This is how the world begins (i.e. i.e. genesis, i.e i.e. an unborn click, i.e i.e. a steady whirring noise):
Jon buys the first embroidery kit on a whim, half-drunk on lack of sleep, a distinctly non-alcoholic cup of coffee, and the airy confidence of a person making decisions driven by the thrum of artificial energy and the perceived immunity offered by the early-morning-late-night hour of three am. Why he’s drinking coffee at three in the morning has little to do with his job and much to do with his tendency toward action without thought; he’d gotten up (he’d not been sleeping) for a glass of water, gotten distracted thinking about the documentary he’d watched the other day, and then his habit-ridden body had provided him with a cup of coffee before he’d even fully noticed what he was doing. And as wasting food is not counted among his (many, many) habits, he’d shrugged and then downed it all in one go.
And now he’s wide awake in his bed, curled up onto his side beneath the heavy blankets and staring so hard at his laptop that his eyes have begun to burn. His hair is hanging in bedraggled curls all around his face, most mussed into frizz from all his earlier annoyed tossing and turning, and he idly wishes that he’d grabbed a hair tie before lying back down. He settles now for winding it up behind his head and sticking it through with the pen that he’d clipped to his shirt at some point, and then it’s back to tapping at the keys as he tries to decide how much money he’s actually willing to spend. Even when spurred on by the unreality he feels burrowing through his bones, he worries. Research jobs only pay so well, especially at a place as bizarrely well-funded but (in the way of these things) ultimately stingy as the Magnus Institute, and he’s hesitant.
Hesitant enough to exit the tab, enough to open another and let his fingers hover over the keys that would bring him to Netflix and hopefully oblivion soon thereafter, but not hesitant enough, it seems, to actually follow through. He goes back. He presses the cheery little Add to Cart button in the upper right corner and then gets angry that he’s three dollars away from free shipping so he goes back again and throws in the first cheap pair of scissors he sees. He needed those anyways he chants to himself as he pays, and he did not just play right into this company’s hands because he needed those anyways . He’s constantly losing scissors because he can’t ever remember where he puts them, so he needed those anyways. And he’s saving money on shipping. He’s the winner here. He’s the winner here.
He reaches a hand out to grope around on the nightstand for his water in an attempt to distract himself before remembering that he never actually got any and letting it fall back to his side in embarrassment. At least no one was around to see that, regardless of what the prickles on the back of his neck are trying to tell him. He’d have to go hide in a hole if anyone learned of the way he acts when he’s alone.
Even after all of his efforts, shipping will take a combined five days. Jon slams his laptop shut in a fit of rage, turns over, and does not go to sleep because he’s got a good two hours yet to squeeze from that cup of coffee.
And so the first kit is ordered on a whim, he does not get to sleep that night, and the next five days are spent in a state of pre-package induced euphoria. His mind wanders, as his mind is wont to do, while he files and types and tries to extract important information from unimportant information and unimportant information from information that does not go either way at all. He’d speak out loud on it, because an excitement welling up from the stomach is an excitement very hard to handle, but Jon has long since learned his lesson on what people are willing or able to put with regarding him, and a steady stream of babble about a hobby he’s planning to take up is not one of those things that will make him more tolerable. He’s got a reputation to uphold anyways; an uptight, rigid reputation that dictates the way that he interacts and functions and is such an integral part of him that he can’t let go of it anytime soon. He likes his safety nets. He likes his contingencies. He likes his privacy, and everything around this place right down to the walls seems to have ears, so he’ll stay tight-lipped up to and beyond the threat of death.
He’s good at that.
Now his flitting about doesn’t go entirely unnoticed- he sees the way he’s looked at- but it does go unquestioned, so Jon manages to go about his days with the ghost of his dignity intact. There was the incident with printer ink on the first day (he was thinking about that documentary again) and then the thing with the bookshelf on the second (he’d thought he saw a spider behind it; it was a raisin, and he was just as disgusted) and after that there was that bit with the mislabeled food in the breakroom (not worth mentioning), but he digresses. He digresses dignified. He digresses with his spine straight as a ruler, even when it’s curved over his laptop or bent beneath his self-imposed weights, because that’s how he’s trained himself to come across. Jon is very sure of himself. He’s sure of it.
So go his five days of non-attention. By the time the fifth rolls around, his excitement has cowed itself down to a glimmer and that evening, as he secures his hair behind his head and misplaces his glasses for the third time that day, he hardly feels much of anything at all. Frustration as he trips over his own two feet, betrayal at the yowl of his insides when he catches sight of himself in the window and thinks for a split second that someone has managed to get right outside his fourth story window and is now staring him down, just for fun, something mimicking hunger that rolls around his stomach like a boulder or a rock or a pebble. But when he checks his mail to find a cardboard box his heart leaps up into his throat as the full force of anticipation slams back into him, turns his legs to jelly.
He doesn’t run back up the stairs but it’s a close thing, running him near enough to the wall that his sleeve catches on the handrail and so fast that his toe stubs against the hollowed-out wood. His door clicks open softly but gets slammed behind him hard because regularity is much more difficult to apply in practice than in theory. He can always close windows with the same amount of force, every single time, but doors? He’s not very good with doors. There’s too much variance, not enough rhyme or reason for him to figure out how much force needs to be exerted to open one or close another, or to figure out whether any given door supposed to be pushed or pulled or slid or stood in front of until the person behind it deems he’s made fool enough of himself and opens it for him- not of course that anything of that sort has ever happened to him.
Regardless, the package goes on the counter and he opens it with a few stab-rips from his office keys because he can’t find his scissors. Work hasn’t followed him home tonight and there was nothing in his future other than a novel he’d scrounged from between the couch cushions of a used bookstore and maybe some low-soft-simple music if he really felt like rattling the walls, so it’s with a clear conscious that he lifts the package inside of the package up into his hands and holds it for a moment, listening to the way that the plastic crinkles.
EMBROIDERY STARTER KIT is pressed across the piece of paper that is inside of the plastic that was inside of the package inside of the package. The letters are bright red; beneath them, printed in rich stripes of blue-white that smear off to the side in the way of ink carelessly applied, is a picture of off-white fabric interrupted by a lurid pink-orange flamingo and trapped within a big wooden loop. PERFECT FOR BEGINNERS, proclaim the smaller but still red letters running beneath the hoop. TRY SOMETHING NEW.
Jon is, in fact, going to TRY SOMETHING NEW. He is going to embroider a lurid pink-orange flamingo. It’s going to be fucking fantastic.
He sits at the one small table and sets about taking the materials from the packaging one by one, setting them out in front of him next to the pair of scissors that he’s sure he’ll lose again soon and checking them against the tiny list near the bottom of the paper. He lifts the wooden hoop up, turns it over in his hands; it feels sturdy and flimsy all at once, one ring settled around the other and welded to a metal plate, a metal screw, a hex nut. The fabric holds its creases well, it seems, but even Jon’s untrained eyes and hands know that the quality is questionable at best because his glasses let him see the fraying edges and the pads of his fingers can seek out the roughness, the catches and lumps and stray strands of scrap thread. The pattern is stamped right onto it in lines of thick black; the instructions proclaim in vaguely broken English that these lines will melt away when submerged in water. DON'T LET COME INTO CONTACT WITH WATER BEFORE PROJECT IS DONE, it orders. Jon vows to listen.
The thread used for embroidery, he learns, is made up of smaller threads, and these smaller threads are imperative to him and his success so when he takes his nails to the thicker thread and peels and pares it down to thin ones he’s slow as can be, meticulous as a surgeon. One after the other he tugs them away, going for the dark pink first. He’s got one eye fixed on the instructions (sparse, wonderfully unhelpful), the other on his hands; at times like these he can’t help but wish he had one or two eyes more, just to help him out a bit.
But he gets the threads sorted eventually, the fabric situated in the hoop and the instructions somewhat deciphered, and then places his phone off to the side in easy reach because he’s already had to google some things and suspects he’ll have to look up a good deal more. But he’s ready. He’s ready.
Careful as can be, he ties a knot in one end of the thread and pokes the needle through the fabric, reveling lightly in the punch then give of it beneath him as it dips and furrows, taut but soft enough still. Some of the sources he’s read are very adamant that he not leave knots where they could be seen, so with a series of meticulous, measured movements he leaves a tail of a few inches long lingering beneath the fingers of his hand and then traces a shaky line of back stitches- up, back, up further, back again- along the leg of the flamingo that draws down and long. Then he consults the instructions, his own two hands, and a series of increasingly detailed articles until he can figure out what the fuck a chain stitch is, as well as how to actually do one. He tries once; in and out and back again, makes something close to a V but not quite. He admires his handiwork, holds it up to the light, feels disgust grumble through him and then picks the stitch back out to start all over, all over again.
It’s messy. It’s quiet and slow and repetitive, and with each puncture of the needle and tug of the thread, he feels himself falling a little bit further in love.
So the first kit is brought on a whim but the second is very much intentional, and by the third, fourth, fifth he’s done away with kits entirely and instead bought himself a water soluble marker and a big box of thread. He’s not very nice to his coworkers- they’re not very nice to him in turn- so he has no one to talk to about his water soluble marker (it’s purple) or his big box of thread (color-coded) or the plastic embroidery hoop he’d picked up on a whim earlier that week (purple to match), and he’s just fine with that. Jon goes to work in the mornings and puzzles himself through the monster of the week, comes home and eats sometimes and then works on his current project for a few hours. He’s nearly numbering in the double digits by now- he’s done flowers and a few more animals, once a fruit and once a set of words; he’s seen the pictures of people who do landscapes, whole scenes marched along by threaded shades of blue and brown and green, but he’s not been brave enough to try one of those yet.
It’s fun. It’s a hobby. It’s not stressful and it’s something to get him through the day, something to look forward to; it lets him add some color to a life of gray monotonies.
Things are going well for Jon.
This is the way the world shapes itself:
Things are going well for Jon and because things can not go well for Jon, one day at work Elias asks to see him. Out of the blue, Elias asks to see him. With no warning and no good reason why, Elias asks to see him and Jon thinks that his nervous system must have come to life and learned how to tap dance because his insides are currently experiencing a pain he couldn’t put a name to if you wrenched it out of him.
Elias is fine. Elias is his boss. He has a way of speaking that makes Jon think of boiling frogs; he asks if you can lend him a pen one day, and then the next he wants your stapler (and you think aren’t you the boss/shouldn’t you have these things, but give them up anyways because you are the boss and I have these things and you want these things ) and then the next day he wants a few minutes of your time and then a few hours and then all of a sudden you’re packing your meager desk belongings into a white cardboard box and hauling them down to the archives after taking on a job that you’re unqualified for, just because he asked.
That’s it. That’s exactly what happens. Jon walks into the office showing no sign of his nerves, but Elias smiles like he knows better, slides his fingers up into a steeple, and asks Jon to take a seat. The copper nameplate on his desk is so worn through that the light shows the heat of the wood behind it; the chair that Elias sits in is big and made of leather, shiny black and curled up at the ends like bat wings; the desk is made of oak, he thinks, or plastic covered in paper made to look like oak (he can’t tell the difference) and there is a neat brown cupholder filled to bursting with pens. Jon looks away.
“As I’m sure you know, the Head Archivist position has recently become available,” Elias begins. His voice slides over the words, curls softly around the edges of the harsher sounds until they’re nice and smooth and sweet, and Jon finds that he has to suppress a shudder.
Recently, Gertrude Robinson has gone missing. Her body has not been found.
Jon nods sharp as the point of a knife. Elias’ grin grows wider. His hair is graying at the temples, his eyes wrinkled at the corners, his whole self oozing a warmth that feels…insincere, in a way that Jon can’t pinpoint. Halfhearted, maybe. But he sits there straight-spined and dignified as Elias draws the moment out longer, rolling it around behind his teeth until they’re stained red with anticipation and Jon’s stomach has worked itself into his skin. There is a clock ticking somewhere that he can’t follow; it’s not on the desk nor on the wall nor anywhere that he can see, but it is incessant, rhythmic, tick-tick-ticking away . He draws his hands up into his lap. Elias is looking at him.
“I’d like you to take it,” Elias says evenly, like he’s not babbling nonsense.
Now Jon knows a lot of things; he can cook to some degree, has remnants of knowledge from a short-lived dinosaur phase in his youth, is willing and able to lecture on different sorts of fabric for hours if called upon. He knows the number of stairs that lead to the Institute’s library; he knows which buttons stick on the microwave, which draws have handles that rattle when pulled; he knows of his moods and movements, his motions and trajectory, his heart and habits. What he does not know is any applicable measure of library science. Elias knows this because Jon has never claimed to have any applicable measure of library science, nor has he really expressed interest in gaining any applicable measure of library science. So what’s happening here? Is he being tricked? Is he being scammed? What exactly constitutes a scam?
“What?” he says, as there’s no use in complication and no use in using his words.
Elias leans forwards on his forearms. Jon very carefully does not lean back.
“I would like you to replace Gertrude Robinson as the Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute.”
“But she’s not...”
“She’s not here .”
Jon’s not the most understanding man on the planet, but even he feels that that’s a bit harsh. Elias looks like he’s more than aware of that but also just doesn’t give a shit- he’s got his head tilted to the side, half-smile on, still injecting faux care into the easy, lilting swells of his words. “She’s not here, but you , Jon, are. ”
That’s a bit obvious, isn’t it?
“And what of it? I’m meant to be here.”
He’s sure to use the tone that makes the others in the office rankle, the one that draws hackles out into unsightly lumps and strips teeth bare. He knows what he’s doing- as a child, as a teenager, as an adult he’s seen the way that people tend to interpret him and he’s not beyond wielding what few advantages he has, unsightly as they may be and annoying as that may make him. Elias is pushing, hand at the hollow of his back, so Jon will push back ten times harder.
“Absolutely you are,” Elias concedes, nice and easy. “And you’re an invaluable asset to our organization. But I’ve been keeping an eye on you, and I quite think that your talents would be best applied elsewhere.”
Jon does not like that. Jon’s skin is crawling.
“Like the archives.”
“Like the archives,” Elias agrees. “And Jon, I have to ask-“ here amusement trickles into his voice, thick and cloying- “are you sure that you would like to turn down a promotion ?”
And so he ends up with a job that he’s unqualified for, a considerable raise, actually, and the hastily built conviction that a job as a Head Archivist can’t be that difficult to figure out, right? Right?
Either way, as he leaves dazed and hazy beneath the weight of his new promotion, it hits him in one sharp burst what it was about Elias that made him feel so ill at ease, so easily swayed- the eyes, the eyes, the eyes. The eyes were cold while the face dripped warmth like sweat, while the manner wielded compassion like a weapon. He passes by his desk- he will get his box later- and goes home, goes directly home, does not stop for food or to stare at the birds in the park. He feels shaken, down to his core; he feels like he’s been placed in a bottle and rattled all around until he doesn’t know left from right or up from down. He doesn’t quite recall how he gets up to his room with the world rocking beneath his feet, but the moment he does his shaky hands are put to work as he goes to thread the needle through its eye; it glares at him in displeasure as he struggles, the threads breaking apart with each jabbed attempt at poking them through, each jerk that betrays his unease. He perseveres though- he stabs through the eye. He runs the needle along.
He realizes fast that he should not be working on this project right now (yellow-green-red flowers, clustered in an arch, back to the basics) if he wants it to be good and clean, but he realizes faster that all that bad feeling he’d accrued during his meeting (interview? Confrontation, maybe, a showdown) with Elias is seeping out of him with each unfortunate stitch. He takes to the discovery with wariness at first, poking himself along to see if it isn’t just a fluke that will leave him snapping back into himself feeling worse than ever, but to his surprise the tension flees from his shoulders and then it stays gone. It stays gone, it stays far, far away from him, and Jon is certain that he just turned over a stone to discover one of the greatest secrets of the universe wriggling around in the dirt.
His continued as his nerves melt to slush beneath him, as the air goes warm and solid; his breathing sounds steady and even and even the far-off rush of air through the vents feels soft, brushing lightly over his skin in little bunched up pinpricks. He can deal with this now, he’s certain; if he just marches on in with his complete lack of knowledge but the general prickliness of a pear, then they won’t question him! Not once! Not even when he inevitably fucks something up!
He’s a genius.
So comes his first day in, and he’s for lack of a better word an asshole. He’s put together- he made sure of it- and he’s ready, and his shoulders are set in the most square-sharp-hostile way he can manage. He hauls his cardboard box down the stairs, takes great care that no one sees the way that his arms shake (because meager belongings aren’t light these days), and then he meets the archival assistants- one of which he knows, one of which he only knows of , and one of which he knows he’d never like to see again.
Tim he’s worked with before. Tim is fine. He’s good. He finds that he actually likes Sasha once he actually meets her, for reasons unknown to him (or: he likes her speaking voice and finds it difficult to shake initial affections because he is a very stubborn man with very stubborn affectations), and she’s good with computers and that never hurts, but Martin. Martin. He doesn't know what to make of Martin. Martin is a lot taller than Jon is, but he doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with all of that height- hold it high? Hunch it low, tug himself in along small, straight lines, eat at it until it’s all used up? It changes day to day, hour to hour. Martin wears glasses. His hair sticks up behind his ears in a way that makes him look perpetually startled, his hands tend to fold into each other when things wind down, and he dresses professionally, sure, but something about the sweaters really grates on Jon's nerves. He doesn’t know why. He doesn’t think about it; he doesn’t.
(It’s the way they fit around his shoulders, which are… broad, and he can’t seem to stop looking at them and he doesn’t know why but it’s really very annoying. Seriously, what the fuck- )
But Martin brings Jon tea and smiles at him, not even sometimes but often, and he tries to- talk? To him? To Jon? About good, nice things, like the weather and how he’s adjusting to the change and the best sorts of restaurants around town. Little bits of meaningless drivel that he seems willing to devote himself body and soul to, but which Jon finds hopelessly tedious. He supposes that on a very base level he can understand the urge to interact, the interest in something new and the desire to pick it to pieces, but he just doesn’t have the time, much less the motivation to carry out conversation of that sort right now.
See, Jon’s become something of a man on a mission since the time he started at the archives. His predecessor, Gertrude Robinson, as it seems, had less of a fucking idea what she was doing than Jon does. The files that she filed are all filed all sideways; some sections start alphabetical and then jump to being organized by dates instead and then from there it’s the first letter of the first word in the actual statement, and he once found a pile of papers poking from beneath a loose floorboard. Half of them were blank. They do real work here, dammit! How is he supposed to do real work if he doesn’t have a real basis to do that real work from? And then there’s the new statements, the ones that fall to him directly; not all of them are willing to record digitally, and he has to go digging around to find an old tape recorder of all things so that he can get them down and processed and researched right, or as right as they can be researched when the archival assistants can’t all pull their weight. It’s exhausting, and statements themselves are mostly drivel, but he’s still taken on a responsibility. There’s still work to be done.
The only thing keeping his head on his shoulders at this point is a) his conviction that there is something out there, or a great many somethings that ought to be understood (for his ease of mind) and b) his embroidery, which coincidentally has taken off like a rocket since around the first statement that decided to make his computer render itself useless. He starts up a new pattern every week or so because he’s been burning through them like a wildfire, stealing away during late-nights and early-mornings to sit with his needle and thread and hoop and fabric and see if he can’t coax his soul back into the soft, placid grumble he’d become so accustomed to. He’s not made for the way that it’s begun to spark and fizzle, the sort of thin, flimsy, hung-from-a-clothesline quality it’s decided to take upon itself; this new job has his nerves setting in with a vengeance, desperate to prove themselves after being held at bay for so long. They’ve come rushing in and if his piles of embroidered fabrics is anything to go by, they’ve made a proper home of him.
As much as it may help he still hasn’t brought wind of his work down to the workplace though, because proof of his hobbies would invite talk of the others hobbies and god knows that he can’t have that. As much as he’d love to spend a lunch break or two seeing if he can’t stitch some sense back into himself, he knows that Sasha or Tim or (god forbid) Martin would see and then they would ask about it and then he’d have to hold a somewhat civil conversation, and by that point he’d be more tired than if he’d just powered through the remainder of his day.
It’s as simple as that; it really, really is.
Until it’s not.
The thing is: Jon is the Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute. Jon reads statements and Jon records statements and Jon takes statements, when necessary. He begins to feel rather quickly that he lives and breathes statements too. If he turns his head fast enough he swears that he can see his arm and his leg turn to words hummed through the slow crackle of a tape recorder, right there in the corner of his eye.
The thing is: Jon likes his patterns. His brain works in fast little bumps and bursts of energy, processing this then that then three thousand other things all at once, three thousand and one-two things that take up residence in the back of his mind and then fester, so to speak. Jon is not a particularly brave man, nor is he all that horrendously stupid- lacking in common sense certainly, but he knows that and can account for that when engaging in decision-making (or so he tells himself) but regardless Jon likes to ruminate and the more innate parts of him encourage that with reckless abandon right up until a harmless curiosity totters into a full-blown obsession.
The thing is: Jon is the Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, nothing in the Magnus Institute is harmless in any respect (he burned himself making tea he burned himself on the microwave he nearly brought a bookshelf tumbling down he-), and the statements that Jon is meant to spend his days with are chock full of juicy, bloated, discolored and disconcerting patterns. The strands between statements, the ties that bind them drive him to overtime; they carry themselves home on his back, whispering of a secret to be solved as they grab at his hair with their grubby little hands and breath heat all over the back of his neck. He can see a picture lingering somewhere among them, a good one with strong shading and competent composition, but he can’t for all he’s worth figure out what it is.
So what does that leave?
Jon, Jon. Alone on his couch, his bed, head down at the kitchen table and hands working away until his fingers go raw and the thread he meticulously picks apart is flecked with blood. He is no closer to figuring things out than he was before; not this great big mystery, not why Elias dumped this job on him, not why Martin meanders through his thoughts like a breeze. Jon embroiders wild animals and animals gone through years of being cowed and coaxed into something else, grand, sweeping scenes of fire and flame, the dandelion in the street below his window and a cartoon character that he doesn’t know the name of but is made up of nice bold colors. He embroiders an abstract mass of swirled colors in zigzag lines and dotted through with some very stubborn knots, and he hangs it up on the wall and calls it art. It is art; it’s his, at any rate, and that’s the best part of all.
He works. He works, he works.
The thing is: Jon thinks, as he works himself to the bone. Jon knows there is a pattern. The statements, the encounters, him and Martin-Sasha-Tim, they’re… stitches, he realizes in something approaching horror, when one day has long drawn closed and thrust him into the next, stitches like in a pattern. There’s a common thread, a calculated measure of certainty; there’s someone out there pulling the strings, and it’s not him. There’s a pattern, Jon thinks. Jon knows.
The thing is: Jon is right.
He learns this in the worst possible way- monster of the week Jane Prentiss becomes monster of every other week, and then monster of the day and then monster of right-in-his-face. She crashes into the Institute driven forth by the worms of her body, little knobs of gray that bluster and burst on the floor, go writhing through the cracks in the wall until their tails poke out the other end, wriggling in tandem. She takes the last of his clung-to self-delusion and tosses it out the window along with a good half of his (still meager) belongings.
While she attacks, Jon ends up on the floor with Martin digging worms out of his flesh. He’ll not realize it until much, much later, but the ghost of Martin’s hand on his wrist, the slide of his palm over Jon’s skin and the warmth that it lent to him in his time of need will live in his memory, a spot of warmth right next to the big gnarled tree of pain that this day will leave.
But for now Tim saves the day. They run through the tunnels, they escape the tunnels, and Jon learns the ins and outs of fear for the second time in his life.
When Prentiss leaves she takes the last pretense of safety with her and with it the last of his downtime.
This is the way the world grows, expands and constricts like fluttering throat or a pair of lungs:
After Jane Prentiss reveals her worm-hallowed hand, once Jon’s covered in scars ranging in size from a quarter to a dime, once his brain starts to stir up a racket- well, there’s not much time for hobbies when your world is marching to an inevitable end. The only time he opens up his box of thread is to grab some of the red- one of the uglier shades, of course, he’s still holding out hope- to use on his perfectly normal corkboard. Even his coworkers are not as they were, save for Sasha which is somewhat disappointing because he is neutral at best towards Sasha for reasons unknown to him (or: when they met he was unsure about her speaking voice and finds it difficult to shake initial impressions because he is a very stubborn man with very stubborn affectations).
Life begins to rush by him after that, as his constant vigilance slams its fist on the fast-forward button. People are bad, Jon realizes one day as he cleans up a photo of Tim’s house for further perusal. People are dangerous, and they’re out to get him in the way of Jane Prentiss or thousands of nameless monsters or whoever it was that killed Gertrude Robinson- who, incidentally, was found dead down in the tunnels where nothing but the spiders could bear witness to her dying day. She was shot straight through the chest, and her eyes were wide open.
That’s going to be him. That’s going to be him. That’s going to be him, with a gaping hole through his heart and his face set slack and lifeless, him, and that’s all he can think about. If he gets to sleep at night he dreams of a person bursting in through his office door, arms blazing and ready to toss him off to the void but with a face that’s never there, never certain, shifting through a cycle of noses and jawlines of people he knows and people he doesn’t. He grasps the initiative with both hands and pulls , breaks into Gertrude’s computer and then her flat, takes to unraveling the mystery with a fervor that melts him down and molds him back into the shape of a warrior or scholar or a terrified, trembling mass. He’s scared. He’s terrified, enough that if he stops moving he thinks that he’ll drop to his death; he runs on bound-up bits of desperate exhaustion, substantiating solely on those rare, euphoric moments where he works himself into such a state that everything feels trivial. Unreal. Like he could fall asleep in one body and wake up in the next.
Jon’s research (a product of that inability to slow, that careen like a train off the tracks) leads him to intimate knowledge regarding the shape of a nightmare. He hardly goes home at all; he falls apart in time with those around him and revels in the feel of his desk, cool beneath his cheek as he cowers through the weight pressing down on his spine, stress and fear and the inklings of responsibility that rumble through his insides and leave him aching and cold. When he's sitting and waiting for a website to load, or for a book to be found, he ruminates on near-misses and almost-ends and the way he’s begun to barrel through life like a bull in a china shop or a stone in a flock full of crows. He digs Martin’s poetry ( poetry? ) out of the trash and reads through it with fervor, feels the glee of shoving words down his throat and twisting-turning-pulling them apart until they reveal exactly how Martin is a threat to him.
Martin writes a lot about love, a lot about loss. That is obviously a sign that he’s gunning for Jon. So Jon marks him down as a potential threat, right alongside everyone else in his life, and goes prattling on down the path that he’s chosen for himself.
He doesn’t go unnoticed. One day as he’s rummaging through a desk drawer looking for something that he forgot about five minutes ago, there’s a knock at the door. Jon stops his movements. Jon snaps his head up and breathes out sharp through his nose.
“Yes?” he calls, hesitant as can be. He supposes that in the worst case scenario he can try to strangle the perpetrator with his necktie.
“Can I come in?”
Martin’s voice is muffled, like his speech when Jon plays it back on the tape recorders. He feels the meter in the back of his brain begin to heat, begin to rise in the face of danger. Martin doesn’t wait for an answer; instead he opens the door and peeks in, hand curled around a cup.
“I brought tea.”
The air is thick. Heavy, soaked through with tension.
“Ah,” Jon says. “No thank you.” Then he’s rummaging through the drawer again, because he just remembered that he was looking for- looking for-
“Are you sure? I can just leave it on your desk or something.”
Still he’s there. Still, still.
Martin looks at him with his brows drawn together, low over his eyes. His mouth twists at the corner.
“You can’t keep doing this, you know,” he says. “You’re going to get yourself hurt.”
Martin goes to motion at the desk but stops halfway through, barely saving the tea that he holds.
“ This, Jon. All of this- this- I don’t even know what to call it! This! All of this is getting you nowhere!”
He’s trying to dissuade him. Martin is trying to get Jon to look the other way.
Threat, threat, threat, Jon’s brain chants.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I’m not stupid, Jon.”
“Then you can see that nothing’s going on. Nothing’s wrong.”
“Nothing’s-“ Martin’s face goes incredulous, eyes wide. “Are you serious ? Do you even see what’s happening here?”
Jon shuffles around in the drawer for a moment more before deciding that it’s a lost cause and withdrawing his hand, carefully like he’s pulling it from the mouth of a shark. No point in allowing himself any rest now; give an inch, lose a mile, lose yourself to the sharp teeth of the stranger lurking in the shadows. He’s real fucking tired, hair wrapped up into a bun at the back of his head and vision blurry becasue he put his glasses down a good five minutes ago and in hindsight that’s probably what he’s been looking for. They better not be in this drawer, then. That’s a surefire way for them to break and frankly if those glasses break, then Jon is going right along with them.
“I’ve got everything under control,” Jon tells Blurry-Martin. Blurry-Martin is vastly unimpressed.
“ Fine, ” Martin says, and then “fine,” quieter, less harsh. He looks sad, like all his face is melting together into one big teardrop. “This is all fine then, I suppose?”
“ Yes, Martin,” Jon tells him.
“Fine,” Martin is scowling now, and Jon’s stomach twists back in on itself. “But please think about it, alright? Just… think about yourself sometimes, yeah?”
Martin leaves with a huff. He takes the tea with him.
That day ends in something of a scramble. Martin’s words weigh heavy in his mind, amplified by the neat little echo chamber he’s built for himself, and that night for the first time in a long time he goes home. He picks up his neglected project and work, work, works away, running back stitch outlines and French knot eyes through the face of the monster he saw last night; he takes his purple water-soluble monster and draw lines for arms and hands and legs, bad lines because Jon is not an artist, but he stitches over them anyways because they’ve got the same raw heft to them that his throat does. He works through the death of night and then it’s rebirth; he works until the sun goes dark and dry.
That is the last night that he feels fully human for a long, long time.
This is how the world begins to fall apart; listen, listen. It’s lost enough now to fit in the palm of your hand.
Consider: Jon’s always had something of a problem with holding on.
He was the sort of child that pushed people up and away, like the proverbial wave; other children never sat next to him in school, not when they could help it, and though his grandmother loved him it was at an arm’s length and with all the general airs of obligation. Very, very conditional, dependent on his ability to keep himself occupied, keep himself safe and sound and happy as happy can be when happy is a little boy with a book tucked under his arm and a brain that works too fast for him to handle. God knows that he rattled out of himself often enough, jumping with reckless abandon from one imaginary world to the next in the hopes that he’d find something to sink its claws into him and infect his whole self with fascination enough to stay for a little while. Nothing ever did of course; he devoured books with all the vicious manner of a wild animal, fell on one and then onto the next within the day, tugging pages between his fingers and tearing their contents to shreds. Nobody liked him, he doesn’t think. Nothing he did was ever enough.
What does that translate to?
Jon, as he is now.
Where is he now?
At his wits end.
What does that look like?
Jon is overwhelmed.
He knows that he knows that he is by no means a great mass of a man, that there’s nothing divine propelling him; he is nothing but skin and bones, flesh and blood, nothing earth-shattering nor awful nor particularly inspiring. But that big picture that he knows of, the one that’s been lingering at the corner of his eyes for so long now, is beginning to move itself out from beneath the shadow of the sun. He sees it during his not-sleep. He eats and lives and breathes its mystery, follows the sweet lull of a promised solution, longs for the way it’ll surely make his brain crackle pleasantly once he’s finally solved it, watches it hungry like he would a good television show; with attention rapt and wide-eyed, legs folded beneath him and fingers flexing to the pulse of the blue lights.
Since his last night of full, all encompassing humanity, certain events have transpired, as events unfortunately do, and those certain events have displaced him from house and home and ended with him moving in with his ex-girlfriend Georgie. He likes Georgie quite a bit still- they didn’t exactly part on the best of terms, but she welcomed him with arms wide open and now lets him care for the Admiral, so she can’t be all bad. She was never all bad, or bad at all, not really, but now they’re good. They’re better.
Jon keeps himself busy. He works on his embroidery every night, but not once for fun; he finds that it clears his head right up, and his head must be clear if he’s to navigate this maze that he’s been thrust into safely. He’s only got so much life in him- he can’t afford to give it all up and go tumbling down, falling head over heels, tugging the fabric of the world along with him, ripped up and loose around his waist. That wouldn’t do at all so he ties it securely around his wrist instead- the rivers and oceans and seas, scenes he’s grown fond of as he’s trying to figure out how to translate the movement of water into thread, flowers and buildings and cities hazy beneath low-rolled fog; all of it is kept close to his chest, looped between his fingers. All of it gets a vested interest, a fighting chance. He wants to keep it safe.
So again. Where is Jon now?
Jon is staying with his ex-girlfriend, Georgie. He let her go once because he’s always had something of a problem with holding on. Jon is learning things; he is measuring out the sizes of shapes and discerning colors, making a map out of what little information he’s thrown when someone or other is feeling merciful. He has a conversation with one Jude Perry that is… enlightening. She’s made of wax. Fine, that’s fine. She serves some murder god cult thing, and apparently he does too now. Fine, that’s fine. She burns his hand, which is significantly less fine (that’s fine) because he has some work that he needs to get done, thank you very much. The apocalypse is nigh. Again. There’s fucking clowns now.
Where is Jon now? Jon is learning many things, often all at once. He learns that there’s a ritual in the works that will bring about the end times, that it’s one in a big, long line of rituals that Gertrude Robinson ( Gertrude Robinson ) had been snuffing out long, long before he ever had any sort of claim on the Institute. She had the sort of cutthroat competence, it turns out, that Jon can only dream of, an adequacy that makes his stomach turn on its head.
(Though he’s not sure he could manage to be all that cutthroat anyways- that’s not his area. Maybe someday, someday soon.)
But their ritual (he’s begun to think of it as theirs, because it’s theirs to end) is called the Unknowing, a name appropriately dramatic and that Jon quite likes, because much as he tries to deny it Jon likes a little drama every now and then. The Un-knowing; the not-knowing, the knowing-not, the loss of knowledge, or the unraveling of knowledge, or being otherwise left to the dark or your own faulty devices. It’s fitting.
But thematically appropriate as the name is, he has to stop it (the not-knowing, the know-not); he has to, because even if his own love of the world has its hard limits he’s not the only person to make his home there. So he pulls his merry band of men together, does his best to not rip into them, watches as they all run against and into each other with all the fervor of people thrown into a pit and made to cooperate by necessity alone, and often finds himself often wishing that he had one of his projects on hand. But as time rushes closer and closer to the Unknowing, and Jon feels himself slipping away, that little link to humanity becomes a novelty, a privilege- what right does he have to feel good? What has he done to deserve happiness?
Nothing. His good parts come and go like the swell-break-swelling of a wave. Jon’s done good things before, and he’s been good at opportune or necessary times in his life, but he’s also got something of a problem with holding on. Stubborn as he is, his nature likes to peek through his skin every now and again. Just a reminder, it whispers. I’m here too.
All that he really can do is continue his charge onwards and hope that it will propel him into an upward spiral, right into something that can at least mimic humanity if not bumble directly into it.
Wouldn’t that be something? Take a wrong turn, say the wrong thing, become a human, become a monster. Buy something online on an impulse. Give your frog-boiling boss a pen and watch the grin slide slow over his face while he walks off from your workspace in steps that are the exact same length each and every time. Move on, move out, move onwards, move upwards.
So where is Jon now? Jon is learning, and Jon is preparing. He embroiders at night, and he doesn’t enjoy it. During the day he pokes and prods through the corners of the world and hopes that one of them will cede to him, one of these days and tell him all that he needs to now. For now he pulls his patchwork knowledge into a blanket and ties it around his shoulders like it’s a cape and he’s again ten, eleven, twelve or fifteen or twenty-nine years old, staring far off into the distance at absolutely nothing and completely, utterly alone. He wears it like armor, and then he buys an axe. He prepares to walk into a haunted (haunted? Possessed, occupied, something of that sort, in that manner) wax museum with Tim and Daisy and Basira, and he prepares to not walk out again.
He’s ready. He tries.
Where is Jon now?
Well? Where is he?
This is how the world ended, the very first time:
This is how the world ends (and ends and ends and ends and ends and-):
[ an interlude; an intervening period of time. Inter as in between. A not-known, non-existence that lies between worlds.
He doesn’t know where he is. He doesn’t know if he has a name. He doesn’t know if there is an up, if there is a down, if there is a left or a right or if he teeters on an edge and falls either which way, or every which way, or no way at all. The Archivist does not know where he is, because he is not anywhere; he is all at once the slow keening of the woman next to him, who has her head buried in her hands, fingertips poking through the strands in pale swells, and he is the man held back against the wall by a creature dipped in shadow, and he is the slackjawed horror of the doctor holding the apple full of teeth. There is a person drowned in vines. There is a person bursting forth from themselves. There is a person sobbing, a person with clay caked in their fingernails, a person with a worm wriggling up from their palm; they all twist together near the exact moment of their conception into one big, writhing mass, limbs poking this way and that like stray bits of spaghetti when he’s too impatient throwing it into the pot.
He is wearing a thin blue hospital gown that reaches down to mid-calf and ties along three panels in the back. His hair scraggles in mangled curls over his shoulders, which jut out thin and fragile like the bones of a bird. He holds his hands out in front of him, sees the familiarity of the dark brown skin and the silver-white scars and the knobbled, crooked fingers that never lie quite straight, takes in the way that they tremble along their lines nice and easy. His nails are clipped short to the beds, and the purple nail polish he’d stolen from Georgie [a name- is it his?] is beginning to chip away to show the sickly scratched surface beneath.
He looks at his hand as the sky falls to pieces around him. He looks at his hand, and it cracks open a hazel-green eye and looks right back.
This is how the world moves on:
Jon doesn’t, anyways. Jon stops the apocalypse, promptly enters a coma for a good six months (as you do), and when he wakes up things have gleefully jumped headfirst into hell. Tim’s exited his life permanently. Sasha, Sasha, (Sasha, Sasha) fell to the side with such easy grace that he’d never even noticed that she’d gone. Daisy is gone, and maybe dead. Martin’s pulling away, wandering off beneath the influence of Peter Lukas, who took over the Institute after the others got Elias fucking arrested. Jon misses Martin. He wants to talk to Martin, but Martin doesn’t want to talk to him, and Martin has proven himself to be as strong-willed and uncooperative as a brick wall when he puts his mind to it.
So this is how the world moves on: it doesn’t. As he tries to gather those in his life close to his chest, they recoil like he burns. Melanie is looking for every way out that she can (and Jon can’t blame her, not one bit), Basira’s focused herself entirely on the big picture (and Jon can’t blame her, not one bit), and he’s managed to burn bridges so thoroughly regarding Georgie that if he tried for any measure of reconciliation he’d be out on his ass before he knew it.
And Jon can’t blame her, not one bit.
As for him, he’s growing tired, feels like he’s a million years old. His world consists of getting hurt over and over again, in a variety of ways and from every direction that he can think of, often all at once. People hurt him. Monsters hurt him. Monsters masquerading as people hurt him, and he can’t do anything about it because a hand swaddled against harm, wrapped blistered beneath banadages is not a hand that lends itself well to the slim flick of a needle. A coma-induced dream hellscape is not exactly the place to match thread colors.
What’s there to say? This is how the world moves on: Melanie cuts him open, he’s sewn back together with spider’s silk, and his guilt becomes roughly the same size and shape as the sky. The way she twists and blends him, remakes the model of his skin beneath her knife, the way that he becomes so inundated with his monstrosity is overwhelming in a way he is unable to extract himself from; he’s grown inside out, head full of bad thoughts and bad thoughts full of something strong and pungent that he can’t seem to get away from.
Jon is stuck in place, like a stick in the mud. What does he do? Where does he go? Who can he talk to that will talk to him? He trusts most of those he knows implicitly, with his life and so much more, because he’s not got anything left to prove. If they want to rip his heart from his chest, then he’ll trust that it's for a damn good reason and gleefully throw in an arm and a leg free of charge, maybe an eye or two if he can find them to spare.
So this is how the world moves on: Jon wakes up from his coma. He is confused, is held at an arm’s length by everyone he knows (and isn’t that something? He’s always had something of a problem with holding on himself, you know) and he fixates and he makes a decision. Melanie will have no part of him, not the heart or the arm or the leg or the eyes, but she will help him slide his ribs out, one by one by one, because he learns soon enough that Daisy is not dead nor gone, and he can save her. He can save her life. And if he can’t make the others place their trust in him, if he can’t make something either of himself or with his own two hands, if there’s no other strand or string for him to cling to as a means of barring the loss of his humanity then-
Then he’ll do this. This is how the world moves on: Jon takes one look at the way things totter along and decides that instead of keeping pace, he'll throw himself into moving straight onwards. At a dead sprint, if he must.
This is how it goes: there is world (human), the word human, and the acts of a not-human human.
The next time he really gets to do anything for himself at all, Daisy is there too.
Daisy is the confidant that he’d never seen coming. He sees in her the unease that he feels, recognizes the way she claps her hands over her biceps and holds herself close, keeps her clothes soft and sure and safe against an angled world of glass. Her eyes are big and as of late she gets restless very easily; and with all that they are now, everything that they’ve done, for all their marching on onwards towards destruction, they’ve both got quite a bit of free time. And he’s progressed- Jon no longer works on instinct alone, because his instincts would have him in a hole in the ground before he could blink, but he’s grown instead into a knee-jerk reaction of keep them alive, keep them safe, keep them close. At risk, at the end of the world, keep them close to the chest, resting above the heart. Graft them into the spaces left by your ribs; wait for the creep of bone to swallow then whole, head and shoulders, arms and legs.
Daisy understands him. He understands her. He wants to share with her. He wants to know her. There’s a hop, a skip and one big leap between selflessness and self-destruction, and he’s aware that his newfound love of her nearly spans that gap; if she hungered for it, he’d let her crack him open with her thumbs and watch as his soul dribbled out like the yolk of an egg.
She doesn’t, thankfully, because though it may be something that some part of her wants, it’s something that the much bigger swath of her new resolve is trying to deny. So rather than cracking his skull in two, she sits with him on the floor of the Institute and holds an embroidery hoop of her own in her hands- wooden, cheap, carefully stripped of any stray splinters that may have poked through her palms. It’s from a kit. The instructions by her knees are flimsy, made of that thick paper used when a company wants to play at decent quality but not follow through, and stamped across the bottom, beneath the photographed picture of an embroidered fox and in a bright, lurid red are the words TRY SOMETHING NEW. Daisy is, in fact, going to try something new; she is going to embroider a fox.
Jon is going to TRY SOMETHING NEW too. He’s going to share a part of himself, something big and secret that’s kept him running for months on end (because even when he lived with Georgie and he embroidered like his life depended on it, he never let her see. There’s something heartrendingly intimate about sharing interests, he’s found, and he’s not too keen on the way that it makes his stomach twist and turn). He’s going to reach out, as he did earlier among the dirt and stone and unending, unerring tunnels ( inter , as in to bury, inter as in between) and he’s going to hold on.
“So how exactly am I meant to do this?” Daisy starts, tapping at the metal screw. Her legs are curled beneath her, sleeves pushed up to show the fine bones of her wrist poking out over the dark blue veins.
“It’s in the instructions,” Jon tells her. He tightens his own hoop, pops open the box of thread to see the meager remains of his last little bout of voracious productivity. A tail end of thread looses itself from around a bobbin and flops sadly against the plastic partition. Jon pushes it back into place, because they can’t well have that.
“These don’t make any sense,” Daisy says. “There’s nothing about how to put this shit together. There’s just pictures from different angles and then it says to watch the video. There’s not even a link, Jon. They don’t have a website. What fucking video am I supposed to be watching?”
“If they gave you pictures why don’t you just look at those?”
“They’re all from different fucking angles . It’s like the same step but it always looks different. How the fuck did they even do that?”
“Just- let me see.” He reaches out, and she snorts through her nose.
“Let you see ?” She lets humor seep into her tone, careful and measured, and Jon feels relief crackle through him like a shot.
“Fuck off,” he says, in the interest of keeping things light. He takes the fabric from her- cheap, flimsy stuff, but frankly he wasn’t about to give up what little remains of his personal stash- and drapes it gently over the smaller inner hoop, adjusting it with slight, careful movements until he’s satisfied with the placement. He continues on setting it up, securing the larger hoop and examining his work, looking it over from edge to edge. Once he deems it well and good enough he passes it back to Daisy, who’s sure to let their fingers brush in a quiet show of solidarity, something that’s become common enough after they threw themselves up and out of the Buried.
It’s… odd, for him to be this close to someone. Close enough to touch at any rate, close enough for him to see the spray of freckles that run up and along the bridge of Daisy’s nose- he remembers that she used to have a good number more, patches along her shoulders and cheeks, but lack of sunlight has rendered those to pale splotches that blend into her skin. She is nothing but sharp angles now, none of which suit her anymore. The point of her knee juts into his side, and she looks quite remorseful.
“There,” he says. “Now maybe you can actually get started.”
“You can be such an ass sometimes,” Daisy shoots back. She nudges his shoulder with her own, lets it rest heavy against him, and Jon doesn’t say a word. He leans further in and feels the heat of her skin (Daisy always has run a little hot, a little fervent) lets her support herself against him and in turn using her side, her strength to keep himself from sliding to the floor. Her shirt is very soft. He hopes that if he plays his cards right, she’ll let him borrow it one day.
She doesn’t need his help with threading the needle, with securing the ends beneath the stitches or the easy up and down motions, or even the back-forth-run throughs of the chain stitches. She’s picking it up a lot faster than Jon had managed to, but he can’t exactly begrudge her for that; now she does insist that they put on The Archers and listen while they work, and he can absolutely can give her a fair few side-eyes for that, but it’s nice. It’s nice to hate something that’s not looking to snap him up between it’s jaws, and it’s nice to sit with someone else and share in something harmless, something that means the world to him.
Consider: Jon has always had something of a problem with holding on. Thankfully, that difficulty with grasping or comprehending applies to his problems as much as anything else, and as of late he’s had quite the vested interest in moving his world on along to bigger and better things. He’s going to rebuild those bridges somehow; with Melanie, with Georgie, with Martin. That’s where he’ll begin, he thinks. With Martin. He misses Martin. He wishes that he talked to him more earlier, asked about the poetry, asked about the sweaters. Or maybe not the sweaters, because though he’s only beginning to suspect why he feels that that would be rather embarrassing, but the point still stands. He’s worried about Martin; he’s worried about Melanie, he’s worried about Daisy and Basira and Georgie, but he doesn’t see Martin all that often and when he does, it feels like a stone to the stomach.
Jon is not infallible. But he is also not incapable. It has taken him a good long time to come to terms with that, that he’s able to do things, to do something, and even now he can feel the edges of doubt trying to eat him whole, but he’s got a means to an end and an emotion that requires action, and an impulse egging him on. Here in his office, silent but for the shuffle of Daisy next to him and the Archers droning on and on (god does it ever end) and the thick, slow-moving drudge of contentment of all things, he thinks that little could hurt him. He’s got soft skin and brittle bones, a questionable set of human qualities and a metric fuck-ton of determination. If needed- and it’s needed- he’ll fix things. With Martin, with Melanie, with Basira, with all of them.
Later, though. Right now, in the spirit of solidarity he’s embroidering a fox too, though his is fluid and filled in with stranded runs of color in a way that Daisy doesn’t have the skill set to pull off yet. He’s sketched something in careful, rounded lines (he’s become something of a better artist these days, though he’s still nothing special), taking advantage of the natural flexibility attributed to foxes to curve it along an arch, the mouth nipping at the end of the tail. When he puts it all together it will make a full circle.
Daisy tells him that he’s showing off. She’s right. But neither of them mind all that much; there are many, many worse things that a person could do.
[ An interlude, one last time:
The Archivist Knows where he is. He Knows what he’s doing.
There is fog here, there, everywhere. He feels it creeping at the edges of his mind, knocking up against the walls he’s got up because no, no, no, soft as it is, much as it likes the weight on his back and his way of speech, his habit of pushing away, he’s not for it. This is no place for him. He is the gravel crunching beneath his feet, the incorporeality of his own mind and manner, the easy lilting of his body as he walks, tensing and uncoiling like a spring. His distress is showing down in his hands, along his arms; his form, firm on the best of days but tenuous on most others, gives way beneath his fingers as they press into his palms, flesh flickering in and out from one state of being to the one right beyond it. The spark of animation he keeps buzzing up behind his eyes is banging its tiny fists against his skull, kicking at the knob of his spine
The Archivist is not meant to be here; no, no, no, he does not belong. He is alive. There is a warmth that thrums on through him, one that eats him up body, mind, and soul, that drives the cold away and lights the fog aflame. He does not belong here; he does not belong. But the Archivist has become something of a mission since he set foot in this place. That alone is enough to power through.
There are voices echoing through him, head and shoulders, reverberating through his skull; Peter Lukas, Peter Lukas, Martin Blackwood. Martin Blackwood.
The Archivist is here for Martin. He hears him through the tendrils drawn long and fuzzed through his ears, sees the outline of his form hunched against the whistling wind. His head is dropped to his chest in such a way that his silhouette looks hulking, monstrous, torso blended entirely into shoulder. His wandering is disjointed, circular, scuffing through the unearthed roots of the dead trees that he cannot see. Martin doesn’t know where he is, on anything other than a base level; Martin has no desire to know where he is. Martin has been hurting for a long, long time.
The Archivist Knows that this is who he is searching for. Jon knows who he is searching for.
Peter Lukas begins to speak again. The Archivist allows him to carry on until he’s gotten all that he needs, and then he ensures that he will never speak again. He’s no patience for things that are of no use to him at the moment, and Peter Lukas was never much anything at all, nothing notable, nothing threatening. The Archivist doesn’t care about Peter Lukas. Jon cares about Martin.
Even when they’re face-to-face, the Archivist is unable to make out Martin’s features. He Knows them of course, the set of his nose and his dark brown eyes, the curl of his hair against his scalp (heightened by the dampness pervading the air) and the fit of his sweater, tight across the chest; he can see the thick cables of that sweater, the salsa stain on the cut of the left sleeve. He can make out the arms of Martin’s glasses curled over the shell of his ear, nestled close to the sides of his head until they meld with the rest of his features. He is not warm, because the Lonely is cold; it fills his lungs until they’re fit to burst, water lapping up over their sides and sloshing through his pores. When he speaks his voice is slow and dreamy, echoed and garbled, twisted through on itself.
Jon wants to reach out. He wants to feel the weight of the sweater beneath his fingers, feel the give of the skin at the dip of Martin’s fingers, feel the bristle of hair at the nape of his neck. He wants to listen to him speak, words emphasized clear and sure, and he wants to make him tea and listen to his poetry and sit together in the living room as Martin writes and Jon works through a particularly tough bit of embroidery.
Oh, Jon thinks. I’m in love with him.
He doesn’t say that. He holds out his hand instead.
Be alright, be okay, be happy; I want you to feel safe and warm and secure. I love you.
“I know the way.”
This is how the world ends, for good, for real:
Bang, goes the cabinet door, all the way over in the kitchen. Jon and Martin are in Daisy’s safehouse in Scotland, after all is said and done, and Martin is going on a walk. He’s been soft around the edges lately, slipping in and out and in and out as he pleases; he’s going on one walk now and he’ll probably go on a second walk later, and somewhere along the way Jon will join. Martin always has to wander much, much slower when Jon is near, but as of late he’s taken to slow steps and more dreamy, far-off means of movement anyways, so when they walk together they’ll link their arms at the elbow and meander through the bizarrely idyllic landscape side-by-side, holding nothing back. Martin will raise a gloved hand to point at the cows; Jon will give them names, often some variant of the same one, and they’ll make up stories for them as the clouds drift sweetly overhead.
It’s quiet around here. Has the heavy airs of a funeral.
Things are going well for Jon. He loves Martin, though he can’t yet figure out how to force the words through his teeth. Martin seems happy enough with his other ways of showing it; I love you, Jon says without saying as he slips a cup of tea (not too hot not too cold not too strong) into his hands, pressing at the knuckles as a reaffirmation that I’m here, I’m here, I’m real; I love you, Jon says without saying when they go to sleep at night and he lets Martin hog the best blanket. He loves Martin, and Martin loves him. There’s still the part of Jon that frightens himself, the one that wants to know and consume above all else, that wants to live inside of Martin’s eyes, eat up a small part of his brain and gulp some of that fascination or a sliver of the beauty that he sees in everything down into its own blood, but that’s not the part that of himself that Jon likes, so that’s not the part that Jon listens to. For now this is good, and they are close enough to leave well enough alone.
Things are going well for Jon. Martin comes out of the kitchen and leans over the back of the couch, pressing his body close.
“Working on something?” he asks, because he's since learned that Jon quite likes to talk about his endeavors. I love you without saying I love you.
In return Jon lets one hand slip by, showing off the hoop and the half-finished, half-scribbled scene he’s got going. Martin hums a little half-laugh as he takes it in.
“You’ve got the strangest sense of humor sometimes,” Martin tells him.
Jon smiles, one that starts with his bottom lip and spreads all over his body, out into his eyes. He looks at Martin. He looks at his work. “I’ve decided to commit myself to the aesthetic. Present a united front.”
“Very important in times like these,” Martin agrees solemnly. He presses a kiss to the side of his head. “I’m heading out now.”
“Have a good trip,” Jon calls as he goes out the door and lets it close softly behind him. With a happy hum Jon settles back to the couch and takes up his work again, pressing play on his audiobook and losing himself to the motion. He’s trying something new today; a way of cleanly running through his work, leaving as little proof of his human (human?) error as possible; a person passed through, passed over and leaving nothing of their struggles in their wake but rather a clean line of stitches marched one-two, one-two-three along the scene of a Scottish countryside, skies vaulted high and grass grown golden-yellow and cows dotted near and far with their heads bowed low. A path, long and winding; the suggestion of a person trapped among the cotton fibers, soft. Eyes dotted through the sky like clouds, wispy eyelashes pulled into strands of cirrus marked down among the dark sun-pupil and then colored in meticulous shades of red-orange, orange-yellow, yellow-gold. He strings some straight, eyelid to eyelid (dust to dust) and others in soft arcs, swollen like the belly of a wolf.
He’s filling in the cottage now; he’ll use some beige and brown, some green for variety. It’s going to be quite pretty when he’s done. He’s sure of it.
For now he consults the book he picked up from the library down in town- there’s no internet connection up around here- and looks at the section on starting and stopping. He keeps his other eye on his needle, another on his thread for good measure.
How to: Waste Knots
Step 1: Take a length of thread out between your fingers. Be certain to hold on tight, or else you’ll end up with something of a problem.
Step 2: Thread your needle. Remain alert to do so; you’ve no way of knowing whether or not you’ve done things right if you don’t pay close attention. Keep your eyes peeled. Tie a knot in the other end of the thread.
Step 3: When you start, don’t start from the beginning. Look beyond- draw your needle through a point that’s a good two, three inches from your first intended stitch. This is how the world begins- listen, listen.
Step four: Work back over the tail you’ve created. Stretch the thread out and clip the knot. You’ll find that you’re ready now to move on.
He blinks at the instructions once, twice. Outside the wind blows through the grass and leaves it rustling, shifting softly. The sun (as you might imagine) does not say a word.
“Hmmph,” Jon says out loud to no one. “Well that’s no help at all.”
Tomorrow, with a fair few words and a tug of the strings that wind round his neck, the world will end. Martin will go on a walk, and Jon will feel hunger gnawing its way through his bones, snap-snap- snapping at the femurs and ribs and carpals/metacarpals, out into the fingertips that drip with the cold bite of a needle. He’ll put his work down and go to read a statement, just to tide himself over. He’ll read repeat after me and he’ll hurt, hurt, and hurt, so much so that it feels his soul’s snapping in two but he won’t stop- he won’t hesitate, nor will he stutter over the words that shape strange and lilting over his tongue. Through and through he’ll go, let it rip him through and in two, and then the sky will blink open.
But for now? But for now, Jon works, and for now, Jon feels himself melting away. He is, (undoubtedly), happy.