Heaving for breath that never reached his lungs and made the empty spot where his ribs used to be ache, Jon watched Basira spirit Daisy away from him as though he was the danger, as though his presence, his Knowing, his hunger, was going to take more from her than the Buried. He’d barely gotten a chance to see with his own two eyes that Daisy was alive and well, or at least as well as she could be given the circumstances, before he was left behind.
Sighing, he plucked at his jumper with his one good hand, holding the other close to his body in an unconscious effort to protect it. He was damp and filthy, streaked with earth and sweat and stinking of fear and grime. He coughed, the clot of muck stopping up his throat didn’t want to move, and while he was on his feet so soon after the Boneturner had his way with him, the agony was sharp and insistent, greedily demanding his attention.
Alright. No coughing for a while if he could help it.
Exhaustion, like a wave, rolled over him, and the tide of it threatened to tug him to the floor as his knees went weak and his sight went black. Without truly thinking, he caught himself on the wall, shaky and unbalanced, sliding down just a few centimeters and pressing his hot face against the cool surface.
“Need a, need a lie down.” Murmured to no one, Jon moved forward on unsteady legs, taking ages to reach the room where his meagre belongings were stored, sitting heavily in a desk chair before his limbs gave out completely. He was panting. Shallow. Painful. Skin itching and prickling with dirt and the phantom sensation of pressure and he pulled off his clothes, petrichor blossoming in the small room enough to make him gag on the scent of it, to drop them as far from the cot as he could reach. When he touched his shaky fingers to his forehead, they came away muddy and as much as he wanted to change into the softest clothes he had and collapse right there, he needed something of a wash. A cat bath would have to do because there was no way he’d make it back to his feet a second time.
It took several tries, his injured hand was beginning to make itself known in earnest, to open one of the bottles of water he kept and pour some out on a flannel without making an even larger mess, folding it smaller on every pass over his soiled, scarred skin. Logically, he Knew, it took only minutes, but by the time he deemed himself clean enough, Jon was struggling to keep going, tears of frustration and pain squeezing between tightly closed lids despite his best attempts to stifle himself. He selected another cloth, dropping the last one with his clothes, and soaked it liberally before scrubbing it through his already disheveled hair, finger combing what he could to get it as orderly as possible. Finally, he was able to crawl his way to the cot, wrung out and so weary the effort to breathe almost didn’t seem worth it.
Whether through mercy or exhaustion, he didn’t dream.
Hunger, deep inside where he couldn’t reach, woke him late in the day and he spent a long time reigning it in to a manageable level where it didn’t consume his every thought. Jon rubbed at his chest; it felt too heavy, a full feeling that reminded him of the Buried, of being crushed on all sides, except this time he was alone, no one was there to speak with him, to keep him grounded when the panic began to set in. Profoundly, he missed Daisy even though he wouldn’t wish this back upon her for anything and as he suffocated the Eye fed off fear of his own making, draining what little strength he’d managed to shore up for himself until he was a hollow, empty thing.
And still, Jon was on his own, even as he sought the comforting presence of Martin who he Knew was still in the Archives somewhere, he couldn’t focus long enough to calm down and find him. He curled up, tight, small, caging his face behind a clawed hand, lungs working like a bellows and doing absolutely nothing.
Who would help you?
I can’t breathe.
Then you can’t hurt people anymore.
I need help. Please. Please.
When the coughing began it was hard and harsh, and he was unable to stop, stomach roiling, the nausea flooding his mouth with salt while he fumbled for a bin, grabbing it in time to lose the churning combination of bile and mud.
The Beholding rippled, an emotion pretending to be mirth, oily and disgusting, oozed just beneath the surface of his skin as he begged to be allowed to stop until finally he was left coiled around the bin, one arm pressing so tightly into his belly he thought he might be ill again. A sob dropped from his lips, tears slipped off the end of his nose and he cried and cried with such force he didn’t notice when his consciousness fled.
This time when he blinked awake, dizzy and disoriented, Jon let himself lay in his discomfort, turning his thoughts towards Daisy and hoping, praying, she wasn’t experiencing the same symptoms. Or at the very least, Basira was able to handle it. He refused to Know, instead he drifted, the Eye feeding him bits of random information he never asked for while he planned his next course of action.
He needed a proper wash. To rewrap his hand. To get back to work figuring this thing out. Work would take his mind off the ache in his chest. That would be. That would be good. Staggering to bare feet, Jon limped his way to the restroom, ignoring the way the halls shifted and swam. He’d feel better after he cleaned up. Startled at his reflection in the mirror, Jon ran the pads of his quaking fingers along his jaw. His face was streaked in sludge, the shadows under his eyes like bruises, and his dark skin was ashen, the old scars standing out as if to remind him he would be forever marked. Ugly. Unwanted. The sheen of sweat on his forehead was a surprise, he’d been trembling with cold this whole time, so off balance he was afraid if he removed his hand from the sink he wouldn’t be able to stay standing.
“Okay, Jon.” Gingerly he unraveled the dirty bandages from around his hand and fingers, wincing at the angry, red surface. Days in the dirt hadn’t done the newly healed skin of his palm any favors. Hissing through his teeth when he ran it under lukewarm water, Jon closed his eyes against the sting, moving as quickly as possible so he could get back to his desk and sit down.
The next few days? dragged on and on, the chill sunk deep into his aching bones so persistent he’d taken to wearing an old jumper Martin left behind in a drawer. Curled up in his chair, bad leg stretched out on a stack of file folders, Jon snuggled as deep as he could into the well worn yarn imagining he was held within warm arms instead before the cruelty of the Beholding reminded him to stop daydreaming and get to work. He wasn’t well, found it harder and harder to focus when compounded by the gnawing hunger in the back of his mind. Jon was counting the beat of his pulse throbbing through his burned hand when he heard the creak of a door down the hall. Basira, he Knew, scrambling upright and only swaying for a moment before following the tug of want.
“Jon.” Of course she would notice him coming, he wasn’t exactly fit for spycraft at the moment. She was collecting a few things and cramming them impatiently into a bag. Eager to get away from this place. Eager to get away from him.
“How’s Daisy?” Immediately, he grasped his throat with trembling fingers. How was this his voice? Raspy and painful and rough with the remains of mud he knew only existed in his imagination. He’d checked. He coughed. Stopped as soon as possible if only to prevent an untimely collapse to his knees, head spinning so much he had to close his eyes against it briefly. Basira had yet to look at him, the tense line of her shoulders the only indication that she was even aware he was still there.
“Fine.” The relief filling him up was sweeter than the oxygen he craved and helped push away the Dark that kept trying to overtake his vision, at least for a moment. Daisy was fine. He. He’d helped someone, he’d saved someone. “She has a long way to go.”
“Ah, of course.” It hurt to speak, but that was okay. Daisy was okay.
“Yes?” He perked up, eager to provide anything she might need, anything at all to make sure they were alright.
“I think it would be best if you stopped trying to contact us.” Suddenly, it was very cold, it cut straight to the center of him, clutching his heart in an icey fist. His ignored messages and calls made more sense now. He felt foolish. He should have known.
“Ah.” But he understood. Basira was likely going through a lot trying to help Daisy recover.
“Maybe if you’d gotten to her sooner?” Guilt swept him up, made it harder to breathe. He couldn’t fault her; he’d been struggling with that himself. “She just. She needs time right now. Just until she gets back on her feet.”
“Of, of course!” He chuffed, it was that or he would cry and that wouldn’t help either of them. “I. Of course. Take all the time you need.” Basira still hadn’t spared him a glance, lingering only for a second with her fingers gripping the door frame.
And Jon was alone.
Jon wasn’t getting any better and if anything, was becoming worse and the sudden, intrusive Knowledge that he would need a live statement to heal on his own at this point made him ill. There was too much wrong all at once and the old ones weren’t enough, keeping him just on the right side of vertical, caught in between conscious and unconscious and barely able to keep moving. He Knew he was intensely feverish (39.7 the Eye helpfully provided), Knew his hand had become infected. Even Knew he had pneumonia and Knew there was nothing he could do about it.
He wouldn’t die.
Of course not. Couldn’t take the easy road for once.
At least he didn’t think he would anyway and the Eye had no opinions about that, content to prod him up, up, up to find statements, reading himself hoarse through bouts of coughing so taxing he’d come to only to find himself on the floor, fallen out of his chair. Pathetic. He was pathetic and he was glad there was nobody around to see him mope. He’d lost count of the number of times he woke amongst piles of folders between the stacks, tugging random statements off the bottom shelves and hoping one day he’d just choke on them instead of staggering upright. There wasn’t a place on him that didn’t hurt and more often than not his voice barely rose above a sob, whole minutes of eldritch tape consisted of him crying into his folded arms.
When finally he was forced to stop moving because of the pain, the breathlessness, the dizziness, Jon found himself cradling his phone in hand, scrolling through contacts, some of whom were gone and others who wanted nothing to do with him He found himself reading old messages and listening to old voicemails. The only one he had from Martin was one telling him to stop seeking him out.
“Stop looking for me.” Jon let his cheek collide with the papers on his desk, phone pressed to his ear, slipping back and forth between asleep and awake. “G’bye, Jon.” And again. “G’bye, Jon.”
If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine it was a late night. That Martin had stopped by with a final cup of tea for him before heading home, reminding him not to work through until morning. That he could hear Tim and Sasha laughing somewhere in the Archives at no doubt a horrible joke.
That Martin smiled that warm smile just for him and how did he not notice it before when he’d still had a chance at humanity.
“G’bye, Jon.” The phone slid out of his fingers and he pulled in a ragged breath of stale air that smelled like paper and ink and the dirt he couldn’t scrub out of his skin no matter how hard he tried.
“Stop pushing me.”
“Walk faster then.”
“Daisy. I’m sorry, I wanted you to get the rest you needed.” Basira stopped, gripped her narrow shoulders. “To figure out how to go forward.”
“So you told him to not to contact us?” Daisy shoved forward, legs tiring so quickly she was furious.
“He pulled me out of the Buried. You could have at least checked on him.” Terse silence filled the air between them until they reached the Archives.
“It’s like a bomb went off.” Daisy shot her a look but couldn’t help but agree. Papers, files, statements, old tapes littered the floor with no reason that she could discern. What was Jon doing down here? It smelled stale, musty, heavy, sick she realized.
They found him hunched over his desk, turned away from them, asleep or worse, and surrounded by the scent of infection and illness such that Daisy had to cover her nose and inhale through her mouth until she acclimated.
“Jon?” Carefully, slowly, gently she laid a hand on his shoulder and grimaced at the searing heat and his poorly dressed burn. If not for his avatar status he would surely be gone. Face flushed and slick with sweat, he was burning up under her palm when she brushed limp gray strands away from his forehead. When he breathed, so fast, so shallow, there was a crackling like dry leaves. “He needs to go to hospital.”
“I don’t think a statement is going to fix this.” Maybe that’s why this place was such a mess. “Call, I’ll see if I can get him up and awake.”
Someone was calling for him from far, far away and it took all he had left to follow it back to where everything echoed with pain.
Her voice was familiar, comforting and horrifying in the same moment.
“Daisy?” Oh God he couldn’t breathe and he knew they had to be back in that coffin, he’d screwed it up, gone wrong somewhere and now they were both here drowning together in the black. Trapped. He was trapped in here. Daisy was trapped in here and calling his name.
“Jon, hey, shh.” This wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that she had to do this for him, she needed someone stronger. Someone who wasn’t him, who wasn’t a monster, who wasn’t, wasn’t-- “You’re alright. You need to breathe, Jon.”
When there was a boa constrictor wrapped around his chest, squeezing him like a vice. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t breathe. Someone was touching him and it hurt, skin on fire, burning, blazing, blistering like his hand, his hand, his hand where Jude. The Desolation. Burning. He didn’t know where he found the breath to cry out and could barely understand himself as he begged and begged and begged for her to please, please, please
“stop hurting me.”
“Hush, hush, okay. Okay, Jon.” They shouldn’t have to do this. Deal with him like this. Panting, a mess of tears and soil and pain. “Okay, Jon. Okay. You’re alright.”
How was any of this alright?
Daisy held Jon’s thin hand, rubbing her thumb over the back of it, charting the delicate, human bones and sinew, and purposefully blocking out the medical chatter humming in the background.
Stop hurting me.
The way he said it. Pleading and so small.
Because they would never stop, would they?
“Mr. Sims?” The voice of the paramedic cut into her thoughts. “Mr. Sims? Can you open your eyes for me?” Daisy glanced up at Jon’s face, watched his throat work and his mouth twist beneath the uneven fogging of the oxygen mask. When his lashes fluttered she caught a glimpse of glazed brown, deep and unfocused, but received praise for his attempt. Good. He deserved praise from somebody. His fingers spasmed in her hold, he swallowed with a heavy click in his throat, chest stuttering, tears slipping into the damp hair at his temples. “Do you know how long he’s been ill?” She shook her head, not even sure herself how many days it had been since stumbling out of that coffin herself.
After that it was all a bit of a blur until Basira found her in the waiting room, guiding her by the elbow to a room smelling of antiseptic where Jon lay small in the bed, made smaller by the lines and cords and machines.
“Overnight for observation, fluids, and antibiotics.”
“They ask questions?” Daisy dropped gratefully into the chair beside him, running her fingertips over the crisp bandages swallowing up his wounded hand. He still smelled sickly, hot and sweaty, but also of the inoffensive soap the nurse had washed his hair with and when she stroked through his curls they were smooth and clean.
“I implied it was genetic?” She chuckled at that. “I don’t think they believed me.”
“He should have been able to call us.”
“I’m serious, Basira.” The stubble on his cheek was scratchy under her palm, skin hot, face slack and lined deep with exhaustion. “We. We have to look out for each other, best we can.”
“B’sira, you, you don’t.” Jon couldn’t speak and stumble along beside her, still found it hard to catch his breath or stop coughing once started.
“I do, Jon.” Clipped, but he was too tired to analyze it any further than that. “Daisy made me promise to get you settled in. We’ll be coming back in the morning.” When he tripped she was there to catch him up again before he hit the floor. Making doubly sure he could change into soft clothes for sleep without falling over, Basira left briefly to gather supplies, laying them out on the desk within easy reach.
“Thank you.” Still whispery, completely done in from the short cab ride here, Jon dutifully held his hand out for the prescribed medications, sipping from the bottle she pressed into his grip afterwards.
“Should do you for tonight.”
“I. Yes. I’ll be fine.”
“There are a few statements, water--it best be gone by tomorrow, Jon. The rest of your medications, phone, inhaler. Something to help you rest if it doesn’t come quickly.”
“Thank you.” So scolded, he hung his head, knowing better than to argue against sleep. Trying to stay out of the way and he’d ended up being a bigger problem than before.
“If you need anything--”
“I won’t. I promise.” Her warning to stop contacting them sat heavy in his stomach and stopped up his throat with emotion. When she sighed heavily he was caught off guard, risking a glance to see Basira holding her head. “Are you alright?”
“I’m sorry I made you feel that you couldn’t ask for help.”
“N’no! I--” in his haste to reassure, Jon found himself instead bent double around his hacking, taking a measured sip from the bottle Basira shoved at him again. “I know, you. I understand.”
“Well. She’s doing better. We’ll be back, like I told you earlier.” She held out Martin’s jumper, the last item in the bag from the hospital, and he took it reverently. “If you need anything, Jon. Please call.”
“Thank you, Basira.” Like before, she didn’t turn away from the door, pausing instead to take a deep breath.
“Get some rest, Jon.”