These days, Daisy dreams.
Underground, caught in the long throat of dirt and sorrow, she did not have dreams. She may have fallen into sleep—she isn’t sure; in the darkness and the unrelenting crush of rock there was no difference between having her eyes open and closed. When rest did come, it was never long before the world groaned around her and she was horribly awake again. It knew when her guard was down. It knew where her soft parts were hidden.
These days, Daisy dreams. Her body does not let her sleep for long: the pangs of hunger in her stomach and bones jerk her awake in the middle of the night, panting, the echo of blood on her tongue, and she has no answer for it. Nothing will slake her thirst except the one thing she will not let herself have. Morality is a cruel mistress.
She used to think nothing of it: the weight of her gun in her hand, the cry that she did not hear but felt the echo of inside her head. There was a simplicity to it. Take one monster and make it one less monster. If it makes a monster of you, fine. As soon as you’ve killed two, you’ve brought the net total down, haven’t you? What does it matter if food never seems to fill you anymore and you wake up in the night with a howl stuck in your throat? You kill or they kill, and they don’t reserve their fangs for the guilty.
She had been sure, before the coffin, that what she was doing was right.
And then she was buried.
There was nothing to hunt for down there; there was scarcely air to pull into her lungs to convince herself that she wasn’t dying every second (although she knew she was). She was not a predator anymore down in the starved clay. She was the prey, and this was the slow crush of digestion.
She couldn’t quite remember how sun felt on her skin. What it was like to draw a full breath. The sound of Basira’s voice. That was what scared her most: eventually she would forget everything that made her her, and she would still be stuck here, this creature that was no longer Daisy, decaying in her own necropolis.
Sometimes when the earth squeezed her tight enough that she knew the only reason her bones were not breaking was that it wanted her alive and awake enough to understand what was going on—sometimes, she laid in the dark and tried to spit the dirt out of her mouth and knew that this was her punishment, her penance, her purgation. She had earned this.
“Jon, you stupid idiot, what did you think—”
“Oh my God.”
Her arm scrapes against the rough-hewn rock when she tries to move it—there is no room for her to even shift her fingers, to breathe, to blink.
The weight of the earth pins her down, squeezes around her waist, chest, arms, like the space of this cavern was designed to fit her like a glove and then brought in millimeter by millimeter. She wonders if enough time down here would permanently deform the shape of her body, the angles of her bones. Carefully push and stretch this tomb around her until she would not recognize her own form if there was ever enough light to see it. Give her a monstrous body to reflect her inside-out.
There’s no reason it couldn’t. She knows she will not die down here. Her sentence is for eternity. The space of the Buried is beyond the universe as she could ever hope to understand it; even the heat death of the sun will not bring relief. This is all that is left, all that will ever be left. No light, no wind, no open sky. Only wheezing. Only choking.
The world constricts again around her—the squeeze of breath from her lungs—why won’t it end —she would rather it killed her, at least she killed them, at least she gave them a clean end most of the time—would it not be more merciful to let her die —
Daisy rips out of it with a scream that chokes into a gurgle (her throat has never been the same since—). The sting of light as her eyes open washes her in sweet relief: it was a dream. She’s above ground.
She’s in the Archives, to be precise. There’s nothing distinct about the ceiling, but she can tell without moving from the couch underneath her and the blanket on top that she’s in Jon’s office. Right. She’d fallen asleep here earlier. There’s comfort in company, and Jon’s company is the best comfort. He’s not even the one she likes the most, empirically speaking, but he steadies something inside of her when she wakes up heaving. He knows what it’s like to be swallowed. He is like her: trying so hard to be human even though it hurts. She doesn’t have to worry about seeing pity in his eyes.
A hand on her shoulder— grounding isn’t the right word, but being touched helps. Jon crouching next to the couch, his breath warm in her ear.
Daisy shifts over, pressing herself up against the back of the couch, the open space an invitation. It’s not a big couch, but they’re both bordering on malnourished—and they’ve been crammed in tighter squeezes together, anyway. Any space she can breathe in is a luxury.
Jon settles down, facing her. “You’re here,” he murmurs quietly, brushing a hand over the shorn side of her hair. She lets herself arch into the touch. “You’re real.”
He doesn’t tell her that she’s safe. She likes it that way: no bullshit. “Tell me?” he asks. It’s an offer, no trace of compulsion in his voice.
She shuts her eyes for a second. “Statement of Daisy Tonner, regarding?”
“It doesn’t work if you say it,” Jon says, mock-snotty. “That’s my job.”
“Don’t tell me we’re going to start doing our jobs now.”
Jon hums, traces a pattern errantly against the side of Daisy’s head, not urging her on. She knows it must kill a part of him to ask and not demand, to have his next meal in the palms of his hands and to wait for her permission to eat. The same thing twists and burns inside of her, ready to look to her for sustenance if she does not feed it soon enough.
She does not doubt her safety for a second.
“I was underground again,” Daisy says quietly. “And I knew that everything—getting out, and everything that’s happened since, none of it was real. And I wasn’t even sad. I just thought oh. Figures .”
Sometimes, in the weeks after Daisy comes up from the earth, Basira looks at her with something in her eyes like reverence. Like Daisy is a precious thing reborn. Like she would let the rest of the world burn to keep Daisy here and whole.
Daisy doesn’t know what to do with it, or with the heat that swells in her stomach to accompany it.
Basira brings her hot chocolate because she knows Daisy hates coffee. Basira never complains when Daisy falls asleep on her shoulder because she can’t stand being alone while she naps. Basira glances at her out of the corner of her eye like she’s worried Daisy might disappear between breaths. Basira, for all her sharp edges, makes Daisy softer.
“I’m in love with Basira,” Daisy blurts.
Jon jumps, presumably from the sudden noise—he’d only just finished recording a statement—and turns slowly to face her with still-glowing eyes. “Well. Yes?”
“What? You knew?” she demands, then grimaces when it hits her. “Right. Shit. You knew before I did, didn’t you?”
He has the decency to at least look apologetic about it, clearing his throat. “It’s sort of… hard for me not to. Know things in general,” he adds hastily, “not that in particular. I wasn’t trying to pry, it’s just—” He sighs. “I’m sorry.”
“Guess I should be used to it by now,” she says uncomfortably, drawing in her shoulders. She tries to smile. “Can’t keep any secrets working here, can you?”
“Do you… want to talk about it?”
Daisy considers the proposition. On one hand: no. On the other hand: absolutely not.
“Maybe later,” she tells him, and she’s surprised to find that she sort of means it.
“Will you be alright here?”
Basira is hovering in the doorway, watching Daisy with those soft, fierce eyes, like Daisy is a breakable thing. She huffs out her annoyance, shoving her hands under her thighs. “I’ll be fine,” she snaps. “I’m not a child, you know, Bas. I can take care of myself.”
“I know,” Basira says. “I just—” She lets out a sigh. “I just don’t know what I would do if you—if you were gone again. I just want… I need you to be safe, Daisy.”
The words grip Daisy, threatening to break her. “I’ll be fine,” she says again, gentler this time. “I promise.”
They lock eyes, and Basira’s curl up at the edges in a smile that’s only for Daisy. She lingers there in the door for another moment, and then she’s crossing the room, shoes clicking against the floorboards, and leaning down to cup Daisy’s face in her hands and press a kiss, quick and tender, to her forehead. “You’d better,” she repeats, swiping a thumb across Daisy’s jaw. “Alright?”
“Aye aye, captain,” Daisy says, unable to hold back her smile. Basira scoffs and turns back to leave, but Daisy catches the edge of a smile before she does. It is radiant: the sun in the open sky. Daisy is not buried anymore.