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enemy of my enemy

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Tim’s on his approximately sixth reread of the useless statement they got last week, trying to drag some facts out of the endless ums, ahs and pointless digressions, when a door that shouldn't have been there opens and out tumbles Jon, skinny and shaking and - jesus. 

Basira swears very quietly, Melanie lets out a kind of disgusted yelp and starts fumbling for her phone, and Tim - Tim can’t move.

Jon is holding his left arm stiffly away from him, bent oddly like he’s leading some invisible creature back with him. Everything from wrist to elbow is a sickly cherry red. His whole forearm has been neatly, precisely stripped of skin. Bile is rising in Tim’s throat but he can’t move, can’t even sit up.

Jon glances frantically back at the door just as it’s closing - and in the light it emits Tim hears something both like and utterly unlike music, a pattern made of pure discordance, wrongs piled on top of wrongs until they sing. It’s a song Tim remembers, one that twists every sense, but it’s barely a footnote in his thoughts right now. 

“Right,” Jon says, and the room falls silent. Basira had been approaching Jon with her hands raised, Melanie had just got her phone to her ear and Tim could just make out a tinny operator asking about the nature of their emergency, but for a moment everything stills. 

“Right,” Jon says again, pale and trembling and - angry, Tim realises. As angry as he’s ever seen him. “Elias,” Jon spits out, takes one step forward and crumples onto the ground. 

Everyone but Tim splutters back into motion. “Jon,” Basira says, kneeling beside him. “What happened? Where have you been?”

Jon lets out something that might have been a laugh if it weren’t half-strangled by shock and agony. “The - the Circus,” he answers, and then Tim isn’t quite a person inside of a body anymore. There’s curls of wire where his thoughts should be. Layers of static and dust lie between Tim and anything he might do or even think next. 

Jon grits his teeth and uses his one good arm to push himself up onto his knees. “That useless-” He cuts himself off with a groan. “How long has it been?”

Basira bites back her own stream of questions to answer him. “We last saw you about a month ago.”

Jon takes a deep ragged breath. “I’m going to kill Elias,” he says, seemingly undeterred by the fact that he still can’t stand up.

“No,” Melanie says, putting the phone down. “I’m going to kill Elias. You’re going to get in the ambulance currently speeding our way.”

Melanie is deliberately not looking at Jon’s arm, and Tim wishes he could do the same. In the haze his head has become, his attention has drifted back over to the most horrible thing in the room, that shining stretch of nothing where skin should be. It makes the skin on his hand look out of place, like an ill-fitting glove. Some heinous part of Tim’s mind, curious and analytical even when the only logical thing would be to run and never stop, is wondering how they did it; if they peeled the skin in spirals the way people peel apples, competing to see who could get the longest strip without it breaking. 

“Tim,” Basira is calling. “Help me get him up the stairs.”

Jon, at last, seems to realise that Tim is in the room, and flicks his eyes around frantically until they find each other. Tim is still frozen solid, lent back in his desk chair in a parody of relaxation. Jon takes short, shallow breaths, his eyes searching Tim’s face for...something, anything. Something to cling to the way he clung to that tape recorder down in the tunnels. Tim sees the moment when he remembers his rage, remembers Elias, and that anger centres and animates him at once, prompts him to start cooperating with Basira’s attempts to pull him upright. Tim watches it happen and feels the ghost of that rage flare in his own chest.

Tim,” Basira calls again. There’s a prickle in the back of Tim’s throat, and that’s all the warning he gets before he’s retching into the bin under his desk.

 

The room seems quieter than should be possible, once Melanie and Basira have gotten Jon out. Tim can hear the buzzing of the fluorescent lights overhead. He feels like the only person left in the world. 

Tim knows he needs to move. The stronger the urge gets, the less possible it seems. His neck is aching where he's still half bent over in his chair, and sharp pinpricks of pain are flooding through this foot. He needs to move. 

The fog in his head eventually clears enough to remember that he's lived through this before. He was nearly late to his brother's funeral because he'd frozen solid while attempting to tie his tie, staring at a collection of colours and shapes in the mirror, hands clutching fabric he couldn't process as belonging to him. 

The instinct was to yell, mentally at least. To tell himself there was nothing stopping him from moving his own body. But Tim had never once clawed his way back until he let the anger die down and convinced himself to focus on the smallest movement for as long as it took. 

Long minutes pass, and Tim manages to move his finger. He flexes his hand open and closed, open and closed, because if he stops he has no idea when he'll be able to move again. 

The bin, he thinks eventually. He's gotten used to spending most of his time in a basement office with no real ventilation, enough to know that leaving the bin there with its current contents would make the place borderline uninhabitable for hours. That doesn’t matter, of course - so absurdly doesn’t matter in their current circumstances that it summons up the echo of Jon’s strangled laughter - but it’s something to do, some movement to make while he still can, so Tim twists the top of the bin liner round to close it, then lifts it out and heads outside.

The cold stings at him, making him uncomfortably aware of every inch of skin on display. It's definitely jacket weather, and his is hanging uselessly on the back of his chair. He wonders how different cold would feel with no skin to shield you from it. He wonders what on earth Melanie and Basira said to the paramedics. 

None of this matters, Tim thinks as he sinks down against the wall. He buries his face in his arms, then has to move away immediately as his head fills with the image of that neat bloody line perfectly following the curvature of Jon's wrist. 

 

A few hours later, Martin finds him, and Tim gives his first statement.