It's the man with strange eyes that first makes Jon pause.
It shouldn't exist here, in plain daylight, inside of a bookstore that looks perfectly common. But Jon has read enough statements to know that that's not how it works- that real monsters do not usually abide by these rules.
"Ah," says someone from behind the counter. "I see."
Jon turns around to see- a man in his thirties, with badly dyed black hair and a bored expression on his face. He knows this man. Not personally, but- he knows about him, and this doesn't- this doesn't make any sense!
The man raises a pierced brow. "That's me."
"I thought you fought monsters!"
"I'm retired," Gerry said. At Jon's incredulous expression, he sighed. "First of all, I don't appreciate you calling my boyfriend a monster. And I don't really fight those nowadays, not directly. You could say I'm more of a… consultant."
The monster waved unnaturally long fingers at Jon, a cheerful smile on his face.
Now that he looked closer, Jon thought he might not ever have even noticed the creature's eyes if he had only passed it in the street. The monster had long curly hair, reaching his shoulders, and a friendly round face. He wore suspenders. Jon thought of Martin, and shuddered.
"Do not worry, Archivist," it said. "I will not hurt you. I promise you I am still mostly human."
Gerry looked at Jon. His full attention was grounding, but unnerving, like the feel of a tombstone under someone's fingers. "Well, of course. It's still more than most could have achieved."
"Wh- What even-"
"You came here for a reason. What is it?"
"Oh. Yes." Jon straightened his posture. "I am Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute. A few statement givers have mentioned that you help with... supernatural happenings?"
"Did Elias send you?"
Michael's voice was cold. Jon shuddered and turned around, back against the counter. It did not feel right. Something was… off about Michael. Certainly his eyes hadn't looked like that a moment before?
"Michael, you're scaring him," Gerry said. He did not sound as if he was particularly bothered.
" Good ."
"No, bad avatar," the goth told him. Michael snorted, apparently despite himself.
"Elias doesn't even know that I'm here!"
Gerry barked out a laugh. "Yeah. Sure. I can believe that you didn't tell him, though. What did you come here for?"
Jon had so many questions. Prioritize.
"Have you ever heard of Jane Prentiss?"
"She attacked you?"
Gerry had started to half stand up from his chair, a concerned frown in his face, before Jon raised his hands:
"No, but she attacked my assistant Martin. He's fine. Isn't infected. I just… I need to know how to keep him safe."
"The Archivist, caring about their assistant's safety?" Michael smiled bitterly. "What a novelty."
"Wha- did you know Gertrude?"
Michael and Gerry shared a meaningful look before the monster sighed.
"Well, aren't you perfectly helpless flesh blood?"
"You might want to listen closely."
Jon had to take a seat.
He had wanted all of this information, even before he knew it existed- had wanted to Know, and now he was aware of how dangerous that was. How could knowledge itself be dangerous? It went against everything he had believed in. And yet, it rang true.
"I-," Jon started, and then pausing, not quite sure of what to say.
"Take your time. We know it's a lot."
"Should I- Should I tell my assistants?"
Gerry shared a look with Michael, who shrugged. The m- ex assistant- man had not quite completely thawed yet. "I suppose so. It might help keep them safe, and more important, they won't try to seek out more information."
"What do I- what do I even do now?"
"Not your job, that's for sure."
Jon has to take a second for that to sink in. He- He cares about his job. It isn't perfect, not by far, and the prospect of cleaning up Gertrude's mess had been daunting, but. Jon had gone into this for a reason. He wanted to know.
And now the simple want was a danger.
"I'm sorry," said Michael, unexpectedly. His hand felt too sharp and too heavy on Jon's shoulder, having entirely the wrong shape, and the touch was more confusing than comforting. Jon still appreciated it. "I know it isn't easy to hear. But that job isn't worth what it does to you."
"You would know," Jon said automatically, and cringed.
"Yes. I would."
Gerry cleared his throat. He had cringed at Jon's impertinent comment almost as much as Jon had, and seemed eager to change the subject.
"Hey, Michael, do we still have extra fire extinguishers?"
Michael stepped back from Jon, leaning over the counter. His gaze softened when his eyes found Gerry.
It was- difficult to look at. The way they looked at each other. It felt like intruding. A part of Jon that had been recently fed revelled in it, so he looked away.
"Yes, I think we do. I'll fetch it for you, shall I?"
There was the sound of footsteps, and then a door closed.
Jon bit the inside of his cheek. This was why he didn't usually interact with other people- he was not very good at it, and just ended up hurting their feelings, and then being left in an awkward silence. It was much simpler to just set himself apart. Much better for everyone involved.
Then again, Gerry had mentioned the fear of Loneliness. Perhaps Jon should make more of an effort.
"Thank you. For telling me all of this. You didn't need to."
"It was going to bother me if I didn't," Gerry said, but his shoulders lost some tension Jon hadn't even noticed they had been holding. "But you're welcome."
Jon stole a glance at the door behind the counter. "How is it?"
"To date… someone like that?"
Gerry snorted. "Haven't I already warned you about questions?"
"I… suppose. I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted, I guess."
The door opened once more to let Michael through. Holding in hands that surely hadn't been so big before, he had at least four fire extinguishers and a lighter. The man leaned down a little to kiss the top of Gerry's head before letting the things drop near Jon's feet.
"Thanks, love," Gerry told him before turning back to Jon. "These are just until you get Elias to buy the Archives a lot more. He might serve an eldritch being of fear, but I hear he's quite reasonable as a boss when he's not manipulating you."
"Thank you. Uh, how am I supposed to get to the Institute with four fire extinguishers?..."
"That's your own problem, dude."
Jon supposed that was fair. "Can I- Can I bring my assistants here? I think it might make it easier for them to…"
"To believe it?" Gerry shrugged. "Yeah, sure. Why not. Just be aware that there's other two employees, and they're no more human than Michael."