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Terminal Sight

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Oliver is walking through a dream.

He is always within a dream nowadays, a dream that should be a nightmare (yet isn’t), and the only thing that differentiates sleep from wakefulness is whether Oliver is drifting or walking.

Oliver is walking through a dream, so he is awake.

He supposes he could take comfort in the idea that at least the fleshy veins of his subconscious don’t seem to rule over the landscape before him like they do after dark, within his own mind.  It isn’t comforting, though, because he knows the veins are there – all of them –, and a part of his psyche lowly mutters that perhaps it’s only a matter of time before he can see their full scope with his eyes open.

Shaking off that thought, which scares him more with the shocking thrill of excitement it sends through his core than it does with the image of the grotesque tendrils themselves, Oliver gently pushes open the door to the building which has haunted him for several nights past.  The Magnus Institute.

A middle-aged woman greets him with a smile at the receptionist’s desk and motions for him to take a seat in the lobby, effortlessly keeping her attention both on Oliver and on whoever she’s speaking to on the Institute’s landline. There are threads of silver crisscrossed through her silky brown hair. A plaque sitting atop her desk reads “Rosie.”

When she finishes her phone call and turns her full attention towards him, Oliver cannot shake the feeling that more than one set of eyes has focused in on him.

“I’m here to make a statement,” he says, trying to keep his voice level and impassive.

“Oh, with the Archivist?  She’s not available right now, I’m afraid, but I can give you a pen and paper to write down your account.”

Oliver shudders at the idea.  “I’m not much of a writer.  My…words don’t flow very freely.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Rosie responds in a reassuring tone.  “Stories that want to be told weave themselves well under this roof.”

It only takes Oliver half an hour to transcribe his story from memory to the blank sheet of notebook paper Rosie hands him, and he’s made up his mind to ask Rosie to pass along his statement instead of sticking around when the sound of two voices engaged in what sounds like playful bantering echo to him from the general direction of the archives.  They get closer and closer, until he can see the people they stem from. 

One is a resolute-looking elderly woman, steel-gray hair pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck as she quirks a faintly amused eyebrow at her companion.  Despite the relative relaxedness of her face, Oliver recognizes Gertrude Robinson immediately.  As she passes into the lobby, she doesn’t seem to even acknowledge Rosie; instead, she is focused on the person walking beside her: a young man with inky black hair and multiple piercings who seems to be alternating between telling jokes and giving elucidations.

The first thing that makes Oliver consider approaching Gertrude’s younger colleague is how intently she seems to be listening to his words.  She trusts this man, or at least grants his words enough merit to take them into consideration. If he can be convinced to deliver Oliver’s statement to Gertrude, she might be inclined to take the warnings written therein seriously.

The second thing that makes him consider approaching the man, who is dressed in head-to-toe gothic attire, is the muffled, sarcasm-tinged hope that seems to flow from his body.  It is refreshing without being naïve, and Oliver could stand to talk to a hopeful soul again.  To simply be around a hopeful soul again.

The third thing is less something that makes Oliver consider approaching and more something that Oliver takes as a sign that he can’t just turn and walk away.  As Gertrude heads back down the hallway to the archive and Oliver’s attention shifts fully to her erstwhile conversation partner, his blood runs cold at the sight of a web of dark, pulsing veins curling up the side of the man’s neck, and seemingly into his brain.

Chapter Text

Oliver cannot walk away, yet he is at a loss for how to approach.  It was one thing to warn Ms. Robinson of her impending fate – one thing to sit and write down recollections of a dream that he hoped might be taken seriously, unbothered by the scrutiny of any eyes that might question the reality of his premonitions.  It is another thing to invite being watched, to invite having his perspectives questioned and his resolve picked apart.  Oliver doubts Ms. Robinson’s colleague would be cruel to him, but a lack of cruelty does not mean immediate belief.

Since Graham, Oliver has lost the ability to concentrate while being watched.

He remembers the scrawl in the notebooks – “keep watching, keep watching keep watching” written over and over again, almost like a prayer.

He remembers the helplessness in the mirror – the hope drained from the eyes staring back at him above the bathroom sink – when he realized that Graham would never tell him what was going on. 

No matter how hard he pushed, no matter how much he analyzed, Oliver was never able to be privy to his boyfriend’s secret terrors.

Graham had watched Oliver, though, watched him as if he was the one with something to hide.  Near the end of their relationship, Oliver had been unable to even sleep in the same bed as Graham, jarred into an aching insomnia by the feeling of intense, fearful eyes boring into the back of his skull.

Eyes in the back of his skull. Eyes reflected in the bathroom mirror. Eyes he had found himself doodling on a break during work one day…eyes he had screamed at the sight of. The first panic attack he had suffered in public, and far from the last.

Now, he feels that old, familiar tightening of his throat as all the memories come rushing back. The feelings flood his bloodstream, congealed blood rewinding time to make open wounds of his internal scabs. He gasps for air, spots of color swimming before his vision as his throat seizes up with latent panic – with residual fear that will always, always pump haphazardly through his veins.

And then a hand falls on his shoulder, light but firm.  Oliver looks up into cloudy, searching grey eyes – eyes that soften with understanding upon reading the terror in his expression.  Eyes framed by a curling web of dark tendrils. 

Huh. It seems as if he won’t have to figure out a way to approach Ms. Robinson’s colleague after all.

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Oliver’s eyes must be thrumming with questions, because after a few moments of stunned silence between he and the stranger whose hand rests gently on his shoulder, he sees the stranger’s lips move, hears a softly spoken, “You looked like you’d seen a ghost.” An ironic chuckle bubbles up in the back of Oliver’s throat, and the stranger gives a little half-smile - a brief flash of tooth and silver lip ring, accompanied by the amused-but-sympathetic arch of one eyebrow. 

(He tries to return the smile, he really does, but he can’t seem to take his eyes off of the veins curling ever tighter into the stranger’s - Ms. Robinson’s colleague’s - his new companion’s skull.)

The eyebrow remains arched, and gray eyes flicker between Oliver’s own eyes and his forehead. 

(Words seem to elude them both, and isn’t that ironic in a place of knowledge?)

Oliver has to say something.  Of course he has to say something. But before he can blurt out a vaguely ominous prophecy and regret it, he forces his quivering mind to think for a moment on a potential introduction instead. 

(It’s rude, after all, not to properly introduce yourself before you tell someone they’re dying.)

He settles on, “I’m Antonio Blake,” gingerly holding out his right hand. 

Oliver doesn’t know how to feel about how easily that lie slips off his tongue. But it is his protection, and a whispered voice in his core tells him that he needs protection here.

“Gerard.” Another half-smile and there is a hand that meets his own - a firm grip, glinting with silver, cold in a way that contrasts with the warmth of the soul in front of him. 

The cold surprises Oliver slightly, enough to ground him back in the present. Enough to remind him of why he had been trying to get this person’s attention in the first place. He holds to the anchoring touch a bit longer than necessary before letting go. Gerard sways on his feet when the contact is lost, so briefly that Oliver could almost tell himself he had imagined it had it not been for the ever-present pulsing of those curling black veins.

“Ms. Robinson, the Archivist? She’s in danger - I don’t know what, but something’s coming for her, and...it’s bad. I have a statement to give her.” He hesitantly offers Gerard the now-half-crumpled piece of paper, again feeling the brush of cold fingertips as it is taken from his hand. “I want to make sure she takes this seriously, make sure she listens. You were talking to her, a few minutes ago, and it seemed like she was paying attention.” He pauses, searching for a way to continue - a way to politely ask a favor and then predict his conversation partner’s imminent demise. 

In the pause, Gerard’s voice rings out again. “Spying on the Institute staff, are we?”

Oliver’s thoughts grind to a halt, and he is all but thrown back into a mental spin before he registers soft laughter on the edges of his consciousness.

Relax , I’m in no position to judge anyone for watching.” There’s a mischievous sparkle in Gerard’s eyes, and Oliver sighs a little laugh with relief. He watches with slight trepidation as those eyes turn serious, thoughtful, skimming over the contents of his statement. There is an occasional sigh, or nod, or “hmm,” and then - faster than expected - Gerard’s gaze flickers back upwards to focus on Oliver’s forehead.

Again?, Oliver mutters internally. Do I have something on my forehead?

Before he can open his mouth to ask the question aloud, Gerard mumbles something that sounds like, “So that’s your mark.”

Oliver decides not to ask about the strange observation.  He’s not sure he wants to know. But he’s sure he knows something that Gerard should know - should have the chance to avoid.

“I’ve started to see the veins when I’m awake now, too, and knowing what they mean…”

(Gerard’s eyes have moved again, this time to meet Oliver’s own once more. The shimmering curiosity Oliver sees in those eyes - gray, but no longer cloudy - gives him pause for a moment, catches his breath in his throat.)

Recovered, he continues, doing his best to keep a low and level voice. “Knowing what they mean, I think you may want to consider going to the doctor.”

Shimmering curiosity gives way to recognition, and recognition gives way to a thrumming but well-masked fear. 

Oliver doesn’t like the aftermath emotions that come with warning people of their potential fates. With a shuddering breath, he turns and leaves the Institute before any questions can be asked, leaving behind only the spectre of an apologetic smile set in a melancholy face.

Chapter Text

Oliver is beginning to wonder if he ever saved anyone at all. 2014 has ended. So has his father’s life, far too early and far too painfully. Far too suddenly, others had said, but Oliver knows that particular bit of insight is false. Untouched by the tendrils that curse his mind. He had known. He had known, and it hadn’t mattered.

 Prophetic cold fever dreams, nagging suggestions made, doctor’s appointments covertly scheduled, frustrations railed against, medical records neatly organized and gathered to soothe a building panic in his mind, all the precautions in the world…none of it had mattered. None of it could stop the inevitable.

Inevitable, inevitable, inevitable. The word pounds in his head, pulses through his bloodstream like dark veins pulse across the city in his dreamscape.

Through the pulsing, a thread thread pulls at him, silken and wrapped around his aching, grief-stricken heart. He hasn’t opened the curtains all day.  He hasn’t left the house. It can’t be helping.  Normally, that doesn’t matter these days; motivation is as scarce to come by as a portion of London untouched by death. Maybe it’s time to go for a walk, to follow his will as it is gently tugged out the door and into the bustling street. 

Oliver doesn’t know where he’s going.  He doesn’t know why he’s going. There is a steadiness, a certainty in his step that baffles him, but he’s long since stopped trying to fight the strange forces that ensnare his life, guiding him where he needs to go, occasionally snuffing out a stray bit of hope in his soul. He retreats from his own vision, willing himself to keep his eyesight intentionally blurred so that he can’t see the impending deaths of passers-by.

There is blurriness, color, cold, the squish of something soft under his feet, a door he opens without registering where he’s walking into.

There is a lobby with cobwebbed corners, there is a hallway, there is an intense gaze on the back of his neck, and when he comes back to himself, he is standing in a doorway looking directly at an elderly woman with steel gray hair. 

There is surprise only shown by the slight widening of eyes in an otherwise stoic, stony face.

And then, there is hope, a rush of renewed strength and presence to Oliver’s heart, because this is Gertrude Robinson, and she’s not dead. Marks of impending death curl through her office, around her chair, into three places in her torso, but she’s not dead . Not yet. His father hadn’t had long…8 days? 10? 12? Certainly not half a year.

Oliver may not have saved the Archivist, but he had given her more time through his warning. The trance of lifeless resignation he has been trapped in for days releases its hold, and he lets out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. 

“Here to make a statement?” Her voice is dryly amused, as if she highly suspects what his answer will be. As if she can see, through his dark, weary eyes, all the death his mind is forced to bear witness to.

Oliver searches his mind for the right words to say before realizing that maybe there aren’t any. He can’t exactly just stand there silently, either, so he cautiously settles on a decision to tell the truth. “Actually, I already did. A few months ago. You, uh…you look significantly less dead than I would’ve expected by this point.”

“Ah. Oliver Banks. I must say, I’ve never encountered a dreamer whose sleep is as haunted as you described yours to be.”

Oliver feels his mouth open imperceptibly, forming itself around a little “oh” of surprise. “How…how do you know my name? I don’t think I used my real one last time I came here.”

Elias has his ways.” Gertrude’s sigh is exasperated, as if she doesn’t approve of whoever Elias is. Oliver can’t help but agree when the only thing he knows about Elias is that the man figured out his identity when it should’ve been impossible – not to mention a breach of privacy – to do so. Rude.

Oliver’s next question is one he hadn’t planned on asking, but one he desperately wishes to hear the answer to. It is a singular word, spoken so softly and quickly that he wouldn’t fault her if she didn’t hear it. “Gerard ?”

“He’s alive. Out of work for the time being, but certainly alive.” Beneath the stoicism, Gertrude’s stony features shift a bit into a slightly fond expression – dampened a bit, perhaps, by the fact that her assistant is currently unable to do his job.

A sigh of relief escapes Oliver’s lungs. Another breath he didn’t know he’d been holding.

Over the course of the next couple of months, Oliver follows the pull to the Institute whenever it weaves another thread into him. He learns what has marked him, learns of Smirke’s fourteen, learns that telling Gertrude the darkness reaching into her chest is growing will not deter her from walking into danger. 

He learns, he provides what knowledge he can pertaining to End-related statements, and he waits.

On March 16th, Elias Bouchard greets him at the Institute door with a knowing gaze and a barely concealed smirk. Gertrude Robinson has “died in the line of duty.” Oliver is unsurprised – he knows firsthand that the End is hard enough to escape when you aren’t running towards it.

 

Chapter Text

The sun is salt in the wounds that pass for connections between Gerry’s bones.  The service is long. His knees hurt.  Each vertebra of his spine groans in aching protest the longer he stays on his feet. His vision is starting to fade to a bloodless blur, tear ducts dried up before he ever had the chance to cry. But he’s had worse. Even on days where pain feels woven into every fiber of his being, he’s always had worse.

Only when the service is over does he allow himself to seek shelter in the shade, does he slump into a seated position on the edge of a headstone under the shade of the first tree he can find.  His head whirls, heart kicking impatiently against the walls of its cage.  

“You alright there?” A voice drifts from far away, soft and pleasant but clearly confused. Distant rustling of fabric alerts Gerry to the presence of someone who might now be standing in front of him.

In front? To the side? Directions are so arbitrary when your mind is an unraveling spool of thread.

“’S fine. I’ll survive,” he manages to croak in response, attempting something like a half-smile that probably comes out looking more like a grimace. “Unless I don’t.”

“Hm. Afraid you’ll accidentally summon an angry ghost by sitting on that grave?” This person is… joking with him ?

How should he respond to that? A well-timed joke in a graveyard, of all places.  Usually Gerry’s the one to make those kinds of jokes, the one who leaves an uncomfortable conversation partner stuck on what to say.

Eventually, he settles on, “Oh, we have nothing to fear from the dead.” Is that funny? He’s not sure.   Sometimes truths can be funny told out of context, can’t they?

He gets a laugh for his efforts, at least. “I, uh, can’t quite tell if you’re serious there.” The voice is now amused, yet still humming with that consistent undercurrent of concern.

Hearing such a tone behind words directed at himself is unusual, Gerry muses.

His mind’s eye spins too much to allow him to look up at whoever the disembodied, distant voice belongs to. Doesn’t mean he can’t summon some sense of humor to distract from the fact that he probably looks a minute away from joining Gertrude among the ranks of the recently departed. “I’m dead serious.”

The pun earns him a surprisingly genuine-sounding chuckle, and he surprisedly lifts his head only to feel his world spin. Too fast, definitely too fast . He grips tight to the edges of his marble headstone-bench to avoid pitching forward into the ground beneath him.

There is a dull, muffled thud in his ears - the sound of someone dropping to their knees in front of him. There are two palms that gently catch his shoulders, and then he is meeting eyes through the haze – dark, endlessly melancholy eyes, framed by gentle worry lines that etched themselves into his memory months ago. The dreamer whose subconscious had been touched by the End – Oliver , his mind supplies, the Knowledge ringing clear with a sharp frequency that could not be further from the tone of his own muddled, muffled thoughts.

“Oliver,” he repeats aloud, skipping a more traditional introduction. He doesn’t have the energy for one of those – rarely does, but especially not today.

The worry lines smooth a bit as Oliver’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Thought I’d introduced myself as Antonio Blake,” he says. “Oh well; I suppose that gets the awkward part of this over with. Gertrude told you about me, then?”

“No.”

“Oh. Oh, alright…Gerard, right?”

Through the static in his head, Gerry registers the voice and the question.  Registers a chance for vulnerability, a chance to open his mind to someone who has already very literally caught his fall. Someone who helped him save himself when he didn’t register his pain being anything beyond what passed for normal in his world.

Steady hands still support his shoulders, keeping him from lurching further forward, keeping the loose stitches that hold him together from coming undone.

He has unraveled so many times before. It never stops hurting.

A small, blurred sequence of adjustments later, Gerry finds his cheek pressed to the slightly-rough fabric of jacket overlaying Oliver’s shoulder, and he realizes through vaguely remembered smokescreen interactions from the past few minutes that he never answered the name question. 

He can only hope the context is still remembered, that his belated response may be cataloged in Oliver’s mind more than it will ever fit into the disjointed corners of his own psyche. “ Gerry ,” he hears himself say, and proceeds to stifle a hiss of pain as white-hot nerves send firecracker complaints to the surface of the dark space in his mind.

It hurts; everything hurts, but everything always hurts on days when he wakes up betrayed by his own body. And as Gerry bunches shaking hands in Oliver’s jacket, leaning heavily on a spirit that feels kindred – on a shoulder he trusts more implicitly than is likely advisable – everything hurts just a little less.

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There is the shaded grave : pain flares in his parched mind, the pressure of solid arms around him. There are eyes — earthdark, melancholy, concerned, resolute. Gerry is not in any state to go home alone , Oliver says. Hand tremors, little earthquakes, betray flares of doubt that his calm voice does not.

Gerry agrees to the subtly shaky assertion with a faint nod. He doesn’t want to go home alone, and a knot of dreadstone fear in the pit of his stomach reflexively protests against going at all. “Home” is still situated above a familiar cavern of hungry books, one that feels haunted by memories now in the absence of ghosts. The absence of ghosts. The thought of that phrase gives him pause — is the absence of the dead truly the absence of ghosts?  

(Gerry wonders if the spectres of memory count as ghosts. They certainly haunt him enough.)

There is the pain of standing up: squealing knees, rush of blood away from his head. His heart rails against its bone-sculpted prison, and his disorientation is noticed. Worry lines deepen.  

There is a jagged pothole: caught shoe, sideways stumble of ankles threatening to buckle in protest, gentle catch of his flailing form by hands that no longer radiate little earthquakes. The nails on the hands are painted black, slightly chipped, careworn as the face of their owner.

There is the tube: too crowded with brightlight chattering,, too much to endure without snapping out of existence for a moment. Colors dull as he fades out, collapses against the seat behind him, and he is vaguely cognizant of a worried little “oh” to his right a moment before there is a solid, warm figure beside him to lean on once more.

There is one constant and one only, one physical sensation that is not some variation of familiar pain: a steady, guiding hand on his back, thrumming with protective energy, cautiously supporting him through the motions of traveling back towards Pinhole Books (he tries so hard not to call it his home, has never really had a home, does not wish to give the designation to that awful place). It is occasionally accompanied by a voice, serious but pleasant, soft yet composed. In other words, there is one constant, and it is Oliver.

When the guiding hand is gone, he sinks onto his bed.

Confusion flashes through his mind. Usually, he would not have forced himself to leave the house in the condition he had woken up in.  He knows better, he really does.

But there had been something about today that had seemed important.

Something that pulled him forward through the haze of pins and needles, dulled the ache enough to be bearable, convinced him that he needed to go to the funeral — loyalty to Gertrude, who had saved him from his mother?  The Eye wanting him to reconnect with Oliver?   Gerry doesn’t know, doesn’t Know, and cannot bear to think about it — to think about anything — at the moment.  He needs rest, needs to lie still and let the blood in his body redistribute itself so his heart will stop hammering so loudly. He is tired of it leaping his ears to chant its bloodstarved battle cry of shotgun-blast thumping.

Oliver, it seems, is not going anywhere, having curled himself up in an armchair tugged over to sit next to Gerry’s bed. Good. Good; he does not want to be alone in this place.

Desperate for a distraction, for some reprieve from the stifling silence of the room and the deafening, psyche-splitting screams of his own mind as he drifts in and out of consciousness, Gerry studies Oliver during his moments of lucidity.  Something in the man inspires Gerry’s latent curiosity to spark more than it has in years, igniting beneath the pain like firework embers. 

A patch of light skin encompasses Oliver’s nose and forehead, sweeps across his cheekbones, the contrast against the deep brown of the rest of his face accentuating both his facial structure and the purple shadows of prolonged exhaustion beneath his eyes. Those eyes, so observant and profoundly sad in waking moments, flicker restlessly behind heavy lids and a dark fringe of lashes as he sleeps. His worry lines do not soften.  If anything, they crease tighter.

(Faintly, Gerry Sees the marks of the End twine themselves around Oliver, cold roots binding him to the concept of inevitability. He wonders how much hope remains, wonders how far gone the person who saved his life is. Resolves, distantly but finally, to bring him back from the ledge of hopelessness if worst comes to worst.)

The way Oliver is folded tightly in on himself, knees pulled tightly into his chest, paints a clear-lined picture of someone trying to keep the external world shut out. And while Oliver’s position doesn’t look comfortable, per se, Gerry suspects that physical aches and ails have little to do with the way the man eventually wakes, eyes opening wide as saucers for one haunting moment before they fall back into tired resignation.

He remembers Oliver’s statement, can only imagine the nightmares have gotten worse since then, knows that trying to talk it through won’t work. Not everyone cares about power and knowledge, he reminds himself, pushing deceased skin spirits out of his mind. Sometimes, solidarity is enough — understanding is enough. Contact is enough.

Slowly, so as not to startle Oliver, Gerry reaches out a hand towards the armchair, hoping the involuntary crack of his knuckles as he reaches out his fingers goes unnoticed — unjudged.

After staring blankly for a moment, Oliver registers and accepts the gesture, slowly intertwining his fingers with Gerry’s.  Both of their hands are shaking now, but the grounding force of a solid touch makes their respective plights more bearable. It roots them in reality, for better and worse. 

The silence is not uncomfortable, but it is heavy, so Gerry breaks it without full conscious thought. He may not be able to erase the cold veins of the End, but he can lighten the mood — throw doubt on the idea that life is worth less than its inevitable termination. 

“Your nightmares should pay rent,” he mumbles, wincing at how the words scratch like sandpaper in his throat. The momentary hurt is worth the surprised, pleasant laughter that bubbles up from Oliver’s throat. It is half-ironic, of course, but nonetheless more genuine than Gerry had hoped for.

Chapter Text

Gerry has drifted to sleep again, fingers still intertwined with Oliver’s. Deep in heavy-lidded slumber, he casts an unsettlingly fragile silhouette. Inkstained hair spills across his pillow, leaving the eyes on either side of his jaw visible. The chilled porcelain tone of tattooed parchment skin contrasts sharply with the increasingly uncomfortable positions he tosses and turns through.

He must be double-jointed or… something, Oliver surmises, because no matter how carefully he tries to adjust to Gerry’s shifting, Gerry’s arm often ends up in a position that looks like it should be uncomfortable enough to wake him up. He never wakes.

A rush of jealousy seeps through Oliver from head to toe, but he shoves it down – lets it wither – upon recalling the cloudy-eyed, sway-walking, visibly aching exhaustion that had led to this deep sleep. He extinguishes it completely a moment later, letting his mind sink into the haunted expression that had dawned on Gerry’s face at the door of Pinhole Books.

How Gerry’s eyes had dulled from cloud to mist, filming over with an extra layer of protective haze as he eyed the store sign with barely-numbed fear.

How he had stepped gingerly over the barrier between shop and street, left foot shadowing right.

How that swift motion had been followed by one of his elbows landing with immediate, urgent thud against a lightswitch on the wall inside.

How he’d initially startled at Oliver’s steadying palm splayed across his back, in spite of the precedent of touch and trust that had been set on the walk back from the cemetery.

Gerry had been hesitant – hesitant, shuddering, and consumed by little gasping flinches – from the second he had introduced Oliver to the place he referred to as home.

Oliver doesn’t know exactly what Gerry has been through, but he’s certain it’s nothing that would warrant envy. 

As he reaches that conclusion, Gerry makes a particularly harsh turn in his sleep, sending Oliver’s balance into disarray until he finds himself unintentionally crashing onto the unoccupied side of the bed.

He is tugged, and falls, and lands on a surface meant for sleeping – forced into some physical semblance of rest by a well-meaning soul. The bed is not the couch. Gerry is not Anahita. It doesn’t matter; Oliver’s mind has already drawn enough parallels to leap from one to the other.

The memories come back in a flood, and so does she – calm as the glass surface of a lake at sunrise, soothing as the sound of the ocean, strong willed as a riptide shattering the current and just as deadly when wronged.

Details flash through the water : a tide of dark hair rippling down her back, a solid and immovable shoulder he cries on after fleeing the Barclays building for the last time, a cold voice cutting through the searing pain of old flame when Graham tries to come visit him.

She knows him well enough to know that a lack of protest does not equate to being comfortable with Graham’s presence, sees enough tension in his jaw to equate it to discomfort, stops the old flame at the door before it can set Oliver alight again.

“You’ve done enough, ” she says to the extinguished embers on the front porch. “Let Oliver find peace – you robbed him of it for years.”

She toes the line when he can’t stand. She remains resolute as time itself through the thick of every panic-soaked night. She takes canceled plans and turns them into future rainchecks. She waits for him to return when his mind sweeps away in a panic. She does not listen to the changeable song of the wind, she tells him, for the whims of the elements cannot will away the inevitable. Oliver will be okay. Oliver will be okay, and that is a fact, even if he can’t recognize it yet.

“The moment you rise will feel exactly the same as this one,” she says, moving to open the living room curtains. “The pain will shrink with time. It will be next to nothing, someday.” Light. Turn. Pause. Locked eyes on his. “Sometimes all you have is someday. That doesn’t mean today isn’t worth living.”

He stays on her sofa because she offers him home, a place to rest even when dreams won’t release their grip. He rests his cheek on its cool, dark leather. Thoughts of life’s one destination come knocking, hour after hour, until he cannot bring himself to move.

Anahita never sits on the sofa. She asks him often if it is comfortable. She regards it with a wariness he has never seen before, eyes deep and dark with memories he doesn’t dare press her on.

“It was inherited from my grandmother,” she says. “I slept there during the worst parts of my life, when the depression hit hard.” Sigh. Averted eyes. “It’s a good thing you didn’t know me in high school. I spent half of those four years wondering if there was a reason to survive ‘till graduation day.” Glance to the couch. Glance back to Oliver. Slight raise of eyebrows, a minute expression of aching concern. “Sometimes I wonder if…” Trail off. Heavy silence.

“Wonder if…?” Oliver echoes gently, curious for the first time in a while, feigning casual focus on a few strands of cobweb in the corner of the room.

“If staying there made it…worse, somehow. Drained my energy even more. I felt near catatonic at one point, and as soon as I moved back into my own room – my own bed – that began to subside.” Lips pursed in thought. Thoughtful inbreath. Resolute exhale. “You can always stay in the guest room, if you’d like.”

“I like it here.” He means it. The cold leather is comforting in a way he doubts any bed could be. Nothing can be done now about his fate. He will spend the rest of his nights watching causes of death pulse through doomed strangers, and that is no longer something he questions.

Anahita adopts a kitten. Pinprick claws tear leather seams apart. A month later, Anahita helps Oliver move into his new flat.

“You ring if you need anything, you hear?” she says. “And check in every now and then, so I know you haven’t died.” Soothing embrace. Proud smile. The gleam of wet eyes preceding one more thought. “You may want to find a roommate. Wouldn’t want you to isolate yourself again.”

“I have stayed in contact with you.”

“You’ve been living with me , Oliver.”

Bashful smile. Fond giggle. “Point taken.”

Gerry gasps awake, startling Oliver out of remembrance. Gray eyes meet Oliver’s with nothing but blank horror for a moment, yet still his hand is held onto for dear life. Statue-still, Oliver waits for the storm to pass. Epiphany hits, clear as sunbeams poking through clouds.

Anahita. Himself. Gerry .

Oliver may not be able to save all of the people who die in London, but he can help the haunted soul in front of him move on from a past marked by terror.

When the embers of conscious life set themselves alight once more in Gerry’s eyes, they are followed by a wisp of a smile. “You’re still here.”

“I am still here.” Soft chuckle. Expression shift. Serious eyes, still slightly softened with prior humor. “You don’t seem to like it here very much.”

“Yeah. I don’t.” Gerry’s response is clipped but not sharp. He looks down, hair falling to hide his face from Oliver’s view. “Not really up to finding a new place either. Takes a lot of energy, that.”

“Well, about that …” Thoughtful inbreath. Resolute exhale. Channel the ocean. Channel solidness. “I’ve been thinking, lately, about what it might be like to live with a roommate. You know, someone to drag me out of my own head now and again. And you, you’re not comfortable here.”

Gerry’s head snaps up, eyes brimming with shock and hope, slight wisps of desperation in the loose strands of hair that frame his face. He doesn’t speak – waiting, perhaps, for the other shoe to drop.

The other shoe drops, but not in the way Gerry seems to expect. Plans are talked through as the night passes, and by sunrise an outline of forward steps has been solidified. Pinhole Books will not be somewhere Gerry feels obligated to call “home” for much longer.

Chapter Text

London’s buildings are choked with black veins. Part lucid and part trapped, Oliver drifts to their rhythm, alternating between cold fear and hazy resignation. During moments in which he can choose which direction to turn, he pivots and reaches away from the city and all its impending deaths. He flees as much as he can while floating, willing the sickly glow of street lamps to fade behind him – willing the absence of crowds to lend him peace. He wanders along the side of the M25, staying between trees that block his view of future wreckage sites and the dark tendrils that envelop them.

Then, the trees clear and give way to farms. It isn’t long before Oliver stops dead in his tracks at the site of a herd of cattle preemptively marked in the places they will soon be slaughtered. If he hadn’t been dreaming, Oliver might have been sick. As it is, he simply stands in silent shock while something within his core twists as viciously as the starburst veins splayed across the field of livestock in front of him.

He reenters the conscious world with a tremor, throat parched with latent terror. Rising gingerly, careful to mind the creaking floorboards, he makes his way towards the kitchen.

Along the way, as he does every time he wakes in such a manner, Oliver stops at Gerry’s door, opening it as quietly as squeaky hinges allow. It never stops scaring him, not knowing what he’ll find behind that door. A creeping dread chills his bones, whispering that maybe the darkness in his dreams has finally found its way back to the person he once saved from it.

Usually, a sliver of light from the hallway falls upon the bed to reveal Gerry deep in a heavy slumber, untouched by any patient, reaching web of veins.

Tonight, he is curled into himself in fear, back pressed against the headboard of his bed. His eyes, when they snap up to meet Oliver’s, glisten with unshed tears. He may not be about to die, but Gerry certainly isn’t well.

Water can wait.

Oliver crosses the room and sits on the corner of the bed closest to Gerry, reaching a hand out in offering. He starts the routine of reminding himself not to be hurt, not to withdraw into himself too soon, because Gerry always needs a bit of time to process the implications of someone reaching towards him without expectation.

He’s only made it through the first half of this thought before his mind goes blank with shock because there is a trembling hand clutching his own, a light weight curled against his side, a face pressed into his shoulder.

The nightmares must have been especially bad tonight , he realizes with a sigh.

Oliver wishes he could cure haunted dreamscapes, but the next best thing is to stay solid in the face of their aftermaths. So, as best he can, that’s exactly what he does, soaking up the comfort of human contact as he shields Gerry from the tense 2 a.m. silence of the world.

When the trembling has stilled a bit, Oliver briefly leaves the room for two glasses of water. Returning, he offers one of these to Gerry. The quiet of the night has lapsed into comfortable by the time each glass is empty, and as the clock upon Gerry’s wall reaches the hour of dawn, Oliver’s mind turns – as it often has lately – to inheritance.

The dreams which occupy pieces of his own nights are getting worse. Those which occupy Gerry’s have maintained their severity for the past month. Nothing is getting better , and Oliver is keenly aware of the dwindling supply of the money his father left to him. If this pattern of nightmares is to continue longer for him and Gerry, which is what it seems to be trending towards, they can’t wait for their luck to look up. They need to seek the means to stay afloat before their resources have run out.

As much as Oliver hates to admit it to himself, they need careers .

When he first breaches the topic with Gerry over breakfast, the response he gets is an airy, reassuring, “I’ve still got plenty of cash left from my mum’s spooky book business.” 

The comment is accompanied by a casual eyeroll, and Oliver wonders – not for the first time – how anyone could get used to a lifestyle brimming with fear enough to speak so casually of it.

“Still not endless,” he retorts, and is pleasantly startled at the fond smile he gets in response.

“Alright, soooo…what’s the plan then?” Gerry’s chin rests on one hand as his eyes lock with Oliver’s, warm despite the coolness of their color.

And just like that, “the plan” has slipped Oliver’s mind completely. That is, until his cell phone chimes on the table, lighting up with the message, “We’d love to have you back!” 

Right. The Keystone, the magic shop.

With a deep breath, Oliver looks up from the screen to meet Gerry’s intent gaze once more. “I worked at a magic shop for a bit,” he explains, “and I still have connections there. They said I could come back – that’s what that message was – and I’m fairly sure they’ll welcome you aboard, too.”

Gerry glances up and to the side in thought for a moment, worrying at his lip piercing, before giving a small but definitive nod. “So, what do you need from me then?”

“Do you have a copy of your CV on hand, by any chance?”

Oliver has no idea if Gerry’s ever created a CV, but he figures it’s best not to assume anything. He’s already learned that defiant hope is far from the only surprising quality in the person sitting before him.

Gerry’s voice falls somewhere between clipped and jovial as he responds, “Never made one. Never needed to.” Then, with a tilt of his head to the side, he leans back in his chair and mutters, “Seems like it might be a fun challenge, though.”

“Do you know the general categories you need to fill?”

“Yeah, but I don’t remember the order they’re all supposed to go in.”

Oliver feels a tired laugh escape his lips. He couldn’t forget the order of a CV if he tried, not after how hard it had been drilled into him back in university. Verbalizing that won’t help anything, though. 

Gerry’s hopeful about this, for some unfathomable reason. Oliver can – will – let him keep that spark of hope. “I have one made already, so we can work off of that – structure wise, at least.” With determination that hasn’t coursed through his veins in ages, he goes to get his computer and then pops it open on the kitchen table, pulling up a blank document and his own CV to flip between.

“So, let’s start with education.”

“Homeschooled.” The word is spat out, bitter, as shaky as it is certain. Filled with implications Oliver doesn’t dare approach right now.

With a sighed outbreath and a plea to his own energy to stay grounded, he continues. “Professional experience?”

Gerry’s mouth curls into a bitter smirk, eyes fixed on something in the distance above Oliver’s head. “Been working at the bookstore ever since I was old enough to, technically. I never actually got paid, though, not as an employee or anything like that. Does it still count?”

‘The bookstore,’ Oliver assumes, means Pinhole Books. As far as he’s concerned, the fact that Gerry even had to endure that place has to count for something. And if employment experience is all it can count as in the mundane world, so be it; it’s the best he can do, the most reassurance he can give. “Yes. Yes, it counts.”

Gerry’s ironic smile turns glowing then, genuine, as his focus shifts back to the present. Eyes calm from billowing smoke to misty gray, clearing as they soften.

It takes a moment for Oliver to find his words again. “Alright, and… volunteer experience?”

“Hmmm.” Gerry’s eyes flicker down to the table, where he’s currently in the middle of running his left thumb over the silver ring splints on his right hand. “I don’t really have any. None that aren’t all steeped in supernatural drama.” His laugh is soft, yet achingly self-depreciating at the same time. “I can’t say I’ve ever really ‘helped’ with anything the majority of the population would believe.”

Oliver remembers the recognition he saw in Gerry’s eyes the first time they met at the Institute, the immediate belief he had displayed – the way he seemed to see truth in the conviction behind the warning spoken to him, behind the eyes gazing back into his own.

Not all help offered is taken. Not all volunteers are fully willing. Oliver knows this better than most, and a voice within him whispers that perhaps Gerry does also. At a loss for how exactly to express this, and still trying to steer clear of bringing up anything besides necessary past experiences, he tries to convey this meaning in a few vaguely pointed words. “I… know the feeling.”

There is a humming energy of understanding that fills the air, and Gerry stops tracing over the silver on his right hand to reach his left out across the table. After finishing the phrase he’s typing, Oliver accepts the gesture with his own right hand. 

Each of them knows that there are stories behind the certainty of their respective predictions. But those stories don’t need to be told right away. For now, the solidity of intertwined fingers is enough to nurture belief.

Chapter Text

Gerry’s pulse twists and turns to the rhythm of his thoughts, stuttering staccato words struggling to shift into sentences. What he had hoped would be a piece of normalcy to hold to has turned into just another tug at the seams that keep him together.

Really, he should’ve known. CV – “curriculum vitae” – “course of life.”

The action of creating a CV, in and of itself, is normal.

It doesn’t matter.

 Oliver’s measured, harmless questions remind Gerry that even the most mundane of experiences will forever be stained for him, cast into unnatural shades that have clouded his vision ever since he first learned of Smirke’s fourteen. His life has always veered several degrees left of ordinary, threaded through with fears that cross colors and intertwine.

“Curriculum vitae” – “course of life” – the course of his life. And the most surreal part of it all is here, now, trying to make it fit into some mold of plans and pages.

“Alright, so we’re at the ‘skills’ section now.” Oliver’s voice, smooth and pleasant as birchwood, rolls on through questions. He must see Gerry’s faltering, must on some level register the little sparks of ironic laughter threatening to rise out of his throat like soot.

Oliver must notice, but it doesn’t stop him from trying to help. It doesn’t stop him from tracing soothing tree rings around the tattooed curve of the joint where Gerry’s thumb meets his palm.

Gerry doesn’t know how to feel about that. All he can register is the flame that crackles away at increasingly more careworn seams in his psyche – the threat of being Known rather than just Knowing. A threat that feels, somehow, less daunting than it might be if the person sitting before him were anyone but Oliver.

“Gerry…did – did you hear me?” The question is velveteen, gentle – too gentle — given how little it must look like Gerry is paying attention.

Through the silken strings pulled taut across his throat, Gerry coughs out an answer. “Yes.” Yes, he heard. No, he doesn’t know how to respond.

“’Skills’ might be something like…knowledge of computer software, or another language, or…”

Oliver’s voice trails off to a pleasing hum in the background of Gerry’s thought process as it dawns on him that maybe there is such a thing as a skill he can put on his CV. One that doesn’t immediately have to do with events straight out of the Conjuring. ‘Another language.’ He knows a few of those.

The words burst forth from his mouth in puffs of smoke. “I actually do know a few languages. Latin, Sanskrit, French, Italian, Spanish, a little bit of Mandarin…” He trails off as he feels the increasingly heavy weight of Oliver’s eyes on him. When he glances up, the expression on the face staring back at him looks… awed

That can’t be right, can it?

The glimmer in the eyes, the slightly parted lips, the eyebrows raised just a degree short of skepticism…it all lines up. A question blooms and tumbles from his throat: “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Gerry …” Oliver’s voice trails off with an incredulous laugh. Jaw setting almost imperceptibly, rooted in purposeful focus, he gently extricates his hand from Gerry’s in order to dedicate both to typing. Graceful fingers tap rhythmically away at the keyboard of his computer for a moment, eyes tracing down the screen. Then, with a little flourish as he finishes, he spins the screen to face Gerry.

It’s a CV. A completed one , with “Gerard Keay” sprawled across the top of the first page starting on the left side. A section on education, work experience, hobbies, and skills. A little clipart image of a paintbrush. A list of all of the languages he’s spoken up about knowing.

It’s neat. It’s organized. It’s the most ordinary document Gerry’s ever seen associated with his entire fear-choked existence, and he’s…tearing up. Why is he tearing up?

Before Gerry can puzzle together the reasons why drops of saltwater are sizzling against his burning cheeks. Oliver’s eyes have widened in concern and he’s leaning across the table to enclose Gerry’s hand in both of his own. The worry lines on his brow have deepened into fault lines, and the breath in Gerry’s lungs catches in his throat as he realizes how close Oliver has gotten, seemingly without conscious thought about bridging the distance between them.

Every twinkle of emotion in those earthdark eyes, every tense strand of the braids brushed to one side of his head, every slight tremble in his hands screams with concern – concern Gerry knows is justified. Concern he has no idea how to respond to.

In absence of knowing how to act, whether he should reassure that he’s alright or be honest, Gerry lets his eyes fall closed and his forehead drop to rest against Oliver’s.

“Thank you,” he whispers, the words tumbling from his mouth as quietly as a shallow breath in peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

The Keystone is always quiet on Sundays. When he’d worked here before, Oliver had often found himself staring out the front window – that is, until a passerby with black veins laced over their forehead or neck forced him to redirect his gaze in horror. To try to distract himself from the inevitable trace of death across living skin.

Now, he passes the time between weekend customers watching Gerry paint tarot cards. Currently, he’s in the middle of crafting a major arcana set – for the past couple days he’s been working on his design for the Star. It’s simultaneously simple and intricate, depicting two hands cupped together just under the base of a 4-pointed star. In the middle of the star sits a small, remarkably detailed eye.  “XVII” shines at the top of the card in neat, slanted calligraphy.

Roman numerals and titles on the cards often take Gerry the longest to complete; he seems to be more used to depicting abstract ideas than he is to putting concrete words down on paper. Sometimes he'll sit and work for hours on the same letter.

At the moment, he’s unconsciously tugging at his lip ring with his front teeth as he carefully crafts the “r” in “star” with silver acrylic paint. Each brushstroke is methodical yet soft with artistry. His delicate fingers shake slightly at times, but less so now that he’s invested in a pair of compression gloves.

Oliver smiles to himself at how utterly at home Gerry seems, how much peace has seeped into his features. His face scrunches in frustration sometimes, courtesy of a botched letter or line; still, his demeanor is worlds away from how flinching and fearful it was when he led Oliver over the threshold of Pinhole Books for the first time.

It’s May, now, and that incident is two months in the past. Still, it made a large enough imprint on Oliver’s mind that he still thinks of it every day. And every day, he reminds himself – with a quiet, happy pride – just how far Gerry has come since Gertrude’s funeral.

The nightmares haven’t stopped, but the domesticity of daytime routine makes them a little more bearable.

Oliver feels the grounding force of Anahita’s presence before her hand falls on his shoulder. “Hey.”

“Hello.” He gives a warm smile and then goes back to concentrating on Gerry’s painting process – that is, until Anahita’s voice sounds in his ears again.

“Has Gerry taken a break yet today?”

“I, uh… well, I don’t think so.”

“Oliver, it’s been 6 hours.”

Gerry’s chimes in himself then, lifting one hand to wave away concerns as he intones, “S’fine; I really don’t need one.”

Unconvinced, Anahita plants her hands on her hips, fixing Gerry with an expression equal parts playful and serious. “As your manager, I am telling you to take a break.”

Okay, okay .” Gerry lets out a small, sighing laugh and reluctantly raises both hands in exaggerated surrender, prompting Oliver to chuckle under his breath in spite of himself.

“Good.” Anahita turns over her heel and walks resolutely towards her office at the back of the store.

Then, Gerry mumbles, “… After I finish this card.”

How Anahita is able to hear the declaration is beyond Oliver but hear it she does. “Gerry Delano, I swear to- “

Gerry, as always, brightens at the use of “Delano” in place of “Keay,” and the sternness in Anahita’s expression softens as her eyes glimmer with compassion.

Oliver takes advantage of both Gerry and Anahita’s momentarily averted attention to pluck Gerry’s paintbrush out of his hand. He makes a little surprised sound and gives Oliver a half-hearted glare, a smile still present in the corners of his eyes.

Anahita lets out a rush of hearty laughter. Then, after an exasperatedly fond, “Take your break, Ger,” she’s once again starting towards her office.

Fine,” Gerry sighs, gingerly setting the almost-completed card on the table behind him.

Wordlessly, Oliver hands him a water bottle. He looks pleasantly surprised by the gesture.

 “Thank you,” he breathes, achingly genuine in his gratitude.

The magnitude with which Gerry appreciates the smallest gestures of kindness – whether it be the change of a surname in conversation or small offerings of physical sustenance – will never fail to send a sharp pang of sorrow through Oliver’s heart. He lets the feeling pass in a wave before asking Gerry something that’s been on his mind for a while: “Do you want to change your last name to Delano? Legally, I mean. It is an option.”

Glancing sideways at Oliver, Gerry deadpans, “Since when do I care about doing anything legally?”

“Fair enough.”

“Really, I just don’t see the point. Too many people know me as ‘Gerard Keay’ already. Going by ‘Delano’ here is enough.” Gerry leans back in his chair with a little shrug, letting his eyelids flutter closed. “Wake me when it’s spooky art time again."

Oliver hums in acknowledgment of the words but doesn’t make any promises. There’s no way he’s not going to let Gerry sleep for as long as he needs to – as long as he can.

The shop stays almost dead. About half an hour after Gerry falls asleep, Anahita comes up to the front to keep Oliver company.

She glances in Gerry’s direction and gives a little chuckle, hair swishing side to side as she shakes her head. “He really did just fall asleep right there, huh?”

“Yeah. Yeah, he did.” Oliver forces down the hint of bitterness that burns his throat at the assertion. It isn’t justified, he reminds himself, to be jealous of that.

Oliver doesn’t sleep much these days, too haunted by dreams for the thought of closing his eyes to feel like a comfort anymore.

“Oliver?” The voice is warm and concerned. Anahita must have registered that something’s wrong, because of course she would – her intuition never fails, and it’s quite frankly frustrating sometimes.

“I’m fine.” Tired smile. Hope that it looks genuine. Affection, but not happiness.

“No, you’re not.” Frustrated sigh. Mouth set in a hard line. “Don’t think I don’t see the exhaustion clouding your eyes, the way you drift from consciousness when you think nobody’s watching.”

“It’s not really something I can talk about, or explain.” Oliver rubs at his temples, as if somehow the gesture can soothe away the lines etched into his skin by stress.

“Try me.” There is a stubbornness clenched in her jaw, storming in her eyes, and he knows he’ll have to tell her everything someday. But today – like most days lately – he can’t find the reserves of strength to relay his stories.

“I will. I just don’t have the energy right now.”

A moment of silence passes, and then Anahita gives Oliver a pat on the shoulder before returning to her office. The message is clear: she’s let the matter drop, a wave breaking upon a shore. Something that will build and crash again one day. Something kept at bay for now.

Gerry wakes half an hour before closing, rubbing his eyes and immediately asking, “What time is it?”

“5:30 pm,” Oliver replies cheerfully.

“Oliver. You were supposed to wake me up.”

“I never actually said I would. You needed the rest.”

“… Fair enough.” Gerry sighs, leaning back against the chair he’s still sitting in. Oliver reaches out to ruffle his hair, and his heart leaps with warm surprise when Gerry leans into the touch. He’s used to hair-ruffling being met with laughter and friendly batting hands, not this.

Whatever ‘this’ is.

He lets his hand still, letting out a shaky exhale. Gerry tilts his head up in response, grey eyes gleaming with answers to questions Oliver has no idea how to ask.

The silence stretches, squarely between comfortable and uncomfortable, until a group of people outside breaks it by chattering by the shop.

“I should probably finish the Star,” Gerry murmurs thoughtfully.

Oliver gives a quick nod of affirmation – he knows Gerry likes to have some sort of closure with his work at the end of each day.

The last brushstroke on the “r” is finished just before Anahita flips the sign in the store window from “open” to “closed” on her way out the door. Ten minutes later, Gerry and Oliver follow.

Oliver flips the lightswitch to “off” as they leave the shop.

Chapter Text

Oliver tries to ignore the slight trembling of his hands as he shuffles the tarot deck, willing himself to remain professional in front of the latest customer who has come to him for a reading.

When he’d first decided to go along with Gerry’s idea to offer both their services and Sight to the shop as tarot card readers, he had thought he could handle any death that might walk into the store. He’d seen the careful grace that Gerry handled customers with – the way he subtly pursed his lips when he detected a fear mark and proceeded to impart advice through the guise of a reading – and thought that he might be able to do the same.

He’d hoped to be able to warn people before it was too late to stop their deaths.

His hope has waned significantly since then. Everyone who has come to him covered in branching black veins has died in spite of his efforts. Every time he’s looked up the name of a customer he told of impending demise, he’s found an obituary.

In the present, Oliver tries to focus on his breathing. When that fails, he centers himself around the feel of the deck of cards in his hands as he shuffles them. His vision lands appreciatively on the way their dark surfaces give off flashes of silver, the eye design on the back of each card rendered in meticulous detail work. He’s never been more grateful that Anahita bought Gerry’s first painted tarot deck herself to use at the shop – it gives assuagement in moments like this.

Still, he finds himself aimless in his shuffling, almost dropping cards onto the ground.

It’s hard to concentrate when the person he’s doing a reading for has a bloodblack tendril curled around her neck, he muses, especially given she’s completely unaware of it. Especially given the hopeless history of his prior predictions in this place.

She’s smiling at him, eyes alight with life. There is a determined edge to her face that speaks to difficult past experience, a slightly haunted watchfulness to her gaze that lets him know she’s seen something

She’d introduced herself as Marianne with a West-Coast American accent, stiffening a bit when she mentioned visiting the UK “on business” only to relax back into what she’s decided to portray as her default demeanor.

Oliver doesn’t usually study people – well, customers , anyway – this closely, but paying attention to Marianne’s physical mannerisms has kept his mind from fixing itself on the End she will soon be facing. He doesn’t know how to effectively warn her, doesn’t know if he should even bother.

His concentration grows almost impossible to hold onto once he hands off the deck to Marianne to shuffle. She tells him she wants to know what to expect for the rest of her business trip here, and that she’ll value any advice he gives her.

Even without reading the cards she will eventually pull, Oliver has one solid prediction about the trip – namely, how it will conclude.

She wants a three-card spread for decision-making: concise, insightful, meaningful.

Card 1 – strengths – the Moon, upright.

Inbreath. Exhale. Make eye contact. “You have a strong intuition, a connection to the unconscious.”

Something in Marianne’s eyes shifts into deep focus, as if the card’s meaning has solidified the truth of Oliver’s predictions for her. It’s interesting and disconcerting in equal measures, relief that she will likely take his advice combined with dread that it may not matter. He continues to outline the meanings of the card, watching her nod along in slight awe. She looks at him like he’s reading her soul. Perhaps he is reading her soul. At this point, he has no idea of the extent of his abilities.

He hasn’t particularly felt like trying to test the limits of what he can do, given how much of his power seems to be connected to other people’s deaths.

Card 2 – weaknesses – the Eight of Cups, upright.

Inbreath. Exhale. Make eye contact, trying not to betray the growing dread in his heart. “You have a sense of being trapped, unable to escape the situation in which you have found yourself. You feel like you have no other option than the choice you’re currently making.”

Marianne swallows hard, giving another nod of her head – a more solemn one this time.

Card 3 – advice – the Wheel of Fortune, reversed.

An inevitable turn of the wheel, as he had feared. An end – the end of the woman sitting in front of him.

Inbreath. Exhale. Brace to make a dire prediction.

“Something will happen soon, and it will be beyond your prediction or prevention.”

Marianne’s face blanches, and she looks closer to the dead now.

Fitting, perhaps. Every moment does bring her closer to the dead.

Oliver sits silent for a moment, trying to ease into his grim advice – the only counsel he can offer, given the circumstances.

“Given my past experiences with spreads of this sort, I suggest you get your affairs in order. Write a will, call any family you have. You are at the bottom of the wheel of fortune right now, and it is doubtful you will ever climb back up.”

Marianne gasps a little. Then, without another word to Oliver, eyes unfocusing as the vein pulsing into her forehead grows larger, she rushes out of the Keystone without paying for her reading.

Still sitting at the table, he hears the careful rustling of Gerry setting down his painting supplies in the main room of the shop. A moment later, clear grey eyes peek around the corner with curious concern.

Oliver gets to his feet steadily, filled with new energy – emotionally drained, yet physically sustained. It never makes sense, the way his body and emotions war after people flee frightened from the shop. Gerry seems to see the turmoil behind the regained strength, crossing the room in seconds to throw his arms around Oliver’s waist in a comforting gesture.

Oliver curls his arms around Gerry’s shoulders in response, letting the lightness of the feelings that envelop him cut through the heavy weight of guilt settled in his stomach.


Twenty minutes before closing time, a young woman walks into the Keystone and asks Oliver if he can do a quick reading for her. She’s free of branching veins, surrounded by a charmingly theatrical air.

She asks for a three-card spread, like Marianne did, but it’s of a different sort – it’s a reading of the past. With a teasing little smile that flashes between lips painted dark plum, one eyebrow arched in playful challenge, she wonders aloud how much about her past the cards can get right.

Card 1 – what worked – the Hierophant, reversed.

Ah. A rebellious soul. He could have guessed that from the way she carries herself – shoulders thrown back proudly, walking in spiky heeled boots as if she was born with them.

“You’ve been successful in subverting tradition, in breaking cycles and rebelling.”

The woman lets out a burst of resonant laughter. “Surely you didn’t need the cards to tell you that.”

“Fair enough, though I can’t quite choose what they decide to reveal to me.” In spite of himself, in spite of the day he’s had, Oliver finds himself letting out an amused chuckle as some of the tension seeps out of his body.

Card 2 – what didn’t work – Four of Wands, reversed.

Oh. A lack of support in her choices, then. Oliver can only hope his interpretation of this card won’t drudge up bitter memories – won’t ruin the casual banter he’s been enjoying with this new customer.

“You found yourself without support in the wake of your decisions. There was conflict at home, and then you left, drifting transient for awhile.”

The woman simply laughs again, though this time the sound rings a little more bitter. “Of course, my dear family. They simply couldn’t fathom me deciding to be anything but their perfect little daughter.” A flash of hurt briefly crosses her face, but it is soon swept away to make room for her dominant expression – heavy-lidded eyes half-closed but alert, lips turned up in a half-smile, forehead smooth.

Relief wells up in Oliver’s throat, and he gives a smile that he hopes comes across as reassuring and grateful.

It is a rare person who can hear of the hurtful past and react so mildly.

Card 3 – key learnings – Death, upright.

“Through rebellion, and through breaking traditions, you have learned metamorphosis. You have learned to transform, to start over again and again. You have learned not to fear the change you know is constant.”

Exactly . Why fear what you know is inevitable?”

The words are said lightly, but the sentiment carries weight. Oliver finds himself nodding in agreement. 

After the woman pays for the reading, Oliver walks her out to the main room of the shop. He’s just about to offer to call her a cab, aware of the darkness that has fallen outside, when the toe of one of her shoes catches on the edge of a rug and she pitches headfirst into the corner of the front counter. There is a sickening crack as her skull makes impact, a collapse, and then she’s laying glassy-eyed on the floor, blood pooling behind her head.

Not breathing.

Not breathing.

Oliver’s own breath hitches in his throat as he feels his heart speed up, shocked and confused and absolutely horrified by the sight before him. He sees death everywhere – sees it even when he doesn’t want to.

And now…now this.

Now he’s standing in front of a corpse who gave no sign she was about to die.

Chapter Text

Startled gasps echo through Ria’s ears as she lays limp on the floor. The throbbing pain at the back of her head is soon forgotten as her senses cloud with the sweet, intoxicating terror that seeps from the two souls in the room with her.

One of them is the Coroner – Oliver, he’d introduced himself as – but he’s still so human it hurts just to look at. Still afraid, vulnerable, and apparently unaccustomed to dealing with death when it occurs in front of him. When Rosie had mentioned he needed “a bit of a push” towards the End, Ria hadn’t expected this level of fragility.

It’s silly, really. The End’s Coroner, gasping in horror at the aftermath of her calculated collapse. She’d laugh if she weren’t so committed to playing the role of a bleeding corpse.

This particular performance is easier than some – she’s had to suffer through so many frustrating displays of concern in the past. Just a week ago, someone called the paramedics to come “save” her when she very clearly had a broken neck and no pulse.

Dumbstruck horror, at least, is easier to tolerate than misguided attempts to help.

She’s just starting to debate whether or not she should get up off of the ground and properly introduce herself when the needling feeling of being watched – no, scrutinized – hums through her mind.

Then a voice from above her, soft but edged with apprehension, announces, “Oliver, she’s not dead.”

Ah. That’d be Gerard. Rosie wasn’t kidding about him being powerful.

“What do you mean she’s not –” There is a pause in speech, the sound of a couple footsteps forward, and then two fingers are against her neck checking for a pulse.  “Gerry, she’s not breathing .” The Coroner – Oliver, Ria supposes she should get used to calling him – sounds incredulous and hopeful in equal measures.

No wonder Gerard is such a threat to Oliver’s transformation… there is no room for hope among the avatars of Terminus.

Ignoring the lightheadedness invoked by blood continuing to rush from her head wound, Ria leaps up before any more about her can be Seen. “Not everybody relies on such simple things as breathing to get by, you know.”

Oliver tries to stifle a gasp, scrambling to his feet and promptly stumbling backwards. He does, however, maintain a better poker face than Gerard (who shoots her a silver-tinged, piercing glare, shoulders arched defensively).

His first instinct was to shy away from her, to seek protection in the arms of his Beholding-aligned companion. Hmm. He really is going to take more work than she initially planned.

“Who are you?” Gerard’s voice is low and cautious, eyes never moving from Ria’s even as he traces reassuring patterns on Oliver’s shoulder with one hand.

Ria responds how best she knows how to – in action. Specifically, with her eyes (because what more could a Beholding avatar ask for?) She lets their dark brown hue bleed into deep, bloody crimson, pairing the shift with a smile.

Both Gerard and Oliver exude spikes of shocked fear at the sight. They are , however, keeping their physical composure fairly well. So, with a sigh, Ria wills the wound at the back of her head to close up, letting the fresh horror coursing through her veins knit bone back together. Then, she extends a still bloodied hand to Oliver.

Gerard’s eyes narrow. Oliver gives him a weak smile, attempting some semblance of reassurance.

How cute.

Ria continues to let her hand hang in the air until Oliver takes it, and there is something kindred in his cold-tinged grip. He is, no doubt, one of the End’s – just a little lost at the moment.

Well . She’ll help him find his way again.

“Ria Mirti, otherwise known as the Casualty.” She gives a little curtsy, hands poised at the edges of her leather skirt in an exaggeration of demureness.

“Rather dramatic for one of the End’s ilk,” Gerard huffs under his breath.

Oliver looks more conflicted now. Good. “Gerry… she might be able to help me. To understand .”

“Yeah, and then lead you straight into Spooky Death Land.”

Gerard isn’t wrong . Ria doesn’t see any reason to be so uptight about that observation, though.

“Everybody goes to ‘Spooky Death Land’ in the end,” she points out with a challenging look.

“She isn’t wrong, you know,” Oliver sighs, turning to offer Gerard another little smile – more resigned than weak this time.

“No. No, I guess she’s not.”

Ria lets that affirmation sink into the room for a moment before continuing along her script. “I just moved to town, you see. And from what I heard, the tarot readings at this shop are remarkably accurate when it comes to predicting deaths.”

Internally, she side-eyes the silky way the lie rolls off her tongue. The Web has long since threaded itself almost as deeply into her psyche as the End.

It makes sense, of course. Inevitability rules fate, and she is its puppet.

… And while she’s been musing to herself, Oliver and Gerard continue to stare blankly at her. Right. She still has a bit of explaining to do.

“I figured I’d come here and see if all the predictions stemmed from the source I thought they did – namely, another End avatar. And lo and – well, lo and behold – “ she lets herself laugh for a moment at the initially unintentional pun, “– here you are.”


Another customer runs past Ria and out of the Keystone without paying, face blanched with terror. Third person in one day. Impressive. Ria lets herself soak in some of their fear before going to check on Oliver – he never means to scare people, apparently, so there’s always a good deal of guilt he endures after each meal.

Well, for now anyway.

Upon reaching the doorway to the room where readings take place, Ria swings open the door to find Oliver sitting at the table inside with his head in his hands.

Pushing back an exasperated sigh, willing herself to remember that he doesn’t understand who and what he is yet, she pulls up a chair next to him.

“It’s the only way to keep yourself strong, you know.”

Oliver's head snaps up, eyes guarded as he glances over at her. “What?” His tone is pleasant enough, but Ria can hear the slight apprehension that creeps into it. He doesn't trust her yet.

She supposes that's fair - it's only been a couple of days since she first introduced herself.

“Feeding on fear. That’s what we do – servants of Smirke’s fourteen, puppets, avatars…what ever you decide to call what we are.”

“So I've been told.” Oliver lets out a sigh, propping his head up on one hand. “I can learn to live with it, I suppose. It just…doesn’t feel quite right, y’know?”

His eyes are heavy-lidded, a pleading spark at their corners – a hopeful reach towards familiarity and comfort. Ria cannot give him what he wants. He’ll have to unlearn the need for comfort, and she doesn’t have the luxury of empathy to spare.

“No.” No, she doesn’t know. No, she won’t let him give in to his weaknesses. Hesitation won’t help him escape from what he is - what he will inevitably become. It will only cause him pain.

He has a long road ahead of him, to be sure, but there’s no reason that road should have to hurt.

“Oh. Alright.” There is resignation behind the light chuckle Oliver gives with his response.

Ria can’t afford to feel sorry for him. She’s here to help, not to nurture – to provide perspective, not to hold his hand through the difficult parts. Still, she explains herself. It’s beyond her why she chooses to do so, but perhaps it isn’t choice at all. It’s just an action she’s moved to take. So she takes it.

“Fear’s not inherently bad,” she blurts out, breaking the grim silence of the room. “And it’s not like you’re choosing to make your customers freak out; they just can’t handle being told that they’re going to die just like everyone else in this world.”

Oliver nods. The words don’t seem to have fully sunken in, given his still-sullen expression and slumped shoulders.

With a pat on the shoulder and a casual, “See you tomorrow!,” Ria is on her feet and out of the room. The seed of an idea – of a truth – has been planted. She just needs to give Oliver time to see it root itself and bloom.

Fear is not inherently bad.

Fear is a means of subsisting.

You cannot take responsibility for what scares a person, but you can hone and make use of the terror they project.

It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It simply is , as the End is simply what will be .

Inevitable.

Catching the aura of someone frightened of mortality on the edge of her conscious senses, Ria breaks out of her own thoughts to purposefully take one wrong step on the staircase she’s just started walking down.

The cycle of death and undeath continues, an unspoken contract between the Casualty and Terminus.

Chapter Text

Fresh silver lines glisten along the edges of the knight of swords card Gerry has just started painting, and he gingerly sets his brush down to lean back and study them. Oliver’s hand rests solidly on his shoulder, heavy but gentle.

And then it tightens, just perceptibly enough to snap Gerry back into the present moment. He tilts his head up to glance at Oliver, concerned at the sudden shift in presence, and sees an ashen face with eyes focused on the Keystone’s door.

Following Oliver’s line of sight, Gerry finds himself looking right at Ria – an unsettling presence, to be sure, but a familiar one by now. The Casualty, as she calls herself, has become a regular part of day-to-day life at the Keystone, to Oliver’s and his own continued unease.

“What are you doing here, Ria?” He fixes her with a questioning gaze, drawing as much on the Eye’s insight as he can. No new Knowledge leaps out at him, and Ria herself just gives a sardonic smile.

“I’m here to see my friend,” she intones brightly, eyes flitting away from Gerry to focus on Oliver.

A pang of unease rings through Gerry’s core, and he continues to study Ria’s appearance, searching for anything that might explain the haunted look on Oliver’s face.

She seems no more out-of-the-ordinary than usual – still the same marks, skull design supernaturally etched into the soul fabric of her forehead and outline of bones visible through her skin. There’s just one blank space – at the hollow of her neck, where a jeweled skull pendant attached to a tightly woven choker necklace usually sits.

She radiates death. It’s unsettling. He almost died himself, once, saved only by a treatment that deeply scarred him. Left behind by the world he’d grown up in because he almost fell to a threat that wasn’t even supernatural. Every close call beforehand firmly rooted in otherworldly terror, the closest of them all a result of not paying close enough attention to the mundane.

Gerry glances away from Ria and back to Oliver, whose hand is still shaking almost imperceptibly upon his shoulder. He brings one of his own up to cover it. Oliver looks at him with eyes wide as saucers, teeming with fear in a way they usually only are after he wakes up from a dream.

“I – uh – I need to talk to Ria. I’ll be right back.” His voice is bright and conversational, but the attempt at reassurance falls on deaf ears. Gerry can see the clenched teeth behind his words. He raises one eyebrow – really, you think that’s going to convince me you’re okay? – then lowers it abruptly when even more color drains from Oliver’s face in response to the unasked question.

“Okay,” he concedes. “Just… don’t die on me.”

Oliver gives a faint smile before turning to leave. Gerry presses his lips lightly to the back of the hand that’s been on his shoulder before letting go.


London teems with life and death alike as Oliver and Ria make their way down the sidewalk. The minute he’d approached the Keystone’s door, she had spun around and started walking down the boulevard, motioning for him to follow.

He hadn’t wanted to follow, but he’d felt like he had to. Now, he’s walking side-by-side with her in silence. The little smirk on her face tells Oliver that he’s going to have to be the one to bring up the change he’s seen in her.

“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me why you’re suddenly covered in veins?” He poses the question as offhandedly as possible, knowing that the quicker he regains outward composure, the quicker she’ll move on from cryptic gloating to actually giving him answers.

She isn’t fooled quite yet. “You know exactly why I’m covered in veins,” she says with a laugh. “Don’t play dumb. I know you dream about them. I know you know what they mean.”

“They mean you’re going to die soon.”

“Exactly!”

“Ria, you told me you die at least three times a day.”

“… And your point is?”

“I’ve never seen the veins on you before – not when I gave your reading, not when I first saw you die, and none of the following times you’ve been at the Keystone.”

“Oh, that.” Ria’s casually teasing air is beginning to grate on Oliver’s nerves, but he forces himself to stay calm. 

“Yes, that.” He hopes his reply hits as dryly sarcastic, internally sighing with relief when Ria coughs out a little chuckle in spite of herself.

She nods her head, as if to signify he’s given the correct response to advance the conversation, before saying, “I’m touched by more than one entity, y’know.”

“And?” Oliver gives an overexaggerated sigh, playing into the dramatics of Ria’s stilted answers.

“I wore a Web artefact the first time I came into the shop, and all the times after that. Didn’t want to scare you right off the bat.”

“Hmm. I don’t believe you. I think you wanted to startle me.”

Ria raises her hands in mock surrender, almost swinging her left arm into a passerby. “You got me! It worked, didn’t it.”

“Oh, it worked alright.” Oliver gently tugs her away from the passerby she almost hit, who has stopped the middle of the sidewalk to glare at her.

They walk in relative silence until Ria’s voice rings out with a question that catches Oliver aback: “What do they look like on me?”

“What do… what do what look like on you?”

She tosses her ponytail with a sigh, rolling her eyes as she turns to look at him.  “The veins .”

“They’re…dark. Pulsing, bit of a crimson sheen.”

“You’re not even looking.”

“I am.”

“Corner of your eye doesn’t count, Oliver.” Ria tries to dodge into his line of vision. He very pointedly turns his gaze to the side.

“I don’t need to look. I see them enough.”

“Yes, but do you ever see them on another End avatar?”

“I don’t know any others – just you.”

“Case in point! Aren’t you curious?”

“Curiosity got me into this mess. If I had just stayed at the top of Canary Wharf in that dream…” Oliver trails off. No point in talking about it now; what’s done is done. “Going back over it won’t change anything.”

“Exactly. So, why not move forward?”

“That’s what I’m doing.”

“It isn’t, not really.” Ria’s voice comes from the opposite side of Oliver than she was previously on. Startled, he looks to his right to see her walking along the edge of the curb next to him. She turns to him with a knowing smile, balanced on the edge of the busy street. “Moving forward would be accepting the role you’ve found yourself in.”

She gives a little twirl, stance even more precarious than before as she lifts one foot in the air. Oliver has to clench his jaw to keep from shouting for her to stop, to be careful.

Ria raises an eyebrow at him, as if daring him to say something. “I can feel your fear, you know. Imagine how much easier it would be if you could feed on that instead of exuding it.”

There’s another spin, a slight tumble out of it, a little giggle from Ria at Oliver’s following involuntary gasp. “It’s everywhere, the threat of death. The reality of death. There’s no escaping it, Oli.”

Oliver flinches at the familiarity of the nickname - at the notion that the person in front of him considers him a friend, is speaking conversationally to him as if she didn’t introduce herself by bleeding out on the Keystone’s floor. 

Ria’s balance on the curb wavers, the ground slipping out from underneath her as one ankle turns the wrong way. She falls towards the street, flung into the path of oncoming traffic. Oliver has a moment to think about crying out in warning - and a moment to realize it doesn’t matter - before the car hits her.

All hell breaks loose in an instant, civilians screaming and the driver of the car slamming on their brakes too late and the veins along Ria’s neck expanding with each wave of fear the sight of her body inspires. When he catches her eyes, glassy and undoubtedly dead, he almost jumps at the conspiratorial wink she gives him. As if he’s a part of this. As if he’s ever wanted to be a part of this.

Ignoring the horror that churns in his gut, he grits his teeth and slowly backs away, transfixed in spite of himself by the sight of people crowding around her. He draws on every last reserve of calm within him not to scream as she gets up off the ground and walks towards him.  Cries of “don’t move” and “you’re injured” and “call 911,” all directed at Ria, surround Oliver in a wave of harsh, grating sound. He tries his hardest to block it out, turning around to head back towards the Keystone and away from this waking nightmare.

As he walks, trying to steady his breathing as the world before him remains hazy, he’s pulled back into himself by a cold hand on his shoulder and a whispered, triumphant, “How do they look now?” The words are gritty, spoken through a voice box that should be shredded given the natures of the injuries Ria sustained, and Oliver has to force down a shiver. He continually wills himself, with varying degrees of success, not to look at the tendrils of death that surround her head, but they don’t do him the courtesy of ignoring him completely.

As she walks next to him, he feels them wrap around his arms, colder than ice. Patient is the word that comes to mind, like the thin line between a frozen-over pond and drowning.

Before today, despite all of the marks of death Oliver had seen, he had been able to assert that he’d never touched a corpse. He supposes that’s no longer the truth. That realization chills him to the bone as veins continue to engulf him, as they weave themselves around his neck and his fingers. Vaguely, he registers Ria sewing herself back together with the strength given by newly consumed fear. He doesn’t try to get away from her. He doesn’t think he could.

“What the hell was that?” he hisses eventually.

“You weren’t paying attention. You weren’t looking at me.”

“So you decided to run out into traffic?!”

“Yes. And you’re talking to a corpse while walking through the streets of London.”

She’s not wrong. Oliver huffs in disapproving agreement and falls silent, letting the bustle of the world around him fade as he tries to slow his heartbeat down. At one point, he looks to his side to see Ria perfectly intact again – albeit still absolutely covered in blood.

Shakily, he reenters the world in full, and is immediately struck with the realization that there are still veins on Ria. This time, they stem from her stomach. Right. She has at least three deaths a day. This was only the first.

“The veins look different now, don’t they?”

“They do.”

Ria laughs, as if this is some delightful game – this dying and coming back, playing I-spy with marks of imminent demise, flippantly disrupting the peace of civilians… and something in Oliver hardens.

As they reach the Keystone, he rushes inside, slamming the door behind him. He barely hears the start of a gasp as it shuts completely.

Gerry’s head snaps up from his painting, and he momentarily brings one hand up to his temple with a wince before fixing Oliver with a gaze equal parts concerned and questioning.

Oliver opens his mouth to speak, but the only sound that comes out is choked and incoherent. So he dashes into the shop bathroom and locks the door behind him, bringing his hands to rest on either side of the sink with a shuddering breath.


As the bells above the door of the Keystone jangle in cacophony, Gerry turns his head from where Oliver has just locked himself in the shop bathroom to where Ria stands wide-eyed in the doorway, covered in dried blood.

Rising slowly to his feet, he walks towards the front of the shop until he stands a few feet away – far enough for safety, but close enough to speak without yelling. Keeping one hand braced on the marble of the counter, he draws himself up to full height and looks her dead in the eye with a pointed, “What did you do?” 

He almost winces at how accusatory his voice sounds. Then he remembers Oliver’s face from minutes ago – terror-stricken and helpless, even in the presence of someone he knew would support him – and feels any regret he might have had go up in flames.

“I just died. You’d think he’d never seen it before.” Ria’s tone is casual, as always. Gerry has no patience for her grotesque levity.

“You died? While out walking in the middle of London?” He knows the answer to this question, but he still wants to hear her say it. Still wants proof to support his suspicions about the reason Oliver ran from him.

“I do it all the time!”

“Not when you’re with someone else!” Gerry gives a frustrated sigh, raking a hand through his hair as he feels his grip on the counter turn whiteknuckle tight. 

“That’s–”

“What, you just thought ‘oh time to die’ without considering the impact it might have?” Gerry’s voice rings unpleasantly harsh as it resonates in his ears. He can’t bring himself to care.

“I thought he’d be able to handle it! I’m sorry he couldn’t!”

“What made you think he’d be able to ‘handle it’?” Gerry barely stifles a cold laugh at the thought that Oliver - compassionate, careful Oliver - would ever react with nonchalance to someone’s life ending right in front of him.

“I said I was sorry!” Ria’s pitch is frantically escalating, eyes turned crimson as she tries to make her presence intimidating. “He has to learn, though.”

Unimpressed by her attempts at justification, Gerry gives a disbelieving shake of his head. “There are some things he doesn’t want to know. If you saw him as a friend, you’d respect that.”

“I tried.” Ria’s arms are crossed defensively as she tries to keep standing tall, chin tilted up in defiance even as fear brims in her eyes.

A part of Gerry wants to prod at that fear, to unwind and examine it until he understands what Ria wants with Oliver. He leans into the instinct for a moment. “How, exactly, did you ‘try’?”

Ria’s mouth opens and then shuts. She looks at a loss for words, trapped in the headlight beam of Gerry’s gaze. Then, she seems to steel herself once more, glaring daggers to hide her unease as she feigns a false offensive. “What have you ever done to help him, to keep him away from things he might not want to know?” 

She’s not going to give in; of course she isn’t. And he’d rather not engage her in a shouting match when he could be doing something to help Oliver instead.

“Just go,” he sighs on an outbreath, forcing himself to look away from her.

With a look equal parts incredulous and frustrated, Ria stands staring at him for a moment before spinning on her heel and storming off. Gerry watches her retreat in the periphery of his vision until she fades from view. Then, he turns over his own heel and crosses the floor of the Keystone once more to tap gently on the bathroom door. 

“She’s gone, Oliver,” he mutters against wood, wincing at the hoarseness in his voice. “It’s okay, she’s gone now.”

Hearing hesitant footsteps approach, he backs a few paces away and waits. The door opens at a painstaking crawl, but eventually, Gerry finds himself face to face with Oliver – still ashen, still haunted, but resolute in the way he stands tall. His eyes warily scan the shop, as if checking for death hiding in the corners, before he breathes a small sigh of relief and refocuses on Gerry.

Tentatively, Gerry opens his arms, an offering of shelter that can be taken or left. Oliver all but falls into them, his own arms curling around Gerry’s shoulders in a gesture equal parts protective and vulnerable – both soaking in and shielding his source of support.

Chapter Text

Gerry paints the eye that shines silver on the backs of his tarot cards.

This time, his canvas is the counter.

This time, he’s working in red.

The air of the shop stings metallic in his lungs - where did this paint come from?

He doesn’t know. He only knows he must mark every surface in the shop to keep out dark tendrils that snake across the front window. They blot out the view of London outside, save for a pair of bloodblack eyes staring at him with the patient malice of the inevitable.

The Casualty’s voice rings out like a funeral toll, finding its way into the shop each time Gerry blinks. It thrums through cobwebs in the corners like guitar strings, echoing back over and over.

He wills himself to keep watching. His eyelids won’t cooperate.

The eyes etched into his hands flicker sideways, turning his attention back towards the front window. When he meets the gaze of the person on the other side, it is no longer bloodblack but earthdark and afraid. 

Rooted to the spot by fear of what he’s becoming, the Coroner looks back at Gerry in the Casualty’s place. 

Gerry’s paintbrush falls, fragmenting as it hits the ground. The Keystone’s window shatters with it; the veins that pulse against the glass drop to envelop the ground before continuing their slow crawl forward. Gerry pays them no mind – there are more important things in life than the approach of death.

He reaches a hand through the empty air where the window once was, letting out a silent gasp of relief as cold fingers intertwine with his own. There is a tug across the threshold, and Oliver collapses into Gerry’s arms.

In a moment, the ground is embracing them both. Gerry barely has time to wonder at the lack of pain in the impact before the ceiling crashes down.


There is darkness, broken only by a beam of light shining in from the hallway. Gerry bolts upright in a cold sweat, vision clouded with the dizzy haze of hyperventilation. Reflexively, he reaches for the bottle water he knows sits on the nightstand beside him. The slight crackle of plastic under his fingers breaks the deafening silence in the room.

Draining the bottle with one long tilt does nothing to quench the burning urgency of questions behind his eyes, how they flicker in and out as he struggles to make sense of his dream.

At the edge of his vision, a shadow falls upon the doorway. There is a silhouette, a gasp, a whisper – “not again” – and then the shadow flees.

The moment passes in confusion, blurred by the disorientation of disrupted concentration. Gerry’s thoughts rearrange themselves slowly as footsteps echo down the hallway, clicking into place as a door slams.

Realization hits with a crushing blow – the shadow, the gasp, the voice belonged to Oliver. So did the slamming sound of a door frantically wrenched open, abruptly closed. Words ricochet through his mind - ‘not again,’ ‘not again,’ ‘not again,’ -, hushed and haunted. Something happened to scare Oliver, something that had to do with him

The sudden knowledge sends a shiver through his bones, deepening the cold already settled there. Blazing fire in his veins rails against the chill, setting off flares of delayed adrenaline that push him to his feet. There is no relief in the action, only the feeling of his knees almost buckling as the room spins around him.

Gerry grips the bedpost to stay on his feet, then eases into a sitting position, eyes fluttering closed as he leans his pounding head against cool wood.

 It is an indeterminate amount of time before his vision clears, but as soon as he can form thoughts through the blinding burn of pain, he rises once more – slowly, this time -, and steps out into the hallway of the flat, brushing his fingertips along the wall in case vertigo strikes once more.

At the bathroom door, he pauses, a sense of dread crawling over his skin. What about him had made Oliver’s voice quiet with terror? Does he even want to know?

Who is he kidding? He needs to know.

Ducking from faint light into deep shadow, Gerry looks to the mirror above the sink for answers, hand poised to flip the lightswitch on.

Illumination, as it turns out, isn’t needed. Two silver eyes glow back at him, piercing a reflection that should be dark.

Chapter Text

Streetlights pulse, orange flashes through the dark. Feet pound on pavement. Memories burn. Oliver is past as much as present as he moves, as visions of time turned backwards flicker through his head.

A pair of silver eyes glowing in the dark, boring into him, eyes that used to shine a soft, deep blue.

Graham’s eyes had captivated Oliver first, when they’d met – concerned, gentle like a clear sky in summer as he led the way to a class number etched on the paper schedule trembling in Oliver’s hands. As he guided Oliver through the rest of secondary school with an easy smile and a furrowed brow. As he brushed his thumbs gently over Oliver’s cheekbones to soothe frightened tears.

Even in the depths of his own struggles, Graham had been Oliver’s anchor – his life raft in the sea of grief that was watching a parent slowly waste away, his sanctuary when home felt crowded by the hovering presence of death at his mother’s bedside, his refuge from his father’s misplaced anger in the inevitable grief following her funeral.

For years, home hung heavy like a shroud in the back of Oliver’s mind. For years, it was only Graham who could pull him from the depths of his own psyche. Glances were reassuring, a wide-eyed gaze upon him proof that someone saw him amidst the dark, despairing stupor that consumed so much of 2002.

2001 had haunted Graham just as thoroughly, after all. Car crash, two lives lost. A family fragmented in the wreckage, its only living member gifted with – bound to – a too-big flat just outside of London. No, Graham was no stranger to grief.

He opened his arms and home when Oliver mentioned wanting to finish his degree in the city, and so 2003 began in a whirlwhind of moving trucks and antique furniture shopping.

(Oliver never quite understood Graham’s fascination with furniture, but he admired it endlessly, listening fondly as his favorite voice spoke in tones of hushed excitement about the newest clock or chair he had found on his way home from class. Watching the way his eyes lit up, Oliver always found himself filled to the brim with a mixture of adoration and bashful envy, a silent wish that he could find that much joy and meaning in life outside of the whims of other people.)

The wind began to change in September of 2005, with Graham’s newest attempt to keep the drifting at bay – a criminology course. But it wasn’t the course that caused the shift. No, that was the table. The intricately patterned table Oliver found himself drawn to while looking for a birthday present for Graham, full of lines that wound themselves tightly around his heart until he resolved to take it home with a red ribbon tied to its top.

A table – the table – that kicked off the downward spiral, that captivated Graham so thoroughly he couldn’t look away from it, that brought with it a pervading sense of something not-quite-right to the flat. Oliver learned a new sort of unease from the way the drain pipes outside the flat’s window started to shift at night, unfurling into tall and almost humanoid shapes in the corners of his eyes, normal once more when he turned to fully watch them.

Yes, the table changed the wind, turned the tide, and November saw Oliver plagued by the same eyes that had once comforted him. Blue, frozen over, no longer consoling but watchful. Glowing an unnatural silver in the dark.

The feeling of eyes boring into Oliver’s neck hadn’t been what frightened him. No, it had been the sight he’d been met with when rolling over in bed – the flashbeam glare of unnaturally coloured irises and black hole pupils that still enters his head unbidden at times.

Seeing the phenomenon in one person he had loved had been enough for one lifetime… he can’t bear to see misty grey turn to silver distrust, too.

A hand falls casually on Oliver’s shoulder, cold even through his heavy coat, and he leaps through time to land back in his present day body. He doesn’t know what he expects to hear, but it isn’t a pealing burst of resonant laughter.

“A little jumpy tonight, are we, Oli?” Ria’s voice rings with amusement in his ears, and it takes all the strength he has left not to break down into disbelieving laughter.

“Hello, Ria,” he sighs, letting exasperation seep into his words and demeanor. He shrugs off her hand more indelicately than he would if she was anyone else, letting out a heavy exhale as he wills away the creeping advance of the icy End that is so everpresent in her touch.

“Oh, we’re back to talking again, good!”

Ironic laughter threatens to bubble up again. Ria doesn’t seem to register Oliver’s discomfort – or, if she does, it doesn’t stop her from playfully nudging his arm in a gesture too friendly, too casual for what she is.

For what he is.

Silence stretches taut between them until she cuts through it again. “What managed to spook you so much, anyway?” With a step in front of him, she blocks his path, deceptively human-looking – save for the depth of emptiness in her hazel eyes as she studies him with a slight squint.

Uninjured, she is almost more unsettling a sight than she was after falling into a car crash – when she lifted her broken body up off the street with unnatural fortitude. Oliver barely stops himself from betraying his unease with a sharp inbreath, instead opting to stay firmly planted in place as he meets her gaze with as much calm wariness as possible.

“What do you want?”

“Can I not say hi to my friend?”

“How did you find me?”

“I didn’t. Just lucky, I guess.” Ria reaches out a hand towards his shoulder again, and this time, he can’t stop himself from flinching away. A flash of… something passes over her features, drawing her eyebrows together and filling her eyes with temporary emotion before nonchalance smooths her brow once more. “Still struggling with the path you chose, I see. You only make this harder on yourself.”

And then, with a sharp turn over her shoulder, she’s stalking away as Oliver stays locked in place, pitch-black ponytail swishing behind her.

With one last pause she calls out over her shoulder, words carrying just far enough to reach his ears. “I’ll come back when you’re feeling more reasonable.”

Oliver shakes his head at her retreating form. He’s seen her version of “reasonable.” It isn’t a state of being he’ll ever give himself over to.

Allowing himself an unsettled intake of breath, haunted by nothing but memories that emerge from shadows around the fragile sanctuary of a blinking streetlamp, he leans against the wall behind him and lets his eyes scrunch close. He stays there, standing in some caricature of respite, until he hears the cautious approach of footsteps he knows well.

Oliver opens his eyes when the sound stops, trying for a smile as he takes in the messy, swept-back hair and uncharacteristically makeup-free face in front of him. Gerry’s eyes still glow faintly silver, but they search Oliver’s face with concern, not suspicion.

“Hi,” he mutters on an outbreath, breaking his worried gaze to glance at the ground with painful, uncharacteristic timidity.

“…Hello.” Oliver chances a step away from the wall to move closer to Gerry, reaching out hesitant arms. After a brief glance of disbelief and the shaky but definitive nod he’s given in return, Gerry falls into the embrace with a sigh of palpable relief.  

“M’sorry I scared you.”

“Well, you weren’t quite the one who scared me.”

Gerry’s pulls back a bit to study Oliver’s face again, worrying at his lip piercing in thought. His hands flutter up to Olivers shoulders, settling firmly there to ground him in the physical world. His eyes spark with latent curiosity, with questions, then sober with what Oliver recognizes as a determination not to ask.

In reply, he gives as much of a smile as he can muster, and Gerry returns the expression with an aching genuineness. The hair Oliver combs his fingers through is artificial black, not brown streaked through with premature grey. The eyes staring back at him are silver-tinged mist, not sky blue with silverharsh overtones. Gerry’s face is more angular than Graham’s ever was, and he stands a couple inches shorter, tilting his head up at Oliver rather than looking down at him.

This is not the same person who has haunted him for eleven years, and he cannot allow ghosts of the past to strain the first new connection he’s been able to develop in ages. Oliver glances between Gerry’s eyes and mouth, only half cognizant of the action until Gerry echoes it back. His breath hitches in his throat as the hands on his shoulders still.

Can I?” The question is soft-spoken but unmistakable.

Out of words, out of anything more than tired happiness only slightly tinged with familiar fear, Oliver nods. Gerry’s lips are pressed to his in a moment, warmth interrupted only by the cool metal of a studded piercing. Gerry’s hands clasp protectively around the back of Oliver’s neck, and as Oliver gently wraps his arms around his waist, he presses closer with a shuddering sigh of contentment.

Swaying under the streetlamp, they hold fast to each other, sheltered from the world until the sun starts to rise. There are questions that must be answered. For now, they remain unasked, and Oliver’s bone-deep exhaustion eases the slightest bit with the lack of immediate pressure.