people needed to be hurt. Twats at a bar asking which one of us was ‘the man’ in the relationship, or following us on the street screaming we both needed a good fuck. She said she understood, but she couldn’t be with someone who liked hurting people. When I told her I was planning on joining the police…that was it.”

Jon blinks in the darkness. Odd, how he never considered the idea that Daisy had a life before or outside her role as a police officer. Never considered she might once have had people in her life not connected to the police. “Daisy,” Jon asks, “Are you…were you and Basira…um…were you together, or just…”

“What…what do you think?” Daisy asks, sounding amused.

Jon snorts out a laugh, “I think I’ve got a blind spot when it comes to this sort of thing, since apparently I was the last to figure that Martin…that he, uh, that his feelings toward me were…”

“Fair enough,” Daisy says softly, “We weren’t.”

“Oh,” Jon says, “I…did you want to be?”

Daisy doesn’t answer at first. “I don’t…I don’t know if I did. I only knew her while I was…when the Hunt was…” She pauses, breath coming out harshly, as though she’s on the verge of tears, “No, that’s not true, there…there was…I think, there was this one time she…uh…she asked me up to her flat for a drink. It, it w-was…it was after we’d arrested a suspect. Pulled a gun on us, if you can believe it. Pointed it at Basira, and for a second it was…I knew I’d never get to him in time…” she shudders, and grips his hand, “The gun misfired. Nothing supernatural, or…just luck. Before he could fire again she’d knocked the gun out of his hands with a night stick. Then I got my hands on him. In the end she had to drag me off the little worm.

“We had it out with each other, me angry at her for rushing in without a plan, her at me for losing my cool. Harsh words. Drove her home, silent the entire way. When we got to hers she asked me up for a drink. I said sure. Went up, had a drink…wasn’t the first time we’d done that, after a rough night. But I…I knew what she was offering, and I wanted…so much. But I just finished my drink and left.”

“Why?” Jon asks, although he has an idea.

“Because it wouldn’t be the same, after that. Wouldn’t anything to chase. And I cared more about that than what we could’ve had.”

“And now?”

“Now…I don’t even know who I am, anymore. But…but whoever I am…I still wish I’d stayed that night. Even if things changed, even if…all I’d have is a memory, in the end.”

Jon is quiet, he doesn’t want to offer false hope. They’re not getting out of here, and however Daisy feels about Basira or the other way around it doesn’t matter. “One of…one of the reasons I chose to come down myself is…because I knew Basira would do it eventually, to get to you. Even if she had less of a chance than I did.”

“Well,” Daisy says, and Jon’s sure she’s crying now, “That’s something, I suppose.”

Jon grips her hand in the dark, and they’re quiet until rumbling starts again.

****************************************************

Time is meaningless in the grip of Too-Close-I-Cannot-Breathe. Jon spends three days inside the coffin, most of the first day eaten up by finding Daisy. The journey out, however, takes only a few hours. He and Daisy spend the better part of two days clutching hands like children lost in the forest, talking.

“I was in a band in Oxford,” Jon says.

“I…I knew that one, actually. When I was doing a background check, trying to…to figure out where you were hiding out. Saw a picture of you wearing mascara and goggles on your head. Curious what sort of music…

“Storytelling steampunk cabaret,” Jon says, “I sang.”

“That I can believe. I knew…knew it wasn’t all supernatural, the way you read your statements. Go on.”

“Sorry?”

“Let’s hear some of it, then.”

Jon concentrates. He hasn’t sang in years, not even for fun. Not sense he broke up with Georgie, the severing of that relationship severing something essential inside of him. He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to remember some of the old Mechs songs. After a beat he breathes out,

And when they hunt us, they shall not find us

For we’ll be quick, we’ll be quick, quick like our boy Jack

When they hunt us, they shall not find us

And we shall live in infamy

And when my body is lost and broken

Then I shall rest, I shall rest down with our boy Jack

When my body is lost and broken

Well, then boys, you fight for me

And when the red rose, it comes a-marching

Well, we will fight, we will fight, fight for our boy Jack…”

“Applause,” Daisy says, making Jon laugh.

“Your turn, then.”

“I’ve listened to every single episode of The Archers since 1986.”

“I…I knew you were a fan, overheard Basira telling Melanie about it…”

“I was a member of the Archers Addicts back in the day,” Daisy says, “Even wrote an article for the newsletter back in the 90s.”

“A newsletter?”

“I forget what a baby you are. You see, back in the dark ages when there were no computers you got these bits of paper in your mailbox—”

“Yes, I know. You’re not…you’re not that much older than I am…”

“Was born in ’79,” Daisy says, “I’ll be…be forty soon. Nine years older. Could’ve babysat you.”

“My gran would’ve liked that,” Jon says, “You wouldn’t need to call the police to find me whenever I wandered off.”

“She called the police on you?”

“No, I just got returned by them with alarming frequency when I was found places I wasn’t meant to be.”

“That where it started? Your chip on the shoulder about the police?”

“It was more from when I was a teenager and got caught being half-Pakistani out in public,” Jon says dryly, “Officers were less kind, then. Or I was too young to notice before.”

“Oh. Right,” Daisy says. She’s quiet, struggling for words before laughing, “It’s…it’s funny. Even after everything…after…after the clarity down here, knowing what I did, what they allowed me to do…even after Basira quit—and I saw how she was treated, worse even than me, but brushed it off—and almost cost us our…even now, I want to defend them, y’know? Close ranks.” Her laughter fades abruptly, and she sniffs loudly, “Well, not funny at all, I suppose. I’m sorry, Jon.”

“Thank you,” Jon says, choosing to ignore the automatic embarrassment and urge to brush it aside. Just accepts sympathy sincerely given from such an unexpected source.

Silence again. He doesn’t know how long it’s been since the last time the Buried woke and chose to crush down on them.

“Jon?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you got…got anymore of your…steampunk…whatever?”

Jon smiles faintly, and clears his throat.

****************************************************

“Clan—“

“No, it’s got almost a, a haitch sound. Llan.”

“Ch-lan.”

“Better. Now for the next bit.”

Fire—“

Start at the beginning, or you’ll never learn it. Also, more of a “v” sound.”

Clan…damnit. Ch-lan-vire-

Good. Pwyll.”

“Ch-lan-vire-puchl-“

The rumbling of earth interrupts their lesson, but once it settles they begin again, both of their voices shaking and weak. Familiarity never seems to ease the terror each time it happens, but there’s nothing to do but endure.

Finally, after several hours, Jon slowly, with lots of stops and starts, gets out, “Chlan-vire-puchl-gwin-guchl-go-ger-uch-wirn-drob-uchl-chlan-ti-silio-go-go-goch.”

“Your accent needs work. But that’s about it,” Daisy says, then much faster, the syllables rolling off her tongue, “Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.”

"Right," Jon says, and starts over again, from the beginning. 

****************************************************

Jon and Daisy are in a lull of conversation. His eyes are closed, and he’s in the midst of one of his not-dreams, not-memories. Another lunch date, he thinks it might’ve been their last. Paranoia would eventually eat away at Jon’s tenuous control of himself and he’d be unable to let himself enjoy a simple lunch with a…with a friend.

He’s telling Martin about school trips to go fossil hunting, and can hear himself rambling. He has a habit of doing this when discussing something he has a genuine interest in, going into too much detail, hardly letting the other party get a word in edgewise. There’s just this…broken part of his brain, a malfunctioning button that when pressed causes the machinery to go haywire. He thinks of an old TV show he saw late at night when he was a child—a conveyor belt in a chocolate factory speeding up, two women trying to frantically stuff the extra chocolates in their mouths and pockets and the front of their uniforms.

Martin just smiles fondly at him, asking the occasional question. What was Jon’s favorite beach, when was the last time he went back. Martin’s mother was living in a care home in Devon, it wasn’t too far out of the way to stop at the Jurassic coast on his way back to London. He really should stop there sometime, he hasn’t seen much of that part of the country. Martin and his mother lived outside of Manchester until he was in his teens, moved closer to London when her illness worsened.

Much later, when Jon is preparing to leave the hospital after the coma he happens to spot what looks like a dark grey rock on the floor between the bed and the nightstand. When he bends down to pick it up he sees it is a small, perfectly formed ammonite fossil. He runs his thumb over the ribbed spiral pattern, thinking there is only one person who would choose such a gift to bring him, but that person is not there, has not come by or called or given any acknowledgment he glad that Jon is alive.

When Jon is pulled out of this memory it’s not by Daisy talking, or the earth rumbling, or anything like that. Instead he feels a buzzing in the space where his rib used to be.

The tape recorder clicks on.

“Daisy!” he says, heart hammering, unable to believe this is really happening.

“Uh. I’m here…” she says instantly.

He tugs on her hand, squirming in the direction of that pull. “It’s…it’s closer!”

At first he’s afraid she won’t come with him, but he hears the sound of her scraping along, trying to follow him, “What is?”

“My, my…" Soil in his mouth, grinding in his teeth. But it doesn't matter, because he can feel it calling to him. "My anchor."