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The Reverb in These Holy Halls

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The first couple hours are disorientating, to say the least. The solar eclipse March 20, 2015 ends just before noon, which is precisely when Jonathan Sims comes to awareness in the middle of the Research Department of the Magnus Institute, London, and just moments before he nearly loses it again. A feeling rushes through him, like he’s suddenly discovered he’s been made wrong, and it’s only Tim Stoker’s sudden grip on his arm that keeps him upright. Within his chest, Jon’s heart beats erratically, pounding arrhythmically then skipping beats altogether. It takes far too long to realize he’s staring at Tim and gripping him back too hard.

Words catch in his throat as he remembers he needs to breathe, so it’s no surprise Tim doesn’t believe him when Jon says he’s alright. Still, Tim agrees to tell whoever needs to know- Jon honestly can’t remember who that is- that Jon isn’t feeling well and will be leaving early, once Jon proves he can stand on his own, at least.

It would be for the best, even if his whole body didn’t feel like it had been pulled apart and put back together by someone who wasn’t sure where all the bits were meant to go. Thoughts are coming slow, and he doesn’t remember what he’s meant to be doing; nor is he particularly inclined to try.

At the top of the stairs to the basement, the Archives, he catches himself and has to consciously redirect out of the building. Jon stops on the pavement, steps from the road. For all the intensity of his stare, though, the street seems stubbornly disinclined to direct him home, and he stands there for an indeterminate amount of time until eventually someone touches his arm, cautious and placating. With gentle, meaningless words, Rosie leads him to the taxi she called and gives the driver his address. Jon absently agrees to get rest and see a doctor tomorrow, with no intention of following through. And then he’s stepping out of the vehicle and into the building he lives in for now. It feels so long since he was last in this flat, nothing is quite as familiar as it should be.

Easing himself onto a threadbare couch that he hasn’t seen in… a long time, Jon lays back, stares at the ceiling, and finally- finally- takes a moment to get his bearings. Until now, he still didn’t quite remember what had happened; how he got here; when he is. Now, inspecting the hairline crack in the paint overhead, he Knows. Knows what led to this; Knows the demand he made of his god, and of the first god to mark him; Knows the deal that was struck, and that this is what it gets him: another chance. A chance to make things right, as much as anyone can.

Right now, he Knows, Tim is back in Research, gossiping, and Sasha is out interviewing someone for an active case. Melanie is still with Ghost Hunt UK, though already starting to struggle; Basira and Daisy are both still with the police; Helen Richardson is showing a house and has never opened a yellow door. He Knows that Martin-

Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, Knows that he is in a flat that can barely be called his own, and that somewhere in the tunnels that stretch out below the Archives of the Magnus Institute and the city around it, Gertrude Robinson’s body has only just begun to cool.

Despite something- instinct or habit or something less or more internal- telling him to turn around and go straight back to the Archives- his Archives- he doesn’t. All that’s happened is taking its toll; he’s weak and tired and his body is still catching up to its newly inhuman status, adjusting to the few fresh wounds, old and new, that he’s brought with him. Instead, he steals a couple hours of sleep, and upon waking, notes that it’s Friday. He lets his pain convince him to take this one, final weekend to be as human as he can manage. To take in the flat he may visit again, but never for long. To eat some of the actual food sitting in his fridge and cupboards. To spend time on the internet, like a normal millennial, reacquainting himself with 2015, “surfing the web” and only stalking his friends’ social media a little.

Just a couple days to prepare himself, to hamper his rage, to mourn what he’s lost and left behind, as much as he’s capable of mourning yet. A couple days to rest and recuperate.

Near midnight, the tired hunger plaguing him grows too strong to ignore as one of his neighbors returns home and Jon feels a pull to the door. In the wake of everything else he’s been through, he manages to only hate himself a little when he goes.

Sunday, much as he’d rather not, Jon has an appointment to keep.


Monday morning, still sore and uncomfortable but ready to be busy, Jon goes directly to the Archives. There’s no point doing anything else; he’s forgotten what he would have normally done in this time- could remember if he wanted to, but he doesn’t really. The door to his- Gertrude’s- office isn’t locked. It isn’t even closed, hanging slightly ajar with the dangling remnants of police tape still stuck to the frame. He pulls them off and takes in the stark mess left behind. Someone had clearly attempted a cursory cleaning, but there’s still a dark, reddish stain across a desk he’s never seen before and little else besides. Random scraps of paper and office supplies in various states of utility strewn across the otherwise bare floor; filing cabinet drawers empty and pulled out, threatening to tip the whole thing over; chair tipped on its side; and a single tape recorder, sitting alone on an unsturdy-looking shelf. Possibly everything was taken by the police as evidence, though experience has given him the impression that the police would much rather not step foot in the Institute, much less be so thorough in removing “evidence.”

The other, perhaps more probable explanation is that Elias took it all to try to figure out what Gertrude knew and how she knew it, and to weed out anything he thought the new Head Archivist wouldn’t be ready for.

These are Jon’s Archives, but not fully, not quite yet. They will be. It won’t take much, perhaps a single statement read aloud to tie himself in. It scares him, how much he aches for it, but it’s too low on his list of fears to give much thought. Being the Archive has been one of the easiest things to accept, compared to so many others.

“Ex- excuse me? This area is off-” says someone from behind him, and Jon’s head jerks around a bit too fast. It doesn’t seem right to him that monsters can still get whiplash.

Martin,” Jon says, breathes, voice tight as he rubs his neck, trying to ease the sharp pain.

“Um, yes? Can- Are you alright?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m just fine… Hello.” The sight of Martin, the sound of his voice make Jon’s heart pound. Amongst all the other emotions running through him, he can’t bring himself to be embarrassed by his awkwardness.

“Right. Hello. You- you’re from Research, right? J-onathan? Did you need something from the archives?” Only four years between this Martin and the one Jon last saw, and still he looks so young Jon has to shake himself out of his contemplation to respond.

“Yes- No. I- I mean, yes, I was. In Research. And yes, I’m Jonathan Sims- Jon- I’ll be taking over for Gertrude.”

“Oh! Uh, okay… so soon, though? I mean, I thought- Elias didn’t say anything about-”

“It’s a- chaotic time,” Jon cuts him off before Martin can consider actually going to Elias about it. “It may be a bit of an adjustment, but I look forward to working with you.”

“Right. Right, well, you too, I suppose? Oh!” Martin seems to realize then that Jon is standing in the office doorway. “You don’t- There’s another office. I think it’s being used as storage right now, but we could-”

“It’s alright, Martin. This will need to be dealt with sooner or later. I might as well do it to my own satisfaction.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, I’ll, uh- my desk is over here-” He points vaguely over his shoulder with a thumb. “-if you need anything. Um, would you- would you like some tea?”

“I would, thank you.” Even toward the end, when the world had gone to hell, and especially in the wake of the Lonely, Martin tried to be an optimist. It was something Jon admired about him, and it suddenly strikes him just how much of Martin’s positivity had been lost. This Martin is so- so naturally trusting. A bit suspicious, sure, only an idiot wouldn’t find Jon’s manner suspect at best, but not nearly suspicious enough. He hopes, with everything that’s going to happen, that this Martin can hold onto some of that innocence. Jon really does need to encourage him to question things more, though. Extremely vague and suspect are kind descriptors for Jon in that conversation, and yet Martin just smiles and makes him tea. Or… no. Martin is asking Rosie what she knows about this. That’s something, Jon supposes, and better than him going to Elias before Jon’s gotten a statement in.

Speaking of. Jon takes another look around. The messy, hollowed-out, frankly disastrous state of the office, of the Archives, matches Jon a bit too well and it’s enough to make his head ache along with the rest of him. Of course, he hasn’t been here yet. All his hard work of the past couple years has been entirely undone- and then some. At least, knowing what he does now, he can attempt to apply some greater order than they had been managing before. Gertrude had her reasons for letting it fall into this state, but Jon has a different purpose. He sighs and steps inside to the click of a recorder.

-

It’s a startling transition, to say the least. One day Gertrude Robinson is doddering about the Archives of the Magnus Institute, the next she’s just… not, and Jonathan Sims, a somewhat antisocial researcher with zero qualifications for the Head Archivist position, is there instead. Not literally, but close enough most everyone seems comfortable using the word.

On Monday, March 16th, most of the Institute arrived to work to find police on site, and as expected in a place with fewer than fifty people regularly on site, news traveled fast that Gertrude, who had been at the Institute longer than anyone, had gone missing, her desk found covered in blood. By Wednesday, most have been able to return to work as normal. Martin Blackwood, recently transferred to the Archives, is not so lucky. For the remainder of the week, between interrogations by police who seem only perfunctorily interested in investigating, he returns to his previous position in the library; only to be told Friday that the reversion will be permanent until a “suitable replacement” for Gertrude can be found.

It’s only by chance, the following Monday, that Martin returns to the Archives for a couple personal items to find Jonathan Sims already there.

When Martin asks, Rosie doesn’t know anything about Jon’s transfer and/or promotion, and is especially confused as Jon had apparently left early last Friday and couldn’t have met with Elias then. Last anything had been said to her, Elias instructed that any major items for the Archives should be directed to his office until further notice. She’d thought Martin would be back in the library until a new Head Archivist was hired and is a little peeved that no one told her otherwise. Which is certainly something Martin can empathize with, since he was under the same impression. It’s unlike him, but Rosie supposes it could have slipped Elias’s mind, maybe, what with everything else going on. It doesn’t seem like she believes it, though.

Of course, Martin is in the Archives the next day when Elias first comes to talk to Jon about his new position, and can say with some certainty that Elias knows no more about what’s happening than any of the rest of them. Except, of course, for Jonathan Sims himself.

“Mister Sims,” Elias says to Jon, who is seated at Gertrude’s desk with an air of comfortable familiarity. “You seem to be settling in well.”

“It doesn’t take me long to get my bearings these days,” Jon says, eyes never leaving the file he’s been going through. “You can leave now, Elias.” Martin breathes in sharply and then attempts to look busy when it draws Elias’s disapproving attention. Still, the office door stays open.

“Jon- can I call you Jon? If you could explain precisely what it is you-” Jon looks up, face blank, and Elias just- stops.

“I am The Archivist.” He says it with a strange sort of emphasis, as though Jon is suggesting he’s the only archivist in the world, and for a moment, though he’s mostly turned away, Martin could swear he sees Elias look surprised. Then Jon’s voice goes disingenuously light in a way that brings to mind bared teeth. “Though, while I have you here, I need to requisition a new desk. The police seem to have taken a rather large chunk out of the center of this one for their investigation. And I can’t quite shake the smell of blood. Other than that, I believe I have what I need, Elias. I’ll be sure to inform you if that changes.”

“You-”

“Do you need Gertrude Robinson located first, Elias? Would you like me to go looking?” A weird, almost accusatory way to put it, in Martin’s opinion, and there’s something almost tangibly heavy in the question, like a sudden increase in air pressure.

“… No. That- will not be necessary… Right.” There’s a moment wherein they just stare- glare, really- at each other, and then Elias looks over at Martin, who would really rather not be pulled into this, thanks. “Well, Martin here is-”

“No longer any of your concern.” If Martin hadn’t been apprehensive about all this before, he definitely is now. This man just appoints himself to a position and, what, claims him? Martin hasn’t worked that many places other than the Institute, and it’s been many years since, but he’s sure that’s not normal. “I will also accept the assistance of Sasha James.”

“I see. May I suggest-”

“No. You may not. Martin is already part of the Archives, and I believe Sasha will do well enough here. No one else is needed.” Already part of the archives, like Martin had grown into them or something and not just transferred here barely a month ago. Like Martin is a statement himself.

“Traditionally-”

“If you wouldn’t mind, Elias, I have a lot of work to do. You allowed Gertrude to leave my Archives in quite a state.” My archives, he says. Martin is frankly surprised Elias hasn’t already told Jon he’s fired- more surprised still that it doesn’t seem like he has any intention of doing so. He stands as stiff as Martin’s ever seen him- and there are statues with more flexible spines- until Jon very deliberately turns his attention back to the file in his hands.

“I see.” Jon huffs a laugh, though what he finds funny about this Martin can’t begin to guess. Elias continues to glare. “I’ll ensure the proper paperwork is completed. I suppose congratulations are in order.” And then he walks away.

Once he’s gone, Jon puts his head in his hands and sighs, tension visibly draining from his shoulders. An act. Martin wouldn’t have guessed. When he looks back up, it’s directly at Martin, expression more open than it’s been since he first walked into the Archives. His eyes look so dark as to be black, and Martin feels seen- known- in a way that is very unsettling but also seems fond somehow: like Jon sees every flaw in his soul and likes him anyway. And sure, Martin’s known who Jon is for a while, but he’s pretty sure the opposite can’t be said, so it’s a bit too familiar for someone who’d only spoken to him for the first time yesterday. Jon holds out a file.

“Martin, see if you can find anything more on this, if you would.” And Martin takes it, and doesn’t ask any questions, despite having many, because apparently Jonathan Sims is his boss now, and maybe also Elias’s.

-

Halfway through his first day back in the Archives, Jon receives a call asking where he is, why he hadn’t called out or come in to work, if he’s still ill. He tells the truth, mostly, but it’s still nearing the end of the second day when Elias finally comes to investigate. Months and a significant amount of trauma lay between Jon and his last in-person encounter with Elias. With the weekend to gather himself, though, Jon at least has the control to not outright attack the man, even verbally.

So much has changed, since that last time. Once, Jon had felt like a specimen being examined every time Elias looked at him and he’d told himself he was being irrational. He knows better now, and his connection to the Eye is stronger than it’s ever been. It has him, knows him, completely and so there’s nothing Elias can look for in his mind that their god doesn’t already know, and all of it is obscured from him. Granted, this means Jon also can’t Know Jonah/Elias, but he can still allow himself some small vindication in imagining how frustrated the asshole must be.

Jon can’t afford to let his guard down, though. Not being able to see in his mind won’t stop Elias observing him through other means. And clearly even Elias isn’t immune to Jon’s questions at this stage, which means Jon may be susceptible to other power elsewhere. Here, though- The Archives are Jon as Jon is the Archive. He will always have the upper hand here.

Requesting Sasha’s help is probably a terrible idea, likely to bite him, as would be bringing in anyone who still has a chance away from the Institute. Jon’s thought about it thoroughly, though, which is more than can be said for a lot of other decisions he’s made, and he really does need a second assistant. The details of her may be hard to reach, but he hasn’t lost her first statement and the conversation that followed, when she told him she didn’t want to leave. That she, like him, was too damn curious. He’s going to need to count on that to see her through and hope he’s not just leading another person to their death. At least now he knows what to watch for.

Jon can feel Jonah’s Eye turned toward him the moment Elias’s are not, but it’s weaker when Elias isn’t physically there and Jon lets himself relax slightly. Martin’s been witness to the whole exchange, which is good, even if he doesn’t understand a fraction of what’s going on. They need to start somewhere, and it had been strange enough to make anyone question. He’ll get there eventually, and then Jon can explain. Then Jon will be able to talk to him again, as he hasn’t been able to since- well, since before the Lonely, before the Unknowing and his pseudo-death, even, when he’d taken it for granted. Back when it should have been so easy.

The file in his hands is an Eye statement with little danger to any of them. A good enough place to start. He passes it off to Martin, who takes it and doesn’t ask any questions, though he clearly has many. Just another thing for Jon to work on.

What you don’t know can still destroy your life forever.

-

Martin likes working with Sasha. Even on their creepiest statement, she somehow always manages to keep her composure. She’s friendly and funny and never looks down on Martin, even when he’s not sure how to approach an investigation. And probably the most important trait these days, she doesn’t let Jon’s ever increasing strangeness unnerve or discourage her. Not even when he stares or looks at her with that odd expression. It’s not like the fond-familiar one he gives Martin. Instead, it’s searching and a tad sad, like he’s trying to take in all of her and commit her to memory. Martin wonders sometimes if she might not remind Jon of someone, but it doesn’t seem his place to ask.

Saying that Jon is easy to puzzle out would be a blatant lie, but some of his habits and sensibilities are easy enough to catch onto if you pay attention. He almost always keeps his door open and has very good hearing, but he also doesn’t seem to care if Martin and Sasha chat, as long as they are also working. At the same time, he can’t seem to decide if gossip disgusts or just exasperates him, but either way, he definitely doesn’t like it. So the assistants learn early to save most of it, and especially anything about him, until he’s busy with a statement.

“So, do we think he did it?” Sasha asks Martin quietly one day, early on, while Jon is distracted taking a statement from a Mr. Carlos Vittery, whose panicked insistence on a dead spider stalking him had made Jon cringe and shudder, like he was trying to shake something from his chest.

“Do we think who did what?” Martin already knows who and what she means- it’s not like he hasn’t had the thought himself- but he’s not going to be the one to say it out loud.

“Jon. Do we think he killed Gertrude? It’s awful suspicious, don’t you think?” What Martin thinks is that there’s a bit too much amusement in her voice for what she’s saying. Also, he’s leaning toward putting money on Elias, but he’s not going to be the one to say that either. Still, it is suspicious.

“I… suppose. No. No, he didn’t kill her,” Martin declares as confidently as he can manage. “Why would he do that? If you’re going to kill someone, you don’t just waltz in and appoint yourself to their job after. You try to keep attention off yourself. Right?”

“Yeah, sure. If you’re normal. You have to admit, though, Jon’s… not.” Which is a valid point and a very kind way of saying it.

“I- maybe. That doesn’t mean he’s a murderer!” As far as Martin’s seen, Jon can’t even bring himself to kill a spider, let alone a person. Though that might be because he completely freezes up at the sight of a spider, rather than any kind of unwillingness to kill one. “Jon hasn’t killed anyone.”

“Of course,” Sasha agrees, in that way he’s finding often means he’s being baited into a trap. “We have nothing to worry about… I wouldn’t want to be Elias, though.”

“What? Why? What do you mean?”

Sasha smiles. “Well, it’s not like he wants our jobs.”

“What does- oh. That’s terrible. You’re terrible.” Sasha shrugs, still smiling and goes back to her work. After a minute of silence, though, Martin has to ask, “Do you think he killed her? Really?”

Before she can answer, things go quiet in Jon’s office and they both go back to their work before he can come out. Martin is sure she doesn’t, though. At least 80% sure.


Obviously they’re not the only ones considering it. There’s been plenty of speculation throughout the Institute, with most employees finding convenient reasons to leave the room- and his line of sight- on the rare occasions Jon leaves the Archives. But there’s also a fair amount of police suspicion. Certainly more than Martin had dealt with as Gertrude’s only assistant. A few officers come to talk to Jon over the first weeks, and every time they leave looking uncertain and mildly perturbed. All except for one who just seems like she’d really like to punch Jon in the face. Martin doesn’t bother offering that one tea. No need to give her incentive to stay any longer than necessary.

The thing is, murderer or not, working for Jon isn’t that bad. Martin hasn’t been working in the Archives very long, wasn’t even used to Gertrude as a boss yet, so there isn’t a whole lot to compare, but even if he did… Jon is exacting, critical, with high expectations. They’re not usually unreasonable expectations, though, and he does his best to give Martin and Sasha direction; places to look, notes on people to talk to. And while Martin would rather go to Sasha for help and not give his boss the impression he doesn’t know how to do his job, Jon very readily answers any questions Martin asks.

Of course, if Martin doesn’t ask any questions and comes back to Jon with unsatisfactory results, then he can expect anything from a disapproving look to a cutting comment to a ten minute lecture on due diligence, depending on Jon’s mood.

And yet, you’d think Martin and Sasha were transformed into school children, the way Jon goes on any time research takes them out of the Institute. If they don’t manage to sneak out, he’ll keep them there until he runs out of things to warn them about, to pay attention to, to avoid. Sometimes it seems like he’s going to break out a contract and have them sign it in blood, swearing they won’t intentionally put themselves in danger.

“Yes, yes. Phone in one hand, knife in the other and a blowtorch in my bag. You’re such a mother hen, Jon,” Sasha says once with a grin when leaving to check out a hospital that an A&E nurse gave a statement about. Jon smiles back, laughing at himself on the surface, but his eyes still look worried and sad.

When the first statement about Ex Altiora surfaces, Jon calls them both into his office and hands them a list of names. Jurgen Leitner is one, and Martin is about to say that yeah, of course they know to watch out for Leitner books, they’re not new, when he realizes that that’s not the only name from 07.2012.2013/06/28 on the list.

“New research project?” Sasha asks, flipping the paper over to see the list continues on the other side.

“Definitely not,” Jon says. “I’d like the both of you to memorize this list. Keep it at your desks if necessary. Come to me with any statements that mention any of these names. Research on them will always be a group effort, and we’ll need to be very careful looking into them outside these walls. If you run into any of them in person, don’t engage if you can help it. Keep your distance and call me immediately.”

“Okay, ignoring how weird and concerning that all is- it’s all well and good in theory, but you’ve got one here that just says ‘Michael’,” Sasha points out. “I think I know like five Michaels. Hell, there’s even another Michael on this list.”

“Tall, blond, disconcerting hands; you’ll know him if he laughs.” He says it so dryly, it’s hard to determine if he’s serious or not at first. The way he looks like he’s trying to burn the image into their brains through his stare makes Martin decide he is.

“That’s- not a lot to go on?” Martin says.

“It will be enough.”

Alright then.

-

Despite his connection to Beholding, most of Jon’s memories of Sasha James are still of not-Sasha, who may have taken over her life and her memories but was still quite a different being. So he can’t help but watch her sometimes, cataloguing every aspect of her and writing over his own memories to put her back in the places she belonged. And if it keeps him from staring at Martin too much… Whatever fondness Jon might have had for not-Sasha- prior to her trying to kill him- was definitely left over from his time with this one, he finds, and he can’t bring himself to regret bringing her in, even if it would have been better for her if he hadn’t. Not to mention, she’s extremely efficient and helps Martin without question and Jon can’t help but wonder if things would’ve gone smoother if she’d still been with them when- Well, this time he’ll be able to find out.

Of course, they all need to make it to that point first. Jon knows he’s been getting a bit- Paranoid isn’t the right word, not compared to how he once was, and considering the things he’s worried about really are out there. It doesn’t feel fair to say he’s overprotective either. He’s not trying to restrict them, knows he won’t be able to keep them completely safe. He just wants to make sure they’re prepared.

Sasha takes to poking him now and then, calling him “Mother” to let him know when he’s going overboard- when she’s not speculating over whether or not he’s a murderer, of course- but that’s fine. He’ll accept whatever teasing comes because he’s determined not to lose anyone. Not this time. Maybe it’s inevitable, but it won’t be through any oversight of his.

He hopes.

They’re not friends, though. No matter how much Jon cares, no matter how much he wishes- Someday, if things go right, maybe he’ll be able to go out for drinks with them, to chat casually. Someday, maybe, but not while he still has so many secrets, and not while his heart keeps trying to superimpose an older, wearier, harder Martin atop this one.

-

Obvious concern for their well-being and the occasional awkward attempt at conversation aside, Jon still doesn’t actually interact with Martin and Sasha much. He doesn’t interact much with anyone as far as they can tell; Martin tries not to find this sad because it’s Jon’s life and some people really are happier on their own. It would be easier to do if Jon ever actually seemed happy. Usually when Martin starts thinking about it, he finds himself bringing Jon tea. Maybe he’s being bothersome, but Jon always smiles- however small- and thanks him.

That dearth of interaction and unfortunate preoccupation might be why it takes nearly three months with Jon in the Archives before Martin starts realizing that, however strange Jon may seem at first glance, in reality he is so much stranger. And somehow that strangeness seems to extend to the archive itself. Wherever Jon goes, there is a tape recorder. Even when he’s not recording a statement. It’s like a compulsion or something, except Martin never actually sees Jon move the recorders. He doesn’t carry them around. It’s as though they just magically appear in each room Jon enters. Martin hadn’t even known they had this many recorders. Before Gertrude disappeared he would’ve sworn there were maybe two. Now there are easily a dozen. Which also doesn’t make sense because why do they have so many now? It’s not that Martin doesn’t like them- he actually snuck one home to record some of his poetry- it just seems excessive.

When he asks Sasha, she casually moves the one now in the center of her desk to the side, so it’s no longer on top of the papers she needs, and shrugs.

“Maybe Jon collects them?” she suggests reasonably, and Martin would like to believe that, and to believe that she believes that. He sees her glance at the recorder on her desk more and more, though, and knows that neither of them do.

There’s also a number of fire extinguishers in each room now. More than they could possibly need, but pretty much everything in the Archives is flammable, so Martin is willing to write that one off as a phobia or something. Between that and the new, more open floorplan and the thing with the spiders, it seems like Jon has quite a few phobias and maybe some PTSD. It’s impressive how well he gets through some of the statements if that’s actually true.

Then there’s the feeling of being watched. It becomes almost constant, even on the rare occasions when Jon’s office door is closed. There aren’t any cameras in the Archives- Elias had said so, but Martin has also double and triple checked- so it can’t be that. Sasha is the one to bring that one up, sitting in the breakroom and out of Jon’s hearing. Some days, she tells him, it doesn’t go away until she’s home, tucked away in her room.

All of that could be rationalized by someone determined to do so. Not so much with Jon’s apparent, preternatural intuition for which statements are real. He’ll shuffle through stacks of files, picking and choosing with hardly a glance. One day, he even pulls a full, dust-coated box from a shelf and deposits the entire thing on Martin’s desk without ever opening it.

“When you have time, Martin, please digitize these and file them as discredited.”

“But we haven’t researched any of those?” It’s not actually a question. Martin knows they haven’t touched that box, but his voice still lilts up at the end. He tries again, “They haven’t been discredited?” and fails.

“There’s no need. It would simply be a waste of time and resources.”

“I- we’re supposed to put a reason, though, when-” And Jon must be tired because he actually rolls his eyes.

“Discredited by Archivist, then. Trust me, the only thing these ‘statements’ might be good for is kindling and maybe a laugh.” At least he doesn’t actually use finger quotes, though his disdain clearly implies them. Martin doesn’t think he’s ready to try fitting something like that into his mental concept of Jon.

Martin chooses not to point out that there’s no possible way Jon can already know what any of the statements in this box say. He gets the impression he wouldn’t get anywhere with that. Instead, he nods and agrees and decides he’ll do his own cursory research while he digitizes them. He doesn’t tell Jon that, of course, just opens the box and asks off-hand if Jon would like some tea and doesn’t think about the way his heart beats harder when Jon smiles at him. It’s a nice smile.

All of the statements end up being bogus, just as Jon said, though a couple are very well written. When Martin works up to asking Jon how he knew, Jon looks confused and doesn’t even remember giving Martin the box until shown the stack of statements in question. He frowns a bit, stares at the papers a touch too intensely, and then says “I just did.” as he walks away, as if that’s some kind of answer.

It’s only when Sasha spends the better part of a week trying to dig up sources on one, apparently false, statement that Jon finally pinches the bridge of his nose and gives them some clue as to his reasoning.

“Oh for- Fine. Fine. From now on, if you can record a digital version of the statement, discard it. It’s useless. Yes, yes. Do some research for appearance’s sake, if you must, but never more than a few hours.”

“Sorry, what?” Sasha asks incredulously.

“Some statements cannot be recorded on a computer. I know you’ve both noticed; neither of you is an idiot. There is a reason for that. Those are the ones we should give our attention to.”

“Why, though? And how do you know? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Observation and experience, I suppose. Because-” he continues before either of them can argue that he hasn’t been there any longer than them- “clearly I am from the future and have been doing this for years. As for why…” Jon pauses, stares into the middle distance for a long few seconds. “I- I don’t actually know. I don’t know why that happens. Hm. Something to think about, I suppose. Now please, mark that statement as discredited and move on to something more substantive.” And that’s the end of the discussion apparently, as he proceeds to walk away. Again.

-

Most of the first year is spent in a sort of calmness that Jon’s rarely experienced since he took the job the first time. They make decent progress in organizing the archives, with a far more useful filing system than Gertrude’s nonsense, the lack of a third assistant being made up for by Jon’s memory of statements he’s already read and his now-innate ability to tell the true statements from the false. The ache of his sudden inhumanity fades and only ever bothers him when he goes too long without a live statement. Abstaining is neither an option nor even a consideration at this point, but with what foreknowledge he has, he can sometimes be selective with the ones he takes. Those like Carlos Vittery and Lydia Halligan, who won’t live long past giving their statements, are the easiest on what remains of the conscience Jon had tried to cling to, back before the apocalypse.

Then there are those targeted by the Lonely. It’s harder to feel alone when you’re being watched, generally, and so there’s a chance that the mere fact of his presence in their dreams will negate some of the fear. Maybe it just replaces it with a different kind of fear, but it’s still a strike against Forsaken, so Jon is okay with that. Let the Lukases complain to Elias if they want. Jon’s perfectly willing to tell them all where they can shove it.

Months pass with no attack, no active ritual attempts other than Jonah’s. The two of them fall into a sort of holding pattern as they both figure out what suddenly having a fully realized Archivist means for Jonah’s plans. Elias asks probing questions to learn which entities Jon’s already encountered; Jon tries to find something that will tell him whether his mental scars still count as marks even though most of the physical evidence of them is gone. Would the memories and trauma be enough if the actual encounters haven’t happened anymore? He can’t be sure, just as Jonah can’t be sure how far along Jon actually is.

Worst case scenario, Jonah decides to risk the ritual not working, tricks Jon into performing it again, and it works. Second worst, he decides Jon is too much of a threat or liability and tries to kill him with some measure of success. So long as Jon doesn’t antagonize him too much, those cases are unlikely. The most probable outcome of this standoff is that Jonah will decide Jon’s too valuable a resource to discard, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, so the attacks by various avatars and monsters will be subtly encouraged once again. Until then, however, Elias is watching Jon too closely, so Jon continues with what should be business as usual. Reading and taking statements, filing them efficiently, keeping his assistants busy and safe; steering them as gently as he can toward the knowledge they need.

It’s almost… nice.

Which is why it makes Jon nervous. In his experience, Jon doesn’t get nice things. After a while, the level of monitoring he does on all his people probably rivals the paranoid stalking he did while not-Sasha was in the Archives; it’s just subtler, since he doesn’t need to physically follow them anymore. Each probing visit Elias makes is another opportunity to get them a bit more prepared without giving too much away. Fire extinguishers are placed about every room, along with torches- both battery powered and hand-cranked; shelves are reinforced and moved to open the area as much as possible; two well-stocked first aid kits are put in easy-to-access places and Jon keeps a corkscrew in his desk. And since Elias won’t pay to fix the broken humidity control, Jon Knows what he needs to fix it himself.

It used to be Jon kept his office door closed at almost all times, suspicion and antisocial tendencies keeping him distanced from everyone. He tells himself now that he leaves his door always partially open as a way of encouraging Martin and Sasha to listen and investigate and question, to prepare them. In truth, he can’t stand to be alone anymore. In the later days of the Lonely’s occupation of the Institute, he, Basira, and Daisy had taken to keeping close proximity. Often it was just Daisy sitting in his office while he recorded statements and Basira was off on some secretive mission or other, but sometimes it was the three of them- occasionally even with Melanie before she quit- sitting in the main archive area, talking just to fill the silence and know they were together. More than once, Jon fell asleep to the sound of Daisy’s slow breaths and Basira’s snores across the room. After, he and Martin were rarely apart. Until… Until.

Mostly now he just stops every so often and listens to the others move around and trade gossip and curse false leads and uncooperative sources, to remind himself where and when he is. At night, when he can’t keep working but also can’t sleep, he’ll lay on the cot in document storage or the couch in his flat or, on the worst days, sit in a 24 hour coffee shop and Know his people. That they’re safe. When the ache in his chest gets to be too much, he’ll stand just inside his office door and listen to Martin record a false statement, and considers taking up smoking again, or maybe developing a drinking habit. It’s not like it’s going to kill him.

Martin is, as ever, far too kind and concerned with Jon’s wellbeing. Usually, Jon can set aside the lingering loss and take it as a comforting familiarity that reminds him why he’s doing this. Usually. More often than not, as time goes on. A couple months in, though, Martin brings him the perfect cup of tea. Exactly the way Jon likes it. Exactly the way Martin would make it.

“You should take a break, Jon,” Martin suggests, nearly scolding but still too unsure of his position, as Jon takes a sip and closes his eyes, sighing in contentment. “Get lunch. Or a nap.”

“Mm,” Jon agrees absently, “I lo-” He stops, eyes flying open. If Martin knew- but Martin just looks at him curiously. “I- I will. Take that under advisement. I- Thank you. For the tea. It’s- it’s perfect. Could you- Would you please- close the door behind you?”

Martin looks a little put out, confused, but he closes the door behind him on the way out. The second the latch clicks into place, Jon has his face buried in his hands, covering his mouth to muffle the sound of his sobs.

-

The more Jon seems to fit with the Archives, unfortunately, the harder it gets to discount the idea that he may have had a hand in his position freeing up. Granted, Martin had only worked in the Archives for a month before Jon, but he still can’t remember seeing Jon anywhere near them before his self-appointment. Yet Jon never once has trouble finding his way around. And while he demonstratively understands Gertrude’s haphazard filing better than anyone, he wastes no opportunity to criticize it.

“I admire her determination and sometimes even her pragmatism,” Jon says once, under his breath, glaring at a mess of papers, files and tapes that all bear mismatched or non-standard case numbers, “but Gertrude Robinson had no business calling herself an archivist.”

“Sorry?” Martin asks, though he’s almost certain he wasn’t meant to hear. He glances at Sasha and receives a shrug. “I thought you didn’t know Gertrude.”

“I think we may have spoken once? Barely more than introductions, I’m sure,” Jon says- more than he’s ever said on the topic before, at least to them. His attention is still focused on the papers in his hand. “I certainly had no idea the sort of person she was then. No doubt she’d have something to say about all this, but it doesn’t matter now. I’ve long accepted we wouldn’t have gotten on- heh, if she didn’t just kill me, of course. I can’t say I regret that, but I do wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t emulate her more.” If she didn’t just kill him. What the hell?

“Oookay. What- what does that mean?” The question seems to jar Jon out of his pensive state.

“It means Gertrude Robinson had many interests and goals that she pursued with a singular focus and determination, but being a proper archivist was not among them, and I have a lot of work ahead of me. As do you. If you find any other statements with unusual case numbers, please inform me.”

“Right. Of course,” Martin mumbles- Jon’s attention clearly lost again as he walks away. Martin tries to avoid Sasha’s eyes, knowing she’s smirking at him as she puts another check on the Yes side of her “Is my boss a murderer?” chart.

Whether it’s actual interest or just a way to tease Martin, she doesn’t let it go.

Tim Stoker is well known around the Institute. Martin doesn’t know him well, but he and Sasha have apparently been friends for years. Jon has some kind of problem with him. Whenever Tim comes down to bring them files to be archived or to try to reference something- still usually an exercise in futility but occasionally possible since Jon took over- he always stays to chat with Sasha, and Jon always makes himself scarce. Almost always. Tim hangs around nearly an hour once, which is apparently overstaying his welcome in Jon’s opinion. Jon stands in his doorway, all but chasing Tim off with that piercing stare of his.

On one occasion, Tim invites Martin and Sasha out to lunch with him. He asks very suggestively, but Martin is pretty sure he only means it in a friendly way… probably.

“Alright,” Tim says once they’re seated in the pub, “now that I have you away from Mr. Glares-a-lot, what is Sims’s problem with me?”

“Honestly, I was going to ask you,” Sasha tells him. “I was already surprised he picked me for the Archives and not you. Last I knew, the two of you used to work together fairly often.”

“We did, sort of, sometimes… Wait, Jon asked for you to transfer to the Archives? Not Elias?”

“Well, Elias is the one who offered it to me, but Martin says Jon requested me specifically.” Martin nods when Tim looks to him for confirmation.

“That’s… No offense, Sasha, but I wasn’t expecting that. I wouldn’t say we were friends, but he definitely didn’t have this issue with me before. Honestly, we were probably as close to friends as Jon got with anyone there. Then one day he gets sick and the next week he doesn’t show up or answer my texts. Just when I start thinking he might be dead, someone tells me he’s an archivist now.”

The Archivist,” Sasha and Martin correct almost automatically, rote and perfectly in sync. Tim leans away.

“Alright, that was creepy. Kindly refrain from doing that again. What does that mean anyway? Aren’t you, what, assistant archivists or something?”

“Archival Assistants, technically,” Sasha says. “It’s kind of a thing with Jon. I’m not sure he even knows he’s doing it? Except with Elias. Jon is very- intentional with his words around Elias. You think he doesn’t like you… Anyway, I think technically his title is Head Archivist, but I’ve never heard him use it. Whenever he records statements or even introduces himself, it’s always-”

“Jonathan Sims, The Archivist,” Sasha and Martin finish in unison again.

“Yeah, not any less creepy the second time.”

“Really, though. Jon’s a good boss, but-”

“Sorry, he’s a what now?” Tim interjects and Sasha rolls her eyes.

“I know he’s a bit…”

“Grouchy? Rude? Churlish? Curmudgeonly?” Sasha swats Tim’s arm with the back of her hand.

Unsociable. And his standards can be exacting, but he does try to be reasonable, and he actually cares a lot about our wellbeing.”

“You’re joking,” Tim asserts. “This is the same Jon Sims we’re talking about, right? Bit scrawny? Prematurely greying? Used to put in earplugs every time Trish talked about her kid because “if he wanted to hear someone squak about their offspring, he’d go talk to the parrots at the zoo”? I’d honestly sooner believe he really did kill Gertrude.”

“I did have another thought about that,” Sasha says excitedly, less to Tim than Martin, who groans but doesn’t stop her. Every so often she’ll come up with some new motive, usually absurdly far-fetched. Sometimes Martin wishes she’d let it go, since he’s pretty sure she doesn’t actually think Jon killed anyone, but it’s usually good for a laugh. “Obviously he wouldn’t have done it because he really wanted the job. It seems like he’s sort of- withering, sometimes. But, imagine Jon as a researcher, going down to the archives to try to reference something, only to encounter Gertrude’s filing system.”

“… Oh,” Martin says dejectedly.

Right?” Sasha says eagerly. Tim next to her is nodding in agreement.

“Yeah, that-” Martin sighs. “Yeah.”

-

The tea incident, as Jon thinks of it, isn’t the last time he forgets himself and almost talks to Martin as if he were his Martin. More than once he lets slip something, some comment or memory, without thinking, expecting Martin to agree or scold or snark, only to receive bafflement. This Martin, he reminds himself again and again, isn’t his friend- isn’t the man who came out of the fog knowing Jon better and more deeply than anyone ever had. This Martin is only his employee, and that’s for the best.

It’s worse, probably, since Martin still isn’t positive Jon didn’t murder Gertrude Robinson for her job. Neither of his assistants have asked, though, and volunteering the fact that he didn’t kill her, unprompted, would probably not help his case.

Still, the others eventually seem to lump these slips in with all the other things that are odd about Jon. And it does get easier with the growing distance of time and his increasing, if tentative, familiarity with this younger, less traumatized Martin. Jon had been such an asshole the first time around that he’s still closer to Martin and Sasha now than he was at this point then, just by expressing any care for them at all. They can’t appreciate the change, but he can. The first time Martin mentions his mother to Jon, it feels like a victory. Sasha’s siblings he’d heard about before ever entering the Archives, but the smile she gives him when he comments on her new glasses is blinding.

In August, Jon lets himself close enough to buy a joint birthday present for Martin with Sasha. They don’t need to know his ulterior motives for suggesting a polaroid camera; it’s just the sort of retro thing that Martin finds charming. By the end of the week, there are enough pictures of all of them floating about the Archives to let Jon breathe a bit easier. If Martin knows the leather-bound journal is also from him, nothing is said about it, and if it all results in Martin being a bit more confident in himself around Jon- a little more willing to speak openly or push back- Jon can’t regret it.

-

After a few months, they settle into- not really a routine, and certainly not normalcy, but their own sort of normal. They sort, they research, Jon says odd things that only invite more questions. He never accepts Sasha’s invitations to go out with them after work, but now and then they’ll order delivery and all eat together. Turns out Jon’s actually kind of funny. He may also be something of an insomniac. Given how tired he always looks, Martin thinks he couldn’t possibly have killed someone for this. For a position that seems to be draining Jon slowly. Whatever the cause, Martin makes a mental note to not bring him any caffeinated tea after noon.

There are definitely things Jon knows that he isn’t telling them. A lot of things, probably. And there are definitely some weird things going on. Not all related to Jon. When it comes down to it, though, that’s kind of their job, isn’t it? They look for answers about weird things.

Of course, things only get weirder from there.

Jon just knows things sometimes. Not just which statements are worth anything or the occasional extremely random fact. Things he shouldn’t know. Things he shouldn’t be able to know. Things that people swear they never told him. Things that- One night Jon offhandedly tells Martin he should leave early. His usual route home will be blocked so he’ll need to take the longer route. This is bordering on prophetic and absurd, but while Martin is finally at a point where he’s comfortable sometimes arguing with Jon, he’s also at a point where he knows it’s better to just accept the strange things he says.

When the notification confirming the foretold delay comes through, Martin is already halfway home. The real proof comes weeks later, when Jon stops in the middle of a statement and grabs his phone.

“Turn right,” Martin hears him say through the half-open doorway in a tone that could almost be called panicked. “Trust me, Sasha. Down the stairs. Third door on your left, lock it behind you. The second window from the right has a couple bars missing, you can squeeze through.” There’s about a minute of only Jon’s heavy breathing, and Martin can feel his own heart rate rise in response. He goes to the doorway and watches anxiously as Jon jitters and Sasha apparently runs from something terrible.

“Good, pick a direction and run… Okay- okay, turn left at the next intersection, get in the taxi. He’s not in service, but his name is Calvin Nesbitt. He lives in Swindon. Convince him to bring you here.” Relief in his face, Jon nods to Martin and, as far as Martin can tell, stays on the phone until he’s sure Sasha is on her way back to the Institute, after which he tells her they’ll talk when she gets home.

Of course, when she does arrive, Jon meets them at the entrance- looking rather like he’s the one coming off an adrenaline high from running for his life- and instead of paying Mr. Nesbitt and sending him on his way, leads the man down to the Archives to give a statement.

“Are you… okay?” Martin asks, handing Sasha a cup of tea while they wait.

“Not really? I’m- I’m not like you. I don’t put myself in danger for the sake of research-”

“I don’t-” Sasha gives him a look.

“You went down an active Underground tunnel last week.”

“Okay, not my smartest move, granted. But I did find-”

“Martin, I’m like 90% sure you’re the reason Jon’s so grey. Worry for you is making him old before his time.”

“Weren’t we talking about you?

Sasha sighs. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m just- Shaken, I guess. It was supposed to be an empty building, but there was this- this thing. I think- it might have been the same thing as in the statement. Its skin- And I just- How did he know? How? Do you think he’d tell us? If we asked? I- I’m going to- I’m going to give a statement. After Jon’s done interrogating my driver.” The teacup trembles just slightly in her hands, and Martin’s not sure that’s such a good idea.

“Are you sure-”

“Yes. And then I’m going to ask him what the hell is going on.”

Except when the driver leaves, looking slightly dazed, and Sasha goes to do just that, Jon shuts her down. Sort of vehemently. Possibly more vehemently than he had meant to, given the surprise on his own face. He reaches out and puts a hand on Sasha’s arm, which is the most physical affection they’ve seen him give anyone.

“No, I’m sorry, Sasha. You should go home, rest. You can write a statement in the morning.”

“But I’m here now. Why don’t I just tell you?”

“It’s- I don’t- Mr. Nesbitt was my second statement today,” he decides on, obviously scrambling for an excuse. There’s a touch of desperation in his voice. “I don’t think I have another in me. Please, Sasha, we can take care of it tomorrow.”

With the sagging of his shoulders and the dark circles around his eyes, he really does look sort of pathetically exhausted. He looks her over, like he’s going to find her bleeding out.

“Are you… you’re okay.” It’s said like a statement but it has the tone of a question.

“I will be, I think,” Sasha concedes. “Okay, Jon. Tomorrow. You should go home too. Get some sleep.” He nods but doesn’t say he will, and as Martin and Sasha pack up their things for the day, Jon seems to settle back in at his desk.

Before they leave, Sasha stops in Jon’s door again.

“I mean it. About the sleep,” she says. “And… I don’t know how you did it, but thank you.”

In the morning, Sasha’s written statement is filed, and every time it looks like she’s going to ask, she changes her mind. Instead, she’s abnormally quiet and stares at Jon curiously every time he emerges from his office.


“Do you- D’you ever notice how Jon never asks us any questions?” Sasha asks a couple days later.

“What? Of course he does. He-”

“He doesn’t, though. He’ll ask us to do things. Will you look into this, can you file that, would you, could you. Sometimes he’ll sort of ask, in a roundabout way. ‘I don’t suppose you have any ideas.’ Or ‘I hope your day is going well.’ But never a direct question. Never ‘Do you have any ideas?’ Never ‘How is your day?’ This is going to sound crazy, but- I don’t think people can not answer Jon’s questions.”

“You’re right, that sounds crazy.” Which is true, and yet, Martin makes a mental note to pay more attention to Jon’s phrasing in the future. Sounding crazy seems more and more like a point in favor of it being true.


When Martin leads Naomi Herne into the Archives to take her statement, Jon is there waiting. It’s obvious that Jon knows her somehow, and something about her makes him nervous. When she sees him, Naomi freezes.

“You- I- I know you. You-” Her voice is taut, trembling slightly. She shakes her head. “No, I- I’m sorry. You couldn’t possibly, it’s just-”

“I’m Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, and I am exactly who you think I am, Ms. Herne. I’m very sorry for what you have been through. If you would-”

Naomi sneers, straightening up and stepping toward Jon, almost threatening. “You’re sorry? You sure as hell don’t look sorry when you- What the hell are you?” Jon flinches but doesn’t waver.

“Something akin to and wholly unlike your fiance’s family. If you want to leave, no one will stop you and you will never hear from the Institute again. If you want to understand what happened to you, though- what is still happening to you- I will explain everything in my office. I promise no additional harm will come to you there.” What the hell does any of that even mean? Would Jon explain everything to Martin if he asked that question?

It’s hard to tell whether Naomi Herne is more angry or afraid; Martin’s not sure even she knows. Eventually she takes a few jerky steps forward and follows Jon into the office, where Jon leaves the door open just a crack, as he usually does. It’s part of what made Martin put claustrophobia on the list of fears Jon might have.

Despite the rather strange conversation that just occurred, Martin is determined not to eavesdrop. He respects Jon too much, and if there’s something Jon thinks he should know, then Jon would tell him, as he does whenever they go into the field. It’s just- he’s just so damn curious. After a year- a year, Jon just keeps becoming more and more of a mystery, and Martin wants to know Jon. Wants to understand. This isn’t just Jon’s privacy he’d be invading though.

He’s just decided to go back to his own desk, to let it go, when he spots a spider headed straight for the crack in Jon’s door. Martin may suspect Jon of having many phobias, but he knows Jon’s afraid of spiders.

He catches the spider as it’s crawling up the door jamb. And then just… stays.

“Your fiance’s family deals in isolation. Here at the Institute, we deal in knowledge and experiences. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I explained, but I have heard your story before, and this is why you’ve seen me,” Jon is saying, though makes no comment on where she’s seen him or how he knows what happened to her.

“That’s not possible.”

“Neither is what happened to you. I do know what you’ve gone through, Ms. Herne, but if you still wish to make a statement, to get it off your chest, so to speak, we can do that now. I promise, you will not leave worse than you came in.”

“M- maybe. I just… Tell me straight. You believe me? You believe what I say happened.”

“Yes. I do. I know it did.”

“And you can explain it?”

“I will try.”

“Okay… Okay.”

Nothing is clearer- it’s actually more confusing if anything- but as Martin listens to the woman talk about her fiance’s funeral and the fog and the cemetery and hearing a dead man’s voice, it feels like he’s teetering on the edge of some kind of understanding.

“I don’t- I don’t know how much of an explanation I actually want, to be honest,” Naomi says at last, sounding tired, drained. “Part of me just wants to put it behind me. And knowing that someone, anyone, believes me. I think that might be enough.”

“Ms. Herne, Naomi, I’d like you to take this.”

“Your- card?”

“If you ever find yourself in such a situation again, it’s best to think about those you love. In absence of that, if you’re still able to, please consider calling me. Especially if you encounter any of your fiance’s family. I’ll help you if I can.”

“… Why?”

“I have my own… grievances with the Lukas family. And I regret the distress I may cause you. Unfortunately, that is not something I can control.”

“Right.” She doesn’t sound convinced.

“Before you go, would you tell me if my presence there makes it worse?” His presence where? Martin grows ever closer to just grabbing Jon and shaking him, demanding answers.

“Yeah, I- I don’t know. I’m afraid, always, but- I can see I’m not alone at least. So it’s a different fear. I’m not actually sure how I recognized you, without all the eyes. Maybe- Maybe it will be different now.”

“I will always only ever be a witness. I cannot help you there, even if I wanted to.”

“No, but at least I know what you are now. That you don’t want to hurt me. You’re… terrifying. But I’m not alone, I suppose.” Strange, off-putting, unnerving, all words Martin himself has used to talk about Jon, but terrifying? Sometimes he’s afraid a stiff breeze will knock Jon over. Terrifying he is not.

“That’s- that’s good, I guess. Can I ask what you’ll do now?”

“I don’t know. I’m thinking of finding some roommates, maybe calling a couple of Evan’s- our- old friends. I just- don’t want to be alone.”

“Yes, I- I know the feeling.” Jon laughs that adorable, awkward laugh of his. “I recommend getting a cat.”

“What, can it scare away the evil supernatural loneliness?”

“No, but they’re very good company when you don’t want to be around other people. And they will miss you if you’re gone.”

Martin returns to his desk before Naomi can get to the door, and leads her back to the Institute entrance when she does. It’s only when he starts back toward the Archives that he realizes he’d lost track of the spider during his eavesdropping. Hopefully it didn’t go in Jon’s office.

-

The dreams came with him. Some of them at least. As far as Jon can surmise, can remember upon waking, it’s only those that have already occurred. Those that had been out of his reach before, due to death or the Eye’s protection, still seem distant but not entirely gone. He doesn’t know if the others will return once they happen again, and he doesn’t know for certain that any of the statement-givers themselves experience the dreams. Not until the day Naomi Herne walks into the Institute and freezes at the sight of him.

The horror she feels upon seeing him- the part of him that is made of eyes does… whatever the equivalent of purring is when you’re a monstrous avatar of a voyeuristic eldritch god made of eyes. Encouraging it would be unproductive, though, and- if she already has the dreams without even the small catharsis of making a statement- unfair. She certainly didn’t deserve how he treated her the first time around, and despite his general “fuck you” approach to the Lukases, he really doesn’t need her going to Elias again.

Also, he is sorry. She deserves some kind of explanation, and if it reveals a bit more to Martin- standing beside Naomi, clearly taken aback by her ire and her words- more’s the better.

“What the hell are you?” she demands.

A monster, he thinks.

“Something akin to and wholly unlike your fiance’s family,” he says. “If you want to leave, no one will stop you and you will never hear from the Institute again. If you want to understand what happened to you, though- what is still happening to you- I will explain everything in my office. I promise no additional harm will come to you there.”

Naomi Herne enters his office and gives him her statement of her own volition. He does not compel her. The relief she shows, after he says he believes her… Jon can understand that, if not the dissipation of her curiosity. After Jon left the Lonely, he’d had Martin. They were together almost constantly. Naomi isn’t close to her mother and has lost touch with any friends she may have had. The risk of her falling right back in is high. He thinks of his own time, before becoming the Archivist, and how very similar he had been to her. He thinks of falling out with Georgie, and how willing she’d been to open her home to him once he finally made the effort to reach out. It was still hard, navigating their new relationship when she was home, but the comfort of-

“I recommend getting a cat,” he tells her, not really intending to say it but not sorry he does.

She leaves with his card. He doesn’t expect she’ll ever use it, doesn’t know what he’ll do if she does, but if he can keep even one victim from the Lukases he’s willing to make the effort. It helps to have his hopes supported, that the Lonely statement-givers may suffer slightly less from their dreams than others, merely from the fact of his presence.

Also, Martin had been listening in, so overall he thinks this went well.

-

“I think you’re right.”

“Of course I am. I’m always right,” Sasha declares. “So what am I right about this time?”

“About Jon not asking direct questions,” Martin says, though it’s the least of the things rattling around in his head after what he’s heard.

“See! What made you change your mind?”

“When Jon was taking a statement from Naomi Herne, he barely asked any questions. Every time, though, he started the question with “Can I ask-” or something like that. Not “What will you do?”, but “Can I ask what you’ll do?””

“Huh. I hadn’t noticed him doing it with anyone other than us. But I guess Jon doesn’t really talk to anyone but us, does he? Does he have any friends, do you know?” She did this the night Jon led her back, too. Changing the subject when the topic gets too heavy. He’s never known her to shy away from a mystery, so he assumes it’s her way of giving herself time to think. Which he can’t fault her for. “Old mates from uni? It may have been a while ago, but-”

“Not that long,” Martin says without thinking, and Sasha perks up.

“Oooh, Martin! Do you have gossip? It’s been so long!”

“No! It’s just- We were talking the other day, and I think Jon might actually be the same age as me?” While his file says he’s thirty-two, Sasha and Jon had presented him with a camera and a card that said “Happy 28th Birthday!” a few months ago; so however Jon had found out, she knows what he means.

“No way.”

“Give or take a year, yeah.” It had seemed too intrusive to ask, not that Jon seems to have the same compunctions.

“Oh, I’m going to tease him so much now!”

“What, no! Don’t do that.”

“I’m going to. You can’t stop me.”

“Sasha!” She’s doing it to tease him, he reminds himself.

“I won’t say who told me! Promise.”

“I don’t know-”

“Well, unless he asks, I guess,” Sasha laughs and skips away to her desk. Martin resolves to hide the coffee in the breakroom.

Chapter Text

It’s a truth universally unacknowledged that there is something more going on in the Archives. It used to be Martin would keep his head down, not invite any sort of scrutiny, just let people think he was a bit incompetant rather than so far out of his depth it’s a miracle he hasn’t drowned. Faking it ‘til he makes it. Now though, there are so many things that seem like they tie together, and Jon isn’t telling them, not outright, but everything he does seems to be inviting them to look closer, to question.

So they do. And as he and Sasha compare notes, the shape of something starts to form, but Martin still can’t quite make it out.

When Carlos Vittery’s statement returns to the archive, along with the report of his death, it rubs Martin the wrong way. And since Jon isn’t trying to stop them… Some part of Martin thinks he might tell them everything, if they asked sincerely, but the prospect seems… fraught, dangerous. Still, there’s that niggling feeling that he just can’t shake.

With Tim’s help, since most are still active, he goes over all the statements Jon has personally taken, and another pattern starts to form. Almost all of the statements fall into two categories: either the statement was about some kind of supernatural isolation, or the statement-giver did not live long after visiting the Institute.

“What the fuck?” Tim breathes as he too notices. Martin can’t help but agree. He makes Tim swear not to tell anyone but Sasha until he’s looked into it more.


“What are you?” Naomi Herne had asked. What. And she’d called Jon- anxious, jittery Jon who looked at each cup of tea Martin brought him as if it was the most thoughtful gift- terrifying.

There’s no way Jon killed Carlos Vittery. It’s just not possible. The man was encased in spiderweb. Jon hates spiders. And yet- So Martin brings Jon a cup of tea as he’s just beginning a recording and tells Sasha he’s going to go do some follow-up on a statement with a wink, then leaves while Jon is occupied. It’s late enough in the day that no one will question him going straight home that night without returning to the Institute.

Later, holed up in his flat with no power or phone, covering every possible entry point big enough for a worm to squeeze through, he sits in quiet terror, kept awake by that constant knocking, and curses himself for this.

-

Of course Jon hadn’t truly considered what encouraging Martin’s curiosity might lead to. Martin has- had- has always been a bit too willing to put himself at risk for… something. Approval or acceptance, then the wellbeing of others. For a while, a genuine disinterest in existence. Jon’s not sure if Martin’s regard for his own wellbeing actually lessened as time went on or if it was simply that the stakes grew exponentially. Back at the start, Jon had just thought Martin was thick and didn’t understand the situations he put himself in. He knows better now. And still he’d let himself grow complacent.

When he finishes recording a statement to find only Sasha in the office, he accepts her explanation of Martin following a lead without a second thought. That is their job, after all. So he checks in on Martin once during the night, just enough to be sure he made it home, which he did. Everything else is quiet and black, so he’s probably already asleep, Jon assumes. Like an idiot, he just assumes no news is good news. Because somehow he’s forgotten his purpose here in the complacency of routine.

It isn’t until mid-morning the next day that he thinks to wonder why Martin isn’t in yet. He tries to Know and receives the same silent darkness. So he tries harder, casting out, and what he gets back is the familiar, repugnant squirming sound of thousands of worms, and Jon remembers what true terror feels like.

“What statement was Martin looking into?” Jon asks Sasha, apprehensive but firm. She blinks at him.

“What? I don’t-”

What statement?” the Archivist Asks.

“It- Car- Carlos. Carlos- Vittery, I think. It was-” Jon is gone before the compulsion even ends.

-

There’s no working clock and the windows are mostly blocked off, but by what little light comes through, Martin thinks it’s probably late morning when things change and someone else can be heard in the hall. He thinks he should do something, warn this new person somehow, but the worms are waiting right on the other side of the door and he can’t take that risk.

Stop.” It’s muffled, by the squirming and the knocking and the door, but forceful enough that it can still be heard. And the knocking does stop. The squirming sound dims. No more worms wiggle through his stopgap. Tentatively, Martin puts his ear to the door.

“Archivist,” rasps a voice that somehow carries the squirm of the worms within it. She says it like a name- like a title. “Can you hear it, Archivist? They sing so sweet.”

“Jane Prentiss,” Jon states, not so much an address as a declaration, and Martin’s heart pounds as it wrestles between hope and fear. “I see you.

“You already have a statement, Archivist.”

“From Jane. Not the Hive. He is not for you. Leave.”

“Listen, Archivist. Do you hear?”

“Yes. I do. And they will sing for me if you do not go now.”

“They will-” Martin hears his appropriated recorder click on behind him.

“Statement of the Flesh-Hive and the being known as Jane Prentiss. Statement taken direct from subject-”

There’s a sudden scuffle of movement and a sort of hissing screech that both cut off as quickly as they start.

“Keep him, then. Let him witness. We are coming for you, Archivist.”

“Yes,” Jon says, softly enough Martin struggles to hear. “I know.” There is a long period of silence, and then knocking comes on Martin’s door again. It’s quieter, though, less rhythmic, more frenzied, more natural. “Martin? Martin, it’s Jon. It’s safe now. You can open the door.”

Jon is on him almost as soon as the door is unlocked, frantic in a way Martin has never even imagined him being; hands patting at his arms, his chest, taking his face in their hold.

“Are you alright? Did any of them get on you?”

“N- no. I don’t think so. I’m- I’m o- I’m not. I’m not alright. I am exhausted and terrified and I am so relieved to see you and I don’t want to be here,” Martin stutters, unable to contain the words. Something in Jon’s voice, in his eyes that catch everything, sends a prick of fear through Martin. He’s never been afraid of Jon before.

What were you thinking?!

“There was a statement, from Carlos Vittery. You had-” Jon cuts him off, closing his eyes briefly and stepping back. He seems small again.

“No! No, don’t. I didn’t- Don’t tell me that. I’m- I’m sorry, Martin. You can- you can explain. If you want. After we get back to the Archives. You should- you should pack a bag. You can stay there for a while.”

-

In the compounding fear of each experience Jon has had to suffer through, he’d somehow forgotten that it wasn’t just his ignorance that made the Flesh-Hive so frightening. Jane Prentiss and her swarm are, in fact, repulsive and terrifying. When he storms into Martin’s building, forcing himself into the pocket of space the Corruption has isolated his… has isolated Martin in, Jon still can’t say for sure whether he has the strength to face it. Worms don’t have much of a mind to compel, and there are so very many of them.

He should have brought a CO2 canister. Stupid.

Without any actual defense, he’s left with just the compulsion. He’s not sure if it actually works, or if she- they- it wasn’t ready to call his bluff. It has the same end result either way. Martin is safe and alive and with Jon- who is an idiot, but at least he’s in good company.

He doesn’t mean to Ask Martin anything, and spends half the trip back to the Archives kicking himself for it. He’ll have to apologize to Sasha too, somehow. They’ve noticed, he knows, that he doesn’t ask them direct questions, and they have their suspicions, but he’d hoped they’d never have to learn firsthand why. Wishful thinking, of course, even with his increased control. Jon’s luck has never been that good.

The other half of the trip is split between contemplating why he hadn’t known Martin was in trouble- he should have Known- and reminding himself that he can’t hold Martin’s hand. Not here, not now. No matter how much he wants to.

-

Sure, Martin has sometimes thought that it seems like Jon lives in the Archives. But that’s always been more of a commentary on Jon’s work ethic than anything else, or so he’d thought. Except no, apparently Jon has been living in the Archives, because there’s a cot in one of the storage rooms, along with an electric kettle and some of Jon’s clothes.

He gives the space up readily enough for Martin, and then, while Martin is “getting settled,” he goes and makes tea. It’s hardly the best tea Martin’s ever had, but it is prepared just how he likes it. Part of him is surprised Jon knows this. The other part reminds him of all the other things Jon shouldn’t know.

“When you asked how I was, what I was thinking… I had to answer, didn’t I?” Martin asks solemnly, already knowing the answer.

“Yes.” Martin nods but doesn’t press for more on it.

“Do you… should I- give a statement?” That’s what people do, right? Weird thing happens, make a statement. He’s not sure what else to do in this scenario.

“No.” Jon’s tone brooks no argument, and Martin remembers when Sasha first tried to make a statement and got the same response. “If you really want to make one, you can fill out a form, or record it yourself.”

“But you won’t do it.” Not a question.

“No,” Jon agrees anyway.

Finally, Martin has to ask, “What would happen? If I gave my statement directly to you?”

“I’m not sure. Possibly nothing. Probably nothing, to be honest. I would still rather not take the risk. Not with you or Sasha or even Tim. Your wellbeing is more important than me getting a first-hand account.”

“Right,” Martin says, more and more questions swimming through his head. The loss of adrenaline and terror and a full day without sleep are catching up with him, though. He tries to ask something else, but the words come out mumbled as he fights to keep his eyes open. Hands- Jon’s hands- take the teacup from him and guide him down to lay on the cot. When he next wakes up, the clock says it’s night, and Jon is asleep at his desk.

-

“How is dear Martin, then?”

Jon goes incandescent with rage, just from the sound of Elias’s voice. He’s finally managed to catch Jon outside the Archives, and it’s awful. “This was your doing,” Jon accuses. It makes the most sense.

Elias scoffs. “Really, Jon, Martin put himself in that position. If anyone is responsible, it would be you. He was trying to puzzle you out after all.”

“But you kept me from knowing he was in trouble. How did you do it?”

“Much as I appreciate your high estimation of my abilities,” Elias says, “this was not my doing.”

“Maybe not directly,” Jon concedes. He can feel his nails digging into his palms. “But you have your fingers in this somehow. Who was it? The Stranger? The Spiral?”

“Jon-” Jon has no patience for this.

Who blocked me from knowing Martin was in danger?” He can tell Elias feels it, but it’s not enough outside the Archives.

“I don’t know.”

“You-!” Elias cuts him off, holding up a hand as if to physically keep him back. Jon hadn’t realized he’d stepped closer.

“Which suggests it was either the Stranger’s ilk,” he offers calmly, “… Or you somehow did this yourself.”

Jon shakes his head. “No. It shouldn’t be possible. He’s one of mine.”

“Is he, though? From what I understand you’ve been somewhat… aloof. Perhaps you’re not quite as attuned to ‘your people’ as you seem to think.” He waits until Jon is about to respond and adds, “Just something to think about.” Before walking away.

The terrible thing, Jon thinks later, is that he’s probably right. When Jon reaches for Martin, he gets dark, quiet, safe, even though Martin is sitting right in front of him, arguing with Sasha. It’s because he hasn’t let go, Jon realizes. When he reaches for Martin, he automatically reaches for his Martin, who lives now only in Jon himself. He needs to stop this, separate them. He needs to do better, because he can’t afford to miss anything else.

-

It’s understandable, Martin thinks, but also noteworthy that Jon seems to get more and more paranoid with each worm they see. Martin’s been nervous and stressed too, he’s the one who was trapped by them, after all, but Jon is worse. He starts at every unexpected sound and keeps a fire extinguisher beside his desk, because apparently that’s how you kill supernatural worms. At one point he even gets into an argument with Elias over upgrading the fire suppression system.

One day Martin hears him talking to himself, or- more likely, knowing Jon- to a recorder. “I don’t know when it’s coming. It’s all still happening, but it’s different now. I can’t predict- I’m sure they’re in the tunnels by now, but where? How close? When is it coming?”

Finally, Martin can’t hold it in anymore. “When is what coming?”

Jon’s head jerks up. “Martin! Uh- wh-what?”

“You said something is coming. What? And who are ‘they’? The worms? What tunnels? Is this about what Jane Prentiss said? About coming for you? What is going on, Jon?”

Jon still seems somewhat taken aback, but it fades not into denial or false reassurances, but rather something like relief. He deflates even as his countenance brightens.

“I can work with this. You know- Okay. We should- we should get Sasha. She should hear this too. Where…”

“I don’t know. I think she-” It’s at that moment that Sasha herself comes in, disheveled, hand clutching at her shoulder, and drops forcefully into the chair across from Jon.

“I’m making a statement,” she declares.

“Oh… oh,” Jon says, like he knows exactly what’s coming. Martin suspects that he does. “Sasha, I really think-”

“Statement of Sasha James, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, London-”

“Please just-”

“Regarding an encounter with the being known as ‘Michael’-”

Sasha.

Jon.” They stare at each other stubbornly for a long moment before Jon sighs again.

“At least let us patch you up and get you some coffee first,” he practically begs.

“Martin, could you get me a coffee and one of the first aid kits?” Sasha requests without looking away from their boss.

“Right, sure-” As Martin goes, leaving the door wide open, he hears her start speaking again.

“Statement recorded direct from subject, March 20th, 2016-”

-

Jon Knows the moment she walks into the building, and curses himself for not anticipating this, for not being proactive in this regard. He doesn’t actually know if she’s had the dreams. It’s possible her former protection from the Eye came with him, but as he wracks his brain trying to remember if he’s dreamt of her, trying to Know, he decides he can’t risk that it didn’t. He doesn’t have long; they’ll try to get her statement on the computer first, though, and that will buy him a few minutes. He grabs his phone and hopes his call will be answered. It rings twice.

“Hello? Jon?”

“Georgie. Thank god you answered.”

“What- is something wrong, Jon? We haven’t spoken in-”

“I know,” Jon says. “I know. Look, I need you to call Melanie. Tell-”

“Melanie? Melanie King?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know Melanie?”

“It’s a long story, Georgie, and I’m a little strapped for time. I need you to call her. Either convince her to leave the Institute or-”

“The Institute? The Magnus Institute? You’re still- What on earth is she doing there?”

“Making a statement. Georgie, please. Convince her to leave or not freak out when she sees me.”

“Not-” He can practically hear her mind racing- “Jon, did something happen to you? Are you okay? Oh- or did you piss her off and you’re afraid she’ll attack you?”

“Your faith in me is heartwarming, Georgie, truly. But…” He winces at the truth of it. “A little of both, I suppose. I don’t have much time, though. Look, she doesn’t know who I am, but she may still recognize me- Georgie, please, will you do this?”

Silence.

“Georgie?”

“Alright, I guess. But really, Jon, I’d like some kind of explanation for this. There’s- actually something else I’d like to talk to you about.” Of course, stupid, he should have realized. Georgie’s never had protection from the dreams.

“We’ll- We’ll talk. I promise. Just not now.”

Georgie nearly manages to lure Melanie away, but it’s not enough. Sasha leads her into his office a few minutes later and she freezes in the doorway, staring. She looks as angry as ever, but that tells him nothing.

“I- am I supposed to know you?” she asks, and much of Jon’s tension drains. Still, not having the dreams now doesn’t mean she’d still be free of them if he takes her statement again.

“No, not- not really. I am Jonathan Sims, the Archivist.” Five minutes to think and the best lie he can manage is a vague truth. “I suppose you don’t remember. We had an… encounter a while back. I may have been a bit of an ass about your show.”

“Ah. And you thought, what, I’d make a scene?”

“I wasn’t sure you’d remember, but I thought caution may be better. I suppose you’re here to make a statement.”

“I am. Is that a problem? Apparently your recording software is crap.”

“It… has its issues, yes. Sasha, would you get Miss King a form for a written statement?”

“Oh.” Sasha looks at him curiously. “Of course. I just thought-”

“Not this time,” Jon asserts. “A form please.” She shrugs and nods and gestures Melanie back out to the assistants’ desks, but Melanie doesn’t move.

“What, is there another issue? I knew you guys were-” Jon hasn’t missed this.

“No issue. We have an old tape recorder we usually use when our software is uncooperative, but I’m currently short on tapes. So, Sasha will get you a form and you’ll write what you experienced and we will, of course, look into it and let you know what we find.” Hopefully she doesn’t look around and see just how many recorders there are.

They set Melanie up at the spare desk, despite her obvious displeasure. Jon hands her a pen, tells her “In your own time”, and then returns to his office. He can’t yet react to this the way he wants, but relief rushes through him. Sasha, thankfully, continues to go along with the lie, even if she does keep giving Jon looks as she leads Melanie out.

Thinking back, though, Jon can’t not say anything.

“Melanie,” he calls, just before they leave, and she turns back with a familiar scowl. “I’ll look into this personally. I do believe you.” She doesn’t look like she believes him. Looks at him like he’s a moron, actually, before leaving with only an eyeroll in response. It’s amazing how much he’s missed her.

“Want to explain what that was about?” Sasha asks afterward, dropping into the chair on the other side of the desk. “‘We’re out of tapes’? We’re never out of tapes, Jon. I’m not sure we can run out of tapes. We’re practically swimming in them these days. It’s like they breed or something. We’re going to look under a shelf one day and find a nest of miniature cassettes.”

A ridiculous exaggeration, but she’s not wrong. Jon sighs and settles for more vague truths. “Whether she remembers or not, Melanie and I have somewhat- clashing personalities. Taking her statement personally would have invited more conflict than I wanted.”

“See, I can tell you’re not actually lying, but I also don’t buy it,” she says, pointing an accusing finger. “There’s something going on with you and these statements, and one of these days either I’m going to figure out what it is or you’re going to have to tell me.” Jon’s laugh sounds so tired he wants to tell it to take a nap. That’s not an option, though.

“Sasha,” he assures her with absolute seriousness. “I can honestly say I look forward to it. For now, though, leave Melanie’s statement with me, and see if you can dig anything else up on this Lightless Flame statement. Carefully.

Everyone is rolling their eyes at him today. She takes the file and heads back towards her own desk. He’s too curious, though and has to stop her at the door.

“You said you could tell I wasn’t lying. How do- What- Can I ask what my tell is?”

“Sure. When you’re lying, you don’t sound tired.”

-

For all he nags them to take care and be safe, Jon doesn’t seem to take half as much care of himself. He’s thin and tired and never takes breaks, and he just seems… well, lonely. After one statement that Martin missed, Sasha keeps watching Jon, so Martin does too, trying to find whatever she’s looking for. What he finds looks lost and suspiciously like despondency. It makes Martin remember the conversation he… overheard a few months back.

“Do you have a cat, Jon?” he asks, the question cutting through an otherwise quiet archive. Sasha startles, then looks curious as well. Jon continues staring blankly at the shelf he’s been standing in front of for several minutes. “Jon?”

“Hm? Ah- no, I suppose not. Not anymore.” Well that backfired spectacularly. Martin is horrified.

“Oh. I’m- I’m so sorry, Jon. I- Did something- happen?”

“No, no. It’s fine, Martin. The Admiral is still alive and well. It was… Let’s just say I did not get custody in the split.” It’s definitely not fine. Reminding Jon of a bad breakup isn’t really better than reminding him of a dead pet. Not to mention, Jon’s smile is often sad, but there’s something almost self-deprecating in this one, and Martin hates it.

He also feels guilty because this is the most Jon’s ever said about his personal life, and Martin can’t not be pleased to hear it. This doesn’t solve Jon being lonely, though. “Have you ever thought about getting another?”

“We should get one here!” Sasha chimes in.

“What?” Well, confused is better than sad.

“Yeah, like one of those library cats.”

“Would Elias allow that?” Martin asks.

“Does Jon care?” Sasha shoots back.

For a moment Jon looks almost longing, then shakes his head. “No. No, I don’t think that would be a very good idea. Not with…” He looks over at the stairs, where they’d found a single, silver worm this morning. It’s a fair point, and the intention hadn’t been to make Jon even sadder, so they let it go.

It doesn’t escape Martin’s notice, though, that Jon leaves work early for the first time ever. He can only hope that that’s a good thing. He worries that it’s not.

-

“Hi Georgie.”

“Jon! I- You know when I said we should talk, I kind of meant on the phone, right? And not, like, two hours after our last call?”

“I do. I just-” He can’t tell her he knew she wasn’t busy. That’s creepy. “I can go if you-”

“No. No, it’s fine. Did things go alright with Melanie?”

“As well as I could’ve hoped, thanks. I- Look, Georgie, I owe you an explanation, but, if you don’t mind, I’d really like to…” He trails off.

“Right. Right, of course,” she says, still understanding him better than almost anyone, even after everything. She steps to the side and gestures him through her door. “Last I saw him he was asleep on the radiator. I- Jesus, Jon, you look like shit. Go, cuddle. I’ll make us some tea and I’ll meet you in there.”

The moment Jon sits on Georgie’s couch, the Admiral is in his lap and he doesn’t bother resisting the urge to bury his face in the cat’s fluff. The purr he’s met with soothes the ache in his chest better than anything else in this time has. He thinks again about Martin and Sasha saying they should get a cat for the Archives and is hit by a sudden longing. Maybe later, after they’ve dealt with the worms.

“He’s missed you,” Georgie says, setting a cup of tea on the table for him and sitting at the other end of the couch.

“I’ve missed him,” Jon admits.

“You know-”

“I- we’ll- talk about it. After.”

“Okay? It’s weird, you know. I’ve been-”

“Dreaming about me.” So much for not being creepy. At least he made it inside first.

“… Yes. How do you know that?” Jon lets the Admiral lay more naturally in his lap and picks up his tea. It’s- okay.

There’s no good way to say what he needs to say. At least she already knows about monsters, he reminds himself.

“Because it’s me, Georgie. That thing- in the shape of me, covered in eyes, watching one of the worst moments in your life over and over each night? It’s me.”

“Jon, that- that’s not-”

“Possible? Neither is a cadaver telling you that the moment you die will feel the same as this one.”

“… Oh… Fuck, Jon.” He laughs, though there’s no real humor in it. It’s a laugh he’s grown too familiar with.

“Yeah, that- that summarizes it pretty well.”

“How-” She leans back on the armrest. “Melanie. That’s why. You thought she might be dreaming of you, too?”

“It was possible. I- I do need to talk to you, about Melanie. She’s going to end up in a very bad place, if she keeps on the way she’s going, and I- I don’t think I can help this time. I’m certainly not in a place to stop her.” Georgie snorts.

“‘A bad place.’ What, like hell? Bit judgmental there, Jon.”

“No- no. I meant- a bad situation. A bad- headspace. I just- I can’t help her, but you could.” Georgie squints at him suspiciously and leans in again.

“Do you… Jon. Do you- like-” Does he… oh.

“What? Ugh! Georgie! No!”

“Alright! Alright, it’s just, the way you were-”

No, Georgie. Why would you- No.”

“Okay, okay!” she laughs, hands up in appeasement. “So… is there someone else?”

“Really? I tell you I’m the monster haunting your dreams and your- friend is going to get hurt, and you want to know if I have a crush?” What is with everyone rolling their eyes at him today? At least Martin has some respect for him. But Jon really shouldn’t be thinking about Martin right now.

“Oh come on, Jon. You’re talking hell and monsters. There’s gotta be some upside here. There’s no one? No one at all? Ahh- there is!” She must read something in his face that makes her crow, but something else quickly overshadows it. “Oh- oh no. There is. Jon, what happened?”

“It’s- a long, strange story. Isn’t ‘I’m a monster’ enough of a revelation for one night?”

“You haven’t talked to anyone about it, have you. Oh, Jon-”

“I just- He-” Suddenly it’s hard to talk. Jon takes another drink to wash down whatever is stuck in his throat. “I can’t not remember, Georgie. Every day, it’s like I’m- I’m ripping the wound open a little wider, and-” Georgie gently takes the cup from his shaking hands.

“Let me get us something a bit stronger to drink, and then you’ll tell me everything.” And Jon can’t tell Martin yet and Georgie already has some basis for this and it’s been so, so long since he’s actually had anyone to talk to. So he does.


Jon can hear the music the moment he’s inside the building, and is thankful he chose not to bring anyone else with him. It echoes through the corridors, and somehow he can’t tell if it’s a pipe or a snare drum. It seems to change both tone and tune depending which way he turns his head and yet it’s never discordant. It’s beautiful and terrifying and Jon can feel his fingers twitch in want of a weapon. There’s a reason he came unarmed, as terrible an idea as that has the potential to be.

Construction hasn’t begun but people have definitely been through cleaning out debris. Some of the hallways are clear, probably even bright when the sun is filtering through. The dark doesn’t seem to cling to them as much. As he starts down one, the music fades into a far more distant hollow echo, so he turns around. In a corridor still riddled with the broken bits of wall and rusted instruments, the music swells, and Jon trips over an old bedpan. It isn’t until then that he realizes he hasn’t even thought to bring a torch. The hallways should be nearly black, but instead they’re just very dim.

Beholding, he wonders, or a side effect from his brush with the Dark? Either way, it only keeps him from stumbling over some things in what is turning out to be the world’s worst game of Marco Polo. The smell of blood grows stronger and stronger.

Eventually, he turns a dark corner into a darker room and stops. The music isn’t a fife or drums or bagpipes or any of the other instruments that had led him here- not anymore. Now it’s just a whistle, sharp and menacing, coming from a tall, thin figure floating about a foot off the floor. A single step forward, barely a shuffle of Jon’s feet, and the tune cuts off abruptly, the figure’s head snapping up to look directly at him.

It’s a harsh sound, barely above a whisper, and yet he hears it perfectly when the creature speaks.

“More trespassers. It’s been so long since anyone dared wander my halls alone. Come closer, come-”

“No,” Jon says, “I have some questions for you.” It doesn’t shriek, but the hiss it makes has the same effect. It rushes at him, disappearing. “Stop.

Less than a meter away, it appears again, frozen with its arm outstretched, fingers like knives clawing at the air.

“This is not your place, little watcher. How long- will you last?” Jon steels himself.

“What are you?”

“I will peel you apart, bit by bit. I will pull out your organs and snap all your bones.”

“Tell me.”

“I will scatter bits of you all over this place and they will fear it again.”

“Tell. Me.” The creature jerks closer; Jon is only just out of its reach now.

“Can you hear it? The blood rushing through you? Do you know how it would spray, if I cut you right?”

“Tell-”

“I don’t need to aim, I will just cut and cut til I find the right spot.”

“-me.” Jon can’t keep up both the compulsions like this, so he chooses.

There’s a moment of panic when the fingers like knives sink into his chest as one just barely misses his heart. The downsides of missing ribs. So long as it misses his heart, though, his lungs can take it. Now that it’s there, he has it. It tries to pull back, but can’t.

“What are you?” he Asks again, forcing the words out around a pierced lung.

“A ghost,” it says, fighting the whole way, “I think. I died here, so angry-”

“Miss King?” Jon says into his mobile later, when he’s back in the Institute, willfully ignoring Elias’s smug, curious gaze as his flesh and organs knit themselves back together. “This is Jonathan Sims, from the Magnus Institute. I’m calling regarding our investigation into your statement. Have you ever heard the name Alan Shore?”

-

It’s ridiculous, but the longer things go without being explained, the harder it feels to demand an explanation. Every time Martin or Sasha resolves to ask, they always seem to get caught up in some other urgent thing and it seems better to wait. Maybe it’s pride or shame, like so much has happened, it’s hard to admit how lost they still are. Maybe it’s a growing fear of what they’ve yet to learn. Maybe Jon himself is somehow manipulating things to discourage confrontation, though Martin doubts it. Whatever it is, somehow, despite all intentions to the contrary, questions never get asked or answered. They just keep building until they might well outnumber the statements.

Sasha tells Martin about Melanie King, who Jon seemed to expect would recognize him, like Naomi Herne, and who he refused to take a statement from. Martin tells Sasha about Dr. Lionel Elliott, who had something of a breakdown and threw an apple with teeth in it at Jon before half-sobbing his way through his statement.

Things do come to a head, eventually, and they’re both in the Archives when they finally encounter Breekon and Hope in person for the first time.

“‘Scuse us,” one says with a thick, fake Cockney accent, just like Jon and the various statements had described.

“Looking for the Archivist,” says the other.

“I’m sorry, you aren’t-” Martin tries, though his heart is racing. He doesn’t know exactly what these men are, but something about them is just wrong.

“Just got a delivery.”

“Package for-”

“Jonathan Sims,” Jon interjects from the door of his office, face expressionless. “I wasn’t sure I’d still be receiving those. Has the table already been taken to Artefact Storage?” The delivery men suddenly look uncomfortable, shifting their weight and sharing glances.

“Yes,” one hisses awkwardly.

“We-”

“Give it to me,” Jon demands, walking up to them purposefully, hand out to take the small package one of them holds.

“We-”

“It’s been delivered,” Jon says, pulling the package from their grip. They stand there, almost frozen. “Do you want to make a statement?” The question comes out harshly, and receives immediate denials. “Then get out of my Archives.” They do.

“Those were-” Sasha says inquiringly, once they’re gone.

“Breekon and Hope, yes.” Jon inspects the package, flipping and turning it like he’s looking for flaws or a clue.

“Do you know what’s in it?” Martin asks, casually but quickly, while Jon is still focused. His answers are still vague and confusing a lot of the time, but he always seems to say more than he intends to when he’s distracted.

“It’s a lighter. A gift, I suppose, from the web. I think, anyway. Being forthright isn’t exactly their strong suit, but I’ve been… getting better at understanding. You know, I think I’ve actually missed this.”

“A gift from… the internet?”

“What? No, from-” Jon looks up at them. “Ah. Yes, I- This is as good a time as any, I guess. Martin, would you- mind getting us some tea, please? I think we’ll need it. This conversation is… probably long past due.”

When Martin returns with cups for the three of them, Sasha has pulled an extra chair into Jon’s office, and Jon is seated at his desk, absentmindedly flipping the top of a zippo lighter with a spiderweb pattern engraved on it. Martin has to move an active tape recorder from the spare seat to sit down, and Jon takes it from him only to carelessly drop it in a desk drawer and slam it shut. He lets Martin take the lighter.

“You mean Web like- like spiders, don’t you?” Martin realizes, inspecting the engraving, and watches as the mere mention gives Jon that shudder, like he’s trying to shake something from his chest. “Like Carlos Vittery.”

“I- do, yes. All the statements, the real ones? You already know they generally fall into one of fourteen categories-”

“So you’ve said. I still think it’s a weird classification system. It’s too… arbitrary,” Sasha says.

Fourteen categories,” Jon insists with a warning glare. Martin really doesn’t think this is the time for one of their semantic arguments. “For fourteen primary fears. Manifestations of fourteen entities. Sort of.”

“Entities. Like Michael?” Sasha asks, taking the lighter from Martin and inspecting it herself.

“No. Not- The Entities are much… larger. More encompassing but less… defined. Michael, or the Distortion, as he’s sometimes called, is simply one part of one of these entities. The Spiral, category five…” Jon takes the lighter back, fidgeting with it while he thinks. “Someone once told me that the Entities don’t feed on our fear, they are our fear. All the monsters, all the people with strange abilities, everything in these statements- They’re all just small pieces of a larger whole.”

“Pieces. They’re- You’re saying, what, Jon? There are fear gods?” Sasha asks incredulously, and Jon looks back at her with absolute seriousness.

“Yes. At least, that’s probably the easiest way to think of them.”

“We work for one of them,” Martin realizes, the shape of things finally coming together in his mind. Jon had told Naomi Herne that the Lukases dealt in isolation, category fourteen, and the Institute deals in… knowledge. “We do, don’t we? It’s category two, right? The fear of being watched?”

“The Eye,” Jon agrees. “Beholding, the Ceaseless Watcher. They all have many names. It’s the fear of being watched or being known or knowing too much.”

“You,” Sasha breathes, pointing an accusing finger at Jon with a bit too much delight, the way she got every time she came up with a new motive for Jon killing Gertrude. “You! That’s how you always know so much! This god, what, chose you as a vessel or something?”

“In a- manner of speaking, I suppose. It’s far more complicated than that, but- yeah. People like me- I’ve been calling us avatars. It’s…” Jon sighs and takes a drink of the tea they’ve all forgotten about. “Some- followers of the Entities, they’ve been attempting rituals, trying to bring their god fully into this world.”

“Apocalypses,” Sasha clarifies. “What you’ve been hiding from us is fear gods and apocalypses.

Jon cringes. “I wasn’t- I- Gertrude Robinson foiled many attempts in her time as Head Archivist. So far, I’m an unknown. The others, like Jane Prentiss, may target me because they’re worried either I’ll continue her work, or that we will attempt a ritual of our own for Beholding.”

“And?” Sasha prompts. “You don’t seem the ending the world type to me, but apparently I’ve been missing fear gods.”

“I’m not-” Jon drains his tea and examines the dregs like they could direct him through this conversation. “You do know me, Sasha. I’m the same as I’ve been, and I don’t want the world to end. That’s the opposite of what I want.”

“You know this is crazy, right? I knew things were weird, but this is- this is crazy, Jon,” Sasha says. “Ending the world? Or- This isn’t what we signed up for. This job, it’s- you know we should quit.” Another piece falls into place and Martin’s stomach drops.

“Oh.” Jon is already looking at him with those sad, dark eyes, like he knows what Martin is going to say and he’s sorry for it. He probably does know. It’s not reassuring. “We can’t, can we? You told Elias- Right at the start- You said I was ‘already part of the Archives.’ That’s what you meant. Somehow, working here, it has some kind of claim on us.” Of course he’s right. Jon had only said the Archives, though. Martin looks at Sasha and chooses not to ask if it goes for the rest of the Institute as well. From the way she drains her tea, she’s wondering too.

“What would happen?” she asks. “If we tried to leave, would we- would we die?”

“I don’t- Maybe,” Jon says, sounding more reluctant than any other point in this reveal. “It would take- weeks probably, for you, but first you would get weak, tired. Eventually sick. It’s not- it isn’t punishment.” Jon runs a hand through his hair, something Martin is pretty sure by now he does when he feels helpless. It’s also not reassuring. “It isn’t something it does to you, it’s- You- We- we’re part of it, now. An extension. Trying to leave, it’s like… wrapping a string too tightly around a finger. You’re cutting off the flow of blood, and if you don’t set it right, the finger will suffer for it.”

“Is there a way? There has to be some way to quit, right?” Sasha demands. “There’s always a way if you look hard enough.” Jon says nothing, which is an answer in itself. There is a way, and it’s not good.

“What, would we have to gouge our eyes out?” Martin tries to joke. The look Jon gives him speaks volumes. “Fuck off.”

Sasha takes off her glasses and presses the heels of her palms to her eyes. After a breath, she sits up and there’s nothing she can use to lighten the mood, so instead she tries to refocus on the more immediate issue. “Right so this- this Jane Prentiss. The Flesh-Hive. That’s category three, right? All the disgusting stuff.”

“Yes,” Jon agrees nervously. “The Corruption or the Filth. Fear of bugs, disease, decay. All those things that make you feel- unclean.”

“And how do we fight that?” Back on stabler ground, Jon straightens as well, fidgeting again with the lighter.

“CO2, apparently,” he says with a shaky, wry smile.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. For this aspect, at least. It might not work on mold or disease, but there’s probably something for them too. It’s a very simple sort of fear.”

“Are you-” like her? Even human? What does being an avatar mean? Martin isn’t sure he’s ready to know, so he doesn’t ask. Not yet. Just like always. “What do we do? Just continue on as if everything is normal? Like we’re not cursed or whatever?”

“For now? Yes. I… I’m sorry,” Jon says sincerely. “I’m sorry that you’re trapped here. That- If I could make it let you go… I can’t, though. All I can do is try to keep you safe, and I’m going to do my best.”

There is definitely still more going on there, more Jon hasn’t told them, but Martin is not immune to the fear of knowing too much. He decides to follow Sasha’s lead and focus on the now. Digging further can wait, he hopes, until the worms are gone. However long that might be.

-

Elias comes to the Archives only once after Jane Prentiss’s threat and the appearance of the worms, allegedly to inspect the newly replaced fire suppression system. Thankfully, and probably by design, Martin and Sasha are both out.

“You’ve made quite a few changes,” Elias comments, walking around the Archives with his hands clasped behind his back, just looking at things. There’s something different this time. It seems more like Elias is actively searching for something, rather than just trying to subtly pressure Jon into giving something away.

“Changes needed to be made,” Jon replies, trying not to bristle.

“Oh, it’s not a criticism. You seem on your way to being quite a good Archivist.”

“I’m already a good Archivist.”

Elias nods in assent. “So you say. So it would seem. I admit, it’s difficult to refute you, insulated as you are down here. It’s been… difficult for me to puzzle you out, Jon. So I suppose I’ll have to just ask-”

“How embarrassing for you.” Elias’s jaw goes tight.

“… Quite. So tell me, how did you come to be Archivist?” There’s something in the words. Not the compulsion that Jon employs- more of a nudge, a subconscious suggestion that one should answer and do so honestly. Elias has never tried this on Jon before, or at least not as strongly. Or maybe Jon just wasn’t strong enough to notice when he did. Either way, Jon understands what Elias meant, the first time Jon tried to compel him, when he called the sensation “tingly.”

“You hired me, or don’t you recall?” Jon doesn’t actually mean to be so confrontational, but he’s scrambling for a believable answer and coming up blank.

“Don’t be coy, Jon.”

“Apologies. I didn’t realize you had a monopoly on it.” Elias’s hand strokes idly over a paperweight on Sasha’s desk as he stares, and Jon is suddenly reminded that he had once beaten a man to death just for his potential to disrupt Elias’s plans and that this is probably not the time. He sighs and hopes Elias hasn’t gleaned his tell from Sasha. “I came to the Institute beca-aaaugh! Eyaaaa-” Violent shaking of Jon’s arm manages to dislodge the spider that had crawled onto his hand, and it lands a few feet away, scurrying toward Elias.

“Hmm,” Elias hums and, face still deliberately placid, slowly moves to step on it.

“No!” Jon panics, an involuntary convulsion in his chest curling him in on himself, just slightly. He’s not sure the outburst was entirely voluntary either. He still doesn’t like spiders, but he has allied himself with them, for better or worse, and has promised none will be harmed within the Archives, if he can help it.

Just as slowly, Elias puts his foot back down where it was. The spider skitters under the desk.

“I see,” Elias says, smirking. “And what has the Mother of Puppets told you she wants from the Archives?”

Rubbing his chest, Jon breathes deep and is speaking before he knows he’s decided to. He hates it, but knows he couldn’t have been so convincing on his own. “The Web wants what the Eye wants. For now.”

“Hmm. And you, Jon? What are you receiving?”

“I’m… I’m the Archivist,” Jon says lamely, because it’s true. He gets to be here, in his Archives, with his people.

“I see. I trust you’ll inform me if any of that changes.” Elias hums again, eyes glancing over the corners, where it’s clear cobwebs have started to collect, and leaves without another word.

-

The anxiety of waiting for an attack doesn’t last long.

Jon curses himself softly as he pulls a worm from his own leg with a corkscrew. Indelicate would be a gracious way to describe how he goes about it, but the wound seems to close almost as soon as the thing is out, which explains why he’d gotten impatient with how careful Sasha had tried to be. Martin wonders how he would have explained that, if they’d never had the Talk.

“So what do we do now?” Martin asks. Jon’s been expecting and preparing for this, so he should have some kind of plan, right?

“We need to get out of the Archives, and we need to set off the fire suppression system. Elias had it changed to CO2, and I can- I have the lighter, and losing some of the discredited statements is no great loss, but triggering it while the two of you are down here is too dangerous. I think- I think I can hold her, like I did at your flat, Martin, but not for long, and I can’t be sure all the worms will stop as well.”

Splitting up, while terrifying, seems like their best bet. There are enough worms to go after all of them, but hopefully not in any numbers they can’t manage with CO2. There’s only one exit to the Institute proper, but according to Jon there’s another way out. A trapdoor in one of the storerooms, leading into a network of tunnels underneath the Institute. The tunnels are also where the worms came from, though, so given the choice, Martin would rather not use those, but it’s not like the worm woman is asking his preference. Armed each with a fire extinguisher and one of the smaller, handheld recorders tucked into their pockets, they stand at the door to the archive proper with shared apprehension. It’s both comforting and extremely worrying to see Jon nearly as nervous as Martin and Sasha.

He makes a point of looking them both in the eye, something he almost never does, and this close, Martin can finally see that Jon’s eyes aren’t a very dark brown, like he’d thought. Instead, the irises are fully black, pupils blending in seamlessly. It’s- disconcerting.

“Whoever manages to get upstairs needs to set off the fire suppression system,” Jon says gravely. “In case I can’t. Whatever you do, though, do not go through Artefact Storage.”

“What-”

“Please, just trust me.” The weight of his stare doesn’t let up until they’ve both agreed, and then he slumps a fraction against the door, staring with a dread Martin shares at the handle. “Ready?”

“No,” Sasha says. “Let’s go.”

They have to go around Prentiss to get to the stairs. Jon stops just outside the door and fixes his stare on the “flesh-hive”. The worms visibly slow, but don’t stop, and they don’t have time to watch anyway. Sasha goes right. The path is less direct than Martin’s, but it also has fewer worms reaching all the way across the room. She makes it. Martin doesn’t.

Half on top of his desk, he sprays the CO2 in a broad circle around him, and still they come. Over and over, the ring of dead worms around him grows, but no clear path opens. Martin spares a single glance to see how Jon is doing, but even that is too much of a distraction. There’s a sharp stab and he panics, shouts, spraying his own leg with CO2 and a worm falls off.

Suddenly Jon is there, pulling him from the desk and further into the Archives. Into a storage room, through the trapdoor. Everything goes dark and a torch is pressed into Martin’s hand, and they never stop moving. Stumbling after Jon, Martin very carefully doesn’t look behind them. The sound of the… swarm? What is a group of worms called, Martin wonders, though this isn’t the time. The sound fades as they move further in, but they don’t stop.

“Stay near me,” Jon says harshly when Martin strays just slightly out of arm’s reach.

“Couldn’t you just- Know where I am, if we get separated?”

“Not down here. This place is… just stay close.”

“How long has this been here?” Martin asks a few seconds later, the silence making him nervous. It’s too dark to see much but he’s too curious to not look around as well as he can.

“195 years, since completion.” There’s a shuffling behind them, and Jon stops, tilting his head to listen. He doesn’t need to strain; Martin hears it too.

“Aaarchivisssst,” a voice hisses, almost sing-song. It’s faint, and they both stay frozen for a second more. Then there’s a writhing squelch and they’re running again. Two quick turns, Martin trying not to stumble in the dim light from his torch as Jon pushes him ahead. And then there’s a door. He throws it open, pulling Jon in and slamming it behind them, ripping off his jumper to stopper the gap.

“Damn,” Jon swears, though more resigned than panicked like Martin. Then it becomes clear he’s not talking about the worms. His eyes just adapt to the light far better than Martin’s. “I hoped to avoid this.”

Martin sees it then, stark in the light of his torch. A body, well preserved in the cool, dry tunnels. Gertrude Robinson’s body.

“What the hell.”

“Don’t panic,” Jon says, far too calm. “We’re safe for the moment.”

“Safe? Safe?! Jon, there’s a dead body. She’s-”

“Been shot, yes. You can- inform the police once we’re out of here.” Martin can. He doesn’t miss that detail. “For now, we need to hope Sasha manages to set off the fire suppression system. She should be there any moment.”

“You don’t know?” Martin really is trying not to freak out.

“As I said, the tunnels make it hard. She was fine last I saw. Let me- let me look out the door, see if it’s clear.” Reluctantly, Martin steps back to let him. Jon slowly opens the door just enough to stick his head out, and it doesn’t escape Martin’s notice that he doesn’t ask for the torch. A shudder shakes through Jon that Martin recognizes. “Ah.”

“What? What is it?” But the part of him that watches Jon too much already knows- screams spiders.

“Well, I don’t think we need to worry about the worms following us any further.” There’s a pang of terror, but somehow Martin is unsurprised to see that the tunnel they’d come from is covered in web. One day, he tells himself, he’s going to ask what Jon’s deal is with spiders. One day.

“Right,” Jon says. “Hopefully she has to circle back to the Archives or we might need to lead her back. Before that, though, how suspicious would it be if I asked you to help me move some of the file boxes from this room before the police arrive?”

“Very,” Martin replies, not sounding half as resigned as he feels. “Where would we put them?”


Running through the tunnels, Martin hadn’t noticed, but apparently Jon didn’t quite make it through the swarm unscathed. He glances over the ECDC people and singles in on one, allowing no others to inspect him. The scars he comes away with are subtle, but apparently bother him quite a bit, if the frown and the way he keeps rubbing at them is anything to go by.

They all speak briefly with the police, Martin and Jon the longest, and then go home. It’s the first night Martin’s spent in his flat since his first encounter with Jane Prentiss. He doesn’t sleep well.

They’re given the week off, to recuperate and allow the Archives to be thoroughly scoured of worm carcasses. When Sasha invites him out the second day in, he jumps at the opportunity to be out of his flat and not alone. Also, there are things running through his head that he could really use a second opinion on. Sasha apparently has the same idea.

“I didn’t actually think he killed her,” Sasha says, clutching her cup of coffee tightly. “Before. It was just- it was a joke. Because it was just too ridiculous to believe. Now, though? With all of this?”

“He basically asked me to help him hide evidence,” Martin admits, ignoring the woman at the table beside them who side-eyes him reproachfully. Like she has any clue. “And I- I think- obviously he wasn’t the Archivist, when Gertrude was alive, but- I think probably he couldn’t have been? What he told us- she wouldn’t have been able to retire, right? And he’s said, she wasn’t a good archivist. I don’t- I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“I guess… I guess what we really need to figure out, is if this actually changes anything.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe- maybe he did kill her. To become Archivist. But- Jon cares. That’s- that’s not fake. He’s a terrible liar. And- do you know what happened to Gertrude’s assistants?” Sasha actually sounds slightly shaky. “I haven’t told Jon, maybe he knows anyway, but I’ve seen that thing, Michael, again. He really hated Gertrude. I asked why, and he asked me how far I thought Jon would go to save the world. Would he sacrifice himself? And why would he, when he’s got two assistants here to do it for him? I looked, you know. Gertrude had three assistants before you. One, Eric, quit, and we know what that means now. The other two went missing. Emma, and Michael.”

“You think Michael was-”

“Maybe? I didn’t know Gertrude, but from the way people who did talk about her- the way Jon talks about her- I don’t think I’d be surprised. I do know Jon, though, and I know he’d sooner risk himself than us. So, maybe he is a murderer, but he’s also our friend.” The woman at the table next to them is outright staring at this point, and Sasha stares pointedly back, channeling Jon at his most unnerving, until the woman practically flees. “And- I’m not sure what would happen to us, without an Archivist. So, what do we do with that?”

“… Right.” In a way, it’s a relief to hear the words from someone else. Because Martin has had his doubts about Jon, but he’d also agreed to move the boxes, without demanding any explanation, just because Jon had asked. “Probably we should leave before that woman calls the police.”

Chapter Text

It’s disorientating, how normal things are when they get back to work. There are eldritch fear gods. They work for one. Jon may be a murderer and might not be human. They were attacked by thousands upon thousands of worms. There’s an active homicide investigation that they’re all being questioned on. And somehow they just… continue on. Reading and researching statements. Doing their jobs. Martin isn’t sure what he expected but it wasn’t this.

The one thing he had hoped was for the police to not be around, questioning everyone, which, given how quickly they’d tried to wash their hands of the place after Gertrude first disappeared, seemed like a not unreasonable hope. For the most part, that is the case. They apparently made a single trip down into the tunnels to gather the body and as much evidence as possible before deciding that was good enough and fleeing the premises. Officer Hussain, however, did not appear to get the memo.

It’s just… Martin doesn’t understand why Jon keeps talking to her. Jon is a terrible liar, once you get a read on him. And offering to assist the investigation? Martin isn’t a big fan of crime shows, but even he knows that’s suspicious behavior. What Jon should be doing is focusing on the work, repeating that he never met Gertrude, and letting the nice officer, and her terrifying partner, be on their way. Instead, Jon just keeps greeting her with a smile. Like they’re friends or something. It’s more than Martin’s nerves need right now, is what it is. He’s definitely not making her any more tea.

-

Jon hadn’t anticipated Gertrude being found this time around. He thought he could wait out Jonah, until the man’s attention wavered and returned to plotting the end of the world, concerned more with convincing various monsters to attack Jon than with whatever Jon was doing himself. He’d hoped, in a rare show of optimism that he blames on his relatively peaceful first year in the past, that he could forego the police investigation this time, keep his interactions with Daisy and Basira restricted to that brief period after Gertrude’s disappearance, and not be facing potential murder charges. He sincerely hopes they can at least skip the brutal pipe murder of Leitner this time.

He also hopes Sasha isn’t listening when he claims to have no knowledge of who might have killed his predecessor. She and Martin have enough to acclimate to without telling them about Elias and potentially endangering them further.

“You’re sure,” Basira asks again. “Not even a suspicion?”

“I’m sorry, officer, but I really don’t know anything.”

“You do know current suspicion is on you, though,” Daisy presses. He doesn’t recall her being quite so direct last time. “She goes missing and suddenly you’re promoted, out of nowhere, far as anyone can tell. Rumour is you promoted yourself.”

“I know how it looks, yes,” Jon says, doing his best to channel Elias and not be sick at the thought. “Like I said, I’m sorry I don’t have any more information for you. You can talk to Elias about my promotion, but I’m willing to bet you already did when we had this conversation last year. Look, I didn’t kill her, but I really do want to help. I know there’s probably a lot in those boxes to sift through. If you brought some of the tapes here, my assistants and I would be happy to help go through them and report anything we find to you. We would need to file those statements anyway, once they can be released.”

“Who said they were statements?”

“Aren’t they? I didn’t have a lot of time or light, but what I saw looked like Gertrude’s filing. I can try to explain what I know about it, but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense most of the time.”

“Hmm.” They leave not long after, but Jon expects Basira will be back. He’s more suspicious now than he was the first time. He wouldn’t bother asking for the tapes, since he doesn’t need to solve the mystery of who killed Gertrude Robinson, but when it comes down to it- Agnes was killed by her own people, with the thought of “returning to the Desolation” and Rayner was shot while vulnerable during a body swap. Jon has been stabbed, burned, crushed, and had various ill-advised surgeries with no lingering effects. Jonah has done his own eye transplants multiple times.

No matter what Peter Lukas thought, killing Jonah Magnus isn’t going to be accomplished with a simple knife. And any files that might help him figure out how to kill Jonah will likely either be among those hidden with Gertrude’s body, or secured within Elias’s office. Ideally, there will be step-by-step instructions within the boxes Martin helped him move, but there’s no way he’s going to have that kind of luck.

-

“Winning lottery numbers.”

“None that would help you. I could probably tell you what numbers won on a specific day in the past, but I can’t see the future.”

“Useless. Okay, how about-”

“Hold on, what about that time you told me to go home early because the tube was going to be delayed? Did you not see the future then?” interrupts Martin.

“No, I Knew when the accident happened, and knew it was on your route.”

“Boring. Oh! When I was twelve, someone put chewing gum in my hair, but I could never figure out-” Sasha says.

“It was Olivia Hammond. She wanted to see how far she could spit it.”

“That bitch!” she laughs. “I had to get-”

“Five inches of your hair cut off. Bobby Maclane told you it made your ears stick out.” Jon laughs as well when Sasha throws one of her smarties at him. A heatwave rushed through London and they all decided staying in the warm but somewhat climate controlled Archives was a far better option than braving the sweltering midday heat for lunch. Given Jon’s propensity for working through meals, Sasha had decided it was an excellent time to test what Jon’s “Knowing” powers can actually do. It’s been hit and miss, but they’ve been at it for nearly an hour and this is not the first thing that’s been thrown.

Martin’s thankful for it. With all the horrible things Jon has revealed to them, all the worries hanging over their heads, it’s nice to just sit and talk and laugh. Jon doesn’t laugh enough. And he’s freer around them now that they know what they do. Not so distant.

“Okay, uh… what is Martin thinking right now?” On the other hand, Sasha is a traitor.

“I can’t actually read minds,” Jon says. It’s not the first time he’s said that, either. “Though, I would hazard a guess he’s considering throwing one of those worms at you.”

“Are you sure you can’t read minds?” Martin asks, then grabs one of the gummy worms Tim had brought them as a joke and tosses it at Sasha’s head. He’s never had very good aim, though, and it goes flying past her, right into Elias’s chest. “Ah, s-sorry.”

“Elias.” It’s hard to tell sometimes if Jon wants Elias to know he doesn’t like him or if he’s just that bad at hiding it. “Did you need something?”

“I’m sorry to- interrupt,” Elias drawls, brushing his hand over the spot the worm had hit. “I’ve been meaning to check in. Since the…”

“Attack? Invasion? The one I told you was coming?” Ah. Not trying to hide it then.

“Incident. Your leave of absence was quite short. I just want to make sure between that and the unfortunate discovery with Gertrude that you’re all recovering well. It seems I needn’t have worried.” He looks them over and Martin tries not to flinch. Elias makes him feel Seen, like Jon, but while Jon’s leaves him feeling Known and looked after, Elias just makes him feel exposed. “Jon, if you would come to my office later? There are some things I’d like to discuss.”

“I’ll see if I can fit you in.” Elias looks at Jon reproachfully, but Jon just stares back. Around them, the sound of recorders clicking on comes from all directions, and the static of the turning tapes feels almost tangible. Martin isn’t sure why Elias keeps doing this, here of all places. It’s clearer now, what Jon has always meant when he calls the Archives his, and Martin has never seen Elias get the upper hand while in them. Though, when he thinks about it, it’s probably hard for Elias to catch Jon anywhere else. He breaks first this time as well, nodding to Sasha and leaving without another word.

There’s a long moment of silence between them, until most of the recorders click off and the static fades.

“Oh!” Sasha says suddenly. “Loch Ness monster. Is it real?”

“… Not technically.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jon just smirks a bit and gathers up his things. “Jon? What does that mean? What does it all mean, Jon? Jooon!” A small scattering of smarties collects around the door to Jon’s office as Sasha yells after him. It’s a waste, but Martin thinks it’s probably worth it. Though-

“You’re cleaning that up,” he tells her. She throws a smartie at him, too.

-

“For such an advanced Archivist, you are very… attached.” Elias is searching, trying to get him to give away something. It seems he’s finally turned his attention to steering various monsters and avatars toward Jon, and vis versa. Never before has Jon wanted to punch someone so much for being so smug in their supposedly superior knowledge. He understands in a way he never could before just how people must have felt talking to him, before all this. It’s hard to believe he could have been so ignorant for so long, if Elias had always been this unsubtle. Still, Jon has managed to keep most of his plans hidden, and aside from the Web, the Corruption, and probably the Slaughter, Jonah only has his suspicions as to which entities have touched Jon already.

So they have been continuing to have these “talks” now and then as Jonah Magnus tries to decide who to send after the Archivist next, and how far from his ritual they really are. Jon doesn’t know that himself, but it hardly matters, since it won’t be happening, and nothing is going to happen to his friends.

“I wouldn’t be the Archivist if I wasn’t,” Jon tells him harshly. “I gave myself to Beholding for them, and they will remain safe if it wishes to keep me.”

“Such demands to place on a god. Avatars, you’re calling them? Apt enough. They can be replaced, you know.”

“Yes. They can. But we have an understanding, and the last Archivist with anywhere near my level of power died eighteen years ago when Gertrude blew up what remained of the Serapeum of Alexandria. It survived over 1600 years in the carcass of an Archive with only scraps of stories every century or so to sustain it. So, Jonah, whatever threat you think you hold over me, I suggest you let go of it and leave my Archive.” There’s wariness in Elias’s eyes, and Jon can’t help feeling some satisfaction.

“I am not your enemy, Jon.” Oh, but you are Jonah. You have no idea.

“You are not the Archive’s enemy. Not yet. Do what you feel you need to to me, but don’t touch my people and we should be fine.”

-

No one who doesn’t need to ever comes to the Archives. It’s well away from any other department, tucked into the basement as it is, and neither Jon nor Gertrude were the type to welcome people dropping by for a chat. Once a week, someone from Research will bring down files old or cold enough to archive, and a few times a month they may get researchers or grad students coming down for references. After the whole ordeal with Jane Prentiss and Gertrude, those visits all but stop. A memo, passed to Sasha on her way in by Rosie, lets them know files to be archived will be sent down monthly, rather than weekly, now. For “efficiency.” Martin can’t blame any of them, but he hopes they stop being so wary of even talking to the Archive staff soon.

Unlike the rest of the Institute, Tim’s visits to the Archives actually increase. Ostensibly it’s to show the others that there’s nothing to be so afraid of, but it’s hard to believe that’s all it is, with the furtive glances he gives Jon’s door every time he stops to talk to Sasha. Jon is still avoiding him, but for some reason it seems to bother Tim even more now. He has enough tact still not to question them there, at least.

“So do the police have any suspects?” Tim asks after dragging Martin and Sasha out for lunch once again. They’ve been expecting it.

“Doesn’t seem like it,” Sasha says casually, carefully smoothing out the napkin in her lap. “Not that they’re telling us anyway.”

“Jon’s offered our help. I guess there are a lot of tapes in evidence and they don’t really have the manpower to go through them all. It doesn’t sound like they’re going to take him up on it, though,” offers Martin, which he’s pretty sure should be true if any sort of protocol were being followed, but Officer Hussain was by just that morning with a thick envelope, so apparently Section 31 people don’t care much about things like that.

“They’ve been talking to Jon a lot, have they?” Martin doesn’t know Tim well enough to say if this is what he considers subtle or if he just doesn’t know how to do it when he’s not flirting the information out of someone, but if Sasha’s eyeroll is anything to go by, it’s closer to the latter. Whatever his interest in this is, he’s asking a few too many questions about Jon for either Martin or Sasha’s comfort. They both sort-of shrug and mutter non-committal answers and try to change the subject.

It’s the same thing they do the following week when Officer Hussain leans casually against Martin’s desk and asks what Jon is like to work for and if they know what he does in his spare time.

-

Jon had forgotten that Basira actually came to give a statement unprompted. It may have been part of an attempt to gain his trust, and may still be, but it wasn’t something he asked for, and he doesn’t really know what to do with it now. Offering her a form to fill out is an option, but he suspects she’ll decide it isn’t worth the trouble. He could try just- not recording it, but it’s extremely unlikely the recorders will actually stay off. There are at least two running in his office already. That he consciously knows about.

He’d really like Martin to bring tea right about now, but Basira had closed the door behind her for privacy.

“I really shouldn’t be talking about it on tape,” she says, staring at the two recorders currently on his desk. Another one clicks on on a shelf behind her and Jon neither hisses nor glares at it. Barely.

“You could- write your statement?” he offers despondently.

“I just wanna… talk about it with someone, I guess. I get you need- records or whatever. Could you just- I’d rather there was only one tape.”

“Yes. Right. Of course.” Jon sighs as he moves to stop the spare recorder on his desk, only for it and the one on the shelf to stop on their own. With dread, he looks to see if Basira noticed. From the way she stares at him, he’s going to assume she did. Basira always notices. After a long moment, there is apparently an unspoken decision to pretend it didn’t happen.

“I’m breaking the law by talking to you. You understand that?”

“You don’t have to,” Jon mumbles, slightly indignantly. He literally did not ask for this. Not the first go round and definitely not this time. If she ends up having dreams again, Daisy’s going to kill him. “It- won’t leave the Archives, and can’t be accessed by any non-Institute personnel.”

“That’s the best you can do? Fine. Fine, alright. Do- do you need my real name?”

“Not- technically. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“Yeah, so, how do we do this? You need some kind of intro or something?”

“Yes, it’s… Alright. Statement of Detective Basi-”

“I’m not a detective.”

“Sorry, what?”

“You called me ‘Detective.’ I’m not. I’m a constable. And I think I might be more comfortable as Jane Doe, actually.”

“R-right. I- I knew that. Apologies. Um, Statement of De- of- of B… Um, just. Just state your name, and what the statement is in regards to.”

“Alright. Statement of PC Basir- PC B…” The look she gives him is not unfamiliar. It’s that look she used to give him that said she was reluctantly aware that all the world’s issues were not technically his fault, but she was going to hold him responsible regardless.

“You could write it?” he offers again, and he can see her stubbornness rear its head.

“Statement of Police Constable Basira Hussain, regarding strange investigations falling under Section 31.”

“… Statement given by subject, 20th August, 2016. Statement begins.”

Afterward, she hands him a small stack of tapes and he doesn’t hear from her again for a couple weeks, which he is going to tentatively assume means she’s still not having any dreams. The part of him that is now pure, compressed Beholding keeps thinking of her, relatively fondly, as the Detective, and he worries what that will mean for her in this future. Still, it’s nice to see her still so well.

-

It takes less than a month for Sasha’s curiosity to get the better of her.

“Don’t you want to know?” she asks Martin while they’re out and not feeling especially surveilled.

“Sasha, the last time I was in those tunnels I was chased by evil worms, found a dead body, and helped hide evidence. No, I’m not particularly keen on going down there again, and with the hassle you give me about being reckless, I’m not sure why you are.” He doesn’t mention the spiders. Jon has a weird relationship with arachnids, but Martin’s pretty sure they were only there for him. They hadn’t been threatening anyway.

“I don’t know, I just… We’re stuck in this, right? And forewarned is forearmed. I don’t want to just keep gathering scraps, I want to understand what’s happening.” The waiter places their food on the table and Sasha nods politely, waiting for them to get out of listening range before continuing. They’ve mostly tried to be more conscious of their surroundings and listening ears since they started garnering strange looks. “Jon told you the tunnels disrupt his powers right? Why? Is there something down there? Do they form some kind of sigil? Obviously it’s not that they get rid of fear, so why can’t that fear be reached down there? Or can it and it’s just something about Jon?”

“You could ask him. He seems pretty willing to give answers these days. Except to the police, I mean.”

“That’s just it,” she says, pointing her fork at Martin for emphasis. “I did.”

“And?”

“And he doesn’t know. He said he knows there are at least a couple somethings down there, but he doesn’t know just how many and he doesn’t know where they are now. He doesn’t know the shape of it. He doesn’t know if it affects all the fears, if it affects them differently, how much of it is specifically aimed at the Eye. All he knows is that they were made by Robert Smirke, the old Millbank Prison was part of them, and at least one of the things down there can change the tunnels.”

“That’s…”

“Not much, right? But just… look, I’m actually pretty okay with where I am. We may be trapped in these jobs, but it’s interesting, and however much danger we’re in, I know Jon’s looking out for us. He’s proven good at it. But we’re serving a god that feeds on fear. Is fear. Whatever. The point is, there’s going to be a time that I’m not so okay with it. There are going to be things that we don’t like. And maybe it will want us to do things we don’t want to do. There’s a reason Eric Delano quit. Maybe it was Gertrude, maybe it wasn’t.” She seems to notice how far she’s leaned over the table between them and straightens up, gathering herself.

“Look, Jon is the only part of this that makes me think we might be okay, but he’s also tied to this thing way deeper than we are, and he’s not the only thing serving the Eye. These tunnels? Something about them interferes with that connection. Even if it doesn’t work against other fears- especially if- knowing why that is can only help us. Whether it’s to circumvent it, or to use it to our advantage. I doubt Jane Prentiss is the last monster we’ll have to worry about.”

Martin blinks. “You’ve been thinking about this for three literal weeks, haven’t you?”

“I’d say no, because I sleep sometimes, but I’ve actually been dreaming about it too.” Her expression fades from the intensity of her argument back into the pleading she’d been doing before. “So?”

“Alright, fine. I’ll help you experiment with the tunnels. You get to deal with Jon if he Knows and doesn’t like it, though.”

“Deal. So I’m thinking a fire extinguisher, a tape recorder, three torches, and both analog and digital cameras?”

The first couple trips, Martin makes with her. After one of the tunnels starts closing in on them, though, he opts to stay behind as backup. Trips are infrequent; they only go while Jon is out, and nothing is said to indicate he knows they’re doing it. He comes up with a statement about a woman using yarn to guide her way through a maze, though, which is helpful. Sasha says she thinks it’s coincidence. Martin prefers to think of it as a sign of acceptance, if not approval.

-

There’s a world of difference, between the way Daisy occasionally stared at Jon after they got out of the coffin and the way she stares at him now, when he’s still just a stranger and potential murderer. She’s been sitting in his office, barely blinking for two minutes without saying a single word. Aside from his own initial greeting, he’s been quiet as well, unsure how to continue without actually asking any questions or making any suggestions.

“Martin can get you tea, if you’d like any,” he offers up eventually.

“No,” she says, and nothing else.

“Right. Uh, if there’s nothing you need, I should really-”

“Hmm… you’re really not going to do it.”

“I’d really like to-”

“I thought you pulled it out of her and she just didn’t understand.”

“I’m… sorry?”

“I know Basira gave you a statement-” Fuck. Have the dreams…

“I really can’t comment on-”

“Don’t need to. She told me. She also said you tried to convince her not to. First I thought maybe you were afraid if she stuck around too long, you’d give something away. But there’s something about this place. About you. I watched you. You know what I noticed?”

“I imagine you’re going to tell me,” Jon says sullenly. Predictably, she ignores him.

“You avoid people’s eyes. ’s not actually weird, makes some people uncomfortable, fine. But you’re also careful with your words when you talk. People you talk to more often, people here, me and Basira? You never ask a direct question. People you don’t care about, strangers? If you do ask a question, they always answer. Always. Bet it makes it real easy to get people’s stories.

“So when Basira told me she gave you hers, I figure either you slipped, or couldn’t resist.”

Jon has been trying so hard. “I didn’t ask her anything,” he says indignantly, “and I wasn’t trying to get her statement.”

“Yeah, got that, since you haven’t asked for mine.” Jon would really like to ask her what that means, if only that wouldn’t ruin the whole exchange. Instead he says nothing. “You want it?”

“I’m not sure what-”

“My statement. Do you want it?”

“No.” I don’t need it, he doesn’t say.

“Hmm.” Daisy takes three tapes from her pocket and puts them very pointedly on the desk in front of him, then stands. “We’ll see how long that lasts. I wouldn’t plan any trips, Sims.”

Last time she’d told him he was no longer a suspect. Damn.

-

“I’ve been thinking I might make a statement,” Tim says, trying for offhanded and falling short once again. He’s very obviously watching to see how Sasha and Martin respond. Their lunches have become worryingly frequent.

“Oh?” Sasha says, “You never told me you’d had an encounter. Rosie can give you a form if you ask. She’s been doing the digital recordings, too.”

“No, I mean, I thought I might come down to the Archives. Record one your way. I did try doing it myself once, but the software went a bit…”

“Glitchy?”

“Sure.”

“Sasha or I could take it for you, I guess,” Martin offers, “or you can still do it yourself. We’ve got recorders to spare.”

“So many recorders,” Sasha agrees. “They’re like rabbits or something.”

“What, really? Does Sims hate me that much? Should I be worried?” Tim says it with a laugh that might have come out joking a few months ago, but now carries a bit too much sincerity.

“No! No, it’s not that. Jon just… he won’t take in-person statements from any Institute staff,” Sasha tries to reassure him. It’s not untrue. “He says it’s to avoid workplace tension, but I think it might be some kind of superstition or something.”

“So neither of you have made a statement? Ever? Even after the worm thing?”

“I- have,” Sasha reluctantly admits, “two actually. I wrote one a while back, but we recorded the other.”

“You didn’t really give Jon much of a choice, though,” Martin feels the need to point out.

“Yes, well, I was- agitated. Anyway, I think Jon might have done one of his own about the Prentiss thing, but he told us we could write ours if we felt the need and never followed up with us about it.”

“And you don’t think that’s weird?”

“Sure. But not really any weirder than anything else about Jon. Look, you can ask him when we go back, but he’ll probably tell you the same thing.” Tim just hums in thought. He doesn’t stick around when they get back to the Institute, so Martin isn’t sure if he ever actually intended to make a statement and decided it wasn’t worth it, or if the whole thing was just more information gathering.

“He thinks Jon killed her.” Obviously. And what happened to that unspoken agreement they had not to talk about this in the Archives?

“So do we,” Martin points out.

“No. We’re… entertaining the possibility. Also we have Jon’s best interests at heart. Tim’s obsessing, though. I don’t know why he’s so focused on this, but I’m worried what he might do.”

“He’s probably worried about you,” Martin points out. Sasha rolls her eyes, but he means it. “There’s- there’s also the thing with the live statements.”

Between Prentiss and the fear gods reveal, Martin’s mind had decided that, coincidence or not, there was no way Jon was actually killing statement-givers and relegated it to his collection of Jon’s somewhat creepy quirks before moving on to other things. Apparently, Tim might not have reached the same conclusion.

-

Helen Richardson is so harried when she’s brought down to the Archives, that she doesn’t even notice Jon until he speaks to her.

“Ms. Richardson,” he says, as she continues trying to draw a map.

“It doesn’t make sense,” she repeats again and again.

“I know. Helen, I know. It doesn’t make sense,” he tells her, placing a hand over the drawing. Then she looks up and freezes.

“You-” she whispers, as several before her have, and shakes her head. “No, it-”

“My name is Jon. I’d like to help you, Helen,” he says. “First, why don’t you tell me about Michael and the hallways, and how you came to the Institute.”

She’d felt better, the other Helen had told him, after talking to him. He can’t imagine he’ll be as much help this time, but he can try. He can do something to keep her out of the Distortion’s hallways. He hopes.

When she finishes her story, the man- Elias, he knows- leading her into a taxi and sending her here, she’s still staring at Jon in confused horror. “You- How could you help me? When you…”

“I’m sorry, Helen. I’m- Things aren’t going to be easy for you. And I’m sorry for that. You’re going to need to rearrange your life, at least for a while. Avoid narrow passages, alleys, hallways. Always pay attention to the color of the door you’re going through. Watch in mirrors and windows for reflections that seem wrong. The thing that did this to you, Michael, it feeds on the fear of being lost, deceived, of losing your mind. I promise you that you aren’t, though. What happened to you, what’s still happening to you, is real.” He passes her a card, as he had Naomi Herne and Lionel Elliott. All his contact information and, no matter how many times he tries to get rid of it, a spiderweb in one corner.

She breathes shakily, trembling hands taking it while carefully avoiding his touch. “What about you?”

“What?”

“You recognize me. You know I recognize you, even without all the eyes. That’s not in my mind either. You’re- you’re like him, aren’t you? So what fear are you feeding on?” She’s quick. Jon is reminded how little he knows her, for how attached he grew. He can give her honesty at least.

“… The fear of being watched, I suppose. Mostly it’s the experience of fear in general, that I watch and experience vicariously. I promise, I know exactly how afraid you are, and I truly wish I could do more to help. I just… don’t have the ability.”

“How is that any better? How are you any better?”

“I don’t know that it is,” he says. “You can throw that card away the moment you leave the building, if you wish. I suppose it’s up to you to decide which is the lesser of two evils. If you do decide to keep it, call me whenever you think you may end up in the hallways again. I might not be better, but I can try to be.”

She nods and leaves. He watches her entire trip home and when she calls, stays on the phone with her while she walks down the hall to the door of her flat.

“Rude, Archivist,” Michael says, appearing in Jon’s office the moment Helen is safe. “And after all I’ve done to help you.”

“You haven’t done that much, and you’re not going to suffer for letting this one go.”

“Perhaps I should take one of yours instead.” Jon’s head snaps up and he fixes Michael in place. Michael laughs, but it doesn’t ring quite as much as usual. “It would serve you right.”

“I have no intention of interfering with you again. So long as you leave my people and Helen Richardson be. You don’t want me to change my mind.”

“Hmm. We’ll see, Archivist.”

-

“You know it’s- it’s weird,” Jordan Kennedy says shakily as Jon leads him into his office. “I’ve actually been, uh, dreaming about you. That sounds weird. I mean, I’ve seen you, in some of my dreams. Except you’re all- covered in eyes. Heh, crazy right?”

This is, of course, a revelation. Almost everything about Jon’s approach to live statements suddenly slots into place. Almost everything. So, it probably says a lot about Martin’s life now that his immediate thought is just, Yeah, that sounds about right.

It takes a bit more time for things to line up and sink in. And maybe the things that still don’t make sense are important, but Martin has a larger concern. He stands in the doorway to Jon’s office, after giving the idea a few days to percolate, and studies the man. Jon has looked thin and tired since he first introduced himself to Martin, over a year ago now. Insomnia was the obvious assumption, and might not be inaccurate, but…

“You haven’t been sleeping on purpose.”

“What?”

“When you sleep, you go into the dreams of the people who give you statements, don’t you? And you’ve been trying to avoid that by just not sleeping.”

“Martin-”

“When was the last time you slept?” Martin asks. This is absolutely an interrogation.

“I slept-”

Slept, Jon. Not a nap or an hour stolen here or there. Not in the Archives. Actual, restful sleep, in a bed.” Jon stares at him dumbly, which is an answer all it’s own. “Right. We’ll see you Monday.”

“What? Martin, it’s-”

“Thursday, yeah. And you apparently haven’t slept a full night in a year, so you’re going to call it a day and go home, and for the next four days, you’re going to take some time off and sleep all day, so you don’t have to at night, and hopefully Monday the circles around your eyes will be light enough I don’t worry Tim punched you.” Seeing Jon flounder is novel.

“You realize I’m still your boss, right?”

“Right. You going to fire me, Jon?” Martin shoots back.

“… Telling you that was a mistake.”

“Maybe. Look Jon, I’m worried, and I’m sure Sasha will back me up. We care about you. We just want you to take care of yourself with half as much effort as you use to take care of us. So, will you please go home?”

“I… four days? That’s just excessive. I can’t spend four days sleeping.”

“Four days,” Martin insists. “Sleep, and enjoy the rest of the time awake and not up to your ears in people’s terror.”

“But… but what do I do?” It’s said so quietly Martin struggles to hear it, but hear it he does.

“Jon,” he says sincerely, “that is literally the saddest thing I have ever heard in my entire life.”


They’d been half joking when the topic first came up, fully believing that would be Jon’s final say on the matter and it would never be brought up again. So it comes as a shock to both the archival assistants when Jon walks in after his assistant-mandated weekend off with a full-on grin and a purring cat in his arms. It takes years off his face.

“She was a gift,” is all he says about how he got her, but Martin suspects the gift-giver was not a human person. When they finally manage to keep her still long enough to wash away all the dirt and cobwebs and possibly fleas, they find a lot of sleek black fur, with marks just barely visible all along her body that look suspiciously like eyes.

“So what’s her name?” Sasha asks, laughing a bit at Jon, who now has a damp, somewhat disgruntled cat stretched across his shoulders, grooming his hair in what looks like attempted retaliation.

Martin isn’t sure what compels him to say, “Patrząc.” He’s fairly certain Jon doesn’t speak Polish, but the suggestion is met with that same, almost blissful grin. Eventually he’ll figure out that Jon doesn’t speak Polish, he just understands every language when he needs to. In this moment, though, it feels like something shared between them, and Martin’s heart beats harder as he smiles back.

You’re beautiful, he thinks, and is thankful again to know Jon’s powers don’t extend to casual mind-reading.

Chapter Text

Tim is stalking him. The irony does not escape Jon. He would like to think he’s imagining it, and that he knows better, but he does know better and he’s not imagining it. Tim is stalking him. He supposes it’s some kind of karma, cosmic payback for what he was like while not-Sasha was in the Archives. Except Tim isn’t in the Archives and Sasha is still Sasha, so Jon’s not sure what his issue is.

There’s little Jon can think to do to stop him, so instead he wastes a rather inconvenient amount of time and energy doing normal, human things, like eating dinner and going home at night. He doesn’t wish Tim to get caught up in fear entities and rituals, but lying awake in the dark- in a bed that should be comfortably familiar but isn’t- for the fourth night in a row, he can’t help but feel nostalgia for the days when Tim wanted nothing to do with him.

It’s like he’s right back where he started sometimes. Tim hates him and Martin is being cagey but concerned. At least he doesn’t need to worry about Sasha. Yet. She’s been sneaking off like not-Sasha, but she’s just exploring the tunnels and Martin is always there in case anything happens.

Last time, Martin had been hiding the fact that he was unqualified. And possibly also a crush. Jon still isn’t entirely sure when that became a thing. He’d been… preoccupied. Given that the Archives were attacked so soon after the Eye reveal, maybe it’s just taken this long for Martin to come to terms with the idea that Jon can Know things. And even if Jon can’t fire him, he could make Martin’s life uncomfortable, if those things bothered him.

It’s the only explanation he can come up with. The only other thing Martin or Sasha seem to avoid talking to him about is their renewed worry that he might have killed Gertrude, but they’ve been talking about that from the start, even within the Archives. And neither of them have seemed scared or even cautious of him, so obviously they’re still not worried he’s going to kill them. They’re both considerate people, and while Jon himself had little trouble with it, it’s probably rude to accuse your boss of murder to his face. Also, not bringing it up with him gives them plausible deniability.

No, Martin’s avoidance seems like a more personal worry, and the last thing Jon wants is to make Martin worry. He’s just… going to have to tell Martin there’s no need for it.

Unless. Maybe Martin noticed that Jon- No. Jon’s done his best to keep their relationship friendly. And that’s not a conversation Jon’s ready to have. No, he’ll address Martin’s secrets, and it will be awkward, but then Martin can relax and Jon can stop worrying about Martin worrying and go back to worrying about Tim’s paranoia and trying to find out what Gertrude Robinson might have known that Jon still doesn’t.

-

“Martin, would you join me for a moment?” Jon calls. His voice is as light as it ever is, but it still makes Martin nervous. Especially when Jon tells him to shut the door. Martin sits hesitantly in the spare chair. “There’s no need to be so worried, Martin. Which is exactly what I called you in to say. You’ve seemed to be on edge lately. I know I can be… invasive at times, without meaning to be. I simply wanted you to know that, whatever it is you’re worried about me knowing, I likely already know it.” Well, if he wasn’t anxious before, he certainly is now.

“That- that’s not actually reassuring?”

Jon seems to realize what he’s said and flusters. “It- I- I’m sorry, Martin, that came out wrong. I just meant, I don’t care if you- if you lied on your resume, and whatever feelings you may have toward me are irrelevant.”

“Ir- irrelevant. Right, um, of course. I-”

“No! That- that’s not what I meant, I-” Jon breathes heavily, rubbing at his eyes. “I don’t mean to- to trivialize, or- I just meant, my knowing has not and will not affect your place here.”

“R-right. Thanks, I guess? I mean it’s- it’s not like you can fire me right? Heh,” Martin laughs awkwardly and it falls flat. He supposes he should be thankful Jon didn’t bring up the whole thinking-he-might-be-a-murderer thing, but that’s taking a back seat to Martin’s mortification right now. “Right. Um. I’m going to, uh, go back to work I think.”

Jon nods in agreement, face still buried in his hands, the touch of a flush visible around them. When Martin gets to the door, he can’t help asking, though- “So you- you really know? How- how I f-feel about-”

“Yes. Yes, I- Look, Martin-” Ohno.

“Oh! Oh, no. No, I- You don’t-”

“No, I need- It’s not that I-” Jon sighs again. He does that a lot. He seems so tired- Martin should bring him more tea. Martin should go make tea, and not be here, having this conversation. “Even if you weren’t my subordinate, I… lost someone.” Martin’s rapidly pulsing blood turns to ice. “Shortly before taking this position. It’s taken me- a long time to mourn. Someday, I may be able to move past it, but-”

“No. No, of course, Jon, I- I’m so sorry, for your loss, that- If you need anything-” Stupid. If he needed anything, he would have needed it long before now.

“Thank you, Martin,” Jon says with a smile that breaks Martin’s heart, then, softer, more to himself than anything, “It won’t happen again.”


The sad looks Jon still sometimes gives Sasha make more sense now. Obviously she reminds Jon of whoever it is he lost. Should Martin tell her? He thinks probably not. It’s Jon’s business and Jon’s alone. Unlike monsters, it has nothing to do with them, and, like monsters, there are far bigger things for them to be concerned about. He can’t help wondering, though, what happened. And what sort of person could affect Jon so deeply.

It’s not his business. It’s not, and Martin should leave it be.

Martin lets his head fall to his desk and groans. Patrząc jumps up beside him and tries to groom his hair in commiseration.

“You alright there?” Sasha asks, putting the sandwich she brought him next to his head, opposite the cat to dissuade her from trying to eat it. Given that she immediately gives up on her grooming attempts to move around him, it’s a wasted effort.

“Just kill me,” he groans.

“If I did that, who would help me refine my cartography skills later?” There’ve been a lot of setbacks in Sasha’s attempts to map the tunnels, often in the shape of moving passages, and Martin isn’t actually much help, except occasionally in guiding her back. She’s got something, though, which is, well, something, and her stubbornness in this has seemed to surprise even her. She’ll go whether he’s here or not.

“Kill me after?” offers Martin.

“Eat your sandwich before the cat does again,” Sasha says, which isn’t not an agreement, so he’ll take it.

-

“Excuse me, do you have a moment?” It takes a second for Jon to shake off the post-statement fugue and realize someone is talking to him.

“Melanie- uh, Miss King. How- How did you, uh-”

“Sasha let me in. I- Are you alright? You look…”

“Hmm? Yes, I, uh, I’m fine. Just, a bit distracted, I suppose. Did you- You wanted something.”

“Yeah,” Melanie says, taking a single step further into his office. “Look, I know we apparently got off on the wrong foot, though I swear I never met you before, but Georgie says you’re an alright sort, once you get past the stodginess- Which is weird. Exes? Really? Aren’t you a little… old for-”

“I’m- I’m actually nearly a year younger than her.” Jon really doesn’t think he looks that old.

“Oh- uh, sorry, I guess, um… Really?

“Yes, really. Did you want something other than to make jabs about my appearance-”

“Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t- It’s just- Let me start over. Thank you, for looking into my statement. I’ve been doing some research myself, and I was hoping I might be able to use your library.” And she doesn’t have credentials.

“Oh. Right, of course. Yes, um- Right.”

“Look, Georgie can vouch for me if-”

“Like she vouched for Sarah Baldwin?” That wasn’t fair. “No, I- I’m sorry. I didn’t mean- I do trust Georgie’s judgement, but it’s not necessary. I’ll let Diana know you’re clear.”

Melanie’s anger immediately fades to confused surprise. “Oh, uh. Thank you. Just like that? Seriously-”

“I do have two conditions.”

“Oh god, what?”

“Don’t leave the country without talking to Georgie.”

“Um, okay? I wasn’t really planning to leave the country at all, but alright. And the second?”

“Never sign an employment contract for the Magnus Institute.”

“I- what? You want me to promise to never take a job here.”

“Yes,” Jon says, and looks at her too intensely if her step back is anything to go by.

“Oookay, I see what Georgie meant about you. Fine, I guess. I won’t take a job here. Happy now?”

“Trust me, it’s for the best. And you should really get your shoulder looked at. Sasha?” he yells the last bit toward the Archive proper.

“Wait, what? How-”

“What’s up, Jon?”

“Can you take Miss King up to the library, please? Let Diana know I’m clearing her to use our resources, and anyone who takes issue can come to the Archives and discuss it with me.”

“Ah. Yeah, I’m sure they’re going to love that. Come on, Melanie, let’s get you some credentials.”

“But he… Yeah, okay.” As they walk away, he can still hear them speak. “Is he always like that?”

“Always like what? Creepy? Brusque? Vaguely threatening in a really awkward sort of way?”

“Rude.”

“Sort of, I guess. It doesn’t seem as rude once you know him a bit better. I think he kind of likes you, actually.”

“Likes me? He made me promise never to work here.”

“Oh! Really? Wow. I-” Sasha sighs and whispers “sorry Jon” under her breath. “-sometimes I wish he liked me that much.” It’s fair. It’s his fault she’s trapped here, and he brought her in knowing what he was getting her into. So far she hasn’t complained. Somehow it still hurts to hear, though. Has something happened recently to make her regret it more? It irks him that he doesn’t know.

“Sorry, what?”

“Nothing. It’s- It’s nothing. Come on, let’s go terrorize the librarians with the threat of Jonathan Sims.”

Jon sighs and pulls out his phone. He can’t stop Melanie from investigating. If he didn’t give her access to the Institute’s resources, she’d just look for answers somewhere else. What he can do is keep an eye on her, and let Georgie know to do the same. When Georgie calls a month later, asking him to stop by and feed the Admiral while she’s away in India, he can only hope he’s done the right thing. As usual.

-

They do try to stage an intervention of sorts. Once. After finding out Tim has been following Jon home and trying to get into the tunnels after they’re all gone. Patrząc had apparently scratched him up a bit. It’s nice to hear that Jon has been going home, though.

“He’s hiding something, I know it.” Tim’s gestures wave even farther and faster than usual in his agitation. “I just need proof.”

“Tim-”

“He killed her. He killed Gertrude. Everyone knows it. I know it. You know it. And you know he’s been killing other people, too. I don’t know if there’s something in their statements. How he’s choosing them. But I know it’s him.”

“Tim, Jon is not killing statement-givers. People come to give statements when they think something terrible is after them. Sometimes they’re right. There are plenty of people who gave statements and died that Jon never even saw,” Sasha tries her best to sound reasonable.

“Ah, but you didn’t say anything about Gertrude! Even you know-”

“He didn’t kill Gertrude either, Tim,” Sasha snaps. “There is nothing to suggest he was anywhere near her that week.”

“Exactly, that’s why-”

“Because he wasn’t near her that week, Tim. The police said she probably died a few days after she disappeared. You were working with him that week.”

“No! No, I wasn’t. Not Friday. Friday, he suddenly started saying he felt ill and needed to leave. And that’s the last anyone saw him before he promoted himself. I don’t know what he’s said to you, or to that police lady, but-”

Martin cuts him off. “Tim, you need help. This? This isn’t healthy. Jon won’t say anything about it because he’s afraid he’ll make it worse, but it needs to stop.”

“If you keep on, we’re going to have to go to Elias.” It’s not hard to sound like neither of them want to do this, seeing as neither of them want to do this. Not just because Jon’s distrust of Elias has passed to them, but also because Tim really is a friend. There is something more going on with him, though, even if he’s not entirely wrong.

The look of betrayal Tim gives Sasha doesn’t help their guilt, though. “Seriously? That’s where we are? You don’t see how crazy this is? You know he killed her. I know you do. And you’re protecting him anyway? Why are you on his side? Don’t you see you could be next?”

“Right now, Tim, the only person I’m trying to protect is you,” Sasha says. “I know you’re worried, but Jon wouldn’t hurt me any more than you would. And think of what will happen if you’re wrong.”

“You-”

Tim!

“Fine!” he yells. “Fine, I’ll back off Sims. For now. But we all know he’s up to something, and if you keep ignoring it, someday it’s going to come back on you. I just… I hope you know what you’re doing, Sasha.”

He storms off, muttering the whole while.

“Chances he’s actually going to stop?” Martin asks.

“Slim to none,” Sasha replies, rubbing her temples.

-

Jordan Kennedy, upon seeing Jon, had assumed his nightmares were just that, and it was the eeriness of the Institute that made him see an eye monster in the shape of the Archivist watching his dreams. He was nervous when he talked to Jon, but he seemed rather nervous in general.

Karolina Górka does not do that. Neither does she yell like Lionel Elliot or look at him in quiet fear and accuse him of being a monster like Naomi or Helen. Instead she seems- not relieved. Reassured, maybe? Not like she expected to find him here, but like she hoped she would without even knowing she was hoping.

“Oh,” she says. “… Is this your office?” She walks past him and doesn’t wait for a reply before letting herself into his office and taking a seat. The trail of dirt following her is worse than he remembers.

“Ms. Górka. You- don’t seem surprised to see me.”

“I am, sort of. Obviously you expected me to recognize you, so you know you’ve been in my dreams. I’m assuming that means you know about the tube as well.”

“I do, yes.” She nods.

“Then can you tell me what’s been happening to me?”

“I’m- not sure I understand. Have you had more encounters since?”

“Yes. And no. It’s…”

“Would you… like to tell me about it?”

“That is why I came. To make a statement.”

“I imagine that was your intention, before. If you do, though, these new experiences will be in your nightmares as well,” he warns.

“Dreams.”

“I’m sorry?”

“That’s part of it. It’s fine. They’re- should you be recording this or something?”

“Ah, yes. Um.” He finally sits and moves one of the recorders between them. “Statement of Karolina Górka, regarding experiences following her time trapped on the London Underground. Statement taken direct from subject, 30th January, 2017. Statement begins.”

“Thank you. You already know about what happened on the tube. The next night I had a nightmare about it. I woke up choking on dirt. It happened again the night after that, and the night after that. It was on the third night that I noticed the difference. The trapped man was always there, but now there was something else. It looked like you, but with eyes all over. I tried to call out. I think it was for help, but it might have been a warning. I couldn’t make a sound, though, because of all the dirt and the pressure on my chest. Either way, you didn’t do anything.

“When I woke up, I was crying and I vomited dirt on my floor. That same sticky mud that surrounded the carriage was all over my bed. I thought I should clean it up, but for some reason, I didn’t want to. I was still tired- more after being sick. So I laid back down. It was warm and soft and wrapped around me like a weighted blanket. I fell back asleep right away.

“You were always there, but it seemed like- sometimes you’re more there than others. And if you weren’t really there, I didn’t have to stay in the nightmare. I moved on to other dreams. After about two weeks, though, I stopped wanting to dream of anything else. Eventually, the only thing I was afraid of the nights I couldn’t block you out, was you. I woke up the morning of the 20th underneath my bed, walls of dirt encasing me. I thought I should be panicked, but I wasn’t. I was warm, the air around me was heavy and suffocating, and all I really wanted was to go back to sleep. I didn’t, but when I went to sleep that night, I dreamt I was in the carriage again, but the earth had filled it completely. There was no air for me to breathe, and it was a relief.

“It stopped being just my bedroom after that. The earth spreads wherever I go. Sometimes, if I stand in one place too long, I start sinking into the ground. And I get so cold now, when I’m in the open. The wind doesn’t pull air from me, it fills me up ’til I can’t stand it, and all I want is to pull something heavy over me until my lungs can’t expand from the pressure.

“Last night, I went back to that station, and I waited for hours, longer than the night should have lasted, until finally that train came again. When the doors opened, I stepped in without hesitation. I went to the carriage with the old man, and I sat across from him until the earth covered us both completely and the metal compressed everything within. I breathed in soil and felt… embraced.

“All my bones cracked. It was excruciating, but then I woke up under my bed again this morning, with no injuries and walls of earth around me, but I know last night wasn’t a dream. I saw the news. They found that old man in a tunnel this morning, lungs full of dirt.”

Karolina breathes in a single, shallow breath- the first he’s seen her take since she entered the room. It makes him conscious of his own breathing, now deep in response to the choking feeling radiating through the room.

“Statement ends,” he rasps.

“So. Do you know what’s happening to me?” He does. He’s witnessing the birth of a monster, and somehow it is his doing. Experience has told him there’s little use trying to stop it. All he can hope to do is try to help her stay a person.

“Yes, I- You’re Becoming.”

-

There’s nothing special about the day, as far as Martin can tell, but something must have happened because Sasha’s been quiet and pensive since she came in. At first he thinks maybe a confrontation with Tim, but even if Tim weren’t avoiding them, arguments with him usually leave Sasha worked up and ranting. Not- this. Somewhere around lunch time, she starts looking between the clock and Jon’s door. He’s recording again, but it’s going on twenty minutes now, so he’ll probably be done soon. When he is, Sasha still hesitates before getting up.

“Jon?”

“Sasha, come in.” She looks back at Martin for a second and doesn’t shut the door behind her, so he gets up to stand in the doorway as she sits across from Jon. “Did… did you want to ask me something?”

It’s growing more common, Jon asking them questions. But they’re all superficial, usually yes or no, nothing that should force them to say anything they don’t want to. Even then, the actual compulsion seems rare. Either Jon is more confident in his control or Martin and Sasha have some sort of tolerance. It’s probably not important which; the end result is the same.

“Yes…” Sasha is quiet, unsure, but Jon doesn’t push her. Then she takes a breath. “Tell me about Michael.”

“About… Michael. Are-” Jon’s brow furrows. “Has he- How much?”

“He was Gertrude’s assistant, wasn’t he? Michael Shelley.”

“Yes,” Jon admits. “Once.”

“How did he become Michael?

“Are you…”

“Please, Jon.” Sasha could stubborn her way into an answer from Jon- she’s done it before- but her earnestness has him caving almost immediately, and probably sharing more than he otherwise might have.

“Right… Michael Shelley was an archival assistant, as you figured out, to Gertrude Robinson. By the time he took the position, Gertrude had already started acting like a normal old woman. She wanted to be underestimated. She didn’t want anyone looking too closely at what she was actually doing. Apparently she was quite good at this act; Michael bought into it for years. Gertrude’s goal was always the prevention of the rituals, though. It’s… it’s one of the main reasons she had assistants at all. In 2011, the Spiral attempted its ritual, the Great Twisting, in Russia. Gertrude- didn’t tell Michael what was happening. He knew nothing about the Entities or the rituals. This was largely by design. He was also very unsuited to the Spiral. So, during the peak of the ritual, with only the assurance that he was preventing a great evil, Gertrude gave him a map and sent him into the Distortion’s hallways. He followed it, until he reached its heart, and then he became it.”

Staring toward Jon’s desk, though not at it, Sasha takes this in and nods. It’s not clear exactly what she’s thinking, but Martin imagines it’s not the same as what’s on his mind.

“Which one?” he asks, swallowing around the lump building in his throat.

“What?” Jon asks, eyes lingering with concern on Sasha, until he sees Martin and the concern grows to outright worry. “Are you-”

“Which ritual was I meant to be a sacrifice for?”

“Oh. Oh, Martin, I’m… I don’t know. Not the Dark, it was too soon for that. The Unknowing is the next nearest. But it might not have been that either. It might not have been a ritual at all.”

“So, what, I was an- an all-purpose sacrifice?” Sasha is looking at him now, too, biting her lip the way she does when she’s not sure what to say. And suddenly Jon’s office feels too small. At least it wouldn’t have been the Buried, he thinks, turning back to the main archive. That one already happened.

There’s a scraping behind him, someone stumbling, and then Jon’s hand is on his arm.

“I’m so- Martin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t…”

“It’s alright, Jon,” Martin assures him, though he’s not sure it is. “I think I knew. After Sasha learned about the others. I just. I didn’t think about it, you know? Just, hearing it like that…”

“Martin,” Jon says so soft it’s almost a whisper. And the way he looks at Martin, there’s a touch of desperation, and it almost seems like he’s going to hug him. He doesn’t, but his hand doesn’t leave Martin’s arm either. “You- you know that won’t happen now, right? You know I would never-”

“I know.” There’s a slight compulsion, but not much and Martin has no problem saying this anyway. Jon doesn’t look reassured, though. “I do, Jon. I know… Ask me.”

“What, no.”

“Please, Jon. Ask.” Jon still hesitates, but Martin will press if he needs to, and Jon gives in.

“Do- do you believe that I would never sacrifice you?

“Yes,” Martin says immediately and with absolute confidence. “Yes, I believe that. I know you wouldn’t, Jon.”

“Me too,” agrees Sasha. “We know, Jon. We know you care. We trust you… Come on, why don’t we go out for lunch today.”

They do. It doesn’t escape Martin’s notice, though, that while the outing is obviously meant to lighten the mood, it also distracts Jon from asking why Sasha wanted to know about Michael.

-

“Maxwell Rayner,” Basira says over the phone.

“Oh fuck. Right,” Jon says to himself, but also over the phone, which isn’t helpful.

“Jon,” she says suspiciously, “do you know something about what’s happening right now?”

“No. No, I- What’s- something’s happening right now?” Jon’s not sure why he bothers sometimes. He certainly wouldn’t believe him.

“… Tell me about Maxwell Rayner.”

“He’s a cult leader. The People’s Church of the Divine Host. Basira, if you’re going to confront him, you need light. Every torch you can get your hands on. More. Bring petrol and set the place on fire around you if necessary, but stay in the light and keep your distance from Rayner.” There’s a long moment of silence, and he wonders if he’s lost her. “Basira?”

“Fuck, Jon. Alright… alright.”

“Call me after- Basira? Basira?” Now he’s lost her. Last time he’d had to go back to recording statements and just wait. He still can’t actually do anything now, but he can monitor at least. Closing his eyes and focusing, he tries to remind himself that she’d made it through with the same amount of information before. It’s easier than it might be with most others; Beholding likes her.

It happens almost exactly as she described in her statement. And Jon watches, Knows it all, right up until they open the door at the bottom of the stairs, and then everything goes dark. He assumes it’s because that’s what Basira sees, but it doesn’t go away. He waits for her to get a new torch, for the flash of a gun, but none of it comes.

He can hear indistinct yells, but they’re muffled under the sound Basira had once described. Like a waterfall, but slowed. A low, dull roar. It’s clear in that moment why statements are even necessary. Basira isn’t his- isn’t Beholding’s. Not yet. Or ever if he can help it. But that means that they don’t have that connection, tying them together, and without being there he can’t follow her into the Dark. Even if they did, he’s not sure how much it would help.

It’s astonishingly stressful. There’s a statement he should read, and a few tapes that look vaguely promising for him to listen to, but he’s finding it hard to concentrate around that roar, to see around that pitch black spot in his sight. Instead of doing either of those things, he runs a shaky hand through his hair and stares helplessly at his phone.

“Hey, Jon, have you-” Martin freezes in the doorway. “Oh. Are you… I’ll get some tea.”

When he returns, Patrząc comes with and Jon trades clutching his mobile for clutching the cup and petting his cat. Without a word, Martin takes the chair across from him. The vague feeling that he should explain makes Jon open his mouth, but the words stick in his throat, and he gives it up as a losing effort. Together they sit in silence until the rush in Jon’s ears fades and the veil over his vision lifts and Jon Knows Basira is still okay.

“Thank you, Martin. Um, did you- you had a question.” His voice comes out as shaky as his hands and he feels inexplicably weak in the aftermath.

“Nothing that can’t wait. It’s alright, Jon. Just focus on breathing, and drink your tea before it gets too cold. Were you going to record a statement?” Martin reaches for the file on his desk, pausing just before grabbing it to look at Jon for permission. Jon nods. It occurs to him that Martin thinks he had a panic attack. It occurs to him that maybe he did.

Jon sits back in his chair and breathes in the scent of the tea and rubs a hand over his chest to soothe the rapid movement within it. Patrząc’s purr soothes him further. He can sense all his people, and they’re all okay.

“Statement of Rosaline Peterson,” Martin reads, “regarding a doll inherited from her grandmother.” He pauses once more, checking again that what he’s doing is alright.

Jon nods and closes his eyes, and lets Martin’s voice carry him through.


When Basira comes back to the Institute the next day, her story is more or less the same, and she still intends to quit. It’s probably for the best, but he’s not sure what that means when it comes to keeping her from being pulled into the Archives. Jon doesn’t ask her for the tapes this time. At least half of them have been hidden away since Martin helped him move them, and while there’s a chance something on the remainder might help him, it doesn’t seem worth asking her to return. Or steal evidence.

He doesn’t need to bother, though. Basira shows up again the following day and drops a boxful on his desk.

“You didn’t need to do that,” he says, “but thank you.”

“Sure. I don’t know that you actually help anyone here, but they’re likely to do more good with you than sitting in evidence lockup until the end of time. I’m done, though. I don’t want any more to do with any of this. If I never see you again, that’ll be thanks enough.”

“Then, I honestly hope we never meet again.” It’s doubtful. But he can hope for her sake, and do his best to make it happen.

Things have gone quiet again. Tim has still been watching him, but he’s kept his distance. Melanie stops by to thank him. She doesn’t give a statement, and Jon wouldn’t let her if she tried, not with the threat of Georgie hanging over his head, but she does let him know of her impending trip and assures him Georgie has been notified. He already knows, but he appreciates the gesture.

Without Basira, Daisy’s visits stop too. They all go back to doing their jobs and Jon tries not to be too paranoid.

“Do you hear that? Jon?” Jon is startled from the start of a statement by Sasha at his office door. He listens, but doesn’t hear anything and tells her so. “Huh, it’s stopped. I could’ve sworn, while you were recording your statement…”

“What?” he asks, suddenly on edge.

“I’m not sure, some kind of music, I think? Do you- would you mind if I stayed here, while you record?” Once, Jon absolutely would have minded. Now it’s almost a comfort, a reminder of companionship. He doesn’t tell Sasha this, just continues reading the statement.

He hears it himself, just before Sasha says, “There it is again. Like…”

“A calliope. Damn.”

“I thought it was pronounced-”

“It’s either. Sasha, you know a fair amount of the staff. Have you noticed anyone acting… oddly? It would’ve started not long after Prentiss’s attack, I think.” A long shot. All of not-Sasha’s actions had seemed fairly normal, despite being clearly out of character in retrospect. Until his confrontation with Martin, he’d suspected her the least.

“I… don’t think so? I mean there’s Tim, but-”

“No, I’ve kept an eye on Tim. He’s fine… unless-”

“You do realize that’s a creepy thing to say, right? You really should talk to him, you know.” It’s not the first time they’ve suggested it, but even if it was the hundredth, he still wouldn’t. The best thing he can do for Tim is to keep his distance. And there are bigger issues. Except maybe Tim is involved after all.

“And say what? I don’t want you in the Archives because the evil god we serve would drive you to self-destruction; also I know you’re stalking me because I was supernaturally stalking you first? I’m sure he’ll take that very well.”

“Obviously not, Jon, but-”

“Has Tim been spending more time with anyone than usual? Working closer with anyone?”

“He’s not really talking to me right now. Anyway, shouldn’t you know? You’re the one supernaturally stalking him.”

“Yes, to make sure he doesn’t get himself devoured by an eldritch god, not to have the latest gossip on his social life. I certainly do not want to know the details of any of his… dalliances. Can we please get back to the calliope?”

“‘Dalliances’? Really? And you wonder why people think you’re ancient.” Jon opens his mouth and she cuts him off before he can do the same. “Alright! Yes, alright. Back on topic. Though I really do think it’s supposed to be-”

“Sasha.”

“Alright! So what does calliope music mean, and why are we concerned for Tim?”

“There’s a calliope that should be in Artefact Storage. It’s tied to the Stranger, or I-Do-Not-Know-You. Category four. Uncanny Valley sorts of fears. You looked into the Graham Folger statement. Statement, um, 0070107-”

“Statement what now?” she asks. “That sounds like one of Gertrude’s case numbers. And I certainly don’t remember any Graham Folger.”

“You- ah, right. It would be… Statement- 04.2006.2007/07/01.M/… O/U?”

“Jon, normal people don’t remember 15-20 character statement names.” He bristles.

“It’s better than-”

“Not saying it’s not! I’m still not going to remember though. And I still don’t know a Graham Folger.”

“Fine. Well- hmm…” Walking around the Archives, purposefully pulling unorganized files from random boxes probably isn’t helping him seem more normal. That’s a lost battle at this point, though, and Sasha has seen odder. There are three NotThem statements easily accessible, including the as-yet-unfiled statement of Amy Patel, and these are the ones he pulls. He doesn’t know the full story of the others yet, but he can do recordings after his assistants are up to speed. “Here, read these. I believe there may be a creature like these within the Institute.”

-

When Martin returns from interviewing one Noah Campbell, who didn’t so much have an encounter with a bunch of spiders with human-seeming eyes as accidentally rent a flat to them, Tim is in the Archives, looking through his desk. And Martin’s just done.

“Really, Tim?”

“Ohh… Uh, hey, Martin. I was just…”

“Just what, Tim? You think I’m hiding evidence that Jon’s a serial killer in my desk?”

“What? Nooo… where would you- get an idea like that? No, I was-”

“Tim, I just spent two hours listening to a man who thinks ten minutes is an appropriate amount of time to steep green tea try to explain how he didn’t realize his tenants were spiders and also eating his other tenants. He didn’t notice for two years. Because the woman who signed the lease told him her family were recluses. Recluses, Tim.”

“Oh. That’s, uh… wow.”

“Yes. Yes it is. And I am two seconds from pouring pure sugar in my mouth to get rid of the taste of tannins. Jon is not a serial killer and I am very tired and I would appreciate it if you would go back to Research and not be snooping through my things right now.”

“Righto.” Tim actually gives him finger guns before making a hasty retreat. Martin misses that Tim.

As far as Martin can tell, nothing is missing or terribly misplaced, but he doesn’t know how long Tim had been looking so he texts Sasha that she should check her own things when she returns. Despite the apparent futility of trying to hide anything from a man who can literally know anything just for the asking, they’ve been avoiding bringing this up to Jon, but Martin’s starting to think it’s time to talk about it, and finally take it to Elias. Not that he wants Tim to get fired or anything. Generally he likes Tim. But it’s gone past comically ridiculous and has steamrolled into clinical paranoia territory. Especially since he can’t figure out why Tim has fixated on this so strongly. It’s not out of any fondness for Gertrude or concern for any particular statement-giver. Concern for Sasha only takes it so far.

Also, not to be petty, Martin isn’t complaining about the job security, but it still feels a little unfair that Tim can be fired. Which isn’t Tim’s fault. Martin’s just getting very tired of feeling like comprehension is a hairsbreadth from his grasp.

Pushing it from his mind as much as he can, he makes himself a cup of tea that’s just this side of too sweet and tries to document what little he got from Mr. Campbell. Somewhere in the muddle, Patrząc jumps into his lap, and time slips away until suddenly Sasha is there, searching through various drawers.

“Hey, Martin,” she says, “do you have my notes on the NotThem statements?”

“The what statements?” Trepidation crawls over Sasha’s face.

“Oh,” she says softly, “that’s… probably not good.”

-

The wax museum ends up being both a waste of time and too much of a distraction. It was easy to tail not-Sasha there because he knew who he was following. Going there to figure out who the NotThem is now doesn’t work because he doesn’t actually know everyone who works at the Institute. Really, he should have had Sasha or Martin do this, but the thought had made him too nervous.

It’s something he’s going to need to work on. Preparing them and watching them is one thing. Keeping them in the Archives, away from any danger, is another. This is their job. He wants to help, not hinder. And in focusing his attention here, he’s left a vulnerability elsewhere.

“I’m sorry, Jon,” he’s greeted with as he enters the Archives, from a nervous Sasha.

“What?”

“It’s Tim,” Martin says. “He thinks you’re-”

“A murderer, yes. I know. I think he might be influenced- did Sasha give you-”

“Tim took them. He was in here earlier, while we were all out. I had them on my desk; I was going to give them to Martin when I got back, but… they’re gone.”

“Oh. That… Does he know-”

“I made notes, about who might’ve been in contact with the table; who I knew it couldn’t be, like us and Elias and Rosie-”

“Rosie? I mean, I know it isn’t her, but what makes you say that?”

“Well, first of all, you know Rosie. And from what you’ve said it seems like you could probably tell if someone you knew was replaced. But also, the Institute seems to be running as efficiently as it ever has. That’s beside the point though, because my notes are gone too. I brought Martin up to speed, but-”

“But we still don’t know who it is, and now Tim knows both that it exists and that it’s connected to the table.”


Less than two days later, Jon makes it to Artefact Storage in time to get between Tim and the table, but only just.

“Tim, stop.”

“I don’t know what you are but you’re really going to want to get out of my way.”

“Tim, the table is-”

“You think I’m going to buy whatever bullshit you’re going to say?” Tim sneers. “Guess again. I know you’re tied to this thing. Maybe without it, everyone else will see.”

“See what?

“That you are not Jonathan Sims.” Oh, Jon realizes, Tim thinks he’s the NotThem.

He’s not entirely wrong is the problem.

“I’m- I’m different, yes, but I am Jonathan Sims. And I am nothing like the things in those statements. Tim, please-”

“I’m not afraid to go through you, if I need to,” Tim says, though Jon knows he is. This Tim isn’t jaded enough to attack without hesitation. “Get out of my way.”

“The table is trapping it. We can figure it-” The force of Tim slamming into him knocks the air from his chest, throwing him back onto the table, and he has only enough time to roll out of the way before the axe is lodged into the wood.

“Tsk, tsk,” someone clicks their tongue behind them. “You should’ve listened to the Archivist, Tim.”

They whirl around. Jon doesn’t know who the monster is supposed to be, which is somehow reassuring. He hadn’t noticed the replacement because he’d never seen it. Tim isn’t so lucky.

“Andy? What-”

“Really, what does a monster have to do to get you to kill the damn Archivist? Guess I’ll just have to do it myself.” Jon steps forward, putting himself between it and Tim.

“I see you,” he says, and it stutters, but it’s not enough.

Last time Michael had still been interested in what Jon might do, but Jon hadn’t stolen a meal from him then. Somehow, he’s going to need to hold it and get both himself and Tim around it at the same time. If he’d had a live statement today, maybe… He can kill the thing. He knows he can. But not while he’s worried about Tim and preferably not where Elias can watch.

“Jon!” Martin shouts, rushing in with Sasha, pinning the creature between them, and giving it two more targets. Jon can’t- he panics.

“Martin, run!” he yells, tries to order, then turns his attention back to his enemy. “Stop.” It’s not enough, though. He needs- He needs to do something. There’s tickle over his hand, and he tries to be grateful and not shudder or shake it off.

Michael!” Jon can’t feel Michael, so he’s confused why Sasha is yelling his name. Except then he can; a door appears in the wall right beside him. Too-long hands reaching out to grab Jon and a frozen Tim. Just before he’s dragged through the door, Jon throws the spider in his hand and hopes it’s enough to give Martin and Sasha time to get away.

Run!” he yells again as the door slams shut behind him.

-

Patrząc is yowling, and Martin is trying not to think it sounds like Jon’s name. But it does, and he’s freaking out a bit.

“Jon?” he calls through the Archives, hoping for but not expecting a response. He doesn’t get one.

Joooooon!” Patrząc screams from somewhere further in.

“Martin, what’s-” asks Sasha, coming in behind him and cutting herself off almost immediately as they both grow nervous. “Where is she?”

It doesn’t take long to realize Jon’s door is closed. Jon’s door is never closed. When Martin cautiously opens it, a streak of black flies past him toward the stairs. Up the stairs. He looks at Sasha and sees his own fear reflected back.

“You should probably follow it,” someone says in Martin’s ear, “if you want to keep your Archivist.” The way it laughs when he jumps seems to echo through his skull.

“Michael-” Sasha says, and then they both realize what’s been said. Maybe they shouldn’t leave an evil being alone in the Archives, but neither of them stop to think about it, running up the stairs after the cat.

It’s getting late, the halls empty, and Patrząc is still yowling, so it isn’t hard to follow the sound to Artefact Storage.

“Oh no…” They spare each other one more glance before Martin rushes through the door that should have been locked. The thing standing there, between them and Jon and Tim, looks like it might have been Andy from Research if someone stretched them out and covered them in shadow.

If he didn’t know better, Martin would think Sasha and Michael planned it, with how sudden and smooth the next few minutes go. When she yells for him, he appears, pulling Jon and Tim with him into his door. Just before it closes, something small flies from Jon to the not-Andy. There’s just enough time to register it as a spider before Patrząc launches at the creature from the other side and Jon’s final order hits them.

Martin hates himself for it a bit, leaving the cat behind, but something tells him he couldn’t have resisted Jon’s direction if he tried.

“Where-” he wheezes as they rush back through the halls, already moving toward the Archives without thought. When they hit the bottom of the stairs, they freeze, unsure what to do next. An outraged scream rattles the building.

“The tunnels,” Sasha says. “They might-” She doesn’t finish, heaving up the trapdoor, but Martin knows. The tunnels can disrupt the powers. He just barely thinks fast enough to grab a torch before the door is slamming shut behind them, throwing them into sudden darkness.


Past experience has not given Martin a favorable opinion of the tunnels under the Archives. Chased by worms, finding a dead body, almost being crushed by a narrowing tunnel. So he doesn’t think his current panic- running through them with a single torch while the echo of some creature calling for Tim and Jon chases after them- is an overreaction. Which is what he would tell Sasha if he wasn’t out of breath and hyperventilating a bit.

“This way,” she says, again, entirely unnecessarily since she then physically pulls him that way by her grip on his wrist. They’ve been doing this for at least ten minutes. Every so often, the not-Andy thing can be heard, calling for Tim, telling him not to trust Jon.

“How do you know?” Martin asks, as soon as he can manage to do so.

“Shh… I’m not sure. I just- do. Wait-” She holds her free hand out to stop him, which is, again, unnecessary, seeing as she’s still leading him around and thus had already stopped him. He doesn’t say this. He reminds himself they have bigger issues. “Do you hear-?”

He does. The sound of arguing is pretty hard to miss, actually, which means they’re not the only ones who will. The way sound echoes through here makes it hard for Martin to determine what direction they’re in, but that’s why he’s following Sasha, he supposes. She’s far more familiar with the tunnels than he is.

“- sorry I saved your life!” Jon hisses ahead of them.

“Why do you even care?” Tim yells back, as softly as one can yell, but not nearly soft enough. “You clearly don’t have any problem mur-”

“Christ I must have been a nightmare, if I was half this bad. I did not kill Gertrude Robinson. I haven’t killed anyone in the entire time you’ve known me. Now can we-”

Jon!” Sasha yells, suddenly in a parody of the scene they’d left upstairs. This time with Jon and Tim in the middle.

Found you~” The not-Andy singsongs and lunges at Tim. There’s a blur of movement that Martin can’t follow, but it ends with Tim hitting the ground in front of him and Jon staring so intently at the creature that Martin can feel it even standing behind him.

I see you.” It doesn’t sound like a statement of fact. It sounds like a threat. The creature must feel it too, because it slows, like it’s caught in molasses. Or a web. Jon doesn’t spare them a glance when he tells Sasha to get them all to safety, that he’ll meet them in the Archives. Nor when Michael’s door appears near them again. It’s only as Martin steps through the door that Jon catches his eye, just for a second. The creature lunges again.

Stop.” Is the last thing that can be heard before the door closes. And even though it’s directed away from them, it’s powerful enough to give them all pause.

“Thank you, Michael,” Sasha says. “Can you get us out of here, please? Tim needs help.”

-

Stop,” Jon orders, and is obeyed. The not-person is caught in place, like a wasp in a web. It hisses at him, tries to posture and threaten, but ultimately it is powerless, and right where he wants it. He could be rid of it right now. Now that there are no distractions, it would take little more than a concentrated thought. But why, when he can make it do all the work for him? “Stateme-”

The words are aborted with a sudden loss of tension that hits him like his opponent in tug-of-war releasing the rope. Mental whiplash so strong he physically has to balance himself.

“No… No! You-” He jerks toward Leitner with a snarl. “You stupid, foolish man. You had no right.”

“Mr. Sims. I- thought it was time we had a talk.” His voice wavers with uncertainty, as it should. Jon is not the terrified, ignorant man he’d been the last time they were here. He is the Archivist, and the only one rescued here is the creature that had been his prey.

“Bring it back.”

“What? I- don’t think you-”

Bring it-” A tug cuts him off, Leitner already prepared to read and trap the Archivist the way he had the Stranger’s thing. The weight of the Eye’s gaze withdraws, the skittering in his chest slowly calms. “Mr. Leitner. That won’t be necessary. Why don’t we go speak in my office.”

He doesn’t wait for a reply, knowing Leitner will protest, just turns and leads.

“I am a fool,” Leitner says, less agreement, more realization, as he follows. “Somehow I convinced myself they were just dreams, nightmares from all that I’ve learned, but they’re not. It really has been you. This whole time. You’re not like Gertrude. You are the Archivist Elias has been trying to make.”

“I’m the Archivist Jonah Magnus made,” Jon bites, “but I share many of Gertrude’s goals, and I would have left you be if you had just stopped meddling.” Dropping himself into his desk chair, he feels a bit like a petulant child but mostly like a very, very tired man.

“I want to-”

“I don’t need your help. I don’t need your guidance. I don’t need your exposition. Obviously I have a fair handle on the manner of things all on my own.”

“Why bring me here, then? I suppose you want my statement?”

“I already have your statement, Jurgen. I already know your fears and your sins. That’s why I’m in your dreams, watching with all my impassive eyes as Thomas and Mary and Gregory and Leandra and Edward are eaten. Over. And over. Again.”

Jurgen heaves a sad, shaky breath. “You really are a monster already, aren’t you?”

“Am I? I- You have no idea how much I worried about that. How scared- How- how much I- I feared what I was Becoming but needed what it gave me. It’s… It’s a terrible thing for some- something like me, being unsure.” Jon can hear in his own voice, behind the frustrated exhaustion, the same threatening tone he’s heard from so many monsters before him. And he honestly can’t bring himself to care. He’s been holding this in so long. “Maybe I am a monster. But Gertrude sacrificed her assistants, and you don’t even remember the names of all the ones who died while you watched. Mine are safe and watched and loved, and I will keep them that way no matter what it costs me. I would rather be my sort of monster than yours.”

Jon?” someone yells from another room, as if on cue, Sasha, Martin and Tim coming starkly into his awareness as they all stumble into the Archives from a door that shouldn’t exist. Sasha thanks Michael, and its laugh is more pleased than cruel when it disappears. “Jon! Are you here?

Tim is hurt. Tim is- unconscious.

“Stay here,” Jon tells Leitner.

“But-”

“Stay. Here. I need to help my people, and then we’re going to talk about that book.”

Martin is already halfway done patching Tim up by the time Jon gets to them and Tim himself is coming to. In a bit of a panic, it seems.

“That- that thing! It was- Where is it? Where did it go? We need to leave!” Martin puts himself between them when it’s clear the sight of Jon isn’t helping. “It- where-”

“It’s gone,” Jon says, and ignores the way he can hear Martin telling him he’s not helping in the look directed at him. “It won’t be hurting anyone else. Martin, Sasha, will you help Tim home, please. And… explain the situation to him, if he still wants to know.”

“You-”

“I’m not recruiting you,” he tells Tim harshly. “You will not work in the Archives. Someday I hope you can be thankful for that.”

Martin hangs back, clearly reluctant to leave Jon alone, beaten up as he probably looks.

“I’m fine, Martin. There’re still some things I need to do here. The three of you should take tomorrow off. We’ll talk Monday.” Obviously unconvinced, Martin still nods and goes when Sasha calls back for him. Jon has a thought. “Oh, Martin! If Tim needs actual medical attention… 00.2011.2012/02/11.N/C/U. She may be able to help.”

Martin stares at him blankly. Jon considers messaging it to him, instead he goes and pulls the whole file from its shelf and hands it over. “Let me know you all get home safe.”

“Won’t you know?” Martin teases, obviously trying to lighten the mood faced with Jon’s gravity. Fondness makes Jon give him a small smile.

“It’s still nice to hear.” He stands there and watches until Martin catches up to Sasha and they lead Tim from the Archives.

Then he returns to his office… and stops.

This is ridiculous. Utterly, senselessly ridiculous. All the things he’s changed. All his steps in the right direction. All his negating of necessities. All of it, and this still happens? Jon has no reason to believe in destiny, but if he can’t stop such major things from happening… He knows destiny. Its name is Jonah Magnus and one day he will watch it die.

There’s so much more blood than with the pipe.

It’s not like Leitner had much to tell him that he doesn’t already know, and the man was hardly a threat. For all the name Jurgen Leitner was attached to so much pain, the man himself was just a frightened old man who would rather hide for the rest of his life than face what he’d brought on himself.

It’s because of Daisy, Jon realizes. She still thinks he killed Gertrude, but it hasn’t been enough to get her actually hunting him. He’s not the only one implicated this time, though. Even if Elias had wiped all prints from the axe, it’s still Tim’s. Tim bought it, and if the cameras in the rest of the Institute caught anything, Tim will be the only one seen holding it. Tim is the one who’s been obsessively paranoid. Tim, who’s been vocal about his dislike and distrust of Jon lately.

There’s something to be said for hacking at things with an axe. It’s a good outlet for stress and anger. Jon leaves it stuck in the desk. Given the blood and the police’s penchant for passive aggression in the form of minor but inconvenient property damage, he’s probably going to need a new one anyway.

He can feel Elias’s eyes on him as he leaves the building and stops to Look back.

“Remember what I said,” Jon growls, in a way he Learned from Daisy. “They. Stay. Safe.”

And then he becomes the Hunted.

Chapter Text

Statement of Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, regarding the death of Martin Blackwood. Statement recorded by subject, March 3rd, 2017.

Statement begins.

Today is the anniversary. Would be the anniversary. Won’t be the anniversary. It’s been… almost two years now, for me. I should have done this sooner, it just- I didn’t think I could do it. I- feel the statements as I record them, and I wasn’t sure I could handle living through that again. Now- well, I’m not sure how to feel about things now. Maybe that’s why I’m doing this.

The world as we knew it ended October 18th, 2018, and it was my fault. Martin tried to tell me it wasn’t, and I certainly didn’t choose to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did it. I read the words that summoned the apocalypse and I am the only one who could have. It’s what I was… cultivated for.

Given my track record, it should be no surprise that I felt reversing, or even just mitigating, the result was my responsibility. Again, Martin said it wasn’t, but he never actually tried to dissuade me from trying, and he was there with me, hand-in-hand, every step of the way. I suppose we’re both self-sacrificing idiots. Perhaps I should have tried to dissuade him. I try not to enter losing battles, though, and ultimately… I didn’t want to. I wanted- I needed him with me. Partially, I was afraid of losing myself. The god who claimed me was the sky now. It was everywhere. I knew and felt so much. I was afraid of it taking me entirely.

And I was afraid of being alone. And I was afraid of what might happen to him if I wasn’t there. I was a monster, am a monster, but I had killed Peter Lukas and Martin had rejected the Lonely and lost the protection that gave him. He was just… human.

So we stayed together. And- god it was terrible. The world was literally going to hell. But us? Being together? It was- I have never felt so right. So happy, even in my terror.

The ritual technically took place in Scotland, where we’d been hiding, but it had all started in London, so we decided to go back. It was easier for us, I know, than it would have been for nearly anyone else. There are perks to your god being above all others. It still wasn’t easy, though.

Halfway there, Julia Montauk caught up with us. Daisy had managed to kill Trevor Herbert before disappearing, and, as is expected when half of a pair is killed, she came for revenge. When Breekon came, it was… lost, directionless. There was no real fight there. Julia was not lost. She was a Hunter. She had a purpose, and that purpose was to kill me. I held her, but it was a weak hold. I already had two statements from her. The Eye had little left to learn.

It was Martin who acted, who went behind her while she was frozen in my Sight and slit her throat. Who, when she didn’t immediately die, when she fought back enough to move her limbs, ignored the wounds he got and continued cutting through her neck until the knife caught in her spine.

She did die then, though we finished removing her head just in case. If I learned anything from Gertrude, it’s that if something can’t be killed, it can still be neutralized. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

I’ll admit, I wondered if the Slaughter had somehow gotten hold of Martin right under my nose, then, but not every act of violence is caused by an insatiable need. Sometimes desperation is impetus enough. She’d scratched him up quite a bit, so after throwing the head in a river, we patched him up and continued on.

It took a long time to get to London, but we still didn’t have a plan, really. I- I knew things were bad there, but, heh, knowing something and experiencing it are two different things.

It turned out that, even after the apocalypse, Smirke’s tunnels were still something of a no-man’s land for most of the Entities. We… we could have gone to the Institute. It belongs to the Eye. It would technically be safe for us, but even if he wasn’t physically there, it was still Jonah Magnus’s realm, and we had decided, whatever else we had to do to undo the apocalypse, we were going to kill him. So instead we ended up in the tunnels below the city, with Georgie and Melanie and sometimes Basira and some dozen or so stragglers they’d gathered. It was… good. To be with friends again. Even if my presence made a lot of people uncomfortable.

I tried to get back to the Panopticon first. I thought stabbing him was as good a place as any to start, but he had Leitner’s book and all the passages were blocked off. It was probably for the best, now that I’ve had time to think about it. I don’t think it would’ve ended like I hoped. So I went back to the others and we talked. We had… the foundations of a plan; reconnaissance was difficult, but Basira was still welcome in the Institute and willing to venture in, and we eventually discovered that, whatever oversight Jonah had of the Institute overall, the Archives are now mine.

In the end, it wasn’t our plan that got him killed. It wasn’t Jonah. It wasn’t a strike against the Eye. It was an attack against me. Not a sacrifice, not a battle. The not-Sasha wanted to get back at me for Leitner trapping it. We were simply exploring one day, spending some time with only the two of us. And it came up from behind and- and gutted him.

I- I was-

I felt the last beat of his heart. Knew the second the last electrical impulse ran through his brain. Within me was a hollow, agonizing, bloody void where he should have been. But- Horror vacui. Nature abhors a vacuum. The Beholding flooded in.

There’s a reason the Stranger’s ritual is called “the Unknowing.” Being known, understood, is antithetical to it. And I knew it. I looked into that thing, and I Knew every part of its existence from its creation until that very second, when it was Known, and thus could not exist.

I was… I understood Breekon in that moment. Truly understood it. More even than Julia or Daisy or Basira.

What are you, when you are suddenly just a piece of an incomplete whole?

I knew to my soul how Martin came to be in the Lonely.

I knew, better than any Lukas ever has, what it was to be Alone.

I came to know that, when I let Martin See me, in the Lonely, he had become part of me. What I felt wasn’t just grief. Wasn’t anything so simple. It was a sudden amputation. While he knew me, however, I had tried not to Know him in the same way. Independence is a human right. He deserved to be able to keep secrets if he wanted- to not be known and thus reliant as I was. I decided, after the disaster with not-Sasha and then the Unknowing, that I was done being so paranoid. I was going to trust the others. I was going to trust him. And showing that might’ve taken some effort but it was effort I was more than willing to put forth.

Apparently he was taking advantage of that. Crawling from his lifeless body, from the wound, was a spider. I was- enraged. Peter Lukas, Elias, even Jane Prentiss, and now the Web… All these entities trying to lay claim to him and not one of them could save him. I couldn’t save him. What use was there in…

The Web is unmatched in manipulation, obviously, but they are still limited by what they know, by all the variables they cannot see. I should’ve known, after some of the statements, like, uh… 01.2015.2015/08/01.A/U, where they asked for stories as payment. They didn’t necessarily want an apocalypse. They wanted the power of the Eye.

Beholding, meanwhile, was growing… bored, I suppose. All the world was quickly becoming a book it had read before. It’s true, the Entities don’t think like we do, will never speak to us in words. Some of them are more place than thing. Their language is a shiver down your spine, an itch behind your eyes, a pressure on your chest, ice in your veins, vertigo, fever. I understood this then.

Even if I had killed Jonah and pushed the Entities back into their place beside our world, I could not- would not- live in a world without Martin.

I made this known. I gathered up all my pain and rage and loss and sent an itch or shiver of my own back into the Entities. And then I struck a deal.

The Eye knows time, knows the direction of it, and the Web can manipulate its strings. They sent me back. Back to the exact moment the potential Archivist before me was lost. In exchange, Beholding exists in part within me, is experiencing the world exactly as I do, when I do. And the Web gets all the Knowledge I gain.

There is still a hollow place in my chest, and though it can’t be filled or healed without him, I do still carry a piece of Martin with me there, patched over by spiderweb, until such time as I accomplish my goal and either give myself equally to the Web as the Eye, or find someone else to act as a dual avatar.

I imagine I should try to get used to spiders one of these days.

Statement ends.


“How does it feel?” Georgie asks, leaning over the back of the couch. “To get it all out like that.” Jon wipes away the tears, though not out of any desire to hide them. There’s no shame in this.

“It feels… painful. And overdue. I think, if this hadn’t happened, I might have kept it in, right up until the day it happened the first time.”

“Somehow, I don’t think that would have worked well for you. Have you considered a therapist?”

Around the lump in his throat, Jon laughs. “Can you even imagine?”

“You’d think the Institute would have one on staff. How many of its employees do you think have statements of their own?”

“Roughly half. The only confrontation of fear the Institute is interested in is the sort that breeds more fear.”

“Way to kill the joke, Jon,” she drawls.

“Sorry.”

“Relax, I’m teasing. So this.” She gestures toward the recorders around him. “Recording your future statement. Is that because you haven’t had access to other people’s statements? Is this some weird form of autocannibalism, because I have to tell you-”

“What- No! Georgie! No, this was… Beholding already has this, like everything else that brought me here. No, this has- a different recipient.”

“Jon…” The sound of the door opening cuts off their heart-to-heart and Jon can’t bring himself to regret that. She’d been amazingly accepting of finding him squatting in her flat when she returned from India, and had only been a bit miffed at him for vandalizing all her books and photos. In his defense, he’d only put tape over all the eyes, rather than cutting them out entirely as Gertrude had. She has every right to ask him for answers. That doesn’t mean he wants to give them.

“Hello? I come bearing fucked-up takeaway.” Melanie drops a box on the couch beside Jon, entirely uncaring for the recorder that had been there, and kisses Georgie’s cheek in greeting. “Sorry, did I interrupt Georgie getting on your case again?”

“What, are you on his side now? Are you alright? Jon, has she been replaced with a shadow person?”

“Too soon,” he says, though mostly joking, and rolls his eyes at Melanie’s mock disbelief.

“Funny. Both of you. Hilarious. And no, I’m not on his side, I just know a lost cause when I see one. Look at him. Have you ever seen anything more pathetic? The embodiment of an evil, all-knowing god hiding at his ex’s place because the boss he knew not to trust framed him for murder? The Admiral had more dignity after he rolled in that weird goo and was given a bath. There’s no saving this one, Georgie.” Georgie laughs and takes the bag of actual food Melanie brought to the kitchen.

“Charming as ever, Melanie. Your concern is truly touching. Ah… joking aside: Thank you. For all of this. How, uh, how are they?”

“Don’t you know?” Jon is getting very tired of that question. More tired of how often the answer is still no.

“I know they’re safe. For now. I know they’re still working. But I don’t know how they’re doing.”

“Right, they’re… Tim’s still off, apparently. Sasha thinks he’ll come back but Martin has doubts. They’re… they’re stressed. They’re worried about you. They’ve been taking turns recording statements, like you said to, but Sasha’s worried Martin is doing extras while she’s out. He looks… kind of like you do actually. Like he hasn’t slept since you left. Oh, and I’m supposed to tell you your cat misses you. Patsy or whatever. That cat’s staring creeps me out even more than yours. I- Look, I guess I owe you, for the India thing and the library and warning me not to take Elias’s job offer, but there’s only so much I can do from the outside. I ran into that Detective on the stairs to the Archives today, the one who looks like, if she smiled, you’d see she has fangs? The look she gave me- I swear it was like she could smell you on me or something. And Diana’s been grumbling about my credentials again, so who knows how long I’ll even have that excuse.”

“I understand. You’ve already- I know we’re… not exactly friends, but I do care. I don’t want anything- If Daisy- that detective- if she tries to question you, then that’s it. I won’t ask you to go there again, and I’ll find somewhere else to hide out.”

“Christ, has he always been this dramatic?” Melanie asks with a roll of her eyes as Georgie returns.

“I think he’s honed it to an art since we split.”

“Haha. Yes, well, since neither of you appreciate my concern, you’ll excuse me while I… eat.”

“That’s still so weird,” Georgie says, “but alright, we’ll leave you be. We’ve actually got some recording of our own to do. Bon appetit, I guess.”

It’s nice, he thinks, not for the first time, to be here. To be friends again, despite what he’s become. He hasn’t told her what happened between them before. He still doesn’t deserve the forgiveness she’d given him when they met in London… Speaking of which.

There are two recorders running right now; Georgie had threatened to break all of them if any more appeared, and they haven’t. He ejects the tape from one. “Melanie? Before you go…”

She takes it from him gingerly, with a wary look like she expects it to bite. “A statement?”

“Yes, sort of. It’s- it’s my statement. If you could, the next time you see him, give it to…”

“Martin. Yeah, sure, Jon. Oh, that reminds me. There’s a thermos in the box for you. Might be a bit cold now, but soup usually heats up alright, right? Honestly, that man’s crush on you is sickeningly adorable. If you’re going to turn him down and break his heart, you’d better be nice. I may actually punch you on his behalf.” She’s gone into the studio before he can tell her he’d never.

The thermos is covered in cartoon cats and it is a bit cold. It isn’t soup, though. And even at room temperature it’s one of the best cups of tea Jon’s ever had.

-

Martin hadn’t actually met Melanie before, so when she came down to the Archives after everything, he wasn’t particularly inclined to deal with a stranger in their space. Until Sasha greeted her and she started saying things she shouldn’t have known. Like how the man found dead in Jon’s office was Jurgen Leitner, which neither Sasha nor Martin had known. Or that people were saying Andy had run off to join some Russian Circus which was rumoured to be coming to the area soon, which absolutely no one had been saying.

He may not technically be qualified for his job, but Martin wouldn’t have gotten this far, in this place, if he was stupid. So instead of telling her she was wrong or to go away. He asked if she’d heard how Tim was doing, that they’d had to get him medical attention, but he was fine now and taking some leave. And Sasha told her about how she and Martin had had to take over recording statements. And when she asked what sort of things they found in statements, they told her to come back another time and they’d share some good ones.

Martin told her Patrząc was missing Jon, because he thought Jon should know she was okay but also… well, he thinks she got what he meant. Even if she didn’t, he thinks Jon will. A couple days after her second visit, when he put a thermos of tea in the box she took away, she comes back with a tape.

“Look,” Melanie says as she hands it over, “I don’t know exactly what’s on here. I didn’t hear it made. From what Georgie’s said, though, there’s some pretty heavy stuff there, and I was asked to give it to you. So, if you think anything on there needs to be shared, that’s your business, but maybe listen to it while you’re alone.”

He does. He goes down to the tunnels, because he’s not really comfortable in Jon’s office right now, and Elias has been visiting the Archives more often since Jon’s been gone. Patrząc follows him and curls herself around the recorder when Jon’s voice starts playing.

Martin, I… I’m not sure I should tell you any of this. I’m not sure how far my efforts to keep you protected will go while I’m not there. But I think you deserve an explanation. I didn’t kill Gertrude. I didn’t. And while I might have been indirectly responsible, I didn’t kill Leitner either. Elias did. Both of them.

“He has plans, and he needs me in order to carry them out. I don’t think either of us know how far he actually is from being able to accomplish his goal. Right now, though, he needs me to face the Hunt, so he sent me running. Everything I tell you here, he might be able to pull from your head. And I don’t know what he’ll do then. I hope my connection to the Archives can keep that from happening, even from a distance. Avoid him, if you can. Try to make him underestimate you, if you can’t. You’re good at that. It’s why I would have sent this to you, instead of Sasha, even if it wasn’t…

“For so long, I- No, that can wait. You should focus now on misdirection. Investigate the Stranger and the Unknowing. They’re planning it soon. Elias knows. He’ll expect us to look into it. And so long as Melanie can get them to me, send what you can find on avatars, alive or dead.

“Martin, take care. Please. I don’t- I would like to say I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you, but I do. I suppose that’s the point…” There’s a sigh and several seconds of silence before he continues. Then a deep breath.

“Statement of Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, regarding the death of Martin Blackwood…”

At some point, Patrząc abandons the recorder for Martin’s lap, and a wet patch forms in her fur. She doesn’t seem to mind, not that or the way Martin is shaking. Just presses herself into his chest and purrs and purrs. “Fuck,” he sobs, and she mrrs in agreement.

He won’t share it with Sasha, he decides, after the second time he rewinds the tape and listens through again. He actually considers destroying it altogether, but he’s not sure he could. Jon sent instructions through Melanie, is all he’ll say. They need to look into something called the Unknowing, so that’s what they will do. That’s what he’ll focus on, so Elias won’t suspect. That and his worry for Jon: that he’s safe, eating enough, sleeping at all. That someone, anyone, is there to help him, even if Martin wishes dearly that that someone could be him.

-

Last time Jon was on the run from Daisy, he’d chased down various entities’ followers in a wild goose chase for information on the Unknowing. Obviously that’s not necessary this time, but what Jon does need is information on how to kill an avatar. What Gertrude had done to Eugene, trapping him, isn’t enough. Retracing his steps, so to speak, might actually turn something up and hopefully convince Jonah that he’s still on the right track, but he’s not quite prepared to deal with Jude again.

He tries to talk it through with Georgie, but while she’d been fairly accepting of coming home to find he’d taped over every book, dvd, picture, and decoration that had eyes, he’s still wary of talking about his real plans while the eyes still exist. On top of that, for all Georgie is willing to support him, she still doesn’t actually want to get involved. Which he’s determined to respect.

He wishes he could talk to Daisy about it, really. It’s been hitting him harder, since he’s left the Archives. Before, he was able to focus on Martin and Sasha, and his worry for Tim. The investigative visits from Basira and brief interrogations by Daisy were enough for him to accept that they were alright, just not there. Now… Now he won’t see them unless he’s caught, and the grief of missing them follows right behind that for Martin and, more distantly, Tim. Sasha, for once, hurts less, because the only Sasha he misses is the one sneaking him store-bought biscuits because biscuits have always eased homesickness for her, but she’s never been much of a baker.

In the later days especially, Basira had lost all willingness to wait and plan. There weren’t so much discussions as wordy instructions. She had assigned herself leader, and the only way she knew to protect them was to storm down the first path she saw. Hesitation invited doubt and she couldn’t afford it. It’s a mindset Jon is well familiar with.

Daisy, though. Daisy was always a bit of a planner, and she only became moreso after the coffin. It was pretty much the only contribution she felt she could make. Jon figured out more of his situation just talking with her to fill the silence than he did from all the statements he ever read combined. It’s never really been clear to him whether they bonded so closely from their shared experience in the Buried or from the helplessness and hunger they both felt during the Lonely’s occupation or just because they have personalities that mesh well and they would have been friends anyway, given the opportunity.

Sitting in the living room of a woman whose only support in this can be resources, relying on a woman who has only once in two timelines referred to him as a friend for indirect displays of support by his only friends now, hiding from the very woman he wants so much to talk to… Jon has never wished for that opportunity so strongly.

The Admiral squeezes his way under Jon’s arm and into his lap. Even in this, he misses Patrząc, but he’d also missed the Admiral before, and at least it’s someone who genuinely wants to be with him and can be. He loses one hand to the demand for pets and uses the other to sift through the files and tapes he’s been provided.

There’s still Mike Crew, if he can keep from asking any questions. Most of the rest of his searching had been overseas, and while there’s likely someone within the Skin Book that can help him, he doesn’t foresee himself boarding a plane any time soon. Also, given Trevor and Julia still sleep, they would probably kill him on sight. Or, well, try. It would be unpleasant, either way.

There is one other place he can go, but it feels too soon for that, and also he doesn’t want to.

-

Tim ends up taking a full month off, and when he returns it’s straight to the Archives, which is a sort of déjà vu that Martin really doesn’t need at this point.

“Tell me Elias didn’t offer you a job here,” Sasha says when he steps in and sets his bag on the spare desk.

“Okay, Elias didn’t offer me a job here.” He sounds better. Glib. More like himself than the rampant paranoia that had taken him over in the past several months.

“Are you lying to me?”

“Only technically.” Even Jon can’t hold up against Sasha’s “I’m-not-amused” face, so it’s no surprise Tim caves almost immediately. “Relax. He did offer me an archive position, but I didn’t accept it.”

“So, why are you here?” asks Martin, not accusing, just genuinely curious and concerned.

“What you told me. About this place, and that thing. You said it’s part of the Stranger. I’ve been thinking about it, a lot, and that sort of thing- that would include circuses, wouldn’t it?” Sasha glances at Martin at the same time he looks at her and they both cringe. It’s a wonder they’ve ever managed to hide anything sometimes. “Taking that as a yes. I know Jon’s… out. But, uh, I think I’m ready to make my statement now.”

It’s the first live statement they’ve tried to take, and it’s super emotional, but it goes well enough. Later, they will discover this is an anomaly. Right now, they have other concerns.

“We should tell Jon,” Martin says afterward. “He said…”

“I mean, he probably already knows, doesn’t he?” Sasha looks unsure even as she says it. They'd experimented with Jon’s abilities plenty, after they first learned about them, but they came away with the distinct impression that even Jon isn’t entirely sure how they work.

Only slightly influenced by Jon saying, “I’m still not entirely sure how they work.”

“So you’re talking to him?” Is what Tim takes away from it. “Even with the scary police lady hanging around?”

“You going to tell on us to Detective Tonner, Tim?” Sasha asks, and it’s clear in her voice that if the answer is yes, then Tim can go back upstairs and stay well away from their Archives.

Tim gets the message. “I mean, kind of seems like that would get me kicked out of weird kid club. So, fuck the police or whatever. Now tell me about the evil circus.”

-

“Statement of Jacob Matthes, regarding his escape from prison and the subsequent manhunt. Statement taken from a letter to his wife, Abigail Matthes, April 5, 1892. Statement recorded by Jonathan Sims, the Archivist.

“Statement begins.

“My most beloved Abigail,

I cannot begin to express my sorrow that I was not there for the birth of our daughter. Please know that I did all in my power to be at your side and will continue to strive for early release, despite this setback. Give our Delilah all of my love and let her know every day she is in my heart.

“I ask your forgiveness, Abigail, for my follies. Being trapped here while that rat Carson waltzes about with nary a slap on the wrist has filled me with resentment and made me, I fear, too impulsive.

“Sickness had taken through the prison, such that Dr. Amherst enforced a quarantine, cutting near half the inmates and guards off from the rest. With my not-insignificant medical knowledge, I was quickly drafted to aid the good doctor in his efforts. I shan’t describe the grotesquerie of the illness that ravaged the ward; just know I have never been so glad for my own hardiness and, as you may say, overzealous drive to cleanliness. There is no doubt in my mind it was only by this and the grace of God I managed to avoid taking ill myself. As it was, so many were infirm there were few left to enforce security, and the guards had no desire to handle disposal of the deceased. I had only to wait for the opportunity, dragging those poor souls’ remains out to be buried, and slipping over the wall was the work of minutes.

“Unfortunately, my disappearance was noticed far sooner than I anticipated. I tried to lay low, wait them out, but they summoned the police. More specifically, the tenacious Inspector Montauk. Prior to this I may have called him an honorable man. He did treat me with fairness through the trial. I fear, though, my dear, gentle Abigail, that Samuel Montauk is no man at all, and you should offer him no courtesy should he come to call.

“Two days I fled, barely able to stop for food or rest. I thought once I reached the forest, which you know I often wandered as a boy, that I would be able to hide until the search had passed. My father taught me well how to cover my tracks and how to find shelter and sustenance. Away from the dominion of man, however, the trappings of humanity fell away and the true beast was revealed. A hound could not have pursued me with such ruthless efficiency.

“I am not a violent man, this you know. I would sooner heal than harm. Samuel Montauk, I am confident, could have flushed me out in an instant, and I would have returned without a fight. He did not. He took his time, taunting me, nearly catching me only to let me go. For three more days, I was his sport, and when he finally tired of the hunt, I looked into the eyes of a beast. I know in my soul that he intended to kill me.

“So when he advanced, I struck back. There was such a crack, when the branch hit his skull, I was nearly sick, but it was only enough to take him down for a moment. Long enough for me to grab the knife he dropped. When he came for me again, I lashed out. The blade sunk into his shoulder, but there was no blood when I pulled it away, nor when I slashed his abdomen, nor when I slit his throat. Instead of viscera, the wounds became mouths, lined with teeth like knives.

“I am not one for flights of fancy. In the weeks since, I have tried to rationalize. I was tired, hungry, perhaps delirious? I know I cut him, though. I felt the blade dig in, and he could not have survived such wounds. Even if I was imagining that, it was not the end of our battle. Faced with those gaping maws, I ran. I ran and ran, until I tripped and fell, and when Samuel Montauk came upon me, I lifted the stone I had tripped upon and beat him over the head until his body stopped convulsing.

“Forgive me, Abigail, for such gruesome details. Apart from being my most beloved wife, you are also my most trusted friend, and what occurred has weighed on me so I cannot keep it to myself. Please, do not fear that I am confessing to murder, for though I undoubtedly left the lifeless corpse of Samuel Montauk behind me in those woods, it was that same Inspector Montauk who found me in the city not two days later.

“I turned myself in to the nearest constable to escape facing that monster alone.

“Please do not fear for me. The sickness has passed, though it first claimed the life of the good Dr. Amherst, and Inspector Montauk has not visited or sent any messages or otherwise made any threats against me, and I intend to tell no one but you what I witnessed. I ask only that you take care should you see him, and perhaps ask your sister to come for an extended visit. It would ease my mind to know you had help with the new babe.

“I am ever yours,

“Jacob

“Statement ends.

“Sasha sent along some notes, including an obituary for Jacob Matthes, who died shortly after his release in 1901. The obituary does not state cause of death. I- appreciate the effort.

“Official cause of death was mauling by an unidentified large animal. As one might guess, the attacker was one Samuel Montauk, great-grandfather of Robert Montauk and great-great-grandfather of Julia.”

“Poor guy. Bet you’re glad you cut that woman’s head off,” Georgie says, and Jon jumps.

“When did you get in?”

“Uh, right around the guy climbing over a wall. You should pay more attention to your surroundings.”

“So it would seem,” Jon grumbles.

“At what point do you get eyes in the back of your head?”

“Oh god, don’t joke,” Jon says with horror. “I don’t need you giving it ideas.”

Georgie, asshole that she is, laughs. “So, did you learn anything from this one?”

“I learned the Corruption killed 65 prisoners and guards in 1892 and John Amherst spent a year there before dying and becoming a private in the Second Boer War. I learned the Montauks have been a family of hunters since Laurence Montag in the 1720s. I learned Delilah Foster née Matthes was employed by the Magnus Institute from 1909 to 1920 and was considered for the position of Archivist, despite her youth and gender. As far as anything useful?” Jon sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “More of the same. Avatars are very hard to kill and I am, in fact, glad we chose to keep Julia’s head away from her body.”

“I’ll be sure to remember that if your stalker comes around.”

Jon glares. They’ve talked about this. “Georgie, you can’t kill Daisy.”

“Hopefully I won’t need to try. Now, can you take a break before the next one? I’ve got some questions to ask you.”

“Georgie,” he tells her for the fourth time. “I am not a reputable source.”

“So? You’re the most accurate source I could ask for.”

“You can’t cite me on your show.”

She waves that off. “What does that matter? Just give me something juicy that no one else knows. Consider it rent.”

-

“You’re in contact with him.” There’s no inflection in the words and it still sounds like a threat. Detective Tonner looming over Martin’s desk doesn’t help. If he was only just learning about fear gods, Martin would have no trouble believing Detective Tonner was one in and of herself. As is, he’s beginning to suspect she might work for one.

Not that he would hold that against her, normally. Martin also apparently works for a fear god. It happens sometimes. It’s just he’d rather she wasn’t serving it by hunting Jon… Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.

She’s still glaring at him. “Wh- no? I-I’m not.”

“I know you are. Probably the other one too, but definitely you.” She can’t actually know, he reminds himself, no matter how sure she sounds. She hasn’t questioned Melanie yet.

“I-I swear. I haven’t seen or- or spoken to Jon since-” Wait- “Wait. Definitely- Why definitely me? Did someone say- Right. Not- not the time.” Her glare really is discomfiting. He never thought he’d miss Hussain.

Tonner leans over, supporting herself with one hand on his desk so she can put her face far too close to his. “Where. Is. Jonathan. Sims?”

“I don’t know! I told you-”

“You haven’t spoken to him. Doesn’t mean you haven’t been communicating some other way. So what is it? The tunnels?”

“Ha! O-oh, s-sorry.” Her eyes go sharp and he flinches back. “Sorry, but- No. If, uh, if that door never opens again, it’ll be too soon for me. Look, I- I really don’t know. I mean, even- even if we were as close as you’re implying… W-well, look at me. Would you trust me with a secret like that?”

She stands back up, crossing her arms, and Martin tries to surreptitiously look for an escape. There isn’t one.

“Who else might he have gone to?”

“I- I don’t know? I told you last time. Jon wasn’t- real social, you know? Not- not that that’s a bad thing! Always. Just- uh. He- didn’t really go out much. Or ever. I- I think he might’ve actually slept here more than his flat. Like- like I said, we were attacked. I don’t- I don’t know where that thing went, but Jon said it was gone and that we should take care of Tim and he’d see us Monday. That’s the last-”

“Yeah. Fine.” Apparently she’s as tired of hearing this as he is of saying it. Maybe she should stop asking then. “Where’s James?”

“Jon didn’t do this,” Martin has to say.

“Really. You didn’t seem so sure last time he was suspected of murder.”

“He didn’t. I don’t- I don’t know if it was that- Andy-thing, or what, but it wasn’t Jon.” Tonner scoffs.

“Just get me James.”

“No need,” Sasha says before Martin can get up, emerging from one of the storage rooms. The one with the door to the tunnels? Martin can’t be sure, but he could have used her intervention a little sooner. “I’m here.”

“I have some questions.”

“Yes. I know. How many times are we going to need to do this?” Sasha asks sharply, dropping a pile of statements on her desk.

“As many times as it takes for you to stop lying.” Tonner waves Martin off, but Sasha shakes her head at him.

“No, let him stay. This won’t take long.” The detective glares at her. Sasha glares back. Martin thinks he’d honestly prefer going, but if Sasha wants him here, he’ll stay.

“Fine. Where is Jonathan Sims?”

“I don’t know. I can answer the next few while we’re at it. No, I haven’t heard from or seen him. No, he hasn’t been sending us instructions from some off-the-grid safehouse. No, I don’t know who he might’ve gone to. No, Jon does not have any other friends, and if I didn’t know he had a flat I would honestly think he just lived in the Archives, so I don’t know where else he might have gone. Does that about cover it?”

Martin can almost see the detective’s desire to loom, but Sasha is taller and won’t sit down. “I’m told Timothy Stoker started working in the Archives.”

“Not sure why it matters, but technically, I guess. He’s not an Archives employee, but we’re a bit short-handed, so he’s been helping out…” Sasha’s laugh is harsh. “What, you think he’s spying for Jon? Because I’d really like to be here when you ask him that.”

“Who was the man Sims killed?”

“I don’t know. Can you get me a picture of him in one piece?” Martin just barely manages not to laugh. It comes out as more of a cough.

“Was it Andy Walsh?”

“Andy Walsh was in their early thirties, and has probably been dead for months, so I doubt it.”

“Because they were killed by this… not-person that took their face.” Her skeptical tone feels a little uncalled for, since they all corroborated.

“No.”

“Changing your story now?”

“No. The NotThem don’t take faces, they take identities,” Sasha corrects her. “They kill someone and take their life, but they never look like the people they replace. They replace pictures and memories, but there’s always at least one person who remembers the original. That’s the point. Everything seems normal, except for the nagging feeling that something’s wrong.”

“Sure.”

“I thought the point of you ‘Section 31’ people was that you knew about the weird stuff,” Sasha snaps, crossing her arms. “You wanted the truth. Not my fault you don’t believe it.”

That is almost definitely a growl. Martin looks around for Patrząc and prepares to run. “Is Stoker here now? Send him to me.”

Tim has to be called down from Research where he was doing his actual job for once. When he comes, the detective gives Martin and Sasha a glance and tries to direct Tim into Jon’s office. Predictably, Tim refuses, and Sasha looks ready to join the Buried just to plant her feet more firmly in place, so Martin makes an executive decision.

“We’ll just- wait in here,” he says, pulling Sasha into Jon’s office with him. He doesn’t close the door fully, though, and they stand just inside it in silence.

With the way Jon had them set up the main area of the Archives, sound travels surprisingly well. It’s a good thing Martin has long come to accept that Jon will almost definitely know anything Martin doesn’t want him to know, or the realization that Jon had probably heard them speaking just fine from inside his office might’ve made him panic a bit.

“Sasha said you had more questions,” they hear Tim say clearly.

“They say you work down here now.”

“Well, I’m not sure who you’re talking to, then, because I know Sasha didn’t say that. I’ve been lending a hand. Apparently things pile up when your archivist goes AWOL. Go figure. That a problem?”

“Depends. Sims ask you to do it?” By Martin’s estimate, Tim laughs for a full minute.

“That’s good. Got any others?” While mostly out of sight, they’ve all grown familiar with the way Martin figures Daisy is staring at Tim now. It’s legitimately bone-chilling. Tim sighs. “Look, literally the last thing he said to me before he apparently went and axe-murdered a septuagenarian or whatever was that I would never work in the Archives. Joke’s on him, I guess.” The rest of the interrogation goes quickly.

“He reached out to you at all?”

“Uhh, that would be a no. Weren’t exactly on the best terms, like I said.”

“You think he murdered that man?”

“Don’t know. Few weeks ago I would’ve said yeah, definitely.”

“Andy Walsh is still missing. You think Jon murdered them?”

“Yeah, probably, but apparently they were a nightmare creature who murdered my friend and were slowly driving me batshit, so I can’t say I’m sorry they’re gone.”

“You aware the axe used to kill that man was yours?”

“Ah… yeah, I- kinda figured. I dropped it in Artefact Storage when that thing attacked us. Didn’t see Jon pick it up, and he didn’t have it in the tunnels. I’d say he didn’t have time to get it before we saw him again, but I honestly have no idea how long it took us to get back. So I don’t know. Maybe he did. Maybe he’s being framed like Martin thinks. No clue. But lingering paranoia or not, I know there’s something wrong with him, and I’m done making it my problem. I honestly wish you luck.”

“Right… You turn that on?” Tim snorts. Martin wonders which one of the dozen tape recorders out there she finally saw.

“They do that. Go ahead, try turning it off. I bet this whole conversation is on at least three of them. You’re welcome to take any you find. We’ve got spares… Can I get back to work now?”

“… Sure.”

Patrząc comes out of hiding once she’s gone and gives Tim a friendly headbutt.

“Yeah, yeah. Didn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” Tim sighs and gives the cat the petting she wants. “Do you know where Sims is?”

“No,” Sasha says.

“And we’re not asking,” Martin adds. “So long as she’s hunting him, it’s better for all of us if we don’t know. We’re looking for information on the Unknowing here, he’s looking for it out there, and hopefully he’ll be back soon.”

“Oh.” Sasha’s eyes go wide. “She’s hunting him. You think-? She wouldn’t…”

“Right!” Tim claps his hands. “That’s enough of that. Let’s get back to the creepy clowns, shall we?”

-

In the process of going on the lam, Jon had had to ditch his mobile and thus become unreachable. It’s not much of an issue, generally, since Georgie and Melanie have been willing to deliver messages for him, but it does mean that the few cards he’s given out these past couple years are now useless. So when Helen Richardson tries to call him, he doesn’t receive it, but he does get a sort of mental “missed call” message, courtesy of the Eye.

He borrows Georgie’s mobile and then stares at it incredulously for a good two minutes because the Eye didn’t bother to give him a callback number along with the message. It comes through, just as Helen reaches for a matte black doorknob.

“H-hello?”

“Helen, don’t open the door.” Her hand jerks back immediately, flying to her mouth to cover her sob of relief.

“Jon,” she gasps. “I- I tried to call- I-”

“I know,” he says. “I’m sorry I couldn’t answer, but I’m here now. The door, how long has it been back?”

“A- about a week, I think. I didn’t really- notice at first, thought I was- imagining it.” Her voice is still shaky, but she’s composing herself fast. “But then it was in my building and- and then my flat. It’s following me. I thought- I thought it was gone. I thought-”

Barely a month out of the Archives and his warnings are forgotten. “It’s- it’s alright, Helen. I’m- I’m going to try to help.” This is an absolutely terrible idea. He’s going to do it anyway. “I don’t want you to open the door, and whatever happens, don’t go through it. Do you understand?”

She’s nodding, he knows. “Y-yes. I do, but what-”

“Okay.” Jon braces himself even though he’s not the one at risk. “Okay, if you can, I’d like you to knock on it.”

Helen takes a step back. “Knock? Are you… then what?”

“Then I- I need to speak with what answers.”

“You… Fuck, Jon. I hope you know what you’re doing.” So does he. Jon can’t See it exactly, that’s not how his powers work, but he Knows as Helen holds the phone to her chest, breathes deep, and knocks on the yellow door that has been plaguing her night and day. Through the phone, he can hear the creak of it opening. Michael’s hand, long, sharp fingers, emerges first, wrapping around the door frame. He steps out looking as he always does, to Jon at least. Tall and misproportioned, blond hair spiraling. The edges of him don’t so much blur as waver, and his smile is sharp.

“How polite,” Michael laughs, but stops when Helen holds the mobile out to him. The connection isn’t good, as most digital things aren’t when interacting with the supernatural, but it holds.

“He wants to talk to you,” she says. Jon is proud of how steady she keeps her voice. Michael takes the phone, fingers leaving papercuts on Helen’s, and the face of it cracks in his hand, but the call still doesn’t disconnect.

“And who could this be, I wonder.”

“Michael.”

“Archivist,” Michael laughs and Helen shivers. “One would think you’d be too busy running about to be such a spoilsport.”

“I told you to leave Helen alone. You got my attention.”

“And? What is it you think you’re going to do to me, Archivist?” The echoing laughter comes through the phone as a strange pulsing interference.

“If you force my hand? Whatever I need to. I’m not going to try to arrange a meeting. I know time is hard for you. And I don’t want you here, but we should talk. Soon.”

“Hmmm. Colour me intrigued. Tell me, are you a coffee person, Archivist?”

-

When Detective Tonner was showing up to the Archives regularly, all Martin wanted was for her to go away. Turns out that’s worse. The longer time goes on without her showing up to question them, the more Martin wonders what she’s doing instead. Has she found Jon’s trail? Has she found Jon? Is he alright? Will she hurt him? Will she kill him? Will anyone bother to tell them if she does? He supposes Elias will probably know and appoint a new Head Archivist. Martin lives in dread of that. It’s all he can think about in his downtime, though, so he tries not to give himself any.

The blood has mostly been cleaned from Jon’s office, the desk replaced yet again. Martin spends a good half a day trying to scrub away the remaining signs of what happened there, and then he has Sasha and Tim help him carry up Gertrude’s boxes from where he and Jon had stored them in the tunnels. While the two of them continue rifling through the boxes upon boxes of statements still waiting to be filed in the archive proper for any that mention circuses or Stranger-esque things, Martin spends the better part of a week in Jon’s office, sorting the labeled from the unlabeled and organizing the labeled further into Jon’s categories, as best he can. Then he starts looking deeper for the ones Jon requested.

After two weeks of this, Elias comes to assert his authority.

“Good afternoon,” he says, because polite threats are his modus operandi. “I understand you’ve all been focused on some project for Jon.”

“For… Jon? I’m not sure-”

“Yes, Martin, I’m well aware Jon has been sending you instructions. The Unknowing is obviously a concern, but not so much we should devote all our attention to it and neglect other threats, Sasha. And I know Jon has set you on a special task, Martin. That ends now. Between you and Miss James, you should be able to find relevant information on the Unknowing and still do your jobs. I will ensure Jon receives the information he needs. As for you, Tim, I seem to recall you declining a position here, which makes me wonder what you’re doing in the Archives at all.”

“You know where Jon is,” Sasha states. “Does Jon know you know where he is?”

“I’m sure he has some idea. Now, can I trust you will all get back to the work you should be doing?”

“This is the work we should be doing,” argues Sasha. “It’s the work Jon asked us to do, and last I checked, Jon was our immediate superior. So either you take it up with him, or you fire us.”

“Hmm. Jon really is far too fond of you. Keep in mind, Sasha, that Tim does not share your job security. And don’t imagine that just because I can’t fire you, I can’t make things very difficult for you.”

“C-can you, though?” Martin asks, letting the threat have weight and letting that carry into his voice. “I mean, Jon- Jon said we’re protected here. I know, he’s not here now, but- does that actually change things?” God, Elias’s glare is terrifying.

“Are you willing to take the risk? Even if it doesn’t, you’re not always in the Archives… Do we understand each other?” Elias looks over each of them. “Good. Let’s not waste any more company time, shall we? Martin, I believe you’re due to record a statement.” And then he’s gone.

“I hope I get to stab him some day,” Sasha hisses.

“He said company time,” Martin points out. “As long as we go through other statements, ones related to the Stranger are going to pop up whether we seek them out or not. And for anything past that… well, we’ve been staying longer than we should anyway. That’s technically not company time.”

“Right,” Tim says, slapping his hands on his thighs as he pushes himself up to head back up the stairs. “Takeaway in the Archives for dinner, then.”

And so the week goes. After he gets home Friday, Martin finds it hard to concentrate on any shows or books or poetry, and when he goes to bed, he lies awake for nearly two hours, thinking about Jon and all the information in Gertrude’s files and what if something in there would help him, but he doesn’t get it because Elias forbid them from doing anything?

Martin is dressed and on his way back to the Institute before he even consciously realizes he’s decided to, and somehow it’s still not until he’s standing in front of the doors that he remembers the building has been locked up for the night and he doesn’t have keys. He’s not sure how long he stands there, staring blankly at the entrance, tired and on the verge of tears, but he’s eventually broken out of it by something brushing against his legs.

“Mmroww,” Patrząc scolds.

“Oh. Hey, what are you doing out here?” When he leans down to pet her or pick her up, though, she dashes away. Some three meters away, she stops and looks back at him. “Right. Lead the way, I guess.”

An hour later, he’s settled on Jon’s cot with a blanket, a cup of tea, a recorder, and Patrząc in his lap.

“Martin Blackwood, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, London, recording statement… 04.1998.2001/08/15. Statement of Anya Seabright, regarding her training as a contortionist. Statement begins.”

At some point, he must fall asleep, because he wakes up the next morning lying on the cot with a cat curled beside his head.

-

Going to the same place multiple days in a row is a dangerous thing for Jon to do right now, especially so close to the Institute and somewhere he knows he might be recognized, but he does it anyway. For three days he goes by the cafe where Sasha originally met Michael, orders a coffee he doesn’t actually want, and waits until he finally appears. Michael has a coffee that sits untouched. Jon has to keep from drinking his while it’s too hot.

The tables around them empty quickly.

“Well, Archivist? You have me curious. You should probably take advantage of it while it lasts.”

“I know you’ve still been meeting Sasha,” Jon tells him, so they’re on the same page. “As long as you don’t try to take her, I won’t interfere.”

“Really. What’s to stop me from just killing her?”

“You wanted to be friends. You succeeded.”

“Friends,” Michael laughs; two more people hurry to leave. “I don’t have friends, Archivist. And I will not be giving you my statement.”

“I don’t want it,” Jon assures him. “My questions have very little to do with you and nothing to do with Michael Shelley or Gertrude Robinson.”

Michael taps a finger on his cup and the scrape of nail on ceramic makes Jon wince. “Alright, Archivist. You have until I get bored. And if I don’t like your questions, well, I suppose then I’ll kill you.” Good enough.

“How long have you existed, in any form?”

“Oh, a very long time. Since people began to understand the mind as a thing that can be lost. Or, no. Before, even. Perhaps since people understood that “lost” was a thing they could be at all.”

“How much do you remember from your previous incarnations? The yous you were before you Became Michael.” The tapping gets quicker and Jon knows he’s on thin ice.

“Hard to say. Sometimes almost nothing. Sometimes almost everything. It comes and goes, much like me.”

“Do you remember the deaths of any avatars? People like me or Elias or Jane Prentiss.” The tapping stops.

“Well, there was the Girl-on-Fire. I suppose, yes. There have been some. They are not easy things to be rid of. Are you worried, Archivist? Is it the End that scares you, or the idea that it might never touch you?” In truth, Jon has been trying not to think about that. About how long he might live like this. The Archivist in Alexandria…

“My death will come when it comes, but I’m not making many friends or allies among the other avatars, and I’m not going to just let someone kill me. Gertrude had her methods for dealing with them, but she never actually killed one.”

“Changing them is the most you could hope for,” Michael agrees, laughing.

“Has one ever been successfully killed?” Jon pushes.

“They all die eventually. No human can escape time, no matter how monstrous they become. They can only delay it.”

“I can’t afford to wait.”

“You’re trying to stop a ritual, then.”

“Ultimately, yes.”

“Well, it can’t be mine.”

“Obviously.”

“Hmm.” Finally Michael seems to actually consider the question. “The Girl-on-Fire was hanged, I heard, but her own people did that at her request. Terminus has had many, but it’s against its nature to hold them forever. They serve their time and move on.”

“Like Nathaniel Thorp,” Jon muses. 09.1775.1972/06/04.A/O/R. The man who was a reaper until he lost a game.

“Not a name I know.”

“Not important.”

“There Is No One’s followers enjoy their funerals, but most of them just lose themselves in the Empty World.”

“Orsinov was killed by Nikola, his own creation,” Jon says, a pattern forming. Desolation, End, Stranger, all dead only at their own hands.

“Ripped him to pieces, I hear,” Michael agrees with delight.

“Those are all recent, though,” Jon points out. Surely there’s something, if the Distortion goes back as far as it says.

“I believe the Buried once killed one of the Desolation. Stifled the flame, as it were. Like the fire girl! And one of the Fairchilds disposed of one of the Choke by throwing them into the sky. They fell back down after years. Windburn, I think. I suppose you could say I killed one of I Cannot See’s. My hallways have no shadows if I do not wish them to. He wandered them for three months before putting his head through one of the mirrors.” All of them out of their element, as distant from their patron as it’s possible to get.

“Right… right. That was actually very helpful.” Jon isn’t very good at hiding his surprise, but Michael doesn’t seem to care. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Archivist,” he says pleasantly. “The next time you try to keep someone from my corridors, you’ll be taking their place.”

“So long as it’s none of my people or Helen, I won’t. As I promised.”

Jon takes extra care with which door he uses to leave the cafe. For a minute, he thinks he sees Daisy, but there’s no sign of her by the time he gets to the station. Knowledge of her is hazy; whether because of the Hunt’s protection or Elias’s interference, he can’t tell, but he’s almost certain she’s in Kensington right now. Almost.

-

“It’s missing.” Tim’s outrage is near tangible.

“Wh-at’s missing?” Martin’s admittedly a bit slow, having slept maybe five hours total in the past couple days, but he’s fairly certain there had been no context given for Tim’s declaration.

“The organ. The circus organ thing. What’s it called? The- the-” Tim waves his hands like he can summon the word he needs.

“A calliope?”

“Yes! That.”

“When did we get a calliope?”

“I don’t know. 2006? 2007? Didn’t Sasha tell you about it? It used to be in Artefact Storage. It’s gone.”

“What? When did that happen?” With a frustrated sigh, Tim throws himself into the desk chair he’s claimed as his own.

“Not sure, but it was there a couple months ago, and Sonja said it was gone when they did an inventory after the- thing with the table.”

“The thing where you broke in and took an axe to a dangerous artefact?” Maybe Martin is smirking a little, but really. Tim isn’t as amused.

“Remember when you used to be timid? What happened to that Martin?”

“He learned he couldn’t be fired and trying to keep secrets was useless.” Tim shrugs.

“Fair enough, I guess. Yes, after the incident. It disappeared.”

“That’s- not good. Did they check the camera? Wh- How could someone just take it? It can’t be small, can it? How big are calliopes?”

“I don’t know, but I doubt that matters to some of the things that might want it. Maybe Elias took it. Hell, maybe the thing can move itself. Cameras went glitchy around that time, I guess. Last clear image was Jon and me going in. Where’s Sasha?”

“Oh, uh… not sure.” Martin looks around like she might pop up out of nowhere. He’s so tired. “I think she might’ve been tracking a lead? Wait… you’re- what time is it?” If Tim came straight here from talking to Sonja, then it can’t be very late. Martin’s really not in any state to be fielding another visit from Elias.

“Don’t worry about it,” Tim says, which is the worst possible thing to say to someone if you actually don’t want them to worry. Martin checks his phone.

“1500. Tim.”

“Yes, alright,” Tim sighs. “I’m going, but I’m coming right back EOD. See if you can find any more statements about that thing, will you?”

“I didn’t know we had any in the first place, but I’ll do my best,” Martin promises. He waits until Tim is gone to get up and stare blankly at the many still unfiled boxes of statements. Two years he’s been doing this; he really should have a better idea where to start. It’s just-

“Mrow,” Patrząc greets softly, emerging from Jon’s office with a lazy stretch and a wide yawn.

“Yeah, I feel that,” Martin says, then looks around again. “Do you know where Sasha is?”

In response, Patrząc hops into his recently vacated chair, yawns again, then turns twice before curling up and falling back asleep. Apparently, he’s on his own.

-

Word has apparently gotten out that Jon isn’t in the Archives, because everything seems to have taken the cue to go after all the victims he’s tried to help. The idea that he needs to call Naomi Herne comes in such subtle bursts that he doesn’t realize it’s not his own thought at first. When he finally tries to call her, he gets sent straight to voicemail twice, and then when there is an answer, the connection is so poor it disconnects almost immediately. Finally, she calls back, but it’s so quiet he can hardly tell she’s still on the line.

“Naomi? Are you there?” he Asks.

“Yes. Jon- Jon, I’m here. I tried- call you.” It comes through no louder than a quiet whisper, though without the soft quality of one. She’s not trying to whisper; it’s more like she’s muffled, or far away.

“I know. I’m sorry. Naomi, where are you?” Jon tries to Know and can’t.

“I- don’t know. I made- made a mistake. I just wanted to visit him. I just… it was stupid, so stupid-” A shiver runs through him, and it doesn’t matter that he can’t Know; he still knows, and he still has to ask.

“Naomi, where did you go?

“Kent. M-moorland House. I didn’t… to see me. Didn’t want to see any of them, but it’s been two years, I just… so cold-” The Lukas’s cemetery, and well into the Lonely. It’s amazing he managed to get hold of her at all, but she did try to call him, likely she has his card with her. When the call goes quiet, though, everything goes quiet. Background noise is so easily ignored, right up until the moment it’s gone. For just a moment, Jon is sure that if he tries to talk, no sound will be made, and then he feels a tug.

He can’t go after her- even if he could follow her into the Lonely, she’s too far away- but maybe there’s something else he can do. “Naomi, did you find him?”

“…”

Did you find Evan’s grave?

“… No.”

“Look for it,” Jon tells her. “Think about him, remember everything you can, and if there’s something you can’t remember, ask me. Remember how much you loved him and how much he loved you, and go find him.”

“… -kay… -way he laughed. I alw… elt like I was the most interesting person… world to him. He always cared what I had to say, and he never push… -oved the way his hair felt in my fingers, how- how warm he always made me. I loved that we would stay up so late talking about chemistry. He- There were days where I didn’t want to talk or see anyone. And he never pushed, wouldn’t say anything before he went out, but he’d- he’d always leave a note. Each- each time a different chemical compound. All the ones associated with love. I don’t- I don’t remember the color of his eyes…” It’s like a statement; Jon feels and god he loves Martin so much, but this isn’t his love he needs to remember. Evan-

“They were blue, nearly grey, like the last layer of mist covering a clear sky.”

“… Yes. He thought they were dull, but I loved them. I loved… he could make me like being seen. He used- he hated dull colors and the cold. Our home was so bright…”

“There was more green than anything, because he knew that was your favorite.”

“Ye… oh.”

“Naomi?”

“I found him. The- the grave is covered, not empty. It… it feels warmer here.” Even if she hadn’t said that, Jon would still know she was out of the Lonely. The background hum of the world has returned and her voice is clearer. He needs to change topics. Now. Focusing on Evan beyond this point won’t help; from here she’d only remember the loss.

“Did you ever get roommates?” he asks. Subtle transitions have never been his strong suit.

“Wh- uh, no. Well, yes, but, it didn’t work out. I did get a cat, though.” Jon laughs.

“Yeah, me too. Tell me about it?”

“He’s a longhair, which I would regret, if I didn’t love the rest of him so much. His name is Mole and he stutters when he meows. I don’t know how long- I only left him food for a day… Will- will you stay, until I get to my car?”

“As long as you need. Should- should we keep talking?”

“I… I don’t think we need to. Jon, I’d like to talk to you again, in person. I’m… I’m afraid.” Yeah, he feels that too. He doesn’t want to prevaricate, but he is on the run.

“It’s- a bit difficult right now. Hopefully soon, but- Have- did you hear from Evan’s family, or do you think they’ve done something?”

“No- no, it’s kind of the opposite, actually…” He can hear her take a breath and brace herself to say what she needs with all the gravity she can muster. “Jon, I think I might’ve done this to myself.”

Fuck. “… Right. When- when you get home, you can text this number. It belongs to a friend. I’ll find a way to meet you.” At this point he’s just asking for Daisy to find him, but this hadn’t happened last time, so far as he knows, which means this is on him.

-

The officer, the one who isn’t police anymore, is back and she looks like she’d like to be literally anywhere else. She looks at the spare chair and chooses instead to loom over Martin.

“Off- uh, Ms. Hussain-”

“Basira.”

“Oh, uh, Basira. Okay, um, can I- help you with something?”

“I really hope so. Your boss shrugged me off and that- Rosie? She refused to even look at the visitor logs for me. I’m looking for Daisy.” Daisy? Oh, she means Detective Tonner. Martin can’t help but think calling a person like that Daisy is misleading. He doesn’t say that, though.

“You- aren’t- I thought you two were… close.”

“Yeah, usually. But I haven’t seen her in weeks, and it seems like no one else has either.”

“Oh… that’s- that sounds-” If Martin thought not hearing from the Detective for so long was nerve-wracking, learning that no one else has either is a whole new level of anxiety. What is that- The only thing scarier than seeing a spider is suddenly not seeing a spider? Not that Martin is afraid of spiders, but- “not good. She- she hasn’t been here in weeks, either. No one knows? Not even the police?”

“I went to check in with her at the station, and they said she hadn’t been in since February. I couldn’t get more than that, but they really shouldn’t have told me even that much. Anyway, Daisy’s… she signed her first Section 31 a long time ago. They don’t look too close- I mean, it’s not weird for her to go off the grid, but not for this long.”

“Oh god. You… someone would know, right? If she found Jon? She wouldn’t just… He didn’t do it, so-” Basira’s lips go tight.

“I hope she hasn’t, and I hope he didn’t. Man’s weird, but I kind of liked him. He was funny, y’know? And he always seemed so… genuine, in his concern.”

“Yeah,” Martin agrees. “Yeah, he is. You- Do you think she plans to kill him?” Martin knows better than to ask a question he doesn’t want the answer to, but- He needs to know.

“I really hope not, but… yeah, I do. Sorry.”

“Shit. I really wish I did, but don’t know where she is. Elias probably does, but he’d never tell us. Can’t interfere with whatever plans he has for Jon. And I don’t know where Jon is, either…” Martin likes to consider himself a good judge of character, and Basira seems honest, but he still can’t be sure this isn’t a trick. That she doesn’t actually know where Detective Tonner is and isn’t going to turn around and tell her anything he says. He wavers as Basira grows more agitated, and then Patrząc jumps up on the desk and reaches toward Basira until the woman gives a small laugh and pets her. That’s good enough for him. “I don’t know where Jon is, but I do know who might.”

-

They meet in a cafe, this one far from the Institute, shortly before noon, and it’s almost empty. When Jon arrives, Naomi is standing at the counter, staring blankly at it while a barista sweeps and pays her no mind. The man looks up when Jon nears.

“What can I get for you?” Jon looks over at Naomi and he follows Jon’s gaze. “Oh sh- I’m sorry, have you been waiting long? I… didn’t hear you come in.”

“It’s alright,” she says, but Jon has to strain to hear her. “Just a black coffee, please. I’ll get his, too.”

“R-right. And you, sir?” Jon doesn’t want coffee, but he orders it all the same. It’s been a long time since he’s slept, and it’s beyond stupid, definitely all in his mind, but none of the tea he tries tastes quite right.

Once they sit, well away from the windows for Jon’s comfort and in a corner for Naomi’s, the barista appears to forget they’re even there. It’s not as silent as it had been when he was talking to her in the Lonely, but every little sound seems inordinately loud. On top of that, the whole place is cold and Jon clutches the coffee just for its warmth. The signs aren’t unfamiliar to him.

“Did you want to make another statement?” he asks, because he needs to know what this is upfront. If this isn’t a statement, he’s going to have to choose his words carefully and hope her desire for reassurance or support or whatever this is is enough to keep her talking.

“I… I don’t know. I’m almost worried if I add all this to my dreams, it will only make it worse. At the same time, I want to dream about this. Anything but the graveyard. Some variety, I guess. I… sorry, am I talking loud enough?” He nods. She’s still very quiet, but the stillness around him makes it easier to hear. “I… no. Not yet. I can make a statement later, but I can’t take it back once I’ve done it. I just… I’m sorry if it doesn’t come out well. Talking to people has been… getting harder.

“I told you I tried getting a flatmate. Emily, one of Evan’s friends. We weren’t close, but she just had a breakup and- Well, it just worked out. She needed someone to make up the rent. I was worried because Emily- well, she’s a loud person. Social. She liked throwing parties, having people over, especially when she was trying to get over her ex. It was- a lot for me, but I was so scared of being alone.

“I tried joining them a couple times, but I- I just couldn’t. So I stayed in my room, but they were just so loud. I wanted them gone. Or- maybe it was more I wanted to be gone. I did my best to drown them out, but I knew I’d need to talk to Emily, no matter how much I didn’t want to. But then- It was like she couldn’t see me. I had to get right in front of her and she kept saying speak up even though it felt like I was yelling.

“I thought she was upset and ignoring me after that, but the parties did get quieter. And then they kept getting quieter. And then they stopped. Emily- she got quieter too. I said I thought she was mad at me, but it wasn’t that. She just got so depressed, you know? And then the flat got so cold… I don’t know how long, but I realized I couldn’t remember the last time we talked. The last time I’d even seen her, actually.

“I was in the kitchen, washing, when she came in and she just- She broke down, started crying, asked me if I could see her. I said yes, of course, but- Then she asked if I was dead too or if she was haunting me. She actually asked me if I’d gone to her funeral, and she wouldn’t believe me when I said she wasn’t dead.

“I don’t know why I thought it was my fault. I just knew it was. I moved out, got Mole. I make myself call people and talk a couple times a week, but I’m afraid of seeing any of them in person. I haven’t talked to Emily, either, but a friend said she’s getting help. I thought maybe it was just too soon. I needed a - a quarantine. Like the fog was an infection and I needed to build up an immunity or… I don’t know. I don’t know.

“But then when I tried to see Evan… None of his family were there. I didn’t see any of them. I was just… sad and alone and afraid, and then there was the fog- except it was like it was coming out of me. After Em- I dug out your card and put it in my wallet, just in case.

“You didn’t answer, obviously. I don’t know how you knew to call me, but… You know what’s happening to me, don’t you?”

“I’m- I’m afraid I do, yes,” Jon admits. He can’t quite bring himself to look at her. In his hands, his coffee has gone cold.

“If I’d let you explain before, would I understand?”

“Probably not. I- hadn’t expected this. Maybe I should have.” It’s par for the course with how everything else has gone.

“Did-” Naomi swallows heavily, and though he can’t see it, Jon knows her hands are shaking. “Evan’s family. Did they do this to me? Infect me?”

“No. I- I don’t think so. They sparked it, but you’re the one fueling it. I…” How to phrase this. “I went through a similar change. It frightened me, but at some point, I had to choose to become this way. My predecessor was archivist for fifty years without changing like I did.” It feels like admitting failure. Maybe it is. Maybe Jon is just weak.

“So… So, I can stop it.”

“Maybe. It’s… It’s not good. Things like Emily will keep happening, if it continues, but… I’d like to ask you a question.” She nods and finally he forces himself to meet her eye. “Do you want to stop it?”

“I don’t… I honestly don’t know. Is that terrible of me? Shouldn’t I want to be around people?” Jon sighs and takes a sip of his coffee, then shivers. It’s like ice.

“Not necessarily, but until you decide, you should do your best to focus on connections, try not to be alone, and especially don’t isolate anyone else. What I am, what you are becoming? It’s… I’m not human anymore. You’ve seen, in your dreams. I’m the thing of nightmares. If you do this, you will be too.”

“Right… This is- This is all so bizarre. This shouldn’t be real.” And if that isn’t a familiar sentiment.

“No. No, it shouldn’t. But it is. I shouldn’t stay much longer but… did it help, at all? Talking to me?”

“The situation? Not really. But I do feel better for having talked it through, for understanding. I suppose that’s a place to start. Thank you.” Jon nods and stands, pulling his borrowed sweatshirt a bit tighter around him.

“I’ll hopefully have my own number back soon, but until then, you have my friend’s.”

“Sure… goodbye, Jon.”

When he looks back, just before leaving, he can barely see her. Somehow, he knows, this is his fault too.

-

It takes Martin longer than it should, probably, to realize Sasha is up to something. They’ve all been a bit scattered, but he just figured she was out looking into the various statements they’ve discovered. Without Jon, no one’s really been keeping tabs on their welfare. After Basira’s visit, though, Martin’s on edge. Detective Tonner hasn’t been heard from in a month, and it’s been nearly two weeks since Melanie’s been back for updates and statements for Jon. He’d like to think she’d let them know if Jon was missing or dead or hurt, but… he really doesn’t know. Maybe she can’t. Maybe she’s hurt or dead too. Maybe…

It’s gotten to be habit, when things get to be a bit much, like now, and Jon’s part of the problem, for him and Sasha to go out somewhere and talk it through. So he texts her, and when she doesn’t respond he figures she’s busy, so he waits. Once it gets to the time she usually heads home, he decides it’s probably safe to call, except it goes straight to voicemail. It keeps doing so for the four additional calls he makes before it gets too late and he goes home, and his five texts after that also go unanswered.

Sleep doesn’t come easy. In fact, it doesn’t come at all. Five in the morning sees him back in the Archives, trying not to pace. It’s very nearly a losing battle until Patrząc leaps up and settles herself on his shoulders. There’s no word through the next day. Rosie hasn’t heard anything either. When Tim comes down, he also has no insight, and Martin decides if she’s not back by tomorrow morning, he’ll buck up and go to Elias. He can’t bring himself to go home when night hits, though. He sits at Jon’s desk and records another statement, hoping it will wear him out, but even that isn’t enough.

Shortly after midnight, a clattering jars him from the very contained panic he’s forced himself into. The trapdoor. The tunnels. Rushing into the room, he’s met with the sight of Sasha, a bit dazed, pulling herself up through the trapdoor.

“Oh, Martin. What are-”

“Are you okay?” he interrupts.

“What?”

“Are you. Alright?”

“Yeah, I think,” she says hazily, disoriented. “Tired, hungry, I got… turned around, but-”

“Good. Good. What were you thinking?!”

“I- I’m sorry, Martin. I started exploring the tunnels again, I just thought-”

“Do you have any idea how long you’ve been gone?” Martin feels like a scolding parent, but she really had worried him sick. Her brow furrows.

“Not- not really? Time is… hard down there.”

Three days. I haven’t seen you for three days, Sasha. And we haven’t heard from Jon in two weeks and apparently no one’s seen the homicidal hunter in a month. And suddenly you’re gone and your phone is going straight to voicemail? Do you have any idea-” Martin is cut off as Sasha wraps him in a hug, and he’s taller than her by a good few centimeters, but he still buries his head in her shoulder and heaves out a breath that is more than a sigh but less than a sob.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Martin. I didn’t realize. We- we’ll figure this out. Come on. Let’s sit down. I’ll make us some tea.”

“No,” he tells her, leading them both toward the breakroom. “I’ll make us some tea. And some sandwiches. Do you even know when last you ate? We’ll get you food."

Chapter Text

Sasha is the one to find the statements about The Trophy Room and make the connection about Daniel Rawlings. Martin isn’t sure how she remembers the “anglerfish” statement (04.2010.2012/04/22.M/U, Jon’s system does make them easier to reference, if not to remember) so clearly. He’s not even sure he ever read it in the first place, Jon having filled out the followup without consulting them at all.

Tim, however, is the one who decides they’re going to go there. Given what happened the last time they encountered part of the Stranger, and their inability to contact Jon, Sasha has some reservations. Martin suggests they scout it out a bit beforehand, not just march in declaring they’re from the Institute. Tim and Sasha agree, but there’s little doubt that Tim won’t be able to resist “a peek inside,” so Martin ends up volunteering for the first watch. It’s not like he would be going home and sleeping anyway.

Unsurprisingly, there’s nothing suspicious about the place from the outside. The only thing he makes any real note of is that the person who leaves the shop does not look like a Daniel, particularly not the one they’d acquired a picture of. Late into the night, Martin could almost swear he sees someone moving around inside, but it’s too dark to say for sure. He honestly kind of hopes nothing comes of this, even if they could use a lead.

They don’t need to wait long for a sign that there’s something up with the place, though. The very next day, Sasha calls him, whispering commentary about a delivery. By Breekon and Hope. She can’t tell what they take in, but it’s large. After they leave, the shop gets a single visitor, an older man, who never comes back out.

“It’s Tim’s turn tomorrow,” Sasha says, which Martin obviously knows.

“Yeah,” he agrees.

“He’s going to go in.” Which Martin also knows.

“Yep.”

“We’re going to end up going in with him, aren’t we?”

“You still have that blowtorch in your bag?”

That at least gets a laugh. “No, but I can improvise. Shame we can’t just use the CO2. #FirstWorldProblems.”


They risk some sort of retaliation from Elias, skipping work the next day, but Tim’s the only one who really needs to worry about that, Martin thinks, and worried Tim is not. Martin isn’t one for weapons, whatever he might have done in that other future, and he knows a knife probably won’t do much against a monster, but he grabs the one Jon kept in his desk anyway, along with one of the tape recorders. There’s probably already one in Sasha’s bag but a backup never hurts.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Tim says, not very casually, when Martin and Sasha arrive. He has one hand buried in his bag. “I am capable of basic reconnaissance, you know.”

Sasha rolls her eyes, leading the way toward the shop. “Maybe leave the axe in your bag until we know for sure there’s a monster.”

Martin notes that her own hand doesn’t stray far from her bag.

Martin doesn’t like taxidermy, but he’s never found it as creepy as some people seem to. That is very much not the case here. Nearly all of the pieces are old, faded, with glassy eyes that don’t make him feel watched, but definitely don’t look right. They stand in the shop for a long minute, looking around, half expecting the animals to start moving or something to jump out. Nothing happens, though, and Tim starts looking at the pieces more closely.

“Can I help you?” someone asks, the sound sudden and startling in the heavy air. It’s the woman Martin had seen a couple nights ago.

“Oh, uh, hi!” Sasha says. “Maybe in a minute? I don’t think we’re quite sure what we’re looking for yet.”

“I still think this is a bad idea,” Martin says, which is true. “Jon is not going to find this amusing.” Also true.

“It’s a bit silly.” They should have come up with a story before coming in. No matter; they can improvise. “We, uh. Our boss is a bit… demanding, sometimes.”

“Man needs to lighten up,” Tim chimes in. “Like you, Martin. A little practical joke isn’t going to hurt anyone.”

The woman is still looking at them flatly, and Martin reminds himself that she has no reason to suspect they’re anything but customers. Still, they do need to get answers somehow.

“You look familiar,” Sasha tries, though he doesn’t find the woman familiar at all, so he’s not sure if she means it or not. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“Doubt it. Something small, then.”

“Small and cheap,” Tim says, turning on the charm he’s been missing amongst all the paranoia lately. “We don’t make the big money, unfortunately. Probably not the sort of customers you hoped for, sorry. I’m Tim, by the way. What’s your name?”

“Sarah. There’s a-”

“Oh! Sarah Baldwin, right? From Edinburgh-” Which is when everything goes wrong. The woman, Sarah, lunges for Sasha. Tim catches her before she can do more than send Sasha stumbling back into a display table, but apparently whatever she is is strong. She breaks Tim’s hold and backhands him, then turns to Martin, who now has a small, useless knife in one hand and a recorder in the other and doesn’t stand a chance.

“The Watcher, is it?” she snarls. “Well, it can watch while I-”

A short, loud screech cuts her off, followed by the ever-growing sound of static. As Martin watches, frozen in place, every single taxidermied animal slowly turns its head to look at Sarah Baldwin. Somehow, Martin doubts this is the Stranger’s work. The eyes don’t look like glass anymore.

“What-” she snaps, obviously frightened. The recorder in Martin’s hand clicks twice. Stops recording, starts playing. It should play empty air. It doesn’t. The voice that comes from it is deep, distorted, and bone-chilling, heavy with power, and Martin knows it well.

“I see you.” Jon’s voice rolls through the room like a flood. It’s legitimately terrifying, and Martin is full of awe.

“No- No, wait. I didn’t-”

“I see you… I know you…”

“I can-”

“I know… your secrets… I have… your statement…”

“No. No, you can’t-

“Sasha.”

Martin has been too focused on the monster in front of him, who in turn has been too focused on the monster in her ears. Sasha, it turns out, does not have a blowtorch. What she does have is a lighter and what looks like an aerosol can. There is a click and the heavy static disappears as Sarah Baldwin catches fire like paper. They run.

When they stop some time later, shaken and out of breath, the Trophy Room is out of sight, but the smoke coming from it can still be seen billowing up over rooftops.

“Shit,” Tim says. “Murdercop’s gonna kill us, too, when they see that CCTV footage.”

“Good thing- they won’t, then,” Martin gasps, cursing Tim’s quick recovery in his mind. When Sasha and Tim are both staring at him expectantly, he takes another deep breath and straightens up, pulling a small, round stone from his pocket.

“Is that-”

“An eye? I, uh, borrowed it from Artefact Storage. There’s been a lot of interference in the CCTV feeds today.” Tim barks a laugh and wraps an arm around Martin’s shoulders. Sasha’s hug from his other side is a bit softer. “Should we, uh, talk about…”

“I’m really trying not to think about it,” Tim says sharply. “Let’s get back to work before the big boss man decides we need incentive or whatever.”

As he stalks on ahead, Sasha hooks her arm through Martin’s, leaning on him just slightly as they walk. Her voice is soft, tinged with fondness and relief. “Told you he was looking out for us… Shame we didn’t get any actual information, though.”

When they get back to the Institute, Sasha gets a text from Melanie that just says “✔ the tape.” So Martin does, rewinding the tape to the moment they first walked into the shop, and everything continues as normal right up to the point where Jon’s disembodied voice had played, which now holds something else.

It’s not Jon’s voice, entirely, but it’s not Sarah’s entirely either.

Statement of the being disguised as Sarah Baldwin, regarding the Unknowing…

-

Had he been consulted, Jon definitely would have warned the others to stay away from The Trophy Room. As is, he’d been distracted and hadn’t realized what they were doing until they were already on their way in. He can’t blame them. They don’t have any way to ask him about these things, and Tim still seems likely to have done it just to be contrary.

Possession of inanimate objects was not an ability Jon had known he had. He’s not sure it’s one he’s supposed to have. Whether it’s from the piece of Beholding within him or his connection to the Web or an unforeseen effect of combining the two, it was unexpected, and it took a hell of a lot out of him. He’s tired and doesn’t fit quite right in the limited space of his own skin and he’s so, so very hungry.

“Jon?” There’s a sudden jerk from his core, a tug responding to a voice with a story. He already has some of that voice’s stories, though, and the rest are not for him. Not for the Archivist. Not for the Eye. All parts of him know this, but the pull is still there. “You look like hell. Are you okay?”

“M-mel-” He coughs, readjusting to speaking through his own body. “Melanie, I’m- I need to go. Now.”

“Right, are you dying? Because I’m not sure Georgie would forgive me if I let you go looking like that and then you died.”

“Heh, no. No, I’ll be back. I think.”

“Uh huh. In one piece, please. I’m putting this all on you if you don’t.” He thinks about telling her he’s not even in one piece now, but the need for a story keeps building and he needs to leave.

“Fair enough. Uh, you have Sasha’s number. Can you tell her to check the tape? Please?”

“Check the tape? That’s it? Is she even going to know what I’m talking about?”

“She’ll know.”

“Alright, fine. I’ll text Sasha your cryptic bullshit and tell Georgie you’re off doing secret monster stuff or whatever. Have fun. Don’t die.”

“No promises.”

It’s hard to leave. Not just because of the draw toward Melanie, but because he really doesn’t want to… take from anyone so close to where he’s staying. There’s no gnawing in his stomach, the way he remembers from before, when simple food was what his body subsisted on. It’s still hunger, though. Weakness, lightheadedness. It still feels like some part of him is trying to cannibalise itself. When he stumbles on the stairs to the Underground, someone catches his arm and leads him the rest of the way down.

“Really, Jon, you must take better care of yourself,” a woman says. In his state, it takes a moment to place her voice. It’s been two years since he heard it last. “I can’t say I’m not disappointed you haven’t visited, but it’s alright. I do understand. Come on, let’s get you something to eat.”

The already unpleasant sensation in his mind is joined by a crawling sensation in his chest.

“Hello, Annabelle.”

Technically, Jon doesn’t lose consciousness. Effectively, he never loses awareness. Given the discordant whirlwind of sensations flooding through him, this isn’t something he’s entirely grateful for. What he does lose is proprioception and cohesion. Hunger and terror and relief and worry and confusion and curiosity and a hundred other emotions and a million overlapping thoughts from not only himself but also the things he carries with him all drown him within. Without, Annabelle Cane pulls on strings he can’t see and keeps his body moving toward their destination.

His eyes see everything along the way, but none of it means anything until he is sitting in a chair that his hands pulled out but he did not, across from a man who is confused and afraid and also relieved.

“Tell me your story,” Jon’s body says, though he’s not entirely sure it’s him that says it.

“M-my name is Levi Rehmer, and I used to work for Solus Shipping…”


“Better now?”

“Yes… Not good, but- but better.” That doesn’t mean he wants to be where he is, but they are supposed to be allies now, no matter his own hang-ups, however valid. “… Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. You really should take better care of yourself. The power of the Eye can only carry you so far. We would help for the asking.”

“But at what cost? You just took control of me and fed me a person.”

“Do you really think you’re in a place to be pointing fingers like that? Jon, we know this isn’t easy for you, and we’re trying to respect that. You weren’t in a position to help yourself, and yet I brought you to a neutral location rather than my home, and I took the care to bring you a Lonely statement, as I know you prefer. We’re beings of connection, Jon, and you are connected to us now.”

“And what are you asking for this kindness? What strings are attached?” Annabelle is frowning at him now.

“You’re not listening. The only strings, Jon, are the ones you’ve already attached yourself. You joined us. That makes you family, and we take care of our family.”

“Like you took care of your family?” He knows as he’s saying it that that’s not fair. He’s being petulant.

“Blood has nothing on the bonds we tie ourselves. Besides, most of my blood family is just fine… Look, Jon, I’m here only to help. We’ve left you your space, we haven’t asked anything, but you did join us. Your reluctance is noted, but it’s been two years and you haven’t reached out once. At some point you’re going to have to accept that this? Us? This is a part of you now.” She’s not saying anything he hasn’t known since this started. He forces down his automatic denial.

“I know,” he concedes. “I’m… trying. I let all the spiders in the Archives be.”

Annabelle is clearly unimpressed. “Jon, I want you to take a moment to really think about that. That is, quite literally, the least you could do. The absolute bare minimum in this as an alliance let alone the relationship it should be.”

“That… might be fair.”

“Good. I’m glad you understand. If you think you can find your way back on your own, I’ll leave you be for now, though I hope you reach out yourself soon. We’re here to help, if you want it.”

“I’m- I’m fine. I think. Though-” Well, this saves him a trip to Hill Top at least. “There is one thing. Do you know how to kill an avatar? Someone like us.” If there’s any power in his question, it’s weaker than it’s been in a very long time. Still, he doesn’t think she’s lying when she responds. She takes a moment to consider it.

“… No. We’ve always found nudging them towards our means more useful than killing them outright. But we might know someone who might. We’ll be in touch, if that’s acceptable to you?” Annabelle Cane looks at him with a fondness so at odds with the mockery he’d felt in the statement she gave him in another life that it’s hard to comprehend and yet easy to believe. “You should go home, Jon. Get some sleep.”

And then she’s gone. It takes him a long moment and a conscious look around to figure out just where he is and how to get back to Georgie’s. Despite the boost from Levi Rehmer’s statement, Jon is still exhausted and nigh starving, and it takes effort he barely has just to keep moving in the right direction. For a moment, he almost wishes Annabelle was still there to do the work for him, and he has to laugh at himself. Accepting his lot is something long overdue and will take effort on his part. In this case, though, he thinks desperation would be impetus enough.

Three stops pass with Jon in a daze, hardly registering the constant change of passengers around him. After the fourth, things change. There’s a man on the tube now that Jon can’t stop staring at. His name is Edward, Jon Knows. Eddie. And he has a story.

Eddie can feel someone watching him. His shoulders are hunched almost to his ears and his hands tremble as he looks around and around and around, inspecting every face in the carriage, and still it takes him a full minute to spot Jon. The next stop isn’t Eddie’s, but he gets off there anyway, and the Archivist follows. Up the stairs, around the block, across the street, into an alley; Eddie runs because fear has reduced his mind to primitive thoughts, and he thinks that perhaps, if he can’t see what Follows, then it can’t See him. He is, of course, wrong.

The Archivist lets himself fall out of view, turning first and then intercepting the path of his prey. Eddie freezes, caught in the headlights of the Archivist’s scrutiny.

“What do you want?” he tries to demand, but the anger is washed out of the words by his fear.

I want your story,” the Archivist says. “Edward Davies, tell me about the eyes that follow you.

“N- I- It- it started a few months ago. My mate had this job and he needed some help. Normally I wouldn’t, I cleaned up my act after rehab, but…”

It’s exactly what the Archivist needed. The fear of Beholding compounding on itself to give him the energy the Lonely could not. Eddie only gets a couple minutes in, though, when the Archivist takes a blow to the back of the head and Sees nothing more.


Jon knows exactly where he is when he wakes up on the ground, a figure with a gun standing over him, and he curses himself for it.

This was the whole point of running, and yet somehow he hadn’t seen it coming. He was careless. How? How had he not anticipated this? Daisy has no frame of reference for him. Just like that first time, when she killed Michael Crew, all she sees is another monster, especially considering what he was doing when she found him. At this point it seems unlikely that a gunshot will kill him, but he also knows Daisy will keep trying if it doesn’t and he can’t risk her hitting his heart.

“I didn’t kill them,” he tells her quickly. “Gertrude and Leitner. I didn’t kill them, I swear. Elias-”

“Shut up,” Daisy snaps, her careful control slipping. “I don’t believe you. Even if I did, you’ve killed someone. I can smell it on you.”

“Daisy, do-”

“Don’t! You don’t get to ask me questions. Manipulate- You think I don’t know it was you? You want those tapes so we just- just hand them right over. Even after we told you we suspected you. You took Basira’s-”

“No! No, she gave it to me. I told her not to. I have- If I’m a monster, so are you.” Jon’s curse, it’s absolutely the wrong thing to say. She growls and aims with purpose.

Mind racing, heart pounding, he hangs his head and breathes heavily, panicking. Right up to the moment when she steps before him and cocks the gun. Then, everything goes still. He lifts his head. Meets her eyes. Knows.

“Statement of Alice ‘Daisy’ Tonner and Jonathan Sims, given by subjects March 24th, 2018, regarding their time in the Coffin. Statement begins.”

“What-”

“How are you feeling?

“Scared. I, I’m, scared. I’ve been scared the whole time here. Not just when it- when it’s- crushing, when it fills your- your mouth with- with dirt. It knows when to stop. When to ease back, so you don’t- don’t lose it, or grow numb. Leaves you terrified for when it starts again, and when it does, you’re, you’re scared it’ll- never- never stop. I thought- thought I’d- I’d never see the sky again, never- never s-see Basira-”

Daisy has taken a couple steps back, slightly unfocused, but she startles at the sound of Basira’s name, starts to look enraged, her hands shaking. “What-

“But- But now- you- you’ve got out of, of other stuff like this; maybe, maybe you’ll get out of this, and, and then take me with you. But I don’t know what I’ll be, out, outside.”

“Stop,” she whispers, halfway between rage and terror. He won’t. Doesn’t think he can at this point. Time and change have only made it more difficult to interrupt a statement. Even an old one.

“The- The Hunt, it can’t reach me here. I’m scared, but- But I- I feel more- feel more me… than I have for years. Maybe all my life. The Hunt was me- But I don’t- I don’t think I liked it. I think it just made me- need it. I hurt. A lot of people. And some who- who I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to be a sadistic predator again. I don’t want to hobble around like some- pathetic wounded prey here. I don’t know which would be worse. But I’m scared now. That I won’t ever get the choice.

“One thing I’ve learned, Daisy, is that we all get a choice. Even if it doesn’t feel like one.” It’s strange, doing both sides of the statement, their feelings compounding on each other inside him as he speaks. Breathing seems even harder than it did then, and he tries to remember that he probably doesn’t need to, but it doesn’t stop the growing panic. Still, he goes on.

“… I was gonna kill you. You know that, right?”

“Stop,” she says again, louder. “What is this? What are you- Stop.” Still he doesn’t; still he can’t. He keeps going through the memory, eyes locked on hers. The guns wavers from the force of her shaking hands.

“-Didn’t think it was real. Not really. Just my mind putting you there, because I hated you, but no. One night you turn up in a new shirt. Didn’t fit you. Not your style. I- I didn’t think much of it, just a- a dream. Then you came back from the States, and guess what you’re wearing. Realized what was happening then. Realized you weren’t human. Needed to die, as soon as it was safe. Never mind Elias, and his… insurance.

“And now?

“Don’t know. I- I miss dreaming. You don’t sleep, down here.

“Daisy- you should know I- I’m- I- If I wasn’t human before, I’m, uh, I’m even less now.

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

“And if we get out?”

“But we can’t get out.” It’s Daisy who says this. The same way she had when he first took the statement. Her eyes are wide and not quite unseeing, but certainly not seeing the present; tears fall from them, and she’s fighting to keep her teeth bared- to not break down.

“No,” Jon whispers in agreement.

“I’m s- I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jon. I’m sorry.” She gasps as the statement ends, fighting the feeling of being crushed. He can relate. “No. That’s- that’s not real. That can’t be real.”

“It was.”

“No- you said, you said 2018, you said that- that happens in the future. You can’t- But I can see it. I can- can feel it, pressing down- What did you do to me?”

“It- it hasn’t happened for you, won’t if I can help it, but it did for me. I- I lived that with you, Daisy. You were lost- in the Buried, in the coffin, and I came in after you. I got you out.”

“That’s not- Why would you- I can feel it. Take it back.” She’s almost sobbing now, and a large part of him wishes he could.

“I can’t. I didn’t- I didn’t know I could do it, before. I just- I went after you, because I care, because I couldn’t lose another person. Because- because in another world we were friends, and I- I have too much to do, too many people to protect, to let you kill me now. You among them.”

“I don’t- I don’t understand.”

“You don’t need to. I just- I need you to know, that I might- I might be a monster, but I’m not your enemy. That in my past, I held your hand, and pulled you from the coffin you watched your partner disappear into so long ago. And- and now I need you to let me go.”

“You say you’re a friend. Say you care. And you give me that? I should- I should-”

“Then why don’t you?” There’s no power in it. He’s drained again, can hardly keep from tipping over. It’s just a soft, honest, compassionate curiosity.

“I can- I can feel it. How I felt. How- How relieved I was- how grateful- You- you made me feel this.”

“I can’t give you lies, Daisy. I think- I think you know that. I’m not- I don’t expect us to be friends. Not like I remember us being. I just need you to let me go.”

“Basira-”

“Will be safe from Elias. As much as I can manage. I swear.”

“You-”

“Would never hurt her, or you, if I had any other option.”

“… Go.

It’s as Jon stands and collects himself that Basira herself finally arrives. She reaches Daisy just in time to catch her as she drops to the ground, still trying to fight back the fear and the sobs. When they got out of the coffin, she’d hugged him. He wishes he could give that back to her, too.

He doesn’t think he can. That part might’ve been recorded, but it wasn’t a statement. He can’t quite bring himself to leave it like this, though.

“I know you don’t want to see me now,” he says, soft and tired and as sincere as he can possibly be, “but I am and always will be your friend. If you ever need help, you know where to find me… Take care of each other.”

It’s a very long walk back to the city, and Jon is very, very tired. After a kilometer or so of stumbling, he sits against a fence alongside the road and rolls his head to look at the web being built between the poles.

“I could use a ride, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Chapter Text

There’s no confrontation with Elias. Jon’s grateful, since it means Basira and Daisy are still free of the Institute. With his powers still not recovered, though, it does make it a bit unclear whether he’s still wanted for murder or not. No one but Daisy has been paying much attention. He starts making trips nearer and nearer the Institute, waiting to see if the police or a hunter turns up, but they never do. And he’s so tired and he misses the Archives and the people they contain. How sad, that he’s homesick for his job. He’s never felt an especially strong desire to make a scene, though, and walking in through the front door now will likely do so. Instead, he heads toward the nearest tunnel entrance outside the Institute and works his way back.

No one is in the room with the trapdoor when he arrives, which is probably for the best. He’s not going to be able to not startle them, though, seeing as he shouldn’t be here. Thankfully, he doesn’t need to worry about announcing himself. Patrząc does it for him, meowing loudly and practically leaping onto his shoulders.

“Jon,” Martin breathes. He was in the middle of explaining to a woman that their Archivist is out, and so taking her statement would be a bit more complicated. Maybe it’s the lingering weakness from overexerting himself, maybe there’s just something about this woman’s statement that Beholding really wants, but the pull to take her statement live, well, it might have been resistable, if he ever considered resisting.

“I’ll take this, Martin. Thank you.” Jon knows Martin well enough to know he won’t make a fuss, not with an outsider right there, and he takes advantage of that to draw Lynne Hammond into his office. He’ll talk to his people after.


“Statement of Lynne Hammond, regarding multiple encounters with the ghost of a woman on fire. Statement recorded direct from subject 2 May, 2017. Statement begins.”

“It didn’t start with the ghost. I’d been living in the flat in Clapton for about half a year when I first noticed the smell. Though, I guess I did smell it once before. When I was first being shown the place, there was a lingering smell of smoke. Something like smoke- burning? Not like cigarette smoke. I’m actually asthmatic, and if the smell could seep into the flat from one of the ones around it, that would’ve been a problem. I couldn’t place what it did smell like. I figured someone had burnt incense or something to make it more appealing? It wasn’t a bad smell, it just- smelled like something was burning. The man assured me it would fade and definitely wasn’t coming from anywhere else, and the rent was so cheap for a place that size. Saying I don’t make much is kind, so I took it.

“As promised, it was gone by the time I moved my stuff in, so I forgot about the smell. Until several months later, when I woke up to it. Obviously I assumed something was on fire- that’s generally what the smell of burning means- so I got up in a panic, checking all over my flat, the halls, wondering why there was no alarm. No one else seemed to be up, though, and it wasn’t in the hall anyway. Eventually, I decided it was just some weird thing, like the weather made the wood shift and the smell was released or whatever. I’ve heard that happens.

“After the second time, I brought it up to the landlord, but he told me it was probably dust in the radiator or something. My radiator had never been turned on, but I didn’t want to push. I’ve had places before where anything goes wrong, they say it was your fault, so you pay, and I couldn’t afford that. By the third time, I stopped even getting out of bed. Not long after that, though, it stopped being just the smell. I woke up sweating. Like I said, there wasn’t any heat, and it was pretty cool outside, so there was no reason for me to be so warm. I looked around again but still didn’t find anything. I kicked off all the blankets and went back to sleep. Woke up in the morning freezing.

“This kept happening. And then one night I woke up with light in my eyes. Not like sunlight or like the lamp was on. It was bright and flickering. At first all I saw was the fire. Just this column of it, bit over 1.5 meters, at the end of my bed. My room was usually pretty dark, so it was blinding. When my eyes adjusted, though, I saw her. This woman, maybe late twenties? Covered in flame. I think her hair might’ve been red, but it was hard to tell. She didn’t look like she was in pain or actually burning. She was just stood there, for like five minutes, and then she was gone. I did think I was dreaming at first, but it was so hot…

“You might think it was weird that I went to sleep after that. I mean, I was terrified. But there were things that- There are things in my past that made me pretty good at falling asleep whenever, wherever, no matter how scared I am. It’s a mixed blessing, I guess. I think the heat might’ve kept me up more than the ghost.

“It wasn’t every night, or I’d’ve left sooner, but the time between and the cost of breaking my lease kept me there, so it kept happening. I’d wake up, hot, with light in my eyes and she’d be there, staring at me. I asked her who she was once, early on. When she opened her mouth, though, all that came out was the roaring of flames. It’s when I finally noticed that the fire didn’t make any sound, and if I squinted I could see through her a bit. I’m no good at lip-reading, so I don’t know what she said. Think it might’ve started with an A.

“Every time, I kept thinking something would happen. My house would be on fire or I would or she’d do something. But it didn’t happen. I was afraid, but I was also angry. I can’t afford to lose sleep any more than I can afford anything else, so after a few times, I wouldn’t even open my eyes. I’d just lay there, waiting for the five to ten minutes she was there, and fall asleep when the light went out. I think a couple times I actually fell asleep while she was still there.

“And then one night I woke up feeling like someone was holding a burning stick right in front of my face. I opened my eyes and she wasn’t at the foot of my bed anymore, she was right next to me. I wanted to get away, but I couldn’t make myself move. I felt trapped in the blankets, and the heat was so intense it hurt. I asked her what she wanted, and she reached out to me.

“She never actually touched me. She reached for my arm, but before she could grab it I screamed. Not because I was afraid, even though I was, but because the fire around her was so hot it felt like my skin was burning as soon as she got close. It was, it turns out. The hairs burned away and they told me I had second-degree burns on my arm, like a really, really bad sunburn.

“After I screamed, though, she jerked her hand away and she was gone. She didn’t come back after that, even though I still felt the heat sometimes, but I also didn’t stay very long to see if she would. A friend let me crash on her couch until I found something else.”

“Statement ends… I see. And you haven’t seen, felt, or smelled that burning since?” There’s an itch telling him there’s something more to this than a skittish Desolation ghost. “A”…

“Not since I moved out, no.”

“Hmm… The name. Could it have been Agnes?”

“Uh, yeah, maybe. About the right length, I mean.” It’s then he notices her swaying.

“Mm… are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, I’m… No. I- I don’t know. I mean, I feel light, but… I think maybe I need to eat something, or… I need out of this place.”

“Right. Why don’t I have Sasha take you to the canteen and get you something to eat. We don’t want you to faint leaving the Institute. She can take your contact information and we’ll let you know if our investigation turns up anything.”

“Sure. Maybe- maybe don’t.”

Jon watches her leave with Sasha- who was obviously warned of his presence by Martin since she doesn’t look surprised or ask any questions, just gives him a look that tells him they’ll be having a long talk later- and feels a bit bad for taking the statement live. He understands why he’d felt the push to, though. Agnes Montague. Why she manifested in Clapton, nearly 300km from where she died, he’s not sure, but it seems to confirm what he’s found. Even if you can kill an avatar, they’re still tough to be rid of.

That’s for later, though. Right now, Jon has someone he dearly wants to see again.

-

Martin had been wrong. It wasn’t Sasha who reminded Jon of the person he lost. It was him. He’s known this since he first listened to Jon’s statement, but it hadn’t really sunk in until now. All this time he’s spent staring at Jon, he somehow missed the way that Jon stared back. Has Jon really been looking at him like that for two years without Martin noticing? If so, why the hell would the Eye even want someone like Martin?

“Hi,” he says, because it’s literally all he can think to say. How is he this terrible?

“Hi,” Jon says back, because fortunately Jon is just as bad. Jon also looks almost dead on his feet. It’s only been a week since the Trophy Room. How much had that cost him?

“… You look terrible. Have you been sleeping?” Jon laughs. “I’m serious, Jon.”

“I know. I know you are. I, uh, I missed you. Can’t say I’ve slept a lot, but you don’t look like you have either.”

“Yeah, uh, not- not so much. I’ve been- Basira said she couldn’t find Detective Tonner, and- and we hadn’t heard from you and I- I kept thinking-” It’s the first time Jon has hugged him, for Martin at least, but Jon clearly knows how to do it. His arms slot into the exact right place around Martin, and Jon is neither encompassing nor warm, but it still feels like slipping on the coziest jumper. Martin has always been something of an emotional person. He came to terms with that a long time ago. Still, he’s never known himself to cry quite so easily, so he’s going to blame it on the stress and the lack of sleep. “I was so worried she found you.”

“She did,” Jon says softly, like that’s not one of the most terrifying things he could have said. Martin pulls back with the sudden need to check Jon over for some mortal wound that Jon is choosing to ignore. “I’m fine, Martin. It’s- I don’t expect she’ll want to see me again any time soon, but- I don’t think she’s going to be hunting me anymore. Not for a while at least.”

“So you’re- you’re back then?”

“I’m back. At least until Elias decides I’m getting too complacent, I suppose.”

“Good… good. You should- you should sit down. I’ll make us tea.” Despite needing a minute to gather himself, Martin finds he’s reluctant to let Jon out of his sight. Still, he goes.

“Martin,” Jon calls before he gets too far, and Martin turns to see that small smile he’s so fond of, directed straight at him. “Thank you. It’s- it’s good to be home.”

-

“Jon,” Elias says tersely, very poorly disguising his surprise at seeing Jon in the Archives. “In the future, I recommend using the front door like the rest of the staff.”

“So sorry, Elias. I had hoped to avoid having anyone call the police. I thought formally declaring my return would be rather a waste of time. Obviously, you knew when I returned to the building.” Given that this is Jon’s third day back, and the first he’s seen or heard from Elias, he feels safe in his assumption that Elias very definitely did not know when Jon returned to the building. The Archives, as they have been since Jon first entered them in this timeline, are his.

“Quite. I have informed Rosie that the charges have been dropped. I imagine word will spread fast. I trust your time away was- informative?”

“With regards to the Unknowing? Not particularly. In knowing what it feels like to be on the wrong side of the Hunt and the Spiral? Very. If that’s all, Elias, I have rather a lot of work to catch up on.” It’s something to keep Jonah off his actual trail, though he’s not sure how much it works. Most of his most revealing conversations haven’t been private enough to be safe. Elias hums, obviously considering pushing matters further before deciding against it.

“I suppose I’ll leave you to it, then. Welcome back, Jon.”

“Oh, Elias?” Jon can see the muscle twitch in Elias’s jaw as he stops just before leaving the Archives. He really does hate not having the last word.

“Yes, Jon?”

“I warned you before. Threaten my people again, and you’ll be finding yourself in need of a new Head, for the Institute.”

-

They talk. A lot. More than Martin thinks Jon’s really comfortable with, which is ironic, considering what Jon does. It’s the first chance they’ve had, since Jon dropped his statement and a fair number of bombs on Martin with only unhelpful instructions to not think about any of it around Elias. Three years, Jon had been Archivist before coming back to do it all over. Sasha had been replaced by the NotThem. Tim, trapped in the Archives, had let it be the death of him. Melanie, Basira, Detective Tonner, all lured in by Elias.

Martin had let Peter Lukas draw him into the Lonely in an attempt to keep them all safe. And, before the world ended, and after, Martin and Jon were together.

There’s a lot they don’t cover of Jon’s alternate past. There’s enough happening now that they can’t cover it all at once, and Martin needs some time to process what he’s already been told. But aside from the impending threat of the Unknowing, they have time now. They don’t talk about what any of this means for them. Not yet.

Knowing Jon is back and safe takes more of a weight off Martin’s mind than he’d expected, and he starts sleeping deeply, in his own bed, again. When he gets home at night, it’s difficult to keep his eyes open long enough to change, with how hard the exhaustion hits him. He hardly registers laying down before sleep takes him over.

So it’s with no small amount of confusion that he wakes up one night while it’s still quite dark. He tries to check the time, but his clock is blank. The lamp won’t turn on either. The power is out, and Martin is trying not to panic, trying not to remember the last time he was home and the power went out. It’s even harder when he finds his phone is dead too.

“Alright. This is fine. It’s just a normal power outage and there are no worms coming to eat you,” he tells himself, working up to leaving the placebic safety of his bed.

“That’s true, there aren’t any worms,” says another voice that absolutely should not be there. Martin screams and throws the first thing he can grab at the dark shape in the dark corner of his room. Unfortunately, that’s the phone in his hand, and he’s sure that’s going to come back to bite him later. Right now, he’s more concerned with whether he can make it somewhere populated before this thing can kill him, and while the thought of Jon sitting in the Archives watching him sleep is a bit unnerving, he can’t help but hope that’s exactly what Jon’s been doing.

“Oh, well that wasn’t very nice. After I’ve gone through all this trouble to deliver my message in person. Well, not actually in person, since I’m not a person, and also because the message isn’t for you. Do you think he’s watching us now? Your Archivist?” The voice is high and grating, and the dim light coming through Martin’s window from the street just barely illuminates the outline of something very tall and thin and pale, wearing what might be a top hat.

“You- you’re Nikola, aren’t you?”

“Why, yes! And you’re the little man who killed poor Sarah.”

“I- I mean, not technically-

“Hush now, I have a message, remember? Is he watching, or am I going to need to let you keep your skin? Because that really would be so…” The air grows heavy, static coming from seemingly nowhere. “There he is! Hello, Jon! Can I call you Jon? You’re a very tough monster to get to, hiding away in your archives, but I thought it was time we had a talk. You see, we thought mean old Gertrude had destroyed our skin, but why would you send people to burn our hidey-hole down unless you thought it was there? Now we think maybe she just found her own little hidey-hole to tuck it away in. So we’d like to make a deal! Doesn’t that sound nice and fair, Jon? You find our skin, and we don’t take yours! Or, if we can’t find you, well, this one here will probably do just fine!”

Martin thinks he might have stopped breathing at some point. The air has grown so heavy, and every move Nikola makes in his direction sends terror spiking through him. He wishes he could hear Jon’s voice.

Suddenly, Nikola gives an outraged shout, and Martin still can’t make her out, but she seems to be moving wildly to match. She doesn’t get any closer to him though, so he stays where he is, until finally she throws her arms down and stomps a few times on the floor.

“Now that’s not fair at all, Jon, sending the Weaver to try conducting my dance. And I’ve been so nice. Haven’t I been nice?” This she directs at Martin.

“I- I mean. Not really?”

“Humph. No appreciation. I should really just kill him for that, Jon, but I won’t. Because I’m nice. Just don’t wait too long to find my skin, Jon, or maybe I won’t be so nice anymore.” And then she’s gone, and Martin imagines he can hear the buzz of electricity returning to his flat. Shakily he turns on his lamp, to illuminate an empty room. Well, mostly empty.

Crawling from the corner Nikola had been in is a spider. Getting up finally, Martin lets it crawl into his hand.

“Thank you,” he tells it and takes it out to the living room, which is probably the best place for it in his flat. He’ll thank Jon when he gets back to the Archives.

-

“Georgie?” Jon calls as he holds the door open for Martin. He can’t say this is a good idea. Staying with Georgie hadn’t kept him safe last time and there’s no denying the Archives are more secure. He’s spent enough time here, though, to Know it well. The Archives might be better, but given the lack of space and his own flat being rented to someone else after months on the run, this is the closest second. Better than Martin’s flat, at least. “You here?”

“Don’t you already know?” Georgie calls back. Jon finds her on the couch.

“I promised I’d try not to, and I meant it. I, uh, I have a favor to ask you.”

“What, beyond using the spare bedroom? It’s not monster stuff, is it?”

“Ah, not- not technically. I’m actually going to be moving out. I’m back in the Archives and I’ll be fine there. But, uh, this is Martin. Martin, meet Georgie Barker.” Georgie grins.

The Martin Blackwood, eh? I’ve heard so much!”

“Georgie,” Jon says warningly, to absolutely no effect. That’s the other downside. Who knows what Georgie will tell Martin about Jon if left alone together.

“I, uh, I suppose so. Yeah. Good things, I hope.”

“Oh, def-”

Georgie,” Jon hisses. Martin ducks his head a bit, but out of the corner of his eye, Jon can see the hint of a blush.

“You’re adorable,” Georgie tells Martin. “And it’s good to finally meet you. I’m going to assume the favor Jon needs has something to do with the bag you’re carrying.”

“He needs a place to stay, and I’m not making him stay in the Archives again.”

“Again?” She raises her brow.

“There was an incident. With, uh, worms,” Martin says softly.

“Worms. Right. And this time there are- let me guess: spiders?”

“No, I actually kind of-”

“Clowns,” Jon cuts him off, because he’s trying to learn to accept the Web, but he really doesn’t need to listen to Martin’s lecture on how good spiders are again.

“Oh, of course,” Georgie drawls. “We’re onto evil clowns now.”

“She showed up in his flat and threatened me through him.”

“Between that and the worm thing, I’m not really comfortable there right now,” Martin explains. “You’ll barely know I’m here, promise.”

“Is this another indefinite thing?”

“No, last time this was over with in early August. I don’t know when exactly everything will happen this time, but it won’t be more than three months,” Jon assures her, which is still three months too many in his opinion. “I’ll try to find something better, but until then…”

“Right…” Georgie smirks, looking between them. “You know the guest bed can fit two, right?”

Jon is not proud of the choking sound that comes from his throat. He chooses to take that as permission and pretend Georgie isn’t there anymore. “Right, Martin. Guest room is this way.”

Jon packs up what little there is of his own things, mostly statements and a thermos with cartoon cats on it, as Martin puts down his bag and watches apprehensively. “You really don’t have to do this, Jon. You should stay here. I’m perfectly capable of sleeping on the cot; I’ve done it enough. And I don’t really like you staying in the Archives all the time. You work too much already.”

“… How often have you been staying in the Archives?” It strikes Jon then that he hasn’t been paying enough attention. Again.

“I… haven’t been sleeping well the last couple months. That’s not the point, Jon. The point is, I will sleep even if I stay there. I’m not sure you will.” Much as he’d like to argue, Jon can’t really. Better to just ignore it.

“It’s better for me to have easy access to statements,” he says instead. “And I’ve spent too much time away already. I promise I’ll try to sleep tomorrow.”

“You swear?”

“Cross my heart,” Jon swears, laughing a bit when there’s an actual tug in his chest, knowing he’s going to be held to it for once. And a little proud of himself for being able to laugh about it at all. “Now let me introduce you to the Admiral.”

-

“Thank you for this,” Martin says to Georgie after Jon leaves and he’s unpacked some of his things. She gestures to the other end of the couch, inviting him to join her.

“Sure.” The way she studies him makes him very aware that this is Jon’s ex and apparently one of his best friends. “You know, he really cares about you.”

“I-I’m getting that, yeah. Did- did he really tell you about me?”

“I… Did he give you his statement? The one about how he became ‘the Archivist’?” Unlike Jon, Georgie is apparently not above using actual finger quotes.

“Yeah. Yeah, that was… A lot.”

“Yeah. It was. So he- did talk about you a lot. Both yous. Gotta say, I’m honestly not sure how I would feel about that if I were you.” Martin laughs awkwardly, studying his lap.

“We’re in the same boat then, because I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it myself, but… We talked about it, a bit, when he came back a few days ago.” Given the option, Martin would rather be talking about this with Sasha than Jon’s ex. His other ex, since the point of this is that Martin is also somehow Jon’s ex, he guesses. There’s no judgement in Georgie’s voice, though. She seems… friendly. And since Sasha doesn’t know about the time travel yet- Well, he’s glad to have someone to talk to about it who isn’t Jon. “We- He and the other me, they went through a lot together, but most of it was spent either afraid for their lives or, well, Jon said he was…”

“A bit of a dick?” Georgie has the type of smile that invites you to share in her amusement. Martin laughs and reminds himself that Jon had undone the apocalypse to be with him, so there would be no call to feel jealous or inadequate even if he and Jon were technically together. Which they’re not. Yet.

“I think he used the word asshole.”

“Yeah. Jon’s always had a big heart underneath it all, but he’s been called rude more than a few times and he usually deserved it. It’s one of the things that made me agree to help him, even after he told me everything. I don’t want to be involved, and I do worry about what he’s become, what he does to other people. But Jon- Every time we talk, he’s telling me something to help Melanie or talking about how well Sasha’s doing or how he can’t wait to have your tea again or, hell, worrying about the cop who’s literally been hunting him for months. He says he’s a monster now, and I guess maybe he is, but he cares so much.”

It’s good to hear someone other than Sasha say it. Good to know that someone who isn’t actually bound to Jon sees it. Because Martin knows Jon doesn’t and has a hard time believing them when they say it.

“Yeah. That’s why I’m not really that worried about, well, us. A lot of things are the same, but so much is different too. And I- I guess I fell in love with him both times. And he… You know, he once called me into his office to tell me I didn’t need to worry about him finding out I liked him because he already knew?”

“No!” Georgie’s mortified laugh is exactly how Martin feels about it now, with the distance of time and knowledge. “Oh, oh god, he would! He’s so awkward.”

“Yeah, yeah it was… I think it was a bit mortifying for both of us. But he told me then that he couldn’t return my feelings because he was still grieving someone else. So- So I’m not worried that I’m somehow a replacement or that he only likes me for the person I could be. If he ever says he returns my feelings, it will be because he took us separately and fell in love with me again now.”

“You really are adorable, you know that?” Georgie reaches over and pats his hand. “You’ll watch out for him, won’t you?”

“Of course.”

She nods and smiles again, pushing herself to stand. “Alright, the place isn’t big but let me show you around and introduce you to the Admiral? Did you meet the Admiral? Then maybe you can make me some of this tea Jon loves so much. I hear it actually made him cry once.”

“It did not… did it?”

-

For all the power he’s gained, all the strength and resilience and supernatural senses, Jon still has actual physical weaknesses. Ones that he’s stupidly, arrogantly, neglected to account for. Such simple things as blindfolds and gags can still take all that power away. Breekon and Hope, having met him once already, apparently choose not to take the risk of confronting him directly and instead decide knocking him out from behind is the better option to abduct him. It’s his own fault, so focused on the threat to Martin and what Georgie might be saying that he doesn’t notice them coming up behind him until it’s too late. He curses himself for the headache he has when he wakes up. If it weren’t for his healing abilities, Jon thinks he should probably be getting a scan for brain damage at this point.

The Circus has him again, tied up, probably within the wax museum in Great Yarmouth, but he can’t see anything to say for sure. It sounds the same at least. It has the echo of a place larger, more empty than it’s meant to be. No doubt he’s surrounded by those terrible waxworks again. Bound and blinded in the Stranger’s house of power, he feels… caged. It’s not weakness, like after the Trophy Room or Daisy. It’s just that it can’t reach beyond the confines of his own skin. Much more of this and he’s going to become uncomfortably familiar with the inner workings of his body. Though, much more of this and he won’t be in a state to. How long can he go without a statement now? Not a month, surely. How long has it already been?

“Hello, Jon!” Nikola greets, out of nowhere. It itches that he can’t know whether she’s been here the whole time or if he’d missed the quiet tap of her footsteps. “Can I call you Jon?”

“No,” he says as best he can, shaking his head.

“I’m going to call you Jon.” Predictably, she doesn’t even pause to acknowledge his response. It’s not that he cares if they call him Jon. If anything it makes him more human, more easily frightened in their view, and monsters underestimating him can only work to his advantage at this point. It’s just that he’s so damn sick of that question. “So sorry for the rough treatment. We just couldn’t risk you declining our invitation. You understand.”

“I hate you,” he fails to say.

“Oh! Look at this- Silly me, of course you can’t. I’ll just tell you then. It’s one of your little tape recorders. I thought we’d gotten them all! Sneaky buggers. Looks a bit dented, this one. Let’s see…” There’s a familiar click. “Oh! It does work!” Words cannot describe how much Jon does not want to sit through another month of this.

“Is it your Elias who listens?”

“No,” he says again, because that’s something he’s sure of now. Whether the recorders are manifestations of the Eye or the Web or part of his own monstrousness that he’d latched onto like a security blanket and made inseparable from his being, they’re most definitely not Elias’s.

“No? That’s a shame. I had hoped to have a chat. Oh well!” There’s a rush of air past Jon’s face and then a thud and the crunching clatter of machinery breaking apart. “Oops! I hit one of the waxworks- Oh! You can’t see. Silly me! You are surrounded by waxworks. Not good waxworks-”

“I know,” Jon grumbles through the gag.

“Hush! Really, Jon. It’s rude to interrupt. As I was saying: these waxworks are all just a bit off. Wax faces where you feel like you almost recognize who it’s meant to be, but then instead… ah, it’s downright-”

“Uncanny,” Jon intones along with her.

“Why, yes! How did you know? Have you been peeking, Jon? You know we can’t have that. Maybe we’ll take out your eyes! You can’t peek without eyes, now can you?”

The noise of protest is honest and involuntary. There’s no telling what would happen if they took his eyes at this point, and he’s not eager to find out, despite the constant pull of curiosity in him. “Oh, you don’t like that! That’s alright, I think you can keep them for now. We’ll find something extra special to do with them when I skin you! I’m afraid your recorder’s gone, though. It hit one of the waxworks quite hard! No worries, though. I’ll have someone clean up the blood when we’re done.”

“I can’t wait to see Tim blow you up again,” Jon says. He spends most of the rest of Nikola’s cheery exposition trying to loosen the rope just enough to free a hand, despite not being able to in an entire month last time. It seems like the sort of thing being in bed with the Web should help with, right?

And then Jon jerks forward involuntarily, a sharp, piercing pain striking in the center of his chest. For a second he thinks Nikola hit him, probably for not listening, but when he tries to gasp a breath, his lungs scream in protest and he realizes this has nothing to do with Nikola. Footsteps, much louder than Nikola’s, approach.

“You’re clear,” states a voice Jon was very much hoping he’d never have to hear again. “That’s him, then.” The air around him grows uncomfortably hot.

“It is! Jon, don’t be rude! Say hello to my friend Jude!” Jon does not say hello to Jude, but it doesn’t seem to matter. “Jude’s been making sure none of your creepy-crawly friends are sneaking in to help you. My puppets aren’t for the Mother.”

“You’re scrawnier in person,” Jude says, and he can feel her getting closer and closer as he leans far enough back to risk tipping over.

“Don’t touch him!” Nikola scolds, with a touch of annoyance and no real urgency or concern. “It’s so much harder to peel burned skin.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t.” And true to her word, for once, Jude doesn’t touch him. It still feels like burning when she leans close to his ear and whispers, “I hope you survive the skinning. I can’t wait to watch you writhe in my flame, Archivist.”

Only after Jude and Nikola have both left the room, door closing behind them, does Jon’s heart start beating again.

-

Apprehension hits Martin the moment he enters the Archives Monday morning. It feels empty.

“Jon?” he calls, hopeful, with no response. Jon’s office door is closed, but it opens easily, and there’s nothing waiting behind it. Still, it’s early. Maybe Jon had something to do, or… Martin checks the cot and finds a sleeping Patrząc but no sign of Jon.

Patrząc would know, though, if something was wrong. Martin’s sure of this. She knew about the not-Andy and Jon in Artefact Storage. She knew when Martin was stuck outside in the early morning and led him in. She knew Basira was trustworthy. He’s just overreacting.

Half an hour later Sasha walks in and stops, just like Martin had, looking around for something that could be causing the odd feeling.

“Where-”

“He’s not here.” Martin tries not to sound frantic. “He wasn’t here when I got in. There’s no note. I don’t have a phone I can call him with. He doesn’t have a phone I can call. He’s just gone.” He fails.

“Whoa, whoa! Martin! Calm down, I’m sure he’s fine.” It’s not as reassuring seeing Sasha go through the same motions as him, opening doors, checking on the cat.

“Like he was fine the last time he disappeared?” Really, Martin doesn’t mean to sound so tense and argumentative, but there’s only so much anxiety he can handle, and he just keeps thinking of Nikola and all her talk of skins.

“That depends, did you find another corpse? I’m joking. Joking! I’m sure it’s nothing. He’s probably getting his things from- what was it- Georgie? Or was up all night watching the wax museum again. It’s only been a couple hours, right?”

“I just came from Georgie’s. He wasn’t there.” Sasha’s head snaps toward him, attuned to the scent of gossip.

“What were you doing at Georgie’s? Without Jon?”

“Oh, I’m- I’m staying with her. For a while.” Right. Martin hadn’t had a phone, so he hadn’t warned her. “We should talk, uh- Nikola came to my flat.”

“Nikola. Nikola Orsinov, Nikola?”

“Yeah, She… was not happy about the Trophy Room. Wants that skin that was in Sarah’s statement and she thinks Jon knows where it is. And she took my phone, I think. So, uh, be careful? Anyway, that’s just more reason to worry about Jon disappearing.”

“Or,” Sasha says slowly, in that infuriatingly reasonable tone she gets when she’s about to derail your entire freakout by saying something rational, “it could be an explanation. Maybe he does know where it is, or knows where it might be and went to look. Like you said, he doesn’t have a phone to let us know it’s taking him longer than expected.”

Which is, as always, a perfectly rational explanation, it’s just- “Something just doesn’t feel right.”

Sasha convinces him to at least give Jon a day before freaking out, so he does his best and checks with Georgie and Melanie that night just in case either of them have heard anything. Unsurprisingly, they haven’t. Melanie waves it off, but Georgie- she doesn’t look worried so much as… apprehensive, if Martin had to qualify it. She promises him in the morning to let him know right away if she hears from Jon, and he’s thankful that someone doesn’t think he’s overreacting.

When he gets to the Archives and finds them disturbingly empty once again, though, Martin stops thinking something is wrong. All doubt is gone in a single moment of silence. Something is wrong. Jon is in trouble. Patrząc, who he’s come to rely on as a sort of warning system, is on the cot, just where she’d been yesterday. Exactly where she’d been yesterday. Not even a whisker out of place. The panic that’s been draining with the calm terror of certainty returns as he carefully lifts her up to cradle in his arms. Then he feels the small shift of her chest as she breathes and the rapid beat of her heart. She’s alive, but she won’t wake up.

Can you take a supernatural cat to the vet? What if they look at her and get poisoned by her teeth or all those markings turn to real eyes or a bunch of spiders crawl out of her throat or something? Is she an avatar herself? Would the vet’s terror be enough to wake her up?

Martin!” Sasha says, not really shouting but loud enough he knows it’s not the first time she’s said it.

“Sasha.” His voice comes out weaker than expected. Looking around, he realizes he’s not sure when he moved from the storage room to his desk chair, and his eyes sting like he’s forgotten to blink.

“There you are. What’s going on? Did something happen? Is Patrząc okay?”

Shock, his mind says, but he thinks if he were ever to go into shock, it should’ve been after Jane or Nikola. Then again, Jon was there then. Still, the slowness of his thoughts recedes quickly.

“She won’t wake up. Hasn’t since yesterday.” He looks Sasha in the eye and wills her to understand his certainty. “Sasha, there’s something wrong with Jon.”

Sasha searches for something in his face, and finds exactly what he wants her to.

“Okay,” she says. “You go through his recent files, see if any of them give any clues, and check the routes between here and Georgie’s, if that’s the last anyone saw him. I’ll see if I can find some record of him anywhere in the last couple days, look for any of Gertrude’s hiding places, check hospital and police records… We’ll find him, Martin.”

Martin hopes so. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if they don’t.

-

Aside from the thing with Jude, Jon’s time kidnapped progresses much the same as he remembers. It’s impossible to judge time, and without fresh statements, he resorts to spending a lot of time sleeping. He tries, again and again, to exert some kind of control, to apologize to Naomi and Helen, to tell Georgie where he is, but it never happens. Elias is probably responsible for this, and the Web has been eradicated from the building, except for what’s in him, so neither of them will be helping.

So many things have been the same, but he doesn’t think he can count on that for his rescue. Doesn’t know if he can count on Michael to get him out of it this time. Even if he can, Helen is still free of the hallways, if the dreams are anything to go by, and it’s been long enough since his last live statement that he doesn’t know if he can keep Michael from killing him.

Speak of the devil, of course. Michael laughs as eerily as ever before imparting his decision to kill Jon. It’s early. Time may elude Jon here, but it definitely hasn’t been a month. He shouldn’t complain, though.

There are a couple other differences, too.

“Before I do, however, contrary to my nature as it is, I want to understand. So, my turn to ask questions. How do you know about me?” The gag removed, Jon takes a second to stretch his jaw. Now for his arms.

“Will you take me back to the Institute?”

“Now why would I do something like that? Did you not hear me, Archivist? I intend to kill you.”

“Which doesn’t make me inclined to answer your question. Do you want me to stop the Unknowing or not?”

“I really don’t think you can. Answer me, Archivist. Gertrude Robinson didn’t just leave evidence of her crimes lying around. How do you know?” Which is honestly hilarious, if only Jon had more than a chuckle in him. He could use Michael’s laugh right about now.

“I mean, she sort of did. She hid evidence, but she never destroyed it. The Eye doesn’t like that. Look, I can stop the Unknowing, if you take me back to the Archives now. I guarantee it.”

“Say I do, what’s to stop you from the Watcher’s Crown?”

“Probably the fact that I don’t want to. The Web doesn’t want me to, Beholding doesn’t need me to, and I am still human enough to want the world to not end. So will you take me to the Institute or not?” If that isn’t enough, Jon will need to bring up Sasha, but that could go two very different directions and he’d rather not take the risk. The blindfold falls away, but Michael still doesn’t seem decided. He reaches with his long, sharp hands to drag one finger along Jon’s neck, and it barely stings, but Jon’s sure he’s bleeding.

“Hmm…” Michael deliberates, then flicks a finger back and the ropes fall away. “Perhaps. There is my door, Archivist. Are you willing to take the chance?”

Jon would face far worse odds than this to get out of here. He doesn’t hesitate. Except, when he grabs the handle, it refuses to turn. Locked, like last time, which doesn’t make sense.

“That’s not possible. I kept Helen from you. I know I did. Helen Richardson is still free.”

“Yes, you have rather been a thorn in my side, Archivist. More reason to kill you. Will you go through the door or not?”

“I can’t. It’s locked. Did you take Helen Richardson?

“Only the once. Open the door.”

“It’s. Locked.

“It’s not,” he giggles, but there’s nervousness in it now, as there should be. Jon shouldn’t be the only one freaking out here. “It can’t be.”

“Try it yourself, then,” he snaps. And Michael does. Just like last time. And he panics and denies, like last time. And his eyes go wide, and he screams, and then Michael is gone. Just like last time. When the new door opens, though, it is not Helen Richardson that takes Michael’s place, like Jon feared. It’s so, so much worse.

“Oh good,” the thing with Sasha’s face says. “You’re still alive. We should go.” And it steps to the side, holding the door open for Jon like there is nothing wrong here. He doesn’t move, frozen. “Jon? Door? Escaping?”

Jude may as well have set him alight, his rage burns so hot. “How- how dare you! How dare you take her!”

“Jon,” it sighs, not unkindly, in a way he’s heard many times before.

“You have no right! I should- I should kill you. I-”

“Jon, she- I- Sasha chose this.” He’s being pitied by the thing that killed his friend. Of course he is. Jon’s just that pathetic.

“No.”

“Yes, Jon.”

Don’t. Don’t call me that, like her, like we’re friends. Why should I believe you? You’re The Liar.”

“So then Ask me. If you don’t mind, though, I’d rather we didn’t do it here.”

It’s not wrong. Already he can hear footsteps heading their way. Breekon and Hope, he thinks. Maybe one of the anglerfish’s puppets. It’s probably about time for his moisturizing. The moment Jon steps through the door, leaves the hallways for the Archives, though, he turns to face the Distortion.

“Statement of the being formerly known as Michael, regarding its Becoming of Sasha James, former archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, London. Statement taken direct from subject. May, 2017. Recording by Jonathan Sims, the Archivist.

“Statement begins.”

The Distortion sighs and sits in the chair meant for statement-givers, just slightly off from how Sasha would. “You know, she was half convinced you’re invincible? No matter what happened, you always seemed to know enough to avert any crisis. To get all your people through. She still worried. You demonstratively have little care for yourself-”

“I asked for your statement, not hers.”

“We are inextricable now, Jon- Archivist. Two for the price of one, in a way.”

Don’t.

“You know I can’t actually help it. I’m still…”

“Becoming.” He knows. He does. He’s been here before, after all. It’s hard to accept right now, though.

“Yes, I suppose. Should I keep going?”

“… Yes, continue.”

“Your absence hit hard in the Archives. After a week without you, with no word of where you were, Sasha badgered Elias into admitting you’d been kidnapped.”

“Impressive.” If anyone could, he supposes he’s not surprised it was Sasha. She’d come so far from “not the bravest person.”

“It rather was. I believe Martin taped it, if you care to listen. Since the business with the Flesh-Hive, Michael had grown a bit… attached to Sasha. He would check in on her here and there. A couple times he tried to tempt her through the door, just to see what would happen. Of course, she always declined, but it meant it wasn’t hard for her to find Michael when she went looking. It was only three days before she saw him in the coffee shop they occasionally spoke in. She asked Michael if he knew where you were, or if he could find you.

“‘If I wished to,’ Michael said, ‘And I think I will. I’ve had my fun; I think it’s time for the Archivist to die.’

“Sasha objected, obviously. Her arguments and threats were ultimately pointless, but when Michael left, she caught the door before it closed. In the labyrinth, however, I am not constrained to this physical form. Instead of reaching Michael, she was trapped within the hallways. She remembered, though, what you told her of Michael’s Becoming. I don’t know how, she didn’t entirely know, but she found my heart. And just in time.

“… I will need time, to adjust to who I am now. What I am now. But I feel… right. Not quite like I was before Gertrude ruined everything, but as much as I have since. Having a self is still an ill-fitting suit, but… I was never supposed to be Michael. Michael didn’t want to be me. Sasha did. Does. She- I can help this way, I think. I think I want to help. Is that- Is that enough?” It sounds almost lost, almost pleading, almost hopeful, and Jon aches.

“For your statement? Yes. I need you to leave now.” There’s no inflection. No emotion. He’s so tired of everything.

“Jon-”

“Don’t call me that,” he snaps. “Not with her voice. Not with her face.”

Jon,” it- she? insists, “I am as much Sasha James as you are the Jonathan Sims that first joined this Institute. She is becoming me as much as I am Becoming her.”

“I know. You’ve told me-” It tilts its head, and he knows that focused curiosity, that sharp mind.

“I… what? What did I tell you?”

“Not- Not you you-” he shouldn’t- “A different you. A you who Became Helen.”

“I have never been Helen.”

“No. And you won’t now.” He laughs humorlessly. “I suppose I should be thankful for that, at least. Can’t really bring myself to, though. I will… We will discuss this. Later. After- after we’ve both had time to adjust. There’s no way to get the Sasha I knew back, I know. But I still…” He trails off.

“I thought you couldn’t see the future, Jon.”

“No. I can’t. But I’ve seen a way it could have gone. I won’t- I’m not going to turn you away completely. That- I wonder if more of Helen would have survived had I helped; I won’t make that mistake again. If you can accept Becoming Sasha, I will try to help, if only to keep as much of her as possible. But I’m- I am angry and hurt and can’t bear to look at you right now. So please. Leave.

“Okay,” it says, but pauses before entering its hallways fully. “Jon?”

“Yes.”

“This wasn’t your fault, you know.” He says nothing. He does not know. “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“… Thank you,” he says softly, though the door closes as he does, so he’s not sure Sasha hears.

Martin finds him with his face buried in Patrząc’s fur, huddled on the floor of his office amid the broken remnants of a half-dozen tape recorders.

Chapter Text

Tim doesn’t take the news about Sasha well. Not that anyone’s taking it well. Martin can tell Jon is doing his best to keep calm, but he’s seen that look before, way back at the start of this. Jon is mourning. Despite his own distress, Martin is doing all he can to keep it together for the both of them. Tim, though… He and Jon have it out, in a way.

“What would you have me do?!” Jon snaps.

“I don’t want you to do anything! I just feel helpless and guilty and you’re the easiest outlet for my anger because you’re the one who got her into this in the first place,” Tim shouts, then snaps his jaw shut, eyes wide. Jon flinches. “You-”

“I’m sorry, Tim. I didn’t mean to.”

“Just tell me why. You did your damndest to keep me out of here, and I can, almost, accept that it was to protect me or whatever, though fat lot of good it did. But then why? Why me? Why leave me out but drag her down with you?”

“Because…”

“Because what, Jon? Why the hell-”

“Because I’m trying to do better this time!” Shit.

“What the hell does that mean? ‘This time.’” Jon sighs and runs a hand down his face.

“Jon,” Martin warns, because he just knows Jon is going to tell the truth. “Are you sure this is a good idea? Elias could-”

Jon scoffs. “This is all a bad idea, Martin. All of it. I’m beginning to doubt if I’ve ever had a good idea in my life.” Which really just makes Martin sad. Jon’s been through so much. Every new thing just takes another chip out of him.

Tim doesn’t appreciate that. “Right, let’s all be super cryptic! That’s totally helpful.”

“I’m from the future.” Beat.

“Not really the time for jokes, Jon,” Tim says, voice flat as he jumps up a level in anger. For once, Jon responds exactly the way he should, answering just as flatly.

“Tim. I’m from. The future.”

“… Fuck off, no, you’re not.” Tim looks at Martin for support, but Martin just nods at him. “So what, rocks fell, everyone died, so you just decided to come back and ‘make it right’?”

“Heh, not a bad summation. Yes. I was appointed Head Archivist by Elias in September, 2015, at which point I was a normal, human person with little to no knowledge of any of this. I asked that you and Sasha be transferred with me. Martin- unfortunately, I thought at the time- came with the package, so to speak.” Jon leans back, and Martin is sympathetically exhausted just looking at him. “When Jane Prentiss attacked the Institute, Sasha was killed and replaced by the NotThem, and not a one of us had any idea. I didn’t know who killed Gertrude then, and with not-Sasha in the Archives, I was the one who went paranoid, trusting no one. You were growing to hate me and the Archives. You wanted to quit; that was when we really started figuring out we were trapped. Things… weren’t much different. I took an axe to the table. Elias killed Leitner to keep him from telling me too much. He blackmailed Daisy to get Basira to join the Archives so he had leverage over Daisy. Eventually, we figured out the Unknowing, and we went to stop it with the explosives we found in Gertrude’s storage unit-”

“Wait, the what we found where?” Martin cuts in; Jon’s mostly babbling at this point anyway.

“We have explosives?” Tim asks.

“I mean… not presently, but we could- Is that really the important thing here? We blew ourselves up, Tim. You died and I was all but braindead for six months.”

“You what?” Martin cuts in again, because this seems like the sort of thing that should have come up when they talked about this. “What does that mean? ‘All but braindead’.”

“It- it means all but braindead. I had no heartbeat, wasn’t breathing. For all intents and purposes, I was dead, except I still had brain activity. Officially it was deemed a coma and the Institute paid enough for no one to ask too many questions.”

“How would they have even figured that out?” Tim asks. “Who the hell goes ‘I can’t find a pulse, so I think I’m going to check brain activity’?”

“I imagine it was Elias’s suggestion. That’s not the point-”

“I mean, it kind of is?” Tim argues. Martin is definitely not having a mini-panic attack about this. “Would you survive being blown up now?”

“I- honestly don’t know. Maybe? But I would rather not test it. I just told you I’m from the future. Is this really the thing to be focusing on?”

“How did you wake up?”

“Someone gave me a statement and I made a choice. Can we continue now?”

“Right, right. So Sasha was killed and I blew myself-”

“Us.”

“-Us up, and then the world ended?”

“Essentially, yes.” Jon runs a hand through his hair; he looks so tired.

“What, seriously?”

“Yes. One of the rituals succeeded. The world was falling apart, Melanie had blinded herself, Daisy was missing, and Martin was killed. So, I came back to try again. And I am trying. But now Sasha is the Distortion instead of Helen, and you’re still here preparing to get yourself killed again, so yes, Tim, I do feel responsible.”

“… Right.” Tim looks an entirely different sort of angry now. Like he’s angry at Jon for not just letting him be angry at Jon. “Tell me more about the explosives.”

-

“What did you do to her?” Jon’s door wasn’t even closed and yet it’s still torn open. Hands slap down on his desk and Basira looms over him. He can’t even bring himself to be startled, he’s so, so tired.

Like that one woman. Who… Lydia. Lydia Halligan. He’d taken that statement personally this time. 05.2015.2015/06/08.I/M/R. He hadn’t had any dreams of her because she never managed to sleep. Right up until she died a month later. He can’t blame Michael for this, though. Can’t blame Michael for anything anymore. Now it’s all-

“Are you listening to me?” Basira snaps. It isn’t difficult to focus on her face; it’s just hard to make it mean anything.

“Yes, I- Did I… what?”

“What. Did you do. To Daisy.”

“What I did to… What do you mean? I- I saved, Daisy- I… failed, Daisy.” No, no that wasn’t right. That wasn’t now. Not this Daisy. This Daisy… “No, I- I mean. I gave her, a memory. Her memory. Something that… could happen, but won’t. Not anymore.” How long has it been since he’s had a fresh statement? He hasn’t slept since he got back.

“The hell does that mean, Jon? What did you say to her? She’s different now. She’s all pent up and restless, but she keeps acting like she’s forgotten how to move right, and suddenly she’s claustrophobic.” Yes? That was what happened. They’ve already talked about this… but no. They didn’t. Different Daisy. Different Basira. This time it’s Jon’s fault. This time it’s more Jon’s fault.

“Oh… Oh, that’s- I’m sorry. I didn’t know how else to make her stop. I- I didn’t think… I didn’t know how deep she’d go. I didn’t know I could do it at all. I’m sorry.”

“But what did you do, Jon? You said you gave her a memory. What was it?

“It was… it was us. Her and me. In the coffin. In the Buried. We… we were trapped, being slowly crushed. Couldn’t breathe.” The pressure. Can’t breathe. Can’t move. No. “She was there so long, I went to- to get her out.”

“What the hell, Jon. Why would you give her that?”

“I didn’t have another. It was the only statement she gave me that she didn’t already have.”

“What the hell does that-” Basira abruptly stands straight and walks to the door. Jon can almost see an afterimage of her as she moves- his brain catching up to his eyes. “Martin, right? Get in here. I need someone to translate incoherent monster speak for me.”

“What are you… Oh, Jon,” Martin sighs. It’s that sad sigh that means he’s disappointed in Jon, which is terrible. Jon never wants to disappoint Martin, but he just keeps- “We talked about this. You need to sleep.”

“No, I’m… I’m-”

“Tell him what you just told me,” Basira cuts him off. “About giving Daisy a memory.”

“You did what? You can do that?”

“No- Yes- I… I didn’t know I could. It’s not any memory. It was a statement. Her statement. I couldn’t give her anyone’s statement. Just hers. And it was the only one I had that she didn’t yet. I needed her to know I was a friend, so she didn’t kill me. But it was a statement, so, it was…”

“Oh.”

“You understand that?” Basira demands.

“I… mostly? I think? Jon’s…” Martin looks at him, and it takes Jon longer than it should to realize why and wave him on. Apparently he’s telling everyone now. Might as well. “Jon’s, sort of… from the future? Apparently things went wrong, so he came back to try to fix them.”

“… Oh. Right, okay.”

“What, you just… believe me?” asks Martin incredulously.

“I mean, yeah? So many things make sense now. You gave her the memory of something that happened to her in your future, yeah?”

“Yes,” Jon says, thankful to be understood, finally.

“Can you remove it?”

“No, I-”

“Right. How did I help her?” This is going too fast for him.

“W-what?”

“The other me. I wouldn’t have just left her after that, so what did I do? How do I help her?” Oh. Shit. How is he supposed to tell her this?

“I- I mean, you were… busy.”

“What the fuck does that mean? You saying I just dropped her?”

“No! No, it… it was, a group effort. You took her to physical therapy. We- we all let her sit with us while we worked, so she wouldn’t feel alone. That was… a major point for all of us. The Lonely was… but um… She wouldn’t hunt anymore, and it- you never wanted to say so, but we were always in danger, and it made her a bit of a liability.” Basira crosses her arms. Even now she intimidates him.

“Bullshit. I wouldn’t.”

“No, Basira… I’m- I’m sorry. Things were- different. You were afraid- it- it doesn’t matter. Just- she just needs you to be there, and- and you need to make her understand she doesn’t need to hide things from you.”

“… Right.” She takes a deep breath and doesn’t quite deflate, but still seems to get smaller. “Right, okay… Get some sleep, Jon. You look terrible.” And she stalks out as quickly as she’d stormed in.

“She’s right, you know,” Martin informs him and holds the door, waving Jon out. “You look terrible. It’s barely past noon; I think it’ll be alright for you to rest a bit now. Go sleep.”

Jon wants to protest, but really he can’t, so instead he wearily pushes himself to his feet. Martin squeezes his arm, and it only takes about ten minutes staring at the ceiling before he manages to drift off.

-

It’s still a struggle convincing Jon to get the sleep he needs, more often than not, but he and Martin are a lot closer now than they were a year ago, and Martin has learned a lot more about how Jon works past how terrible he is at lying convincingly. So when Jon starts lagging and sounding like he can barely force out words when he’s not reading a statement, then Martin tells Rosie to defer any archive or statement requests that aren’t urgent for the day. He sets a cup of chamomile tea on Jon’s desk, right in front of him, even if that means putting it on a statement. And then he tells Jon how worried he is and how Jon’s wellbeing matters to him and how is Martin supposed to just go back to Georgie’s knowing Jon is going to work himself to exhaustion through the night and can’t he just take a nap? Just a few hours while the sun is still out and Martin is there to handle anything that might come up.

On the best days, Jon will sleep maybe five hours. Not-so-good days, it might only be half an hour. Every little bit helps, though. The Eye must agree, because even the recorders mostly turn off. So when Martin finally gets Jon to lay down and is just settling in to do some quiet organization, comfortable in the knowledge that the rest of the Institute knows better than to come down to the Archives when warned against it, he’s understandably a bit irked to have some random older white man suddenly appear in the room.

“Hello. Martin, isn’t it?” Martin’s growing used to people knowing more about him than he’d like, so it’s not so much the man knowing his name as the general tone of his voice that sets Martin on edge.

“Can I help you?” Martin asks, not bothering to hide his annoyance. He’s suddenly very aware of how quiet things have gone when one of the recorders clicks on. The man frowns at it.

“No need for that,” he says lightly, though it’s unclear whether it’s the recorder or Martin himself, or perhaps even the Eye, that he’s speaking to. “I just thought we might have a chat. I’m glad I managed to catch you alone.”

“Oh,” Martin says flatly, irritation rising exponentially. “You’re him.”

“Him?”

“Peter Lukas.” Peter’s eyebrows fly up.

“Yes, that- I am. Pleased to meet you!” He holds out his hand but doesn’t seem that bothered when Martin doesn’t shake it. “How did you know that?”

“You should leave.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You should leave,” Martin repeats. “Before Jon wakes up. He won’t be happy you’re here.”

“I wouldn’t worry. He won’t bother us here.” Martin’s laugh clearly startles Lukas. “Something amusing?”

Suddenly, Martin understands the smug superiority Elias has. It’s honestly a delight to be the one with all the information. “You’re here to meet with Elias, right? You should do that. He can explain.”

“In a moment. I just wanted to meet the team, so to speak-”

“You know my name. I know yours. There. We’ve met.”

Peter frowns. “I’ll admit, Martin, I was not expecting this. I was rather under the impression you were the polite one.”

“Yeah. I am, actually. Call it a friendly warning. You want to leave.” Martin spares a glance for the door Jon is sleeping behind. He’s a bit surprised Jon hasn’t woken up already; he’s been so attentive since Prentiss, and especially since Nikola, but Martin supposes he’s not actually in any danger yet.

“Hmm… You know who I am. I assume that means you know what I could do to you.”

“I have some idea, yes.”

“And yet you’re not even a little afraid?” In Martin’s mind, he sees a room full of dead animals turning their heads. Jon was in hiding and nowhere near them then. Now he’s in the Archives, maybe seven meters away. And he already knows Jon’s rescued him from the Lonely before.

“Not really, no.”

“Not very good instincts,” Peter muses. Elias hasn’t warned him at all, has he? Chances are he’s watching this and laughing to himself. “You really should work on that. Can’t always rely on someone to save you. Tell you what, why don’t I help you with that? Leave you here for, say-” Three more recorders click on and static fills the air.

“Uh oh. You really shouldn’t have said that,” Martin tells him sympathetically. “I did try to warn you.”

“That’s not- This is Forsaken. You can’t-”

“These are my Archives,” Jon growls. He looks a mess, hair mussed and clothes rumpled. His eyes are bloodshot and the circles around them might as well be black in this light. It looks like his legs can hardly hold him, the doorframe all that’s keeping him upright. And still, Martin is very glad not to be Peter. “And you are not welcome in them.”

“Jon, right?” Peter says. To his credit, his voice maintains its false pleasantness despite the fear in his eyes. “Pleased to meet you. Now how-”

“Elias,” Jon says over him, “come get your jetsam if you want to keep your precious funding.” There’s a sudden change in temperature as the chill of the Lonely falls away and Peter looks around, close to panic.

“Best not wander, Peter,” Elias says casually, already in the entrance to the Archives. “The Archivist gets upset when his nap is interrupted.”

Peter Lukas looks between them all once more, obviously at a loss, and Martin gives him a polite smile.

“I did try to warn you,” he tells Peter again, mimicking the man’s patronizing tone. Peter glares at him, then disappears.

“That was unnecessary, Jon,” Elias scolds. Or attempts to, anyway. He’s no more successful now than he’s been at any point in the past couple years. “He wouldn’t have actually harmed Martin.”

“Keep him out of my Archives and away from my people, Elias,” Jon says, harsh and unmoved. “You know my terms.” Once Elias is gone, he slumps further in the doorway, and Martin jumps to support him. “Are you alright?”

Leading him back to the cot, Martin smiles. “I’m fine, Jon. Thank you. Now please, get some rest.”

-

“I need- I need your help.”

It takes Jon a second to realize what it is about Daisy that looks so wrong. She no longer looks like she did the last time he saw her. She looks like the last time he saw her before, gaunt and pale, leaning in his doorframe like she needs the support. It’s only been a week since Basira stormed in, and if this is what Daisy looks like now… He’s surprised she didn’t come sooner. “Christ, Daisy, are you- Shit. You’ve stopped. You stopped hunting. Daisy, I’m so-”

Don’t. Don’t apologize. Not for this. I needed to see, what I was. But it’s getting harder, and I’m afraid what I might do if it gets any worse. Who I might hurt. You- you got me out of there. I remember it. And you said we were friends. I had to- I had to have tried then, too. I can’t have come out holding your hand, seen Basira’s face, and not tried to get away.”

“You did,” he agrees. He’s wary, offering his help to the chair, but she takes his arm without hesitation or comment. “You and I both tried.”

“Take it it didn’t go so well.”

“I wasn’t trying that hard. And you were- like this. Right up to the moment when we were attacked by other hunters. There was… how long has it been?” He Knows as she says it.

“You- you’re the last, but I didn’t get you. Don’t know it counts. Basira convinced me to let you go the week after you…”

“Just over three months, then.” So Beholding had helped, if it took her over twice as long to get to this state.

“What?” She sits up, scent caught. “You know something. What is it?”

“You- you thought aligning yourself with another entity might help. You joined the Institute. It did take- longer, but you were still, well, like you are. At the end.”

“You’re saying it’s too late. I join now, maybe I get weeks ‘stead of days.”

In many statements, with the Corruption, the Slaughter, the Stranger, the Buried- even the Dark or the Hunt at times, there is music of some sort. A melody. Singing. Music is abstract, though. The Eye is not one for song. If it was, though, the tune that rushes through Jon would be deafening. Not so much a hum as a buzz, but still a hymn. It’s a drowning static, laid over a symphony.

It’s… a dance. A weaving. A crawling up his spine that is a language he learned through tragedy. The Eye still wants her- she is a detective- and there is a way. The same way Jon got where he is. The same way part of Sasha will hopefully remain.

Jon had once asked at what point the guilt went away, at what point the Eye would take that from him, for better or worse. Helen had said it wouldn’t, because it didn’t change anything, and perhaps it added flavor. That wasn’t it, though. The Eye wouldn’t take his guilt because it had no concept of guilt.

Before, it paid little attention to any emotions, other than fear, so long as they had no real effect on his actions, because they were all essentially catalogued as “technically food but inedible.” It had never felt guilt. It knows it now. It knows Jon’s. There’s a chance it’s taken some of it, made it easier on him, or maybe the Web has, but he doesn’t think they have. Because, though they will still never feel guilt themselves, they’re curious. And because Jon doesn’t want them to. He’s doing what he needs to do, he has a Purpose and he’s accepted his priorities. He doesn’t want to lose his figurative humanity, though. Guilt sets boundaries.

Which is what Daisy needs. Not to deny the Hunt, but to refocus it, balance it. Purpose and boundaries.

“No,” he tells her, aware as he is saying it that he sounds too similar to the pseudo-religious followers he still sometimes mocks. And then he realizes he’s not actually the one saying it. “It’s not too late. We were fumbling then, guessing. There is a way. Join Beholding. It will accept you. And then stop fighting the Hunt.” She nearly snarls at him, but catches herself. Reins it in as she always does. Ever the pacing predator.

“Explain.”

“You need the chase, not the kill. Hunt for the god that has you. Catch for the god that wants what’s at the end.”

“You asking me to bring you people to feed on? Because-”

“Monsters.”

“What?”

“I’m asking you to bring me monsters to feed on. Humans will come on their own, and I will keep trying to do as little damage as possible. But monsters have stories too, and few of them will come to the Archives voluntarily.”

“… You are a monster, aren’t you?” It’s not a jab or a threat. Not even a question, really. It’s realization. Like it had been with Leitner. That moment where what is technically known becomes accepted as truth.

“Yeah-” Jon sighs, the energy that had seeped into his voice now fading. “Yeah, we both are. And we’ve both got too much to protect to let that stop us; so we give up being human but do what we can to keep being people.”

A loud silence falls between them. Full of ragged breaths and vibrations in bones.

“Okay,” she says finally, and they both pretend there aren’t tears running down her cheeks. “Okay. What do I need to do?” The Archivist Knows the exact moment she feels the symphonic static in her bones too.

-

There’s a spider in Jon’s office, crawling across his desk. Jon stares at it, and Martin can almost see the shudder building in him, but it doesn’t come. Instead, Jon rubs a hand over his chest, right above his heart, then glances for just a second at Martin. Is that new? Is it to see if Martin noticed? Or- Martin thinks back over all the times he’s seen Jon react to spiders. Did Jon always look at Martin after, and he just never noticed?

Martin reaches for the spider, but Jon stops him. Instead, hesitantly, Jon reaches out his own hand and lets it crawl up his arm, up, until it settles on his shoulder. He rubs his chest again, and whispers, “Stop that.” Not to the spider, but to himself. Or to his chest, at least. His heart, maybe.

A thought occurs to Martin. A memory, in Jon’s voice. “There is still a hollow place in my chest,” Jon had said in his statement. “I do still carry a piece of Martin with me there, patched over by spiderweb.” And suddenly he’s positive there’s more to it than he’d first thought.

“Jon,” Martin asks tentatively, knowing what he’s thinking is impossible, and thus probable; unsure what answer he really wants to get. “Is there… Is there a spider actually living in your chest?”

Jon looks like he’s not sure whether he’s nervous or confused. “Y-Yes? I- have I not said that?”

“No, Jon. No, you really didn’t. Has it been there this entire time? Since you came back?”

“I- yes. It came with me. Sort of. It’s… wrapped my heart in web.”

With that confirmation, Martin is almost positive the rest of his suspicion is true as well. He takes a deep breath. “Jon… When you said you carry part of that other Martin with you- I thought you were being metaphorical. But you weren’t, were you?” Jon freezes like an animal in headlights.

“Martin-”

“You’re- you’re literally carrying part of my body inside of you right now. Aren’t you.” Martin does his best to convey how little he’s ready to tolerate prevarication.

“… Yes.” Even expecting it, there’s no way Martin was prepared to hear that.

“What? How?”

“I- The hollow; I meant that. So this- It’s- one of the only physical things that came back with me. A joint effort between the Eye and the Web to keep me going. All- all his memories, his essence, were collected in one of his eyes. It’s inside my heart, bandaged by the web of the spider that lives in my chest now.”

“Wh- I- I don’t know what to do with that.”

“You don’t need to do anything.” Jon’s soft tone isn’t nearly as comforting as he clearly wants it to be. “Nothing has changed. It’s been this way for as long as you’ve known me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me, when we were talking about everything else?”

“Would you believe I didn’t think about it?” Jon asks sheepishly.

“No, not really.”

“Would you believe I have a bad habit of denying things I don’t want to address?”

“I- might, if you hadn’t started that by asking me if I’d believe it.”

Jon sighs, setting aside the files he’s been looking at and sitting back, looking anywhere but directly at Martin. “I’ve spent a lot of time pretending the spider isn’t there. I’ve spent even more trying not to think about why it’s there. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the only way to live with pain is to reset your baseline. You either give up or condition yourself to ignore it. It’s like fear that way. Most days, I can forget, so long as I keep busy. I- I have never tried to use you to replace him. Never. That wouldn’t be fair to any of us. But to do that, I’ve had to… divorce you from each other. I couldn’t have given you that statement in person. I have told you more than anyone about what happened in that timeline, but everything I’ve told you about him has been… impersonal.”

“Jon-” The thickness in Jon’s voice, the way he stares at the desk, the slight tremble, all make Martin very worried, but Jon keeps going.

“So long as I never acknowledged it around you, I could keep it from touching you. I could keep myself from ever putting the weight of his memory, or my wound, on you. I never want you to feel responsible or obliged to do something about it, because it’s not your responsibility to fix me. And I was afraid if I did tell you, you would still try.”

Martin’s not sure when they started holding hands, but they stay that way for a long while as Martin processes what he’s heard.

“It still hurts you?”

“Yes. Always. But it’s a pain I’ve chosen to live with.”

“Why… Why does the spider have to stay there? Shouldn’t- shouldn’t you heal?”

“Ah. Well. That’s, uh, that’s part of the problem. My body is, perhaps unsurprisingly, partial to eyes. If they stitched my heart up and left it, the eye would… be absorbed.”

“Absorbed.”

“Yes.”

“So. The spider…” Martin really doesn’t want to hear this, but he has to know.

“Pulls it back out any time an attachment forms.”

“That’s… That sounds really-”

“It is, yes. And that’s the other reason: now you’re worried about me.”

“Are you- Yes!” Martin doesn’t quite shout. Jon is unbelievable sometimes. “Yes, Jon, I care about you! I’m worried about you! You just told me a spider periodically opens up your heart, cuts out my eye, and sews it back up. I think that calls for some worry!”

“Martin, I’m fine. I’m not about to die or anything.”

“That’s not the point, Jon. You’re… Jon, you know that not dying is not the same as okay, right?” Jon doesn’t answer. Suddenly Tim can be heard from the other room. Martin gets up and immediately regrets it for the way Jon flinches. It’s already done, though, so the best he can do is squeeze Jon’s shoulder. “Right. I… we’ll talk about this later.”

-

“Hello Jon.”

“Hello… Sasha.” She sits in the chair in his office the way she always did, except now she seems wrongly proportioned for it. Taller, maybe. Her hair seems curlier, the color shifting in the light.

“I’d like to make a statement.”

“You already made one,” he reminds her. Given his experience with the Distortion, she honestly might not remember.

“A statement was made,” she concedes. “About the Distortion becoming Sasha. There is another statement I’d like to make.”

“I guess you… Do you even sleep?” Helen’s dreams were lost when she became the Distortion and Michael didn’t live long enough after his for Jon to sleep. Would she still be protected, if she does?

“You know, I don’t know? I haven’t, since Becoming, but I’ve been busy. I should try it.”

“Suppose I don’t have to worry about that at least.” He sighs and pulls one of the recorders to sit between them. He needs to accept this at some point, might as well start now. “Alright, in your own time.”

“Statement of Sasha James, archival assistant at the Magnus Institute, London. Regarding her Becoming of the Distortion. Statement recorded… What’s the date? I’ve lost track. Time is… much trickier now.” “Time is hard, Archivist,” Jon hears in his head.

“Statement recorded direct from subject, June 8, 2017. Statement begins.”

“I think you knew I was exploring the tunnels. None of us ever said anything, and I still liked to pretend there were things I could hide from you, but I think you knew, and I think I knew that you knew, even if I didn’t want to admit it. At first, I was nervous about it. I practically begged Martin to come with me, and he did for a while, but Leitner was still down there then, shifting things around. I guess we got too close once, because the tunnel started closing in around us. After that, he didn’t want to go in anymore. He’s a dear, though, and wanted to make sure I was safe, especially since we knew you couldn’t see down there.

“I mean, that was kind of the point.

“At some point, I started trying to map them. I’ve never been much of an artist, and while glasses make up for a lot, my depth perception has never been great. You know, I can’t tell if it’s gotten better or worse, since Becoming? I don’t need the glasses, but I’m finding it much harder to judge distance when it just… doesn’t matter. Anyway, I still needed to try, and I did. I don’t even know how many maps I made. You can look in the bottom drawer of my desk, it was almost full of them. I kept looking for patterns, some sort of sense in it all. Sometimes I almost thought I had it.

“I think that’s part of why Michael took such an interest in me. Well, no. I know that’s why, now, I… remember, sort of. But then I just suspected. I think you knew I was exploring the tunnels. I’m not sure you knew I was still in contact with Michael. You always seemed to know when we were in danger, but Michael never actually wanted to harm me, so I wasn’t sure whether he’d trigger your-” She laughs, and it rings, echoing in his head. “Well, I don’t want to say spidey-sense. That has very different connotations for us, doesn’t it? You know what I mean, though.

“The tunnels I thought you probably weren’t happy with, but supported anyway. If you’d known about Michael, though, I was pretty sure you’d have something to say about it.

“Michael was curious about me, and I was curious about everything, but especially anything about the Entities and the tunnels. It took me longer than it should have to figure out he’d always visit soon after I tried to map out the tunnels again. The Distortion was intrigued by them. Michael was afraid of them. Caught between these, it usually avoided them. Until I invited him to join me.

“The tunnels are resistant to many fears, as far as I can tell, but mazes are the purview of It Is Not What It is. Michael couldn’t do it much, but at least a couple times, each visit we made together, he’d… well, he wouldn’t actually move the tunnels, though I thought he did at the time, but he’d make them seem like they had, to throw me off balance, make my maps even more of a mess than they already were.

“It annoyed me a bit at the time. It also frightened me. I knew there was always the chance that it would just trap me like that. I would keep wandering stone halls forever, and you wouldn’t be able to See where I’d gone. Something about it, though…

“When the not-Andy attacked, Michael told us to follow Patrząc if we wanted you alive. I don’t know how I knew he’d answer if I called him, after we reached you, but he did. He didn’t know why he did either. It bothered him, and he kept his distance.

“I told Martin I would, but I didn’t stop exploring the tunnels. I thought, if anything, it was more important to figure them out than ever. There had to be other outlets; you’d as much as said there were. Maybe if I could figure it out, you could use them. Hide out there like Leitner apparently did and have all the access to the Archives you needed.

“It was different though. Leitner wasn’t there, physically changing the tunnels, and Michael wasn’t there, psychologically changing the tunnels. My maps started being almost consistent. Every time I went, most of the difference would be in my own measurements, not the actual configuration. It should’ve made me pleased, but it didn’t. Every single map that came back roughly the same made me more and more frustrated. They made sense, in a senseless way, and it felt wrong.

“I made more progress. Found the nearest exits that Tim started using once Elias banned him from the Archives, then went further and further and they spread out and out. There’s so much of them. More than it makes sense for there to be. I got turned around a few times, and each time I realized I was lost and my heart started pounding in impending panic, I also felt relieved. I suppose it was… like a drug. Adrenaline or… I didn’t want to think of it like that at the time, though. This kept on until I got too far from the Archives and spent almost two days trying to find my way back.

“Martin was there when I got back, even though it was the middle of the night. He, uh, he was not happy. You were who knows where still being hunted, and suddenly I went missing with no word where I was going. I guess it woke me up a bit. It was more important to be here, helping, watching out for each other, than it was to, well, not figure out the maze.

“We started locking the trapdoor at night and Martin kept the key. Either he would be there when I went in or I would need to find a different way. It did work. The longer I spent away, the clearer I started thinking. I always used to pride myself on being rational and suddenly it was giving me anxiety? That couldn’t be good. I might have been able to pull back completely, had things not gone wrong. You came back, sort of, only to disappear again, and then Patrząc wouldn’t wake up. We knew something was wrong. I mean, I figured something was wrong. Even when you were being hunted for murder, you still sent word, and suddenly nothing? Martin, though, Martin Knew. I think it scared him. I was trying to be rational, though. I told him we should look ourselves, see what we could find in a few days. Neither of us wanted to deal with Elias. I’m sorry for that, a bit. After a week, though, we were positive something had happened to you and Elias definitely knew. I think Patrząc’s sleep might have been his doing.

“I interrupted some sort of meeting. From how cold and empty the room felt, I think the man might’ve been a Lukas. I have no idea what I looked like, but it was apparently dramatic enough to make a fear avatar pluck himself out of our plane. Obviously I don’t have your powers. Didn’t. But when I asked Elias where you were, I’m pretty sure I Asked. And he answered. Couldn’t tell me where you actually were, but it was enough. You were lost, so I went to a monster of lost things.

“Michael… was not a fan of yours. I think my concern for you, after so long since I’d seen him last, was the push he needed. He told me he was going to kill you, and he left, and I followed. I still don’t know if I thought I could navigate the hallways, or if I Knew, but I went, and I did. Running through that winding place was… exhilarating. I didn’t think about what turns I was making, I just… went. Until suddenly there was a door.

“I knew what would happen if I went through. I knew I’d be something else. Part of me wanted it. Part of me just thought it was worth it, to save my friend. But no part of me hesitated to turn that handle.

“I did… lose myself a bit. That’s sort of the point of me now, isn’t it? The thing is, Michael Shelley was sort of connected to the Eye, but he was specifically thrown into the Spiral because he wasn’t suited to it at all. And you’d think, what with one wanting the truth and the other being deceit that they’d be incompatible, but they’re not really. Logic doesn’t stop you from going mad, and being crazy doesn’t mean you don’t have logic. Pursuit of knowledge can drive you crazy. People with phobias can know it’s irrational and still be terrified.

“Anyway, what I’m trying to get at is that I didn’t lose my connection to the Eye completely, but unlike Michael, it’s worked in my favor. Makes it easier to keep track of myself even while I revel in changing. You know they don’t need to be hallways? Before Michael they were always changing. Different for each person. I’m disappointed in my previous incarnation, to be honest. A real lack of creative thinking.

“I- The Distortion- was never meant to be just one person. But I think I’ll be alright. Being Sasha. I know it’s… not good. What I’m going to do. I’ve seen how much it eats at you. But I really am excited to figure out what all I can do. And if you find yourself short-handed, well, I’m not far. I’ve decided I’m not done with the tunnels just yet. I still want to figure out how they work… I think obsession is probably a Spiral thing…

“Statement ends, I guess. That feels strange. That was a lot of relatively linear progression. Feels like… wearing clothes that are too tight. Hmm.”

“I see,” Jon muses.

“Do you?” She tilts her head, just slightly. Honest curiosity.

“I- yes. I think I do.” He clears his throat and ejects the tape to file. “Thank you, Sasha. I’d like to hear, if you learn anything about the tunnels. Uh, if you find a tower, though, maybe- maybe steer clear.”

“Noted… Oh, do you want some furniture?”


“Got a lead on the fire woman,” says Daisy, dropping into the chair across from Jon. Sprawling, really. It's a far better chair for that than the one he’d had before. “New furniture?”

“Sasha doesn’t need her flat anymore. Legally, she’s only not dead because there’s no body. She didn’t want to get rid of all her things, though, so she brought them here.”

“Right… Anyway. Fire woman. The other one, too. Want I should bring her in?”

“No! Thank you, no. Jude Perry knows how to hide her dreams from me, but she’s still seen and threatened me, and I don’t want her anywhere near my Archives.” Just the thought makes him anxious.

“Surprised Elias hasn’t pushed that yet. Does he know…”

“I don’t know. I think he probably has an idea, but the Eye hides him from me just as much as it hides me from him.” It’s the hardest part about plotting his death.

“Thought you were all ‘one with your god’ or whatever.” It’s a fair thought. He tries to figure out some way to explain.

“Mm. I never- I was an only child-”

“You don’t say?” She smirks. He doesn’t know what she’s smiling about; she’s an only child too.

An only child, so I don’t know, but from what I understand, it’s sort of like we’re siblings. I may be the favored younger child, but that doesn’t mean Beholding will withdraw its support from him.”

She nods. “Makes sense. He’s been serving it a lot longer. You don’t seem too worried about him finding out.”

“Despite everything, I’m still on the path he wants me on, and I’m very far down it. So long as I don’t openly attempt to kill him, and hell, even if I do but poorly, he won’t want to try killing me and starting over when the next person in line won’t be nearly as suited. Gertrude was very good at what she did, but she was not a good Archivist, and she held the position for fifty years. Also, I think we’re in the same boat. He’s not sure if he’ll be able to kill me either. Neither of us are ready to show our hands, but hints and implications aren’t going to make any difference.”

“Right. Good you’re at least attempting to plan this time.” Jon freezes. She can’t be talking about…

“… What? What do you mean?”

“’Stead of rushing in with barely an idea. Like the wax museum and the whole rib thing.” She mimes ripping out a rib, which is wholly unnecessary and not how that happened.

“I never told you about those,” he points out. “That wasn’t part of the statement.” She shrugs.

“Yeah. I remember, though.”

“Wha- How much?” Another shrug. He can see the signs, though. He knows her too well. She’s enjoying springing this on him.

“Not everything. Not most, don’t think. Just, us. Times I was with you, things we talked about. Remember you’re a lightweight-”

“I hadn’t eaten! And everyone’s a lightweight against you.” The implications send him reeling. Has he changed her again?

“Remember you trying to pretend you didn’t hate the Archers… Remember you telling me you thought maybe it’d be better if you were killed or trapped. Remember telling you I’d die before I let the Hunt take me again.” Shit. And he’d-

“Oh. I… Look, Daisy-”

“Thank you.” Not what he was expecting.

“I- what?”

“This? What you’ve got me doing here? Dunno how well it’ll work, how long, but it’s a chance, and I know you’re watching, if I ever slip. So yeah, thanks.”

“I don’t… You’re welcome.”

“Right,” she says, pushing herself up. “’Nough of that. If you don’t want the wax woman, you got something else for me?”

“Umm- Right, uh, what do you know about plastic explosives?” It’s rhetorical, of course; he knows what she knows. It’s nice to see that grin, though.

-

“Don’t touch it,” Detective “call me Daisy” Tonner snaps at Martin for the second time. He doesn’t want to call her Daisy. It’s too… friendly. He’d rather she disappear forever, but apparently she and Jon are chums now. He wishes he could shake Jon and remind him that this isn’t his Daisy and he shouldn’t trust someone who’d spent months trying to kill him. Apparently she remembers, though, so now she doesn’t want to kill him anymore. However that works. Martin thinks Jon needs higher standards for friends. Unfortunately for his argument, she’s shown absolutely no sign of being anything but honest in her newfound affection. It’s just weird.

“Martin, please, just put your hands in your pockets or something,” Jon says. Martin doesn’t want to do that, either, but it’s Jon asking, so he crosses his arms as a compromise and tries not to feel like a child.

“Aren’t we going to need to touch it to move it?” he asks, more petulantly than intended.

“After I make sure there are no traps or triggers that are going to set it off if we try.”

“I vote we let Ms. Murdercop do her thing,” Tim chimes in from his place near the door. Daisy rolls her eyes.

“Nothing blew up last time,” Jon says, “and we moved it all to the tunnels without you.” It’s unclear whether this is in Martin’s defense or just a comment.

“Maybe it’s fine. Maybe you got lucky. No harm in checking,” Daisy says. Martin hates that that’s reasonable. He tries to focus on the other things around them, like Basira’s been doing.

“Have you looked at this stuff, Jon?” she asks, nose buried in a dusty book.

“Not much,” he says, looking at her warily. “Basira, that didn’t have a book plate in it, did it?”

“I don’t think so. Why?”

“He’s afraid it’s going to eat you,” Tim says, still too upbeat for this.

“Right.” Basira checks the inner cover, shakes her head, and goes back to reading.

“Why are you even here?” Martin can’t help asking, then jumps when Tim’s arm wraps around his neck.

“What’s the matter, Martin? Not enjoying our team bonding exercise?”

“No, it’s just- She doesn’t work for the Institute.”

“I go where Daisy goes.” Basira’s tone does not invite argument.

“And I’m an Archive employee now,” Daisy says, standing up and wiping the dust from her hands. “So really, I’ve got more right to be here than Smiley there.” Tim smiles at her like he smiles at Jon and Elias, with too many teeth and a clear desire to hit whoever he’s smiling at. “Anyway, looks clear. We can start loading this up.”

It’s no secret Jon got some added strength and resilience from Beholding, but it’s still somehow surprising to see him and his scrawny arms lift boxes of explosives with the same ease as any of the rest of them. When he and Martin are both loading their boxes and everyone else is far enough away, Martin finally has to ask, “Couldn’t you have just Known if they were okay to move?”

“I did,” Jon says, with a small smirk.

“You… did.”

“I did.”

“So why-”

“We’re going to need to work together to stop the Unknowing and get out alive. I didn’t think it would be good if that was the first time we tried.” He steps back, going for another box, and Martin realizes-

That’s why you’ve been so quiet! So I wouldn’t know you were lying!”

Jon’s smirk grows. “Maybe.”

Martin laughs. “Sasha would be so proud.” They both go still and quiet, as Martin realizes what he’s said. “Jon, I’m-”

“No. Don’t- She’s not gone. It’s okay. You- you can tell her the next time she visits.”

They finish up with only Tim’s chatter filling the silence.

-

While the timeline of things has been pushed up, and there is slightly less time between now and the Unknowing than Jon had had last time he was at this point, there is still a fair amount of time, and without the need to retrace Gertrude’s footsteps, he’s not sure what to do with it. Part of him thinks he should go to America anyway, since there may be someone in the book that can help, and he feels a bit guilty leaving Gerry there. But that would also mean running into Trevor and Julia, who have likely been having dreams and wouldn’t hesitate to decapitate him. Jon is in no rush to learn if he’d survive decapitation.

Unthinking, he laments this to a tape recorder. A spider crawls onto his phone and waves. Jon is unnerved by how normal this seems. He didn’t have a phone the last time he met Annabelle, and he certainly doesn’t remember getting her number, but of course it’s there anyway.

“Jon,” she answers pleasantly, “always lovely to hear from you! Of course, I know you’re not calling just to chat, so how can we help?”

“Did you have anything to do with Sasha?” he asks first, because he has to.

“Sasha? Your assistant?”

“She’s the Distortion now. She took over Michael to save me from the Stranger.”

“Oh… No, Jon. If she was influenced in any way, it wasn’t by us.” It’s about what he expected to hear. With Jude there, though, the Web would’ve needed outside help to get to him. Annabelle’s been honest so far, though. Betraying him wouldn’t get them what they want. “Your people are our people, Jon, we will only interfere to help them… Do you believe me?”

“I… I do. I’m sorry, I had to know first.”

“Of course. Do you want us to keep her away? The Distortion can’t be killed, but we could find-”

“No! No, we’re… I’m dealing with it. I’m not- I’m not going to lose her again, even if she’s different now.” He can hear her smile.

“See, Jon. You do know what Family is. So what do you need?”

“There’s, uh, there’s a book. The Skin Book. Currently it’s in America with two hunters, Trevor Herbert and Julia Montauk. I think there may be something in it that could help, but even if there isn’t… I need the last page. I’d go myself, but-”

“No need, Jon. We’ll see what we can do.”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, Jon. It’s always nice to hear from you.”

Two weeks later, Rosie calls down to let Jon know those “unnerving, Cockney delivery men” had left a package for him but had refused to take it down to the Archives themselves. When he opens it, there’s a note stuck to the book that just says “Enjoy!” along with a drawing of a heart with eight legs.

Well, no sense putting it off. Opening it to the last page, Jon takes a deep breath, and reads familiar, tragic words.

“You’re new. Did you kill them?” Gerry looks just as Jon remembers him. Of course he does. How would he be any different?

“No. Well, actually I don’t… No, no they’re not dead. But they’re also rather far away. You’re back in England now.” However reassuring that might be.

“And they just gave you the book, did they?” As skeptical as ever. A single statement a lifetime ago, and Jon still feels fond attachment. He wonders if it might be the Eye’s influence. Gerry had been one of its, after all.

“Ha, no. I asked some… friends, to acquire it.”

“Right,” Gerry drawls. “I’ll tell you what I told them, and that’s nothing.” That isn’t true, Jon Knows. Gerry had told them quite a bit for the painful respite of returning to his page.

“Oh, right, I don’t- I might see if others in the book can help me, before I burn it, but that’s not why I ‘summoned’ you, so to speak.”

“Yeah? Then… wait.” Gerry turns, taking in Jon’s office. It’s not the same as when it was Gertrude’s, but enough to be familiar, even though Gerry had only been a couple times. After her promise to Eric, Gertrude hadn’t wanted to give Elias the chance to get his hands on the man. “This is… where am I?”

“You’re in the Archives, at the Magnus Institute. My name is Jonathan Sims. I’m- the Archivist.”

“… When did she die?”

“The day the Dark’s ritual failed. About a year after you. Can you sit?” Gerry contemplates the chair, then shrugs and, carefully, sits. It clearly takes some effort at first; his hand slips through the armrest. But he settles in quickly.

“Was it peaceful?” he asks.

Jon doesn’t bother softening the blow. He knows Gerry wouldn’t appreciate it. “Not in the least. Elias shot her for trying to burn down the Archives.”

“Hm. Sounds about right. And you?” Gerry gestures at the office, at full shelves and cluttered desk and the half dozen tape recorders scattered about. “Doesn’t look like you’re planning to follow her footsteps there.”

“It’s… a bit late for that, for me.” Gerry’s brow furrows.

“… How long have I been dead?”

“Not that long. Three years or so. Mine are… special circumstances.”

“Must be. So, an Archivist who’s not looking for information. What do you want, then? Why am I here?”

“I’m… fulfilling a promise, in a way.” No sense lying. Jon’s been reliably informed he’s shit at it. And honestly, he’s tired and just doesn’t want to. “In another life, you gave me your statement and some of the answers I was seeking, and in return I promised to burn your page.”

“I definitely don’t remember that. In fact, I’m sure I’ve never seen you before.”

“Because it didn’t happen here.”

“The fuck? What is that supposed to mean?”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t need your statement now, and I don’t think you have the answers I need, but you asked me to call you Gerry, and I didn’t want to forget that.”

“The- who are you?” Good question. Jon’s been thinking about it too much lately.

“I’m… I’m the Archivist. I’m Beholding. Partly. Bits of me are- are hollow, woven shut. The pieces that should fill them weave and twist and hunt and live outside of me. I’m a monster who feeds on fear and haunts the dreams of those who give me their stories, and I’m a man so far out of my depth that I sometimes fear I never left the Buried…” None of which means anything to a dead man. “My friends call me Jon.”

“… The fuck?”

“Don’t- don’t worry about it. I just wanted to let you know it’s over. So long as you agree, once you leave, I’ll burn your page.”

“Right. Right, that makes no sense, but… ta, I guess…” Gerry makes no move, though. “So, what are they?”

“What are what?”

“The questions you don’t think I can answer. You said you had my statement, so you probably know I picked up a lot; my mother made sure of that. You might as well ask.”

“I…” Jon stops, feels for the weight of Jonah’s Sight, but thankfully doesn’t find it. “I’m finding that avatars, the ones that accept and embody their entity, are exceedingly hard to kill permanently. I’m hoping someone can tell me how to.” Gerry nods.

“Who are you trying to kill? It doesn’t matter, I guess. I can’t tell you exactly, but I know enough to say it can’t be anything a normal human could come back from, under any circumstances, and it can’t be anything that their patron has control of. You’re not going to be able to burn an avatar of the Desolation, for example, or probably even drown the Buried. I had to get pretty creative destroying some of the books. Not sure if that helps, but it’s what I’ve got.” It matches up with the other bits Jon’s gathered.

“Right. It helps for killing the body, at least. Thank you… Are you ready?”

-

“So… what’s next?” Martin asks one day when they’ve stalled a bit too long for comfort and he’s been thinking a bit too much.

“What’s- I’m, not sure what you mean,” Jon says, half distracted with his arms buried in a file box. He’s started working in the main archive area with Martin more often since Sasha has been gone.

“After the Unknowing. You’re not planning to die this time, I hope. So what’s after that? I know how it started and how it ended, but we kind of glossed over what comes between. I’ve been thinking; I wanted to ask…”

“What is it?” Jon looks up at him finally.

“In your statement, you talked about Jonah Magnus as if he’s still alive.”

“Oh. He… is. In a manner.”

“What? What does that mean?” Jon’s lips thin as he presses them together in thought.

“It means… It means Elias Bouchard died over twenty years ago, just before he took over the Institute.” Which is absolutely not what Martin was expecting to hear. How much more surprise can he even muster at this point? How many more bombs does Jon have to drop on him?

“Sorry, what?

“Jonah Magnus’s body is in the tunnels, where Millbank Prison was. In the Panopticon built by Robert Smirke. He’s been keeping himself alive, watching over the Institute, by possessing other people.”

“How?”

“He… are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes, Jon. If I’ve learned anything here, it’s not to ask a question I’m not ready to hear the answer to. Tell me, please.”

“He removes their eyes and replaces them with his own.”

“That… makes sense. I hate that that makes sense.” Jon laughs, and waits patiently while Martin works through his thoughts. “So, if this place is his, and his real body is underneath us… What- what would happen, if we set the explosives here? Burned this place-” Jon is already shaking his head.

“He’s not directly under us. Not to mention it would be… extremely unpleasant, if not fatal, for me. I am the Archives, in a manner of speaking. This is my domain, an extension of me. If it was guaranteed that we would destroy Elias and Jonah and the tunnels, I might risk it, but-”

“Right, let’s not do that… You never answered my question, though.”

“Hmm?”

“What’s next? After the Unknowing.”

“Ah. Well, I’m not entirely sure. We were trying to get rid of Elias, last time. It sounds laughable now, like we ever could have if he hadn’t wanted us to. He can only focus on so much at once, so while the rest of us went to stop the Unknowing, you-” Jon hesitates, but he’s been trying to be more open, to finally start talking about the Martin before. “Martin and Melanie stayed behind. It was Martin’s plan, actually. While Elias was trying to Watch us, Martin staged a… tantrum, of sorts.”

“A tantrum?” Martin’s pretty sure he hasn’t thrown a tantrum since he was eight and his mum became a single parent.

“You locked the office door and started burning statements. I listened to the tape of it later. It was… He was terrible, said horrible things to you, but you were brilliant.”

“Th-thanks? Why, though?”

“To distract him further and get him out of his office so Melanie could break into it and steal enough evidence to get him arrested. He let it work, put Peter in charge of the Institute so we’d have to face the Lonely, and sometime before I… came back, the Flesh attacked. So… that might happen.” … Oh.

“Oh. Ugh.” Just the thought makes Martin shudder.

“Yes. I wasn’t there, but from what I understand, ‘ugh’ is an understatement.”

“Right… But we’re not doing that this time. With Elias, I mean.” Unless there’s something Jon hasn’t told him.

“No, this time…”

“What?” There’s something very reluctant in Jon’s expression, and Martin just knows that whatever Jon wants to say, he doesn’t think Martin will like it. And Martin is pretty sure it has something to do with Jon thinking he’s a monster and that Martin, as he is, won’t be able to accept him. “Jon. I’m asking. I want to know.”

“… I’m going to kill him. I just need to figure out how.”

Martin likes to think he’s a nice and positive person, but it doesn’t surprise him at all when he finds himself saying, “Okay.”

-

Time crawls as they wait for things to come to a head, and Jon falls back into a familiar state of paranoid anticipation. He’s restless and too preoccupied to do his normal work. He starts talking to the recorders as a method to organize his thoughts again.

Ideally, they would set the explosives in advance and just trigger them as far away as possible once the Unknowing is underway. They need to be placed inside the museum, though, and the risk of them being found too soon is too high. Blowing them early would give the Circus the chance to relocate and try again somewhere and when that Jon won’t Know.

Not that Jon is worried about the ritual succeeding. He could theoretically sit back and let it all play out. That isn’t going to happen, though. Partially, he's doing it to hide from Jonah that he knows the secret of the rituals. Partially, it's because he wants the other entities to know him as something to take seriously. Partially, it's because Tim needs the closure and won't just let it go. If Jon is honest, though, mostly it's because Nikola threatened Martin and so needs to die.

What Jon couldn’t bear is to come out of this with the same results, and so the second most frustrating thing is that, for all the powers he’s gained, all the time he’s had to consider it, he still can’t think of a better plan. All he can do is hope they manage to plant the explosives quicker and more efficiently, knowing just how large the place is, and that his current level of power serves him better than what he had then.

The uncertainty is what’s actually getting to him the most. Some things are different, so there’s no guarantee that others won’t be. Maybe setting the Trophy Room on fire made the Others rethink their locations. Or…

Jon devotes nearly a week to trying to convince Martin and Basira to stay behind, while Martin calmly reminds him that shutting them out or trying to keep them safe in a bubble isn’t going to help anything. Basira just laughs in his face. When that fails, he unearths Abraham Janssen’s statement from the boxes they’d smuggled away and makes them all listen to it and his own recorded statement of the Unknowing until Tim actually starts reciting along with them. Daisy runs them through how to set up and detonate the explosives until Jon is confident at least half of them could do it in their sleep. Maybe muscle memory can withstand the Unknowing. Maybe.

Between all of that, Tim’s restlessness is pointed at researching any old, likely abandoned, theatres or museums or anything of the sort that the Circus might switch to if they think the House of Wax is compromised. The fact that at least three of the ones he comes back with are in well-populated areas of London that will almost definitely result in casualties if blown up is something no one wants to think about. Daisy, meanwhile, is keeping close, all other hunts on hold as she keeps subtle tabs on as many of the players as she can keep track of. Mostly this amounts to Jude Perry, just in case, and Breekon and Hope; though she does manage to find two of Dr. Elliott’s anatomy students and another one of the anglerfish’s puppets.

Sasha offers to keep an eye on the museum itself. Jon doesn’t know if Nikola knows about her connection to the Eye or if Breekon and Hope would recognize her, but it still seems safer than any of the rest of them doing it. She is her own escape route. Every 3 to 39 hours, she’ll come back to give Jon updates on any and all activity. As far as he can tell, the random intervals aren’t so much a choice as a side effect of being the Distortion. In his mind, he can hear Helen’s voice again, telling him, “Time is hard, Archivist.”

Which just leaves the matter of the skins. Jon can only hope Nikola still decides to go for Gertrude and Leitner. He’s having a hard time letting any of the others leave the Archives as is. But a graveyard is far too open an area for any of them to stake out. Thankfully, he has a few more resources at his disposal now. It’s… unnerving, how easy it is to speak to the spiders, to give them orders. It’s like they become an extension of him, and afterwards there’s always a background awareness of them. A single concentrated thought is all it takes to see the graves through their eyes.

Jon sees exactly when the graves are dug up.

If he’d thought that would make the wait easier, he was very, very wrong. The two weeks between the graverobbing and when the Stranger’s creatures start congregating feels unimaginably long. Filled with a lot of tense snapping and a few too many visits from Elias. Eventually, though, they load up a rented van full of plastic explosives and head to Great Yarmouth. Well, most of them do. Martin and Jon go ahead through Sasha’s halls and even come out with a few hours to spare, despite how weird time gets within the realm of the Spiral.

Jon spends most of the time trying to map out the museum from a combination of memory, spider input, and the actual blueprints of the building while Martin watches the street through the blinds. It becomes far easier once Jon convinces Sasha to stop looking over his shoulder.

“Actually, Sasha,” Martin says. “Could you, uh, give us a minute?” Jon looks up from the map and blinks. That sounds like-

“Absolutely!” Sasha says with glee. “Knock when you’re done!” Jon has never heard the Distortion’s door close so fast.

“Martin-”

“Jon-” They talk at the same time and look at each other awkwardly. Jon motions for Martin to continue, because Martin has to be better at this than him, right?

“Look, Jon. I just- I know we’re going to be fine, but I just wanted- Before we do this, I just wanted to say…”

“I know.” Jon cringes, but for some reason, Martin just laughs. Excessively. “What-”

“Did you really just quote Star Wars?”

“I’ve never-” But even as he says it, Jon sees the scene in his head- “seen Star Wars… Oh. I didn’t…”

Martin is still laughing, but softer. He stands before Jon, looking at him with such amazing tenderness. “Can I kiss you, Jon?”

Jon nods. It’s different from what Jon remembers, and still so similar, and he just… melts.

And then Martin pulls back and the others are arriving and it all feels like it’s come too soon.

“Martin,” Jon says quickly, before they leave the building. “You know I… I l-”

Martin smiles and cuts him off. “Tell me after.”

-

They split up to set the charges. It’s a risk; they’re safer all together, probably, but they need to work fast. Daisy and Basira go along the North walls, Tim and Martin take the South, and Jon manages the West on his own. One Archive employee per group. Martin doesn’t like it, but he also can’t deny Jon has the best chance of keeping his mind clear if anything goes wrong. And if all goes well, they’ll meet to the East, where the entrance to the theatre is.

For Tim and Martin’s part, there are no issues. Just a lot of really creepy waxworks that Martin tries not to look at too closely. They’re the first back to the rendezvous point, which is nerve-wracking in its own special way.

“You’re sure we hooked everything up right?” Martin asks.

“Martin, for the hundredth time, yes.We did everything exactly how Murdercop told us to,” Tim assures him for what is only the fourth time… fifth at most. “I think this one’s supposed to be Prince Charles… if he’d been in a terrible accident.”

“What if they ran into trouble? What if some monster found them?”

“Then it’s a good thing Jon and the detective lady are monsters too, isn’t it? Calm down. If anyone’s likely to be eaten by a giant fish monster or whatever, it’s probably us.” Martin stares at Tim, who is inspecting what might be Queen Victoria, going by the clothes.

“That’s not helpful.”

“Well, I don’t have supernatural Knowing powers, so I don’t know what else to tell you. Okay, I can’t figure this one out.” Martin thinks it might be Sean Connery, but he’s not willing to take any closer a look. Instead, he looks around for Sasha’s door or any sign of the others. If he strains, he can almost hear music, he thinks.

And then he can absolutely hear music. While his attention was elsewhere, Tim decided to take the opportunity for a closer look at something else. As quietly as he can, which isn’t terribly, Martin rushes to pull the door back closed.

“What are you doing?” he hisses.

“We need to know what’s going on!” Tim hisses back and pushes the door again.

“What if they saw you? The others aren’t done yet!” Which is precisely when the doors fly open of their own accord and Nikola announces the start of the show.


Nothing makes… sense. Nothing makes sense. Where is he? Who is he? Who is the other person? The one there, who’s not him, he doesn’t think. What…

“You!” the other person says. Not nicely. “Who are you?”

“I- I don’t know. Who are you?”

“I’m… I don’t- What did you do to me?”

“I didn’t…”

“He’s Tim, of course!” someone- someone else?- says. “And you’re Jon!” Something about that feels… off, but it’s such a relief to have something.

“Who are you, then?” Jon demands.

“Why, I’m… I’m Basira! Your friend!” That doesn’t feel right either.

“What- what’s going on? We- we were… this place-” He- Tim?- can’t quite find the words.

“What about this place, Tim? What were you going to do?”

“I- I don’t… Who are you?”

“I told you! I’m Jon!” That…

“No. No, you said… You said he’s Jon.”

“Are you sure? I don’t think I did.”

“Shut up,” the other Jon-maybe-not-Jon says. “You… shut up. You did this. You-”

“And what are you going to do about it, Tim?” This isn’t right. Something tugs at him. Him, who is not Tim, and is not Jon, and definitely is not Basira. Maybe. He thinks.

-

Tim and Martin finish first, which Jon had really hoped wouldn’t happen. There are still three more places for him to set charges and he tries to hurry through, knowing that Tim isn’t going to wait for the rest of them to get there. His Knowledge of them is spotty, mostly supplemented by the spiders that have made it in in the past few hours. The sudden lack, shortly after he sets his last charge, works well enough as an indicator, though. The Unknowing has started. Tim and Martin are going to need to make it a few minutes alone. First, Jon needs to find Basira and Daisy.

The tapes from the other Unknowing mostly hadn’t made it, and no one was willing to give him a real statement when he came back. Eventually the subject was broached, though. Daisy had gotten through because of the Hunt. It said Breekon and Hope were threats, and that was all she needed to know. Basira, on the other hand, had apparently held it together better than Jon at first. She had pulled together enough simple logic to get herself out of the building. They never knew how much of that was Beholding’s assistance, though.

Now, Jon’s glad to say the answer is: almost none.

He finds the two of them, still together, facing off against Breekon and Hope. Daisy is hunched and growling, but seems more focused on keeping Basira safe behind her than responding to the taunts being thrown at her or attacking.

“You!” Basira says, the first to see him. “Who are you? Do I know you?”

“Tha’s Nikola, that is,” Hope says.

“Better watch out. Might kill you,” Breekon chimes in.

“Shut up,” Daisy growls. She spares Jon barely a glance; there’s no recognition but no hostility either, and she has no problem letting Basira stay between her and him. “‘S good.”

“You- you’re a… you’re a person,” Basira says. “Who doesn’t want to hurt me.”

“That’s right,” Jon agrees. “You’re Basira. She’s Daisy. And I’m Jon. I’m a friend.”

“You sure about that?” one of the couriers mocks. Jon turns the full weight of his stare on them and is pleased to see them flinch.

“I am Jonathan Sims,” he says with absolute certainty, “the Archivist. Let us go.”

“Can’t do that,” Hope says, but he’s nervous.

“Got orders,” says Breekon. Jon nods; nothing he hadn’t expected. He’s not without weapons, though. Fighting the Unknowing is taking a lot. He won’t have enough to get through if he does this, but he doubts they’ll let him get that far.

“Then I have a delivery for you,” he says, and stares Breekon in his dead eyes as the air grows heavy around them. “Statement of the surviving half of the being calling itself ‘Breekon and Hope’, regarding its- existence. Statement extracted from subject-”

“Stop!” Hope yells, Breekon still caught frozen in Jon’s web. “Stop. Just- just go.”

Keeping track of where he’s going is hard enough without also keeping Daisy and Basira from trailing off, but there’s something… Something pushes him to touch them each once, and then he can feel a tug each time they stray too far. Without that worry, he focuses everything on finding Martin and figuring out where the hell Sasha is.

The closer he gets, the more things elude him, until he’s standing in the open doors of an auditorium, and on stage there are many things, but most importantly there are two men and a monster that he knows. He can’t remember the monster’s name, but he knows it used to be something else. Someone, maybe. One man has no name, just a terrible, sad resignation attached to his visage. But the last-

“Martin!” yells the Archivist, and a theatre of empty faces turn to him. They don’t matter. Only Martin does, and Martin’s head snaps up too.

“You… you’re Jon,” Martin says. Which the Archivist knows to be true. He is Jon, Martin’s Archivist. “I’m Martin.”

“Well, you’re no fun at all. Really, Archivist,” the monster without a real face pouts, “what do you think you’re going to do here?”

“I… don’t know,” Jon, the Archivist says. “I…” The man who isn’t Martin is attached… held by something else. Something that feels only like pain. It shouldn’t be. The man is trying not to be held. Jon, the Archivist thinks he should help. Somehow.

“What have you got there?” the monster asks. “Do you even know?”

There is something Jon, the Archivist has. He knows it’s important. He doesn’t know what it is. He feels a tug. Behind him the Hunter is growling.

“The- the one behind. It’s not a person,” the Detective says, maybe to the Hunter.

“All that research, Archivist. All the time and effort, and you were just going to- what? Blow it up?” Desolation, something supplies. The thing he has is Desolation, and it’s important. “You should just give that to me. It’s too late now. Just accept it.”

The thing he has… the monster reaches for it, and Jon, the Archivist…

“Jon!” Martin says. “Look.” Jon pulls back. The Hunter attacks the not-person holding the man.

“Give it to me, Archivist!” Jon looks at the monster.

“What- who are you?”

“I’m Sasha, of course. I’m your friend. Now give me the detonator.” Sasha is someone he should know. A monster he should know. And this is a monster he knows. But-

“No, you’re not.”

“I am! You can trust me, Jon! I’m-”

“A liar!” Sasha laughs. The sound cuts through the music. Clarity is like a sledgehammer.

“Run,” Jon says, too quiet. He tugs on the threads to his people. “Run!”

Nikola screams, and hands and other things grab at him, but none he can’t break through. One, two make it through the door. Tim is still trying to fight.

“Daisy!” Jon yells, and all it takes is a glance and Daisy is grabbing Tim and pulling them both through the door. Only one left, and she can’t go until Jon does. He’s almost there, and Nikola grabs him. A long, sharp finger slices through the plastic, detaching the hand from the rest of the false arm.

“Now, Jon!” Sasha yells, and Jon trusts his people. He pulls the trigger, the blast sending him flying through the door. It slams shut before Desolation can reach through, but not quick enough to avoid damage entirely. The door splinters, but they’re all in the hallways beyond.

“Come on,” Sasha says after a moment, though Jon can barely hear through the ringing the explosion left in his ears. Holding each other up, they all limp and shuffle to another door.

-

There’s a ringing in Martin’s ears as he stumbles through the Archives and collapses into his chair. Around him, the others stagger to a rest as well. Tim takes the spare desk chair, the one that’s basically become his, head falling back as he slumps as low as he can get without falling off. Basira nearly falls trying to sit on top of Sasha’s desk, but she manages and cards her fingers through Daisy’s short hair when she takes the chair and rests her head against Basira’s leg. Sasha herself leans bonelessly in her doorway, and Jon- Jon slides down the wall and sits on the floor where he can see all of them.

Someone says something, but all Martin hears is a mumbling, muffled under the ringing. Someone else might say something back, but they’re back in the Archives, safe, all of them, so whatever it is can’t be too important. Still staring at Jon, who is watching them all, Martin curls over the desk and rests his head on his arms. Content to stay there until the ringing stops. As he watches, Patrząc pads up to Jon and props herself up on his chest to butt her head against his. Jon scoops her up and sobs into her fur.

A flash of panic rushes through Martin, but a single glance around and he understands. They’re all here. They’re all safe. They’re all relatively sound. And Jon- Jon had been prepared to grieve. This is relief; release. Martin gets up slowly, whole but aching, and slides himself down the wall to sit next to Jon. He bumps against Jon’s side, gently, and Jon leans to rest his head on Martin’s shoulder.

“We did it,” Martin says softly, ringing now replaced with the familiar mechanical whir of the tape recorders. How did that become a comforting sound?

“Hell yeah, we did!” Basira agrees, much louder, and with that the quiet tension is broken and the shared relief of survival and victory take over. Tim’s laugh isn’t without grief, but it’s determined, and he pulls out a few bottles of alcohol from the drawer of the spare desk. Someone mentions ordering pizza. Sasha promises the delivery person won’t get lost, and somehow even this is something they can laugh at. For now.

Jon nudges him again and whispers, “I love you.”

Martin smiles. “I know.”

There’s more to come, Martin knows- at least for him and Jon. That’s for later, though. Right now is for celebrating. And for the feeling of Jon’s hand sliding into his.

Chapter Text

When they returned to the Institute after the Unknowing, Elias Bouchard was gone. No trace, just a memo sent out that he would be on extended leave and Peter Lukas would be Interim Head until further notice. Part of Jon is grateful not to have that looming over him any longer; the other part knows Elias has fled because he knows what Jon intends to do. The major issue is that their abilities to See and Know each other are as nebulous as ever, so Jon has no idea where Elias has gone, if he’ll retaliate, or if he’s even still Elias.

There’s very little discussion before Daisy heads out again, but it isn’t needed. She and Jon are on the same page and it’s an aching familiarity he’s happy to have, even though it means more worry now. With only a post-it-note saying “pay me back” left on Martin’s desk in place of a travel budget request, she’s gone on the hunt for Elias or whoever Jonah is inhabiting now. The combined powers of the Eye and the Hunt give her better chances than nearly anyone, but there’s no knowing what will happen if she finds him.

For Peter’s part, he makes it long enough to name Martin his assistant, despite some reservations. Circumstances are far less conducive to his plans, though. Jon’s… the other Martin had been depressed, mourning Jon, and thus made an ideal target for the Lonely. Right now, though, they’re fresh from saving the world. Everyone came out alive. Elias is gone, and sometimes Martin and Jon will abandon their desks to sit and work quietly on Sasha’s old couch, just to be near each other. As Martin points out: he isn’t sure he’s ever been further from depressed and alone in his life.

With that, Jon’s compulsion, and a few tugged threads, all it takes is a well-populated room and a firm suggestion from Jon for Peter to leave the Institute in their care.

A week after the Unknowing, Tim finally returns to work, only to thank Jon while calling him an asshole and hand his resignation letter to Martin. Then he makes a dramatic turn and walks out of the Institute with his middle fingers in the air.

Jon understands. Martin wishes he’d at least given them a couple weeks to figure out hiring a replacement. There are three employees in HR and they all know what they’re doing, but they still need the budget approved, which Martin doesn’t have the first idea how to do. Jon would help if he could, really, but it seems Beholding has no interest.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. With Martin taking over Elias’s office, Jon has just enough time to fear being alone in the Archives- all his assistants gone again in less than three years- before a knock on his open door startles him from the building panic attack.

“Now, actor being watched and followed by figures in cloaks and theater masks; is that the Eye or the Stranger?” Basira asks, not looking up from the file in her hands until Jon goes too long without responding, still shaken. He remembers this case; Martin had recorded it.

“Uh- Neither, actually. That one was the Lonely, I believe.” She makes a considering sound, frowning at the statement, then nods.

“Yeah, okay. I can see that. Lonely’s category thirteen?”

“Fourteen, but-”

“Thanks,” she says, and then walks out, though he hears her muttering in the other room for several more hours.

-

There is absolutely no reason that Martin should be the one to take over the Magnus Institute in the wake of Elias’s disappearance. None. At all. So why he’s looking at expense reports is a question he’d really like Jon to Ask someone, except apparently the only person to Ask is Martin. According to Jon, Martin is perfectly capable, and he knows, rather than Knows, because he’s seen Martin do it before. That Martin apparently didn’t even have any help. This Martin both pities and hates that Martin, because he can’t even imagine, but also, whether he’ll figure it out eventually or not, it’s overwhelming now, and hearing he will doesn’t mean he can yet.

Staring at a bunch of numbers that won’t add up, he wishes he had Jon’s lighter.

“Can I borrow your lighter?” he asks just before Jon knocks on the door frame. Jon looks between the door and Martin a couple times, brow furrowed.

“You knew I was there. I didn’t knock yet.”

“I must have heard you walking or something. Is that a no to borrowing your lighter?”

“You recognized my walk.”

“I guess. That’s a no to the lighter, then. What’s up?”

Jon smiles, just a little. “No, you can’t borrow my lighter to burn debatably-important paperwork. I wanted to ask you about Basira.”

“What about her?”

“She’s been in the Archives. A lot. Pretty much every day actually.”

“What, really? I thought she would avoid this place if Daisy was gone. Is she… doing anything?”

“Yes. She’s assisting.” Martin blinks.

“Assisting.”

“Yes. Like an Assistant.”

“She’s just… assisting?” Martin repeats because something there isn’t adding up.

“Yes,” Jon insists, “and I’d like to know why, because she shouldn’t be an assistant.” And then Martin gets it.

“She- oh! Oh, uh, no, I don’t- I haven’t seen any paperwork for her? She definitely wasn’t on payroll last I looked. Maybe she’s… bored? I mean, with Daisy gone…”

“Right,” Jon sighs and slumps a bit. “Right. Okay. That’s- that’s good, I guess. Just- let me know if she tries to sign anything? Or- I don’t- I don’t know.”

“Do you- Jon, did you want to sit down?” Martin asks cautiously, as Jon looks close to collapsing. Dead on his feet in a way he hasn’t been since- since just after he was kidnapped, before Daisy joined them. The last time Martin had had to help him with Basira.

Jon sits.

“When was the last time you slept, Jon?”

“I’ve slept. I have!” he insists when Martin can’t help but express his doubt. “I slept… nearly seven hours yesterday. And I- I nodded off earlier today, for an hour or so. Basira woke me when she came in. I don’t know- I think perhaps it’s been too long since I took a statement. The Unknowing drained me. And… Martin, can I…” His mouth hangs slightly open but he doesn’t say anything further. He looks defeated.

“Jon, look at me? Please?” It takes longer than it should for Jon to focus on him, but he does eventually. “I don’t want you to keep walking on eggshells. Whatever you need to ask me, just ask. I promise, it’s fine.”

Shoulders sagging with reluctant relief, Jon thinks he should argue, but doesn’t.

“In my place, how- how would you feed the Web?”

-

There’s something wrong. It’s not new; something has been wrong for months, but it’s been getting worse since the Unknowing. At first, Jon thought it was because he’s had so few live statements. It would explain the exhaustion and weakness. And he does feel better after acquiring a couple, but it doesn’t last long, and it doesn’t feel like the pull is coming from the Eye anyway. It feels centered in his chest, almost, which makes him think it has to do with his other Patron.

Despite how long he’s been marked by the Web, and how long he’s technically been serving it, Jon doesn’t think he’s all that well suited to it. He’s barely reached a point where he doesn’t feel like attacking any spider on sight. And on the less literal side, Jon has never been much of a manipulator. Lying has never come easy for him, and he has a very strong tendency to attack all his problems head-on. Usually this works for the problem at hand, but it also often invites a host of new problems. Jon has never been accused of subtlety.

Which is why, faced with the fact that he hasn’t done much to feed the Web in the two years it’s been part of him, and without a clue where to even start, he goes to someone who has.

“I mean, you could always try just sending some arachnophobe to Hill Top Road,” Martin suggests after mulling it over for a while. Jon stares at him. “What?”

“Shouldn’t you be encouraging me not to kill people?”

“Well sure, I’d rather you didn’t, but not if not killing people gets you killed.” Jon sighs, closes his eyes and immediately opens them again as he has to fight the pull of sleep. He doesn’t know what to do with that. “I’m sorry. I’m not sure what to tell you, but- I mean, you’re an archivist, Jon. Your job isn’t to make stories; it’s to take them. The Web knew that. It can’t expect that much of you… can it?”

Jon doesn’t know. With Martin’s words in mind, though, he takes the next new Web statement in person. It seems to help a little. Compelling the shadow creature Daisy brings him down to the Archives and making it hiss out its own statement does as well. There’s still something not right, though, and the spider in his chest feels more active than ever.

Dr. Elliott is not pleased to see Jon on his doorstep, but he doesn’t have the ability to run away. Jon still feels guilty when Lionel cries his way through the whole procedure, which Jon reminds himself is good. Human. Afterward, Jon promises the doctor he’ll never see him in person again, and doesn’t tell him Jon will be able to find him no matter where Lionel moves after this. It’s the most peace of mind Jon can offer. Something he’s rather wishing he had for himself.

-

Martin loves Sasha. He really does. Even now, when it’s become so painfully obvious that she’s not the same person she was. He’s glad that she still cares about them and still wants to be close and still wants to help where she can. He’s even still glad to go out and get a drink with her now and then. It keeps his bill down, at least, since he starts getting dizzy from far fewer around her.

At the same time, he’s coming to really, really hate when she visits. Every single time, things go missing. Most are small and unimportant, but each time there’s at least one thing he really needs that’s suddenly no longer where it should be. Though he can always swear he just had it. Sometimes he’ll find them, tucked away in a box in the Archives or sticking out from between the pages in a book in the library; but more often then not, he won’t, and he’ll be left hoping there’s a copy somewhere and wishing more of their system was digital.

He actually tries running the numbers, once, to see what it would take. Provided Jon doesn’t kill Peter Lukas and lose them a large part of their funding, Martin might be able to make it work. He probably shouldn’t count on that, though. Not with how dark Jon’s face still goes any time the man’s name arises.

“Hello, Martin!” Sasha greets.

“Do you at least know where you sent those tax forms?” Martin asks, resigned.

“Sorry,” she says, and she at least sounds like she means it. “It’s not really voluntary, more… a reflex. I don’t choose where they go. They just-”

“Go,” Martin sighs. “Right. I’ll- deal with it later, I guess. You want some tea?” She holds up a coffee cup in response. It’s from the nearby cafe, but the logo is different; tilted and twisting in on itself if he looks too long, slightly changed each time if he only glances.

“I have a favor to ask,” Sasha says with a slight frown, the words rolling out slowly. “And I thought I’d do you one in return.”

“Oh. Of course! What did you need?”

“I’m… I’m trying to adapt. The Distortion has never needed the trappings of personhood, because it was never a person, until Michael, and then it was still more it than him. I was. But now I’m Sasha, as much as I am the Distortion. There’s a sort of- selfhood in being Sasha that I’ve never had before. A will, almost, I think. And it’s- changing how I interact with the world, more like a person, but I don’t know how much of a person I can be, or should or could or am.”

She doesn’t say anything more for several seconds, just staring at him expectantly. “O-kay. What was the favor, though?”

“Oh, right! Obviously my flat is gone, but I’m pretty sure I’m still legally alive. I don’t really want to change that, but… Well, I need you to tell my sister that I’m dead… or something.”

“W-wait, what? Why?”

“I can’t have my family looking for me, and I can’t be their Sasha. I don’t… I don’t like thinking of what I might do to them, if I ever slip. Jon told me Liz is looking for me, and she’ll probably come here next. So if you could just… tell her something?”

“Shouldn’t Jon-” Sasha raises a brow. “Right. Of course. Yeah, I can do that.”

“Thank you, Martin!” Her too-long arms and too-large hands wrap around him in the most awkward hug he’s ever had with her, but it’s still more natural than a couple he’s had with Jon, so he’s not going to judge. “And since Jon doesn’t want me in the Archives, ‘disrupting his organization’, I brought you a replacement assistant.”

“Wha- we just hired one, though.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, we did. He started-”

“Nope. Today is Michael Lanson’s first day. He knows he’s never been to the Institute before, and never even applied, but everyone will assure him he’s been working here for a month now. I’m rather proud, actually. This is the biggest thing I’ve done since Becoming Sasha. I doubt it worked on Jon, though, or it won’t for long, and I thought I should let you know so you can make sure the paperwork all filled out correctly.”

“Oh… Thanks?” She laughs.

“Don’t worry. He’ll do fine. See you for Trivia Night at the pub Friday?”

Martin sighs, but can’t help a small smile. “Wouldn’t miss it.”

It takes Jon a full two hours to realize the addition and show up halfway between angry and terrified in Martin’s door.

“It’s okay,” Martin assures him before he can say anything. “I checked the paperwork. He’s an Institute employee, but not technically an Archive employee. And you do need another assistant, so, we can send him on his way once we find someone else?”

Without a word, Jon turns right back around and stalks away.

-

In early October, the Flesh doesn’t so much attack the Institute as it does knock on the front door.

Jon is just preparing to read a statement when Rosie calls his office.

“Jon, there’s a… man here to see you,” she says, though clearly unsure ‘man’ is the right word. “He doesn’t have an appointment, and he doesn’t want to make a statement, but he says he needs ‘a word with the Archivist’.”

“Is-”

“He’s a… very large man, and he’s quite insistent.”

“I-”

“Says his name is Jared.”

“Oh.” This is not at all what Jon has been expecting from the Flesh. “Um, send him down, I suppose?” Not that he really wants Jared Hopworth in his Archives, but it’s probably safer than anywhere else.

“Sure.”

Jared is not quite as large as he was when Jon last encountered him, though that probably makes sense. Melanie said she stabbed him in three different hearts; he may have collected extra just for the attack. This time at least looks like it should be more civil, as long as Patrząc stops growling.

“Hello, Jared,” Jon greets as Jared ducks through his office door, nearly too large for the frame.

“Archivist,” Jared says. He takes one look at the chair across from Jon and apparently decides it’s not worth trying.

“I’ll… admit I’m surprised you came to talk.”

“Elias wanted us to attack you.”

“Yes, I… suspected that. But you haven’t.” Asking seems… fraught.

“Almost did,” Jared says entirely unapologetically. “Took me a while to figure out it was yours; didn’t really know until I saw you on the street a few days ago.”

Something doesn’t make sense there, and Jon may be tired, but he’s not that tired. “I’m sorry. Figure out it was mine.”

“Yeah.”

“I-” This is ridiculous. “Figure out what was mine?”

“The rib I got,” Jared says like Jon’s an idiot. “Covered in eyes. I don’t like it. So what do you want to take them back?”

“The… the rib. You- have one of my ribs.” After visiting Dr. Elliott, Jon knows for sure he’s still missing two ribs, but that shouldn’t mean-

“Guess so. Tied to you, isn’t it?”

“Tied… so, hold on. How did you get this rib?”

“Thought you’d know. Just showed up between the others a couple years ago.”

“You just- spontaneously sprouted an extra rib,” Jon reiterates incredulously. “Two years ago.” It’s not so much the spontaneous manifestation he has a problem accepting as the idea that someone might know they suddenly gained an extra rib from nowhere and just- shrug it off. For two years.

“‘S what I said. Will you take them back?”

“You want me to take back my rib?” Could he even? “I-”

“No. Rib’s mine. It’s settled in. You keep tugging on it, though. I want you to cut the thread and take back the eyes.” Of course. The eyes. The- what?

“What- what eyes?”

“The ones on the rib. Are you slow? Thought you’d be a bit more-” Jared grunts in discomfort as the spider in Jon’s chest tugs on something, and he can feel the thread apparently connecting him to his old rib pulled slightly through his skin in response. It’s not a pleasant sensation. “At least get them to close. They’re always staring.

Jon would really like a moment to process this- Actually, what he’d really like is Jared’s statement about this, but that would probably be pushing his luck. One thing is clear, this is at least partially the Web’s doing.

“Can- can you pull the eyes out yourself?” Jon asks, because he has absolutely no idea how one goes about removing eyes from a rib.

“Sure. They always grow back, though.”

“Right… right.” It makes sense. Back when Jon first gave away the rib, he needed someone else to pull it out to make it stick. Cutting off his own finger never worked. And Jared may be used to adding and removing things from himself, but if the rib is still tied to Jon, then it’s still tied to Beholding. It’s not guaranteed to work- Jon doesn’t Know it will- but he thinks he knows what to do, and there’s a strange feeling of agreement within him. All he needs is to figure out how to cut the thread.

Jared had asked what Jon wants in exchange, though. He could sever ties and take the eyes back out of the kindness of his own heart, he supposes. But then nothing would stop Jared from attacking them next time, and having the Flesh owe him wouldn’t hurt the plan he’s slowly been piecing together.

“Two things,” Jon says. “First, you will never attack the Institute or its people.”

“Yeah, I figured. Can’t much say I care. Second?”

“I’m hunting Jonah Magnus- who may or may not still be Elias Bouchard. I intend to kill him. If I come to you for help, you’ll give it.”

“… Yeah, alright.” Jon barely suppresses the shudder that tries to go through him as his spider tugs the thread again, and then it snaps. It takes Jon’s breath.

“And the eyes?”

“Um- yes. You, uh- You can take them out now. You’ll-” Jon closes his eyes and heaves a sigh before bracing himself. “You’ll have to put them in my ribs.”

Of course that’s the case. Because obviously Jon doesn’t have enough eyes. Who wouldn’t want to see their own insides? Definitely not Jon.

Jared is quick and efficient about it at least. And of course, it’s as he has a hand buried in Jon’s chest, wrapped around his ribs, and Jon is screaming in pain that a growl comes from the door. Jon has just enough presence of mind, as the eyes find their home along his ribcage, to hold out a hand so Daisy doesn’t attack. Patrząc’s hackles are raised like someone else being angry is permission to be so herself.

“Jon,” Daisy growls, half warning, half threat, a demand for answers, all packed into his name.

“Just… a second,” he grunts through gritted teeth. And then Jared is pulling out his arm, and holding it extended, lightly coated in Jon’s blood. The pain fades fairly quickly, replaced by a low ache he can only call “growing pains”. With the strange new input from the half-dozen new eyes he has, it takes him a bit to realize why that hand is still extended. He shakes it.

“Deal,” Jared says, and goes to leave, except Daisy is still in the doorway, baring her teeth.

“It’s- it’s okay, Daisy,” Jon says. “I told him to.”

“To what? You give away another rib?”

“No, uh. I was taking some eyes back, actually. You can let him go.”

“Taking eyes back. You-” She growls again, though more in frustration now. “We’ll talk about that later. You sure about this, Jon? Thought we were expecting an attack.”

“No, we- we have a deal. He’s going to help us with Elias, if we need it.”

“… Fine,” she says, and reluctantly steps to the side. She doesn’t stop glaring at Jared until he disappears up the stairs, and then she whips back around. “What the fuck, Jon?”

-

There’s something wrong with Jon. Granted, there are many things wrong with Jon, but now there’s something seriously wrong with Jon and Martin should have noticed sooner. He’s been so busy, though, with running the Institute and… and that’s an excuse. Jon is terrible at taking care of himself and Martin should’ve been paying closer attention. Sasha isn’t there to pick up his slack anymore. Basira’s there, and maybe she cares a bit about Jon- she certainly doesn’t seem to mind working with him- but she doesn’t know Jon like they do. To anyone else, Jon sleeping a normal amount or taking breaks doesn’t seem like something they should be concerned about.

“It didn’t work, did it?”

Very slowly, Jon lifts his head from where he’s been staring somewhat absently at a statement to stare somewhat absently at Martin instead. He looks too stiff, too tense, like he’s in pain.“Wh- uh, what? What didn’t work?”

“You were going to try feeding the Web.”

“Oh. No, that- that went fine. Ap-” Jon winces. “Apparently I didn’t need to, though.”

“So what’s going on?”

“It’s no-”

Jon. There’s something wrong, and I am worried about you. You didn’t even notice me coming into the Archives. You’re moving slow and sleeping more in a week than you did in a month last year. And you look like you’re in pain. Please. Talk to me.” Martin is absolutely not above begging or guilt trips.

For a moment, Jon meets his eyes. Then, apparently seeing what he needs to, he looks away and nods.

“You know I’m not human anymore. Mostly my body works the same way, but it also has… less natural needs. Obviously. Apparently both are the problem. Martin’s- the eye in my heart was a- a stopgap. It’s… a rag plugging the hole in a sinking ship. Or a leaking dam. It kept the wound from getting worse for a long time, but it’s not enough to heal and the pressure has built up enough that there are new- new cracks forming, for lack of a better metaphor. Not to mention the regular surgery to keep it from being absorbed. But even if that wasn’t the case, most people couldn’t live with an eye inside their heart. I can survive a lot, but two years of arrhythmia are apparently catching up with me.”

“… Oh.” Martin feels his own heart skip.

“Yeah.”

“Jon, that’s…”

“Yeah.”

“What…” He’s terrified to ask. “What would happen if you took the eye out?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t think I’d die, not fully. Not while Jonah is still alive, at least. Ghosts and unfinished business, you know.” He says it like it’s a joke, but Martin isn’t laughing. “That seems more likely if I leave it and the Web stops being able to keep up with the heart complications, though. The wound- It’s a void, really. If I don’t have… something to fill it, I think Beholding will do it itself. I’ll heal, physically, but I’ll stop being Jon and instead be just the Archivist.”

“The Web-”

“Would get more out of the Archivist than they do Jonathan Sims.”

“… Fuck, Jon.” Martin drops into Jon’s spare chair and feels numb.

“Yeah.”

“Is there anything we can do? Could I…”

“I don’t know. There’s a chance, since you’re you, that you Knowing me would satisfy it. There’s also a chance whatever power this works on will see you as a different person, and instead of filling the empty space, you’ll just carve out a new one of your own.”

“How long have you known this?” They’ve talked about this. About Jon keeping things from him.

“Not long,” Jon assures him. Though he sounds so tired all the time lately that Martin’s not sure he’d be able to tell if it was a lie. “I’ve always known the eye wouldn’t last, but I didn’t know it was failing now or about the arrhythmia until feeding the Web didn’t help.”

“And how long…”

“I don’t know. Maybe a couple months, maybe another two years.”

“… Okay. Okay, we’ll- we’ll figure something out. We’ll try to move faster on Elias, and we… just- just don’t try to hide this from me, okay? If anything changes, tell me. I couldn’t bear…”

“I will,” Jon swears. “I’m sorry I didn’t, but I will. I promise.”

Jon holds Martin’s hand, his go-to form of comfort when he’s not sure what’s appropriate, and Martin’s heart aches with fondness. They’re going to figure something out. Martin will not lose this. He kisses Jon, and then stays in the room, quietly petting Patrząc while Jon reads a statement. The two floors between the Archives and his new office suddenly feel like an absurd distance, and even if it won’t work for long, he resolves to move everything he needs down here tomorrow.

-

“Hello, Jon,” a tall, dark, relatively unobtrusive man greets, impromptu of nothing. Jon has a flash of annoyance that Rosie didn’t warn him and Michael didn’t stop the man, then he looks up. “An itsy-bitsy spider told me you wanted to speak to me.”

“You’re… Oliver Banks. Have you- did you die?” Jon asks, then realizes how that will sound if the man hasn’t yet. Oliver raises his brow, smiling just slightly.

“Yes. Did you?”

“Not- not technically.”

“Yes, I figured your answer might be something like that. The cords around you are tangled strangely. Anyway, I’m sure you know I’ve been dreaming of you since it happened. I don’t know how you’re doing it, but I’d like to thank you for that.”

“O-oh? That’s… not the response I usually get.”

“When I dream about you, about dying, I’m not seeing new deaths, not feeling any sort of pull,” Oliver explains with a smile. “I don’t think Death is terribly happy about it, but it’s probably the most restful sleep I’ve gotten since… well, since right before I died. So I figure doing a favor for the Web, helping you, it’s a fair price.”

“R-right, um… Sit down, please. Would you like some tea?” Oliver sits but waves away the offer.

“No, thank you. I’m alright. So, what is it you want to know?”

“I- How much do you know about avatars? Those of us that-”

“Yeah, I understand. An apt term. Unfortunately I can’t honestly say I know much. I know of the other fears, I can see them in the deaths they cause, but I’ve never interacted with them much. The way the Spider was talking, I suppose I’ve the potential to be one- or maybe am one?- now that I’ve killed and died. Of course there’s the Spider herself, and you, so my experience has grown exponentially lately.”

“Right. So you… you wouldn’t know how to kill one?” Oliver considers and shrugs.

“I might. Depends who you want to kill. Yourself? I don’t think I can help you there, though from the looks of you you might not need any. No offense.”

“None taken,” Jon assures him. He knows how he looks. He can see it in Martin’s worry. “No, it’s- Jonah Magnus.”

“Jonah Magnus. Like Magnus-Institute-Magnus?”

“Yes. He’s been keeping himself alive for two hundred years by inhabiting other people’s bodies.” For a moment, Oliver seems to be waiting for the punchline. Then he coughs and sits up.

His voice when he speaks again is firmer, deeper, more serious. “… Right. So the problem with avatars, as far as I can tell, is that their connection to their fear is too strong. As long as nothing interferes with it, it won’t break on its own. Death is patient and usually passive. It won’t step in to take someone when that means going up against another fear. Time brings it all things, so it will just wait and come when they’re ready.” That’s not promising.

“So as long as Jonah wants to stay alive, he won’t die?”

“Not necessarily. If you can sever his connection to your Eye, you can probably kill him, but if you want to make it stick… Well, you’re going to need Death to owe or favor you.”

-

With the potential deadline on Jon’s life as they know it, despite the ambiguity, there’s a new sense of urgency to enacting his plan. Such as it is. Jon hasn’t written the plan down, which is probably for the best if he really intends to keep it hidden. Unfortunately, it seems this is mostly because Jon’s plan is piecemeal at best.

“I think I understand what you’re going for but… how? Where do we start?” Martin asks, once it’s mostly been laid out for him.

“Jared Hopworth has agreed to help when the time comes, so that should take care of the eyes. There is… a lot I don’t know, though. A lot I can’t know, just because it’s Jonah. His body has to have decayed a fair amount, or he wouldn’t fear death so much. I don’t know how much it can recover from, though. If he’s anything like me…” If he’s anything like Jon- Martin is still coming to terms with what Jon has apparently survived, but the thought doesn’t inspire hope when it comes to Jonah.

“We won’t be able to do it, will we? We’re going to need help.”

“I think so,” Jon agrees. “Since my… death, any damage I do to myself heals immediately. And obviously stopping my heart isn’t enough. I needed Jared just to remove a piece of my body.”

Another thing Martin’s trying not to think about too hard. The trade-off here is that, while Jon isn’t likely to try self-harming again, it also seems to have made him more likely to risk physical harm. At least, Martin hopes that Jon had some self-preservation before all this. He can’t be sure. As far as harming an avatar, though- “Didn’t you say Peter wanted me to kill him, though? With just a knife?”

“Apparently. I think… I don’t know what would’ve happened. If he would’ve died. But that wasn’t just to kill Jonah. It’s another reason we need help. I think, anyone tied to the Eye, if they try to kill him, will have to take his place in the Panopticon.”

“What, forever?” With horror at the thought, Martin is suddenly thankful his other self didn’t do it.

“Until someone else comes and displaces them. Magnus’s true body is… deteriorated. Without the host body around, it couldn’t fight back. But as long as there is a host body, killing the original isn’t going to change much. Gertrude killed Eugene Vanderstock by cutting off his head and hiding it, among other things, and he’s still only trapped.”

Jon runs a tired hand through already mussed hair. “As far as I’ve witnessed, dying is the final step in becoming an avatar. It completed the transformation for me, for Annabelle Cane, for Oliver Banks. After… well, John Amherst has died hundreds of deaths and statements suggest Agnes is still around. Even Maxwell Rayner isn’t fully gone.”

Martin’s head snaps up. “Wait, what?”

“Hmm? I said Maxwell… Oh. Well. That’s good to know, I suppose.”

Neither of them is quite sure what to do with that information, so they take to the tried and true Archive tradition of coming-back-to-that-later.

“Okay. Where to first?”


Convincing the owner of the flat Daisy directed them to to let them in alone is easy. After Jon takes her statement, the idea that the Institute might be able to get rid of the ghost haunting her has her practically throwing them the keys. Getting Jude Perry to come there alone is even easier. Daisy actually looks disappointed when she lets them know the meeting was arranged.

“Didn’t even argue,” Daisy grumbles. “Can I get back to a real hunt now?”

When the time comes, Jon stutters his way through an argument for Martin staying behind, but he’s always a stiff wind from collapsing at this point and it’s clearly a losing battle. So they go together ahead of time to prepare.

The flat itself is small, in disarray, and very, very warm.

“Why here?” Martin asks, when Jon’s done Looking at all he needs to. “Is she just wandering aimlessly?”

“Possibly,” Jon says. “I think she’s looking for people who are… susceptible to the Desolation. People who could survive the fire and transformation.”

“So how are we going to-” There’s a knock on the door. They look at each other, and then Jon moves to answer it. He stops just before touching the handle, though, and frowns. The door is one that is always locked on the outside, so they can’t just tell her to come in. With a sigh, Jon starts reaching for it again. Thinking quickly, Martin snaps, “Wait.”

It’s not hard to find what he’s looking for in the kitchen, and Jon smiles when Martin hands him the oven mitt. Given the smoke now rising from the wood around the handle, he still needs to be quick, but it’s easy enough to pull it open and switch to holding the door itself to wave Jude in. She scowls.

“I see you still have your skin,” she sneers, stepping in and looking around. “Or did it grow back?”

“I wasn’t keen on parting with it,” Jon says. “Decided to take a page out of your book.”

“You’ve got all the pages you’re getting from me,” Jude snaps. “Your hound said this was about Agnes. So? What about her? Why am I here?”

“We know where she is,” Martin cuts in, drawing Jude’s attention. Jon doesn’t like this, but it’s the best option and Martin is determined to help.

“She’s dead.”

“Only technically. She’s still around, though.” The room grows warmer as Jude takes a step toward Martin.

“Where?” Martin freezes, just like he planned. “Tell me or I will melt your face off.”

“She’s-”

-

Here,” Jon commands, calling Agnes out from Between. Confused and angry as ever, Jude switches targets, advancing on Jon. He can’t stop her and do the summoning, so he throws out a single, ineffectual arm that just barely halts her in time. His hand burns. “Agnes.”

There’s another woman in the room now. Young-looking. The Girl on Fire, Michael had called her, and she is. An ethereal flame in the shape of a woman steps forward and takes Jude’s face in her hands and kisses her softly. And then she’s gone.

The wax of Jude’s body is melting, dripping down, warping the shape of her. She inspects her hands, feels the shape of her face, then turns and walks into the toilet. When she returns, her face is different. She looks, Jon suspects, as much like Agnes Montague as any sculptor could manage.

“Hello, Agnes,” Jon greets. “I’m Jonathan Sims, the Archivist. You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.” She smiles, small and crooked.

“So,” Agnes says. Her voice is soft, crackling between Jude’s tone and something else, slowly shifting as she speaks. “A new Archivist. What got her, in the end? Gertrude.”

“Jonah Magnus,” Jon tells her. “Shot her three times in the chest when she tried to burn down the Institute.”

“Shot? With a gun? That seems…”

“Anticlimactic?”

“A bit, yeah.” She sighs and starts going through the wardrobe, pulling out a couple dresses. She never looks at him. “I suppose you’re following in her footsteps, if you brought Jude here just to sacrifice her. You shouldn’t have… I would’ve found a suitable host eventually.”

“Jude would have gladly watched the world burn,” Jon justifies. “And I need help. I need an avatar of the Desolation that believes human life is valuable for more than just kindling.”

“What makes you think I do? I was created to embody Destruction. I have destroyed-”

“Jack Barnabas.” She stops, finally looks toward him, though not his face, and deflates.

“Ah. I see,” she says. “I take it he made a- What do you call it? A statement?”

“He did. He’s fine, if you were wondering. The plastic surgery went well.”

“So what is it you want from me?” She holds up two dresses in front of her, looking back and forth for a moment, then turns to Martin, a question in the gesture. Martin points at the one on her right.

“We want to kill Jonah Magnus.”

“You expect me to be so grateful to be alive that I’ll help you in exchange?” she asks, ducking out of the room to quickly change.

“No. We’re prepared to offer more.”

“And what would that be?”

“That depends,” Martin says, because they’ve agreed he’s the better negotiator.

She comes back out and twirls, looking at them for approval. It was a good choice. “On?”

“On what you want, I suppose,” Jon says. “If you’ve found your resolve and want to attempt your ritual again, we’re offering non-interference for fifty years. Not that we won’t watch, and we won’t prevent anyone else from stopping it, but Beholding will not stop you.”

Agnes leans against the wall and absently picks at a fingernail. Wax shavings fall to the floor. “And if I don’t?”

“If you just want to live, we’ll do our best to give you a new life,” Martin offers in his gentlest tone. “And if you don’t- if you want to truly die, we- we’ll also help you with that.” The gasp she takes is small, easily missed, and Jon doesn’t miss it but he also doesn’t acknowledge it.

“How?”

“We’ll need different methods, obviously, but ultimately the same way we plan to kill Jonah Magnus.”


“I’d like to ask you a question,” Jon says; out of nowhere as far as Basira is concerned, he’s sure.

“O-kay?” she says, “… Are you going to ask it?”

“I need- do you consent?” It’s the only way he can think to do this ethically, or at least so Daisy won’t be pissed.

What?

“I need your permission, because once I ask, you won’t be able to not answer. I don’t want to put you in that position if you’re not prepared for it. So either you agree beforehand, or we’re going to have a very awkward conversation where I try to ask without asking.”

“Oh… well, I guess- What’s the question about?”

“What you’re doing here.”

“I’m- filing?”

“Yes, but I don’t know why.”

“Because it needs to be done and your only assistant is a kidnapped admin assistant from Sheffield?” He stares at her as pointedly as he can because they both know she’s being deliberately obtuse.

“You said you hoped to never set foot here again.”

“Yeah, but Daisy’s here.”

“She’s not here now, and you’re not on the payroll.”

“Yeah, about that. Did you tell Martin not to let me sign on? That’s dumb, Jon. You need help, and Daisy’s here for good, so so am I.”

“Whether you intend to leave or not, I would rather you have the option. Regardless, this isn’t your job, you aren’t being paid, Daisy is away, and yet you’re still here. There is a reason. I just can’t seem to figure out what it is; so here we are, having an awkward conversation while I try not to ask.”

“It’s…” She sighs. “You’re right, obviously; I’m not being paid, and it would be better for me to find an actual job, if Martin won’t put me on payroll. Daisy’s tied to this place, though, and to you. And she can’t be here right now, so I am.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Jon admits warily.

“She worries less this way.”

“That someone will come after you. The Archives are saf-”

“No, you idiot,” she snaps. “That someone will come after you. I’m not the one out there antagonizing monsters and plotting the death of my all-seeing former boss. She can’t be out hunting like you need her to and protect you at the same time, so I’m here to do it for her.”

“O- oh.”

“Yeah.” They both shuffle awkwardly.

“I’m- I’m perfectly safe in the Archives.” Jane Prentiss and Jared Hopworth not withstanding.

“Maybe. But you do still leave sometimes, and she’s not just worried about outside threats… Martin’s not down here most of the time, Tim quit, and Sasha’s off being her own sort of monster. The new guy is basically a temp and spends most of his time out because he’s terrified of this place. Daisy’s worried about you being alone.”

“… Oh.” Jon is suddenly having a lot of feelings.

“Can I get back to filing now?”

“Y-yeah… Basira?”

“Hmm?”

“Thanks.”

-

There is absolutely nothing abnormal about the day Martin gets the call. There are no signs, no unexplained feelings, no sudden supernatural knowledge. Jon greets him with a tired smile when Martin brings breakfast in the morning. They eat together and talk, and then Jon goes back to archiving and Martin spares a few minutes to make them both a fresh cup of tea before heading up to his office.

The new webs in his corners are as beautiful as ever, which he tells the spiders; perhaps unnaturally so but not abnormally. He has no urgent emails. There’s nothing special on his calendar. Everything is exactly the same as it is most days, right down to the scheduling, up until the moment he answers his phone.

Maybe that’s why he finds it so hard to process.

For so long, everything in Martin’s life revolved around taking care of his mother. It’s the reason he dropped out of school; the reason he always worked so hard at the jobs he could find, and often the reason he lost them; the reason he was desperate enough to fake his CV and bluff his way through an interview here. Even if she never wanted to see him or speak to him or even read his letters, she was the driving force in his life.

So shouldn’t everything change, now that she’s gone? Shouldn’t Martin’s world be turning on its edge?

Lost in numb contemplation, he doesn’t even notice Jon until he feels a hand squeeze his.

“I’m sorry, Martin. I knew it happened, but I didn’t know when. I should have… Are- are you alright?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, really,” Martin says, because it’s true. Maybe it’s just that it doesn’t feel quite real yet. He knows he should be feeling something, surely, but why? He hasn’t seen his mother in months. The last time she spoke to him- on the phone while he stood outside the building she lived in, having just been turned away- she told him yet again that she wished he’d just leave her alone, that she never wanted to see him again. That was before the Unknowing, and so much has happened since, he hasn’t even thought of visiting her again. When his last three letters returned unopened, he didn’t bother trying again, just threw them out.

Ultimately, nothing will change. Her passing will affect no one but Martin, and no other aspect of Martin’s life will change in the slightest.

When had that happened? And if it will make no difference, what would be the point of caring?

“I’m fine,” he tells Jon again, no weight of reassurance in his tone but no lie either. That wasn’t right; Jon still looks worried. “This is how she wanted it. It doesn’t hurt.”

Clearly that wasn’t right either. Jon isn’t just concerned anymore; he’s horrified.

“Jon, it’s-”

“Don’t. Don’t do that.”

“Do… what?”

“I know it- it seems easier, or safer, or- You need to let yourself feel, Martin. Losing someone, it- it hurts. It’s terrible and it hurts, but you can’t- You can’t stop feeling or you’ll start pulling away. You’ll isolate yourself and then you’ll be lost too, and I can’t- Just talk to me, please.”

Oh.

“Oh. Oh, Jon, no, I- I’m not- I won’t. I just… I don’t know what to feel, right now. It doesn’t feel… real yet. She’s been sick for so long- I was so afraid, at first. She was all I had, even if she couldn’t stand to look at me most days, and it felt like she was always one bad cold away from dying. But then it didn’t happen, and it kept not happening, and I think at some point I- I don’t know- forgot, I guess, how close it always was. So it’s not- it’s not unexpected, but it’s still a surprise, if that makes sense.

“But I… almost half my life has revolved around taking care of her. And I spent so long pretending she loved me. Pretending she was just strong-willed or independent, and that maybe she resented needing anyone to take care of her, not just me, because- because if I didn’t have her, then I wouldn’t have anything. I’d be lost and alone and I’d have no purpose…

“Except she’s gone now, and it… it doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. Nothing else will change. I don’t know- No, I do know when my life stopped revolving around her. It was the day you came down to the Archives, out of nowhere, and said you looked forward to working with me. And maybe this place is evil, and the man I love literally feeds on fear, and I’m stressed and overworked and helping plot murder like that’s okay, but… but I’m wanted here. I have people who love and care about me, even if like 80% of them are technically monsters and I might be becoming a monster myself.

“And suddenly I’m realizing that I don’t need to pretend anymore. I loved my mother, but she didn’t love me. So I’m- I’m sad. Part of me is devastated really, but part of me is relieved. And I feel guilty for feeling relieved, but there’s also part of me that’s- that’s angry, and resentful, because if I don’t pretend, then I have to face how unfair it was and how much it hurt, and how can she still be making me feel so terrible when she’s not even around to do it anymore? It’s not- it’s not okay, and I- I don’t want-”

Breathing is hard, the air stuttering in and out of Martin’s lungs as his eyes burn and blur, and it’s suddenly almost impossible to keep talking around the lump in his throat. Still, it’s somehow not until Jon is standing in front of him and Martin has his arms wrapped around him, face pressed into Jon’s stomach, that he realizes he’s crying.

Jon makes some shushing sounds, the kind meant to soothe, not quiet, and runs his fingers through Martin’s hair, and it’s clear offering comfort doesn’t come naturally to him, but it doesn’t matter because it’s Jon. Jon, who loves him. It wouldn’t mean half as much coming from anyone else. So it’s not hard to let Jon wipe away his tears and pull him to his feet, to follow Jon down to Rosie’s desk and let him explain that Martin is going to be out for a few days, to hold Jon’s hand all the way to Martin’s flat.

Grief hurts. Common knowledge maybe, but while people have left Martin, he’s never actually lost anyone before. Even with all his mixed feelings toward her and how distant they’d become, even though it had been expected and a long time coming, even with everything, it hurts. Laying in bed in the middle of the afternoon, examining Jon’s sleeping face, he realizes how familiar Jon must be with the feeling.

Almost everyone Jon cared about had died, most of them only a couple years ago, and if that wasn’t enough, Martin knows Jon blames himself. Sasha, Tim, Daisy, gone, and all the others in constant danger. Martin can’t even imagine, and his heart breaks for Jon. Beyond any of that, though, Jon had lost Martin. He has him back, maybe, but it’s not the same Martin, not really, and all the love Martin has ever had and ever will have for Jon still couldn’t heal the wound that had left.

If Martin ever lost Jon… He curls himself closer into Jon, tightening his hold. It won’t happen. No matter what he has to do to keep Jon alive and well, Martin will do it without hesitation.

-

For the past ten minutes, Martin has been ranting. Jon’s not entirely sure what about; it seemed to start with budgeting issues, but now he’s talking about practical research and “idiots who couldn’t follow direction if you literally held their hand the whole way.” It doesn’t matter how close Jon’s listening, though, since his input hasn’t been required. Martin clearly just needs to vent, and Jon is perfectly happy to let him.

“And then they sent me another email asking for an update less than an hour later! No, it’s not done yet. I said ‘end of day’! Half the staff wasn’t even back from lunch! In no world is that end of day,” Martin’s yelling now, pacing the office, and it keeps getting harder for Jon to hide his smile. “I’m sorry you waited to the absolute last minute to submit this paperwork, but you aren’t the only people who need things from me right now, and we can’t all be as efficient as a man who’s been doing this for literally two centuries! Sometimes I wish…”

Martin stops abruptly.

“Martin?” Jon prompts after a moment.

“Elias,” Martin says, decided and intense, as if this somehow conveys a complete thought, and though he knows there’s no way the man is actually there, Jon still spreads his awareness through the Institute, just in case he somehow missed him.

“I’m- not sure-”

“Jonah, I mean,” he clarifies without actually clarifying anything. “You said he takes people’s bodies by replacing their eyes with his, right? Elias had Jonah’s eyes.”

“Yes, but I don’t-”

“What- what would happen, if you gave it back?” It takes half a second for Jon to realize what he’s asking, and significantly longer to process that it’s something Martin is actually considering.

What?

“If you gave me the eye. If we- if we replaced one of my eyes with his- mine- the other Martin’s? You said all his memories are inside it. Would I get them?”

“I- maybe? Probably, I suppose. But why would we do that? If you’re feeling overwhelmed-”

Martin waves that away. “No, well, yes. I wouldn’t complain about suddenly knowing how to do this job better, but that’s not the point. If I had the eye, I’d know what he knew, right? I’d know you.” Jon’s thoughts screech to a halt. Oh.

“Oh… I- yes, maybe, but Martin, if you did- you would change. You wouldn’t be who you are now.” Behind a fear of losing this Martin too is the reminder of how close Jon already is to losing himself.

“Would I still love you?”

“I don’t- m-maybe.” If he was the other Martin, then- “Yes, I- I suppose. I suppose you would.”

“Would you still love me?”

“Of course, Martin,” Jon says immediately, with absolute certainty. “I will love- do love- every version of you, but-” But Martin is hearing no arguments.

“And would it mend you? That hollow you talked about, would it heal?”

“Martin-” Martin grabs his shoulders and looks him dead on.

“Jon. Would. You. Heal?” Jon thinks, feels, Knows.

“Yes,” he reluctantly admits. This feels dangerous. “You would know me, like he did, and become part of me, like he was.”

“Then I want it.”

“Martin- I told you-”

Jon. None of my memories before you would change. And the only important thing after is that I love you, and nothing could ever make me love you less. No one is ever the same as they used to be. And whoever I am, after, will still keep what’s important. I want to do this. So. What do we do? Who can take it from you and put it in me?”

Martin. I-” Jon sighs, somehow both hopeful and defeated. “We’ll need to go to Hill Top Road.”

Chapter Text

There is one stop they need to make before Hill Top Road.

“Oh. It’s you,” Lesere Saraki says, and for a moment Jon is very confused, as they’ve never met in this timeline, before he realizes that she’s not talking to him. Instead her gaze is fixed on Martin. The frown probably isn’t the best sign. “No wonder.”

“Hi, Ms. Saraki. We’re sorry to bother you, but-”

“Can you make that stop?” she speaks over Martin.

“Sorry, make what stop?”

“The- the staring. Thing. It wasn’t this bad the last time you came.”

“Ah-” Martin looks at Jon.

“I’m sorry,” Jon says honestly, “I can’t really help it. I know it’s- unnerving, but I can promise you won’t be harmed.”

“Right. Your friend recover?”

“Yes! Yeah, Tim’s just fine,” Martin assures her. “He’s-”

“Good. Let’s get this over with, then. Who’s hurt?” This is far from the kind woman Jon had met in the future, but it’s very, very close to the one Melanie had described meeting just after the ritual. They need her help now, but he hopes she never needs to get used to the full attention of the Eye this time.

“I’m afraid I have a very strange request,” Jon says. “Stranger than the experience you shared with the Magnus Institute a few years ago. You can refuse, of course, but I hope you won’t. I’d prefer someone familiar with the unusual that I trust not to cause intentional harm.”

“I don’t know if that’s supposed to be flattering,” Lesere says, crossing her arms, “but it’s definitely not reassuring.”

“I know-”

“It also tells me nothing. What is it you want me to do?” She’s getting impatient but Jon honestly isn’t sure how to broach this.

“I… We need- surgery, of a sort.”

“I’m not a surgeon.” She waves a hand at the nurse’s scrubs she’s wearing.

“No, but you’ve assisted, and you know the human body well. For my part it will be… deeply unpleasant, but you can’t hurt me. Anyone with a strong constitution could do it, probably, though I’d rather not test that. Martin’s part will be… less dangerous for the average human, but will require more care.” Martin squeezes his hand.

“That still doesn’t answer my question. What is this surgery?”

“A transplant. Of an eye.”

“You want me to transplant your eye into him,” she says flatly, nodding in Martin’s direction. “Ignoring the very high possibility of me accidentally damaging the eye, as I am still not a surgeon, chances are you’re not even a compatible donor.”

“No, my eyes are fine. The eye you’re transplanting is his, but it’s-” And here’s where they’re going to lose her- “it’s in my chest.”

“Ahh. I see. This is a prank.” Already she’s digging in her purse for her keys.

“Please, Ms. Saraki. I swear, it’s not,” Martin says. “It’s killing him.”

“Well, that’s not techni-”

“Jon,” Martin snaps. “Your heart giving out and your body being taken over by an eldritch horror is still you dying.” Lesere looks between them and shakes her head.

“… You’re insane. You’re insane and I’m going home.”

“Unfortunately, we’re not,” Jon says. “Do you remember, Lesere, what Gerard Keay said to you? ‘For you, better Beholding than the Lightless Flame.’ We serve Beholding. It is what is watching you right now that makes you feel so Seen.”

“That’s not-”

“Will you permit me to give you some proof?” She clearly can’t decide whether to be angry at them or afraid, but bringing up Gerard seems to have swayed her closer to afraid; which, unfortunately, is the better option for their purposes. She nods, and Jon holds his arm out to her. “If you would, please try to measure my pulse.”

Hesitantly, she takes his wrist, pressing two fingers to the underside. When she measures it against her watch, she frowns, but that’s not what he needs to show her. Right now, Jon’s heart rate is about as normal as it ever gets these days. She turns the frown on him.

“Keep measuring, please,” he tells her, then presses his other hand over his heart. Unnecessary, but it makes him feel better to think the creature in his chest currently acting as a pacemaker is more than a simple word from what he’s about to ask it. “Stop.”

It does. Lesere’s eyes go wide almost immediately as his pulse ceases to exist and he remains standing. Jon isn’t sure how long he can go without a heartbeat. Six months is clearly a possibility, but he doesn’t think he’ll be able to stay conscious very long. Whether he needs it or not, the rest of his body still expects the flow of blood and not having it hurts. A lot.

“Have I earned some credibility?” he asks, lungs crying at the use when nature is telling them they should be still. Lesere nods. “Okay.” Relief rushes through him along with the renewed flow of blood. She’s still holding his wrist.

“What- How-”

“I’ll explain as much as I can on the way. I know you’ve never had a very strong fear of spiders, but I also need to warn you about our destination.”

-

“Jon,” a woman greets as she opens the door, unnecessarily slowly with a very annoying creak. She seems to be milking the “creepy haunted house” vibe for all it’s worth. Completing the aesthetic herself with black lipstick and short, short, bleach-blonde hair semi-styled around the crack in her skull held together with spiderweb. “Have you brought a guest for Mr. Spider?”

“That’s not amusing.”

“It’s an honest question… also it’s a bit amusing.”

“No,” Jon asserts, “I haven’t.” But Martin’s been thinking about this for a long while.

“Yes,” he corrects. Jon’s head snaps toward him, caught somewhere between anger and terror.

“I didn’t bring you here to be eaten, Martin. You are not their meal.”

“No, but I am an offering.”

“What? You…” It’s clear the exact moment Jon realizes what he intends. “No. Martin, no.”

“Oh, come on, Jon. You’re never going to be able to satisfy the Web. You literally can’t lie to save your life. And even if you could, this would still be better. I might serve the Eye, but I’m not actually part of it. Your future proved that.” Martin chooses to ignore Jon’s quiet, indignant “you could be” and continues to talk over him, saying reasonably, “Let me do this. Let me balance you. You’ll be mostly Beholding, part Web. I’ll be mostly Web, part Beholding. And I won’t have to worry that all of this is going to happen again. We’ll be able to protect each other.”

“Martin-” Martin takes Jon’s face in his hands and looks him in the eye.

“Jon. Trust me, please.” Jon deflates.

“I’m never going to win this, am I?” Martin smiles. The woman in the door coos. Behind them, Lesere watches on in silence.

“You’re really not.” He turns back to the woman watching them. “You must be Annabelle Cane. I’m Martin Blackwood. There’s something of mine I’m told you can help me get back.”

-

The surgery goes as well as can be expected when the operating room is a kitchen coated in cobweb, the surgeon is a terrified nurse, and only one of the patients is remotely human. There’s more blood than Jon was expecting, and he’s thankful Lesere insisted on going back for a blood bag for Martin. Also anaesthetic. Jon is awake the whole time, of course, but there’s no reason for Martin to be, and Knowing the correct amount to use is a simple matter.

Once it’s over, Annabelle offers Lesere a ride home and Jon sits at Martin’s side, staring, until he awakes.

“Hi,” Martin croaks, squeezing Jon’s hand, before he even opens his eyes. And then he does.

The eye looks… it looks like Martin’s eye. It’s slightly clouded, unfocused, with lines of blood spidering out from the iris. But it’s Martin’s. It moves in sync with the other, and Martin looks more curious, wondering, than in any kind of discomfort. He gives no sign he can feel the spider inside it.

“Oh,” he says lightly, “I can see the strings.”

“The strings?” Jon asks, still worried and reluctant to release Martin’s hand.

“Yeah, the- uh- the strands, the connections between things. There’s… there’s a whole web between us.” Martin reaches out to touch some invisible thing, like plucking a string, and a shiver goes up Jon’s spine. And it feels like love. And Jon feels whole. It’s been so long, he forgot how wonderful a feeling it is. “Jon, it’s so beautiful.”

Martin pauses then, eyes going wide and watery, and focused with intensity on Jon. “Oh. Oh, Jon. Oh, love, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry-”

“You-” Jon is almost afraid to ask. “You remem-”

“Yes. Yes, I remember all of it. Both timelines. Oh, Jon.” Jon is in Martin’s arms, sobbing, with no conscious thought of doing so. His chest hurts and there’s a lot of blood. In his head, he can hear Lesere’s voice warning him about his ribs healing. He doesn’t care.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he cries, Martin hushing him all the while.

“I’m here,” Martin whispers into his hair, rubbing a hand over his back. “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere this time. I’m so proud of you. I’m here, Jon, we’re not alone. Look- look at me, Jon.”

“Martin-”

Look. What do you see?” Jon feels a tug from the strings he can’t see. Martin, pulling him, inviting him. He Looks.

“I see You. I- I See you.” Martin grins and kisses him.

“I See you, too.”

-

It takes significantly less adjustment than Martin expected to assimilate all the memories from the eye. It’s not like he lives through them all. They don’t flash before his eyes, like they always show in films when people remember things. It’s far more subtle than that. He’s a little colder, a little sadder; he has some moments of uncertainty when he can’t quite remember which version of events happened here, and he Understands Jon. And he hadn’t been worried about loving Jon less; nothing he’d learned about this other version of himself had given him any doubt. He hadn’t really thought he could love Jon more, though. And he does. Jon is an absolute disaster, and Martin loves him so much.

Because now Martin remembers how Jon confronted him about lying and then trusted him more than anyone else around him. He remembers Jon trying to send them away before he confronted the not-Sasha. He remembers Jon doing his best to comfort Martin when Jon was the one who’d been kidnapped. He remembers Jon saying “I miss you.” Saying “I trust you.” Bursting in saying “Run away with me.” He remembers Jon following him where no one was meant to follow, and giving Martin life by baring his own soul.

He remembers seeing some damn good cows.

He remembers just how much he wants to see Jonah Magnus dead. Martin’s never thought of himself as bloodthirsty. He’d much rather solve things by talking them through, wanting everything to be better in the end. But that other life had taught him hate, and it had taught him just how far he was willing to go to protect what he loved. And Martin finds he’s still okay with the answer being “as far as it takes”.

Unfortunately, adopting the memories and experiences of another version of yourself is not without its drawbacks. It’s both easier and harder, now that Martin’s part Web. Occasionally he’ll find himself withdrawing, falling back into numbness and nonanswers and avoiding people, and the strings he sees whenever he Looks for them feel like fire where they wrap around him. Sometimes it’s hard to care; other times he’s resentful, though which side he’s resentful toward changes from moment to moment. Jon is his anchor then, cliche as it may be. Either Martin will fear the loneliness and seek Jon out, or he will find himself resenting the ties between them and will immediately shake himself out of it. Nothing could make him regret or resent Jon.

Maybe once, when he was in deep with Peter, and Jon came back to life only to throw himself into dangerous situations right and left. Maybe then he could have. Not now. Not after all they’ve been through. Not after all Jon’s done to be with him. Not since he looked in Jon’s eyes and Knew him.

It’s not always falling back into terrible old habits, though. Sometimes the quiet will make him nervous. Sometimes an echo will make him hyperventilate. Sometimes finding his phone dead will make his hands shake. Sometimes he can’t breathe or think or see straight until he hears Jon’s voice and feels a tug on the web between them.

There is a spider in each corner of Elias’s- of Martin’s- office, and sometimes Martin will just sit and watch them spin their webs. Will study their methods and construction. The web between him and Jon is full, but it’s also tangled and frayed in places and has little pattern or symmetry. Sometimes, when it feels like that web is his lifeline and the thing that takes his breath isn’t panic but the overwhelming depth of his love for Jon, Martin wonders if he could weave it anew; make it stronger, turn it into a work of art, a poem, an homage to all that lies between them. He fears what tearing the current web might do, though. What things may be trapped within it that they might lose if he isn’t careful.

-

Jon’s plan has been progressing, however slowly. They have no idea where Elias is or how to get a favor from Death, and Sasha informs them that all the tunnels to the Panopticon have been blocked off, so Jon has to call Karolina Górka and hope she’s far enough advanced to help.

“Obviously I get what you’re going for,” Martin says once they’ve gone over it again, “but have you made any further moves toward getting what you need since Agnes?”

“Yes… Yes! Don’t give me that look. I- you know I started thinking about this after Basira’s encounter with Maxwell Rayner. And then after Naomi Herne called me. Gerry and Oliver Banks just made me sure. I don’t think we need all of them. We have the Hunt, Spiral, Flesh, and Desolation, and obviously the Web and the Eye. I still need to talk to Karolina for the Buried, and we… might have the Lonely. But we will still need at least the Dark, the Vast, and the End.” It sounds so much simpler than Jon knows it will be. He runs a hand through his hair only for it to fall back down in his eyes.

“Right. Do you have any ideas where we might find them?”

“Yes. I- Well, I don’t really know how to approach the End, but Manuela Dominguez should still be in Ny-Ålesund for the Dark. And-” Jon sighs. He really doesn’t like this. “I don’t want to send you in alone, but it might be better if I’m not there when you talk to the Vast.”

“Right…” Martin says, sounding distracted. He clears his throat. “Right, is it Simon Fairchild because I can probably get him to agree, but there’s still-”

“You think you can get Simon Fairchild to agree?”

“I mean, probably? The man thinks being bossed around is a curious novelty. He does still owe Peter some kind of favor, though, so if Jonah gets to him…”

“Right…” Jon shakes himself only for his hair to fall in his face again and Martin laughs, getting up to come around the desk.

“When was the last time you had your hair cut?” he asks, running his fingers through it, gathering it all up in a bunch. It’s rather soothing actually, right up until he brushes up against the back of Jon’s neck and a sharp sting makes Jon hiss and pull away. “What-”

Martin pulls Jon back by the shoulder and lifts his hair to inspect the tender spot.

“Did you cut…” Martin trails off, then he touches the spot again and Jon immediately jerks away.

“What are you-” Jon reaches back to touch the spot himself only to get the same stinging sensation.

“Jon,” Martin says slowly, “when did you get a tattoo?”

“I- what? I never-” A terrible thought occurs to Jon. “What is it?”

“What else?” Martin asks dryly, lifting Jon’s hair again with a bit more care. “It’s an eye.”

With dread, Jon blinks once, and then again, more deliberately. When he opens his eyes again, he can see Martin standing behind him.

“It’s one of the rib-eyes,” he sighs dejectedly. At least it only looks like a tattoo and not a real eye, he supposes.

“One of what?

“The- the eyes, from the rib Jared Hopworth has.” Martin turns him around, glaring disapprovingly.

“You gave away another rib? Jon!”

“No! No, it’s- it’s the same rib, it- Didn’t I tell you this?”

“You definitely didn’t. Jon, we talked about-” Martin sighs and turns Jon back around, pulling his hair up again and tying it back with a rubber band. “We’ll talk about this later. So. Simon Fairchild?”

“Oh, uh, no.” Martin sits down again. “Thank you. Um, actually, I was thinking Mike Crew.”

“The skyscraper guy? I thought Daisy killed him.”

“Not this time.”

“Alright. What did you do to him?

“Nothing! Nothing this time. But, well, he gave me his statement, before.”

“Of course,” Martin sighs again. “Okay, where do I find him?”

-

“Can I get you a cup of tea?” Mike Crew asks, gesturing for Martin to take a seat.

“That would be lovely, thank you.” Martin looks around the flat while he waits. It has an open floorplan and is on a high enough floor that the windows probably shouldn’t be able to open, and yet all of them are. The tea, when it’s done, isn’t great, but Martin has had far, far worse and right now it’s the least of his discomforts.

“So, what can I do for you?”

“I’m, uh, I’m hoping to ask a favor, actually. There’s something we’re trying to do, and we’re going to need the help of the Vast to do it.”

“Right.” Mike narrows his eyes. “What sort of favor and why? Is this for one of those rituals? You’re from the Watcher, right?”

“No! I mean, yes, the Magnus Institute is Beholding, but this is more… a precaution against a ritual? I’m not sure how much I should say here, though. You know, heh, the walls have eyes and all.”

“Why come to me for this?”

“Well, we considered going to the Fairchilds, but…” Martin coughs. “Well, let’s just say the Institute is under new management, and we’re worried the Fairchilds have too much attachment to the old management.”

“‘New management’. Whose? Yours?”

“Uh, well, yes! Actually. Not really where I saw myself a year ago, but-” Martin shrugs, laughs just right to invite Mike to see the humor. He doesn’t really have the face for “imposing,” so instead it’s usually better to project “harmless”. It has the risk of also projecting “incompetent,” but he thinks Mike is probably more likely to go for a stupid but not too dangerous plan that might be amusing, than he would a serious murder plot concocted by Martin and the eye monster haunting his dreams. “Look, you know about Elias?”

“I’ve heard the name. Old management?”

“Yeah, well, he’s trying to do the Watcher’s Crown, which would… well, as Jon says, the Eye would be Everywhere. Like, the very sky would be watching. So we’re… trying to not have that.”

“The sky would be watching. What does that mean?”

“Oh, uh, well, Jon-”

Mike cuts him off. “Who is this Jon?”

“He’s… the Archivist.”

“I thought that was that crazy old woman.”

“Oh, no, Gertrude was killed, actually. A couple years ago. By Elias. And then Jon became the Archivist, and he’s mostly been trying to figure out how to stop Elias.”

“Then why isn’t he here, asking for help?” Martin coughs awkwardly again and takes another sip of tea.

“Jon… isn’t very personable. And people can’t- not answer his questions. Which makes a lot of people uncomfortable… also he’s, uh, he’s been haunting your dreams?” The breeze drifting through the flat picks up rather dramatically.

“The Eye man? That fucking thing that keeps watching me being chased by lightning over and over? That’s called ‘Jon’?” Which Martin thinks is a tad unfair.

“I mean, you throw people off skyscrapers and you’re called ‘Mike’, so, yeah? His name is Jon, and he can’t help the dream thing, but he didn’t want to make you feel uncomfortable or pressured. And he thought you might want to help the Vast keep the sky rather than replacing it with a giant eye… eyes… or something. I don’t know; it’s hard to describe. But it’s weird and not good.”

“A giant eye.” Mike sounds understandably skeptical, but after a minute the wind dies down. “Okay… okay. I’ll help you, on one condition.”

“Which is?”

Jon lets me throw him off a building.”

“What? No! He’s not going to-” Martin is cut off by his phone ringing, and he knows exactly who it is and why, and he loves Jon dearly, but also he really wants to shake the man. Against his better judgement, he answers. “No, Jon.”

“Tell him I’ll do it.”

“What part of ‘No, Jon’ did you miss?”

“I’ll be fine, Martin.”

“You don’t know that. I know you don’t know that. And what if he decides to throw you off the Shard or something? Can you promise me you’ll be able to get back up from that?”

“Okay, we’ll set a limit.”

No-” Martin takes a deep breath, and cuts his losses. “Three floors,” he offers Mike.

He’s not going to take that, Martin. Tell him six.”

“Shut up, Jon.”

“Hmm… Fifteen.”

“Five.”

“Twelve.”

Martin, really-”

“Shut up, Jon. Seven, no higher.”

“Nine.”

I’ll do it.”

“… Fine. Deal.” Mike holds his hand out with a grin and Martin shakes it reluctantly.

“Pleasure doing business with you.”


Later, standing on the roof of a nine-story building, wind rushing over them, Martin pulls on the wavering threads around Mike and walks him to the side. There, with as much gravity as he can muster, and all the looming their height difference allows him, he swears, “If he doesn’t get back up from this, I will throw you so deep in the Buried that you won’t see the sky for a thousand years. Understand?”

Wide-eyed, Mike assures him that he does.

Jon tries to scream when he falls, but he can’t. But there’s never any sound of impact or breaking bones. At the base of the building, Jon is stopped, hovering two feet above the ground and then Mike drops him, relatively gently. Martin shakes his hand again and lets him know they’ll be in touch.

-

“I know where he went,” Daisy says by way of greeting, flopping into Jon’s spare chair like always. “Can’t say for sure who he is now, but I have a suspect. Could verify if I could just figure out where he’s headed.”

“Where is he?” Jon asks.

“On the Tundra. Somewhere in the north Atlantic.” Daisy gives a frustrated growl. “I’m so close to figuring out where they’re going to berth next.”

“I- that’s…” Jon swallows hard, fighting down panic. So soon? “Keep- keep on him, but don’t get too close. We’re not ready yet.”

“The fire woman?”

“No, we got Agnes without issue. Thank you. We still need the Dark and the End, though.”

Daisy nods. “Need me to find them?”

“No, thank you. I know where Manuela Dominguez is, and I think she’ll agree to my offer. The End, though… Martin has an idea. I really hope it works, because there’s a chance it’s going to hurt either way. And I’d rather not have that loss with nothing to show for it.” It’s going to hurt a lot, and Jon doesn’t know what he’ll do if it goes wrong. He’s been trying not to think about it.

Daisy must see something in his face, because she gets up and tosses him the hoodie sitting on the couch. “Right. Need a break anyway. Let’s get a drink.”

“You don’t want to go find Basira?” Jon asks, pulling the hoodie on. It’s Martin’s and far too big, but it’s warm and it’s not like Jon would be any more suitable for public consumption without it.

“I’ll text her to join us, if she wants. I’ll see her tonight anyway.”

-

It’s not hard to figure out that Jon’s avoiding the topic of the Lonely, which isn’t surprising. It’s always been a touchy subject, but it does need to be addressed. For once, at least, it’s not about Martin. They need someone with the powers of the Lonely, which Martin no longer has- or has never had, depending on how you look at it- but there’s little chance of any Lukas helping them, especially since Elias has apparently run to Peter to get away from Jon.

Without that lead, though, they have very little to go on. The Lonely-aligned aren’t exactly lining up to announce themselves. Which means either pulling Daisy off her hunt- not an option- or, well.

There is no compulsion or pulling of strings keeping Jon from knowing what Martin intends to do. No more manipulation than simple distraction. If Jon wants to know what Martin is planning, there’s nothing deterring him, let alone stopping him. Martin is pretty sure Jon doesn’t want to know, though. Jon, as always, feels responsible, and isn’t prepared to sacrifice anyone he’s made attempts to save. It’s not that Martin doesn’t understand- he’d very much like people in general to be safe and happy- but if you want to stop the apocalypse, you have to make a few monsters; and while Jon has a personal stake in this one, Martin doesn’t.

“Thank you for meeting me,” he greets, slipping into a chair in a not-quite-empty coffee shop.

“You said this was about Jon,” Naomi Herne responds quietly. “Is he alright? I know things weren’t going well the last time I talked to him.”

“Yes,” Martin assures her quickly. “Yeah, he’s fine. He is now, at least. He was… sick for a while, but he’s doing a lot better.”

Naomi takes a long sip of her coffee as she studies him, clearly making some kind of choice. When she sets it down, she says, “I didn’t think monsters got sick.”

“Not the normal kind of sick, at least,” Martin agrees. “It’s a long story.”

“Does it have something to do with why you asked me here?”

“A bit. The thing that was making him sick has been fixed, but the reason it happened is still a threat.”

“I’m going to take a wild guess and say this ‘reason’ is a person… for a given value of person.”

“Have you ever had a really, really, really terrible boss?” Clearly not what she was expecting to hear; Naomi raises a brow.

“How bad?”

“Well, that kind of depends on how much you like the world as it is.” She laughs, but not in disbelief. It’s a familiar laugh. A “this might as well happen” laugh.

“We’re talking apocalypses now?”

“Technically, we’re trying not to. But to stop him we need a very specific kind of help. The kind Jon won’t ask for because there’s no coming back from it.” She studies him and he lets her. She has nothing on Jon for searching looks.

“You want me to accept it. The Lonely. Become a monster who feeds on isolating and terrifying people.”

“I don’t want you to, no. But I also don’t see any other options, so I’m going to ask you to anyway.”

“How long do I have to think about it?” That was a lot easier than expected; Martin checks that he hasn’t been pulling any strings subconsciously.

“Jon and I are leaving in two days, and we’re going to be out of the country for probably a couple weeks,” he tells her. “I’ll need to know when we get back. If I need to make other plans, I’m going to need all the time I can get.”

-

Ny-Ålesund is every bit as cold as Jon remembers, but the trip itself is significantly more pleasant with Martin along. Basira had tried to come, but given that she’s still not actually an Institute employee, Martin refused to approve a travel budget for her. Instead, it’s just the two of them on what could be a vacation, if Ny-Ålesund were anything resembling a vacation destination. Also if Jon didn’t keep finding Martin staring expressionlessly out at the water. It isn’t always. Mostly they stick close to each other and Jon will tell him about the various creatures around them. Some of the things in the depths should be entities in and of themselves, if you ask him.

Port still comes as a relief, and the time huddled together for warmth on the way to the research facility goes more smoothly.

“So she’s just… living in there?” Martin asks incredulously, looking at the windowless, featureless building. “What does she eat? Have there just been people disappearing here and no one talks about it?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jon says. “They didn’t know about anyone being here when I asked last time, though. If people have disappeared, it’s been attributed to something else.” He stares blankly at the door until he feels Martin’s gloved hand slip into his own.

“Alright?”

“Yes. I’m fine. I just… didn’t expect to feel it so strongly.”

“The Dark?”

“The dark sun. I’ve felt it since we landed, but it’s grown the closer we get, and it’s… pulling me.”

“That’s not good, Jon. You’re supposed to- I should’ve- Is it going to be a problem?” It might be, but not one Jon is going to acknowledge at this point. He opens the door and walks in.

Inside the building is both darker than and not as dark as he remembers. Martin turns on a torch, but it doesn’t reach far and neither of them are truly using it. The door closes behind them.

“Manuela Dominguez,” Jon calls, moving away from the door, but not so far she can sneak up behind them. “I am Jonathan Sims, the Archivist. I’ve come to bring news and to negotiate.” The darkness seems to hum, shadows in the blackness creeping ever closer.

“The Archivist. So she’s dead too,” Manuela says, still not visible, but they both have an awareness across the room.

“Yes. She was shot to death the same day your ritual failed.”

“Wait, so she-”

“Had no hand in it.”

“That… So why are you here? What do you want?”

“We’re hoping we can convince you to help us prevent the Watcher’s Crown,” Martin says.

“And you are?”

“Martin Blackwood. Acting Head of the Magnus Institute.” Manuela laughs, and Jon thinks that’s a bit uncalled for.

“Things really have changed while I was gone. What do you need help for, if Elias is gone?”

“He’s only gone because he’s plotting and he knows I’m going to stop him,” Jon tells her, shifting his weight and angling his head just slightly and… there she is. “And I’m going to stop him because I’ve seen his vision for the world and I want no part in it.”

The darkness seems to creep forward in front of her as she moves. There’s something almost serpentine in it. Step by step, she draws closer, until she stands right in front of Jon, confident that he can’t see her there. “My ritual failed. Everything is ruined. What do I care how the world is remade when it can’t be remade in the image I desire? What’s in it for me?”

Jon had kept his gaze on the spot they last heard her. She meant for him to be startled, scared. Now he looks her directly in the eye and finds satisfaction when she’s the one to take a step back. He leans in. “I won’t eat your sun.”

Another step back. Martin says Jon’s name, scolding, but he doesn’t mean it.

“We’re prepared to offer you non-interference,” Martin says.

“Non-interference. What does that mean?”

“Jon shouldn’t have put it that way, but it means what he said. We won’t neutralize your dark sun, and we might watch, but no Beholding-aligned person will interfere in any ritual attempts you make for the next fifty years.”

She scoffs. “Fifty years! We had to wait three hundred for this eclipse, for all the variables to be perfect, and you’re offering fifty?

“One hundred, then, or until the Archivist’s death, whichever comes first. You’re a smart woman. You’ll still have your sun. I’m sure you can find some other circumstances that could work.” It’s quiet for a long while, cut only by Manuela’s breathing, heavy as she hasn’t been able to pull her eyes away from Jon’s.

“I see Dark in your eyes,” she whispers, her voice wavering. “You- you really could…”

“Yes,” Jon agrees. “I could.” He blinks, and she stumbles back with a gasp.

-

The research facility is a sort of black Martin has never known. He’d considered what it would be like to be blind, back when Jon first told them how to quit, but he hadn’t actually known what it was like to be without sight. It’s terrifying. Thankfully, he doesn’t need to rely on it anymore. It doesn’t matter how dark it gets, Martin can still see the threads, and he can feel where things are in the vibrations. He knows where Manuela is even before she speaks, and he sees her get pulled into Jon’s web, and he sees when she is allowed to pull free.

He also sees when she tries to take that freedom to attack, and then it’s his web she’s caught in, trapped in the air, in invisible threads, an arm’s reach from Jon.

“One hundred years! One hundred years and a sun that will sputter out if it’s taken from here. You think I don’t know where I stand? Or do you honestly think this is a bargain?” she cries. There’s another tug on Martin’s strings across the room. “Even with a century. Even with the dark sun. Even if I find an adequate eclipse. Even with everything else, I could not perform the ritual. I would still need-”

“I can tell you where to find Maxwell Rayner,” Jon says, and she gasps.

“What? No. He- Maxwell, he’s dead.”

“Yes,” Jon agrees. “Dead, but not gone. You can still find him a new host.”

One by one, Martin pulls away the threads holding Manuela in place as she considers what they’ve said, until finally she’s standing on her own again.

“What is it you want from me?”

“When I’m ready, I need you to come with me and make it Dark.”

“That’s it? For all the makings of a ritual and no interference, you just need me to ‘make it dark’?”

“That’s it.”

“… Alright. Deal. Tell me where to find him.”

Manuela retreats further back into the building before they open the door and step back out into the blinding light. Jon holds it open behind them for Daisy to follow. Sasha steps out her own door, now beside theirs and waves.

“I’m surprised you didn’t threaten her,” Jon says, and Daisy shrugs, bumping a shoulder to his.

“Looked like you had it handled.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“Been tracking them for weeks; I finally found Bouchard’s body. It reeked of Lonely. I’m not coming back to the Institute yet. Still need to figure out where to catch them. But I thought you should know who he is now.”

“And I thought you might want a quick lift home,” Sasha laughs.


Naomi Herne comes to the Archives not long after they get back, fidgeting and nervous, but given she’s there she’s obviously decided. Martin still hasn’t told Jon about their conversation, but with the new information they have, he has never been so glad to tell someone they aren’t needed.

“What- Oh,” Jon says. “No.”

“If I can help-” Naomi starts to argue, “I know you don’t want-”

“That’s not- I can’t say I’m happy Martin went to you, but I understand, and I can’t even imagine what a difficult decision this was for you. Thank you. But we got word from a colleague a couple days ago that there’s another option. We can’t say for sure that it will work, but we couldn’t say that for you either, and it’s enough of a chance that I’d rather take it than push you into a choice you don’t want to make.”

It’s not so much the tension that drains out of Naomi as it is the energy, and she more collapses into the couch than sits on it. Sudden exhaustion in the wake of anxiety isn’t an odd occurrence in the Archives, but it comes off her in waves so strong Martin feels like he needs a sympathetic nap. He sits at the other end of the couch and waits for her to finish processing. Eventually she laughs, a soft, fragile thing so full of relief it’s on the verge of hysteria.

“I should thank you,” she says.

“I’m sorry,” Martin replies.

“No, I- I mean it. After I met Jon again, I wasn’t sure. The Lonely- it doesn’t push or pull you toward it. It’s subtle. It offers relief when you’re overwhelmed. And whispers that it’s okay when you just want to lay in bed and not see or speak to another person. It’s like a cool lake on a warm day just inviting you to drift, with the promise you won’t be bothered.”

“Yeah, I- I know,” Martin says. “I almost…” She nods in understanding.

“It’s still hard, without Evan, and it seemed… easier. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted that for real. When you asked me, though- When I had to choose… it terrified me. I kept thinking that if I did this, there would be no going back. I really would be alone for the rest of my life, and I realized I don’t want that. I’m not- I’m never going to like parties or want to spend every minute with another person, but I still want to be able to.”

“I’m glad,” Jon says.

“I think- I think I’m ready to make that statement,” she tells him. Martin gets up to let Jon take his place. No sense making them sit in the not-so-comfortable desk chairs for this. As Jon recites his usual statement intro, Patrząc hops into Naomi’s lap and settles in, and Martin quietly heads back to his own office, taking care as he goes to leave Jon’s door slightly ajar, just the way he likes it.

One left.

Chapter Text

“Game night!” Martin declares with a smile, lifting the boxes in his arms to display when Melanie opens the door.

“You’re joking,” she says flatly, raising an eyebrow at Jon, who just shrugs.

“I’m not. Do you have any idea how hard it is to run a place like the Institute? When you’ve never done anything like it before? While trying to stop the world from ending?” Martin demands, voice slowly getting louder. It should be rhetorical, but he waits for Melanie to answer.

“Hard, I’m guessing.”

“Yes! Yes, it is! I’m stressed, Melanie. So we’re going to sit down and play games and drink the cheap liquor I made Jon pick up on the way here and take a night off. Any objections?” Laughing, Melanie holds the door open and waves them in. “By the way, Basira and Sasha might stop by too.”

“What’s this then?” Georgie asks, coming out of the studio.

“Hey, Georgie,” Jon smiles. “Bet we can beat you at at least one of these games.”

Georgie laughs too. “You figure out how to turn off that Knowing thing and you’re on, Sims.”

Three hours later, Martin wins at Life and they all go still. Later, Jon will thank Martin for suggesting the vague phrasing of the bet. Right now, there’s a chill in the air and they’re all suddenly sober, and Georgie is sitting stiffly upright, eyes wide.

“Jon, what did you do?” She doesn’t sound afraid, obviously. More like she’s trying to figure out how angry she should be. Not as angry as she has a right to be, Jon hopes.

“I’m sorry, Georgie,” Jon says with absolute honesty. This was not a thing he wanted to do, and they had spent hours last night trying to think of other options. “We need a favor from the End. It honors bets.”

“I’m not an avatar, Jon.”

“No,” he agrees. They’re not sure how she’ll take this, but neither of them want to lie to her. “But you could be. You’re marked. Chances are good you’ll get a choice when you die. Seems to be the catalyst for a lot of us.”

“So, what? After everything, you’re just going to trick me into-”

“No! Georgie, you don’t need to be part of anything past this.” Jon flinches under the glare Melanie is directing at him.

“We can find someone else End-aligned to actually do it,” Martin says, trying to pull some attention off Jon. Melanie changes target; Georgie doesn’t. “Or- or maybe we won’t even need anyone. We just- the bet was with the End; we just needed someone to play its side. Follow-through is its responsibility, not yours.”

“And you didn’t tell me, because you didn’t think I’d agree,” Georgie says, still locked in her staring contest with Jon.

“I- I thought there might be a chance,” Jon says softly, “but we couldn’t take the risk.”

“So?” she demands. “You’re willing to throw away our friendship for this, so I want to know. What is it you want from it?”

“I-” Jon sighs. They agreed on honesty, and Martin’s sure Georgie would know if Jon lied anyway. “We’re going to kill Jonah Magnus. We need Death to make sure it takes.”

-

“Found him,” Daisy says, forgoing a greeting once again. Jon feels a sudden déjà vu as a wave of anxiety rushes through him.

“Did you… Bring him here?”

“Do you see anyone else here, Jon? No, I didn’t bring him. There’s a problem.” Of course there is. There always is. It’s not like Jonah was ever going to make this easy for him.

“Right. What’s the problem?”

“He’s taken to his new powers too well. I can’t just chase him down anymore; he’s got a built-in out. Know you’re counting on that, but it means he’s too slippery now. We’re going to need to lay a trap.” Jon can hear the nervousness in her voice, though she hides it well.

“Take me there,” he says. “I can go in and get him.”

“No.”

“Daisy-”

“You can’t even find him here, Jon. You think you’re going to be able to follow him into the fog? Maybe you can get in and out, but you won’t find him there.” It’s not a point he’s eager to accept.

“What do you suggest, then? Try to ambush him when he comes out?”

“He’ll just slip away again. No, I need to get him. Don’t!” she cuts him off even before he’s formed the first word. “I can get in. I can find him. And I can hold him. I just need help finding my way back.”

Well, at least Jon shouldn’t have to lose a rib for this one. “Are you sure you want to do this? No doubts? You could get trapped there.”

“No, I couldn’t.” She huffs a laugh, but there’s nothing jovial in her tone. She means what she’s saying. “I know you’ll come for me.”

There’s a lump in Jon’s throat that he does his best to swallow around. “Always,” he swears.

-

“I don’t like this,” Martin says. “I should-”

“No,” Jon says. “We don’t know what will happen if you go in there. It’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”

“I watched you be pushed off a nine-story building,” Martin argues. Fairly, he thinks. “I let you take that risk.”

“Even if that had permanently hurt me, I wouldn’t have been gone. I would’ve been like Agnes, as long as you were still here. This?” Jon’s voice has gone shaky, and Martin would suspect Jon of taking a manipulative page out of his book if he didn’t know Jon too well. “You are amazing and have come so far, but you’re not completely free of its influence. I could lose you, Martin. And I think I’ve proven that’s not something I’m willing to accept. Just… trust me? Please? I did this once with both of us there. This time I have you here as my anchor, with the whole web we have between us to guide me back.”

“… Yes, alright,” Martin grudgingly caves. “Fine. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it. I will… wait here.”

“No, uh. We- we aren’t going to have much time, when we get back. If we give him too long, he could get away again or, I don’t know, bring the tunnels crashing down. I need you to make the calls. Let everyone know to prepare. The moment I tug on my strings, have Sasha and Karolina take everyone down to the Panopticon and get started.”

Martin is actually relieved, to have something to do. Dwelling doesn’t help. “Okay. Promise me you’ll come back. I will come after you if you don’t.”

“I promise. And you know I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it.” Martin cups Jon’s face in his hands, kisses him softly.

Basira coughs awkwardly from the doorway. She nods to Jon once she has their attention. “Bring her back safe, okay?”

“I will.”

And then he goes to find Sasha to get a door to Iceland, where Daisy apparently caught the Tundra in port.

“Now what?” Basira asks. Martin stands straighter, steeling himself.

“Now we gather the troops.”

-

Jon hears them before he can see them through the fog. Peter’s loathsome voice in Jonah’s smarmy tone.

“What now, Daisy? You found me. Congratulations. But how do you intend to get yourself out, let alone take me with you?”

The fog parts and Daisy is there, not even holding Jonah, just standing in front of him with her arms crossed. “I’m not going to. Don’t need to.”

“Oh? Do you intend to wait me out?”

“Nah. That’s what I have him for.” She nods her head toward Jon, now standing behind Peter. Shame for Jonah he doesn’t have eyes in the back of his head, Jon can’t help thinking.

“Hello, Jonah.”

“I see.” Slowly, Peter Lukas’s body turns and from it stare Jonah Magnus’s eyes. “Hello, Jon. You look well.”

“You don’t.” It’s true. Whatever method Jonah uses to transfer his eyes into others, it either went very poorly or it went exactly as it should but is healing slowly. The area around them is bruised and inflamed, the eyes themselves bloodshot. “You get into people’s heads. You have to know how he felt about you, but you didn’t even hesitate to kill him, did you?”

“Please, Jon. You of all people know it’s not that easy to kill a- what are you calling them? An avatar? He’s still around, in a manner of speaking. I imagine he’ll be wandering the fog for a very long time. He wanted to die alone. Eventually, he will.” No more than expected. Jon has known the sort of man Jonah Magnus is since he first listened to the statement of Barnabus Bennet. “So, your hound has me in its teeth and you have a trail of breadcrumbs home. What now, Jon?”

“How much do you know?”

“You’re going to need to be a bit more specific there, Jon. I know a lot.”

“About me. Why I’m here. Where I’m from.”

“Do I know you’re from the future and you want to kill me? Yes, Jon. I know. And you know it’s why I left the Institute. Since then it has simply been a race between us: who could get to the finish line first. It seems you’ve won.”

“I know you know that much. You’re not stupid. Do you know why?

“I imagine because you’ve always been too sentimental. You could have been perfect, Jon, if you’d just accepted what was offered to you.”

“Maybe I am. You told me your reasons, in the statement that ended the world. Your cliché grab for power and eternal life. I guess we’re both clichés, because I did it for love.” Jonah scoffs. “I just want you to know, when you die, that it was all those ties you thought would hold me back that let me remake the world. Now, we shouldn’t keep the others waiting.”

Peter Lukas doubles over as Daisy punches him in the middle, then pulls his arms back to zip-tie his wrists together. She loops one arm through his, nails digging into his skin, and the other hand she holds out to Jon. “Ready when you are.”


As far as Jon knows, the only thing Jonah might be able to do at this point is get into someone’s head, but even that is a risk, so he doesn’t want to give Jonah the time to spring anything on them, which is why he’d had Martin and Sasha gather up their allies while he went after Daisy. Sasha herself comes to get them as soon as they leave the Lonely.

The Panopticon is… jarring. While the edges where they stand are mostly safe and solid, overlapping powers still bleed out from the tower. Jon’s ears pop from a change in pressure courtesy of the Vast, and he Knows where Manuela is but can’t see her for how dark it is.

As they’d hoped, Jonah attempts to pull himself into Forsaken the moment Jon and Daisy surrender Peter’s body to Jared. He succeeds, but Martin has already woven threads between Peter and Jonah and the rest of them and they are all carried through as well. The Panopticon goes silent. Even Jared’s lumbering steps make barely a shuffle as he carries Peter Lukas toward the tower. There’s a muffled protest- Jonah trying to speak with one of Jared’s hands covering his mouth.

From the side, Agnes steps forward with a candle… or maybe just one of her fingers on fire. The light of the flame doesn’t reach far, but still farther than Georgie’s torch. By the time the two of them reach the steps, less than ten meters from where Jon is standing, they can no longer be seen. Instinctively, he tries to Know, and immediately has regrets.

Pitch is all he Sees. The breath in his lungs and the beat of his own heart are all he Hears. The ground has vanished from beneath him. For the first time, he thinks, Beholding knows Panic. The sliver inside of him is all that keeps him from losing himself in a terror unlike any he’s ever known. It’s his only remaining tie to his god. Jonah is without that, and suddenly Jon knows what he’s done. Part of him regrets, thinks not even Jonah Magnus deserves this hell; part of him thinks it’s exactly what the man deserves. He settles on the thought that at least they don’t intend to keep Jonah like this for long.

When Jon tries to pull back, to stop Knowing outside himself, he can’t; and so desperate has he become for any sensation that he finds himself focusing on what few parts of his body he can still feel. The feeling of the tears on his cheeks, the sound of his pounding heart, the taste of the blood in his mouth, and the pain where he’s bitten his tongue. He is condensed to these for what feels like forever.

Jon.” The sound is so loud he can feel it reverberating through his bones and as soft as a caress, wiping away his tears. “Look at me.

With a gasp, Jon’s eyes fly open. He hadn’t even known they’d been closed. Lantern light doesn’t stretch more than half a meter around, but it’s enough for him to see Martin, whose hands are, in fact, holding Jon’s face.

“Martin,” he rasps.

“You’re an idiot,” Martin says, but his voice is unimaginably fond. “We made this place hostile to the Eye on purpose. Don’t try to Know anything else until we’re out, alright?”

“I’m- I’m sorry. I can’t stand not…”

“Yeah, well, good thing we have more than just the Eye for that.” The words make little sense to Jon until Martin lets go of his face in favor of taking his hand, pulling it in front of them, toward the tower. “I know you can’t see them, but you’re still part Web. Feel.”

With Martin’s hand over his own, Jon is led into a sort of plucking motion, and though there’s nothing there to see, he feels a taut thread respond.

“Can you hear it?” Martin asks. “I never learned to identify pitch or I’d tell you what note it is, but-”

“F. It’s- it’s not really sound, but it’s an F.” It’s also a slow crawl across his skin; the language of the Web.

“That’s Georgie. Don’t try to Know or See, but you should be able to feel what’s happening. If it starts fading, pluck it again.”

Jon thinks this must be what echolocation is like, then immediately Knows that it’s not, but it’s still the closest comparison he has. The shape of Jared is dropping the remains of Peter Lukas’s body over the side of the tower; Jonah Magnus’s eyes have already been returned where they belong. They dart unseeing and afraid toward every sound the other three make that’s loud enough to span the hairsbreadth between them and him.

“I know you’re there,” Jonah yells, whispers, would say if two centuries hadn’t worn his body down to a crumbling husk. Georgie only barely hears him. None of them respond. In the sputtering light of Agnes’s flame, they see each other only enough to share a nod. In the oppressive Dark, acting on memory and presumption and intuition, the women each take a side, slowly approaching Jonah’s already dying remains.

“Well played, Jon,” Jonah says, just before Agnes kisses his cheek.

In the opposite ear, Georgie whispers, “The moment you die feels like this.”

There’s not even ash left.

Martin tugs another thread, and on the other side of the Panopticon, Manuela lets the dark of the prison become natural. From where they stand, they can’t see the others clearly, but they can track the movement of light as they descend from the tower.

From halfway between Martin and Mike comes the sound of creaking hinges.

“Anyone need a door?” Sasha grins.

“No offense, Archivist,” Mike says, “but I hope I never see you again.” And then he throws himself back into the hallways like they’re vertical and he’s skydiving. For him, maybe they are.

Manuela stops in front of Jon first. “Remember our deal, Archivist.”

“No interference from Beholding for one hundred years or until my death, whichever comes first,” Jon recites. “You have my word.” She still eyes him with distrust when she steps through the door.

Agnes is right behind her, but all she says is, “I’ll be in touch.”

Jared doesn’t bother saying anything. Georgie approaches hand in hand with Melanie, who Jon hadn’t realized was there but isn’t very surprised to see. He wouldn’t have let Martin do something like this alone, either.

“Jon,” Georgie says and wraps her arms around him. In what is now eerily reminiscent of how she tied Jonah Magnus to his death, she whispers in his ear, “I love you, and I’m glad I could help, but I don’t want you to contact me again until I’m ready to initiate it.”

She pulls back, hands moving to his shoulders, and looks him in the eyes. Jon nods. If that’s the price he has to pay for keeping all of his people safe, he’s happy to pay it- and possibly a bit paranoid that it seems like he’s getting off too light. Things never go this well for Jon. Martin’s hand slides into his again as Georgie and Melanie walk away.

All that remains are the Archive staff, Basira, and-

“Karolina,” Jon says. “Do you think you could bury this place without causing the city to cave in?”

“That won’t be a problem. Though…”

“Though…?”

“Do you want it done quickly? See, I found a Stranger in the tunnels. I thought I might open a path for it, and let it live here instead while the earth slowly closes in.”

The NotThem. It had never been entirely out of Jon’s thoughts, but it had always been an issue for later.

“I think that would be just fine,” Martin says, and Jon agrees.

“I take it you won’t need a door,” Sasha says- to which Karolina actually laughs, which Jon wasn’t sure she knew how to do- then waves the rest of them toward her door with a strange, twisting bow. “Alright, fam, let’s go home.”

-

Rosie doesn’t blink when they all come out of a door that shouldn’t be there, lugging a dead body with them. She just greets Martin and asks if they’d felt the earthquake a few minutes ago. They would probably want to check on the Archives, seeing as the Library is in quite an upset about the mess and no one has been answering the phone up in Artefact Storage.

“Um, thanks, Rosie, we will,” Martin says. “I- don’t suppose you have contact information for Breekon and Hope, do you?”

“Those strange delivery men? I think I can get them for you if you need. Why?”

“There’s a…” He looks at Peter, draped over Daisy’s shoulders. “A package we need delivered to the Lukases.”

“Of course. I’ll make arrangements.”

The Archives have actually fared better than most of the rest of the Institute; some drawers opened, loose files scattered, a couple boxes spilled. For the most part it’s all roughly where it should be, though. Patrząc greets them by leaping onto Jon’s shoulders and purring.

Martin stops for a moment to breathe and close his eyes. When he opens them, he can see his web, still bare-bones and fragile, spreading through the Institute. Someday, he knows, he won’t need to follow the threads to see what’s going on throughout the building. The eye left sitting in the space Jonah Magnus’s body once occupied will let him See just for the looking.

There’s work to do. An Institute to run. Changes to make. In a week or two, he and Jon will go to Peter Lukas’s funeral, and Martin will make the rounds and smile and be jovial and friendly and chatty as he can be with them. And when that’s done they will talk to Nathaniel and promise to never attend another Lukas funeral, provided funding for the Institute continues.

A new place will need to be found for Sasha, who isn’t, and doesn’t want to be, rid of Beholding. Basira and Daisy will need to talk and decide whether Martin really should be drawing up employment forms. A discussion will need to be had about what he and Jon want the Institute to be. And a discussion will need to be had about what they want to be.

“What now?” Jon asks. Martin smiles and takes Jon’s face in his hands and kisses him softly.

“Now we feed the cat. And get some sleep.”

Chapter Text

“- a bit unorthodox in our hiring process,” the woman leading him around- Mara, Ethan thinks she said- explains. “Sometimes we really do need a specific position, but usually Mr. Blackwood prefers to hire people who fit the Institute overall and then find a suitable position for them, based on skills and personality.”

“And that works?”

“It seems to. I applied and interviewed for an accounting position, but I was hired into HR. I have a knack for reading people, apparently. I’ve been Hiring Manager for seven years now, and all my chosen hires in that time are still with the Institute.”

“That’s- impressive,” he says, which it is. It also seems highly improbable.

“Thank you! So, this is the Research Department. They investigate new statements and track our various active projects.” They haven’t been through much of the building yet, but this is definitely the most active area so far. Louder, certainly, with a chaotic energy that seems to work for everyone there, though Ethan thinks he’d much rather get the library position he actually applied for. It’s a bit much.

“Oi, Mara,” someone calls, though it’s hard to tell where exactly it came from. Someone else yells about “another bug person”, and there are a lot of calls of “not it.” Eventually one guy, probably late twenties, emerges. “New guy?”

“A likely candidate, I think,” Mara says with a touch of smug pride. “This is Ethan. I’m showing him around a bit before he meets with Martin.”

“Weaver or Watcher?” Ethan doesn’t ask, but he makes another mental note and tags it onto the growing list of strange things about the Institute. There’s something weird about this place, and he has his guesses, but so far he’s determined to piece it together himself.

“Watcher, almost definitely.”

“And?”

“I honestly can’t tell. Forsaken, maybe, but he really might just have the one.” That, at least, rings some bells, and if he’s right, then there’s no way. His mum would never stand for that.

“Well, I’m not going to bet against you. I’m Mike,” he says to Ethan and offers a hand, which Ethan takes. “If that dumbass Mick in Artefact Storage tells you he’s Mike, don’t listen to him. I have seniority.”

“Technically, Michael has seniority,” Mara says, then as an aside to Ethan, “Michael is our night receptionist. He’s been here like thirty years, I think.”

“He’s also ancient and answers only to Michael, which means I still get first rights to Mike. Anyway, nice to meet you, but I need to get back before someone tries to put this roach statement on my desk. Find me someone we can send into the hive, next, Mara.” She waves him off.

“There are three Michaels here?” Ethan asks as Mara leads him back into the quieter hallways.

“Five, actually. Michael, Mike, Mick, Kelly, and Em, with the honorary sixth, Michelle. I can only claim responsibility for Kelly. The rest are not my fault.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“As you should. Alright, next stop is Artefact Storage. So, I know you said you knew about the Institute before applying; what brought you to us?”

“Oh, uh- My mum kind of raised me and my brother on scary stories. I was never really sure why, since mostly I don’t think she really liked them. My brother wasn’t a big fan either, but I loved them. When I was little, Mum used to listen to this old podcast, What the Ghost?, and I absolutely loved it. I kind of forgot about it, though, until my first year at Uni when my roommate apparently discovered it. The creator made another podcast-”

The Observer Chronicles, yeah! A bit hokey for a horror podcast, but I guess that was kind of Georgie Barker’s thing? I’m sure it was pretty well-known here when it first came out, but that was, what, twenty years ago? It made its rounds again here not long after I started when someone donated the entire podcast on cassette tapes.”

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah. Since you brought it up, I’m assuming you’ve read the theory that it’s about this place. Rumour is Georgie herself donated them as a prank. If you ask Martin, the Archivist still complains about it sometimes. Right, here we are.” Mara stops in front of what looks to be a reinforced metal door with an old hazmat sign painted on. She taps some vaguely-familiar rhythm out and after a moment the door creaks open just a sliver.

“Password?” someone croaks. Mara looks at Ethan and rolls her eyes.

“My eyes are my own.”

“Hm. ID?”

“Mara Saraki and guest.”

“Do you swear not to touch any artefact without express permission of Artefact Storage personnel?”

“I do,” Mara says, and nudges Ethan so he does as well.

“Very well, you may enter. Remember there is no access to any but the first room without an escort.” Slowly, the door creaks all the way open and Mara leads him into a small office area. It’s so dimly lit, he can hardly tell objects from shadows, and the only clear thing is a pale, almost skeletal face that closes the door behind them and bolts three separate locks.

“Not used to seeing you on days, Greg,” Mara says, pleasant despite the new man’s scowl.

“Ali’s kids are sick and Senna’s off in South America for her honeymoon. I drew the short straw because I don’t cheat. It’s bright and terrible and I’m going to murder Steph in her sleep.”

“That’s fair. Can you give me a week to line up a replacement?”

“I promise nothing.”

“Right, well, I’ll be sure to keep this quick,” she promises. “If you want to just stay in here with the door cracked, we’ll stand right inside.”

“… Within arm’s reach?”

“Absolutely.” Greg grunts.

“No more than five minutes.”

“That’s plenty, thank you.”

The first room of Artefact Storage is fairly open. There are a few large pieces of furniture, all roped off just out of easy reach, and a number of shelves with a very odd assortment of objects on them.

“So, first room, as you might have guessed, is for dormant or relatively harmless items. It’s the room we use to show off for investors and seem impressive. Second room, through that door, is pretty much a DMZ. It’s for items that have been found or donated that haven’t been classified or confirmed as artefacts yet. Past that are another two rooms for the progressively more dangerous artefacts, as well as three small rooms off the fourth for the books.”

“The books?”

“Yeah, we do our best to keep the books with powers out of the library. The Old Guard still call them ‘Leitners’ even though we haven’t actually found one with a Leitner plate in like a decade. It’s a shame, really. A stupid idea, collecting them, but it did used to make them easy to ID.”

“… Right,” Ethan agrees, like any of that made sense.

“Anyway, there’s always at least two people here at any given time, one to guard the door, the other to monitor the artefacts. Practical research is only allowed if there are at least three people on shift. Mick is probably doing rounds, since Greg’s up here and the others are out.”

There’s music coming from further in, so distant and muffled it can barely be heard, but there’s something so familiar about it. If Ethan could just get a bit closer, maybe he could remember where he’s heard it before. He takes a single step forward, and there’s a tight grip on his arm.

“That’s our cue,” Mara says, and pulls him back out the way they came. Once they’re back in the hallway, the heavy door locking behind them, she checks her watch. “So, next would be the library, but there’s only half an hour before your meeting and Sasha’s still here, so I’m not confident we’d find our way out in time. Speaking of which, the library is only one story, so if you see any stairs in there, don’t take them. Anyway, we’ll go down to the first floor instead and maybe get a cup of tea or something while we wait.”

As they pass Reception toward the canteen, a loud, terrified scream rings through the open area, with no apparent cause until a minute or so later when a man comes running through, nearly barrelling over Ethan as he scrambles for the front door. As soon as he’s gone, another voice fills the space, clearly irritated.

“Martin! Martin!” A man stalks past, maybe mid-forties, thin with streaks of grey through his dark hair. He’s carrying something, held out in front of him, though Ethan can’t see what through his grip on it. “That statement was not complete yet, Martin! I don’t care how hungry you are, control your pest!”

“Sorry! Sorry, love. I thought she was still in my office,” another man says, maybe the same age or a little younger, coming from the door bearing a plaque that says “Martin Blackwood, Institute Head.” Very gently, he takes what appears to be a tarantula from the angry man. “She’s still mostly spider. She doesn’t know any better.”

Martin, Ethan assumes, disappears back into the office with his arachnid while the other looks to the front doors and sighs. He takes two steps back to knock loudly on a bright yellow door that Ethan hadn’t noticed until now.

“Sasha, hurry up. Tim is waiting for you.”

Two seconds later, the door flies open and Sasha, a tall woman in her late 20s, rushes out. “Why didn’t you tell me it was Thursday?!”

“When would I have done that? I haven’t seen you today.” Sasha scoffs, pulling on a jacket and running for the door where a handsome man, probably somewhere in his 60s, is waiting. When Ethan looks back, the yellow door is gone.

“Good morning, Jon,” Mara greets, and Ethan does a double-take.

“It was,” Jon grumbles. “Hello, Mara. How’s your grandmother?”

“Still on the oversight committee, terrifying surgeons. They tried making her retire again, but she wasn’t having it. Eighty-four years old and she doesn’t look a day over sixty.” Mara smiles slyly. “But you know that.”

“I’ve learned people still appreciate being asked. Speaking of which-” He looks at Ethan.

“Right! Ethan is interviewing with Martin today. Ethan, this is Jonathan Blackwood, the Archivist. Jon, this is Ethan Hearne.”

Ethan offers his hand, and notes a tattoo of an eye of the back of Jon’s when he shakes it. The way Jon looks at him makes Ethan feel disconcertingly Seen, but that’s not entirely unexpected.

“He’s definitely going to be on your side of things,” Mara continues. “Dare I say, he might even do well in the Archives.”

“It’s been a long time since I had an assistant,” Jon says, though whether that’s meant as encouragement or denial it’s impossible to tell. His next comment is very clearly aimed at Ethan. “Your mother never married, then. You have her name.”

“No, sir,” Ethan confirms. “My dad wasn’t around much, and he died not long after my brother was born. She told me to tell you ‘Hi’ from her, if I met you. It’s been a long time, she said, but she was sure you’d still be here.”

“She’s well, then.” Ethan wonders if Jon already knows this, too.

“Her health hasn’t been great lately, but she’s strong, and she’s got a good support network.”

“I’m glad.”

The other man, Martin, returns and Jon bumps their shoulders together.

“Martin, you didn’t tell me you were going to be interviewing Naomi’s son,” Jon scolds.

“Did I need to?” Jon rolls his eyes, then looks Ethan over once more.

“Ethan, it was good to meet you. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon. Martin, you owe me lunch.”

“Yes, love.” They kiss and Jon walks away. Martin stares after him adoringly until he disappears back down a stairwell, then he turns to Ethan and smiles, holding out a hand to shake. “Ethan, I’m Martin Blackwood. I’m ready now, if you’d like to come into my office. Thank you, Mara.”

--

“Ready?”

“I think so?”

“Are you asking me?”

“No, I… Yes, I’m ready, if you are.”

“I think we are… Jon?”

“Yes. Statement of Martin Blackwood, Head of the Blackwood Institute, and Jonathan Blackwood, the Archivist. Regarding… the death of Jonah Magnus, and their life together.”

There’s a deep breath, and a gathering of static.

“Statement taken direct from subjects, October 18, 2048. Ethan Hearne, Assistant Archivist, recording…

“Statement begins.”