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Like I Was Inside

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Jonathan Sims was falling asleep at his desk. 

 

This was not an unusual occurrence. Since his start as Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, he’d been putting in many late nights and odd hours- attempting to sort through the mess he’d inherited was no easy feat. It happened often enough that he’d grown accustomed to startling himself awake as his arm went numb and his head slammed against the table. He’d gotten a bruise from a particularly nasty wake up, and a few funny looks from his coworkers as well. 

 

He yawned as he checked his watch and sighed upon seeing the time. 11:14 PM . Trains were spotty at this time, and the rain had been at a steady downpour for most of the day. He hadn’t left his office since midday, when he’d decided to brave the rain to grab a quick lunch from across the street. This had been a bad move- he returned looking not unlike a drowned rat, sputtering and shaking his head as he burst through the institute’s front doors. He created enough of puddle that Rosie put out a ‘Caution-Wet Floor’ sign with a shake of her head. He’d felt slightly bad, but it wasn’t his fault they didn’t put out a mat on rainy days. Not like they had an awning he could dry off under, at any rate.

 

Faced with braving the elements in the dead of night, Jon contemplated the professionalism of sleeping in his office until morning. He’d considered it before, of course, but had always decided against it, too embarrassed to actually follow through. But it was starting to get colder, and he’d had enough of the incessant rain already today. If he threw on his blazer tomorrow, no one would be the wiser. Besides, who paid attention to his drab clothes, anyway? He doubted Tim or Sasha cared enough to notice, and even if Martin did, he’d never say anything. The man could barely string together two sentences in front of Jon without stuttering or leaving the room. 

 

His assistants had all left at a normal hour- as soon as the clock struck five, Tim had been out the door with a wave of his hand and Martin and Sasha followed soon after. Jon hoped they were under the impression he left at a late but reasonable hour- a respectful seven or eight. If they knew he was leaving closer and closer to midnight with each passing day, they would probably start to worry. Or doubt his ability to handle the position he’d been given. I’m starting to feel the same way, quite frankly.

 

Jon figured that by the time he reached his home, it’d be closer to one in the morning, and after showering and getting ready for bed, closer to two. Factor in his inability to sleep and his five o’clock alarm, he’d be better off getting a rough night's sleep here than an hour or two at home. There was a disgustingly old cot in the document storage room left over from Gertrude’s tenure, and he was sure there was a blanket around there somewhere. It’s the responsible thing to do, really. He would just have to make sure to tidy up as soon as he awoke and leave no trace of his overnight stay. Easy enough.

 

He rose from his chair with a groan, every joint in his body creaking in protest at the movement. Jon would have to look into some stretches that helped improve posture- at this rate, he’d be out a back in a year and a half if not sooner. As he made his way down the hallway, he began to shiver. The temperature in the archive hovered somewhere between chilly on the best of days and arctic on the worst. For the past week, the thermostat seemed to be stuck on arctic. Martin had taken to wearing his chunkiest wool sweaters in the office, and Sasha and Tim had a collection of cardigans they used interchangeably. Jon’s wool blazers did the trick, uncomfortable as they were. He made a note to bring a more comfortable sweater to keep in his office; something he could change into after hours (he had appearances to keep up, after all). 

 

The cot was covered in dust and odd debris, which Jon began to swipe off judiciously with his shirt sleeve. Is that dirt? Did Gertrude take this camping? However, there didn’t seem to be a blanket in sight. Jon knew he wouldn’t survive more than ten minutes down here without one, and now that he’d made up his mind, he refused to turn around and go home. Gertrude has to have one somewhere- cot’s useless, otherwise. 

 

Getting down on protesting knees, he peered under the cot, pulling out several cardboard boxes of various sizes. This disturbed all of the dust and sent him into a two minute coughing fit, but he was too tired to go back for a glass of water. He ripped open the nearest box with a startling ferocity, and made a victorious ‘ha!’ at his find. A blanket!

 

It was thick and scratchy, like the kind you would keep in the trunk of a car for emergency use. It was also an odd, muddy brown- though it didn’t feel dirty in his hands. As unappealing as it looked, it would get the job done. He pulled it out and almost staggered under its weight. Folded up in the box, Jon hadn’t realized how big it was until it was draped at his feet. It was made for a much, much larger bed than the rickety old thing in document storage. Gertrude definitely had a few screws missing, that’s for sure.

 

He folded it up in two and laid upon the bed- even in half, the blanket covered him completely and then some. 

 

And God did it feel nice. Lighter than a weighted blanket, it cocooned him perfectly at just the right temperature. Jon could feel the tension in his body evaporate in its embrace, and as soon as his head hit the pillow he could feel himself drifting off. He quickly fell into a dark and dreamless sleep, something he hadn’t done in months.

 

Safe.

 


 

Tim yawned widely as he drank the last dregs of his morning coffee. Another day in paradise, his mind supplied. He’d spent last night at the bar with a few researchers he’d been close to back in his library days. God how he missed those days. The archives made absolutely no sense, and Tim wasn’t used to spending hours in a dark, dingy basement full of mess. He loved his coworkers, no doubt- Sasha and Martin were great, and Jon was fine if you caught him on a good day. Those days seemed to be rapidly behind them, however. Jon was clearly in over his head, and the three assistants weren’t too far off either. No one seemed to know what exactly an archivist or an archival assistant did, though Sasha tried her best to steer the way. Jon had essentially turned them into a more dubious research department, letting them do whatever they wanted in the name of follow up. He couldn’t deny the thrill he felt when he managed to charm his way into information, and he was sure Sasha felt the same whenever she hacked into another government database. Like spooky secret agents. Watch out MI6, the MAG3 are on the case!

 

He ambled over to the break room sink, turning on the tap with a flourish and running his mug under the stream. Slow footsteps approached from behind, and a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that it was the boss himself. “Mornin’, Jon!” he chirped with as much enthusiasm as he could muster- which turned out to be a lot. The ol’ Stoker charm never runs out of steam!

 

“Morning, Tim,” came the sleepy response, uncharacteristically soft for the man. A series of several out-of-character responses followed: Jon slipped an arm around his, tucked his head into Tim’s shoulder, and nuzzled him.

 

That’s right- nuzzled him. Tim considered himself a master cuddler- he was a very affectionate man, after all. But Jon was not . A friendly clap on the back had once sent him sprawling across the floor, and anything more intimate than a handshake made him prickle up like an irritated cat. So Tim learned not to initiate these touches and kept a respectful distance. As did Jon.

 

Until now, anyway. “Uh, hey there, boss-man…” Tim trailed off, completely unaware of how to respond. He had to be dreaming, hallucinating even- but none of these explained the very real, very warm presence of said boss, currently snuggling against his arm with his eyes closed in contentment. “You, uh- you feelin' alright?”

 

Jon hummed affirmatively, but didn’t move otherwise. “I’ll need the follow up on the Saraki case soon, are you almost done?” His voice was still at a pleasant murmur, and Tim strained to hear him. What the hell? Is he sleepwalking, or something?

 

“I-I can get it to you this afternoon?” A gentle squeeze on his arm and a content sigh. Tim’s brain short-circuited. 

 

“I’m serious, boss,” Tim began to grow concerned, though he didn’t dislodge the man. “Are you feeling alright? Is everything...okay?”

 

“...Yes?” At this, Jon opened his eyes and tilted his head up, blinking in confusion. It was both adorable and horribly endearing and did nothing to assuage Tim’s concern. “Why?”

 

Why? Because you flinch whenever someone gets within an inch of your personal space? Because even at the happy hours I dragged you to, you never so much as gave anyone a hug? Tim didn’t say any of those things. Tim decided to do what he did best- roll with the punches. Even though the punch, in this case, was his prickly cactus of a boss suddenly deciding he needed affection like a dying plant needs sunlight. He painted an easy smile on his face and gave a decisive pat to the arm entangled with his; he was rewarded with a small smile that sent a pang through his chest. When was the last time Jonathan Sims smiled?  If his boss was in a good mood, he’d do anything to keep it going, odd behavior notwithstanding. 

 

“Well, if you say so!” He spun them around easily, and they walked, arm-in-arm, back into the archives. Jon stumbled a bit, but was kept on his feet by the steady hand at his side and didn’t let go of him, though the destination was clearly Tim’s desk. 

 

“Alright, well- this is me!” Tim chuckled awkwardly, but Jon made no move to leave his side. He seemed content to just stand there, leaning into him, as if it were the most natural position in the world. Huh. Guess he’s really starved for attention, then?  “Uh- don’t mind me…”

 

He began to gently untangle himself from Jon’s grip, and said man made a sound not unlike a wounded animal, as if Tim were hurting him. “Seriously, boss, what’s going on-” he started, taking his seat but holding out the arm that Jon had latched onto with a death grip, not wanting to actually hurt him. Jon seemed to take this as an invitation, and also sat down.

 

On his lap. His boss, Jonathan Sims, was currently perched on his lap, scowling at him. As if he were acting strange. Tim made a strangled noise at the action; Jon wasn’t heavy, but it was like holding a pile of elbows- all sharp edges. His arms instinctively went around the man to prevent him from falling, and Jon took this as another invitation and leaned right into his chest. Still scowling. What the fuck is going on-

 

At that moment, Sasha and Martin decided to make their appearances. It took them a few seconds before they noticed the scene, but Tim will never forget the look on their faces as soon as they did. Martin went fully red ( how much blood does that man have in his body) and Sasha raised her eyebrows, her mouth letting out a choked breath before she echoed Tim’s thoughts from a moment before.

 

“Uh, what the fuck is going on?”

 

Indeed.

Chapter Text

“This is not what it looks like!”

 

“Oh,” Sasha snarked, not unkindly. “So Jon’s not sitting on your lap right now?”

 

“Well yes , but it wasn’t my idea-” 

 

“I don’t see what the problem is.” Jon loftily interjected. “I fit.”

 

Silence. Jon continued.

 

“Martin makes tea as soon as he comes in. I need a place to sit while I wait.” he reasoned, and was met with even more silence. “Why are you staring? Is this some sort of joke? You know I don’t tolerate jokes.” His scowl deepened and he turned his face into Tim’s sweater. From anyone else, the action would have looked sweet, but Jon managed to make it into a visual reprimand. Tim began to choke and Sasha let out a disbelieving squeak. Martin was suspiciously silent.

 

“That’s not- are you joking?” Sasha responded somewhat shrilly, though she was smiling. “Cause it’s a bit odd, to be honest! “Stuffy boss pranks unsuspecting coworkers with love” sounds less like a viral hit and more like an HR nightmare.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Jon’s head snapped forward, fixing Sasha with a glare. “I’ve never pranked anyone in my entire life.” He seemed to replay Sasha’s words in his mind as he suddenly pulled back and gave Tim a look of concern. “Are you uncomfortable, Tim?” Fuck, he’s deploying the eyes again. “You can still use your computer. I won’t look at your screen.” Considerate. “Or I could go to Martin-”

 

“I’m getting tea!” the man in question announced, throwing his bag on the desk and practically sprinting to the break room.

 

“See, Sash?” Tim gestured an arm towards Jon and swiveled violently, causing the man to grab at his shirt to hold on. “He goes and does that face and I can’t not- stop laughing, dammit!”

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just so ridiculously cute. He looks like a cat! I’d take a picture if I didn’t think he’d claw my eyes out-”

 

"Excuse me-

 

“Besides, you seem fine to me. Could shoo him off any time you want, but you two look awful comfy -” Tim sputtered “-whatever gets you through the morning. I won’t judge.” Sasha’s face said otherwise. 

 

Tim resigned himself to his fate- Martin had run off, Sasha found the whole thing amusing, and Jon seemed immovable, weird thing he was. He turned towards his computer, reaching around his newly acquired companion. If this was Jon’s idea of a prank- he’d play along. Joke’s on you, I love this shit. Could do it all day- even though you’re pointy as fuck.

 

“Happy now?” he grumbled down, not making eye contact.

 

Jon looked up at him, confused. “Like, in general, or?”

 

“Never mind.”

 


 

Tim and Jon. Jon and Tim. Sitting outside, just a few feet away, canoodling. Cavorting. What was Jon about to say?  Martin didn’t want to find out. Or maybe he did. If Jon was making fun of him, this was particularly cruel. Does he know about my crush?  Sasha and Tim sure did. Did they tell him? Is this all some weird joke designed to make him feel ridiculous ? If so, it seemed unnecessarily elaborate. And yet here he was, watching his boss slash unattainable love interest comfortably perched on his coworker’s lap like he belonged there.

 

But even then, this wasn’t Jon-like behavior. Martin prided himself on being a fairly good judge of character, or at least a decent observer of human behavior. Maybe Jon was finally breaking down under the stress? Was this some unconventional cry for help? Maybe I could give him a hug, if he wants it?  Martin knew he was no Tim, looks-wise, but he’s pretty good at giving hugs. He’s soft and big! And nice!

 

Just make your tea. Right. He could at least do that for Jon. He poured out two cups for Tim and Sasha- their usual mugs- and turned into the break room, determined not to say a word about the situation. And there they were- everyone still in place, as if it were a normal workday- though Sasha kept sneaking glances at the two and Tim typed awkwardly around his burden, head perched lightly on top of Jon’s. Jon, who was watching Martin expectantly. He felt his face burn at the scene- it was weirdly cute and domestic- but in all of his daydreams, he was in Tim’s place. Avoiding eye contact, he put the mug down on Tim’s desk (a murmur of thanks from the man), then Sasha’s, and rushed back to the break room to get his and Jon’s. He fought to keep his hands steady as he walked back out. 

 

And Jon’s staring at him again. Christ, those eyes. Don’t trip. He managed to make it over, and Jon held out his hands for the cup. “Thank you, Martin,” he murmured, taking a sip and closing his eyes in appreciation. Martin froze in place in front of Tim’s desk, stuttering nonsense. Who is this person and what have they done with Jonathan Sims? And then this happened.

 

Jon slid off of Tim’s lap, the latter making a small ‘oof’ and looking strangely bereft as he did so. Sasha’s eyes were glued to the scene as Jon took Martin’s hand with his left and stated “Time to get to work, then.”

 

Hand. Small. Soft. Squeezing. Martin’s mind moved in monosyllabic sentences as he robotically followed the man to his office. He ignored the sudden exclamations from behind him ( “Whoa there Jonny Boy! Get it!” “What the hell-” ) and focused solely on the small hand in his, the grip surprisingly tight. What does he want? Am I hallucinating? What kind of fucked-up repression dream is this? Should I squeeze back?  He acted purely on the last thought as they entered the office and was rewarded with a soft, pleased sound that sent a shiver throughout his body.

 

Jon set his cup of tea on the floor and plopped down, gesturing for Martin to do the same. Which Martin did. Jon slid over a box of statements, opening it up and taking a stack. “Sort these with me. Chronologically.” A command. Ah, there’s a bit of the Jon I know, fear, and am hopelessly attracted to. Martin did as he was told, distinctly aware of the warm body next to his and grabbing a large stack to go through. Jon opened the files and began to sort them on the floor in front of him, his side gently nudging Martin’s. 

 

How am I supposed to work like this? Martin attempted to anyway, making his own piles. He wasn’t sure why Jon suddenly tolerated his presence- he was so used to the man avoiding him at all costs and snapping at him for little mistakes. This complete 180 was very welcome and wholly alien, but Martin would willingly play along, confused as he was. If this was a work-induced breakdown, who was he to judge Jon’s way of coping? It might have been strange, but Martin couldn’t deny the little (big) thrill he got from simple human connection. It had been so long since he’d been wanted, needed, for longer than a brief moment. The contact was...nice?

 

But Jon kept pushing. He said nothing, but kept nudging himself into Martin’s side with a surprising amount of force. Martin took this as a directive to move, but Jon would always follow along with an irritated noise. After doing this several times, he heard a long-suffering sigh and watched as Jon got up, moving his stack behind Martin’s. He felt strangely adrift without the man, but this quickly abated when Jon sat down and leaned into him, back-to-back. He froze, but Jon didn’t seem to notice the tension, going back to work diligently.

 

After several minutes, it was clear Jon wasn’t going to explain himself. Alright then. They fell into a sort of rhythm, passing statements back and forth with little talk. It was nice, working alongside someone. He was so used to sitting alone at his desk, feeling a bit left out of Sasha and Tim’s workplace banter. They always tried to include him, but they had an easy camaraderie that only came with years of working together. Even Jon was sort of included in it, in his own way. They seemed to him like a sort of research clique. He wondered if they used to take lunches together and gossip before Jon’s promotion. Can’t imagine Jon gossiping, though.

 

His thoughts were broken after about thirty minutes passed, when Jon suddenly announced “This isn't working. It would be better if I was between your legs.”

 

Abort. Abort. Abort. Martin.exe has stopped working.

 

“U-uh, I’m sorry? What was that?"  he squeaked out as Jon got up and stood imperiously in front of him. Was Jon implying-

 

“If you’re surrounding me, I can focus better.” Jon said patiently, as if he were reasoning with a small child and not suggesting something completely untoward. “Like good pressure.”

 

Good pressure ? Was this like some sort of weighted-blanket thing? He himself wasn’t immune to the comfort of one of those on a particularly bad day. But there had to be a better way of phrasing that. Nevertheless, Martin found himself wordlessly splaying his legs, and Jon promptly situated himself between them, making a pleased hum. 

 

And then they resumed their work, Martin thoughtlessly placing statements in random piles. Jon would mumble irritably, and sort them in their proper order. He thought about bringing up this odd and not Jon-like behavior, but thought better of it. He didn’t want to shatter this odd peace between them, and he felt like acknowledging the reasoning behind it might set the man off. It's not like he'd never imagined this anyway. Though not in Jon's office, of course. And so Martin’s mind was instead on an entirely different plane, distracted by the sweet smell of Jon’s hair and the movement of his arms. Pressing against his. Every so often, it seemed like Jon purposefully nudged his head against Martin’s chin, as if reminding him of his presence. And his mind wandered, wandered, wandered until both him and Jon were very far away, tucked in some quaint cottage in the countryside, Martin writing and Jon reading a novel, and maybe there was a cat-

 

He was jolted back by a knock at the door, Tim’s face in the small window under the words “Head Archivist.” His eyes were wide, and he was flashing a thumbs up sign in Martin’s direction, mouthing words that were no doubt completely inappropriate. He didn’t seem to actually need anything and was pleased to just gawk, so Martin purposefully ignored him. Jon seemed too wrapped up in his work to even notice the noise. Martin had no idea how long Tim stayed there watching them, but when he looked up about twenty minutes later, he was gone.

 

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Even when your boss seems perfectly comfortable situated between your splayed legs for hours at a time. God that sounds dirty. Get your mind out of the gutter, Blackwood!  Martin tapped Jon on the shoulder to get his attention, and yet still wasn’t prepared for Jon gazing up at him in confusion, only inches away from his face. Oh fuck. Oh fuck.

 

“Sorry! Sorry, erm- its just that it's about lunch time, yeah? Should we take a break?”

 

Jon blinked. “Ah, yes. I suppose. Did you bring lunch?”

 

Martin nodded and began to stand, his joints protesting at having been in the same position for too long. He held his hand out to help Jon up, and unsurprisingly, Jon held on afterwards. Guess this is how we’re going to the break room, then. 

 

Tim and Sasha were noticeably absent from their desks, probably off to get lunch themselves. Or give us privacy. Not that they needed it! Just two coworkers, working in extremely close proximity because his boss seemed to be going through some sort of breakdown. Perfectly normal, perfectly fine. 

 

Just like it was perfectly fine that Jon stayed glued to his side as he microwaved both of their lunches. And it was totally normal that when they sat down next to each other, Jon immediately tangled his leg with his and leaned into his side. And Martin was perfectly fine when he promptly choked on a meatball and spat it half-chewed on his plate.

 

Just another Tuesday at the Magnus Institute, really. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Incredibly close lunch with your boss/crush playing footsie with you under the table? Check.

 

A stroll down the hallway back to said boss’s office, hand in shaky, sweaty hand? Also check.

 

Another hour of extremely close contact while you finish sorting through two more boxes of spooky statements? Check again!

 

Convincing your boss to untangle himself from you so you can finally go to the fucking bathroom? Currently in progress. 

 

It wasn’t that Jon was arguing with him, per se, or even stopping him from leaving. He was just nodding, all solemn-like as his little hands balled into fists and his eyes were doing “that look” again, the one Tim called his “kicked-puppy face.” Jon hated dogs, though- perhaps a more apt name would be “cat denied food” or “Archivist beholding his mess of an archive.” Either way, it was making Martin feel guilty for having to take a piss and cursing his bodily needs.

 

“I’ll just be five minutes, I swear,” he promised, hands on Jon’s shoulders. He seemed to like that.

 

“Okay,” Jon responded gravely, as if he were a soldier off to war. Which he sort of felt like, honestly.

 

Martin accomplished his task in a solid four and a half minutes. Not too shabby, if he said so himself! He practically sprinted back to Jon’s office but the room was empty, Jon nowhere to be found. He even looked under the desk and in the wardrobe (small, could be cozy!)

 

Nada. So he ran down the hall, calling his name until he heard an irritated “What is it, Martin?” from the break room. 

 

It seemed he’d been away too long, and Jon had to rely on someone else for sustenance.

 

Sasha was seated on one corner of the break room couch, clicking away at her laptop which was perched on the arm of the sofa. Jon was spread over the rest of the couch (it was perfectly Jon-sized, Martin noted) with his head in Sasha’s lap. She looked up as Martin panted in the doorway, but didn’t stop her fingers from working their way through Jon’s hair. 

 

Jon’s hair. Jon’s hair that was currently down and splayed over Sasha’s lap in an artful display of curls. Raven locks with a strand of silver here and there. This was the stuff poems were made of. Why wasn’t he the one sitting there? Why did he have to pee and ruin everything? Curse this body, to deprive me of a moment like this!

 

“What do you need, Martin?” Jon reminded him, his disdainful look at odds with his relaxed pose.

 

Sasha tilted her head and smirked, a mischievous look in her eye. “Yes Martin, did you need something?” She scratched lightly at Jon’s scalp and he made a noise of appreciation. As much as Martin wanted to whisk Jon away, he couldn’t deny that this was the most relaxed he’d seen him in weeks, if not ever; like an overgrown cat basking in sunlight. And so he sighed, consigning himself to a Jon-free rest of the workday.

 

“No, nothing. Sorry about that.”

 

Jon hummed in acknowledgment and closed his eyes. Sasha raised her eyebrows and went back to her work, a knowing smirk on her face. She’d won this round.

 

So here he was, leaning against Tim’s desk and talking in low, urgent tones.

 

“Drugs?” he suggested, careful to keep his voice down. 

 

Tim scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Really, Martin? He’s not in uni anymore. Ooh, maybe he’s an evil doppelganger! Or Jon was the evil doppelganger, and the real one was a cuddle-slut all along.”

 

“Yeah, that’s definitely more likely,” Martin snorted. “Wait, do you think he did drugs in uni?”

 

“A man doesn’t puff and tell, Martin. Look, maybe this is just Jon’s method of stress relief right now. Maybe the archives have finally broken him. And this is his cuddly cry for help.”

 

“It’s weird and you know it, Tim,” Martin argued, not willing to concede the point. What makes a man go from ice cube to lap dog? “You’ve known him longer than me, I think you’d be more concerned.”

 

“I didn’t say I wasn’t concerned!” Tim began to raise his voice. “I just think we should, y’know, let him have this. Maybe he’s not acknowledging it because he doesn’t want us to acknowledge it. Besides, it's not really that bad, is it?” He smiled and nudged at Martin. “You two certainly seemed to be a bit cozy back there…”

 

“I didn’t say it was bad! Just different!” Martin wasn’t aware his voice could reach that octave. The more you know. “And don’t you dare accuse me of taking advantage, that’s not what this is about-”

 

“Whoa there, who said anything about taking advantage?” Tim held up his hands in an innocent gesture. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Just saying how cute you two looked together. What are you going to do if he needs some company after hours?” He waggled his eyebrows and grinned suggestively, leaning forward to whisper in Martin’s ear. “I wouldn’t mind taking a bit of that home myself but if you’re calling dibs, let me know.”

 

“No one is taking him anywhere,” Martin said sternly, jerking away from Tim as he laughed. “And I, for one, will be going to the library to get the books I was supposed to pick up at ten. Alone. And that is fine.”

 

“Is it?” Tim called to his back as he left the room. “I could come along, if you’d like! I’ve got two hands, after all. And it’s my turn next!”

 

He was rewarded with a door to the face, but it was worth it.

 


 

Time flies when you’re trapped in a basement with three archival assistants and their touch-starved boss. Martin didn’t get another turn, sadly, before the clock struck five and everyone began to pack up. Jon stood close to Tim’s desk, vacating the spot he’d previously held on his lap as if on a time clock. He looked sad and nervous, fidgeting in his spot but making no move to get closer as Tim threw on his coat and slung a bag over his shoulder. 

 

“You gonna be alright, boss?” Tim asked, uncharacteristically serious. He was looking down at Jon with concerned eyes, but seemed to be stopping himself from moving closer. “I can give you a ride home, if you like.”

 

“That’s unnecessary, but thank you, Tim.” Jon replied stiffly, painstakingly providing another foot of space so Tim could leave without bodily harming him. “I have some work to do here.”

 

“See you tomorrow, then?” Martin provided hopefully, trying to stop himself from sounding too eager. It didn’t work, judging by the look on Sasha’s face.

 

“Yes, yes,” he muttered, then scurried back to his office and slammed the door. The three assistants shared a confused glance. 

 

“Is the spell broken, y’think?” Sasha said. “Does Jon turn back into a pumpkin at five?”

 

“Quick, Martin, get his shoe!” Tim urged, pushing him towards Jon’s door.

 

“Fuck off, Tim.”

 

For now, they went home, however reluctantly on Martin’s part. Maybe he did need space. He certainly ran out of here fast enough.

 

Time would tell.

 


 

Jon was not feeling very well, not well at all

 

He had some vague sense of unease, of being left out at sea without a relief ship in sight. It was a feeling that had been biting at him all day, only relieved by the proximity of his coworkers as they remained within arm's length. The growing sense of horror at what he’d subjected his colleagues was quickly stamped out by this terrible sense of loneliness and vast, unendurable space. 

 

Everything was fine when there was a hand, a presence, the comforting touch of someone he trusted nearby. The familiar weight of being seen and known and acknowledged in a very physical sense was something he didn’t know he desperately needed until today. It provided a nice hum, a constant source of solace that blocked out any sense of self-consciousness or embarrassment. But now they’re gone and all that’s left is Jon and Jon’s not good enough by himself Jon needs others Jon needs warmth -

 

Jon needs cardigans!

 

And so Jon ventured out into his assistant’s room again, grabbing a sweater each from the backs of chairs or strewn upon desks. They won’t mind, right?  He could always just return them. And so he bundled up in these over-sized, brightly colored things, looking more marshmallow than man. And it worked, for about thirty minutes. He wasn’t cold anymore, but he was shaking hard enough at his desk that his handwriting was illegible.

 

Go home. You’re obviously sick. He felt sick. But he couldn’t tell if it was a symptom or a cause. He hoped to God it was some sort of twenty four hour thing. If he just went home, took a shower, and had a good night’s rest, he’d be fine. Perfect. It’s a plan.

 

The tube ride itself was actually not as bad as Jon thought it would be. It was still fairly busy, and Jon found himself pressed up against the nine to five crowd. This, along with the gentle rocking of the train seemed to calm him immensely. It wasn’t the same as Martin’s arms or Sasha’s hands, but he felt a bit better. At least he wasn’t shaking.

 

That relief was short lived. Bundled as he still was in his three stolen cardigans and winter coat, he was still cold and achy. The few minutes he spent outside and the three flights of stairs somehow became an odyssey, and he the hapless hero, never to return home.

 

But that didn’t make sense. He was home, these were his walls, his clothes, his scalding shower. It was a cozy space, as dictated by his not-so-great salary. And yet every hallway might as well be a mile long, every room separated by a vast distance. A shower that should have given him third-degree burns left him feeling nothing at all. He shook and fretted about the room, putting on layer after layer. He tried taking one of his anxiety pills-nothing. Somewhere in his mind he was calm and sleepy, but his body refuted that even as he attempted to bury it under a duvet, a quilt, and a blanket.

 

A blanket. 

 

A hum. A voice (voices?)  crawled into his mind and it itched like a need unsated. Go back. Go back.

 

At eleven o’clock at night, Jon called a cab. Forty five minutes later, he was at the institute.

 

And by midnight he was asleep. Safe and warm and calm in Document Storage under a strange, heavy covering.

 

It was the second-best nights’ sleep he’d ever had.

 




Elias Bouchard was not happy.

 

He stared at his Archivist, miles away, sleeping soundly under that... thing. After a day of hanging off his assistants like a limpet. This was not the situation he'd been led to believe would happen.

 

He began angrily typing a text that he knew would go unanswered, muttering obscenities. 

 

This is the last time I trust a ‘gift’ from Peter Lukas. 

Chapter Text

Sasha decided to come in early on Wednesday.

 

She told herself it had nothing to do with the Jon situation; after all, she was rather behind on some of her work. She had been distracted all day.

 

Rising at an ungodly hour, she managed to get to the office by seven thirty. No sane person would do this, except perhaps Jon. And she doubted his sanity as the days went on. 

 

Case in point- Sasha finds him sitting in the break room, hair mused and eyes blinking away sleep. Had he slept over in the office? What was more concerning, however, was his attire.

 

He was wearing an enormous light blue sweater that Sasha had definitely seen on Martin before. The second layer was an obnoxiously bright yellow cardigan that Tim wore when he was feeling particularly cheeky. And topping it off, her favorite rose-colored chunky knit. How he’d managed to layer them all was a mystery, but the effect made him look more fabric than man. Christ, she knew it was cold in the archives, but he had to be roasting in that outfit. 

 

“Um, good morning?” She hesitantly peered around the door, not wanting to startle him. His head perked up at the sound of her voice and a sleepy smile graced his lips. He moved to get up, but seemed to think better of it and instead fidgeted in his chair. “You look...cozy.”

 

Jon looked down as if suddenly realizing his own outfit and blushed. “Oh! Er, do you mind- that is, can I borrow this?” He tugged at the cardigan sheepishly. 

 

“Well, you already are, so I think that settles it,” she teased, turning away to walk over to her desk and set down her bag. “Are you really that cold?” She took her seat and jumped; Jon had silently followed her out, and was currently about an inch away and looking at her expectantly. His eyes flickered to her lap, asking silently for permission.

 

She couldn’t help the sigh that escaped from her lips, but she acquiesced. How could she say no to that face? Jon eagerly curled into her lap and sighed in contentment, leaning into her chest and tucking his head underneath her chin, not unlike he did with Tim the day before. It felt strange, but it felt right in a way Sasha couldn’t dissect. She had known Jon since his first day, even before Tim had joined their little group. She had trained him and she thought she knew him quite well. Jon shied away from contact, that was true, but she’d seen the way he looked at them when Tim had a casual arm around her shoulder. When they hugged at the end of the day. It was with a soft sort of longing, as if he wanted the same but couldn’t bear to ask for it. Sasha had seen the way he jumped at any sort of touch, and that was a barrier she felt as if she couldn’t breach even when they became closer. Only once had he initiated contact, and that was a drunken night years ago that ended with the two of them cuddled against a couch watching a movie. The next morning Jon seemed horribly embarrassed, and Sasha never brought it up again.

 

But maybe she should have? The pressure had been getting to him over the past month; he was permanently exhausted and snippy. He’d lost weight he couldn’t afford to lose. Tim and Sasha’s attempts to draw him out of the archive always ended in a refusal, and he seemed highly suspicious of Martin, who couldn’t hurt a fly. Was it the statements? The ones that wouldn’t record to the laptop, the real ones? Jon would ever admit to a supernatural cause, but she could see through the facade. Gertrude had left quite a mess in the archives and it seemed purposeful. There was something terribly wrong here that she could only see a rough sketch of, and she knew Jon felt the same way. Tim too. 

 

She wrapped her arms around her friend and squeezed. “Will you tell me what’s going on, Jon?” she murmured into his hair. Jon tensed in her lap, frozen in position. She couldn’t see his face from her vantage point, but she was certain it was anxious.

 

“It’s-It’s fine,” he whispered unconvincingly, hiding his face in her shoulder. Sasha could feel both pity and protectiveness swell in her chest. “I need- I just-” He huffed, not being able to find the right words. The next came out plaintive. “Please?”

 

Please.

 

“Of course.” She gave him another squeeze, and he relaxed in her arms. “That’s what good ol’ reliable Sasha’s here for, right?” A small huff of laughter from the man in her arms. They were friends. If he needed her, she would be there. However unconventional his needs were turning out to be.

 

Plus, the added bonus of Martin’s jealousy was too good to pass up. So she booted up her computer with her boss snuggled in her lap, and began her day.

 




“Got the rest of those files you wanted, boss!” The need hadn’t been urgent, but Tim brought them personally to Jon’s office anyway.

 

He’d walked into work to find yesterday’s position mirrored back at him, this time with Sasha. Turned out Jon was still mid-breakdown, and Tim couldn’t say he minded it, terrible as the thought was. Unbeknownst to Jon, he’d taken a quick snap on his phone and sent it to Sasha, who’d given him a thumbs up in response. Even more ridiculous was Jon’s three cardigans; Tim had teased him about his theft as soon as he noticed his obnoxious sweater as one of Jon’s chosen layers. The man had just fixed him with an imperious stare in response which was canceled out by his current choice of seat. Martin steamed in the break room as he made tea, sneaking furtive looks out at the pair. Hilarious.

 

But Martin got his Jon-time at lunch when he discovered the man hadn’t brought any lunch. They shared Chicken Pad Thai, before Jon reluctantly padded off to his office for spooky-statement purposes. Martin did not accompany him.

 

Tim felt worried. It wasn’t like it was unusual; before yesterday, Jon spent most of his days alone in his office. But he felt some weird sort of twinge in his chest as his boss walked away, the same he’d felt the night before when he retreated to his office for the night. So he made his decision, trailing after Jon to give him the files he requested while the others stared.

 

Jon was sitting at his desk, holding a tattered piece of paper in his hands. His hands that seemed to be shaking. His eyes were fixed on the paper in some sort of muted horror that sent Tim’s heart plummeting in his chest. “What’s wrong, boss?”

 

Jon startled, dropping the papers down on the desk and looking back up at him sheepishly. “Ah, sorry, Tim. Yes, thank you.” He reached out for the files. His hand still shook. Instead of handing them over, he plopped them down on the desk and gently took Jon’s hand in his own. The action surprised them both, though Jon gave him a thankful squeeze in response. 

 

“Try again. What’s wrong, Jon?” he inquired softly.

 

“Can you,” he struggled with the words, oddly hesitant for a man who had been in his employee’s lap for much of the morning. “Can you stay here? While I record?” Tim relaxed at the request and gave him an easy smile. Well, if that’s all. 

 

“‘Course,” he replied, pulling Jon up and over to the couch in his office. The man went along easily, content to be guided. Such a change from the Jon of before, stubborn and resistant. He grabbed his statement and tape recorder as Tim lazed across the couch and arranged himself atop Tim. It had to look ridiculous to any onlookers, Jon with his recorder on his chest and statement in his hand, comfortably nestled in Tim’s arms. But they were alone, and it was fine.

 

The tape recorder clicked on, and Jon’s voice took on the sonorous, scholarly tone he used for statements. It sent a shiver down Tim’s spine, though he’d heard it plenty of times before.

 

“Statement of Lesere Saraki, regarding a recent night-shift at St. Thomas Hospital, London…”

 

It felt wrong. It felt... ominous. Tim wasn’t easily spooked, he’d listened to plenty of statements before. But watching Jon record was another thing entirely. He didn’t even seem to be looking at the page in hands, staring instead at some fixed point on the wall above him, eyes far away. Where did he get that summary from? It wasn’t written on the page. Tim often made fun of him for his dramatic character readings (although they were quite good, in his opinion) but it didn’t seem like Jon was putting it on. It felt like he was Lesere Saraki, recounting the horrors she’d seen. He wanted to rip the pages out of his hands, toss the recorder to the floor and hold Jon in his arms if only to make himself feel better. Instead he was anchored in place as Jon droned on and took him to the final words.

 

“I get the feeling I’m being watched. Not threatened or judged, just watched. I avoid that storeroom, particularly.”

 

Tim could sympathize. The words felt eerily reminiscent of the feeling he got every time he stepped into the Magnus Institute. He wondered if the others got that feeling too.

 

“Statement ends.”

 

Jon let out a deep breath, as if coming back to himself. Instead of going on his usual spiel about research and ‘rational explanations,’ he turned the recorder off, placed it on the floor, and closed his eyes, leaning back into his chest. Tim’s arms tightened around him.

 

“I’m very tired,” Jon said in a hoarse voice. “I’ll record the rest later. Just going to...take a pause.” More like a nap, if his sleepy movements were anything to go by.

 

“That’s fine,” Tim replied softly, feeling exhausted as well. “A little lie-down never hurt anyone.” Jon hummed in response, and Tim could feel himself drifting.

 

“Knock knock.” His eyes snapped open, and he looked to see Elias Bouchard standing in the doorway, file in hand and a severe expression on his face. Tim tried to sit up, but Jon was a leaden weight on his chest. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

 

Jon barely deigned to open his eyes. “You are. What do you need, Elias?” The words were so disdainful, and Tim stopped himself from doing a double-take. Jon had never been anything but respectful to the head of the institute and this change somehow seemed more radical than the constant need for affection.

 

“Just thought I’d drop this statement off, found it in the library of all places,” Elias diplomatically offered, holding the file out but making no move to hand it over. Jon similarly made no move and instead yawned. Elias visibly bristled. “About cave diving. Quite interesting, if I may say.”

 

The stand off continued. Tim’s face burned in what could have been horror, embarrassment, or pride. 

 

“Give it here, then,” Jon demanded, holding his hand out. Holy shit. Elias stared, and surprisingly began walking towards the two of them, as if humoring Jon. What the fuck is going on?  Jon grabbed it, flipping through the pages dismissively. Elias’s hand was still in the air- he looked shocked at the gall of his archivist and Tim couldn’t help but agree.

 

The next few moments happened in slow motion. 

 

Jon gazed up at Elias and squinted his eyes in consideration as he gently but purposefully butted his head against the man’s hand.

 

Elias stared. Jon stared. Tim stared at Jon and Elias staring at each other. And then the esteemed head of the Magnus Institute slowly and very reluctantly gave his Archivist two succinct pats on the head, turned on his heel, and left the room, the door shut cleanly behind him. Jon yawned again, and laid back on Tim’s chest. Tim remained frozen in place, alarm bells ringing non-stop in his head.

 

Something was deeply, terribly wrong here.




 

Damn that man.

 

Elias briskly walked away from the scene of the crime, ignoring the scurries of the staff as he stalked through the hallways. Just as Jon’s powers seemed to be growing, Peter found it funny to turn his Archivist into some sort of house pet. Damn, damn, damn!  He’d been assured the blanket was an artefact of the Buried, that something terrible and traumatizing would occur as soon as Jon touched it. 

 

It was then his phone blinked. Half of the text was cut off, likely to appear hours later if he knew anything about Peter’s service. But the message was clear.

 


Peter Lukas (15:34): -can’t expect something to be transported on the Tundra and not be a little lonely, dear :)

 

Chapter Text

First, Elias had torn out of Jon’s office like a bat out of hell, eyes glaring and face red. It was the first time Martin had seen the man as anything but calm and put-together. He and Sasha shared a look of concerned confusion- what had Jon done now?

 

And then Tim came right out afterwards, holding a bleary-eyed Jon aloft with both arms like a misbehaving toddler. His eyes were wide with alarm as he held him out to them in some weird sort of Lion King-esque tableau. Neither he nor Sasha moved.

 

“Something’s profoundly  wrong here!” He shouted, startling the man in his arms. “He- Elias-

 

“Slow down, Tim,” Sasha replied soothingly. “I mean yeah, obviously something’s wrong. But what happened with Elias? He just stormed out of here-”

 

“Pets!”  Tim shouted nonsensically with an edge of hysteria. He gave Jon a shake for emphasis. “Pets!”

 

“Stop shaking him, he just ate!” Martin intervened, taking a green-looking Jon from Tim and settling him against his side. “Do you want to tell us what happened?” he asked Jon softly but the man didn’t reply, instead tucking his face into Martin’s side as he quickly turned red.

 

“Here we are, recording a statement, Jon’s laying on me, normal breakdown-shit, y’know?” Tim began. Martin and Sasha nodded. It was normal breakdown shit, after all. “And then Elias comes in and hands Jon a statement- Jon’s all pissy, absolute ledge, you should’ve seen the look on double-boss’s face-”

 

“Tim!”

 

“Sorry, sorry! Back on track. Jon just rips the statement out of his hands and then- and then-”  Tim nudged his head in an upward motion “-like a cat, I swear, and then Elias just-” Tim gave himself two pats on the head. “What does it mean, Sasha?”  He threw his arms out, clearly at a loss.

 

Sasha stared at Tim. Martin stared down at the man glued to his side. The man he thought he knew. The man who was now soliciting affection from Elias Bouchard? 

 

“Elias-” Sasha snorted, barely able to contain her laughter.  “Elias pet him? Just like that? Jon, what the fuck?” Said man made a sort of whining, embarrassed sound and burrowed deeper into Martin’s side, refusing to look at them. 

 

“Look, I know you’re having a rough time,” Tim said very seriously, bending down in an attempt to meet Jon’s eyes. “And we’re not gonna deny you a hug, not if you want it. But I draw the line at Elias Bouchard, Head of the Magnus Institute!  I know you want his approval, but this is-” Tim drew a hand over his face, clearly uncomfortable. “-is this some sort of ‘daddy issues’ thing?”

 

Martin sputtered. Sasha shrieked in laughter. And Jon whipped his head out with an incredulous and angry look.

 

“Absolutely not, Tim, how dare you insinuate-”

 

“Look, I don’t mind a little bit of role-play but that should be kept private and you should do it with someone you trust, like me or Martin or-”

 

“Tim.” Martin could not believe the turn this conversation was taking. “Tim. Stop. Stop saying words. For the love of god, stop saying words.” 

 

Sasha had calmed enough to begin speaking, attempting to look serious. “Daddy issues aside-”

 

“Sasha!”

 

“-this is beyond a two-day affection spree. You’re going to have to start talking, Jon. The environment here is getting weird, that’s for sure.” Martin couldn’t help but agree, though he felt bad forcing him to speak. He wasn’t sure whether to call a therapist or the police. Jon reluctantly pulled away from Martin, though his fists retained their death grip on his sweater. His face was scarlet red and Tim backed up slightly to give them space.

 

“I-I don’t-” he stuttered, face oddly vulnerable. “I don’t know, it’s just all so hard and my mind’s so scrambled and when you’re not around I’m sad and it hurts. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” His eyes were watery and Martin was overcome with the urge to squeeze him to his side and so he did. 

 

“Wait a minute,” Sasha zeroed in on his words. “Did you say it hurts?”

 

Jon nodded. “It’s like my skin hurts, l-like when you have a fever? And I feel s-sick and shaky.”

 

“Your hands were shaking when I came into your office,” Tim said, attempting to puzzle it out. “Did it start up as soon as you left Martin?”

 

“I tried, I really did I swear-”

 

“Shh, it’s alright,” Sasha moved to comfort him, patting his back. “What did you do when we left yesterday? What happened?” 

 

“W-Well, I stole your clothes-”

 

“Naturally,” Tim lightly ribbed and Jon let out a small laugh.

 

“And that sort of helped, but then it didn’t. So I went home, and the tube was fine. Packed, rush hour. But then I was outside, and in my apartment, and it was awful. L-Lonely and big and too much. So I went back to the institute.” The institute?

 

“You didn’t think to call us?” Sasha asked. “Why would you go back to the institute?”

 

“I-I don’t know!” Jon stuttered, clearly ill at ease. “I had slept over the night before, and then I came back here last night and it was fine. It went away.”

 

“I would not call this situation ‘fine,’” Tim made a large, vague gesture with his hand. Sasha’s look sharpened and she took Jon’s arm, forcing him to look at her. He barely met her eyes.

 

“Did you touch something you shouldn’t have?” she asked urgently. “This is important, focus. Did you go into Artefact Storage?” Martin was suddenly aware of the seriousness of the situation; if Jon had touched some weird artefact, this could definitely end badly and the thought of that destroyed him. He’d heard stories about the department, remembered people transferring out and never coming back. Sasha herself had been there for six months and she’d said how deeply it marked her. If she was worried, they all should be.

 

Jon’s face went strangely blank as he tried to recall what happened. “No. I don’t know. I don’t...think so?”

 

Sasha and Tim shared a look. “Well, that’s not reassuring. You’re absolutely sure?”

 

“I...think?”

 

“Yeah, that’s not absolutely sure,” Sasha sighed. “I really don’t know what to do about this, guys.”

 

“Well, should we go to Artefact Storage and look?” Martin offered. “Maybe it has to do with one of the statements?”

 

“That’s a good thought, but we are definitely not going into Artefact Storage without some sort of game plan. That’s a good way to get cursed to hell.” 

 

Tim nodded in agreement to Sasha’s statement. “Yeah, but Jon can’t stay here again. Who knows what’s going to happen? I don’t...I don’t want to leave him alone.” Neither did Martin or Sasha for that matter.

 

“Sleepover?” Sasha suggested with a smile. Jon, who had been silent so far, seemed to like this suggestion and began nodding hesitantly. “I would feel better if we were all together, honestly. Though it’s kind of weird, right? Have you guys been-”

 

“Getting the urge to squish Jon’s cheeks together and keep him safe from any and all harm?” Tim finished with a pointed look. Jon immediately began to sputter in reaction, though Tim wasn’t really wrong. “Martin is this how you feel all the time? I don’t see how you can stand it.”

 

“Shut it, Tim!”  he hissed though while doing so he cuddled Jon closer to his side, which did him no favors. Okay, if he were being honest with himself the second he laid eyes on his stuffy, tiny boss he had wanted to take care of him. But that didn’t mean he acted on it, at least physically. The most he could bring himself to do was bring him tea and ask him if he needed anything, which usually resulted in cold dismissals and snappy remarks. But now here he was, showing and receiving more affection in two days than he ever had in his life. Yeah, that doesn’t sound right.

 

“He’s practically irresistible. Boss, you’re cute and all, but I’ve never felt the need to have you in my lap during work hours.”

 

“So it’s affecting us too,” Sasha mused. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that. Well, if we’ll all feel better being together, we might as well come to my place tonight. See if we can figure this out. Agreed?”

 

They all nodded. Martin had never had a sleepover before. Could be fun, right? Could be really, really embarrassing too. But he looked down at Jon one more time- he really didn’t think he could let him go out alone. Not like this. Jon looked up to meet his eyes and smiled shyly, sealing the deal. Christ, Tim was right. He is irresistible. 

 

“Well, that’s settled then!” Tim whistled cheerfully, grabbing his bag and throwing it over his shoulder. “Let’s just leave now. Only a half hour left in the day, and we’ll need to swing by everyone’s place to pick up your things. I’ll drive.”

 

“You don’t think Elias will mind?” Jon asked softly, wincing as he remembered the moment in his office. Martin didn’t even want to think about his reaction after they sorted this whole thing out. If they sorted this whole thing out. No, don’t think like that. We have to do something about this. He wanted to help Jon, but the thought of losing this companionship no matter how supernaturally-influenced also filled him with dread. 

 

“I really doubt it after that display in there,” Tim jerked his head towards Jon’s office, smirking. “Really boss, what in god’s name were you thinking? You had me there already, master cuddler and resident smoke-show of the Magnus Institute. Elias?”

 

“I don’t know!” Jon snapped, batting away Tim’s hand as he ruffled his hair. It looked like the first time he’d rejected his affection. Still got a bit of old Jon in there somewhere. “His hand was just there and my body just-” he nudged his head up not unlike Tim did before, but Martin found the action way more endearing from Jon. 

 

“I just can’t believe he pet you back,” Tim shook his head in wonder. “It seems even Bouchard isn’t immune to the magic Jon charm. Even if it did piss him off.”

 

“Here,” Sasha had popped into Jon’s office and grabbed his coat and bag. Jon dislodged himself from Martin’s side as Sasha helped him into it and put her arm around his shoulder. “Team Archives is on the case! But first, wine?”

 

“Oh we are definitely making a stop to the liquor store,” Tim threw an arm around Martin’s shoulders and gave him a smile he couldn’t help but return. “We’re gonna play all the usual games- truth or dare, prank calls, Never-Have-I-Ever-”

 

This is going to be...interesting, Martin thought, Tim rambling on as they took the stairs out of the Archives. He watched as Sasha and Jon whispered to each other, both smiling mischievously. For the first time he felt like they were a unit, a team. It was a foreign but nice feeling. And hopefully it stayed, even after all of this. Martin prayed it would stay. He liked having friends. 

 

The cold air bit at his face as they stumbled into the evening, but Martin felt warm all over. 

 




“Sleepovers, Peter! Fuck!”  Came the voice of Elias Bouchard from his office as Rosie jumped in her seat. It was followed by the sound of something being smashed-glass, maybe?


I am not paid enough for this, she thought as she loaded her belongings into her purse. I need a drink.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“We don’t have to stop by my place, I’ve got an emergency stash at Sasha’s,” Tim said as they made their way to the car. It was a fairly long walk- Tim insisted on driving to work even though finding a parking spot was always a gamble. “You would too, Jon, if you still went to movie nights.” This was said in an accusing tone.

 

“I’ve been busy!” Jon defended, tucking himself further into Sasha’s side. Martin was once again reminded that he was the odd one out on this team, joining in on what was clearly a years-long friendship. I wonder if they did them without me. He hadn’t seen Jon leave at a proper time in weeks, so he very much doubted it.

 

“Excuses, excuses!” Tim opened the back door of his sedan for Sasha and Jon, and Martin moved to the other side of the car, ready to get in the passenger seat when he heard a muffled whine and a giggle. 

 

Sasha rolled down the window. “Sorry Martin,” she began imperiously. “But your presence is requested in the back of the vehicle, sir.”

 

Well then.

 

Martin walked back over to the other side, Tim snickering as he did so. Sasha was on the right hand side and Jon in the middle, staring pointedly ahead, face flushed red. It was a tight squeeze, but Martin managed to fit himself inside. Jon seemed to instantly relax and fell against his side, though he didn’t say a single word.

 

Tim checked the rearview mirror as he began to pull out but instantly froze. “Oh my god, oh my god.” The car, dangerously perched half out of the spot, was put in park as Tim whipped around with his phone and snapped a picture with the flash, blinding the three of them.

 

“What the fuck, Tim?” Sasha protested, throwing her hand over her eyes. “Drive, you idiot!”

 

“Sorry, sorry!” Tim apologized insincerely. “That was the cutest shit I’ve ever seen. Jon squished between you two and smiling like a little maniac. Adorable.”

 

“I wasn’t smiling, Tim,” Martin turned to look at Jon, who was indeed scowling. Damn, missed that. Hopefully Tim had managed to capture the elusive smile.

 

“Whatever you say, boss!”

 

They pulled up to Martin’s flat first after plugging the address into Tim’s phone. Extracting himself from the backseat was no fun but he vowed to be quick- it’s not like he had to grab much. Just a change of clothes and some toiletries and he was out.

 

He also packed a spare sweater, although he was wearing one of his heaviest. Could be cold. You never know!

 

Jon was practically wrapped around Sasha when he returned. It’s such an odd picture- Jon grumpily draped across her shoulders while she types away on her phone, noncommittal. He threw his things in the trunk and jumped back in. 

 

“Next stop- the boss’s abode!” Tim knew the way to Jon’s flat without guidance. He was pleasantly surprised to find it’s not too far from his own. Jon and Sasha exited the car hand-in-hand, and Martin was only a little jealous that she got to see the inside of his flat. They emerged after fifteen minutes, bags in hand.

 

Tim stopped for liquor, coming out with a rather large haul for four people. Martin was starting to get a bit nervous. Ten minutes later, Tim parked in a lovely, historic neighborhood lined with trees.

 

Sasha’s flat was not a flat at all. It’s a surprisingly swanky brownstone with a nice bay window. Martin wondered if she came from money, being able to afford a place like this on a researcher’s salary.

 

“It was my grandmother’s,” she supplied as if reading his mind. “Needed a complete renovation, but it’s quite lovely now. She left it to my parents but they hate the city. Can’t fault them there.”

 

The inside was tastefully decorated but still home-y, signs of Sasha all over the place from the overflowing bookshelves to the gaming system set-up in the living room. It’s not particularly neat or messy, just lived-in. Tim disappeared upstairs with their bags and Martin was led to the living room couch by Jon. The movements are all comfortable and casual- they’ve clearly been numerous times. It made Martin feel like he’s being initiated into the group. 

 

“This is my chair-” Jon pointed to an overstuffed green armchair nestled in a corner. “But I prefer the couch today.” Jon would have a chair, Martin thought. For all his messiness, he clung to a certain form of routine even in the archives. The reason for moving to the couch was left unsaid, though it was clearly obvious to the two of them.

 

“Thoughts on pizza toppings?” Sasha called from the kitchen. Jon opened his mouth to provide an opinion, but Sasha spoke over him. “Not you, Jon. We aren’t getting mushroom. You’re the only one who likes it and you never eat the leftovers.”

 

“I sometimes eat the leftovers,” Jon muttered into Martin’s side, scowl back on his face. “I’m the cursed one, I should get the pizza I want.” Martin huffed out a laugh at the childish reasoning, though he couldn’t help but agree. 

 

“I like mushrooms,” Martin called back. “So you can get one for us.” Martin actually didn’t like them- they were mostly flavorless to him, but it was worth it for the shy smile Jon gave him in return. Tim barreled down the stairs, taking two at a time and jumping onto the sofa beside Jon, throwing his legs across the both of them.

 

“Gross, ” Jon muttered and made no move to shove Tim off. He gave a cheeky grin in response.

 

“So,” Sasha plopped down in the chair across from them, face turning serious. “I think it’s time we had that chat.”

 

Jon fidgeted, burrowing closer into Martin’s side. “I don’t know what else I can tell you, really.” His hands seemed to be shaking, albeit lightly. Martin wondered if he was nervous.

 

“Something clearly happened at the institute,” Sasha insisted. “You have to take this seriously! I know it seems benign but this could end really badly, Jon.”

 

“I am taking this seriously!” Jon snapped, slamming his hands down on Tim’s legs and ignoring his yelp of pain. “Do you think I’m enjoying this? Hanging all over my assistants like some sort of child?”

 

“Friends,” Tim corrected. “And you don’t seem to be having a bad time, to be honest.”

 

“I’m uncomfortable all the time!” Jon yelled. “Even when it doesn’t hurt. I’m embarrassed and scared and upset and my body won’t let me show it and I hate it!” His outburst was met with silence, the only sound being his heaving breaths. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell. I just don’t know what to do. Even before all of this. And now I’m going to be the laughingstock of the institute, if Elias doesn’t fire me first.”

 

“Oh, Jon,” Martin murmured, rubbing a hand up and down his arm. He fought down the urge to squeeze him to his chest- it didn’t seem like the appropriate time. They’d been so caught up in the ridiculousness of the situation that they hadn’t stopped to think how incredibly hard this must be on the man. Jon didn’t like to admit to any sort of weakness, he hated relying on anyone else for support or reassurance. Even his delegating held a hint of anxiety despite his attempts to cover it up. And here he was, being forced to rely on the three of them just to function. It must be hellish. 

 

Sasha walked over to the couch, kneeling at it’s edge. “I’m sorry, Jon. This must be really hard for you. I’m just so worried.” She leaned her head onto his knee and sighed.

 

“I know,” Jon responded softly. “It’s fine. We were stressed before - at least, I was. I know I haven’t been the... best to work with, lately. And now of all of this.” He threw a hand up in the air, clearly at a loss. 

 

“Honestly, what the fuck are we doing?” Tim asked. “Sometimes I feel like we’ve been shoved in the archives as a bad joke. D’you think Elias has got cameras hidden somewhere?”

 

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Sasha rolled her eyes. “But no, I completely agree. No guidance, no training. Just these weird statements. It doesn’t feel like much of an archive, to be honest.”

 

It was at this point Jon shoved Tim’s legs off, startling everyone. Sasha barely dodged in time. “What the fuck, Jon?” she yelled.

 

“I know I’m doing a bad job, alright?” The shaking was barely contained. “I know I have no idea what I’m doing, I know I’m not qualified, I know I shouldn’t have this job. You don’t have to rub it in like that.” He sniffled, and Martin felt awful. Tim and Sasha too, if the looks on their faces were anything to go by. “But I’m trying my best. I just don’t think it’s good enough.”

 

This time Martin couldn’t stop his urge to gather him in his arms and pull him mostly into his lap. He rubbed his back as Jon curled up in his arms, back firmly to the other two in the room. Jon was working so hard, it was true. But none of them really knew how to run an archive, and it was starting to show. Elias was no help, coming down only to ‘check up on things’ and make all four of them nervous, Jon most of all. Elias was the one who let it get this bad, Martin fumed to himself. If anything, he should be down here cleaning this mess up.

 

“Shit, Jon- that’s not what I meant. God, none of this is coming out right,” Sasha said, frustrated. “This is no one’s fault. I know you’re doing your best in this absolute shit show of a situation.  I just don’t know what Elias wants from us. It’s all so…”

 

“Royally fucked?” Tim contributed. It was then that the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of their food.

 

“I’ll get it,” Sasha sighed and stood up, not without giving Jon a fond pat on the back to which he responded with a grunt. Martin looked down at the man in his arms, watching as he extracted his face from Martin’s shoulder. “All right there?”

 

“Yeah,” he sniffed, wiping at his eyes. Martin didn’t comment, wanting to leave him some dignity, “I’m sorry for being so dramatic. That was...unnecessary.”

 

“Wouldn’t have you any other way, boss!” Tim yawned as he stood up and stretched his arms. “Maybe we should’ve stopped by my place. This shirt’s a little tight on the biceps. Nonstop gains, I tell you.” He flexed for them with a wink and Martin groaned.

 

“Gains,” Jon scoffed, rolling his eyes. Tim’s eyes went to Jon’s in a laser-like focus and he gave a mischievous grin. 

 

“Could someone without gains do this?”  Jon was swept out of Martin’s arms and held above Tim’s head, shrieking and kicking.

 

“Put me down-”

 

“Or this? ” Jon was thrown into the air and promptly caught, Tim cackling at his screams. Martin thanked the lord for Sasha’s high ceilings.

 

“Put him down, Tim!” Sasha scolded as she came into the room bearing three giant pizzas. Martin jumped up to help her, taking them from her arms and setting them on the table. “Martin, if you could be a dear and pour the drinks that would be great.”

 

“Er, sure, yeah!” He walked over to the kitchen where Tim’s numerous provisions sat, wondering where to start. 

 

“Sasha wants a glass of white!” Tim called from the living room, where Martin was sure he was still torturing Jon judging by the sounds he was making. “I’ll have a rum and coke, heavy on the rum. And Jon likes a vodka soda.” He’d never really mixed drinks before, preferring to stick with a nice cider or beer on the rare occasions he drank. His hands were a bit unsteady in the process- Christ, I hope they like liquor over mixer. He poured himself a glass of the white wine, despite knowing he’d get a headache later.

 

Ten minutes later and everyone was settled back in the living room, pizza and drinks in hand. Sasha looked like she’d prefer they eat at the table, but it was definitely easier handling both Jon and food where they had room to spread out. Currently he was in between Tim’s legs, taking rather large sips of his drink.

 

“Eat your pizza or I’m feeding it to you,” Tim said, dead serious. “Though, you may actually prefer it that way. Is that part of the whole, y’know?”

 

“No,” Jon scowled and grabbed the slice. “I’ll thank you not to make assumptions.”

 

“Back to that, actually,” Sasha said, setting down her drink. “Tell me exactly what happened that night at the Archives. The night before all this happened.”

 

Jon sighed, taking another large sip of his drink before setting it down as well. Martin hoped he wouldn’t ask for another- he’d definitely put way too much vodka in that drink and Jon already looked flushed. “There really isn’t much to say. I decided to stay the night- it was raining and it was already eleven.”

 

“You don’t get paid enough to stay that late, Jon,” Tim pointed out before Sasha shot him a look. “But, go on.”

 

“Gertrude kept a cot in Document Storage, I’m sure you’ve seen it,” Martin had. It was a dirty old thing, he hoped Jon wiped it down before using it. “So I went to bed. Slept through the night- which is a bit odd for me, I’m not a heavy sleeper. I woke up, and then...” He trailed off. And then you sat in Tim’s lap, Martin finished in his mind. 

 

“And then you snuggled into my side cute as can be, asking me about my research,” Tim finished, ruffling his hair as Jon tried to push him off. “Could’ve just been my irresistible nature!”

 

“It wasn’t,” Jon growled, though the sound was without much heat. It rather reminded Martin of a grumpy kitten. “I just...saw someone, and felt like I had to be near you. It was odd, but it felt right. I think I would’ve done it to anyone, as long as I felt some familiarity- I don’t know.” He leaned back against Tim and polished off the rest of his drink, looking sadly down at the empty glass.

 

“Well, I think you’ve proved that after the Elias situation,” Tim plucked the glass out of his hand and passed it over to Martin along with his own empty one. Seems like I’m the designated bartender. He got up anyway, following the conversation as he exited the room.

 

“So it has to be someone you know?” Sasha questioned. “I guess you didn’t grab on to some stranger on the way home. Unless you’re not telling us something.”

 

“I assure you, I did not.

 

“And you didn’t go to Artefact Storage, right?”

 

“No, not at all. Just went to sleep.”

 

“It’s gotta be something in that room, then,” Sasha sighed in frustration. “But I feel like I’d know if there was something nefarious hiding down there. I’ve been in there a million times. Maybe the bed…?”

 

Tim shook his head. “No, I’ve napped there before. When boss-man was in one of those department meetings.” He rolled his eyes at Jon’s affronted gasp. “Don’t give me that. You spent the night there. That’s worse.”

 

“At least it wasn’t during work hours-”

 

“I was taking a late lunch!”

 

“Quiet!” Sasha interrupted as Martin returned with the drinks. Jon gave him a smile of thanks while Tim just grabbed it out of his hands greedily. “I hate to say it, but if we can’t find anything tomorrow we might have to go to Elias about this.” Tim groaned.

 

“Really? Double-boss? He’s the worst. He wasn’t in Jon’s office for more than ten seconds before he tried to shove another statement down his throat.”

 

“I’d really like to solve this without involving him, if possible,” Jon muttered to the ground. “It’s embarrassing enough as it is.”

 

“He must already know something’s up, though?” Martin piped in. “Unless, you, er- usually do those sorts of things-”

 

“Not this again-”

 

“I’m serious, we can find you a better Daddy than Elias. I swear,” Tim wrapped his arms around Jon’s frame, ignoring his flailing limbs. “If you don’t want us, I’ve got a few friends-”

 

“Stop it!”  Jon screeched, one of his hands catching Tim in the face. 

 

“Enough! Both of you!” Sasha yelled, standing with a hand on her hip like an irritated mother. “If you spill anything on this rug you’ll pay for the dry cleaning bill.”

 

“Alright, alright!” Tim put his hands up in surrender. “Just thought I’d offer.” He picked up his plate and resumed eating, chewing obnoxiously in Jon’s ear.

 

“So we’ll search Document Storage from top to bottom tomorrow,” Sasha said, determined. “See what we can find, be very, very careful, and take the next steps from there. I can talk to some people over at Artefact Storage, see what they think. Agreed?” They murmured their assent. “We’ll get this figured out, Jon. Don’t worry.” She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile, which he reluctantly returned.

 

“Leave it to us!” Tim chugged the rest of his drink and was texting, an almost evil little smirk on his face. “I hope you know Jon that when this all gets fixed I’m still going to smother you in love. Your fault really, you can’t just expect me to quit cold turkey.”

 

“That’s really unnecessary- what are you doing with my phone?”

 

“Nothing, nothing- hey!” Jon snatched it back, flipping through screens in a panic. His eyes widened in horror as he found what he was looking for and promptly threw the phone across the room. He turned around and leapt on Tim, slapping and scratching at him like a cat as he yelled unintelligibly. Tim was laughing so hard he could barely fight him off.

 

“Not on the carpet!” Sasha screamed as she tried to break them apart. Martin took this moment to sneak across the room and grab at the phone, which was luckily unlocked. It was a thread of text messages between Elias and Jon- the first two being only an introduction and exchange of numbers.

 

The third, however.

 

Jonathan Sims (19:51) Coming over for a snuggle or two :) xoxo

 

And three little bubbles underneath. Elias Bouchard is typing...  

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Two spilled drinks (luckily on the hardwood) and one thrown slice of pizza (unluckily on the carpet) later, Tim and Jon had been separated. Jon was steaming and tucked in his chair with Sasha while Tim was upstairs tending to the scratches he had received (“Battle wounds, and well worth the bill, honestly!”) Martin, panicking at the prospect of Elias responding, had fired off a text.

 

Jonathan Sims (19:54) Sorry, wrong person! Please ignore.

 

He tacked on a smiley face emoji and sent, realizing just a second too late that it was utterly out of character for Jon to use any sort of emoji. Oops. It seemed to have done the job though; Elias had stopped typing and hadn’t responded for several minutes.

 

“I’d like that back, please,” Jon stated after he was situated, holding out his hand from across the room. Martin reluctantly handed it over and watched as Jon unlocked it to reveal Martin’s text. He groaned and leaned back into Sasha’s chest; she snickered and began running her fingers through his hair.

 

“Really got his voice down, Martin,” she quipped. “Relax, Jon. He has to know it’s not you.”

 

“We’ve exchanged two texts, Sasha,” Jon retorted, currently in the process of changing his lock code. “Now he probably thinks I’m some sort of floozy-”

 

“Floozy! Definitely going to call you that from now on,” Tim chose that moment to re-enter the room with flowery band-aids on his face. How does he pull that off, Martin thought enviously. 

 

Jon scowled back. “I’m not talking to you.”

 

“Jokes on you, you just did.”

 

“Starting now!

 

“Enough, children!” Sasha said, grabbing a remote from her end table and turning on the TV. “It’s quiet time now. We’re going to watch a movie and because you two have been nothing but terrible, I choose Halloween.” Martin was not a fan of horror movies in general and he inched closer to Tim, now plopped on the sofa next to him. 

 

“Really, Sash?” Tim complained. “We’ve seen that a million times. You’re going to scare Martin and Jon.”

 

“I’m not scared,” Martin defended at the same time Jon said “If Tim doesn’t want to, we should watch it.”

 

“You’re just upset because the jump scares still get you,” Sasha shot back.

 

Halloween it was!

 

Martin tried to make it seem like he was just getting comfortable every time he pulled the blanket over his eyes to block out the screen, but it was clear his gambit wasn’t working if Tim’s looks were anything to go by. Sasha sat through the entire movie stoically with the occasional giggle; Jon had a habit of gasping and throwing his hands over her eyes instead of his, like he wanted to look away but couldn’t.  Martin wished he was over on the couch; he’d happily accept that service.

 

They were all exhausted by the end even though it wasn’t that late. Martin supposed the excitement/worry of the day had taken it all out of them. Jon was minutely shaking in Sasha’s hold; Martin assumed he really didn’t like horror movies despite his insistence on watching them. 

 

“C’mon, up you get!” Sasha ushered Jon to his feet and pushed him by the shoulders towards the stairs. “We’ll take my room. Tim, you and Martin can share the guest. If that’s alright?” Martin nodded, a bit disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to snuggle up with the object of his affections that night, though it was probably for the best. The past two days had done nothing to help his crush. Tim groaned.

 

“We can all fit on your bed! We’ve done it before.”

 

“Not with Martin,” Sasha argued. He felt a pang of guilt for splitting up the trio. Am I intruding?  “Besides, I don’t think Jon wants the pleasure of your company tonight.”

 

“Tim snores,” Jon turned to Martin and informed him. “But we can share with Martin, if he likes.”

 

“I do not!” Tim argued, pointing an accusing finger at him. “I will not be slandered like this. Or isolated, for that matter! It isn’t fair.” Although the whining was theatrical, Martin did feel a bit bad for him.

 

“It’s fine,” Martin assured them. “Me and Tim can share, right?” It could’ve been wishful thinking, but Martin thought Jon looked a little put out by the arrangement. Yeah, right.

 

“At least someone likes me,” Tim sniffed, throwing an arm around his shoulder as he led him towards the stairs. Martin could not get over the size of Sasha’s place- it was like living in the lap of luxury. Having a guest bedroom in London? Unheard of. Said bedroom was incredibly spacious and tastefully decorated, the bed almost entirely too comfortable. I never want to leave. Tim popped back in with their bags, which he’d put in Sasha’s room on the presumption that they would all be together. “I call the right side. I like a good window view.”

 

“Alright,” Martin agreed as he made his way to the guest bathroom, bag in hand. Tim had immediately begun stripping as soon as he dropped his belongings and Martin was absolutely uncomfortable with doing the same. Ten minutes later and they were completely settled in, Tim’s arm slung around Martin’s waist. He wasn’t used to being in bed with someone else but it felt nice; he started to doze off almost immediately until a loud snort startled him awake.

 

Jon was right. Tim did snore.

 




Something wasn’t right. 

 

Sasha had nudged Jon awake sometime around three, looking down at him with eyes full of concern. “Are you alright?” she whispered as she squeezed his arm. He then realized he was shaking rather violently. Now that he was fully awake a panic began to settle in.

 

He knew, objectively, that Sasha had a large place. It’s not like he had never been in it before. But it had never felt this bad, this empty and echoing. Sasha’s arms were doing nothing to ground him and he felt his shaking intensify. This isn’t supposed to happen, not when I have someone with me. Right?  “I don’t think so,” he replied, voice wavering.

 

“What can I do?” she whispered urgently as she tried to tuck another blanket around him. It didn’t help. “Do you want me to wake the others?” He nodded his head, though he knew they wouldn’t be able to help. Go back. 

 

“I h-have to go back to the institute,” he stated definitively. “Now, right now. C-Can you call me a cab?”

 

“Tim! Martin!” she yelled at the top of her voice as Jon flinched. She clearly wasn’t willing to leave him alone. “Why do you need to go back? What’s there?” She squeezed his arms tighter, giving him a little shake.

 

“I don’t know!” he cried out. Go back go back go back- “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t-”

 

“Shh, it’s alright,” Sasha was going for reassuring but it just came out panicky. “Tim will take you back. Right, Tim?” Tim nodded blearily from the doorway where he and Martin had tumbled in moments before. “Martin, can you grab our coats while Tim starts the car?”

 

Jon was barely aware of being bundled in more than one coat and wrapped in a blanket. His skin felt that same ache from last night, a feverish pain that intensified with every touch from Sasha. He eventually hissed in pain as he was shepherded through the door and down the steps.

 

Sasha instantly let go of him but grabbed him again as he swayed in place. “Am I hurting you?”

 

“It doesn’t matter, I just have to go back,” he pleaded and Sasha was once again all business, nodding at him briskly.

 

“Martin, ride in the front with Tim,” she commanded as he moved to get in the back. “Something’s wrong and I don’t think we’re helping.”

 

The car was better. The open night air was somehow more horrifying, the dark sky heavy and open and unbearably lonely at the same time. How could he ever stand it before? Jon’s mind felt completely separated from the actions of his body, his shaking almost rattling the car as he clutched his bag to his chest (he remembers blearily asking for it as Sasha helped him into his coat). 

 

Tim met Sasha’s eyes as he turned to pull out of the parking space- they both held a deep worry, a reverse of the joyful bantering just hours before. Jon felt rather like they’d been playing house, creating a small bit of paradise in this hellish reality. He couldn’t even reach that place now- it was like some far off and distant dream, a small reprieve that he would never see again. It’ll all be fine, he tried to reassure himself. It’ll all be fine if we just go back.

 

They reached the institute in record time, Tim making several traffic violations along the way. “Red lights are optional at night!” he called back in a forcefully cheery voice. Sasha gave a weak laugh and Martin held on to his seat for dear life. Jon just shook, curled in the corner of the car as far as possible from Sasha. 

 

As soon as they parked Jon was out of the door, shaking legs somehow able to move as he sensed his salvation in sight. He fished a key out of his bag and after two tries managed to get it unlocked and with a bang he was down the hallway, on his way to the archives. Footsteps hurried behind him, he heard Sasha mutter “When did he get a key to the building?”

 

Elias had given it to him on his first day, in case of ‘late nights.’ “I’m afraid it’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m sure you’re up to the challenge, hm?” Jon had nodded then, promising to prove himself worthy of the position. But you’re not, are you?

 

He flew down the stairs in a flurry of layers, discarding the blanket and vaguely hoping no one tripped on it (Tim swore at some point behind him and he guessed that hope was in vain). The hallways were dark and long and terrible but he knew the door was getting closer, soon he’d be fine.

 

Document Storage. 

 

His heart rate calmed as soon as he saw the cot in the corner, his blanket tucked neatly underneath it. He grabbed it and collapsed instantly into its warmth, not even bothering to climb into the bed.

 

Safe.

 




Tim, Sasha and Martin stared down at the pile of limbs that was Jonathan Sims, sleeping soundly and tangled in a strange-looking tarp at the foot of the cot. It looked incredibly uncomfortable and yet Jon had a smile on his face, as if there was no place he’d rather be.

 

“So that’s it, then?” Tim questioned, crouching down to get a better look in whatever Jon had wrapped himself in. “It looks like something you’d use to dispose of a body.”

 

“Don’t touch it!” Sasha snapped at Martin, whose hands had been hovering inches from Jon’s body. “We can’t handle having two of you like this.” She gestured uselessly to the man on the floor. 

 

“But what if it’s hurting him?” Martin asked, unable to tear his eyes away from Jon who was now snoring contentedly.

 

“Look at his face, Martin,” Tim said. “That’s the face of a happy archivist. I’d be more worried about taking it away, honestly.”

 

“Right,” Sasha nodded, beginning to pace around the room. She checked her phone- 4:09 AM. Who needs sleep?  “Martin, we’re going to need some coffee for this. Tea just isn’t going to cut it.” Martin was clearly offended by this but he kept his thoughts to himself, leaving the room with only a quiet grumble. “Tim, you watch Sleeping Beauty over here while I boot up my computer.”

 

Tim gave her a salute and hopped onto the cot, careful to avoid Jon and his spooky blanket. 

 

Sasha sighed. I am not paid enough for this. 

 




“Are you trying to make me look like a fool?” Elias seethed at the man sitting across from him. “What is this thing?”

 

“It’s from the Buried, just like I told you!” Peter replied cheerfully, leaning back in his chair. “It’s been on quite a journey, I’m afraid. Been in all sorts of hands.”

 

“What hands?” Elias demanded, slamming his hands down on the table. “I’ll be lucky to get a single mark out of this.”

 

“I’m not going to track its provenance, Elias. That would require effort that I’m simply not willing to expend on that...thing. Though it might have been in Fairchild’s possession at one point, if memory serves!”

 

Elias stared.

 

“Look, it’s not that bad. It’s early days yet. You can always find a new Archivist!”

 

He dodged just in time, narrowly avoiding the book that sailed his way. “Come now, that really could have hurt!”

 

“That,” Elias panted, eyes ablaze. “Was precisely the point.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Jon awoke to a shadow standing over him.

 

The room was hazy and too bright so he scrunched his eyes closed, attempting to get comfortable again. It was then that he realized he was sitting up and leaning against something metal and hard, unyielding on his back. He attempted to lift his arms but they were hopelessly entangled with his blanket. He let out a small groan and heard the creaking of metal and the sound of a voice in response.

 

“Shit, here you go,” Tim. His glasses were placed gently on his face and he blinked again, now able to make out Martin standing in front of him with a cup of coffee and Tim above him on the cot. Why was he on the floor? He asked as much.

 

“Great question,” Tim replied, to his confusion. “I could ask you the same. The hell are you burrito’d in, buddy?” Jon looked down.

 

Oh.

 

It was the blanket he had found the first night he slept in the archive, though he had no idea why he was currently wrapped in it. He remembered needing to go to the institute and bursting through the doors last night, but not much beyond that. He felt great, though. 

 

“I’m- I’m not sure,” Jon started, facing turning red. Every time he tried to reach for a thought, for reasoning, his mind reverted to safe warm comfortable and thought nothing of it. It’s fine, no need to think about it, just go about your day knowing you had a good, restful night’s sleep feeling perfectly protected.

 

It was hard to do that with two people staring down at him and a third coming around the corner. Sasha looked at him, eyes narrowed in a mix of annoyance and concern. “What the hell possessed you to use that ? It’s gross, Jon. And  the source of all this trouble, I might add. You didn’t remember using it?”

 

He flushed as he looked down at his cocoon- it was rather dirty looking, nothing he would have picked up if he was in his right mind. Why didn’t he remember it when questioned? It’s like his mind was turning purposefully blank whenever he looked at it. To be honest, even keeping up with this conversation was turning out to be an issue. “Well,” he cleared his throat, trying to summon an ounce of dignity. “This is...not great, admittedly.” He reluctantly began to shuffle out and Martin and Tim jumped back in an abundance of caution, clearly trying to avoid the blanket. “And no, I don’t remember. I would’ve told you.” 

 

“Hold on,” Sasha put a hand out before he could completely wiggle out. Thank god. He wasn’t willing to let go of the comfort just yet, even though the clock on the wall told him it was after ten. “When you used this before, you were able to function for a bit on your own afterwards, right?”

 

Jon thought back to the past two days- he had been able to muddle around the archives for about an hour before the need for company became too much to bear. It wasn’t ideal and it made him feel desperately lonely, but it would probably give his colleagues a moment of peace and some time to themselves. Jon knew he wasn’t good company at the best of times and he was starting to feel guilty about all the time he was forcing them to spend with him. It can’t be easy for them to deal with you, no matter what they say. “About an hour or so. Two, maybe,” he said instead. Sasha nodded thoughtfully before speaking.

 

“Alright, then why don’t you go and get a shower while we get started on a few things?” The look on his face must have conveyed his disgust because she immediately continued. “Martin cleaned the bathroom up, don’t worry. I have a feeling we’re all going to get some use out of it since it looks like you can’t leave the archives. At least one of us will have to stay with you.” The guilt settled uncomfortably in his stomach. Look at what you’re putting them through, all because of your idiocy.

 

“I don’t think that will be necessary, although it’s appreciated,” he began. “I can’t ask you to-”

 

“Well good thing we’re not asking, then!” Tim interjected, ruffling his hair. “We don’t know the side effects- well, besides the obvious- of this thing. You’re going to have to deal with us until this issue's solved. And it’s not safe for you to take that thing home.”

 

“Really, I can handle this on my own-”

 

“But you don’t need to." This time it was Martin, who had yet to speak up. “Can’t you let us help you for once? Did you forget that we don’t feel all that great when we’re apart? It’s affecting us too.” He had forgotten, so consumed with his own needs. Of course the blanket was affecting them. Otherwise why would they touch you?

 

“I’m sorry,” he said much more softly, looking down at his lap still covered by that odd brown thing he was stupid enough to touch in the first place. Martin made a noise of discontent from somewhere above him.

 

“That’s not- you don’t need to apologize-”

 

“What Martin’s trying to say,” Sasha began, her voice calm and soothing. “Is that we don’t blame you and we’re going to try our hardest to help you. So let’s get to work on figuring this out, hm? Martin, I’ve pulled some statements from the back that seem to deal with cursed objects, maybe you can start going through those?” Martin nodded his agreement and gave Jon a small smile. “Tim, I’m going to send you a link to a few of the message boards I use to scour for some of our statements, see if you can find anything.” Tim gave a salute and Sasha straightened her back as if bracing herself for the next words. “And I’m going to speak to Sonya in Artefact Storage and see if she’s seen something like this.”

 

“Are you sure you want to go alone?” Tim asked, gazing at her with concerned eyes. “I know how much you hate that place.”

 

“I won’t be alone,” Sasha stated. “I’m not going to go wandering off without Sonya, I’m not stupid. Though I will need to bring her some evidence, obviously.” With that she quickly slipped her phone from her pocket and snapped a picture of the still-cocooned Jon, ignoring his indignant shouts. “There. All done!”

 




The walk to Artefact Storage felt more like a death march. Sasha had steered clear of the place in the years since she transferred out, still traumatized by the things she witnessed there. But it was their best chance at finding an answer and she was willing to go there for Jon. She could tell the situation was taking a toll on him despite how well rested he looked. It couldn’t have been easy for him to go from his self-imposed solitary confinement to being around other people all the time. He enjoyed his space, as evidenced from the years in research where he would isolate himself in a corner to get his work done. It must be killing him to be so unproductive; if Jon wasn’t working, he wasn’t Jon.

 

She had called down earlier to give Sonya the basics and sent her an email with the photo of the blanket and an order to ‘keep it on the down low.’ She trusted Sonya to do so- she dealt with some of the most sensitive and dangerous objects the institute had to offer and she knew how to keep a secret.

 

Though it didn’t stop her from immediately sending a reply with ‘aw!’ in all caps and several heart emojis.

 

The woman was sitting at the front desk in front of a door that warned Authorized Personnel Only. She was tall and imposing with an unmistakable authority, both a guard-dog and an eminent scholar in her field. She scared most people, but luckily she and Sonya had gotten on from the start. “Hey there lady!” Sonya greeted her with a smile. “Long time, no see. Hear you’ve got a cursed archivist. Unlucky start to his tenure, eh?”

 

“You don’t know the half of it,” she replied, giving the woman a one-armed hug. “We’ve been inseparable for the past couple of days. It’s not the worst cursed object he could have encountered, thank god for that. But you know Jon, of course.”

 

“Don’t we all,” she said with a chuckle. Jon wasn’t friends with many, but he was known by virtue of his emails throughout the entire institute. He was not the best communicator and that was putting it lightly. “Though I have to ask- do you have more pictures? I just can’t-”

 

“Oh yes,” Sasha smiled, waving her phone in the air. “And you can have them, but I’m going to need some info first.”

 

“A fine negotiator, I’ll give you that,” Sonya laughed but quickly sobered. “I’ve gone through our database but I haven’t found anything about a blanket. If it’s in the institute, it didn’t get processed through our department.” Damn. Artefact Storage had a much more advanced filing system due to the dangerous nature of the department. Sonya ran a tight ship, unlike Gertrude. “However I did find something very, very similar.” She began typing into her laptop, bringing up a photo and turning the screen so Sasha could see. “It’s a scarf, kind of looks like the same material. Woolen, scratchy, brownish in colour?” It did look a lot like the blanket, almost exactly the same in texture and style. “Though this didn’t uh, make someone cuddlier. It strangled its victims on impact.” 

 

Jesus Christ. Sasha was relieved to know that Jon’s didn’t do the same, though the information didn’t exactly reassure her either. What damage could it do over time? We need to figure out how to put a stop to this, quickly. “Yes, well- Jon’s not dead, thank god.”

 

“Thankfully,” Sonya agreed. “But from what you’ve described, it doesn’t seem like his symptoms are anything like what this thing does. But they look so similar, I can’t help but think they’re somewhat related. Could it be a weaker version of it?”

“Maybe. Could I take a look? Safely, of course. From a distance.”

 

“I’m afraid it’s no longer in our possession,” Sonya gave her a sympathetic look as she scrolled through the file entry. “It says it was ‘destroyed’ some years back but it doesn’t say how. I’ve thrown out a few feelers to see if anyone working here at the time knows what happened but I haven’t heard back yet.”

 

Dead end after dead end. Sasha sighed. “Alright, thanks for looking. You’ll let me know if you find anything, right? I’m really worried about Jon.”

 

“Of course,” Sonya assured her. “But I’m not done yet. We’ve got some records on its provenance- looks like it went through a few unlucky victims before being bought by a Mikaele Salesa. He died back in 2014, but he was an antiquities dealer who’s worked for quite a few rich families, some of whom are donors to the institute. Those deliveries can sometimes go directly through the head of the institute, so perhaps you should be asking Elias if he knows anything about this.” Of course.

 

“We were trying to avoid that,” Sasha sighed, knowing her options were limited. “But I’m guessing it's unavoidable at this point. Jon will just have to suck it up. He’ll be thrilled. Thanks for all of this, though. You’re truly a life-saver.”

 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you more,” Sonya said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll figure this out. They didn’t call you ‘The Closer’ back in research for nothing!” Sasha gave her a self-deprecating grin as Sonya patted her on the back. “Go back to your archivist and I’ll keep up on my end. If you have any updates let me know.”

 

“Will do,” Sasha gave her a little wave as she went to the exit, dreading the conversation she was about to have. As she opened the door, Sonya called out to her.

 

“I still want those pictures!”

 


 

When she arrived back Tim was at his desk, laptop in hand and regaling Martin and Jon with what looked like a very interactive story. Martin was sitting on his office chair and Jon was at his feet, head leaning against the man’s knee. He was sitting on a pillow, a small bit of comfort Sasha is sure Martin insisted upon.

 

“Apparently whoever uses it just cannot stop snogging, this guy’s lungs literally gave out-”

 

“Ahem,” she coughed to make her presence known and stop whatever the hell Tim was going on about. “Find anything interesting?”

 

“The case of the cursed Chapstick, apparently,” Jon rolled his eyes and Martin stifled a laugh. 

 

“Hey, it could be true-”

 

“You’re on Reddit, Tim.” Martin commented. “It’s not the most reliable of forums.” He turned to Sasha. “Me and Jon have been reading through some old statements, but nothing promising so far.”

 

“Well, I got something out of Sonya though you’re not going to like it,” She debated on whether or not to tell them about the cursed scarf- she didn’t think it was what they were dealing with and she didn’t want to scare them unnecessarily, but it was best to be honest. “There’s an artefact somewhat like this, only much more deadly- a scarf made out of the same material we think, but it was destroyed some time ago. She couldn’t find anything on the blanket itself, but she said some objects come through Elias instead of her department.”

 

Martin’s leg started to bounce up and down, Jon’s head along with it. “You don’t think it could…”

 

“I don’t,” Sasha hastened to say. “But I think we should deal with this sooner rather than later, which means…”

 

“Talking to Elias,” Jon groaned, his face turning red. “Martin, can you stop that? I feel like I’m in one of those god-awful massage chairs.”

 

“Sorry, sorry!” His leg stilled. “Should we go now?”

 

“Lunch first,” Tim insisted, swiveling around in his chair. “I’ve got plenty more stories to tell. There’s this adult toy shop that apparently-”

 

“Tim!”

 


 

Elias took in the scene in front of him.

 

Sasha was sitting in the chair directly in front of his desk, impatience written in every line of her face. I’ll have to keep an eye on her. Too smart for her own good. He’d seen the conversation she had with Sonya; he underestimated how much she seemed to care about his new Archivist. He wasn’t expecting Jon to throw himself into the role so quickly and he hadn’t been isolated enough to sever those bonds of friendship. There was a reason he skipped over her when considering candidates for promotion. She was discerning, favored by Gertrude and believed in the supernatural with nary a mark on her though she’d spent some time in Artefact Storage. She had a knack for finding trouble as an archival assistant; her incredibly curious mind had been an aid to Jon so far. If she got in his way however, he would have to dispose of her.

 

Martin was standing to her right, fidgeting and nervous. This one was also going to be a problem. He figured his bumbling personality and lack of connections would make him a perfect sacrifice if need be and an annoyance to Jon as well. But here he was, integrated into their little circle almost seamlessly. His thoughts were an array of worry and love, sickening to behold and Elias quickly moved on to the two others in the room.

 

Tim and Jon were situated on the sofa. He’d been a bit reluctant to allow Tim in the archives- too much of a friend to the Archivist, and unpredictable in his behavior. However, his perseverance in his research was too good to pass up- he’d be a good resource for diving into cases and he could use that bit of rage to further isolate Jon when the time comes. Tim’s one-track mind was his best asset.

 

Jonathan Sims. His Archivist who was now perched on Tim’s lap, face tomato-red and scowling at the floor. He gathered that Tim had forced him into this position, a firm hand on his head to prevent any sort of nonsense like that of yesterday’s...affection. Elias, despite his many powers, was apparently not immune to the object’s sway and he wouldn’t debase himself any further. This Archivist was useless to him, surrounded by friends and connections who worried about him. Jon was supposed to be hiding his discomfort, hiding the incredible fear that made Elias choose him in the first place. On top of this, the blanket did not seem to be leaving any marks that he could see. Only the cobwebs of the Mother clung to him, the most insidious and tricky of marks. He preferred to keep this one. The sooner they fixed this situation, the better.

 

Sasha took a deep breath and began to speak. “I’m sure you’ve noticed Jon’s...odd behavior.”

 

Elias gave a diplomatic nod, noticing Tim’s scoff and Jon’s further embarrassment. He watched as Tim saw fit to torment him the night before, playing the situation for laughs although his worry was clear to see. Elias kept a polite mask, not willing to give anything away as he turned his face to Jon in faux-sympathy. “Of course. If you’re having trouble... adjusting to the position, I can recommend several mental health resources-”

 

“With all due respect, sir-” There was no respect in Sasha’s voice. “That isn’t what this is about.” She proceeded to explain the situation and their plan of which he was already well aware and instead took the time to dive into Jon’s mind, watching as he grew more and more uncomfortable. It was a maze of want and need that was hard to parse, but the feelings of loneliness and isolation despite his friend’s closeness seemed promising.

 

“...would you know anything about that?” Ah yes, she was talking. Time to deflect.

 

“I can assure you I know nothing about this artefact you’ve found,” he lied smoothly. “But it may have come in before my tenure. Lord knows Gertrude was always receiving deliveries without keeping any sort of record.” He watched as the group deflated. “However, I can speak to some of my contacts and see what I can find. In the meantime, I would suggest trying to go about your duties as normally as possible. The situation isn’t ideal and I’m sure these past few days haven’t been the most productive.” He aimed this last part at Jon. Shame and disappointment were powerful motivators for this one, and he refused to let his plans fall by the wayside. Judging by Jon’s face the ploy worked.

 

“Hang on,” Martin unexpectedly piped in. “I really don’t see how we can just...set this aside. Jon could be in a lot of danger and I don’t feel comfortable just going about our daily business without helping him.” Tim and Sasha nodded. Insufferable, they’ve got to stop supporting one another.

 

“I will devote as much time and resources to this as I can,” he assured. “But I have to look out for the safety of all my employees, including yourselves. With both mine and Sonya’s connections, we might be able to find a solution to this soon. But for now I think routine would be the best way to proceed, with Jon in such a...delicate state, as it were.” More embarrassment. He watched as Jon grew more determined to prove him wrong. He might get two statements recorded for his troubles. Elias could see that none of them were satisfied with his answer but he had a phone call to make and he needed them out of his office. “I’ll reconnect with you at the end of the day. Jon staying in the archives sounds like a reasonable plan, though I don’t know if I can allow any of you to stay as well. I’m already breaking quite a few protocols here and legally-”

 

“Sorry, that’s non-negotiable,” Sasha replied shortly, motioning to the others. “Thanks so much for your help. We’ll be waiting for that call.”

 

He watched as the four of them made their way out, Tim almost carrying the Archivist out on instinct but getting his hands batted away and settling for an arm around his shoulders. He rolled his eyes and sighed, pressing a button on his phone.

 

“Rosie? If you could connect me to Simon Fairchild that would be wonderful. Tell him it’s an emergency.”

 




“Elias, my boy!” the voice of Simon Fairchild boomed into the phone, ever-condescending. “So nice of you to reach out, I haven’t-”

 

“Enough, Simon,” he immediately cut the man off, knowing his propensity for long-winded conversations. “I’m calling about an item that might have been in your possession-”

 

“Ah, Peter warned me about this. Is this about the blanket?”

 

Peter, how unsurprising. Elias’s ire grew. “Of course it is, you meddling oaf. I was told quite explicitly that this was an object of the Buried.”

 

“Mhm.”

 

“And that it could traumatize without killing outright-”

 

“Yes, yes!”

 

“And it’s done nothing but make my Archivist into a limpet who wants company and sleeps for far too long.”

 

“Sounds about right.”

 

Elias paused, internally raging. “Peter said-”

 

Simon laughed on the other end. “And you believed it? You know better than that, Elias. How do you think he got it so cheap? You cut costs, you cut corners! I didn’t want it, it doesn’t do anyone much good. You’d be better off destroying the thing. Fire’s a good way to do that, I hear. Maybe some help from the Lightless Flame?”

 

Elias knew this of course, but he didn’t need another archivist dying so soon. The scarf had been destroyed by fire, but all of it’s victims were already dead and Beholding did not allow him total omniscience, particularly when other fears were involved.

 

“I’m not going to forget this, Fairchild,” he threatened. “When the time comes-”

 

“Yes, yes, all the usual threats,” the man replied in his infuriating sing-song tone, a laugh building in his voice. “But I think you could learn a real lesson here. Either you take the chance, set it alight and kill your Archivist in the cross-fire, or you could learn an important lesson on the power of friendship-”

 

Elias hung up. 

 

Chapter Text

“Not sure why I thought that would be helpful,” Sasha muttered as they arrived back in the Archives, tired and discouraged. Every meeting she’d ever had with Elias Bouchard was a lesson in self-control and of course this was no different. “You think he could tell I don’t like him?”

 

Tim laughed with a knowing smile. “Oh Sash, I think you did a good job toeing the line of ‘respectful employee’ and ‘about to go ape-shit.’ Congrats.”

 

“He’s just so smug and unhelpful!” she vented, Martin nodding in agreement. “‘Go about your duties like normal’ and ‘keep a routine.’ What good is that going to do?” She slumped down into a chair. “Looks like we’re on our own now, unless his ‘contacts’ come through. Maybe Sonya will have something?” Jon had remained silent, looking pensive and small under Tim’s arm. Dead end after dead end, Sasha sullenly thought . Jon wasn’t going to last long under these conditions; she could see his nerves fraying at the edges. They were settled in the break room, Jon and Tim on the couch and Sasha and Martin at the table, cold cups of tea forgotten on the counter. 

 

“Maybe…” Martin looked at Jon thoughtfully. “Maybe for now you could just stay under it all day? The blanket, I mean. That might help.” Jon made a face that was half disgust and half anxiety. She didn’t want him under that thing for any longer than need be, especially after learning about the scarf. Besides, she didn’t think that would cover his ever-present need for human contact. And if she were being honest with herself, she didn’t exactly want to let that go just yet either. He’s sort of opening up to us, she thought even as the guilt gnawed at her. In the long run, this might do him a bit of good.


“But maybe Jon’s like a phone,” Tim suggested to utterly blank faces. “You know, it’s not good to leave them plugged in all day. Wears down the battery.” Jon did not seem to like being compared to a cell phone, judging by the scowl on his face.

 

“Or maybe we could just cut a bit of it off?” Martin tried again, eager to please. “Like you do with a baby blanket when you’re too old for it. Just carry around a little piece and you’ll feel secure.” Martin was actually being pretty helpful, but Sasha wasn’t willing to gamble with Jon's safety when they had so little knowledge of what they were dealing with. They weren’t desperate enough to go testing ideas and damn the consequences.

 

“It’s not a baby blanket, Martin,” Jon leveled his most severe stare (a level five, at least) at the man, who was appropriately cowed into silence. “And it’s not...I don’t really feel the need for it during the day? Just at night.”

 

“See?” Tim gave Jon’s shoulders a shake. “Like a phone! All out of juice.” Jon turned the glare abruptly on Tim who laughed in response.

 

“It’s early days yet,” Sasha interrupted before another fight could break out between the two of them. She’d seen what they were capable of and her carpet was still paying for last night’s feud. “We’ll keep researching in the meantime, but it’s too dangerous to start playing around with this just yet. We know virtually nothing except that something remarkably similar killed several people.” The mood in the room grew somber. “I hate to say it, but maybe we should wait and see what Elias comes up with. He said he’d contact us by the end of the day, and he does have a direct channel to people who would know about these sorts of things.”

 

Tim gave her a wary look. “Do we trust him, though? I was not liking the vibes he gave off in that meeting.”

 

Sasha sighed. “I know, but do we really have a choice?”

 

“Sasha’s right,” Jon spoke, his voice morphing quickly into what she called ‘Archivist-Mode’; that is, stuffy and stern, leaving no room for argument. “We have to trust him. He’s our boss, he’s going to do what’s best for the team.” He straightened in his seat, throwing Tim’s arm off his shoulder (much to Tim’s dismay) though he didn’t move from his side. “We- I- haven’t been very productive lately. I apologize for this. He gave me a new statement to look into the other day- something about cave diving.” He studiously avoided the circumstances in which he received said statement. “And there’s that other one you found, Sasha- the Rentoul one? I can start looking into those. We need to get something done.” Sasha didn’t like the manic look in his eyes; the past few days had been a lot, of course, but that didn’t mean she wanted him to go back to his ‘normal.’ Normal for Jon these days was locking himself in his office and working til the late hours of the night, a habit which got them into this mess in the first place. 

 

“Jon,” she tried for a soft and understanding tone. “No one’s going to fault you for being a little off-schedule. You can’t help it-”

 

“I can,” he interjected. God, Elias really got to him. Fucking prick. “I-I can still do my job. I have to. Elias said-”

 

Tim groaned. “Oh bugger Elias-”

 

“I need to work!” Jon yelled, startling the three of them as he shot up from the couch. “I’m still useful! Let me do my job. We can’t- we don’t have enough information to work with and I just- please.” His voice trailed off as he looked resolutely at his feet. “Please.”

 


 

Jon sighed into his research, trying to ignore the yawns coming from Tim. Focus. Lee Rentoul. Disappeared. Get arrest records. Contact landlord.

 

Sasha had reluctantly agreed that there wasn’t much work for four to split up, what with their lack of any leads or information; she had let the three others get back to work on the usual archival business while she continued to scour the internet for clues. “If I can look into this Salesa character,” she told them. “I might be able to find some sort of receipt, see whose hands it's been in.” She was the only one of them talented enough to hack into the more secure databases the internet had to offer, so they left her to it. 

 

Martin was currently on the hunt for the Angela mentioned in the statement, though he was loath to leave the institute. It had taken much persuasion on Tim’s part and the use of Jon’s sad eyes (a look he deployed only in the most dire of circumstances to keep it at peek potency) to get him to step foot outside, and that was with a promise to return as quickly as possible. Tim and Jon were currently holed up in his office, doing their separate research on the statement while still remaining somewhat entangled.

 

“Reminds me of old times,” Tim said, leaning into his side. “Back in research. Tired as shit, working on next-to-no leads because somebody wanted to be as thorough as possible.”

 

“It’s important to do our due diligence!” Jon sniped back. That’s not to say he didn’t feel some nostalgia- those were simpler times, when he wasn’t carrying the weight of a failing department on his shoulders with Elias’s eyes always on his back. Should’ve said no, kept your pittance of a salary and stayed in research. Would he have been able to stay in research? Or would Sasha have asked him down here, their positions simply reversed? But Sasha would never get herself in this situation. She’s not an idiot.

 

His office phone rang, a shrill, piercing sound that startled the both of them. Jon glanced at the Caller ID, feeling a spring of hope. “It’s Elias,” he said, grabbing the phone off the hook. “Elias, yes, thank you for calling. Do you have-”

 

“Jon,” the man immediately cut him off. “We have a guest at the institute. A Naomi Herne- she’d like to make a statement. Would you be willing to take it before the end of the day?”  Elias’s voice was sharp and cool even over the phone. And it wasn't a question, it was a command. He didn’t know how to respond as a lump formed in his throat.

 

“I- er-”

 

“Now, normally I wouldn’t ask given your...situation, but she’s associated with the Lukas family. You know the Lukas family, of course.”

 

He watched helplessly as Tim mouthed words he couldn’t understand, looking harried. “Y-Yes, but-”

 

“The Lukas family may be helpful in finding a solution to your problem. Disappointing them, I’m afraid, won’t bode too well for your case.”  Was Elias threatening him?  It sure seemed like it. But he couldn’t say no, not if it gave him a chance at fixing whatever this was. Still, he was hesitant.

 

“I’ve never taken a live statement before,” he admitted, face burning in shame. Just another sign he didn’t deserve this promotion. Tim’s worried look intensified and Jon had to dodge the hand that reached out to grab the phone.

 

“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,”   Was it him or did Elias sound...mocking? “Now, I expect a certain degree of professionalism with statement-givers, you understand.”

 

Jon gulped. He understood exactly what Elias was asking him to do- take the statement alone. It made sense, after all. What was he going to do, have Tim hold his hand? How embarrassing.

 

“I- I won’t let you down.”

 

“Good. She’ll be down momentarily.”  The man hung up and Jon was left with a dial tone, his hand frozen around the phone.

 

“He wants you to take a statement?”  Tim asked, incredulous. A hand tightened around his arm. “You can’t-Jon, that’s a really bad idea-”

 

“I can handle myself, Tim.” He couldn’t help but agree with him, though. What was Elias playing at? Did he really have to do this now, with no warning? Could he handle himself? “It’s the Lukas family. They might be able to help! Elias said-”

 

“Elias said, Elias said!” Tim’s voice increased in volume and annoyance. “Did you ever stop and think that maybe, just maybe you shouldn’t be blindly following his orders, that he doesn’t have your best interests in mind-”

 

“Shut up, Tim!” The exclamation had startled the both of them but Jon had reached his limit. He couldn’t consider these questions, not with everything else going on. He had to assume that Elias knew what he was doing, that he believed Jon was still capable in some way. He had to be. So he wrenched his arm out of Tim’s grip and ignored the look of betrayal that earned him. “Go get Ms. Herne.”

 

Tim scoffed and moved to take his arm again. Jon dodged out of the way, though every fiber of his being screamed for the contact. “Oh c’mon, I’m not leaving you.”

 

“You have to. I’ll be fine.” Perhaps if he just repeated it to himself, he would be. He could work his way through this.

 

“Boss-”

 

“Exactly. I’m your boss.” Jon didn’t like using the ‘boss’ card but he didn’t have much of a choice. “I’ll be fine.” He didn’t know who he was trying to convince, himself or Tim. He felt his hand tremble- it ached to reach out to the man already. Some part of him wished Tim would ignore his protests and stay in the room. But Tim sighed and backed away, and Jon knew he’d lost that chance. 

 

“Fine. Fine. But it’s on your head if this backfires. Which it will!” 

 

The door was shut behind him and Jon felt desperately and utterly alone.

 




Tim had escorted a nervous and frazzled Naomi Herne to his office and hovered in the doorway until Jon sent a glare his way. He hoped he didn’t notice the discreet tremble in his limbs, but Tim was an incredibly observant man and Jon was not a lucky one. He shook the woman’s hand (ignoring the urge to not let go) and introduced himself stiffly, powering up his laptop. Hopefully this statement would be quick and easily discredited.

 

But again, Jon was not a lucky man.

 

Naomi Herne was visibly frustrated after the laptop went black, refusing to record more than ten seconds of audio. Bringing out the tape recorder certainly didn’t help.

 

“Really? Does that thing even work? It must be thirty years old.”

 

A real one, a traitorous voice in the back of his mind whispered. His chest tightened and his hand shook as he pressed play. Just ten or fifteen minutes, and you’ll be done. You can do this.

 

Little did he know, the feeling was about to get much, much worse.

 

“Are you alright?” Naomi asked, her voice dubious. For some reason she brought a coldness into the room and Jon wanted to run, get as far away from her as possible. “I don’t have to-”

 

“No, please. Just start-” He began to get up but a bit of vertigo caused him to tilt to the side. He needed someone, anyone. Not this woman with fog clinging to her like a curse. She questioned him as he stood and the words barely came out of his mouth, some excuse about privacy.

 

“Okay, it’s just...could you stay please? I don’t want to be alone.” Neither did he. He could understand the sentiment. So despite the pain and the need that chilled his bones, he sat back down. You don’t want to anger the Lukas family. The voice in his mind sounded like Elias.

 

She began her story, a lonely childhood and an even lonelier adulthood that struck him to the core, reminding him of his own sad nights with a silent, taciturn grandmother. The classmates who ignored him and jeered at his questions. The uni experience that wasn’t much better, not until Georgie. Strangely, he wanted to comfort this woman. Should he take her hand? No, that’s too much. The shaking intensified.

 

Evan Lukas. Evan helped her. Like Martin and Sasha and Tim were helping him. But he died and now she’s alone again just like Jon’s alone again even in this small room with someone right across from him. A funeral. A chapel. An anchor. An accident. Jon needs an anchor, where are his anchors? You’re alone, like you’ve always been. He wanted to stop listening but he couldn’t, he couldn’t-

 

“What do you think? Was it real?”

 

“Yes,” Jon whispered, though he did not mean to. His eyes couldn’t seem to focus, his vision was blurring. “I mean- I don’t- I can’t-” Why was his voice breaking? Why couldn’t he get it together?  He heard the sound of a chair scraping across the floor.

 

“Um, hold on, okay? I’m going to get someone to help you.” The sound of footsteps, someone calling down a hallway for help. 

 

Don’t leave, don’t leave- was he saying that out loud? Jon’s mouth was moving but he couldn't hear the sounds. His vision darkened.

 

But then someone took him in their arms- familiar, warm - Sasha? And then his world turned to black.

 


 

“I knew this was a bad idea.”

 

“Of course it was!” Sasha said, her arms full of unconscious archivist, currently pressed tightly to her chest. “I can’t believe you let him go through with this-”

 

“He wouldn’t listen, I swear-” Tim sighed, his hands clenched in frustration. Sasha didn’t want to yell at him but her protective instincts swung into high gear as soon as she saw Jon in his chair looking so small and afraid. “What are we going to do, Sash?”

 

“Elias hasn’t called, has he?” She ran a hand through Jon’s hair, he didn’t so much as twitch. 

 

“Not since the statement. Should we tell him about this?”

 

“For some reason,” Sasha replied, her eyes narrowing. “I don’t think he’d care.”

 

She thought about the night to come. Jon would wake up, he had to. It was just a set back- a withdrawal gone bad. She felt so unprepared, it was a feeling she was very unaccustomed to. “Are you- should we all stay here tonight?” She’d brought nothing with her but the thought of leaving Jon with only one of them was incredibly upsetting. Not with him limp and prone in her arms.

 

“I have a gym bag with some extra things here, so I’m good to go,” Tim knelt down beside her and put a hand on her shoulder. “You and Martin should head home, if you can. Get some rest, get your things. Maybe stop by Jon’s place as well. I’ve got a feeling we might be here for a few days.”

 

Sasha knew he was right. “I don’t want anything like this to happen again, that’s all.”

 

“I won’t let it,” Tim said, serious and firm. “I promise.”

 

A small snuffling noise came from the bundle of cardigan that Sasha was currently holding. They both crowded in immediately. “Jon?” she whispered urgently. “Jon, are you alright?”

 

“Hnnh,” the man responded, burying his face deeper into Sasha’s shoulder. “Don’...don’t leave again.”

 

“We won’t,” Tim swore. “We won’t.”

 




Jon had convinced Tim to let him sit in his office chair in a desperate attempt to get his desk in some sort of order. He’d eventually given in, but only after Jon propped his feet in the others lap.

 

“This is an incredibly inconvenient arrangement I’ll have you know,” he grumbled as he labeled Naomi’s tape and sorted through various files on his desk. Tim just slapped his legs in response.

 

“That’s the point my friend! You know Sasha wouldn’t leave unless one of us was standing guard.” It’s true. She stood in the doorway for about ten minutes, promising to go home and finding some excuse to come back every time. Martin was no different, fussing and looking at Jon like he might disappear after Tim explained the situation. Jon found it very endearing, the extent to which they seemed to care. It felt...nice. And it was understandable, given the situation. It had taken almost an after he awoke to pull himself together, pathetic and shaking in Sasha's arms. He may complain about their hovering, but he wasn't going to ask them to leave again.

 

And then the phone rang.

 

Tim made an impressive dive but Jon was quicker and closer. The Caller ID confirmed his fears and he hesitated before he spoke. Tim swore rather colorfully in the background and didn’t stop despite Jon’s attempts to shush him.

 

“Let me at him, I swear-”

 

“Jon.”  His voice was irritated and Jon’s throat went dry. 

 

“H-Hello, Elias-” Damn his stutter.

 

“I’m afraid I don’t have any news regarding your predicament.”  That much he expected. “Though I was met with a most distraught Miss Herne- I’m assuming you got her statement.”

 

Distraught? Fuck, fuck!  “Yes. Elias, I-”

 

“She told me I should let you have some time off. That you looked unwell.”  Concern? From a stranger?

 

“Do you need some time off, Jon?”  Elias was very talented at mixing condescension and disappointment into one tone.  

 

“I- no. No I don’t.”

 

“Very well. I’ll keep you updated.”

 

“T-thank you-” the man had already hung up. Tim looked at him imploringly, his fists clenched in anger. “Nothing?”

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Damn useless idiot. What else did he say?”

 

“Um, nothing.” Tim clearly did not believe him, but he wasn’t willing to rehash the conversation. It would just make him feel worse.

 

“You know you can talk to us.” The words were said gently, full of kindness. Jon didn’t know what to do with it. So he made a noncommittal shrug and grabbed at a random paper on his desk, shuffling it around aimlessly.

 

And then Tim was suddenly on his feet, one of Jon’s leg’s grasped in his hand. “Time for a break!” he said cheerfully.

 

“Tim what are you- agh, stop! Tim!”  He was pulled bodily along on his chair down the hallway into Document Storage, Tim ignoring all of his cries. “I’m going to fire you-

 

“Of course you won’t!”

 


 

Jon sort of snored. It was more of a cute, nasally little noise unlike what Tim was often accused of (and absolutely did not do, thank you very much). He was tucked away in his blanket...thing and lost to the world, but Tim for the life of him could not get to sleep. He thought he would wear them both down with mindless television, but it unfortunately only worked on one of them.

 

“So she just...eats them?” Jon asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the laptop Tim balanced on a chair in front of them. “Good Lord.”

 

“It’s called My Strange Addiction for a reason, Jon,” Tim replied, similarly fascinated and appalled. “There’s worse, too. You should see the one where the woman eats her husband’s ashes.”

 

Jon gagged. “That’s horrifying.”

 

“I can turn it off if you like.”

 

“...I didn’t say that.”

 

Six episodes later plus a threat of the latest Ghost Hunt UK and Jon was fast asleep. Tim was lying on the ground, barely covered by an ugly throw from the breakroom and a rather stiff pillow. It wasn’t like he could share with Jon, anyway.

 

Why couldn’t he sleep? He never really had this problem- not since the incident with Danny. Danny. He could usually avoid this sort of late night spiral by going out to drink or talking about something mindless, but he didn’t want to wake Jon. Why was he thinking about Danny now? Perhaps it was the thought of seeing someone he loved go through something unexplainable and unsolvable. But Jon’s not Danny, he’s not his little brother.

 

And Jon’s not dead.

 

The light from his phone flashed, disrupting his morbid thoughts. 

 

Sasha James (23:12) I went by Jon’s place earlier today. Grabbed a few things you might need as well. Be there in an hour or so.

 

Tim snorted softly- classic Sasha. Normally he’d tell her to rest and not to worry, but tonight he was going to be selfish.

 

Another flash not ten minutes later- this time from Martin.

 

Martin (23:19) Hey Tim, I think I left my charger at the office. Don’t want my phone to die in case of an emergency! Can you let me in? :)

 

He couldn’t help the laugh that followed.

 

Chapter Text

 

Document Storage wasn’t meant to sleep four people. It wasn’t meant to sleep any people. It was kept at a cool 15℃, great for documents that needed to be preserved and bad for any archivists or assistants that happened to make it their own.

 

Luckily, Sasha had come prepared, carrying boxes of things out of a poor cabbie’s trunk- blankets, pillows, more of Jon’s (and Tim’s) personal effects. Martin, who had given up the charger pretense on seeing Sasha there as well, was tasked with stealing couch cushions from various break rooms and a ridiculous nest of blankets had formed on the ground for three grown adults to have a sleepover as their cursed boss slept blissfully unaware just a few feet from him.

 

“Wish I could sleep that deep,” Tim complained from his perch in the middle of their blanket pile. “Almost tempted to hop in there with him.”

 

“Don’t even think about it, Timothy Stoker."

 

“Ow, Sash- I wasn’t serious!”

 

It was a long night.

 


 

Martin woke up to two big brown eyes looking down at him from above. Like any reasonable person would, he screamed.

 

The eyes immediately disappeared under their hideous blanket- it had been Jon, peering over the edge of his cot at Martin, who had somehow rolled dangerously close during the night. And now everyone else was awake and also screaming.

 

“Wha- what’s going on?” Tim half-yelled, half-moaned as he shot up from his sleep, arms out in a defensive posture. Sasha had rolled off her cushions and onto the cold ground, yelping as she tried to fight off a tangle of sheets. Martin clutched at his chest, willing his heartbeat to slow.

 

“Sorry, sorry! It’s just-” he couldn’t help but laugh- they looked ridiculous. “Jon was staring at me and it freaked me out.”

 

Jon poked his head out of his pile of blanket, looking suitably affronted. “I wasn’t staring!” He argued. "I should be the scared one, waking up to find two more people than I went to sleep with. What on earth are you all doing here?”

 

“In what world is that scary, boss?” Tim let out a yawn, falling back onto the makeshift-mattress. “That sounds like a dream, honestly. Speaking of, did I ever tell you about the dream I had where you, me, and Sash-”

 

“No thank you, Tim,” Sasha promptly put a pillow over his face, gently smothering him. “Martin, thanks for being our alarm clock- don’t think I set one last night. What time is it?”

 

“Eight o’clock,” Jon replied. “You still haven’t told me why-”

 

“Better get a move on, then,” Sasha cut him off as she rose from the floor. “I got a few more of your things, Jon. You’re welcome.”

 

“...thank you?”

 

“What she’s saying, boss,” Tim spoke from under his pillow. “Is that you should emerge from your ugly chrysalis, jump in the shower, and come back the beautiful butterfly you were always meant to be.”

 

“I’m getting up!” Jon said, not getting up. “...Eventually.”

 

Martin went to get a round of tea going, knowing the group was going to need the caffeine. He had another long day of looking into different Angelas for the Rentoul statement. He hadn’t enjoyed it yesterday, taking Tim’s car around the area when all he could think about was the situation back in the archives. And poor Jon, shaking in Sasha’s arms, nothing Martin could do to help. He was tired of being helpless. 

 

He came back with a small tray, four mugs balanced on it along with a few of the breakfast bars Jon seemed to enjoy best. He had stocked up on snacks on his way back to the institute yesterday; if Jon was going to be here all the time, he should have options! Martin would like options if he were in the same position. 

 

He came back to Jon and Sasha arguing with Tim making no attempt to intervene. Sasha had her hands on her hips, towering over Jon who was still wrapped in the blanket, face scrunched up like a disgruntled cat.

 

“...absolutely not, it’s not going to happen.”

 

“Sasha, it’s my job and I’ll do as I please. Tim will be right there, it’s not like I’m taking someone’s statement-”

 

“Statement?” Martin interrupted, not liking the direction this was heading. “Jon, are you seriously considering doing another statement? Right after the last one? Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Jon turned the scowl to him, but Martin wasn’t going to back down. Jon was taking this ‘act like everything’s normal’ routine way too far. 

 

“Precisely my point, thank you Martin,” Sasha took the tray out of his hands, balancing it on several stacked boxes of files. “You need rest, Jon! Martin’s going to be out and I’m going to need Tim to help me with research today, so you’ll have to take it easy.”

 

Tim’s head perked up. “Ooh, what do you need me to do? Some light trespassing? Bit of a B & E? Charm a clerk out of some files? I’m your man, James.”

 

“Nothing too exciting, but I might need the Stoker charm,” Sasha ignored Tim’s finger-guns and wink. “Sonya sent me an email last night- turns out she knows someone who knows someone who might know someone who worked with Salesa. So I’d like to see where that goes.”

 

Tim whistled. “Lot’s of someones, there. Happy to help.”

 

“I’m not just going to sit here while the rest of you work-” Jon began to raise his voice. Sasha matched him in volume.

 

“Jon, there’s plenty of statements you could go through, maybe find some more clues-”

 

“I’m not going to do any more busy work when I could be doing my actual job-”

 

“You can’t, Jon!” Sasha was shouting now, her voice impassioned. “You can’t do your actual job, not while you’re like this, you can barely function-”

 

“So that’s it, then?” Jon made no attempt to hide the hurt in his voice. That, combined with being currently swamped in the blanket made him look so vulnerable it made Martin’s chest ache. “I’m just- just useless, I can’t even-”

 

“That’s not what I meant, Jon-” Sasha lowered her voice, her face softening.

 

“-can’t even get a bloody statement done-” Martin did not like where this was going, not at all.

 

“Jon can come with me!” he blurted out, to three blank faces. “To er, help me investigate. The statement. I could use some help.” He shrugged, giving a nervous smile. “And some company, if I’m being honest. You guys can work the Salesa angle from here, and we’ll be killing two birds with one stone. After all, he did show up in Rentoul’s statement.” He watched as the gears turned in Jon’s mind, a sudden determined smile on his face.

 

“Yes, that’s-yes,” he straightened up, attempting to look as dignified as one could when buried in a blanket. “I’ll go to Bexley. With Martin. To help…”

 

“Look for Angelas,” Martin finished helpfully, glad to see him smiling. He couldn’t bear the hurt look on his face. “‘I’ve still got about ten more on the list. Just door to door stuff, nothing... too dangerous.” Never mind the fact that he didn’t know what they’d do if they actually found the Angela they were looking for. “Nice to get out of the archives for a bit, yeah?” Jon nodded.

 

“Hang on,” Tim said, an incredulous look on his face. “You want Jon to help you with members of the public?  Jonathan “Permanent Scowl on My Face” “Hates Talking to Strangers” Sims is going to mix with the hoi polloi?”

 

Jon scowled. “I do not have a permanent scowl on my face-”

 

“He’ll be fine, won’t you Jon?” he interrupted, not willing to see another argument break out. 

 

“Yes, thank you, Martin.” Jon stared the three of them down, daring them to disagree. “I can be pleasant!” Tim snorted in response. 

 

Sasha sat down in a chair, defeated. “That’s...that’s not a bad idea, I guess. Just be careful, okay?” This was aimed at Martin, the only one of the two likely to heed the advice at this point. Martin was worried Jon would do anything to prove himself ‘useful.’

 

“Just call me Martin “Careful” Blackwood!” The joke did not land. It wasn't very good. “I mean yes, of course.”

 


 

Martin was in a car. Martin was in a car with Jon. Martin was driving a car with Jon in the passenger seat. Jonathan Sims, his boss. Jonathan Sims, his unfortunate crush.

 

Jonathan Sims, whose right hand was currently bunched in the bottom of his sweater, eyes trained on the road ahead.

 

Well, it wasn’t like Jon could sit in his lap. That just wasn’t safe. And he couldn’t hold his hand or lean into his side. So Jon, after much mental deliberation, had reached across to the driver’s seat and grabbed the bottom of his sweater and held. 

 

Martin hadn’t spent much time alone with Jon, besides a few dressing-downs in his office. But now, with the whole ‘inability to spend a moment alone unless I’m underneath a cursed object’ situation they had going on, Martin was spending nothing but time with him. You’d think he’d be used to it but no, even the simplest act of affection sent him spiraling.

 

“Do you- do you like music?” Martin reached out to turn the dial, finding nothing but static. “I think Tim has an aux cord somewhere around here, if you’d like to plug in your phone or something?”

 

“He does,” Jon murmured, grateful for the distraction. Martin watched out of the corner of his eye as he fiddled with something in between their seats, clearly having a hard time doing it one handed. He let go of Martin’s sweater, pulling out a cord with a triumphant little ‘ha!’ and fishing his phone out of his pocket. Martin couldn’t say he wasn’t thrilled to learn more about Jon. What kind of music would he like? He didn’t seem like a Top 40 kind of guy, maybe something indie or maybe even classical, something befitting a man who-

 

Jesus Fucking Christ. 

 

Martin almost swerved into the other lane of traffic at the sudden blast of sound from the speakers. It was loud and discordant and very much nothing Jonathan Sims ever looked like he would listen to. And yet here he was, leaning back in his seat and closing his eyes to what sounded like a man screaming in pain over an elaborate guitar riff and bombastic drums. Jon reached his hand back out, grabbing at the bottom of Martin’s sweater again and looking utterly content.

 

This was going to be a long, long hour. 

 


 

Bexley was rather nice. It was a scenic drive that Martin wished Jon would open his eyes and appreciate, but he didn’t want to begrudge the man his rest. He seemed to need a lot of it these days.

 

They pulled up outside of the home of their first Angela, a Miss Bratton who, according to his research, lived alone and was in her mid-seventies. She was retired and a widow of ten years- could be promising. Though promising in this case meant very, very dangerous.

 

He turned the car off and with it Jon’s horrifying music. This immediately woke the man, who stretched in the passenger seat like a lazy cat basking in the sun. “Here already?” he murmured, looking out the window. “This is a nice house.”

 

“Well, that’s what the statement said, right? Well-kept, at least.” Martin flipped through his notes. “I’ve just been knocking around, asking a few basic questions for background- most of them have been rather nice, actually.” He laughed nervously, but Jon didn’t seem to be paying much attention, still staring out the window with one hand in Martin’s sweater. “We can just introduce ourselves, evaluate the situation and-”

 

“Yes, yes, Martin,” Jon interrupted, turning to face him. “That all sounds fine. I’ll follow your lead.” Martin had a feeling Jon was not going to be very helpful.

 

And he wasn’t. As soon as Martin knocked on the door, Jon, who had been pressed against his side, immediately shuffled behind him, not unlike a child hiding from a particularly scary adult. It would be very endearing if they weren’t trying to look at least somewhat professional. Martin was thankful they were dealing with little old ladies and not hardened criminals. “Jon,” he whispered, trying to urge him forward to no avail. God, how can someone this small be so immovable?  “Jon, if we’re going to - hello there!”

 

The door opened to a woman of an impressive height, barely hunched by age and a warm smile on her face. “Hello there!” She wiped her hands on the apron around her waist; Martin could hear a cacophony of sound behind her, shrill voices and the clattering of pans. He instantly knew she was not the woman they were looking for, but he’d ask the questions anyway, go straight for the kill. It was unlikely she would know what he was talking about. “Forgive the mess, I’ve got the grandchildren over. Is there anything I can do for you boys?” She peered behind him in an attempt to find Jon, who Martin forcefully pushed forward. Her eyes widened a bit in surprise- Martin assumed she was not expecting a fully-grown adult man to be hiding behind him.

 

“Yes, I’m Martin Blackwood and this is Jonathan Sims,” Jon grunted at this, his eyes trained on the ground. “We’re from the Magnus Institute, and we’re looking for a Miss Angela, who lives in the area? We got her name from a client of ours, a Mr. Lee Rentoul.” 

 

“Well, I’m Angela, Angela Bratton,” the woman said, leaning against the doorway. “But I’ve never heard of a Mr. Rentoul. Doesn’t sound familiar.” Sounds about right, thank God.

 

“Or a Mr. Toby McMullen?” he asked, knowing the answer. She shook her head.

 

“Can’t say I’ve heard of him either, sorry to disappoint,” she said, looking at them in interest. “What’s this regarding?” Jon froze and Martin could tell from his tenseness that he was panicked, never a good look when interviewing someone.

 

“Oh nothing, just some routine follow up,” he assured, trying to be as vague as possible. “You wouldn’t happen to know of any other Angelas in the area, would you?”

 

“None that I can think of,” she said, glancing back as a small child ran through the hallway. “No running, how many times do I have to- I’m sorry, I’ve really got to go-”

 

“Of course, we won’t keep you,” Martin gave her an easy smile and a wave. “Thank you, Ms. Bratton!” The door shut and Martin turned to Jon, who was now hanging on to the back of his sweater.

 

“Really?” he asked, incredulous. Jon’s not usually that bad with people. He’s seen him make polite conversation. 

 

“I don’t know!” Jon looked anywhere except his eyes. “She- she seemed-”

 

“Like a perfectly nice lady?” Another scowl from Jon. 

 

This was going to be worse than he thought.

 


 

It took three more houses for Jon to finally break.

 

The next Angela wasn’t home, the third was a crotchety old woman who could’ve fit the bill but shut the door in their faces as soon as Martin started speaking. She started shouting behind the door to a hard-of hearing husband, and seeing as how Angela presumably lived alone, Jon felt fine crossing that one off their list.

 

He was feeling a creeping sense of dread, of too much and too empty. It wasn’t unbearable, not like the night in his apartment, but it was a dull, itching thing at the back of his mind. It was difficult to focus and each new face made him want to latch on to Martin harder, though he tried to restrain himself the best he could. This was quite literally the simplest of field work- if Martin could handle it, so should he. Better to be out here, doing real work instead of being coddled in the office with Tim and Sasha, who didn’t think him capable of anything. 

 

Jon felt at constant war with himself. He valued his independence, his time alone. The only time he got to himself now was his dreamless sleep and his morning shower. He had always been utilitarian in his morning routine, sparing the least amount of time needed and dawdling as little as possible. Now he found himself taking forty-five minute showers just to get a moment to think without the ever-lingering need for company. Sleep was better, though it was never as satisfying as it was at night. A quick nap would give him an hour or so of not having to face his situation. It was nice. 

 

He tried to stand as close as was appropriate to Martin while still maintaining some semblance of distance. Elias’s words kept echoing in his head. 

 

Now, I expect a certain degree of professionalism…

 

Do you need some time off, Jon?

 

He didn’t. He wouldn’t. Here he was, doing field-work! Not succeeding, though. That crushed him, just a tiny bit. He didn’t like disappointing people. Martin knocked at the next door and Jon stiffened his spine as a woman fitting the description answered the door, giving them a smile.

 

“Hello?” The voice was quiet but not feeble. She was wearing a dressing gown, though not in a lilac color. It had been several years since the statement. “Can I help you?”

 

Martin seemed to straighten as well; perhaps he was feeling the same growing sense of nerves as Jon- that this could possibly be the woman they were looking for. “Hello!” Martin greeted cheerfully, a strange, charming cadence to his voice that Jon had never heard from him before. “I’m Mark and this is Jack, and we’re with Harrison Windows and Siding. Do you have a moment to talk?” Jon couldn’t help but notice the ease with which he lied. How strange.

 

“Of course! Do come in,” she opened the door, revealing a rather cluttered but clean home, with carpeting that perhaps could be called threadbare and faded floral wallpaper. Jon could barely control the shiver that ran down his spine and he looked over to Martin, whose face had become guarded. The woman was already halfway down the hallway, moving slowly but purposefully. Martin had put a hand to the small of Jon’s back, ushering him through the doorway. “It’s fine,” he whispered. “We’ll just be here a moment, and then we’ll leave.”

 

“I’ve just put the kettle on!” She started to turn into what Jon presumed was the kitchen. “You can have a seat right in there, I’ll be out in just a moment, dears.” She gestured to a sitting area, just as cluttered as the hallway. Jon felt slightly more at ease- there were no framed jigsaw puzzles. Doesn’t mean anything , a voice whispered in the back of his mind. She could have taken them down after the incident.

 

They sat on an overstuffed but comfortable couch, Jon leaning minutely into Martin’s side. “We’re not wearing uniforms,” he worried. “Won’t she be suspicious?”

 

“It’s fine, Jon,” Martin bumped his shoulder in about as affectionate a manner as he could get away with. “I’ve found older women like this are rarely suspicious, if that makes sense? Grew up in a different era, I guess.” 

 

“And here we are!” The woman wobbled back into the room, a tray balanced precariously in her hands that she set down on the coffee table. She poured three cups from the same teapot- Jon was craving tea, but he would wait until she took a sip. Unless she’s concocted some sort of ghastly murder-suicide scenario, I think it should be fine.

 

Martin certainly thought so. He started prattling off information about their non-existent home improvement business, easily able to glean her name and her information after only a few minutes of chatting. Jon was silent, barely able to follow the conversation. Despite the cluttered, homey atmosphere of the apartment it felt somehow...lonely. Just one old woman with no one to keep her company. Nights alone watching the telly. Going to sleep in an empty bed. That was something Jon used to do just a few days ago. Now though, the thought of it filled him with fear. 

 

How much time had passed? The clock ticked on the wall; it was half past one. He had heard at some point a chime going off- when did they get there? Jon shivered again. He wondered if he could get away with scooting closer into Martin’s space. He brought his tea cup to his lips only to discover that it was empty and cold in his hand.  The other two had already placed their cups on the table.  It was then that Jon noticed Martin had somehow managed to steer the conversation towards puzzles while he zoned out. 

 

“Well, I’ve gotten into them in the past few years, I have to admit. Ever since my husband died, I’ve tried to strike up some new hobbies to pass the time. Found a few tucked away in the closet- this house has been in the family for years, belonged to my Great Aunt Mildred, but I only just moved into the neighborhood two years ago, after my Tommy passed away…”

 

Not their woman then. Jon should feel relieved.

 

Somehow, despite this new information, the conversation was still going. Martin could be a chatterbox, that much was true, but shouldn’t they be moving on? His eyes slid over to the clock- almost two, filling him with a sense of unease. The clock ticked and Martin and Angela talked and talked-

 

“We should get going,” he announced abruptly, stumbling to his feet. Martin quickly followed suit and Jon awkwardly cleared his throat. “Other houses to get to today, right Mart-Mark?”

 

Martin nodded, looking a bit concerned even as he went along with it. “Yes, yes. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Ms. Hutton-”

 

“Oh, I’m so sorry for prattling on like that! I admit, I wasn’t very interested in new windows- probably couldn’t afford them,” she let out a shy little laugh. “But the company was nice. You boys have a nice day!”

 

They said their goodbyes, Martin promising to check out some sort of garden nearby that Angela had recommended. As soon as the door shut Jon tucked himself into Martin’s side and the man instantly put his arm around him.

 

“Are you feeling okay?” Martin asked urgently. “You didn’t look alright for a second there.”

 

:”Yes, yes,” Jon waved off his concern, though it was somewhat warranted. He just needed out of that house as quickly as possible. “Just hungry is all.”

 

Martin took a glance at his watch, his eyes widening. “Christ, I didn’t even realize the time! Sorry about that, I should’ve been paying more attention, you must be starving-”

 

“It’s fine,” Jon immediately cut off the fuss, not wanting Martin to work himself up into a tizzy as he was wont to do. “We can stop on the way back, grab a sandwich or something.”

 

“I saw a nice little place a couple streets back- just a deli, nothing fancy,” Martin opened the car door and ushered him inside, Jon feeling instantly the loss of touch even as Martin hurried to get into the other side. “Is that alright?”

 

“Yes,” he mumbled, grabbing a hold of the man sweater again. “That’s fine.”

 


 

Martin watched as Jon picked at what had to have been the world’s most depressing turkey sandwich. Not that it was the deli’s fault- it was mostly because Jon had only gotten cheese and no condiments. He didn’t even seem like he was enjoying it, just leaning listlessly into Martin's side. They got a few looks when they decided to sit on the same side of the booth, but Martin paid them no mind.

 

“We can get something else, if you like,” he assured him. Jon’s hands paused; it was rather distressing to watch the man rip the sandwich into tiny pieces that he only ate a fourth of. “Are you feeling alright?” Martin was beginning to feel like a broken record.

 

“Fine,” And Jon was starting to sound like one. “Just not- it’s fine.” He took a big bite of the sandwich, as if to convince him. It didn’t. Martin took out his phone and fired off a text to Sasha, letting her know everything was going as well as expected. She had sent him ten messages over the last three hours- updates on the progress with Salesa’s contact (slow) and several inquiries as to how they were doing. It wasn’t like Sasha to be so worried, but then again, nothing about this situation was normal.

 

They left after another thirty minutes of half-hearted eating, Jon’s arm intertwined with his, almost close enough to lean his head on his shoulder. He wondered why Jon didn’t just hold his hand, it would certainly be easier for their mobility at this point. Perhaps that was too intimate, though? Martin was getting a bit of whiplash from Jon’s boundaries at this point. Just a few days ago he’d been sitting in between his legs for ‘good pressure.’ It was a lot to process.

 

Suddenly, they’d come to a stop. Jon was staring in the window of a used bookstore, utterly entranced. It looked like typical fare for that type of shop- cluttered, tall shelves, slightly disorganized. Martin could almost smell the dusty bindings and yellowed pages from here. It was not necessarily unwelcome, even comforting. Maybe Jon wanted to buy a book?

 

He followed his gaze to find Jon not staring at a book, but rather a fat tabby lazing in the window, splayed out across a display case. It was like Jon couldn’t tear his eyes away- he looked so openly fond that it made Martin’s heart melt. He made no move to go inside, though, so Martin made the decision for them.

 

“Would you mind if I stopped in there? I’m looking for a certain poetry anthology- they look like they might have it.”

 

Jon's intense focus was broken. “O-Oh? Alright, yes. If you’d like.” He looked adorably excited at the prospect, though he tried to hide it. There was a slight bounce in his step as they opened the door. "Wait- poetry?” Martin deduced from the judgment in his tone that Jon was not a fan. How disappointing.

 

Jon let himself be led to the section anyway, his head constantly swiveling to make sure the cat was in sight. Martin kept the torture to a minimum- he’d only come in here for Jon, really. So he quickly announced that no, they didn’t have it, and slowly led them through the aisles, claustrophobic as they were for two grown men to walk through. They edged close enough to the window for Martin to ‘notice’ the cat.

 

“Oh look at you!” he immediately cooed, dragging Jon to the window. He put out his hand for the cat to sniff- it was friendly, and allowed him to scratch behind its ears as it started to emit a pleased purr. Jon hovered, his hands twitching in his pocket. “Good kitty,” Martin murmured. “Jon, feel! It’s so soft.”

 

He watched as Jon tentatively reached out a hand, the cat immediately butting its head against it and giving permission. Martin wondered if this was what Jon looked like with Elias, and suppressed a chuckle of amusement. Jon wasted no time in sitting down at the window, detaching himself from Martin in order to get a better hold. “Very nice to meet you,” he said, so solemnly that Martin couldn’t help but laugh. Jon was getting so close to the thing he wouldn’t be surprised if he stuck his face in it’s fur. He discretely snuck out his phone, taking a few snaps while Jon was lost in his own little world where only he and the cat existed. He kept up a litany of praise, all in a very serious voice, prompting Martin to take a little video for Tim and Sasha. It was then that he realized for the first time in the entire day, Jon didn’t have a hold on him. Huh. So it works with animals then, too?  He made a mental note to bring it up with Jon and the rest later- this could be helpful! Maybe Jon could carry around some sort of emotional support animal? Elias would have to allow that, right? And he looked so content, so relaxed. It would be a temporary fix of course, but a fix all the same. Couldn’t hurt!

 

They stayed there for about an hour- Martin was tempted to let Jon stay there as long as he wanted and only lead him away with the greatest reluctance. The shopkeeper smiled as they left,-she’d been very amused by the whole situation, as several other customers (including children) looked as if they wanted a turn with the cat, but Jon remained willfully oblivious. Coco was his for the time being. “She doesn’t look like a Coco,” he had grumbled on learning her name.

 

When they stepped outside, Jon immediately began to shiver and move closer to Martin. It wasn’t cold, rather temperate, in fact. The abrupt changes were starting to worry him. “I know you don’t want to hear it,” he began tentatively. “But are you okay? You seem- worse, somehow.”

 

Jon sighed as they stopped in front of the car. “I think it’s this place,” he said, startling Martin with this bit of openness when he’d been so closed off for the majority of the day. “It’s just- it’s very - it's a lot, you know? Too much space. Not like London.” This was another aspect of the blanket Martin couldn’t really understand- loneliness, touch, company, and now ‘too much space’? Add it to the list.

 

“No, I get it,” he said, even though he didn’t. A little understanding couldn’t hurt. “We’ll be back to good ol’ London and you’ll feel better in no time, alright?”

 

Jon nodded, but he still didn’t let go of Martin’s arm to let him move. He opened his mouth to again ask what was wrong, when Jon suddenly threw his arms around him, burrowing his face in his chest like he hadn't seen him in years. Martin’s arms immediately went around his and squeezed back and everything felt very, very right. They stood like that for some time, Martin waiting for Jon to let go.

 

He did after a few minutes, looking red-faced and fidgety. “For the road.” he said softly, ignoring Martin’s gaze and jumping in the car.

 

Martin remained frozen in place for just a second more, a smile making its way to his face. He repeated the words to himself, giddy.

 

For the road. 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Okay, this is promising.”

 

Martin’s proudly playing a video from his phone- it’s basically five minutes of Jon petting a cat very seriously accompanied by an occasional suppressed squeal from Martin (Sasha does not blame him in the slightest; it’s very, very cute). He's not alone in thinking this could be a nice, albeit temporary fix to Jon’s constant need for company. They wouldn’t give it up totally, of course. Jon’s already explained that it isn’t the same as human contact, but it does allow him some degree of independence that he desperately needs. Sasha can see that Jon’s itching to be in a room alone, if his forty-five minute showers are any indication.

 

“The mental picture alone is making my day.” Tim bent over her shoulder and she could practically feel his grin. “Plus, it has the added bonus of pissing off Elias.”

 

Jon’s face immediately fell- he’d been smiling throughout the video, only a tiny bit embarrassed but looking more excited than anything. Sasha had forgotten how much he loved cats; he always used to show her pictures of a fat orange tabby back in research with more than a little fondness. “He’s going to say no, of course,” he grumbled as his arm tensed in Martin’s hold. “Don’t see why we’d even bother.”

 

“Oh Jon, ye of little faith,” Sasha teased, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I happen to be very persuasive.”

 

“If you say so,” he responded doubtfully. “Did you- are there any leads on where that thing came from?”

 

“Oh!” Sasha brightened, excited to divulge what they’d found. That had made some inroads while Martin and Jon were off investigating in Bexley. “Tim was able to suss out some info from the contact Sonya gave me- turns out it might have been in the hands of the Fairchilds at some point. I’ll update Elias about it, see what he thinks.”

 

“This was some very hard-won information, I’ll have you know,” Tim added. “She didn’t swing my way but I’m quite good at making friends- you all can vouch, of course. I even got a Jon in record time!”

 

“I seem to recall a lot of wearing down, Tim,” Jon responded dryly. “You were, er, very persistent. It was quite grating.”

 

“Gasp! I’m wounded, Jon, absolutely gutted-”

 

“Anyway,”  Sasha cut in. “I’m going up to see Elias now. Let him know we’re going to be here for the weekend, the Fairchilds, cat plans, etc. etc.” She stood up from her desk, purposefully pushing her chair into Tim.

 

“Good luck!” Martin called as she started to make her way to the door. 

 

Sasha was quite sure she wouldn’t need it.

 




Sasha James was once again in his office. 

 

Elias Bouchard had not had the best of weeks. His plans were going awry at a startling pace and not a single one of his contacts had been remotely helpful. On top of that, the Archives staff had seemed to bond even further and were now living in Document Storage. And here was Miss James, ready to make unreasonable demands that Elias was unwilling to capitulate to.

 

“Miss James, how can I help you?” he began, struggling to keep an even tone. “I trust everything is functional, for the time being?”

 

“Not really,” she bluntly replied, giving him an unamused stare. He stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “Have you made any progress with your ‘contacts’?”

 

He sighed. There was no need for the sarcasm. “I’m currently in the process of-”

 

“See, I’ve been looking into things,” she cut him off, her tone dripping with condescension. “And I’ve reached out to a few sources that tell me the Fairchilds might have had-”

 

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to refrain from contacting anyone in the Fairchild family,” Elias could feel the pulsing beginnings of a migraine forming behind his temples. “As you know, they’re donors to the institute and we wouldn’t want to unduly upset them-”

 

“‘Unduly’?” Sasha’s voice became shrill. “We need as much information as we can get! We don’t know how dangerous this thing truly is, and if Jon gets hurt-”

 

“Jon should not have been touching potentially dangerous objects, Miss James,” his own voice raised with hers. “It was incredibly irresponsible of him-”

 

“It was incredibly irresponsible for someone to leave an object like that just sitting around,” she shot back. “It was a blanket, how was he to know? If the Archives had been in any sort of order when we arrived, this wouldn’t have happened-”

 

“Enough!”  Elias rose to his feet and slammed his hands down on the desk. How irritating can one girl be?  “I assure you, I’m doing all I can to remedy the situation, but in the meantime you must steer clear of the Fairchild family. Do you understand me?”

 

Elias could tell from her racing thoughts and the barely contained shaking of her frame that she would not heed his instructions. It would be up to him to do damage control. “Fine,” she bit out. “But we’ll be staying here for the weekend with Jon. That’s non-negotiable.” Elias let out a tired sigh.

 

“If you must,” he replied just as coolly. “But please return the couch cushions. People are starting to complain.”

 

“I’ll just expense out some air-mattresses, then. That should be covered, right?”

 

“...Fine.” She gave a triumphant smirk which Elias ignored.

 

“Oh! Also, Jon’s getting a cat.” He’d seen this one coming.

 

“Absolutely not, Miss James. A cat in the Archives?” Elias snorted, remembering very well the incident on Jon’s first day. “There are fragile documents stored in there-”

 

“It helps Jon! Today he was able to-” he tuned out the girl as she explained the situation in Bexley- utterly sickening and ridiculous, spending an hour of company time petting a cat. “-not to mention he would be more productive, just like you wanted-” God, she was still going.

 

“The very idea is absurd-”

 

“Okay,” Sasha unexpectedly switched gears, her voice all business. “So you won’t mind then, if he comes around your office sometime? We need to do our own independent investigations to keep things running smoothly, you know. And he seemed-” she smiled, a mocking little thing “-to enjoy your company.”

 

Elias stared. Sasha did not waver. Goddamn it.

 

“Get the cat.”

 

"Thank you.” With that, she spun on her heel and exited his office, shutting the door neatly behind her. I'm going to have to end this sooner rather than later, he thought glumly. This is getting out of hand. It was then he noticed a small spider skittering across his desk and pausing, as if to stare at him. He leaned forward, curious. The spider didn’t move.

 

Now there's one contact he hadn't considered.

 


 

Jon spun in his chair, watching as Tim struggled with three different blow up mattresses. This was his habit when he was in his office alone- it helped him quiet his mind whenever he got too anxious. He missed doing this over the last few days, too embarrassed to try it in front of everyone else. But everything was embarrassing for him nowadays- why not add another thing to the pile?

 

Plus, he found if he nudged Martin’s ankle on every other go round, he could stand sitting alone.

 

“That’s so loud, Tim,” Martin complained, affectionately leaning in so Jon had better access to his leg. ‘Why can’t you do them one at a time?”

 

“If I did that,” Tim screamed over the chaotic din. “It would take three times as long! I'm being efficient!”

 

“That's a word for it.” Martin grunted at Jon’s next nudge. “Not so hard, please.”

 

“Sorry,” he mumbled, trying to slow his momentum. He was going rather fast.

 

“My friend can fit us in on Sunday!” Sasha announced as she walked through the doorway. Sunday seemed so far away- when Sasha mentioned she had a friend who volunteered at a shelter, he thought they’d be able to go tomorrow, maybe even tonight. After Elias gave them the surprising go-ahead, Jon had been rather excited about the whole thing. A cat!  He hadn’t had one since the Admiral, who he still dearly missed. Any self-consciousness he felt about the situation was overshadowed by his desperate need to have some time alone.

 

Plus, well, cats. They’re great.

 

“Sunday?” He fought to keep the whine out of his voice, trying for stuffy displeasure. “I thought we could go sooner.”

 

“Well-” Sasha groaned, her voice overshadowed by Tim’s air mattress symphony. “Turn that off, Tim! Christ.”

 

“Fine, fine! They’re done anyway.” He shut off the machines one by one, bringing a blissful silence. 

 

“Then why did you have them on?” Martin asked, irritated. One arm had instinctively wound around Jon’s calf as soon as he stopped spinning. Jon didn’t know how he felt about this, besides the strange warmth in his chest. 

 

“To annoy you, of course!”

 

“As I was saying-”  Sasha plopped at Jon's feet. “They have limited hours Sunday, so you’ll have some time alone with them. Saturday’s a popular day, too many people around. You'd have to share. But she did send me some pictures-”

 

“Let me see-” he made a grab for her phone before she pulled it just out of reach. He huffed in annoyance.

 

“Patience!” she scolded, tapping at the screen. “I just forwarded the attachment.”

 

Jon scrambled for his phone, ignoring the friendly message from her friend and going straight to the attachment. There was a list of thirty cats of differing breeds and ages- so many possibilities! 

 

“These names are ridiculous,” he complained. “I’ll certainly be changing them.”

 

“You only get one cat, Jon,” Sasha warned, teasing but stern. “We can barely handle you as it is.” He was beginning to resent the constant feline comparisons.

 

“I was thinking…” Martin began, his fingers nervously tapping at Jon’s leg. The touch was too light and he had to fight to keep himself still- lord knows what they’d do if they found out he was ticklish. “Maybe we could do something fun tomorrow? The four of us? Y’know, get some fresh air.” He turned to Jon, all earnest excitement. “Would you like that?”

 

“I suppose,” he squirmed under the direct attention. It would be nice to get out of the Archives with everyone, no stakes. Perhaps even...fun. “What- what would you want to do?”

 

“Oooh, there’s this new indoor sports place,” Tim suggested gleefully, much to everyone’s confusion. “I’ve always wanted to try squash.”

 

“Okay, how the hell is that going to work?” Sasha said incredulously. “What are you going to do, play with Jon on your back?”

 

“Ah, yeah. Whoops. Would be funny, though.”

 

Jon scowled. “No, it most certainly would not.”

 

“What about the Natural History Museum?” Sasha piped in. “It’s in Kensington, not so far. We'll have a nice little lunch, make a day of it.” The idea did sound enticing. He hadn’t been there since he was a student, and he was always rather fond of museums.

 

“I’d like that, I think,” he replied, glancing at the three of them from under his lashes. “That is, if everyone else-” He was met with an unanimous chorus of agreement.

 

Alright, then.

 


 

Tim was once again alone in the front seat of his car.

 

It would probably be easier to get there by train, but the picture of Jon situated between Sasha and Martin in the backseat was too precious to pass up. He didn’t say this, though- couldn’t let on that he was that much of a sap.

 

“Make any decisions yet, Jon?” He called to the back. Jon had been anxiously scrolling on his phone all morning with an intense concentration. The man let out a frustrated sigh.

 

“No,” he complained. “These are all good cats.”

 

Tim was beginning to think he was a bit biased. 

 

“Are they all going to be there tomorrow?” It was an innocent enough question from Martin but Sasha still shot him a look. “What if someone-”

 

“It’ll be fine,” Sasha assured Jon's suddenly panicked visage. "Though, if there is one you want in particular-”

 

“It’s impossible to choose,” Jon said, his voice amusingly overwhelmed. “I’ll have to see them in person.” Tim had a feeling tomorrow was going to be a long day.

 

By the time they reached the museum and found a ‘close-enough’ parking space, it was around eleven. Martin was standing dumb-founded in the hall of the museum, gazing in wonder at the high-domed ceiling. “This place is beautiful!” he enthused as Sasha slung an arm around his waist. “I don’t know where to begin.”

 

“The dinosaurs, clearly,” Jon pushed his glasses back up on his nose, the very picture of a stuffy little professor. “Objectively the best exhibit.”

 

“Objectively,” Tim mocked, though he threaded his arm through Jon’s and turned them in the direction of the exhibit. It was fairly crowded, being a Saturday, but they managed to maneuver there in one piece without too much trouble. It helped that Jon was glued to his side. He whistled lowly as they entered the hall- no matter how many times he’d been here, it still managed to impress him. I mean, it’s dinosaurs. Jon wasn’t wrong in his evaluation. “Where should we start-”

 

But Jon was already butting his bony shoulder into Tim’s side rather painfully, steering him towards the crowded center display. He used Tim’s height and muscular bulk as a human battering-ram, pushing people to the side (including women and children, fuck’s sake, Jon) as Tim called out apologies. They landed right in front of the placard with only a few casualties and angry looks, but it was worth it to watch Jon tilt his head back comically far so he could gaze up at the fossils on display. 

 

“The T-rex. Classic choice, boss!” he enthused, staring up at it himself. “I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park or something. Original 1993 film, of course.”

 

“Of course,” Jon murmured, though he was too enraptured with the display in front of him to pay Tim any mind. “Did you know,” he began, his voice suddenly loud and clear. “That the tyrannosaurus existed in the late Cretaceous period, as opposed to the Jurassic? A glaring error on the film’s part, if you ask me.” Nobody was asking him, least of all the tour guide who was currently shooting them nasty looks. Tim wasn’t going to ask him to quiet down- it was the most animated he’d looked in weeks. “In fact, the tyrannosaurus wouldn’t exist for millions of years- the late Cretaceous period was around sixty-five to eighty-five million years ago.” He tilted his head to the side, considering. “Though, ‘millions’ is rather relative. Everything was so large back then, even time. Humans are just a blip on the radar, you know.”

 

“Makes you think, huh?” Tim managed to pull Jon away after a few more minutes of study and lecture- the tour guide was getting even more frustrated and had taken to shouting over Jon’s voice, which only increased in volume. “C’mon, let’s find Sasha and Martin. Think we lost ‘em back at the stegosaurus.”

 

“Now the Stegosaurus was actually in the Jurassic Period- that would be approximately 150 million years ago-”

 

They continued this way for much of the museum- Jon leading them on in an imperious tone, his fast pace and matter-of-fact voice leading a few people to believe he was a tour guide, and they’d amassed a small crowd of people following behind them. Tim couldn’t help but think that Jon would have made a good teacher; he was oddly patient with anyone who asked him questions, answering thoroughly and thoughtfully. Like a little Google, he thought giddily.

 

But it soon reached two in the afternoon, and even archivists needed to eat. “We’ll come back after, I swear,” Sasha promised a disgruntled Jon. “But I think we should grab lunch now. Martin, you haven’t lived until you’ve had over-priced, mediocre café food!”

 

And mediocre it was. Tim didn’t mess with anything more complicated than a burger or chicken fingers at these sorts of places- he’d been bitten too many times. Martin seemed to enjoy it, which was all that mattered.

 

“This tastes kind of like cardboard,” he marveled, smiling as he smothered a fry in ketchup. “Is it always this bad?”

 

“Yes,” Jon replied, picking apart a chicken tender. “That’s why it costs fourteen pounds.”

 


 

“I want to look at Darwin’s pigeons,” Jon proclaimed, once again clutching his arm. Tim was dragged, ostensibly, in the direction of this exhibit. Tim saw no pigeons. Tim only saw the entrance to an enormous gift shop. 

 

“And also here,” Jon mumbled, his face going red. He wasn’t sure why the man was suddenly being so awkward; Tim wasn’t going to judge him for wanting a souvenir. 

 

“Sure, why not?” He shrugged and allowed himself to be led around the shop- Jon seemed to have a purpose and stopped in front of a collection of coffee-table books, priced from the exorbitant to the outrageous. There’s no entry fee, but they sure do get you everywhere else. Jon’s eyes were scanning the titles until they landed on a large black volume at the end.

 

“Minerals,” he declared, seemingly satisfied. “She liked the mineral exhibit.” He handed the book over to Tim. “Hold onto this.”

 

“Aye aye, Captain!” He’d salute if he wasn’t holding a 10 pound book and also Jon. 

 

The next stop was...stuffed animals. An entire wall of stuffed animals. Jon was studying it as if it contained the answer to life itself- he never seemed like a stuffed animal type of guy, but maybe it was some sort of blanket thing, who knows-

 

“Martin liked the whale in the hallway,” he stated, grabbing a foot long plush whale with big, cutesy eyes and considering it. “Yes, this will do.” It was then Tim realized what he was doing.

 

“Aww, boss! Are you buying us presents?” he cooed, nudging his elbow into Jon’s side. “That’s adorable, but you don’t need to buy our love-”

 

“Shut up, Tim!”  Jon snarled with a surprising amount of heat, shoving the whale plushie into his chest. He stood there fuming for a few moments before he looked down to the ground, avoiding Tim’s eyes. “If you-” he sighed heavily, as if the words caused him great pain. “If you were going to get a souvenir, what would you want?”

 

Tim melted, squishing Jon into his side even as he struggled to get out of his hold. “Well, I had my eye on this lil’ guy here-” he pointed at a tiny replica of the T-rex from the dinosaur exhibit. “-for my desk, y’know.” It was also the least expensive thing he could think of, even the small whale he was holding was twenty-five pounds. Tim didn’t want to bankrupt the man.

 

Jon snatched it off the shelf, grumbling all the while. He started to pull them in the direction of the check-out when Tim stopped him. “Hey, shouldn’t you get something? A memory for our lovely outing.” 

 

Jon shrugged noncommittally, though his eyes kept darting back to the dinosaur section of the store. “It doesn’t matter. This is fine.”

 

“Nothing?” Tim cajoled. “There’s nothing that caught your eye?” Jon heaved another long-suffering sigh, rolling his eyes and gesturing behind Tim.

 

“There’s a mug-” his eyes scan the shelves once more, pausing as he lands on a plain black mug with a matte-coating. It looked utterly boring. “When you pour hot water in it, dinosaurs appear.” Jon was staring at the mug as if it was going to do him harm. “I don’t know- it’s stupid, I don’t need it-”

 

“Okay, we’re buying it,” Tim declared, snatching it out of Jon’s hands and struggling to hold it far enough away without dropping all of the other gifts. “And by that I mean I’m buying it. Lord knows how much this is all gonna cost.”

 

It ended up costing an arm and a leg, but Jon didn’t so much as blink as he handed over the cash and thrust the little dinosaur back at Tim. “For your desk,” he clarified, as if Tim hadn’t told him this seconds ago.

 

“Many thanks, boss!” He pulled him back against his side as they exited the shop. Sasha and Martin were right outside, scanning the crowds. Tim waved and the two of them bounded over.

 

“There you two are!” Sasha exclaimed. ‘We’ve been looking all over. Whatcha got there, Jon?”

 

Tim watched in amusement as Jon became immediately flustered, his face going read as he reached into the bag. ‘Just- just things, I thought- well, you seemed to-” He held the book out to Sasha much like he did with Tim, impatient and bothered. “For you.”

 

Sasha blinked, gingerly taking the heavy tome out of his hands. “Oh this is lovely, Jon. You shouldn’t have!”

 

“Well, I did.” The words were somehow threatening and Tim couldn’t suppress his snicker. “And Martin-” he dug out the whale and held it out. “-for you.”

 

If Tim had a free hand he would have recorded this- Martin’s face turned tomato- red as he started to stutter and made no move to take the whale. “I- really, I don’t- for me?”

 

“Yes!”  Jon began waving the whale up and down impatiently and Martin hurried to take it out of his hands lest he change his mind. “For you. I- well, I wanted to, to thank you all for- you know, dealing with me, I-I know it’s been hard-”

 

“Oh Jon,” Sasha started, her voice soft and comforting. “You’re not a burden, you’re our friend! Of course we’d-”

 

“Alright, alright,” Jon cut her off, clearly unwilling and unable to deal with the emotion. “I just wanted to say thank you. That’s all.” Sasha snuggled into Jon’s side, giving him an affectionate ruffle of the hair.

 

“Let’s call it a day, I’m getting a bit tired- Martin, are you okay?”

 

Martin was frozen in the hallway, his eyes still stuck on the whale he held reverently in his hands. Are faces supposed to turn that red?

 

“Well, Jon-” Tim drawled, giving the man a lazy smirk. “You’ve finally done it. You’ve gone and broken our Martin.” That seemed to break him out of his stupor.

 

“Shut up, Tim!”

 

Chapter Text

“No...no, not that one. Well, maybe…”

 

Martin awoke to a stream of grumpy mumbling coming from his side. He turned over to find Jon leaning against the cot, one leg stretched out to touch Martin’s on the air mattress. He was already dressed in a loose-fitting jumper and trousers and notably blanket-free. Martin groaned and fumbled for his mobile- it was six o’clock. 

 

“Jon, what are you doing up so early?” he asked, his voice hoarse as he fished the whale plushie out from underneath his back. “We’re not meant to go until ten.”

 

“Couldn’t sleep,” Jon eyes refused to stray from the notebook in his hands. “Need to...research, still.” They’d stayed up late last night, watching some sort of disgusting show Tim had insisted was ‘addictive.’ Martin didn’t pay much attention, too distracted by the warm weight of Jon on his shoulder and the wine coursing through his system. 

 

“Jon, you’ve looked over that list a thousand times. The only ones that were adopted were the Siamese and that big gray one.”

 

“The Inspector and the Captain. Sad to see them go,” Jon replied nonsensically. “But still a lot of options left.”

 

“What’s in that notebook?” Martin scooted closer, peering over his shoulder to find a messy list of names, many of which were crossed out. “Are you recruiting an army?”

 

“If only,” Jon pushed the notebook over to give him a better look. “I’m renaming them. Well, I like to think of it as revealing their true names. Look at this!” He thrust his phone in Martin’s face, a picture of a slim black cat on the screen. “Who names a cat Paws?  That’d- that’d be like calling you Foot, Martin. Would you like that? Would you like to be called Foot?”

 

“Uh, no, not at all,” Martin found it best to agree when Jon got like this. Helped him avoid unnecessary arguments. “It sounds quite upsetting, actually.”

 

“Precisely, Martin. You understand.”

 

They remain like this for almost two hours, Martin’s back aching as Jon chattered about the different breeds, their personalities. Jon had pages of research. It was very endearing.

 

“Of course, you can’t get much from a description on a website,” Jon claimed. “You have to meet them. Get a feel. Cats are very good judges of character, you know.”

 

“Mm.”

 

“Well you two are up bright and early!” Sasha yawned as she rose from her bed, Tim still snoring beside her. “Too excited to sleep, Jon?”

 

“No,” Jon said, clearly lying. “Just- just had things to do. Work-related things.”

 

“Of course,” Sasha shared a knowing smile with Martin and stretched out, not unlike a cat herself. “I’ll grab us some breakfast. Martin, you mind putting the kettle on?” He did not- it would be nice to stretch out, though he’d gladly sit there the rest of the morning, shuffling back and forth between cats. “It’s about a half hour drive, so we should probably leave at nine-thirty, latest.” As soon as Martin left his side, Jon plopped himself down on an air mattress, shoving a leg in Tim’s direction unnecessarily hard. He yelped, but just rolled over, crushing Jon’s foot in the process. This position seemed to work for the both of them until Martin returned with tea.

 

An hour and a half later, an impatient Jon was shoving at Tim’s side to hurry his lethargic movements. “Stop dawdling. What if there’s traffic?”

 

“Relax, Jon. We’ll be fine. You’ll get your emotional-support cat-”

 

“I said  I don’t like you calling it that-”

 

“In the car, boys!” Sasha called. “Time to get our Archivist a cuddle-buddy.”

 

“Sasha, that’s worse!”

 

Sandwiched between the two of them in the backseat, Jon was practically vibrating with energy. That excited, huh?  Sasha smiled indulgently. “Were you two able to come to a decision, then?”

 

“I told you, Sasha, it’s not like that,” Jon argued. Martin had heard this several times already. “I’ve got to meet each one and make an informed decision from there. These things are complicated.”

 

“Alright, alright. But promise me you won’t spend hours there- Natasha’s really going out on a limb for us. She’s not supposed to open the place for too long on Sundays.”

 

“Sasha,” Jon replied, stoic and grave. “I cannot make that promise.”

 


 

Jon was true to his word. 

 

They had been at the shelter for two hours and Jon was no closer to making a decision. It was incredibly amusing, sure, but Tim’s legs were starting to go numb and he wasn’t about to join Jon on the floor- he’d practically hissed himself when Tim tried it earlier. “This is very important to me, Tim. I can’t have you ruining my focus.” He’d tried to point out that the cat would probably need to get along with all of them, but Jon wasn’t having it- this was his cat, and it was his decision. 

 

Sasha and her friend were chatting in the corner and Martin was situated in the only chair, stars in his eyes as he watched Jon interacting with the cats. Each one had to be pet several times if they were willing. With the shyer ones, Jon would bend down to their level, slowly blinking until they hesitantly approached. He spoke to them like they were people, ignoring Natasha’s helpful input on their names to use his own ridiculous monikers. His hand was also openly bleeding- the consequence of several playful claws.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want a bandage for that?” Natasha called out. Jon shook his head vehemently.

 

“No, that would ruin it.” Tim wondered what that meant. Perhaps Jon thought a blood sacrifice would work in his favor, who fucking knew with him. 

 

“Any closer to picking one, boss?” he asked as Jon stared intently at a short-haired, gray fellow. “It’s almost noon.”

 

“I-I just-” Jon sighed in frustration as the cat butted its head against his hand. “Are you sure I can’t get two?” Tim was tempted to give into those pleading eyes but Sasha wasn’t having it, fixing him with a stern gaze.

 

“Just the one, Jon,” she said, though she softened a bit. “For now.” Tim snickered and she shot him a nasty look.

 

Thirty minutes more. Jon had allowed Martin onto the floor, to ‘help him decide.’ “Sorry, Tim. He just gets it.” Tim suspects that Martin didn’t so much get it as he was just willing to let Jon do whatever he pleased. 

 

Jon suddenly perked up, his head swiveling to a dark corner of the room where two glowing green eyes could just barely be made out. “Who’s there?” he commanded, though he was already sinking down to the ground and holding out his hand, making those weird ‘pspsps’ noises he’d been doing all day. “Show yourself!”

 

An incredibly large and fluffy cat, with a mix of brown and black hair slowly made its way out from the darkness, sniffing hesitantly at Jon’s fingers before bumping its head against his hand. “Who is this?” Jon turned his head to Natasha, scratching the cat behind its ears. “I didn’t see this one on the list.”

 

“Oh, that’s Candy!” Jon made an affronted noise. “She’s our shelter cat, sort of. Doesn’t really like people. Been here two years, she’s a little older than the others. She never lets anyone pet her.”

 

“I’m not anyone,” Jon said definitively. Tim and Sasha shared a glance- of course this was the one. The only cat not on the list. Candy climbed into his lap, rubbing her face all over his jumper. “I want this one.” Ah, here we go. 

 

“Um, she’s not really up for adoption-”

 

“I want this one. ” Jon leveled an impressive glare Natasha’s way, and Tim watched as she shrank under his gaze. "I want Candy.”  Tim had to control his laughter at that one.

 

“Let-let me call my supervisor, alright? I’ll be just a second.” Sasha mouthed apologizes as Natasha left the room. Jon rose with the cat in his arms- God, that thing’s massive. It took up almost half of Jon and it had to be almost ten kilos.

 

“Are-are you going to be able to carry her around, Jon?” Sasha asked, clearly doubtful. “She looks awfully heavy…”

 

“I’m not weak, Sasha-”

 

“I didn’t say that!” she defended. “But if you want to have more freedom, a lighter cat might be easier to-”

 

“I want the Duchess.”

 

“Duchess?” Martin asked, also rising to his feet. Still can’t take his eyes off Jon, Tim noted. “I thought her name was Candy.”

 

“Don’t be ridiculous, Martin.” The cat was now nudging against Jon’s chin, the picture of affection. “Look at her. I don’t believe in the institution of aristocracy, of course. But she’s just so regal. Magnificent, really.”

 

“Duchess of what?” Tim walked over, holding a hand out to the cat. She hissed, burrowing further into Jon’s arms. Well, alright then. Doesn’t like me. 

 

“The Duchess. That’s all.” Tim opened his mouth to start another petty argument for fun, but Natasha bustled in, cutting him off.

 

“Well, you’re in luck!” She smiled, paperwork in her hands. “Candy is all yours. We’ve just got to fill out a few things here-”

 

Tim could swear that both Jon and the Duchess purred in response.

 

A half hour later and the five of them are back in the car, en route to the pet store. Jon had tried to give Sasha a staggering three hundred dollars for ‘only the best’ supplies but Sasha refused, holding out her own credit card. “We’re expensing this. Got the okay from Elias.” Tim was very sure she hadn’t, but that was neither here nor there.

 

“All those cats, and you picked the most ornery. Should’ve guessed.” Tim commented from the front, ignoring Jon’s glare. He’d taken the cat out of the carrier as they pulled into the parking lot, gathering her in his arms.

 

“Sometimes, Tim,” he said. “Things that are older need a bit more love to open up. There’s nothing wrong with that.” He watched as Sasha and Martin exited, leaving the two of them in the car. Tim just managed to hear their conversation as they walked away.

 

“Do you think that's a metaphor or something?” Martin whispered none too quietly. “Maybe Jon’s talking about himself.”

 

“You do know he’s younger than you, right?” Sasha said, her voice growing fainter as they walked away. “Younger than your real age, even.”

 

“Really? Wait, hang on- how do you know-”

 

“I have my ways, Martin.”

 

She did indeed.

 


 

“I know you wanted to go out to dinner, but I think we’re going to have to do takeaway tonight.”

 

“Yeah, looks like it.”

 

Jon’s set up for the Duchess was rather...elaborate. The floor of Document Storage was now littered with cat paraphernalia, and Jon was attempting to get Sasha to order what seemed to be the world’s tallest cat tower.

 

“She needs it, Sasha- what if she gets bored?”

 

“We got her every single cat toy in the store, Jon. Besides, how would we get that down here? I don’t think it would fit through the doorway.”

 

Jon scowled. “It comes in parts, Sasha. You have to build it.”

 

She gave him an unimpressed stare. “Oh and who’s going to build it? You?”

 

“Yes!...Maybe.”

 

“That’s what I thought.”

 

So far, the cat hadn’t let anyone near it except for Jon. He’d set up a little corner for them, Jon’s tea and work on one side, cat toys on the other. “I can multitask!” he’d said.

 

That, however, was not true. Jon was incapable of ignoring the Duchess whenever she was near, and she was near all the time. Very demanding, too. If she wasn’t in his lap, she was within two feet of him, and God forbid anyone who was on ‘Jon-Duty’ try and touch her. Tim had, several times, the most memorable of which involved Jon sitting in between his splayed legs and holding the cat still. “If we can trick her into thinking it’s you, she might let me pet her.”

 

“I doubt she’ll fall for such antics,” Jon sniffed. “She’s much too smart for that.” He was right, and Tim now had a bloody hand for his troubles as he sulked on his bed with Martin.

 

“You know, we’re probably going to have to put her in her carrier at night,” Sasha remarked, trying in vain to get the Duchess to her side. “We don’t know how that blanket could affect animals.”

 

“I suppose you’re right,” Jon conceded, sounding like the very thought of locking her up was physically painful. “Perhaps we could- oh no! Duchess, what have you done?” There were torn up shreds of paper at Jon’s feet, the institute logo plain to see in the debris. “I take my eye off you for one minute-”

 

“Oh God, are those statements?” Sasha scrambled to his side, digging through the torn scraps with him while the Duchess meowed plaintively. This was the longest she’d gone without attention.

 

“It- It doesn’t look like it?” Jon held a piece up to the light with a discerning eye. “She’s ruined all of Elias’s memos, though.”

 

“I think I’m starting to like her, then,” Tim joked from the corner. “Good judge of character, that one.” Martin watched impassively as Sasha gathered up the shreds and Jon ‘chastised’ the cat.

 

“I’m not pleased with you right now,” he said very seriously as he scratched underneath her chin. “I’ll ask you not to do that again.” The Duchess curled up in his lap, looking very pleased.

 

“Martin, be honest...are you jealous right now?” He scoffed at Tim’s question, jabbing him with an elbow.

 

“Are you jealous, Tim?” 

 

“A bit, yeah.”

 

“...Same.”

 


 

Monday rolled around much too quickly for anyone’s taste, except perhaps Jon’s. He was once again up bright and early, tucking the blanket away safely and cooing at the Duchess in her carrier. “I’ll only be a moment,” he promised, letting her playfully bite his finger through the carrier’s door. “You’ll be out soon enough.”

 

And he was- he gave up his usual forty five minute shower for a sensible ten, now that he had the motivation to get back to the Archives. It wasn’t the same as having the constant human companionship of his assistants, but he could ignore the itch under his skin for a bit longer, granting him some much needed independence. 

 

And the Duchess liked him. Trusted him at first glance, wanted to be around him, blanket curse or not. Well, he hoped she wasn’t being influenced by it. It’s not like he could tell and to be frank, it wasn’t something he wanted to think about. He’d always been good with cats, so that must be it. 

 

Plus, she killed two spiders the night before. That had to mean something.  

 

Elias got in at eight on the dot, most days. And that just so happened to be when his assistants started to wake up, so they’d be out of the way. Once seven fifty rolled around, he took the Duchess in his arms and made his way upstairs. “Let’s make this official, shall we?” he murmured into her fur.

 

The cat was not light. The cat was in fact incredibly heavy. Carrying her around is going to be more difficult than anticipated, he thought as he wheezed his way to Elias’s office. But I’ll make do.

 

Rosie didn’t come in until nine (as was her right), so Elias was the one to answer when he knocked on the door. “Come in, Jon.” It took him a few moments to finagle the door open with the burden in his arms.

 

“I see you’ve… found a workaround, then. For the time being.” Elias eyed the animal with suspicion, standing in the farthest corner of the room. Jon knew he looked ridiculous, standing there with a cat about half his size. But he wanted to show Elias that he could work, even with this...crutch. That he would still be able to do his job in such ridiculous circumstances. It seemed stupid and quite embarrassing now that he was up here, but at least he wasn’t butting his head up against his boss’s hand. That was much worse. 

 

“Yes, this is- this is the Duchess,” he held her aloft as much as his shaking arms would allow him to. Elias gave him the slightest of nods.

 

“That’s a name.”

 

“That’s her name,” he sniped, and then tried to reign in his tone. “We’re getting a tag made, so in case she runs off people will know who she belongs to. And-and I thought you should meet her. So you know what she looks like, and that she’s not a stray.”

 

“Jon, how many cats do you think we have running around the institute?” Elias’s tone was exasperated. “But yes, now I’ve seen her. Is that all?”

 

“Yes,” Jon began to back up as the Duchess growled in his arms- she’d tensed as soon as they walked into the office- but soon paused, remembering what had caused this situation in the first place. “Oh! Um, do you maybe, that is- do you have any updates on the, the cursed-object front? Just- just wanted to see if-”

 

“I may have a lead or two,” Elias said, ever unreadable. “I’ll let you know if it seems promising. But I believe I gave you a statement a few days ago- Lost Johns’ Cave? Could you get me the recording by the end of the day?”

 

Jon flushed, remembering the unfortunate incident from days prior. He should’ve made it a priority but here he was, traipsing through the halls with a cat and acting ridiculous. Spending a whole weekend ignoring work in favor of having fun. What a good Head Archivist he made.

 

“Y-Yes, of course.” His hands tightened unconsciously around the Duchess, drawing her further into his chest. “Won’t be a problem.”

 

“Perfect. I’ll get the door- you seem to have your hands full.” 

 

In more ways than one, Jon thought to himself as the door shut behind him. Time to get to work.

 

Chapter Text

“Jon, you can’t just wander off like that!”

 

“Oh, I think you’ll find I can,”  Jon replied, sitting down at the break room table and settling the Duchess in his lap. His arms needed the break, sad to say. Well, at least I’ll get a work out from this. “Wasn’t that the whole point of getting a cat?”

 

“Martin practically had a panic attack,” Tim told him, shaking a finger in his face. “Gave us quite the scare. At least tell us where you’re going.”

 

“I did not!  In fact, Tim was the one-”

 

“Not important!” Tim cut him off and took an offensively messy bite of his egg sandwich while Jon chewed demurely at a granola bar. Sasha began to pour some cat food into a bowl- the Duchess’s ears immediately perked up and she jumped to the ground, meowing loudly and rubbing against her feet. The lack of cat brought an uncomfortable itch to Jon’s skin and he wrapped his arms around his torso, attempting to stave it off. Tim just sighed, looking entirely too happy with this development as he gave his leg a pat. “C’mon, then.”

 

“You don’t have to look so pleased about it,” Jon sighed, though he reluctantly moved to join Tim, secured by an arm around his waist. “Do not get any of that disgusting sandwich in my hair.”

 

“I’m not that messy,” Tim defended, though his argument was somewhat undercut by the bit of egg on his chin. “Anyway, where were you?”

 

He’d been hoping to avoid this part. “If you must know, I was in Elias’s office, er, introducing him to the Duchess.” He cast a longing look back at the cat, who was eating heartily as Sasha looked on in undisguised fondness. Still, he couldn’t deny that contact with an actual human soothed the ache more than the cat ever could. Too distracted by his musings, he didn’t realize the three of them staring at him.

 

“I’m sorry, you what?” Martin replied, incredulous. “You willingly  went up to his office, knowing you might- he might-”

 

“I didn’t!” Jon scowled, setting the half-eaten granola bar down entirely too hard on the table. “The Duchess was there-”

 

“What I wouldn’t give to see his face as you walked in with that Goliath of a feline,” Tim laughed heartily, shaking the two of them with the force of it. “I mean really, why would you feel the need to do that? Just to rub it in his face?”

 

“No! I just wanted him to meet her so he wouldn’t call animal services, thinking she’s a stray.” They continued to stare at him. “It makes sense!”

 

“Really, Jon? How many cats do you think are running around the institute?” Sasha teased, scratching behind the Duchess’s ear. Traitor.

 

“You know, Elias said the exact same thing,” Jon replied, knowing it didn’t help his case but would instead just piss her off. Nobody liked to be compared to that man these days.

 

“Take that back, Jon!”

 

“I refuse.” He stood up, disentangling himself from Tim’s arm and walking over to the Duchess, now finished with her meal. He picked her up, ignoring his protesting arms and Sasha’s noise of displeasure, and turned to face them. “Now, I’ve got a statement that needs recording. The Popham case-”

 

“Oh, the cave-diving one Elias gave you?” Martin’s face scrunched in displeasure. “Er, do you mind if I um, don’t work on that one? I’m a bit claustrophobic.”

 

Normally, Jon would have scoffed at this, but he was beginning to understand that Martin was willing to do a lot for the job. If he was admitting to being uncomfortable, he was most likely not exaggerating. “That’s fine. You can finish up your notes on the Rentoul case. Sasha, am I right in thinking you’d like to follow up on your Fairchild lead?” She nodded. “Tim, you can help her with that until I have a better idea of what I’d like from you on this statement. I’ll be in my office if anyone needs me.”

 

“Er, boss,” Tim began, looking concerned. “Are you sure you want to record it alone? You remember what happened last time-”

 

“I won’t be alone,” he replied, lifting the Duchess up higher. “And I’d- well, I’d at least like to try. I’ll...I’ll call if I need you, though.” He was willing to make that concession, if only for their peace of mind. And maybe mine. 

 

“Alright. Just yell if you need us. We’ll be right out here.”

 

Jon allowed himself a small smile. “I know.”

 




“Yes, I know you don’t like statements, but this is my job.” Jon muttered in response to the Duchess’s grumbling, bending down to whisper in her ear. “Between you and me, I don’t like them very much either. Though they are fascinating, when they aren’t clearly false.”

 

He was settling in, just about ready to press play on his recorder (his laptop had failed to capture it, again) when the computer pinged with a new email. Need to mute that. Unfortunately, it was one he could not ignore- Elias had sent him a short email with a few attachments.

 

Jon- I took the liberty of contacting the Yorkshire Dales Cave Rescue Organization for further details on Ms. Popham’s case, seeing as how you and your assistants were preoccupied over the past several days. Please include it in your follow-up research. -E.B.

 

It looked like Tim wouldn’t have to charm any assistants or park rangers this time. He’ll be a bit put out. Still, the idea that the Head of the Institute was now consumed with helping ‘un-curse’ him, as it were, and also doing his job for him did nothing to assuage the guilt building in his chest. He continued to be nothing but a burden in his first few months as Head Archivist. Elias must be regretting his choice. How embarrassing.

 

He was interrupted from his spiral of self-hatred by the Duchess, who was currently butting her head against his chin. “You’re right,” he said, as if she’d spoken aloud. “Best thing to do now is get to work.” He cleared his throat and pressed ‘record,’ reading from the paper in front of him.

 

“Statement of Laura Popham, regarding her experience exploring the Three Counties System of caves with her sister Alena Sanderson. Original statement given November the 9th, 2014. Audio recording by Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, London. Statement begins.”

 

Jon didn’t really understand the idea of caving. He’d never been an outdoorsman, and the idea of putting himself in danger like that seemed antithetical to basic survival instincts. Still, with the way Laura described it, Jon was beginning to see the appeal of it. Perhaps it was just his newfound need for comfort and pressure that was clouding his judgment, but he still felt a little less dread than he usually did in regards to these statements. The ones that won’t record to his laptop.

 

Laura talked about her sister, how she shared her passion to try to cheer her up after she lost her job and house. The bond of siblings- just another thing Jon never experienced, never understood in his own lonely childhood in Bournemouth. He wondered how different his life would be if he had a brother or sister. If they’d even like him. They would have to, right? Then again, his grandmother had never shown the unconditional love that people talked of. Perhaps he just wasn’t destined for that sort of thing. 

 

But then the statement soured. As they all do. They delved further into the cave, Laura talked of Alena’s prank, of entombment, and Jon’s chest began to tighten. An awful thing, to be utterly alone and lost underground. To lose your companion and realize you were the reason for their suffering, you brought them down there. 

 

To never see them again.

 

Jon didn’t realize he was shaking until the Duchess rubbed her head against his chest, as if to soothe him. “St-Statement Ends.” He slammed the button down with too much force and the whirring of the tape recorder came to a stop. He wanted to end it there, take a break, maybe talk to the others, but his eye was continually drawn to the email in his inbox, the supposed video files of Ms. Popham’s encounter. His arms almost moved of their own accord, opening the file and watching the mundane footage of Laura and her sister climbing, nothing sinister. He skipped ahead, opening and closing different videos until he finally came to the last one- completely dark with no actual footage, just audio. 

 

He turned up the volume, leaning closer to the speaker. The sound of water flooded his ears, and the voice of Laura Popham could be heard, panicked and shaky.

 

“Take her, not me. Take her, not me.”

 

The video was two hours and forty three minutes long. Jon listened to a good thirty minutes of it, skipping ahead to discover the audio remained consistent throughout. 

 

The drip of water and Laura Popham’s voice.

 

“Take her, not me. Take her, not me.”

 

Suddenly, he was back there. Twenty years ago, watching that smarmy childhood bully of his wandering through that door that was meant for Jon and never coming back. And Jon had just stood there and let it happen. So frightened, but so relieved that he was the one left standing. 

 

That it took him, and not me.

 

He slammed the laptop shut, ignoring the indignant sounds of the Duchess as she jumped from his lap. “Sasha?” he called, his voice tremulous. She would know what to do. She understood these things. “Sasha, could you- could you come here for a moment?” The sound of footsteps moving quickly down the hallway somewhat calmed his racing heart. 

 

“Jon, is everything-?” Sasha turned the corner, her face blanching at the sight of him. “Oh, dear. Are you alright?” She took him by the shoulder, hands gentle but still firm as she led him over to the small couch in his office. “You’re really pale- why don’t you lay down for a second?” He laid his head in her lap, the move almost automatic in it’s ease. He instantly felt better at the contact, particularly with the way Sasha was moving her fingers through his hair. Still, he couldn’t shake Laura’s voice from his head. “Was it the statement?”

 

“Yes,” he murmured, unable to make his voice any louder. His throat tightened, and the next words came out strained. “But- but also no? I-I was thinking, and I just, I couldn’t-”

 

“Breathe, Jon,” She put a hand on his chest as he closed his eyes, attempting to mirror her breathing. “You don’t have to talk just yet. Give it a moment.”

 

He did. He gave it several moments. Once his heart rate returned to normal and he could open his mouth without gasping for air, he began to speak.

 

“You- you know I-I do believe some of these...these stories, actually. I know I always dismiss them in my follow-up, but the ones that-”

“That won’t record on the laptop?” Sasha softly interjected, looking down at him with sympathetic eyes. “Jon, you don’t have to explain anything to me, not if you don’t want to. We work at the Magnus Institute. We all have our reasons.” She gave him a small smile. “I may have worked in Artefact Storage, but I’m still a skeptic at heart with most things. Cursed blankets notwithstanding.”

 

He chuckled, but quickly sobered. “It’s n-not just that, though. When I was younger, there- there was this book, this-”

 

“Leitner?”

 

“...Yes. Yes, it was.”

 

“Oh, Jon.”

 

And he told her. Told her everything- even the bits about his childhood he’d never shared, things he’d never said aloud even to Georgie in his most vulnerable moments. And Sasha listened, Sasha believed him. Towards the end, when his voice stuttered out and he got to those impossibly long black legs creeping through the doorway, she pulled him close to her chest and hung on tightly. It gave him the tiny bit of strength he needed to finish his tale as his voice petered out into silence. 

 

“I’m sorry that happened to you, Jon. You didn’t deserve that.”

 

Jon let out a hollow laugh, buried as he was in her arms. “Deserve? Nothing happened to me. It was that boy- that child that I got killed and I did nothing-”

 

She pulled him back, forcing Jon to look in her eyes. “Jon, you were eight. What were you supposed to do? It’s not your fault that he took the book out of your hands.”

 

“Isn’t it, though?” He could feel his anxiety mounting, what didn’t she understand? “If I hadn’t been so stupid, if I hadn’t needed to be entertained every moment, this wouldn’t have happened-”

 

“It would have happened to someone else instead,” she said firmly. “And you know that. Tell me- if this happened to any of us, if say, Martin had gotten that book instead of you, would you blame him for what happened to that kid? You wouldn’t, would you?”

 

“That’s- that’s different-”

 

“It really isn’t, Jon,” she sighed, rubbing a hand down his back. “You’ve got to stop blaming yourself for things outside your control. There’s terrible things out there, and they’re the real enemy. We’ve just got the bad luck to encounter them.”

 

“I’ll say,” he snorted, desperately trying to believe her words. “The most rotten luck of all.” They remained quiet for a few moments, Sasha again running her fingers through his hair, putting it in further disarray. It felt nice.

 

“That does explain a bit, though. The whole...spider thing you’ve got. Completely justifiable.”

 

“Right?” he allowed himself a smile. “And they’re all over the basement now. Thank God the Duchess seems to hate them as much as I do.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that- must be a nest or something.” She paused, her face going pensive. “Are you going to tell the others about this? I think they would like to know. Or I could tell them, if you don’t want to repeat all of that.” Suddenly, the sound of a tape recorder clicking off could be heard. Huh. I could have sworn I turned that off. “Or, you could just give them that. Lord knows it would get Martin off your back whenever you try to kill one.”

 

“God, if I have to hear that lecture one more time-”

 

Sasha laughed. “Don’t worry, Jon. I’ll kill all the spiders the Duchess doesn’t catch. I don’t mind.” 

 

“How very kind of you,” he replied, only half joking. “I’m- I’m not sure I want to tell them just yet. I will, but maybe-”

 

“Not now. I understand.” Her eyes suddenly focused on the top of his head, her fingers grabbing at something and flicking it onto the floor with a smirk she tried to hide. 

 

Jon’s eyes narrowed. “Sasha, what was that?”

 

“That? Oh- nothing, it’s nothing-”

 

“Sasha.”

 

“Just a bit of egg, really-”

 

“Tim!”

 


 

Later, Jon woke up to a dark room and clock that told him it was still the middle of the night. That’s not supposed to happen. Ever since he’d used the blanket, every night had been a blissful, undisturbed ten hours, an absolute luxury. What changed? He blinked a few times before realizing the source of his awakening was a strange, vibrating feeling at his feet.

 

Two glowing green eyes greeted him in the darkness.

 

“Duchess!”  He shrieked, snatching her up from the bottom of the cot where she’d been happily purring and taking her into his arms. How did she get out?  “Oh no, oh god-”

 

He heard the groans of his assistants startling awake, likely due to his carrying on. Tim flipped the light switch on, eyes squinting at the sudden assault of light on his eyes. “What’s wrong- oh fuck.” 

 

“Did you let her out?” Jon gave his assistants a Level Ten glare, his worst one yet. “Who let her out?”

 

“None of us did, I swear!” Sasha said, stumbling closer to the bed but carefully avoiding the blanket. “She must have gotten out somehow. Is she okay?”

 

“Well she was sleeping on the blanket so obviously not, Sasha!” He squished her closer to his chest, ignoring her ‘mrpps’ of displeasure. I can’t believe I got a cat only to spread this godforsaken curse to her. Was he going to cry? Perhaps. It was the Duchess, after all. If anything happened to her-

 

“Hey, that could work out, right?” Tim joked weakly, running a hand through his hair and stifling a yawn. “Then she’ll need company just as much as you.”

 

“That’s not funny Tim!” he screeched hysterically, previously unaware his voice could reach that pitch. This proved to be the last straw for the Duchess, who hissed and smacked a paw at his chin, loosening his hold as he yelped in pain. She flew from his arms, puffed up and irritated as she retreated to the furthest corner of the room and curled up near a box. They watched in utter silence as she sat there, perfectly content to be sans company. Jon blinked.

 

“Huh,” Tim said, resting against the wall. “That’s something.”

 

“Huh indeed,” Sasha said, squatting down by the Duchess. She put out a hand, inviting her to sniff it but the cat turned away, curling further into the corner.

 

“She’s...she’s fine,” Jon stuttered, both relieved and confused. Perhaps it didn’t work on cats? Maybe the Duchess is just special, he mused. She truly was magnificent. 

 

“Maybe it only works on one person at a time?” Martin wondered, his hand hovering near the corner of Jon’s bed.

 

“Don’t you dare touch that, Martin K. Blackwood!” Sasha slapped his hand away, while Jon pondered her reasoning for placing so much emphasis on the ‘k’. Wonder what that stands for?

 

“Well, at least we know someone’s immune. Guess we don’t have to keep her locked up at night anymore!”

 

Jon didn’t mind that one bit.

 

Chapter Text

 

Jon woke up that morning with the Duchess purring away on his chest, her eyes closed in contentment. He ignored Sasha’s surreptitious attempt at taking a picture. The Duchess was rather photogenic. He wasn’t able to shake the instinctive panic that struck whenever he saw her touching the blanket, but she hadn’t shown any signs of its affects. He hoped it stayed that way.

 

They managed to shower, eat and get ready by about nine thirty, much later than Jon preferred. It was hard to get the motivation to work with a cat on your lap, actual breakfast in your stomach, and whatever residual sluggishness came from the blanket. Perhaps he was getting too used to the situation; he should be more involved with the research Sasha was doing, should be checking in and pushing Elias on his contacts. But he was starting to get...comfortable. The situation wasn’t ideal, of course. Nobody could mistake that. But he was getting used to the company and now that he was afforded a bit of alone time by means of the Duchess, his situation wasn’t half-bad. Why could he never achieve any sort of work-life balance? As soon as he got some semblance of a social life, his work immediately suffered, so much so that Elias had to intervene and provide background on a statement. 

 

Sasha, as if reading his thoughts, began to speak. “You do know you’ve done a lot these past few days, right?” She spoke with the utmost authority, though Jon was disinclined to agree with her words. “Seriously. You’ve recorded what, four statements? Including a live one? That’s insane.”

 

Jon shrugged- he hadn’t realized how many he did. Still. “Three. I’ve got to get the Rentoul one on tape, now that our research is mostly done; right, Martin?”

 

“All ready to go!” Martin waved a few papers in his hand from across the room. “If you’ve got another one on deck, I can begin the work up on that as well.”

 

“See?” Sasha nodded emphatically. “You’re on track! Just because you’ve had some fun, had some time off, doesn’t mean the work you’ve done is any less. You’re allowed a break, you know.”

 

“Yes, yes. That’s...fine.” He waved her off, not willing to get into a conversation on how ‘well’ he was doing, considering the state of the archives. “I’ll get back to you, Martin. I’m sure there’s something somewhere. Sasha, did you need any help on the, uh-”

 

“Fairchild front?” She sighed, slumping down in her seat. Guess it’s not going too well. “I’m being stonewalled right now. Rich families are like that, very secretive. Still, I’m waiting on a phone call or two. Might reach out to Sonya as well.” She turned to face him, eyes sincere. “I’m not giving up on this, don’t worry. Just might take a bit of time. I know how important this is.”

 

Jon shook his head. “Of course. I’ve never doubted you.” God, the sentiment in that statement was all together too much. He flushed and didn’t meet her eyes.

 

“Aww!” Tim cooed from the corner, where he was trying and failing to get the Duchess’s attention. “How sweet. Anyway, I’m going to try and contact Laura Popham today, see if she’s willing to talk. Maybe get in touch with the CNCC, see if the double-boss got everything. Don’t like him taking over my job, gotta be honest.” He scowled, and Jon couldn’t help but agree.

 

“While I’m waiting for the others to get back to me, I’ll go over the path Laura and her sister took, see where I can get with that.” Sasha turned to her computer, already beginning to type. Martin handed the Rentoul file over to Jon. 

 

“For your recording. Just let me know what you need me to do, yeah?” He smiled, and Jon smiled back.

 

They really were turning into quite the team.

 




Jon stared at the file on his desk.

 

Coincidence, probably. Just his bad luck rearing its head again. The Duchess purred away on his lap, utterly unaware of his distress.

 

Carlos Vittery. Spiders.

 

It should be the next statement. Jon instinctively knew, just from a look, that it wouldn’t be recording on the laptop. He could ignore it for a bit; he’d done plenty of statements in the past week, Sasha was right. But for some reason this one was begging to be read, to be investigated. It had to be next.

 

That didn’t mean he had to like it. 

 

He was interrupted from his musings by a knock on the door- Martin with his morning round of tea. “Sorry, hope I’m not interrupting anything. Hello there!” He gave a smile to the Duchess as he placed the mug on Jon’s desk; she didn’t respond, too distracted by the scratches Jon was currently giving her. “Oh- is that the next case? I’ll get started-”

 

“No!” Jon slammed a hand down on the papers before Martin could grab them and he flinched back. “I mean-sorry, that’s not-” He sighed, wondering how to word his concern. ‘Ghost spiders are real’ wouldn’t make much sense, coming from him. Not unless he told them what he’d confessed to Sasha yesterday. Guess you’ll have to bite the bullet and do it now, Sims. “C-Could you get Tim in here, please? I have something to tell you. The both of you.” Martin nodded, his face the picture of concern as he hurried out to Tim’s desk. Jon took a deep breath, hugging the Duchess close to his chest. 

 

It’s now or never.

 




“Shit.”

 

Jon was squished between Martin and Tim on his too-small office couch, shaking and exhausted. It wasn’t any easier to explain the second time around. You’d think he’d be getting used to this. Tim continued. “I mean, explains the whole spider thing. Christ, I’m sorry, boss. That’s...that’s really fucked up.”

 

Jon let out a weak chuckle. “I suppose that’s one way of putting it, yes.” He turned to Martin, unsure of his reaction. He’d been staring at the ground like it was going to spring up and swallow him whole. “Martin, I-”

 

Suddenly he found two strong arms wrapping around his body and pulling him close. Jon was a bit taken aback; Martin hadn’t really initiated any strong contact like that as of yet, he was more reactive, going along with Jon’s moods and occasionally lending an arm. But this- this felt nice. Like he could hide in Martin’s arms and the world would go away for a bit. He nestled in closer, willing to take whatever the man would give. Martin reacted by squeezing him and burying his face into Jon’s curls. “M’sorry, Jon. You shouldn’t have had to see that.”

 

“Sasha said the same thing,” he mumbled into Martin’s chest, closing his eyes. He was so warm. “I guess it has to be true, then.”

 

“Sasha knows?” Tim said, running a hand through his hair. He’d been particularly agitated by Jon’s story, his knee jumping up and down. “When did you-”

 

“It was only yesterday,” Jon turned to face him, though he didn’t let go of Martin. Couldn’t, really. “The cave statement- it, er, stirred up similar emotions. I don’t know, it just came out. I’m sorry, I was going to tell you, I was just exhausted and-”

 

“Well, you’ve told us now, and that’s fine,” Martin shot Tim a look, as if daring him to disagree. It was strangely protective, though Jon couldn’t parse why. “So the Vittery statement, it’s about-”

 

“Spiders, yes,” Jon pulled away, if only to face him. “So you’ll understand if I’m a bit hesitant to get started. At least, not until we have a plan. I don’t...I don’t want to put you in any undue danger. It’s not worth it.”

 

“Poor Martin, can’t trust his spider friends anymore!” Tim joked, attempting to lighten the mood. Martin rolled his eyes, letting out a rather aggrieved sigh.

 

“Oh fuck the spiders, Tim!” Martin’s voice went up about half an octave, causing Jon and Tim to snicker. Still, the sentiment was very much appreciated by Jon. Martin turned back to him, the intensity of his gaze taking Jon off guard. “Do you want to take a break? We can have an early lunch, if you’d like.”

 

“No, it’s fine,” Jon said and to his surprise, he meant it. He felt oddly light now that he had that off his chest. He’d been dreading the talk and their reaction. Though it seemed silly now- why wouldn’t they believe him? They were...friends, now. “I’d like to get the Rentoul statement recorded. But maybe...maybe you two could stay?” He looked up at Tim, eyes wide and hopeful- he’d always been a sucker for Jon’s eyes. 

 

“Not a problem, boss!” He threw an arm around Jon’s shoulder, drawing him close to his side. “It’s an honor just to be here.”

 

“Tim has nothing better to do, Laura’s ignoring all his calls,” Martin teased, grabbing the statement and recorder off of Jon’s desk and settling into his other side.

 

“Oi, that’s enough from you!” Tim sniped. “I’ll have you know-oof!” He stopped, gazing down at his lap in wonder. The Duchess had jumped into it, curling up into a ball with an imperious noise of contentment. The three of them stared.

 

Jon smiled. “Well, now you have to stay.”

 


 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

 

No returned calls. A completely nonsensical cave diving route. Radio silence from every one of her contacts. Except for Sonya, though she only called to inform her of the same. And to ask for more pictures, if she had any. Sasha sighed.

 

Time to bug Elias again.

 

She picked up the phone, dialing Rosie’s extension. They were on good terms, often chatting in the upstairs break room and occasionally going for coffee together. If anyone could finagle a meeting with him, it was her.

 

“Sorry, love. He’s got the afternoon blocked off for a meeting. Very urgent business, I’m afraid.”

 

Sasha sighed. She expected something like this. Hopefully, the meeting involved something that would actually help them, and not scheduling or some other such nonsense. “It’s alright, Rosie. I’ll catch him later.”

 

“Oh! I um, heard about your Archivist problem.” Damn it Sonya! She was supposed to keep this under wraps. Still, Rosie was nothing if not persistent. And she wouldn’t tell anyone else. Hopefully. “Maybe if you send a picture or two, I could move a few things around at the end of the day-”

 

“Only for you, Rosie,” Sasha gave a long-suffering sigh and opened up her phone, firing off a group text to the two women with the morning’s photos. She hoped Jon wouldn’t be too upset about being used as a bargaining tool. It was for his benefit, after all. A squeal alerted her that her message had been received.

 

“My God-”

 

“I know, I know.”

 

“I didn’t think it was possible for Jonathan Sims to be adorable, but here we are-”

 

“You’d be surprised.”

 

She managed to get her off the phone after about five more minutes of chatting, and a promise to move around Elias’s schedule when possible. God, she needed a break- the clock informed her it was two in the afternoon, and she was fairly certain none of them had eaten lunch. She got up from her seat and peered into Jon’s office to find the four of them (including the Duchess) curled up on the couch, fast asleep. The tape recorder sat in Jon’s lap, emitting a static-y sound that let her know it was still on. She snapped a photo (for posterity and currency) and made her way over, turning the recorder off. The motion was enough to startle Jon awake, and the two others soon blinked sleepily up at her. Sasha smiled.

 

“I think we deserve a nice lunch, yeah?”

 


 

God, what right does Jon have to look like that?

 

Martin was in trouble. Again.

 

They’d managed to drag Jon away from the Duchess, after several goodbye pets and false starts. He eventually leaned down to her level, explaining very seriously that she had to stay in the Archives and not cause any problems. Jon had a habit of talking to her like she was human, and she had a habit of nodding back as if she understood. It was both cute and disconcerting.

 

But now, only one pint in and he was lazing against Tim’s shoulder, blinking slowly at the food in front of them. The lighting was dim but Martin could make out the flush in his cheeks, the alcohol already coursing through his system. Of course he’s a lightweight. And I’m very, very gay.

 

Sasha had gone up to get them another round as well as an appetizer. Jon had brought his appetite, almost halving the plate of nachos by himself. Martin made a mental note of that, though nachos weren’t exactly easy to make or transport to the Archives. Not like he’d ever have the chance to. Or would he?

 

The alcohol also loosened Jon’s lips- he’d already spilled some one-off comments about his college days, and even inferred that he might have been in a band if Martin heard correctly. Tim was currently trying to hound him for more information, but Jon was being contrary (just like normal Jon, only dialed up to ten and much cuter).

 

“No, Tim, we’re past that. I-I’” he hiccupped, pausing briefly to let it pass. “I have someone to show you.” He fumbled with his phone. “Someone I miss. My dear Admiral.” He scrolled endlessly until he came upon what he wanted with a joyful “Aha!”

 

“Look- look at him! So distinguished.” Distinguished wasn’t the word Martin would use. It was a picture of a large orange tabby, rolling around on the ground. “The Admiral.” Martin was relieved that this was a cat, and not an actual Admiral. He’d had visions floating in his head of a dashing sailor sweeping Jon off his feet. Ridiculous. 

 

Tim took the phone out of his hands, peering closer. “Jeez, boss. You sure have a knack for names.” Jon smiled proudly, the sarcasm going completely over his head in his inebriated state.

 

“Yes, I’m well aware,” he started, but his face went sad as Sasha returned, this time with a plate of mozzarella sticks, promising to go back for the drinks. “But he’s not mine anymore. My- my ex got him when we broke up. I’m devastated.” He did, in fact, look truly devastated. “But perhaps I can send her a pic of the Duchess- and maybe they can meet! And maybe we can be friends again.” He looked back at Martin, his eyes big and hopeful. “We can be friends again, right?”

 

“Of course!” he replied sincerely, patting Jon’s hand. Though maybe not too close. The thought of Jon re-kindling his romance with an ex sent a spark of jealousy up his spine. Stop that. He’s not your boyfriend.

 

Yet, a traitorous part of his mind whispered. No, hush.

 

“Here we are!” Sasha crowed, splashing beer all over the table as she set down her burden. Tim and Jon cheered, and Martin found himself doing the same. It was nice to take a long lunch; he’d never felt like he had the luxury to do so, but he wasn’t particularly worried about Elias right now. Sasha seemed to have it well in hand, anyway.

 

Not like anything major would develop if they took a few hours for themselves.

 


 

“I hear you’ve been careless with our gift, Mr. Bouchard.”

 

Annabelle Cane smiled, seemingly delighted with the situation. She currently sat in the chair in front of his desk, legs thrown carelessly over the side. Her dark black eyes were sparkling with mischief. “Very careless indeed.”

 

God, how Elias hated the Web.

 

“This wasn’t precisely part of the plan, Miss Cane,” he said as diplomatically as possible. Always had to be careful with spiders. “You could say-”

 

“You’ve ruined a perfectly good Archivist, is what you’ve done.” She tapped her long nails (almost talons, really) against his desk, the sound grating on his every nerve. “Though, what’s to say this wasn’t part of the Mother’s plan? She works in mysterious ways.”

 

Elias rolled his eyes. “As do all of our patrons. This is just a minor setback, of course. But if you’d be willing to intervene-”

 

“Might need to see the situation for myself. Evaluate.” She jumped up from her seat, moseying around the room as if window shopping. “Sent a few spiders down already, but the Archives’ most recent acquisition is making it rather hard for me, I must say.” She smiled with far too many teeth. “Perhaps I’ll have to speak to Mr. Sims myself? Seems he’s dying for company these days.”

 

“The Mother’s usually much more subtle,” Elias sighed, leaning back in his seat. Spiders always made things so muddled, so hard to see. It was infuriating. “I must say I’m a bit disappointed.” He couldn’t have her meeting his Archivist, not so soon. Not with him like... this.

 

Annabelle pouted. “And here I was going to give you another gift, help you sort all of this out.” He froze, narrowing his eyes. Gifts from the Web were few and far between. This wasn’t something to be taken lightly.

 

“But maybe I’ll just grab a drink instead.” She turned on the spot, briskly making her way to the door and pulling it open. Alarmed, he rose to stop her when she froze in the doorway, a little noise of disgust escaping her throat.

 

“My my, Mr. Bouchard. Looks like you have more than one mess to clean up.” She gave him one last smile, stepping around something on the floor. Oh, for God’s sake.

 

He was going to have a word with Jon about that goddamn cat.

 

Chapter Text

 

Jon felt warm.

 

It was nice, being out with friends. Having a drink. He hadn’t done this in quite some time; it had been months since his last outing, and that was in Research. Jon wasn’t a party animal by any means, but he enjoyed the occasional drink or two with Tim and Sasha.  And now, with Martin.

 

Though he’d already had more than a drink or two. And was now stumbling up to the bar to get another round while the other three were in the middle of some intense debate about a TV show Jon had no interest in watching. The bar was dimly lit, warm and crowded, yet he fought back a shiver as he leaned against the counter. His hazy mind couldn’t make sense of it- how could he be warm and cold at the same time? It didn’t make any sense-

 

He was alone.

 

Surrounded by people casually brushing past, yes. But he had no anchor, no familiar weight at his side. He’d just stumbled off, drunk and stupid and the other three hadn’t even noticed, too wrapped up in their argument. He was alone.

 

Would they ever notice? Should he go back? Did they want him back? Maybe they would just up and leave, too distracted to notice he was at the bar. Or maybe they did know he left, and liked it that way. He shivered again, the room seeming impossibly empty and cold and wrong-

 

“Sorry, sweetheart. Didn’t see you there.”

 

A weight bumped into his side and stayed there. It was a woman, an impossibly beautiful one at that- tall and thin, with smooth, dark skin and bleach-blond hair. Her eyes were almost black, and they reminded him of something he couldn’t quite place. 

 

“You really are small, aren’t you? Even the old woman looked more solid than you.”

 

What was she saying? She was smiling, and perhaps it would have been friendly if her teeth didn’t seem so...sharp. Jon wanted to move, wanted to run back to the table but he couldn’t, he was rooted in place, staring at her hands as they twitched and gestured elegantly to the bartender. The action looked so familiar, who was she? Her presence wasn’t comforting, not like that of his friends, but he wanted to stay close, wanted to talk to her and ask her questions and do whatever she liked-

 

“...poison?”

 

Jon startled, his gaze flicking back to her smiling face. “I-I’m sorry, what?”

 

“What’s your poison?” she repeated, fingers tapping against the counter. The noise they made was incredibly distracting, why couldn’t he concentrate? 

 

“I, um-”

 

“It’s alright, I’ll order for you.” Two shots summarily appeared before them, filled with a murky, dark liquid. Jon didn’t like shots; he’d had enough unpleasant experiences with them in uni. But his hand automatically reached for the drink and brought it to his lips, all the while his eyes never left hers. It burned pleasantly on the way down; it must have been expensive. Jon was never a good judge of these things, but it certainly wasn’t the swill he was expecting. His tongue darted out to taste the remaining liquor on his lips and the woman laughed. He didn’t know what there was to laugh about. 

 

“You’re wonderfully suggestible. Not surprised you’re in trouble.” Jon started to shake; something felt very, very wrong.

 

“I-I don’t understand-”

 

“You wouldn’t, would you?” She tilted her head in consideration and put a hand to his shoulder in a mocking sort of comfort. “Poor thing.”

 

She was just so tall. His head swam, and the dim lights must have been playing tricks on his eyes because suddenly there was so much of her, arms and legs impossibly long. He rubbed at his eyes, trying desperately to clear them when the woman leaned down, her breath tickling his neck as she whispered in his ear.

 

“Tell you what,” Her voice was playful, so amused. “I’ll help you out. But you’ll owe us a favor, to be called upon at a later date. Sound alright to you?” He nodded. It sounded reasonable, even if he didn’t know what the hell she was on about. He dimly registered a hand at his side, the tiniest of motions.

 

"Who am I kidding? You won't even remember this." She drew back and one long, slender finger went under his chin, tilting his head up. 

 

"But I will."

 

And as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone. The bar lost its dream-like haziness and he was alone again, taking in deep, gasping breaths.

 

“Jon! You can’t wander off like that.” Sasha was at his side, pulling him close. This felt warm, real and comforting. Nothing at all like...like…

 

“Sorry we were so distracted. You know how Tim gets.” She looked down at the empty counter space in front of him, frowning. “You didn’t even get any drinks. Are you alright?”

 

Was he? The shaking had sort of subsided, but the confusion remained. “Y-Yes, I think so.”

 

“Who was that woman? Was she bothering you?” 

 

Jon frowned, attempting to parse through his muddled thoughts. “Who?” 

 

Sasha barked out a laugh. “Guess she wasn’t your type, then.”

 

He smiled back, albeit weakly. “Guess so.”

 


 

Jon felt a bit better once they managed to start walking back to the Institute some time later. After the fifth round, Sasha had finally checked the clock and realized they’d been out for hours, just barely skirting the end of the day. The sky was beginning to darken, and they’d wasted an entire afternoon.

 

Jon found he didn’t really mind. This was probably due to the alcohol, of course. Ordinarily Jon would be having a panic attack and vowing to work through the night. But in all honesty, he was completely exhausted. He’d already recorded a statement today- that had to count for something, right? Though he was sure that his constant company rather hindered the research process for his assistants, especially with Sasha focusing on his own situation.

 

And then there was the Vittery statement. Just the thought of it sitting on his desk and waiting to be read filled him with anxiety. The familiar itch of imagined, skittering legs wasn’t helping, and an involuntary chill shot through his spine. Martin must have noticed for he drew Jon closer, frowning down at him.

 

“Cold?” he asked softly. He shouldn’t be; there was only a slight chill in the air, and his jacket was heavy enough. “Should get you a scarf for next time.”

 

Next time. He liked the thought of that. Jon only nodded, moving closer to Martin’s warmth. The institute loomed before them and despite it’s austere front, he’d begun to think of the place as home, in some twisted way. It was where his friends were. Where the Duchess was. Where his stupid, cursed blanket was tucked away. 

 

And the familiar guilt crept in, despite the warm haze of alcohol. His assistants wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. They were giving up so much to keep him happy. Jon would have to repay them in some way, when this was all over.

 

If it was ever over. No, don’t think like that. We’ll find the answers. We have to.

 

They wobbled down to the Archives, Tim pulling out his phone to order takeaway. “If I know us, and I know us, that bar food isn’t going to be enough,” he declared, punching in a number. “I’m ordering the usual, times two. Gotta soak up all that liquor.” They all made various noises of agreement and Jon detached himself from Martin, casting a glance about the room.

 

Where was the Duchess? 

 

Every time he left the room she was always at his heels or patiently waiting in the doorway, like a little sentinel. In the literal two days since he’d had her, he’d grown used to the greeting and the constant companionship. So for her to not be here, bounding out of Document Storage with a brisk meow, was very alarming. 

 

“Duchess?” he called, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. “Duchess, are you there?” He made his little ‘pspsp’ noises, the ones that Tim teased him about. And still she didn’t come. Martin made his way down the hallway, calling her name and Sasha took Jon’s arm as he started to shiver from the lack of contact.

 

“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s wandering around here somewhere-” She was interrupted by a loud meow from the top of the stairs and Jon immediately detached himself, running up the stairs leading back to the main hallway. 

 

And sure enough there she sat, looking as majestic as the day Jon saw her. He stumbled over and she made no protest as he gathered her in his arms, nuzzling his face into her fur. “Don’t scare me like that,” he chastised as she purred. “Where did you wander off to?”

 

“The same could be said for you, Archivist.”

 

Elias was standing just a few feet from Jon, looking none-too-pleased with his appearance. Jon flushed, very quickly realizing he was in front of his boss, disheveled and tipsy, holding a massive cat. The very picture of professionalism.

 

“We lost track of time,” Jon stuttered in a sad attempt at defending himself. Elias stared, unimpressed. “I-I recorded a statement, though! Lee Rentoul, Martin and I have been uh, recording- I mean, researching-”

 

“Are you drunk, Jon?” The words were uttered drily, and if possible Jon felt even more mortified. 

 

“O-Of course not!” he stumbled over the words, the final nail in the coffin.

 

“How convincing,” Elias looked down at him in disappointment, though it was tempered by something strange that Jon couldn’t name. “Tell me, did you happen upon a woman by the name of Annabelle Cane while you were out on your...little adventure?”

 

Worried. Elias looked worried. It was unnerving to see. Though whether he was worried for Jon was another matter. Annabelle Cane, he thought to himself. He didn’t remember bumping into anyone, he’d been with his assistants the entire time. Why would they separate, after all? “No? Not that I can recall. I didn’t talk to anyone else.” Elias’s stare didn’t let up. If anything, he looked more suspicious.

 

“Tall, black, blonde hair? She would be quite memorable, very striking. This is important, Jon.”

 

“I-I don’t think so, no.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Yes.” He was getting confused; he’d had more than a few drinks. “No. I-I don’t know.” He tried to look down at his feet, but the Duchess was in the way, purring contentedly. “I might be drunk.” The words came out more meekly than he liked. “Sorry.”

 

Elias let out a long-suffering sigh, looking heavenward as if praying for deliverance. “See to it this doesn’t happen again. And if you happen to see her, come to me straight away.” His voice was stern and left no room for argument. “Do you understand?”

 

Jon nodded, ignoring the bout of dizziness it brought on. “Yes. I’m-I’m sorry about all of this. It’s very unprofessional, and I won’t do it again.”

 

“You won’t.” It was more command than affirmation. “I’ll email you the same, in case you’re too... inebriated to remember this conversation.” He turned around crisply on his heel before pausing, sending Jon one last look. “And keep that cat in the Archives. I don’t want to see it wandering about again.” With that, he walked away.

 

Jon stared down at the Duchess with narrowed eyes. “What did you get up to now?” He got no answer save a head rubbing against his chin happily. “You’re quite the troublemaker.”

 

It would remain a mystery, at least until Rosie texted Sasha.

 




“Did you get lost up there, boss?” Tim teased, lounging in his chair in what had to be an uncomfortable position. “I see you’ve found Her Royal Highness. What’s she been up to?”

 

“The correct form of address would be ‘Your Grace,’ Tim,” Jon huffed as he sat in Sasha’s chair. “I won’t tolerate any disrespect leveled at the Duchess.”

 

“Actually, Tim could be right,” Sasha piped in from the break room, where she was rifling through the fridge. “If, for instance, the Duchess was a member of the Queen’s family-”

 

“The Duchess is her own entity,” Jon stated firmly, scratching her under the chin. “And that’s the end of it.”

 

“That’s the end of it,” Tim repeated in a poor imitation of Jon. Well, poor in Jon’s estimate. “Anyway, you didn’t answer me. Did the old girl lead you on a merry chase?”

 

Jon opened his mouth to respond and then paused. He’d...he’d run into Elias. And Elias told him something. He warned him. But about what? God, he really shouldn’t drink so much next time. How embarrassing. “Um, I think-” The cat. Yes, the cat. “He didn’t want the Duchess wandering around. Not sure what she got up to, but it couldn’t have been good.” The cat let out a little ‘mrap’ in response to her name and Jon looked down at her fondly. “He also knows we were drinking. I, er, might have told him.” 

 

“You’re ridiculous, Jon,” Tim laughed, propping his feet up on his desk. “Should’ve sent Martin up there, he can actually hold his liquor.”

 

“I can,” Martin agreed, walking into the room with two mugs of tea. “Next time he sees you, just call me up.” He set the cup down in front of Jon, looking at him sternly. “Drink all of that.”

 

“I will,” he grumbled, leaning awkwardly around the Duchess to grab the mug. “And I’m not planning on being drunk in front of Elias again, so I think I’ll be fine.

 

“Drunk or not, you can still call for us,” Sasha said, perching on the edge of your desk. “We’re always within hearing range.”

 

“Can you imagine?” Tim cackled, almost spilling his tea with the force of it. “Elias coming down the hallway, Jon screaming bloody murder. ‘Sasha! Sasha!’”

 

Jon scowled. “I don’t need to be babysat-”

 

“Could get him a little whistle, really-”

 

“Martin!” Jon looked aghast. “Not you too!”

 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He didn’t look very sorry. “When’s the food supposed to get here, Tim?”

 

“Bout thirty or so minutes?” Tim’s smile turned roguish. “Reckon it’s just enough time to watch the new Ghost Hunt U.K-”

 

“Under absolutely no circumstances will I watch that drivel-”

 

“-the most scientific, purely evidenced-based program I’ve ever seen-”

 

“Shut it, both of you,” Sasha commanded, looking intently at her phone. “I just got an email from Sonya. Jon, can you pull it up?”

 

He grabbed at the mouse, clicking open her inbox to find said email. Sasha pushed his chair to the side with a little too much force, causing him to spin almost five feet away as she scrolled. He made a disgruntled noise, turning the chair around and pushing backwards to reclaim his spot. “What does it say?”

 

“Looks like one of her contacts heard whispers of a possible ‘cursed item of the blanket variety’ (her words, not mine) being transported on a ship called the Tundra?” She squinted at the screen as she continued to read. “It’s not very official, all she found was a short handwritten note. Something about a man picking it up at a dock, no other cargo involved. Nothing on the shipping manifests, at least.”

 

“Do we know who owns the ship?” Martin leaned over her shoulder, blocking most of Jon’s view.

 

“Solus Shipping PLC,” Sasha murmured, distracted. “Majority owned by...Nathaniel Lukas?”

 

“Hang on,” Jon pushed forward, nudging Martin out of the way to look for himself. “The same Lukases who donate to the Institute? Elias said they might be able to help with the case!” He looked at the three of them, hope growing in his chest. A lead! Their first real lead! “Should we tell him?”

 

“Absolutely not,” Sasha quickly replied. “He’s just going to go into the same spiel he gave me with the Fairchilds. ‘We wouldn’t want to unduly upset them, blah blah blah.’”

 

“Spot on impression, Sash!” Tim enthused. “Downright uncanny. Like being in the room with him.”

 

“I say we try and contact someone on the Tundra by ourselves, we’ve come this far already,” Sasha supplied. “Elias will only slow us down.”

 

“If you think that’s best,” Jon replied, a little reluctant. What if they did manage to upset the family, and his only chance at a solution was squandered? He squinted at the screen to re-read the information when he caught sight of the next email on the chain. “Hang on- what’s that?”

 

Sasha scrambled, hurriedly attempting to close the window while Jon fought for control of the mouse. “Nothing, it’s nothing-”

 

“Is that a picture of me?”

 

“...No?”

 

Chapter Text

 

“Pictures."

 

“I’m sorry! But they-”

 

“Of me.”

 

“Okay, I know I should have asked-”

 

“Circulating!”

 

“But really, it’s only a few-”

 

“Around the Institute!”

 

“In Sasha’s defense,” Tim chimed in. “You look very, very cute.”

 

“That’s not the point!” And with that, Jon exited the room with what he felt was the moral high ground. And also the Duchess. 

 

It was nice to have some time alone, after the cacophony of the afternoon. He still felt the leftover malaise of his drinking, though thinking back, he was sure he hadn’t had that much. Not enough to have these strange gaps in his memory and the phantom feeling of too-thin hands on his shoulder, at his waist. He shivered and the Duchess butted her head against his chin with a soft, inquisitive noise. “I’m alright,” he murmured, as if she would understand the words. “Just a bit foggy, is all.”

 

Perhaps it was a side effect of the blanket, this heavy, forgetful feeling. Maybe the Duchess wasn’t enough to stave these feelings off, but it felt...different, somehow. Like a separate, alien notion that he couldn’t quite place. Another thing to add to the list, but he’d keep this one to himself. No need to trouble the others.

 

He couldn’t help the small pang of betrayal he felt when he saw that photo of him, curled up in the cot with the Duchess on his lap. He understood Sasha’s reasoning and was thankful for Sonya’s help with the mess he made, but it just added to his loss of control. Who else in the Institute knew about this? He didn’t like this constant feeling of being seen, and now he was being seen by people he didn’t know or trust. Jon had always been an intensely private person, too burned by the rejection of others and relying on the carefully-built academic façade he’d put on for the past five or so years. It made him feel safe, protected. This sudden dismantling of every wall he’d ever had was hard enough with his assistants, but now...now it felt like everyone was in on it, and it was another unnecessary and unwanted touch in a wholly different way.

 

It had taken a little over a week to completely upend his life. This Archivist business was more trouble than it was worth.

 

He sighed, reaching across his desk to grab at the first visible file. Vittery, it read. He froze, the file shaking in his grasp. Despite finally getting the burden of his childhood trauma off his chest, he felt even more terrified of the file than before. Later, I can deal with this later, he thought as he shoved it to the side, covering it up with several other stacks of files and a book or two. There were other statements that needed archiving, after all. He needed to sift through the garbage and get to the... tricky ones. That was his job. Elias was always more interested in those, anyway; whenever he visited the archive, he always asked for progress on the ‘difficult’ statements, the ones that wouldn’t record to the laptop. Best to tackle those first.

 

“Time to get to work,” he muttered, picking up the cat and making his way to the messiest corner of his office, where boxes were scattered all over the floor. He caught a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye; the Duchess must have, too, for she jumped out of his arms with a decisive meow and landed cleanly on a box, smashing at something with a surprisingly ferocious paw.

 

“Duchess!” he scolded, moving closer to inspect the damage. These were delicate boxes, after all, and the Duchess was not a small cat. “What have you…” On further inspection, Jon saw the tell-tale smear of thin black legs and a small shiver made its way down his spine. “Oh. Good girl. Very good.” He gave her a scratch under the chin, smiling at her contented purr. “Thank you.” She jumped down, winding her way between his feet

 

The box was nonsensically marked, as were most things in the Archive. What little he could make out was either ‘stale mints’ or hieroglyphics. Both were equally likely. He took off the lid, coughing a bit at the dust the movement disturbed. 

 

Inside were, unsurprisingly, at least fifty statements squashed together with little to no care about any damage this arrangement might cause. He pulled out a small stack with a grunt and plopped on the ground, ready to get comfortable and start sorting. 

 

The first five were easily dismissed. Jon found he didn’t even have to attempt to record to his laptop these days, he just seemed to... know  which ones needed to be recorded. They had a weight to them- not physical, no, but a sort of heaviness that immediately dampened his spirit and whispered in his ear this one, this one. 

 

It only took him a few moments to happen upon one of them.

 

Moira Kelly, on the disappearance of her son. He scanned the pages, stopping only when he saw the name Simon Fairchild. The Fairchilds, who might have had the blanket. This could help!  He thought with glee, immediately ready to dive in when he felt an inexplicable pull to keep looking through the box, telling him there was more to be discovered.

 

And there was. Several other weighty statements- he’d never found so many in one place. Something about a priest, a Leitner (he put that one aside for another time, he’d had enough talk of terrible books to last him a lifetime), a calliope. Just as he was about to reach in for more, a voice called out from behind his door.

 

“Boss! Food’s here. I’m comin’ in.” Jon didn’t bother to respond, Tim wasn’t going to listen if he asked him to go away. And he was rather hungry.

 

The smell of Chinese food preceded him, and Tim waved a bag of what Jon hoped to be lo-mein and at least one spring roll. “Got your favorites,” he said with a smile. “Figured you needed more time to cool off, but I can stay and eat here if you’d like some company.” Tim looked at him hopefully and Jon sighed, nodding and gesturing for him to sit down. He dropped the files he was holding and reached for the takeout box and chopsticks Tim offered. Lo-mein and a spring roll. Perfect.

 

“Find anything interesting?” Tim asked as he drew a chopstick across the floor, watching with amusement as the Duchess reared back and pounced on it, refusing to let it out of her mouth despite Tim’s insistent tugs. “You look pretty busy.”

 

“Found a few statements that might be of interest,” he replied after swallowing a mouthful of noodles. “One with the Fairchild family and some sort of skydiving company they owned-”

 

“Fairchild! That could help with your case, right?” Tim gave a wicked smile at Jon’s nod. “Maybe we should investigate, could be fun. I’ve always wanted to skydive.”

 

“No thank you,” Jon automatically replied with a roll of his eyes. He’d never been a fan of heights. “I’ll read it and pull any relevant information. You could get started on some of the others I’ve found.” He gestured to the pile on the ground. “The Edwin Burroughs’ case or the Denikin statement with the antique calliope-”

 

Jon balked as Tim suddenly choked, coughing and hacking his way around a mouthful of rice. He was about to start slapping him on the back when Tim got it under control, clearing his throat and knocking back water with a strangely intense look on his face. “Are you alright, Tim?” he ventured.

 

“Calliope?” Tim repeated, his voice urgent. “Denikin- I’ve...I’ve heard that name before.” He dropped his food and Jon set his own down, growing more concerned at the manic energy Tim suddenly displayed. “Where is it?”

 

“Um-” He fumbled around on the ground, his hands finally landing on the statement. “Here you go-” Tim ripped it out of his hands with surprising force, startling both him and the Duchess as he scanned the lines. He ran a hand through his hair, putting the black locks in further disarray. Jon had always known Tim had a passion for these things, rivaled only by his interest in architecture, but this seemed to be a bit more raw, almost unhinged. “Tim, is- is everything alright?” He laid a hesitant hand on his arm and Tim sagged against it, not unlike Jon had been doing the past couple of days. He seemed sapped of all energy, even small, somehow. Jon didn’t like that. Tim was tactile and generous with affection, even before all of this. Jon felt he owed him the same, now.

 

So he crawled forward, gently nudging himself into Tim’s space and practically onto his lap. He leaned into his chest, relaxing as Tim’s arms automatically wound around him and desperately squeezed as if Jon were bound to disappear.

 

Where Jon went, the Duchess followed. She let out a small noise of discontent at no longer being the center of attention, and nudged her way into both of their laps, pawing at Tim’s jumper. He laughed, a small, broken thing. Jon didn’t say a word, just leaning against him in silent comfort until Tim began to speak.

 

“I had a brother, you know. His name was Danny.”

 

Jon didn’t know much of Tim’s past. He knew of his work history, his escapades in college, small tidbits he let out over nights at the bar. But he wasn’t very open about his home life- none of them were. But to abruptly leave a promising editorial career to take an underpaid job at the Magnus Institute? Jon had always suspected there was a deeper motive. Perhaps this was his. Tim spoke his brother’s name in such reverential tones, but in the past tense. Danny was gone.

 

As Tim told him the horrific story his voice remained slow and measured despite the violence of the words and the rage behind them. The feeling of helplessness, to be powerless in the face of the unknowable- it was not unfamiliar to Jon. 

 

Smirke. Grimaldi. Danny in Tim’s living room, crying. The Clown, the skin. Jon felt himself shuddering along with Tim, even as he put a hand to his chest in an attempt at comfort. Tim’s breaths came in gasps as his story came to an end and crumbled to ash in his hand.

 

“I’m- I’m so sorry, Tim.” The words didn’t feel like enough, but Jon said them anyway.

 

“He was the best of me. And I let him- I let him die.”

 

“You didn’t-” Jon immediately started but Tim shook his head- he wouldn’t accept the comfort, not now. It was a guilt that couldn’t be eased by kind words, no matter how true. 

 

“You would’ve liked him. Danny.” He sniffed, his face morphing into an attempt at a smile. A sad, wistful one. “He would’ve liked you too. Always had a thing for underdogs.” Jon was about to give a weak rebuttal when the familiar sound of a tape recorder shutting off was heard, a small click that echoed in the room. “Did you- were you recording this?”

 

Jon’s voice went defensive- he wouldn’t violate Tim’s privacy like that. Tim knew that, right? “I wouldn’t- I - I don’t even know where it is, I wasn’t recording anything before-”

 

Tim sighed. “It’s fine- just don’t go around playing that, alright? Maybe- maybe tape over it.” He stretched his legs, adjusting Jon more comfortably on his lap in spite of the disgruntled sounds this earned him from the Duchess. “We can work on the Fairchild statement first, of course. I know you-”

 

“We can do them both,” Jon interrupted, tilting his head up to meet Tim’s eyes. “It’s important to you. And what’s important to you is important to me.” Tim cleared his throat awkwardly at the words, Jon could see his eyes slightly misting over again. But he schooled his face, attempting a neutral expression.

 

“Alright, alright. We’ve had our tear fest, now it’s time to eat.” He nudged the takeout box back into Jon’s hands. “Besides, Sasha wants to play UNO after this. She thinks if she lets you win a few times, you’ll forgive her.” Jon snorted, shaking his head.

 

“Well, she can certainly try.”

 




“I swear to you, I’m not letting him win anymore. He has to be cheating.”

 

“One, you weren’t letting me win,” Jon responded primly, after demolishing them in yet another round of UNO. “I was letting me win. There’s such a thing as strategy.”

 

“How?” Martin complained, slamming down a deck of at least twenty five cards. “It’s pure luck! You can’t control what cards you get.”

 

“True, but you can control what cards you put down. I just happen to be particularly good at the latter. It’s not cheating, it’s skill.”

 

“You got UNO Master on the resume then, boss?” Tim teased, setting down his own large deck. “Is that why Elias hired you?”

 

“It’s because Martin never uses his plus fours on you,” Sasha sent him an accusing glare that was anything but playful. “Favoritism, that’s what it is.”

 

Martin sputtered as Jon and Tim tried to stifle their laughter. “That is not-! I wouldn’t- ugh!”

 

“Don’t protest too much, Martin,” Tim said, nudging him with his foot. “I get it. Really, I do. Hard to destroy him when he turns those eyes on you.”

 

“I do not turn any eyes on anyone-”

 

“Anyway, it’s getting late.” Martin, still red, decided a change of subject was in order. “We should probably get some sleep if we want to be functional tomorrow.”

 

“Fine,” Sasha scowled, gathering the cards with a little too much force. “But I demand a rematch tomorrow. And no playing favorites!”

 

They shuffled off in separate directions, Jon going to grab his pajamas with the Duchess on his heel. They’ll need to stop by their flats soon, Jon noted, as he watched Sasha search in vain for a change of clothes. Maybe they should spend some time out of the Archives. It isn’t fair to keep them cooped up with me. He’d bring it up tomorrow.

 

He moved towards the door, about to go to his office to change when he noticed Tim in the corner, holding his clothes and a toothbrush but staring at them with unseeing eyes, as if he didn’t know what to do with them. He’d been like this ever since he told Jon his story, alternating between raucous teasing and stony silence- both Sasha and Martin had been shooting him looks of concern all night. Jon made a quick decision, walking over to him quietly, intertwining his arm with his and squeezing his hand. “Can I tell you a secret?” he whispered, keeping his voice as serious as possible.

 

Tim broke out of his reverie, staring down at him with a quizzical look. “What is it?”

 

“I was cheating.”

 

Tim sputtered at Jon’s little smirk. “W-What? How?”

 

“If you place your card down very precisely on the pile, you can hide a few behind it. Let’s just say I got rid of some of the more...undesirable ones, that way.” 

 

Tim laughed, a genuine smile making its way to his face. “And here I thought you were just being your usual fastidious self. You’re incorrigible, Sims.”

 

“You won’t tell, will you?”

 

“Not if you let me use that trick a few times. I deserve a win or two.”

 

“I could be amenable to that.”

 

They shook on it.

 


 

Jon awoke early the next morning, and not from the Duchess or any other outward disturbance he could see. It was a strange itch deep in his bones, a craving on his tongue, the pull of which he hadn’t felt in so long.

 

He wanted a cigarette.

 

He tossed and turned beneath the blanket, trying to fight it. You haven’t smoked in years, he told himself. You don’t need it. Not now.

 

And yet still he found himself rising quietly from the cot, sneaking past the other three as he threw on his coat and left the archives, nervous and twitchy in the dim light of the dawn. If he was quick, he could make it to the corner store and back, his assistants none the wiser.

 

“Silk cut, please,” he said to the tired cashier, huddling deeper into his jacket as the chill of the early morning air followed him into the store. The man behind the counter grabbed the pack, placing it down on the counter before him.

 

“Lighter?”

 

“Hm?” 

 

“Do you need a lighter?”

 

“Um, yes-” His right hand suddenly closed around a cool metal something in his pocket and he pulled it out, confused. It was...a lighter?  Gold, heavy, with a spiderweb design. He didn’t remember getting it, but it felt natural in his hand. Like it was made just for him.

 

“No,” he replied, his voice faint. “I don’t think I do.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Jon was cutting it rather close.

 

His brief morning reprieve was starting to fade and he felt the itching need for companionship starting to set back in. Sasha was most likely already awake; he hadn’t checked his phone, but he was sure it contained several texts if the buzzing in his pocket was anything to go by. He should just go back in, tell them he needed a quick break and got distracted. It wasn’t unlike him.

 

And yet.

 

He brought the cigarette to his lips and lit it, taking a deep inhale. The acrid smoke flooded his veins in a euphoric hit; he couldn’t help but savor the fleeting, forbidden pleasure of nicotine. God how he missed this. It had taken him so long to quit the habit, he’d been so good for years. Tim would be sorely disappointed; he’d been the one to help him quit in the first place. “Saw you hacking your lungs out on the pavement, Sims. Need a little help?” Apparently he smoked in his uni years, something Jon found hard to believe. But he did indeed help him, said he cared. And sounded like he truly meant it. He used to distract Jon with inane chatter whenever a craving hit, passing something over he could occupy his hands with- a stress ball, a pencil he didn’t mind coming back chewed or broken. There was even a brief lollipop period until Jon grew too self-conscious from the snickers it earned him. It didn’t help that his favorite flavor was blue raspberry, and, well, you could imagine the permanent stain on his lips. Not a great look.

 

He shook himself from his musings, raising the cigarette to his lips again. So easy to fall back into old habits. No cough or clearing of the throat was necessary; it all went down so smoothly, his body welcoming it like an old familiar friend. Jon never considered himself an addict, never wanted to put a label on the vice. But that’s what he was, and it’s hard to kick an addiction-often you just replace it with another. For Jon, that was his work. And now as Head Archivist, the statements and all they encompassed.

 

He flicked the lighter on and off idly, the flame mesmerizing in the cold morning air. When did he get this? Jon didn’t remember buying it, and he would remember buying it- the web design sent a shiver down his spine that seemed to remain there, developing into lingering shudder- though perhaps it was just the lack of touch doing that. He ran a finger over the intricate design, the etching biting into his skin like a-

 

“Mrrrpt.”

 

The Duchess rubbed her head against his arm, demanding attention. He flinched, startled, before giving her head a scratch. How did she get out here?  The back door was quite heavy, and the front door still locked, as far as he knew. Perhaps an open window? 

 

“You shouldn’t be out here,” he said, taking her into his arms and stubbing out the remainder of his cigarette. “It isn’t safe, you know.” She didn’t respond, though she clearly disagreed. He would have to keep a better eye on her; she was turning out to be quite the troublemaker.

 

“Let’s go back inside. I’m sure the others miss us.”

 


 

“Can you please tell us the next time you want to wander off?” Sasha was standing by the door, her relief at seeing him quickly turning into an exasperated glare. “Just a text! I know you want your independence, but...we worry, you know.” Jon flushed, feeling suitably chastised. He was still trying to balance this... “communication” thing, and now that he had the Duchess it was so much easier to wander off like he used to. 

 

“Ah, sorry. Will do.” He watched as Sasha’s face suddenly scrunched up in disgust as she sniffed the air. Shit. He clutched the Duchess tighter to his chest, hoping that she would somehow form a barrier between him and the air. No such luck.

 

“Do you smell that?”

 

“O-Oh, that’s me- sorry, ran into someone on their smoke break. The smell tends to stick.” She seemed to buy it, giving him a pat on his shoulder as he made his way past her. He’d need to wash his coat, or the smell would pervade. He didn’t plan on taking any more smoke breaks, anyway. Just a momentary weakness, is all. 

 

“Ugh, gross. Go change.”

 

He walked back to his office, placing the Duchess on a chair and shrugging off his jacket. He searched through his desk drawer, finding the small sample of cologne he’d stuck there in case of emergency. It was the least cloying he could find, some unisex citrus-based scent with the label long worn off. He spritzed a few times and was about to gather the Duchess to his chest again when he heard a soft knock- Martin, giving him a tentative smile as he cracked the door open. “Good morning, Jon. Tim’s about to run out and get breakfast, was there anything you wanted?”

 

“Ah, no thank you.” He sat in his chair and placed the Duchess back on his lap, smothering his face with her fur as was their morning ritual. When he looked back up Martin was still in the doorway, his face slightly red. “Was there something you needed?”

 

“Oh, um-” he shuffled forward, closing the door behind him. “I was just wondering if there was a case you wanted me to get started on today? Want to be useful, you know.” He chuckled awkwardly. “Do my job!”

 

“Yes, of course,” Jon murmured, looking towards his desk. He’d pulled the Fairchild and the Denikin cases, there were probably a few more in the boxes that could stand looking over. He moved his chair back, ready to grab a few more when Martin began to speak.

 

“I could look into the Vittery case for you.”

 

Jon froze.

 

The Vittery case. It still sat in the corner of his desk, though it was piled under several books and other assorted files. Ever since he confessed to his coworkers he’d kept it hidden, promising himself he would eventually get to it. But it never seemed to be the right time. It wasn’t as if they had to look into it right away. What if Martin investigated, and something went wrong? They should really wait to tackle it when this whole blanket business was dealt with, that way they could do it together, or maybe not at all if it turned out to be a dead end. But if it didn’t- if it didn’t-

 

He jumped at the hand on his shoulder, the cat almost falling out of his lap at the motion. Martin was there, looking down at him with concern etched in his face. “Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you. Are you alright?”

 

“Y-Yeah,” he replied, stroking a hand through the Duchess’s fur in apology. “I’m not sure if we should get started on that one just yet. I’m- well, it could be dangerous, and I don’t want to-”

 

“I’m not going to go running off on my own, don’t worry.” Martin leaned against his desk, dropping his hand from Jon’s shoulder. Pity. “I just thought it might make it easier on you if I got it started, made a few calls. That way it won’t be hanging over your head all the time, yeah?”

 

Jon considered this. It would be nice to get someone on the case, even if it was just for preliminary background. “No field research.”

 

Martin nodded. “None. Promise.”

 

“That’s fine, then. Thank you, Martin.”

 

“Of course.”

 

He handed over the file somewhat reluctantly, as if the words themselves were dangerous to the touch. He couldn’t help feeling just a bit lighter now that it was off his desk. Of course, that wouldn’t be the end of it. Just the start.

 

He got about fifteen minutes alone to check his emails, though most of the time was spent lavishing his needy cat with attention. Her impatient meows seemed perfectly timed to interrupt every email from Elias. And then Tim came in, altogether too cheerful for the hour. “Mornin’. Got you a muffin.”

 

“I told Martin I didn’t want anything.” A cigarette usually put him off his appetite for at least a few hours.

 

“You did, yeah.” A blueberry muffin was placed in front of him, Tim paying no mind to the crumbs it left in its wake. Jon had to admit it looked appetizing. Tim gave him a toothy smile, leaning against the file cabinet with a practiced ease.

 

“So, uh, what’s on the docket for today? What spooks do you have in store for us?” Tim’s voice was purposefully light, but he eyed Jon’s desk in anticipation, fidgeting slightly on his feet. He could see the two statements on his desk- the Fairchild case, and the Denikin one. He could ask Tim to help Martin on the Vittery case, but the less people involved the better. He didn’t want them to think they could go off on their own. And he hadn’t forgotten yesterday's confession and the intensity with which Tim ripped the statement from his hands. He took it gingerly from his desk, his other hand gently nudging the Duchess from his lap.

 

“I-I was going to start working on the Fairchild case today, try to be useful,” he started, trying to adopt the same light tone that Tim had. “But I could really use some help on the others, if you want to get started on the Denikin case?” Tim nodded, his grin fading.

 

“Yeah, reckon I can handle that.” His voice was gravelly and low as his hand reached out for the statement. “I’ll get to work on it after breakfast.” His eyes were bright in the dim light of the room- Jon hadn’t yet turned the overhead on, preferring the desk lamp. Instead of handing it over with a grim nod, Jon stood up, carefully winding his arms around the man’s waist and burying his head in his shoulder. Some much needed morning affection for Jon, and hopefully a source of comfort for Tim. Tim’s answering squeeze told Jon all he needed to know. He tucked Jon’s head under his chin with a hum.

 

“You smell nice.”

 

“Thanks.”

 


 

Forty minutes and a destroyed muffin later, Jon and the Duchess were situated on the floor, papers strewn around them. It was nice to get back to his research roots, something Jon thought he’d left behind as he was appointed Head Archivist. Over the past few months Elias had been implying that ‘getting out in the field’ was an important part of his job, though he couldn’t imagine why. He was no longer in Research, and wasn’t that what assistants were for? That and the insistence on the recorded statements left him more than a bit confused, but it wasn’t as if he knew much about archiving. And neither did Gertrude, apparently.

 

But considering he’d gotten himself into this mess, he figured he should contribute to the whole ‘getting out of it’ business. While Sasha followed her lead on the Lukas family, Jon could dig in a bit on the Fairchilds, do his due diligence. He had first heard the name as a young researcher looking into a minor haunting in Hackney, remembering it as an alias for a prolific con artist. To then discover that the family were also major donors to the institute came as a shock. He didn’t think the two could possibly be related- perhaps the thief had taken the name of a well-known business owner as a joke. It was fascinating all the same.

 

Open Skydiving. Doncaster was nowhere near London, and neither was Cornwall, where the Fairchild family was based. He was sure they had to have business dealings in London he could look into, from what he recalled they were invested in several other companies. The Fairchilds didn’t seem overtly dangerous, though he would definitely need to tread carefully when it came to institute donors. It would be best to investigate them without drawing too much attention. Ergo, alone. But that of course was an obvious issue.

 

He looked down to the Duchess who was purring away, propped up on one of his legs. He gave her a scratch behind the ear, smiling as she climbed further into his lap and rubbed her head against his chest. “If only I could take you with me,” he muttered, drawing her close. He paused.

 

Huh.

 


 

“Do you think this one would work? Martin, are you listening?”

 

He wasn’t, not at all. He was too distracted by the man in front of him, currently adjusting a bulky harness that he insisted would be a ‘smart and necessary investment.’

 

A call interrupted Martin’s morning research on Carlos Vittery’s various residences, the ID lighting up as Jon. He rarely used the phone, preferring instead to yell Martin’s name at a deafening volume from his office. He immediately picked up, assuming it was urgent.

 

“Martin, please come to my office,” Jon said, all business.

 

“Er, yeah, sure-” He’d already hung up. Martin got up from his desk, ignoring the curious looks he got from Tim and Sasha. Sorry, Jon needs me! He quickly made his way to Jon’s door, opening it up with a cautious hand. “You needed me?”

 

Jon was sat on the floor, papers surrounding him and the cat in his lap, purring happily. He looked up at Martin’s entrance, giving him an excited smile that sent his heart aflutter. “Martin,” Jon said, grabbing the Duchess and holding her in front of him like some sort of shield, or perhaps an infant messiah. “I’ve had an idea. But I’m going to need your help, and your discretion.” 

 

And so here they were, attempting to find the perfect harness so Jon could strap his massive cat to his chest and wander the streets of London. Martin was not fond of the idea, and he doubted the others would be either, but how could he resist in the face of Jon’s enthusiasm? It would certainly make it easier for him to wander around the institute, instead of holding the thing in his arms all the time. And Martin wasn’t afraid to admit that yes, the thought of Jon walking around with the Duchess strapped to his body was too endearing to pass up.

 

There was also the added bonus of holding Jon’s hand as they shopped.

 

“Er, do you think its going to look very...professional, carrying around a cat?” He doubted anyone would take him seriously, especially if he planned to work on cases.

 

“There’s nothing professional about this situation, Martin. It can’t be helped,” Jon sniffed, zipping his jacket over the contraption. “I can always hide her in my coat.”

 

“Sure.” Martin didn’t point out that people were still bound to notice the giant lump under his coat, and perhaps assume it was some sort of explosive device. Might be better to just have the cat out.

 

“It says it can hold up to fifteen kilos. Do you think the Duchess weighs more than that?”

 

“Maybe to you,” Martin teased, getting a scowl in response. “I think you’ll be fine.” They made their way to the counter, Jon purposefully ignoring the indulgent smile from the cashier. Martin balked at the price, but Jon shrugged, whipping out his credit card. 

 

“The Duchess is worth every penny, Martin.” He took the bag from the cashier with a soft word of thanks. “Also, I’m expensing this.”

 

Martin inwardly sighed at the feeling of Jon’s hand in his as they made their way back to the train. It just felt right, like it was made to be there. Jon even swung their hands a bit, though that might’ve just been from his frantic pace as they hurried to the station. Jon suddenly paused in front of the station map, leaning in to study it. “You said you lived nearby, correct?”

 

“Yes…?” Martin wondered where this was going.

 

“Would you like to stop by your flat, get a few things?” Jon asked, looking up at him with inquisitive eyes. “It’s been a while, and I’m sure you’d like some fresh clothes; you didn’t seem to pack much.” It was true; he’d run out the door with a hastily packed bag, and was currently on day two with his light blue jumper.

 

But the thought of Jon in his home, walking around, investigating, judging. It wasn’t much, and Martin had left it in a state of disarray in his hurry to get to the others. Was he willing to reveal all of that to his boss and current obsession?

 

Jon seemed to notice his internal struggle. “Martin, I’m currently living in a basement surrounded by dusty files, sleeping under a cursed blanket. I’m not going to judge you.” That’s true.

 

And so, with only a bit of reluctance on Martin’s part, they were on their way.

 

“It’s not going to be clean,” Martin rambled as they walked the narrow flight of stairs in an awkward sort of tandem. He immediately regretted giving in to Jon’s suggestion. “And it’s really small, and not much to look at-”

 

“You should see my flat, then.” Jon remarked, not at all put out by their struggle of an ascent. “I assure you it’s much worse.” Martin doubted that. He fumbled with his keys for a few moments, attempting to steady his hands. The door creaked open, and Martin tried to imagine the place through someone else’s eyes.

 

He’d tried to make use of what little light the flat had access to, placing his sofa and chairs so they caught it at just the right angle. Several rugs hid most of the scratches in the hardwood, and any holes in the wall were covered by thrift-store art that Martin found pretty, but now looked cheap in the mid-afternoon light. The small table in the corner had a light blue table cloth, and his kettle sat on the stove. Martin remembered with some disgust that he’d definitely left water in it.

 

He rushed over to the sofa, where two blankets were tangled haphazardly. “Really, you can wait outside if you like,” he told Jon, who followed close behind him. “God, what a mess-”

 

A hand reached out to grab his own, taking it in a firm hold. Jon smiled, a gentle, teasing thing. “I can’t really wait outside now, can I?” Martin flushed. Of course.

 

“R-Right, sorry-”

 

“And besides, I like it,” Jon said softly, eyes fixed on the dusty mantle where Martin had placed a few knick-knacks. They looked sad and plain in the dull afternoon light, but Jon was eyeing a chipped vase as if it were a priceless artifact. “It’s nice here. It feels like you. Feels like-” He paused, giving Martin’s hand another squeeze. “It feels like home.” Martin’s heart momentarily stopped as his breath caught in his throat. 

 

Cause of death: Jonathan Sims.

 


 

Martin was still flustered by the time they got back to the institute, his belongings and Jon’s purchase in hand. Jon immediately ran off, ignoring the other assistant’s questions in his quest for independence. Tim eyed him curiously.

 

“What’s the super-secret errand, Marto? A little afternoon delight with the boss?”

 

“Tim-!”

 

“I kid, I kid. Really though, where were you?”

 

“Jon wanted to buy something, and my flat was on the way-” Martin’s babbling was cut off by the shrill ringing of a phone- Sasha’s. She eyed the Caller ID with some confusion before picking it up.

 

“Hello?” she asked tentatively. Martin could hear an odd noise from the other side, a sort of static-y in and out sound, like the caller had a bad signal. “I’m sorry, you’re breaking up. Did you say L-”

 

And suddenly the door to the archives slammed open to reveal one disheveled Elias Bouchard, eyes wide and breathing heavily in exertion. “Give me,” he snarled between breaths. “-the phone.”

 

Jon chose that exact moment to re-enter the room, touting his newest purchase.  “Look, it works!” he said, enthusiasm clear in his voice. The Duchess was surprisingly docile, squished as she was against Jon. He looked ridiculous with that giant ball of fur strapped to his chest. “Oh- hello, Elias. Was there something you needed?” Elias stared. Tim began to snicker. And a strange, booming voice echoed out of the receiver, causing Sasha to almost drop it in alarm.

 

“...My, sounds like you’re having fun over there, Elias!”