Martin feels lucky, sometimes, to have fallen to a god of knowledge. Sure, it's not fun to have all your secrets pulled out and laid bare before you, but it's significantly better than, say, getting eaten alive by worms. And sometimes the knowledge could be a gift, like the constant, never-waning certainty that yes, Jon was still alive, even if his heartbeat and breathing stopped for a few weeks.
Sometimes, though, Martin wished the Beholding didn't let him see quite so much.
Jon was covered in webs.
Statement of Martin Blackwood, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute, London, regarding Jo- um, regarding the Head Archivist. And, and... spiders. Um, statement, statement begins.
[Deep breath] Jon's being controlled. I- I don't know why, or how long it's been going on, but...
When I went into work this morning, I went to check on him in his office, like I always do. Just to see if there's anything I can help with. He... he looked a bit distracted, I think he'd just finished a statement, and I was going to leave him be, but... before I could, he glanced up and I- I saw the webs. Just... these thin, silvery threads, all wrapped around his arms and -
[Exhale] He didn't seem to notice them, and I... I don't know. I was too shocked to say anything, so I just asked if he needed any help and left. I tried to convince myself I'd just been seeing things, and it almost worked, too, Jon was in his office most of the day...
...Which is a little weird, come to think of it. I mean, he used to do that all the time but he's been around a lot more since he woke up. I mean, it's not like he's suddenly the "world's most considerate person," or anything, but he's taking an interest, you know? Showing that he cares. He even said he wasn't going to listen to the tape with Elias and... well, he said it wasn't any of his business unless I asked him to. He's been... really kind lately.
Uh- anyway. I didn't exactly have a chance to check if the webs were real most of the day - but they were still there when he left. I don't know what they're doing to him, but I could see them... pulling when he went by my desk. Like they were making him walk.
I don't... I don't really know what to do about it, I mean...
I can't tell Jon. He hates spiders, he'll freak out, and we need him to stay focused.
...I guess I'll have to find some way to get rid of them on my own.
The webs were still there the next day. More than that, Martin could see them stretching throughout the Institute, weaving their nebulous paths through doors and walls to converge on Jon's office. He spent almost a full minute trying to figure out how to get around them before he realized that the other Institute staff were walking straight through. They were there, but not there; an abstract idea of control that the Beholding was letting Martin see, but not a physical reality that could hinder his passing. Even so, he shuddered as he walked through them to Jon's office.
The room was filled with boxes. Jon had had Melanie and Basira looking through the older records in the Archives for Beholding-related statements or anything that might explain the Watcher's Crown. This must be the fruits of their labor.
Jon himself was standing at the desk, a box open in front of him and papers scattered over the surface. He looked up when Martin knocked, the webs shifting with him. He was almost completely encased in them, and if they hadn't been so nebulous Martin wouldn't have been able to tell when he smiled.
"Ah, Martin. Are you busy at the moment?"
Martin tried to focus on Jon, not the way the webs pulled and twitched as he spoke. "N- no. I was, uh, I was just going to ask if you needed a hand with anything."
"Yes, actually. Could you help me sort through these boxes Basira and Melanie left? Just skimming the statements, not actually reading them."
He gestured at the boxes around him, and the wave of movement transferred to the webs, setting them rippling around the room.
"R- right. Uh, yeah, I- I can do that."
Jon noticed his hesitancy. "You'll let me know if it starts to affect you? It's not the same as recording them, I know, but they are still... well."
Martin was almost able to convince himself Jon's concern was personal, not just common courtesy. "I'll be fine, Jon." He took a deep breath and stepped into the office, trying to ignore the webs around them. He grabbed another box and set it next to Jon's on the desk, and began to skim the papers inside.
It was a few minutes before Martin noticed that Jon had shifted to stand closer to him than usual, and he tried not to read into it too much. Sure, the world almost ending and the related losses had served as a bonding experience for them, not to mention Jon's own newfound warmth after his near-death experience, but Martin held no illusions that Jon felt anything for him other than friendly camaraderie. His certainty on the matter wavered when Jon's hand, which had been resting on the desk as he perused a statement, started to reach toward his own. Standing close was one thing, but there wasn't much ambiguity of meaning in a hand-hold.
The surge of hope Martin felt upon seeing this was turned into an icy dread almost immediately, however, when he glanced up and saw the tension on Jon's face - and the tension in the webs.
Jon didn't even seem to notice what his hand was doing, preoccupied by the statement as he subconsciously fought against the supernatural influence driving him toward Martin. So that was it, then. That was why he had been so nice lately. For some, unknown reason, the Web wanted him to go against his own heart and be with Martin.
Martin fought down the surge of bitterness that came with this realization and focused back on the determination he had worked up the night before.
Jon was being controlled. Martin had to help. He couldn't let his own emotions get in the way, and he couldn't delay any longer.
He stuttered his way through some excuse to leave the office - fact checking, cross referencing, he barely heard his own words. Jon seemed surprised, but let him go without questioning his motives, smiling as he wished him luck. Martin didn't look back, didn't want to know if there were webs at work to pull Jon's face into that friendly expression.
Once he was outside the office it was easier to ignore the meaning behind the webs. They were simply a problem to be dealt with, and Martin was good at dealing with problems. He'd given some thought as to how the webs might be destroyed, and come up with a relatively simple solution. Webs were caused by spiders. So, to get rid of a web, all you had to do was kill the spider.
He felt a bit guilty about it, but hey. He wasn't going to hurt normal spiders, just the spooky ones that were controlling Jon. He could forgive himself for that.
He grabbed the bag of supplies he had prepared and chose one of the threads at random, tracing it down the corridor. It twisted and turned, cut through rooms, and generally was nearly impossible to follow, especially when it swooped up and cut through the ceiling, but he stuck at it. He knew he was attracting odd looks from the non-Archives Institute employees as he wandered through the corridors, but he was used to that by now.
Eventually he found the thread's origin, hidden away in a disused stairwell at the back of the Institute. Several other threads ended here as well, and Martin paled when he saw the number of spiders clinging to the walls and ceiling. He'd never really understood arachnophobia before, but this... this was terrifying. Each spider twitched gently where they sat, manipulating a single silver thread that stretched out of the room and back to Jon.
Too late to turn back. He pulled a rolled up newspaper out of his bag and advanced on the nearest spider. It was big, and hairy, and it didn't move as he took a deep breath and swatted it with the paper. The crumpled body fell soundlessly to the floor, the line it had been weaving dissolving like mist.
Martin jumped back, expecting the other spiders to react, to start advancing on him, to cover him in their webs and force him to their will - but they didn't move, still sitting on the wall, spinning and spinning their webs. Martin grinned. Not a fight, then. Pest control.
It took almost a half an hour to locate all the spiders on the stairwell, and another ten minutes to sweep all the crushed bodies into a metal waste bin and burn them. No such thing as too much caution, and Martin was well aware of the enmity between the Desolation and the Web. Newspapers might hurt them, but fire could be the key to stopping them coming back. He used matches, though a lighter probably would have been more convenient. He didn't actually own one, and he certainly wasn't going to borrow Jon's. Not for spiders.
The rest of the day was spent in similar pursuit, tracking down nests of spiders all over the Institute and watching their webs shrivel to nothing. The Archives were decidedly cleaner when he returned to pick up his things at the end of the day, and there were patches of clear showing through Jon's encasing shroud of webs when he poked his head around his office door.
"Martin? Is everything all right?"
Martin smiled, grabbing his coat. "Yep, just leaving for the day. Unless you need a hand with anything?"
"No, no, it's just... well, you left rather abruptly earlier, and when you didn't come back I thought... I mean, did you have trouble finding the records you were looking for?"
Oh. Right. He had forgotten he'd been helping Jon with the boxes.
"Oh, s- sorry. I didn't mean to run off like that. I did find what I was looking for, but then Hannah asked for my help with something in the library - she came back to work last week, did you hear? - and it took longer than I thought it would, and... yeah. S- sorry."
He felt bad lying to Jon, but the webs weren't gone yet and it was probably kinder than telling him the truth.
Jon nodded, seeming to believe him. "It's not a problem, Martin. I made good progress on the boxes on my own, I just..." He seemed to be on the verge of saying something, but cut himself off. "It's not a problem. I'll see you tomorrow."
Continued statement of Martin Blackwood, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute.
I can kill the spiders. At- at least I think I can. They're gone for now, a bunch of them anyway. I'm not sure what I'll do if they're back tomorrow, but... one day at a time, I suppose.
I still don't know why they're here. It can't just be...
Well, the only thing I saw them actually forcing Jon to do was to- to... flirt with me...? I suppose? I mean, he nearly grabbed my hand at one point, and I know Jon would never do that on his own.
But I guess I was out of the Archives most of the day tracking down spiders, so who knows what they were making him do while I was gone. I can't imagine it was anything good...
I really, really hope burning the spiders was enough to get rid of them. I don't know what I'll do if they're back tomorrow, I can't- I don't know how else to fight them. And I need to fight them. I need to save him. Whatever it takes.
The webs did not reappear overnight.
Martin breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the clear patches in the corridors, and walked to the Archives with a bounce in his step. Jon's office door was propped open with a box of old statements, and he waved Martin in when he saw him arrive.
"Martin! You're here early. Everything alright?"
Martin grinned. "Yeah, just feeling productive."
Jon smiled back. "Good. There's still a lot of boxes to get to."
"Uh, sorry, I, um. I had something else I was planning on working on? If that's okay?"
Jon's smile slipped slightly, and he almost looked genuinely disappointed - but Martin was probably just projecting.
"That's fine. Just, uh, when you've finished with that, if you could lend a hand...?"
"Of course." Martin pasted on a smile. Jon's return looked just as forced. The spiders were dispatched with slightly more aggression than was strictly necessary after that.
Jon was waiting for Martin when he returned to the Archives. There were still trailing webs wrapped around his limbs, but they were frayed and thin. It had been a productive day.
He smiled, a bit awkwardly. "Sorry I couldn't help again today. This is taking longer than I thought."
"It's... it's fine, Martin. Uh, how long do you think...?"
"I should wrap it up tomorrow." He frowned at the webs. "Early afternoon, if I'm lucky."
"Good to hear." Jon smiled, and there were no webs on his face to confuse things this time. He really was pleased. "On a different note, I wanted to ask you-"
The webs around his ankles yanked, seemingly in an attempt to draw him to the door. Jon held his ground without even noticing, and Martin saw a few of the weaker strands snap. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. Jon was fighting back.
He had paused in the middle of his question, but didn't seem to realize it was because of a battle of wills. Instead, he seemed to rethink what he was going to say, hesitating over the end of the sentence before finishing with: "Nevermind, it can wait."
"Oh. Okay." Martin smiled, not quite sure how to respond. "I'm not in a rush to leave, if you wanted to talk...?"
Jon shook his head. "It's not a big deal, Martin. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Sure." Martin nodded, and started to gather his things, covertly watching Jon leave. The webs were taut as wires, trying to pull him out of the Archives as fast as possible, but Jon maintained a normal pace. A few more strands of web snapped in the struggle. Martin smiled.
It worked! It actually worked! I can't believe it! The webs didn't come back last night! And I think Jon's starting to fight back on his own, I saw them try to pull him away and they snapped! It's-
[Clears throat] Continued statement of Martin Blackwood, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute.
Killing the spiders seems to work to get rid of the webs. If I can keep this up, Jon should be free by tomorrow afternoon.
I am really glad this worked. I didn't exactly have a backup plan if it didn't, and whatever the spiders want, I don't think it's good.
I... I'm less sure about that today than I was yesterday. About what they want, I mean. Jon tried to talk to me when I was leaving the Archives earlier, and it looked like the webs were trying to stop him? It doesn't make sense with what happened yesterday, there's no way-
I mean, Jon wouldn't do that on his own. He just wouldn't. So either I misread what was going on, or... I don't know.
Maybe he knows he's being controlled and was going to ask me about it? That would certainly seem worth stopping, if I were a spider. That's probably it, he must have wanted to know if I'd noticed anything odd, if I could help.
Don't worry, Jon. I'll get you free soon.
Martin got to the Archives early the next morning. The door to Jon's office was closed, but the silver threads swooping under and through it indicated he was already hard at work, despite the early hour. Martin sighed. He could protect Jon from spiders, but not his own obsessive work ethic. At least the closed door meant he didn't have to make excuses for not helping with the files today.
The webs were harder to track now that there were fewer. The spiders were scattered individually throughout the building, no longer in large nests. Still, Martin had gotten quite skilled at following the strands at this point, and made good time in dispatching them. True to his word, he found himself returning to the Archives in the early afternoon, his smile growing with each step as he looked for webs and found none.
Like yesterday, Jon was waiting for him when he arrived, leaning against the doorframe of his office. He moved as soon as he saw Martin, striding over to intercept him like he was afraid Martin would ignore him. Martin smiled again and began to speak, but before he could get a word out Jon interrupted.
"We need to talk."
"I- um, yeah. Look, Jon, about the last couple days- "
Jon cut him off again. "I know. I'm sorry I made you uncomfortable when we were sorting files, I should have just been direct about it."
Martin blinked. "S- sorry, what?"
Jon sighed. "I'm not good at this, Martin, even under normal circumstances. And- I don't know, I've felt like there's... something holding me back, these last few days. It's... no. No more excuses." He took a deep breath, looked Martin in the eye. "Martin. Will you- "
He stopped, suddenly, as though the words had been choked off. His eyes widened as he tried to speak, and Martin could see the beginnings of fear in their depths as he remained silent. He raised a hand to his throat, gasping in short, panicked breaths.
Martin froze, staring. He had gotten all the webs, hadn't he? This couldn't be-
But there it was. Wrapped around Jon's throat, cutting off his words, delicate and nearly invisible: one last strand of silvery web.
The surge of fury at the sight caught Martin by surprise, and he felt his hands clench into fists. Jon was supposed to be free. Martin had saved him.
He took a deep, deep breath, and managed to choke out, "Excuse me for just one moment, Jon..." before turning on his heel and stalking out of the room.
The strand was not long. Martin traced it's almost translucent length down the hall to a nearby broom cupboard. The spider was on the wall just inside the door, and the gentle rocking of its body as it spun out its web seemed to mock Martin as he glared.
It made a satisfying crunch when it died.
He left it burning in the bottom of a mop bucket as he strode back to the Archives, starting to speak the moment he was through the door.
"Okay, Jon, please don't freak out but there's something I really need to te- "
"Will you go in a date with me?"
Jon was still standing in the middle of the room, one hand to his throat, the other held slightly in front of himself, palm facing Martin, supplicating, earnest.
"Will you..." he took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Martin, I've been trying to tell you how I feel, I don't know why I haven't been able to, I..."
Martin stared at him, blankly, for a second. Then: "I may be able to explain that."
Statement of Martin Blackwood, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute, London...
Martin shut the door to Jon's office softly and made his way across the room, balancing two mugs of tea. Jon was huddled in the corner, still wide-eyed, clutching the tape recorder. He had been there since listening to Martin's statement, and showed no signs of moving.
Martin slid down the wall next to him and proffered a mug.
Jon accepted it with a shaky smile. Martin returned it, leaning against his shoulder in a gesture of silent support. At least Jon had stopped hyperventilating.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Jon began to speak, in fits and starts, telling Martin about his childhood. About the Web. Martin listened quietly, letting Jon say what he needed to say, and nodded in understanding when he finished.
"That's horrible, Jon. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Jon shook his head. "In hindsight I was lucky. Not many face a Leitner and survive."
Martin nodded again. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you about the webs earlier. You deserved to know, I just..."
"You thought I'd panic." Jon indicated the tape recorder. "You said. And much as I hate to admit it, you were probably right. Given my reaction today, I... I don't think I would have taken it very well. There's no need to apologize, Martin. You did the right thing."
Martin felt himself flush, just a little. "Thanks."
Jon smiled. "Thank you, Martin. You saved me." Then he sighed. "I just wish I knew from what."
"Have you noticed anything odd recently? Any compulsions, or...?"
"Just spending more time in my office than I would have liked. And an inability to talk to you, or hold your hand. But that didn't seem particularly unusual, that's just... me."
"So... I had it completely wrong, then?"
"Seemingly. For whatever reason, the Web didn't want me near you. No matter how much I wanted to be." He sighed. "I would assume because flies are easier to catch when they're alone."
Martin didn't respond to that. The last comment wasn't really directed at him anyway, more to the world in general, and Jon was staring off across the room, lost in his own thoughts again.
They finished their tea in silence, still leaning against each other in the corner. Jon set his mug gently on the ground, giving Martin a small smile.
"You know, you never did answer my question."
"Will you go on a date with me?"
Martin paused, a warm feeling growing in his chest that had nothing to do with the tea. "I... I would quite like that, Jon."
There was no ambiguity in the gesture this time, when he held out his hand. Martin took it.