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The Crownless, Again

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“I called you a cab,” said Martin, entering his office with a very soft knock on the door frame. “I know Elias said he would call you one, but, well, I figured you’d probably rather leave as soon as possible.”

“Yes, yes, thank you Martin,” Jon waved his concern away, still trying to pick up his shattered bearings after Jonah left his office. Martin looked taken aback, and he hurried to correct himself.

“I mean, of course, I appreciate it. You didn’t have to do that, I could have called a cab… myself?” With every word out of Jon’s mouth, Martin’s face grew stranger.

“Are you sure you’re feeling alright, Jon? I mean, obviously you’re not feeling well! It’s just that, er, you don’t usually…. say thank you?” Martin cringed, “Not that I think you’re … that came out wrong. I just meant it was, well, out of character for you?”

“Really?” now it was Jon’s turn to be taken aback. It was true, social niceties like gratitude and apologies weren’t usually at the front of his mind. But he usually did alright. Sure, it got worse when he was stressed and this job had been terribly stressful, even this early on. But for Martin to think a simple ‘thank you’ desperately out of character? Where on earth had his head been?

“Well, I’m no worse than I was twenty minutes ago,” was what he settled on saying, “and I do appreciate it, Martin. I am… quite tired. Do you think it’s here yet?”

“It ought to be by now, that’s why I came to tell you.” Martin hovered, awkwardly, as Jon rose slowly from his chair. Ah, there was the headache again. “Let me walk you upstairs.”

He allowed Martin to take his elbow and lead him up the stairs, past the harried looking receptionist whose name he couldn’t quite remember, and out to the curb where it appeared the cab had not yet arrived. They stood quietly in the warm afternoon air, waiting. Martin seemed loathe to leave him alone, and Jon made no move to dismiss him, although he had to keep reminding himself not to lean in to Martin the way he wanted to.

He desperately wished for a cigarette – though of course his shirt pockets produced nothing helpful, since the Jon of this time was well into quitting. He patted through his trousers and jacket anyway, hoping that one of them would at least produce something to do with his hands other than try to thread his fingers through Martin’s. That particular embarrassment would probably kill them both.

The almost comfortable silence was broken by Martin sudden shout of, “Die!” and the crash of his foot dramatically down onto the ground. If Jon hadn’t been so utterly exhausted he might have jumped. As it was, he drew a panicked breath inward and looked around wildly for what might have prompted such a response.

“Sorry,” said Martin a little sheepishly after a moment. “It was just, well, you know. Another worm.”

“A.. a worm?” for a moment Jon was confused. Then, “ah yes, Prentiss. Wait. Prentiss? Is she here?”

“I certainly hope not!” cried Martin, taking his own turn to look about frantically, as though the mere mention of her name might act as a summons. “On today of all days – it’s been weeks!”

“Ah yes,” said Jon. “Weeks since…?”

Martin stared at Jon like he had grown a second head. “Since I’ve been… staying at the archives after Prentiss trapped me in my flat? Have you really been paying that little attention?” This was good -- now he had a solid sense of when he was, without having to ask any awkward questions. Martin looked hurt, though, and oh dear, that wouldn’t do at all.

“I – of course! I’m sorry, Martin,” he stuttered. “I’m just tired, I don’t know where my head’s at.” Now Martin looked worried, which wasn’t what he’d meant to accomplish either.

“So you don’t remember how long it’s been, and you’re apologizing? Are you sure I shouldn’t tell this cab to take you straight to the hospital?” His voice was light, half teasing, but his forehead had the wrinkle that meant he was almost certain to be actually considering it.

Martin. You will do absolutely no such thing. I just… I just need to eat something and get a good night’s sleep.” Besides the fact that there was no chance of doctors being able to fix whatever was wrong with him, Jon didn’t think he could take being in a hospital right now. The last few years hadn’t exactly left him with fond memories of the idea.

“If you’re sure,” said Martin slowly, still looking at him far too intensely for Jon’s comfort. “Just… take care of yourself, alright?”

“I will,” responded Jon, his voice painfully soft and far too sincere. Thankfully the cab arrived before Martin could read too much more into his actions, and he allowed himself to be bundled into it, making certain that the cabbie knew to take him to his flat, no matter what Martin might imply. As they drove away he caught a glimpse of Martin in the rearview mirror, still standing on the curb in front of the institute, watching.

Just walking into his flat set his teeth on edge. He felt like just around the corner something could be lurking, and he would never know because he wasn’t sure what was supposed to be there in the first place. He stood for a long minute, lost, just inside the door. He wanted nothing more than to throw down his bag and collapse into bed, but he couldn’t remember which door lead to his bedroom so he couldn’t know for sure that none of these doors lead to Somewhere Else and he couldn’t Know because when he tried the headache almost made him black out, so he ended up clutching his briefcase to his chest and slowly sliding down the closed front door to huddle over it, breathing hard.

After who knew how long of this, he finally managed to stand up and drag himself over to the sofa, throwing himself face-first onto it. The doors could wait until the morning. Everything could wait until the morning.

Morning Jon understood this sentiment, but when he woke up dizzy and queasy, with an awful taste in his mouth, he really wished that past him had at least had the decency to drink some water and brush his teeth before passing out. Maybe thrown on a t-shirt or something, or at least taken off the slacks and sweater vest that past-him had been wearing.

His flat was less terrifying after sleeping for a solid ten hours, but it still looked like it belonged to a stranger. It took him nearly ten minutes of half-awake fumbling through his kitchen cupboards to even find the necessary components for a cup of tea. As it steeped, in a chipped mug he was fairly certain he hadn’t seen since uni, he finally made it to the bathroom for some attempt at personal hygiene. Unfortunately, this brought him face to face with his bathroom mirror.

A human face stared back at him. Smooth, unscarred beyond the small acne marks around his chin, souvenirs from teenage years and early adulthood. His hair hung greasy and limp around his face, and the bags under his eyes were… honestly better than the last time he’d looked into a mirror though that didn’t say much.

It looked like a stranger’s face. It looked like the version of himself he had finally wrenched away from, the one he’d convinced himself he’d never be again. Its hard to hang on to the delusion of humanity when you are literally omnipotent. He looked like a person again, and it terrified him. A strange animal sound ripped from the back of his throat and it took him three more to realize they were sobs, keening and tearless.

He stayed there for some amount of time, bent over the sink, trembling. By the time he managed to brush his teeth and make his unsteady way back to the tiny kitchen his tea had gone cold and oversteeped. He drank it anyway, leaning against the fridge and counting his breaths, worrying a thread hanging off his cuff in a slow, repetitive motion.  

He needed a plan. They had had a plan, he and Basira, he was certain of it. But everything from right at the end was a little muddled. When he tried to focus on the specifics the headache lying in wait behind his eyes roared screeching back to life. At the time he hadn’t realized just how different his thought processes were, neurons growing and changing, knowledge flowing into his head and reshaping it. He couldn’t comprehend it now, not in the same way and the memories he could access were scrambled and uncertain.

He should call Basira. He hadn’t needed to memorize her phone number, before. Or maybe he had tried, but regardless, he didn’t know it now. Thankfully, it was nearly 7:30 in the morning now, a respectable time to be making his way to the archives, and there would be resources there for contacting someone based on a name alone.

Maybe he would stop for breakfast on the way there. Past him hadn’t had much by the way of food in his flat. Hopefully finding something to eat would quiet the twisting nausea and pain that had dogged his every step in this new reality so far.

Jon wasn’t particularly hopeful.