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The Timeline of Theseus

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It had all gone wrong. Martin was...god, where was he, why couldn't he See? He was like Annabelle Cane now, he was completely hidden from the Eye. How had that been possible? How had he been taken from him? He had been right there behind him, and now, now he's gone.

Jon wept alone.

He was all alone now. The world had ended and it was his fault and he was alone.

"Oh Archivist."

And now he was no longer alone. The Distortion, perfect.

"Helen."

"My dear Archivist. Where has the other half of the dynamic duo gone? I do hope Martin is ok, he was always the more charming of you. So polite."

Jon could have let the Spiral ramble. He could have demanded the Distortion get to the point. He could have ripped her- it- her to shreds, he could have cried in her arms.

He lunged for the Door.

Helen startled, too slow to stop Jon from darting beyond her doorway. Jon paid her no mind. He may not be able to Know how to banish the Fears, but he Knew how to do what he wanted. The Spiral's hallways were the purity of the Twisting Deceit. Within them, after the world had ended, with enough power, anything could be twisted.

What was the self but a lie? What was time but a distortion? What is growth but a changing? How much of a ship must you replace before it is a different ship? Is it ever a different ship? If the boards that created it were replaced one by one, and warped to fit that ship, and could never fit another ship, and you went back and found the old boards and laid them over the new boards, or under the new boards, or layered them at the same time, if you could, if you could, if, if, if you could break the world and go Back, if you rebuilt the ship with old boards and new boards would it be the same ship?

 

Jon awoke in an alleyway. He slowly got his hands- had they always been that small? of course they had- under him and pushed himself up. He sat, and the thought. His head hurt, and he tried to think.

He was Jon Sims. His grandmother would be mad he had scuffed his knees. His grandmother would know how to make his hands stop hurting. He was 8 years old, even though he looked smaller. He liked books. There was a book that had just eaten someone at the end of the alleyway. It had almost eaten him. He couldn't remember who it ate, and he was sad about that. Why couldn't he remember?

He looked down the alleyway at the book. It was Bad. He knew it was Bad. He should...what should he do? He wanted to run to his grandmother. But another part of him wanted to burn the book. He got to his feet and he looked for something, anything. There wasn't anything in the alleyway to burn it. He didn't want to touch the book- what if it was still hungry? What if it got him again?

Jon took off his shirt and he threw it over the little book. And he took off his shoes and put them over his hands, and he used those to pick up the shirt and the book and he walked to his grandmother's house. He Saw, he saw, his grandmother through the windows. He couldn't let her see him. She wouldn't understand, she didn't Know. He watched her with wide staring eyes through the windows until she left the kitchen, and then he slipped into the house and scurried into the kitchen and climbed into the cabinet and he took out the lighter and he dumped the book and his shirt into the sink and he shook his shoes off his hands and he lit the book and his shirt on fire in the sink.

"Jonathan Sims what are you doing?" shrieked his grandmother.

Jon looked unblinking at the fire. He looked unblinking at his grandmother.

"I 'unono." he shrugged.

 

The police were not unknown to the Sims' household. Jon was prone to wandering, and his grandmother was not especially talented at keeping him within her grasp for very long. He was a wiggly, curious child who would often get bored with his surroundings and seek out new sights in areas other people owned. The more bored he would get, the more inventive he would be in causing mischief. He wasn't a mean or bad-spirited child, but if his grandmother had not already had a full head of white hair before his adoption she would have blamed every one of them on him. The police had brought Jon back more times than was normal (any time more than zero was so far beyond normal) but the fire department, that was new.

Although the fire had quickly been put out via the tap, the neighbors had spotted the flames through the window. Jon was simply glad it had taken long enough for the book to be completely ruined, a soggy, charred mess. He hoped it was enough to kill the spider. He suddenly worried it might have only let the spider out, if it had run out of the door before the flames got to the last page. But no. Mr. Spider was big. He had seen those big legs. And he had watched the fire very carefully. He watched all around the sink too, to make sure the fire didn't go anywhere. He would have Seen if Mr. Spider had tried to scurry out, even if he made himself very little.

The firefighters did not understand this. Neither did his grandmother. He tried very hard to explain that he had been Watching the whole time, and he hadn't Seen anything dangerous. He was Watching very hard, he didn't even blink once, he promised. The firefighters very carefully explained that the fire itself was dangerous, and that he should never do that again. Jon nodded very hard and explained quite sincerely he Knew fire could burn down the whole world if it weren't stopped. But he had to, on account of the book eating George.

The adults had looked at each other and asked him very carefully what he meant, and Jon told them the Truth. He wasn't telling Lies, only what he Saw. He couldn't See something that wasn't Real. They hadn't believed him.

But when George didn't turn up the next day to help his grandmother with the chores, and later when his mother called crying saying she hadn't seen him in three days, Jon couldn't believe the police still hadn't shown back up to believe him. He thought very hard, and eventually he Knew they weren't the kind of police that could help but that there were police who could. But they were dangerous- could be dangerous, had been dangerous? It felt confused in his head, as though they were both strangers and enemies and friends. Jon didn't like this muddled feeling. He had to be cautious, and clever, like the heroes in his stories.

When grandmother came back from her store run, Jon jumped down from the little stool in the kitchen near the corded phone and ran to her.

"Grandmother, grandmother, gran, gran, gran-"

"Not now Jon, I need to put away the shopping, Jon, Jon let go of my skirt, not now Jon! For heavens sake sit down!"

"But Gran- it's the police! The police called!"

"What? When? What did they call about?"

As his grandmother put away the shopping, (and how much shopping she had to do! Over the past few days Jon hadn't stopped complaining he was hungry, she supposed it was an overdue growth spurt. No matter what she fed him, he kept complaining he still felt hungry, even when the sight of food seemed to make him feel sick.), Jon began to babble about the police wanting to interview him about George's disappearance.

"There's a special task force, they're in London, they know more about what happened to George and they need my Story and I need to come in person and we should go tomorrow and we should talk to the detectives and we should actually go today because they can talk anytime but we need to talk soon, absolutely soon because the trail will go cold and they need evidence and we need to go Gran!"

"Just like that, no appointment? No special time? Who are we supposed to speak to? They expect me to take you on a trip for three hours one way for an interview? Why couldn't they do it over the phone?"

"We can show up any time 9-11 or 1-4 today or tomorrow, we need to speak to Detective Davies or one of his associates, and they can't do it over the phone for-legal-reason-to-make-sure-the-evi-den-ce-isn't-tampered." Jon answered rapid fire.

"Well we can't possibly do it today." his Grandmother said firmly, "and heaven only knows why they want your spider tale."

"That's what happened Gran! A big spider took him through the door in the book and that's why I had to burn the book!"

"Jon, I will not tell you again. You did not see that. It is not possible, and it did not happen. You cannot fib to the police like this Jon."

"But it did!"

"Jonathan Sims, go to your room."

Jon went up the stairs muttering to himself under his breath "But it did, it did!" There were tears in his eyes, and when he got into his room and onto his bed he started lightly kicking the wall. "I'm not a liar I'm not I'm not I'm not" he began to sob, and threw his face into his pillow to scream so his gran wouldn't hear him.

"What a temperamental child," thought his grandmother, as she picked up the phone to dial 1471 to get the number of that police who had called in.

Jon had nearly calmed down when he heard his grandmother storm up the stairs. His heart began to race as he heard her heavy tread.

"JONATHAN SIMS. Not a liar are we? Not a liar?" she shouted as she threw open his door. "The police never called today Jonathan."

Jon couldn't help it. His face grew all hot, and it felt like worms were in his stomach and he was going to die and his gran was glaring at him and tapping her foot and he was bad and he felt bad and everything was terrible and bad and horrible just like him and-

His grandmother was unmoved by him bursting into tears. "No supper for you tonight Jon. Think about what you've done." She turned and shut the door with a firm click.

Jon cried and he cried and he wished he wasn't such a baby about this. Every time his gran or his teachers or anyone was disappointed in him it was like the world was ending. He was stupid for thinking he could be like a hero in the books. Heroes in the books never cried into their pillows and wrapped themselves in their blankets until they were as heavy as they could get. Heroes didn't bite at their arms to muffle their crying because they were bad and a baby.

Downstairs, Jon's grandmother poured herself some tea and opened a book. Honestly that child, weeping and wailing like the world was going to end over no supper. Well that would teach him to fib.

Eventually, within his blanket cocoon, Jon fell into a fitful sleep and slept past supper. He awoke when the house was quiet, because the house was always quiet if Jon wasn't making noise. He crept down the stairs and saw his grandmother sitting in her armchair surrounded by lamplight. He quietly got onto the couch and curled up in a little ball. He felt so hungry, more hungry than he had ever felt in his life. He couldn't seem to eat enough, but he didn't want any of the food his gran cooked. He didn't know what he wanted. Nothing smelled right or tasted right, and yet he was so hungry. He knew better than to ask for food though. He had lied.

Technically he hadn't though. He Knew Detective Davies of Scotland Yard didn't have appointments in his calendar from 9-11 and 1-4, and he Knew he needed to be there in person. He didn't know how he Knew but he did. He didn't tell his gran any fibs. The police really had called, they had just called a few days ago when Jon burned the book. They had phoned though. He never said they had phoned today. He didn't Lie, not really.

He was so hungry.

"Gran," piped up the smallest of voices, "can you tell me a Story?"

"Oh? What kind of story?"

"A true Story. A secret Story. A scary Story."

"Hm, I don't think I know any of those."

"Please Gran?"

"Alright, once upon a time there was a little boy-"

"No Gran, a true Story!"

"This is a true story Jonathan."

"No it's not Gran, please!" Jon begged. "Tell me."

"I don't have any stories like that. I could tell you other stories."

And Jon gave up, because he knew it was True. He hugged his knees and stared at his gran while she told him a fake story that wasn't very scary at all. But she must have been a little scared of it, because her voice sounded funny the whole time he was Looking at her.

When Jon went to bed for real, his grandmother shakily poured herself a drink.

 

 

 

Jon woke up very early, earlier than even his grandmother. He did that sometimes, and she told him to stay in his room very quietly until he heard her making coffee in the kitchen. Then he would be allowed to come down. But this morning he didn't wait for his gran to make coffee. He woke up, and he grabbed his backpack for school and he emptied out everything. Papers fell down in loose crumpled heaps, clattering forgotten pencils and colored markers rang against the floorboards and Jon waited with his heart in his mouth for his gran to come yell at him. After long frozen moments, when nothing happened, Jon took his backpack and shoved a box wrapped in plastic bags into it. Inside the box were the remains of the book and his shirt, and Jon had taped it up over and over to make sure no spiders got out just in case. The box was practically rounded at the edges from how much clear tape he had rolled over it. It wasn't very sticky tape, so he had to be sure. He thought of long legs reaching out of his backpack and nearly cried again, but he didn't. He zipped up his backpack, and after thinking about it for a moment, went over to the pouch of school supplies that had fallen out of his backpack and took out the small bottle of Elmers glue. He the carefully heaped gobs of glue all over the zipper. There. Now the spider legs wouldn't be able to creep out from inside the backpack even if they got past the box and the tape and the plastic bags.

He got dressed quickly, threw on a jacket, and then slung the backpack that almost came to his knees over his shoulders. His gran said he'd grow into it, but right now it went thump-thump-thump when he ran. Glue dripped onto his jacket, but he didn't notice at all. He crept down the stairs and down the hall and over to the hook where his grandmother hung her purse and he opened the purse and he took the wallet and he took absolutely all the cash that was in there. And then he put the cash in his top jacket pocket because his top jacket pocket had a zipper and he zipped up the pocket and he zipped up the wallet and he zipped up the purse. And then Jonathan Sims walked out the door and he walked down the street and he walked to the train station where two trains came every hour from London on the South Western Main Line and he Knew where to go because he wasn't a baby.

 

 

PC Wilson was on desk duty when she heard a small polite voice say "Excuse me." Looking up, she saw a pair of eyes watching her over the rim of her desk. They belonged to a very small child who looked very tired.

"Hello! And who might you be? Are you lost?"

"I'm Jonathan Sims," said the small unblinking eyes politely, "and I'm not lost. I need to talk to Detective Davies please."

"Oh sweetheart, Detective Davies isn't here right now. Are you a part of one of his cases?"

"Not yet." said the little eyes distractedly, "Oh no. I See he's had something come up that will take him all day. He didn't have anything on his calendar this morning. Can you tell him when he gets back I need to speak to him about a spider inside a book that ate George?"

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Ok I'm going to go back to my gran now, goodbye." And the little boy turned his eyes over to the door and walked away, forgetting to give PC Wilson any contact information whatsoever. He made a beeline for the doors, and through the large glass PC Wilson could see an older woman waiting outside.

"...What?" she said with feeling, then the phone rang and she forgot all about it.

 

 

Jon dejectedly walked by an old lady tourist waiting for her husband to catch up to her outside New Scotland Yard. He moodily kicked at a little pebble he had found and kept kicking it a little ways from himself as he walked back to the train station. Except his little pebble went one way and not the way he wanted it to, so he followed it a little bit just thinking. He was tired from the train ride, and tired from walking quickly away from strangers, and he was still very, very hungry. He should have packed some food, but then he thought about having to carry food in the same pack as the spiders and he couldn't do it. Anyways the zipper was glued shut. Maybe he should stop and buy some food before he went back to the train. He didn't even get to speak with the Detective who had enough time on his schedule to talk to Jon. All the other ones were busy all day, and wouldn't be free for days unless he made an appointment. Jon stopped, looked up, and smacked his forehead angrily. He should have asked for an appointment with anyone free that day! Even if they weren't one of the special ones! Maybe someone else could have talked to him and then they could have talked to one of the special Detectives who could help, there were loads in there! And the people who couldn't help could have talked to them while he was back on the train to his gran and it could have been done today instead of having to come back days from now. He had gotten so focused on his checklist he forgot to think. Why was he like this? Ugh!

Jon turned away from his little pebble and went to go walk back, when he stopped. He Knew suddenly there were Stories nearby. It was like walking by a window and smelling a fresh baked pie. It was like smelling a whole bakery of pies. It was like- oh. There was a cafe inside the building that also sold pie. It sold a lot of other things too, to the people that worked in the building. Jon didn't work there, but he had money. And he really was very hungry.

Jon read the signs very carefully. He read which way Visitors were supposed to go, and where the Library was, and what floor Research was on, and where the bathrooms were, and where the canteen was, and which way the elevators were, and then he turned and took the stairs. He went down away from the Visitor check in, away from the Library, away from Research, away from the canteen, and towards the Stories. He thought perhaps he should have gone to the Library, because that's where you usually keep stories. The Libraries had stories, but they weren't Stories. Jon Knew that. He Knew that like he knew how his pillow smelled. He couldn't have described it, or written it down, or explained it outside of a primal, bone deep unconsciousness of home.

He found empty desks and lots of boxes, boxes filled with loose paper scattered around. It filled him suddenly with a vicious dissatisfaction. They should be ordered, and kept safe and nice. All the proper storybooks in a library had nice covers and were put in the right spot every time. This was just a jumble! There were racks of files away from the desks, and the over flowing boxes that made him grumble down into his soul. He pushed the box he'd opened, his box, down to the furthest point from the desks deep within the filing racks. He sat cross legged in a dark corner of the filling section (just like how he always sat in the furthest point in the library at home, so no one would bother him or interrupt him or take his lunch money again) and began to read.

 

 

James Wright had only recently stepped down as the Head of the Magnus Institute, but his replacement Elias Bouchard surprised everyone with just how suited he seemed for the role. Former colleagues joked they were finally getting to know him after he stopped coming to work high all the time. In truth, no one had really known Elias all that well. It seemed in the few months he had taken over the Magnus Institute that he was a serious if fairly corporate manager. So it was a bit of a surprise to see him sprint out of his office, coat flapping behind him as he fairly leapt down the stairs towards the Archives.

Chapter Text

Whenever Jon began reading, it was always a toss up whether or not he could hear anything around him. Either he would be completely lost to the world, focused so intently on his book that he wouldn't notice his name being shouted, or he would hear the smallest noise and be instantly alert, feeling guilty for no reason he could define. With his box in front of him, nestled into the back of a darkened corner, Jon was utterly lost to the world as he clutched the paper in his hands and read this Story. He didn't react to Elias throwing open the door to the Archives, nor did he so much as blink as the shout of "Show yourself!" echoed around the room.

Elias had been so focused upon his madcap dash into the Archives that he found himself halfway into the room before realizing he hadn't switched on the lights. The cluttered room was lit solely by the light from the open door behind him, it's fluorescent drone the only thing making noise after his own echoes had died away. No matter, he was of the Eye and there was nothing he could not See when he put his mind to it, dim lighting be damned. He listened intently, but nothing stirred within the Archives. He took measured strides forward, his leather soles striking against the linoleum.

It was the sound of walking that pulled Jon away when shouting had not. He had just finished reading one story when he heard them, and his heart leapt to his chest. He knew what walking sounded like when someone was mad. His grandmother and his teachers sometimes walked like that, each step applied with precision to contain and control their anger. He had done something bad, even if he didn't know what it was yet. He very quietly and very slowly stood up, and faced out to the entrance between the two filing racks he found himself between, clutching the Story gently. He didn't want the mad person to find him, but he didn't want them to think he was hiding because then they'd get madder, but he didn't want them to find him at all, but he was sure they'd find him anyways, but would they be mad if he didn't say anything, but maybe they weren't even mad at him and were mad at someone else, so he shouldn't say anything and just wait. So he did. He stayed very quiet and very still and he Looked out with his big unblinking eyes from the darkness towards the thin strip of the light in the middle of the bullpen that he could see. If he tried though, he could See beyond the little strip of light. He Saw the tall man in the suit passing the empty desks now, and he Knew that he was mad at Jon and that he would find him and See him too. Jon resolved to be on his very best behavior and to be very polite to the man, so he wouldn't get madder. He kept Looking as the man got closer.

Elias felt the press of the Eye upon him, stronger than he had ever felt it before save perhaps when he had first read poor Dr. Fanshaw's letter. But that was merely second hand terror, processed by feeding. Stimulating and emulating but not truly direct. This, on the other hand, was like being in an auditorium of the peers you most wanted to impress and every person who hated you and all your ancestors at the same time. Your every move, spotlighted and held under strict scrutiny, unable to do so much as hide the slightest twitch. Elias opened his own powers and began to search the room, but it was as though one of his eyes was trying to catch a glimpse at the other. Futile, pointless, headache inducing, and bound to leave him cross eyed. He Knew there was an avatar or a creature or something powerful within this room, and he could very closely guess where it was. But trying to See it exactly was like trying to See Gertrude when she was Looking back at him. He had never peered inside her head for a very good reason.

The room, though cluttered and cramped and overflowing, was not actually all that large in terms of space for anything to hide. Elias had reached the first filing racks and turned to stare down them, and there it was. Staring from the darkened shadows was a small childlike figure, standing eerily still. Elias almost couldn't see it breathing, but there was a slow in and out movement if he stared hard enough. It had dragged one of the file boxes before it like a wolf dragged a wounded deer to a quiet place to feast. Elias couldn't make out all the details of the figure, but something was wrong with its outline. It was too bulky, and bulged in odd places.

"Hello Mr. Magnus." it said from the shadows in a sing-song cadence. Its voice was that of a young boy's, and Elias couldn't tell what emotion it was supposed to be portraying. The eyes never blinked, the only bright spots among the dark.

Jon was on his best behavior. He was very polite, and he didn't run even though he really really wanted to. He realized when the man turned the corner that he Knew him in the same way he knew the teachers at his school that had never taught him but were recognized on the playground anyways. He was very very polite when he said hello, he said his name like he would those distant teachers, and he really really hoped the man wasn't too mad he had moved the box.

It was important never to show fear in situations like this. Jonah Magnus had learned that through long and sometimes painful years of experience that when the creatures marked by the Entities appeared, you could not let them think you were something to feed off of. He maintained his posture and his voice never wavered as he told the creature to come out. It would take more than this to truly rattle him, he was sure. He would admit to being...perturbed. Later. When the thing wasn't in front of him.

Jon didn't want to come out, but an adult told him to. So he had to. But he wanted to just keep reading. Why didn't the man just let him read? It wasn't fair. But now he was caught, and he had done something bad again without knowing what it was. He never seemed to know, it wasn't like he was trying to be bad! He wanted to be good. So he quietly walked towards the man he Knew but didn't really know. Did he count as a stranger? Jon felt instinctively that he didn't really count as a Stranger, and that if he knew his name he must have known him from somewhere. But there were so many adults. Was he one of grandmother's friends? Or one of his teacher's friends? Was this the principal? No, he decided, that wouldn't make any sense. He was in London now, the principal wouldn't be in London. He had mixed up feelings about the man, and he didn't have time to sort them all out beneath the squirming feeling of being caught doing something bad.

Elias was a bit surprised when what stepped out of the shadows was a fairly normal small boy with a backpack on, holding a statement like a newscaster. The backpack explained his odd bulky shape in the dark, but what could explain this amount of power? He couldn't possibly be a true child, not at this level. Unless he had interacted with a Lietner Elias had never heard of- surely? He couldn't possibly be a child, surely any child who read a Lietner like that still had to be on the road to Becoming, you couldn't just skip like this! Unless he had been touched as an infant or toddler and had slowly been gaining power of the years? But Elias would have heard of- the Magnus Institute would have gotten- someone would have seen something. This couldn't possibly be a real little boy.

Jon was real scared. The man seemed very angry, and Jon felt his face flush. I'm sorry, he tried to say. I was just so hungry, he wanted to explain. But that wouldn't explain anything, he hadn't gone to the canteen at all. So what tumbled out of Jon's mouth instead was "Why are your Stories in boxes like this? It's not very nice, especially when you mix up the real Stories with fake ones. I kinda sorted this box already but I can put it back if that's how you want it except I can't really put it back exactly because they weren't in any order and the papers got mixed up. I unmixed the papers so the true Stories didn't have to touch the fake ones because them touching is gross."

And that was all True. The not real stories touching the real Stories was like when the meat juice ran into his peas at dinner. It was gross and mixed up and not where things where supposed to be and Jon didn't like it. The man just looked at him, and Jon saw his eyes kind of twitch like he almost blinked but really didn't want to, like he was in a staring contest. But Jon wasn't in a staring contest with him, except he had seen the man almost blink and he hadn't even thought about blinking because he was scared and wanted to watch the man.

"I read your Story and I looked at some of your fake stories and it looks like people come to this room to tell their own scary stories that they think are real even if they're not and I'm sorry for reading one of your Stories without asking a grown up but there weren't any grown ups here and if you want I have a Story of my own I could tell you in exchange it really happened and a spider in a book ate George and I burned the book and I showed it to the firemen when they came to my house and nobody believed me not even the policemen at home so I brought the book to the police in London because I Know they can help but the police didn't have any free time to see me today and if you want I could show you the book but it's all burned and in a box and we have to make sure to put it back in the box and tape it back up for the police so the Spider doesn't get out."

There, that was enough wasn't it? He had said sorry and he had said what he had done to help the Stories and he had given his own Story. Oh! He forgot to add some parts. "My name is Jonathan Sims it is very nice to meet you Mr. Magnus."

Mr. Magnus had opened his mouth at one point during Jon's ramble but it was closed now and he didn't interrupt which had been good otherwise Jon might have forgotten a part of what he wanted to say.

Elias had been startled by the sheer force of in the question. It hadn't even felt like the boy was trying, but he had nearly answered anyways. It was as though he was a boat rocked by the merest brush of the fin of a great Leviathan. There was no true intention behind it, beyond a mere blip of interest as the boy thought of what next to say. It was almost as though he'd forgotten he'd asked a question at all. Elias worried for a moment that he was gaping like a fish, but no, his mouth was closed. What to say, what to say...

"Hello Jonathan." that seemed safe enough. "Why are you here?"

Jon gave him a very unimpressed look. "I already told you Mr. Magnus!" He didn't like when grown ups didn't listen. It was rude. And frustrating. Because now he had to think about what he was going to say all over again.

What a rude little child. A rude little child who had just shrugged off his Question. Elias took a moment to compose himself. "Why don't we have a seat Jon. And my name is not Mr. Magnus, it is Elias Bouchard. A pleasure to meet you." He gestured to one of the desks. Jon clambered up to the seat as Elias dragged another one to the desk. He carefully placed his statement down onto the desk, and then crossed his arms and swung his feet a little.

"No you're not. Lies are bad Mr. Magnus. It's very rude to lie." he scowled. Sometimes grown ups thought it was funny to lie to little kids. But he wasn't a baby and he didn't like being lied to!

"I assure you it's no lie Jonathan. My name is Elias Bouchard, and I would appreciate you using it."

"You can't just make up a name!" Jon insisted.

"You certainly can. People do it all the time. Like going by a nickname or...or calling someone Grandmother instead of their actual name. But I didn't make this one up, it's my name.Why do you call me Mr. Magnus?"

Jon thought about this. He'd never considered Grandmother wasn't grandmother's actual name. But now he Knew it was Elizabeth. He must have heard it before somewhere. And Katherine at school went by Kate, and that was her real name. Jon thought about Mr. Magnus a little harder.

"It doesn't sound like a made up name. It sounds like a stolen name."

"I said I didn't make it up, and it doesn't sound stolen at all. Why do you call me Mr. Magnus?"

"Because that's your name."

"Why do you think that?"

"Because it is."

"Who told you to think that was my name?"

"I did."

"...Jonathan, did you say 'I' did, or 'Eye' did?"

"Why would I say Eye did?"

"Because Beholding is also called the Eye." answered Elias immediately. He was startled with himself for answering like that. The Leviathan was getting closer to the boat, great waves rocking faster and higher.

"What's Beholding? Why is it called the Eye? Why don't you like being called your name? How come your eyes look so much older than your face? Why isn't anyone in this room? How come all the Stories are jumbled like this? Why do you collect Stories if you're not even going to treat them right? Can I read more Stories? Can I have some food?"

Elias almost couldn't breathe from the sheer amount of power. Words were piling up behind his teeth, struggling to get out, to answer every question at once. His mouth twitched into impossible shapes as his tongue contorted and his vocal chords spasmed wildly all trying to form different words at the same time. He fell out of his chair, choking on half formed aborted syllables.

Jon jumped down from his chair and worriedly looked at Mr. Magnus. "Are you alright? Can you breathe? Should I call someone? Are you ok? What's wrong?"

Elias was drowning. The Leviathan had capsized his boat, and he was floundering under the waves, trying to get back to the surface, trying to answer, trying to inhale and get anything to his lungs that only wanted to exhale secrets and answers and promises to say anything just to get this to stop. Jon ran out of the room shouting for help, taking the stairs two at a time and then falling and scrambling up them on all fours when that didn't work fast enough. As Jon ran to the attendant at the front desk, garbled answers poured out of Elias into an empty room with no one around to hear them. Beholding was a God- because it Sees everything- I don't want to get caught- They are- She's traveling with them- A plot- Let her do what she wants- Feed the Eye- Yes anything- I'll Feed you anything to get this to stop- No- No- Yes- No- Everything-

By the time a security guard and a worried secretary burst back into the room with Jon, Elias had composed himself and had dragged himself back onto a chair, face on the desk and panting wildly. He waived them off, panting out the word "Asthma", which wasn't a lie because he didn't say he had asthma. The word itself was just a noun. He didn't think he could truly lie with Jonathan in the room.

Jon was worried. Mr. Magnus had collapsed for no reason, and that was scary. And the wheezing sounds he made, those were scary too. And he still didn't have the answers to his Questions, and Mr. Magnus might have died and then he'd never Know. He felt like that last thought was bit not good, but he couldn't think of why. It was True.

The security guard and secretary both dithered a bit, fluttering around asking him if he had an inhaler, if they should call the ambulance, what could they do. Elias just shook his head and kept breathing, keeping his eyes on Jonathan. Who was also staring back at him. Had this child blinked once this whole time? But he didn't look like he was gloating over Elias' near demise, he looked frightened and scared. Young.

After a few moments of panting, his breathing returned to a normal rate. He straightened up, adjusted his tie, and turned to the nervous adults. "Thank you for your concern. The moment has passed, I feel quite well again. Do either of you know this child?"

The security guard and the receptionist looked at each other and looked at Jonathan, before replying over each other that they didn't Mr. Bouchard.

"Well then, it seems young Jonathan here has wandered into our Archives unattended off the streets. David, Rosie, I would appreciate if we could locate his parents. He can stay here for the time being until they are found."

Jonathan's little voice piped up "Oh! I don't have any parents. I have my gran. She's in Bournemouth right now and I should be going back because I didn't mean to stay this long I just came up here to tell the police my Story but they didn't have anyone to listen and then I came here but you can't help so I'm going to go back to the train now. It was nice meeting you, sorry for reading your Stories without asking."

Elias took all of that in. "Rosie if you could contact the police about a missing child, that would be lovely. His name is Jonathan Sims. Please be sure to inform them that the Magnus Institute is calling, and that we'd be happy to keep him here while we wait for either his grandmother or a guardian ad litem to take him home. David, we will discuss how a child managed to gain unauthorized access to the Archives at a later point. Jonathan, let's go up to my office to wait, shall we?"

"But..." said Jon in a small voice, before giving up and ducking his head down. He didn't want to go back with the police again. Grandmother would be upset. He didn't want to leave the Archives, especially when the box was still on the floor where he left it. It wasn't right to leave a mess. And he was still hungry.

"But?" asked Elias.

"...can I please clean up what I moved?" asked Jon in a small voice. He didn't want to say the thing about the police. Adults never listened when he said he knew the way home. They never listened when he said he didn't want the police to come because he didn't want his gran to be worried. Coming home with the police was Bad.

Elias looked bemused. "Yes you may. David, if you could turn the lights on please?" The security guard moved pale faced over to the light switch, and dithered the room after turning it on. He hadn't liked the sound of discussing with Elias how this child had gotten in. He wondered if he should stay or leave. No one paid him any mind.

Elias watched as Jon quietly took the stack of paper he had left on the desk and slid out of the chair. He noticed that for some odd reason Jonathan's backpack zipper was absolutely coated in half-dried glue. As he was puzzling this out, he followed Jon over to his little nest in the Archives, where he took in the carefully sorted statements and how precisely they were lined up on the floor.

Jon was very careful as he put the Stories back in the box, making sure to line up the corners. He put the fake stories on the bottom, turned sideways so people would know they were fake, and put the real Stories up on top the right way forward. His grandmother complained she didn't know how such a child who liked ordering things could have such a messy room, but she didn't understand. Clothing and bedding and toys were loose and shapeless and were supposed to be rumbled. It didn't matter if they were on the floor or the bed wasn't made or there were toys tucked under in odd places. They didn't have corners and edges, they weren't the right shape to be sorted. Sorting squares and rectangles was fun because you could always see if you did it right. They looked good all stacked up. They were supposed to be like that. Also colors. Colors were important to be in the right order. All the folders in the Archive weren't the same color, and the ones that were very colorful weren't in any kind of order. All of this was bad, but at least this one little box could be properly organized. He carefully lifted the box up, even though his arms didn't fit around it right, and carried back to the desk , where he squared it with the edge of the bottom of the desk on the floor. It wasn't quite right the first few times, so he had to keep nudging it.

As Elias watched Jon fuss with this box, he felt a curious emotion rise within him. He wasn't quite sure what to name it. It was...interesting, perhaps was the word, to see such a small child be so fussy and particular about the abandoned Archives. A thought suddenly occurred to him. Was this perhaps some sort of balance? A void, being filled? Gertrude had never been an attentive Archivist, and had frequently abandoned her archival duties to take herself and her assistants all over the globe seeking out information on upcoming rituals. It had been slightly over three decades of abandonment within the Magnus Institute Archives. Was that enough time for a power vacuum to form and for the Eye to raise a new Archivist? This required further research. Jonathan was such a young child at that. When had he been touched? He had mentioned a book with a spider, could this be the Web's influence? Had the Web attempted to, or succeeded in, tampering with a newly emerged Avatar of the Eye? Had he had such power before the Web, or after? So many questions, so little data.

Finally Jon was satisfied with the state of the box. He looked up, and worried a bit at his lip between his teeth.

"What is it, Jonathan?" asked Elias, feeling somewhat, well, indulgent.

"Um...may I please take another Story? Not for good! Just...just to read until the police come?"

"I have 'Stories' in my office you may read."

"True Stories?"

"True Stories. We call them Statements here."

Jon nodded his head. "Thank you Mr. Magnus." Elias nearly shot him a withering glare for the wrong name, when from behind him he heard Rosie coo.

"Oh my goodness, that is the sweetest thing!" she said in a strangled whisper. Jon scowled at her. Grownups weren't as quiet as they thought they were being. Elias turned, about to chastise Rosie that she had not already left to phone the police, demanding she leave immediately and nearly reached into her heard to determine what he could shove into it to make sure she never repeated what she had heard when she continued "He called you Mr. Magnus because he thinks..oh my god, because this is the Magnus Institute and you run it, oh my god that is the cutest thing I have ever heard." Elias looked nonpulsed while Jon looked murderous. Elias looked down at Jon, cleared his throat, straightened his jacket and said "Hm. Quite. Now if you wouldn't mind, the police?"

 

 

Jon liked Mr. Magnus's office. It was big, and it had interesting things in it. He wandered around, poking his nose into various nooks and crannies, while keeping his hands firmly behind his back. At Mr. Magnus's look, Jon explained gran told him he wasn't allowed to poke other people's things but he could Look. Looking was ok. Mr. Magnus nodded at that, and Jon felt a little bit pleased.

He was even more pleased when Mr. Magnus said that Jon could touch if he was very, very careful, AND if he promised to call him Mr. Bouchard. Jon thought about that a little before replying that he could promise to be very, very careful, but he didn't Know if he could always remember to call him that. He didn't want to be a Liar. Mr. Magnus said he understood lying was bad, but this wasn't a lie. See, he even had "Elias Bouchard" on his nameplate. And on the cards in his wallet. Jon Looked at all of those, nodded solemnly, and said "Stealing something doesn't make it yours. Gran said so."

Mr. Magnus said he wouldn't give him a Story if he couldn't promise to call him Mr. Bouchard. Jon looked nearly to tears at the thought of not getting another Story and said that Mr. Magnus had said he could read a Story in his office. Mr. Magnus agreed that's what he said, and he hadn't lied. Jon really could read another Story, he just had to promise to call him Mr. Bouchard. Jon said he couldn't Lie. Mr. Magnus asked him if he had ever lied in his life, and Jon thought about it and he shamefacedly answered yes. But he really didn't want to.

"When did you lose the ability to lie Jonathan?" asked Mr. Magnus.

Jon just looked at him quizzically. But Mr. Magnus didn't say anything else, and the silence was growing weird, so Jon stopped and thought really really hard about it.

"When I couldn't remember what size my hands were supposed to be." That was the exact moment, Jon couldn't possibly be more clear.

"And when was that Jonathan?"

"Um....right after the book ate George."

Elias was a patient man. But without an Archivist within residence, clearly there wasn't as strong a geas binding statement givers to be accurate as there needed to be to hold something like Jonathan.

"How about this Jonathan, I will let you touch anything in this whole room and read anything you find, if you give me your whole story from the beginning."

Jon thought to himself. There probably wasn't much time before the police came back, and he really wanted a Story. If he told his Story first, he might not have enough time to find and read Mr. Magnus' Story. He felt less hungry, although, come to think of it, he felt actually quite hungry since he hadn't eaten all day. Everything had been just too exciting and he'd been too focused to think about it.

"Um, how about, I'll tell you my Story if I can read what I find first, and I'll also give you my box with the book with the spider if you promise to give it to the police when they ask and also I can have a snack because I haven't eaten all day."

Mr. Magnus shook his hand and said "Deal", so Jon immediately began poking around while Elias called his secretary to fetch something from the canteen.

Watching Jonathan poke around his office was strangely charming, especially after how seriously he had placed his tiny little hand into Elias' for that handshake. Quite the little professional. He had just put his phone to his ear to call his secretary for some food, when he Saw that the front desk secretary not only had arrived to give him an update but had also brought along a sandwich for Jonathan. How thoughtful of Ms. Rosie.

She entered after knocking, and at his gesture placed the sandwich on his desk. "I've phoned the police, and they said they've got a missing persons for Jonathan Sims. They're sending over a police car and a guardian ad litem right away, although the person I spoke with said the commissionaire wanted to know if there was anything else they should know about him. She said it kind of oddly, with a weird emphasis after I told her it was the Magnus Institute calling. I said I didn't know any but I'd let them know if there were...complications?"

"Thank you Rosie. Please phone this number directly and tell the commissionaire I would appreciate a call back at his earliest convenience."

As Rosie left, Elias mused that perhaps with a few more years of administrative experience under her belt, she might be suitable for a promotion. Ellen was certainly getting no younger and would be facing retirement soon. Still, she had served James Wright very well, best to give her a few more years.

He was very grateful that Rosie had already shut the door with a click when he heard Jonathan's polite little voice pipe up.

"Excuse me Mr. Bennett, I am just going to move you a bit. You are sitting on a Story." He turned and looked at Jonathan's little hands lifting up Barnabus Bennett's skull and gently place it on the shelf above the drawer. He moved tibia and fibula and ribs as well without any sort of fuss or fear before gently lifting out the yellowing paper Barnabus had written on so long ago.

"Thank you Mr. Bennett, I am going to move you back now." said Jonathan, delicately placing all the miscellaneous bones back into the drawer one by one without a shudder. He trotted over to the chair across from Elias and heaved himself up into it, and curled up with a small sigh to begin to read. Before he began, Elias couldn't help himself.

"Jonathan-" he began, not knowing how to phrase his question. Jonathan looked up, a bit irritated at being interrupted before he could read, and just said "It's different when they're not yours. They're more po-rus feeling when they're old. My rib didn't feel anything like that fragile. It felt smoother because it was new."

And then he began to read and it was like he couldn't hear anything Elias said at all.

Elias was fascinated. He had so many burning questions he fairly ached with them, and Jonathan was deaf to them all. He stared the whole time, watching Jonathan's lips move a bit as he read along. Who was this child? What on earth had happened to him? He tried to Know, and all the information he received was that Jonathan still had all of his ribs.

Jon finished his Story and then he finished his sandwich and he felt a bit better but he still felt hungry. It felt like he hadn't eaten in days, and that he didn't get a full meal afterwards. He looked at the Story sitting on the desk, and he looked at his hands that had just been touching sandwich and he squirmed in his seat. He wanted to put the Story away where it belonged, but he didn't want to get sandwich on the paper. He looked up at Mr. Magnus, frustrated.

Elias didn't show Jon where the washroom was. "Don't worry Jonathan, I'll put away the Statement. Do you have any thoughts? Any feelings?"

Jon thought for a moment. "It was mean of you to leave Mr. Bennett in the Lonely place. If I had a friend, I wouldn't leave him there. I'd go after him."

Elias wanted to say so very many things. He spread his hands in a shrug, and gave up all pretense of not being Jonah Magnus. "I had to Know what would happen to him."

"But it's mean." Jon argued. "And anyways that's stupid. You already knew what would happen to him."

"I assure you Jonathan I most certainly did not at the time. It was an invaluable study."

"You Knew it would be Bad. And you Knew it ate people!" Jon crossed he arms angrily. He tucked his chin into his shoulder, and then he looked out from the side of his eyes to Mr. Magnus. "What did you do with the infer-information you got?"

"Why, I used to to broaden the Knowledge of the Entities."

"That's stupid." insisted Jon. "You didn't help people, and you d-didn't share the infor-information, you just watched for yourself!"

"That's what we are Jonathan. That's what the Eye is."

"That's not what I am!"

"Jonathan, indulge me. What do you Know of all of this? The Entities and what you are, and who I am, and what this place does?" Elias didn't bother to put a compulsion on this time. He was curious what Jonathan would do without it.

Jon thought for a moment. And then he thought very hard. And then his head started to hurt. It hurt like when he stared at the sun too long, or when everything was on fire, or when he lost them-

Elias watched as Jonathan screwed up his tiny face, and he kept watching but was very surprised when Jonathan vomited all over his office rug.

It was at this moment that the police arrived.

Chapter Text

Jon didn't feel well at all. He puked over the side of his chair, poorly-chewed sandwich coming back up in ragged, disgusting clumps followed by strings of bile as he heaved out everything he had to offer. He felt his eyes overflow with tears and felt mucus running out of his nose and he just couldn't care because he felt so bad. Once he had finished puking, once his stomach would expel no more, he began to sob wildly. He could tell, distantly, that there were more people in the room now and he heard a lady's heels go clack clack clack as she ran down the hall, but he didn't care to know more. He kept sobbing and began to wail, for something, for anything, for his gran, for the bad feeling to stop. He felt empty again, like he had been hollowed out and scraped like pumpkin guts for the jack-o-lantern he had insisted they make one year after seeing one on a cartoon even though no one celebrated Halloween and it wasn't even past November. It wasn't a clean feeling, and he howled from it. He heard the heels come clack-clack-clack back again, and an old lady he didn't recognize was wiping his face with damp paper towels as he kept sobbing.

"Shhh, shhh, there there, you're alright, you're alright," she murmured, but he wasn't all right.

"I-I I, I n-n-need, I n-" he tried to talk but his words were coming out jagged and ragged and his chest heaved.

Elias had taken this all in with wide eyes, but as Jonathan began to speak of need he suddenly realized that he was going to finish that sentence with "stories". He could feel the rising compulsion in the air like electricity before a storm, and he had a sudden vision of everyone in the room speaking at the same time, their deepest fears and darkest stories dragged out of them. And then he saw members of his staff rushing into the room, standing up at their desks and pouring out horrors and not knowing why, and outside the Institute a great heaving mass of people coming, running, open mouthed and screaming their terror in perfectly-formed words until they clustered around the walls so thickly they became not a particle but a wave leaving broken and bloody squeezed husks pressed up against the walls as more and more people rushed in to fill the void Jonathan had wrought within him.

He leapt over his desk and ran past the gawping police, flew down the corridors and stairs for the second time that day and burst into the Archives. He ran wildly through the wreckage of organization Gertrude left in her wake and cursed himself for letting it go so long as he shoved dusty tape after tape into a box. It was overflowing when he charged back up the stairs and tapes fell behind him but he didn't dare slow down or stop. He skidded into the room and realized he had neglected to bring anything to play the damn tapes with, when Jonathan with unerring accuracy snapped his head up and stared voraciously at both Elias and his box. Jonathan fell crying out of the chair, making grabbing motion to the box, and Elias rushed to him anyways. As he began to run, he tripped and the box vomited its cassettes out onto the floor. Out of thin air poured mobile tape recorders, dozens of them appearing, maws all open as they snapped shut around the cassettes bouncing upon the carpeting. From these conjured machines arose hundreds of statements, most recorded by Gertrude but some direct from subjects. A cacophony of words arose around him, echoing and running over each other until it was impossible to distinguish what was actually being said. Jonathan was on the floor, still red faced with tear tracks running down his cheeks, and looked at Elias while he stretched out his hands in the universal gesture for "up".

What could he have done? Elias reached over and picked Jonathan up, and Jonathan buried his damp overheated little face into his collar and clung tightly to him. Elias rubbed his back and began to pace, and felt from his own throat the beginnings of words begin to emerge. He murmured a gruesome tale that had been told to him when he was still Jonah Magnus, back when he was still going to Smirke's meetings and gathering his evidence he needed to create his working theories, back when everything was all right it's all right they all died screaming, into the top of Jonathan's head as he paced in front of his desk, before the three other white faced adults who stood there useless in horror and confusion.

It took nearly 30 minutes for the cacophony of the tapes to die away, petering out until only one "End statement" remained vibrating in Gertrude's voice among the carpet. By that time, Jonathan had mercifully fallen asleep. Elias returned to his desk chair and sat heavily in it, Jonathan still clutched to him.

"Well." he said, tiredly, his throat aching. Ellen took it upon herself to excuse herself from the room and come back with a cup of water. She left without asking any questions at all. Good woman, a better secretary.

One of the officers spoke up. "Your people said there wasn't anything complicated about this one."

Elias took a long drink of water and phoned the commissionaire directly.

 

Jon awoke to a rumble. Mr. Magnus was saying something, and his ears were right next to Mr. Magnus's neck. He could feel his chest go in and out and vibrate with whatever he was saying. It was nice. He was warm. He felt better. He tucked his face further, and he would have stayed there longer if his mouth didn't feel so gross. After a moment, he wiggled, and opened one eye to see who Mr. Magnus was talking to. Oh. The police.

That was bad. They were here because he was bad, and then something had happened when he'd tried to answer one of Mr. Magnus's questions, but it all felt a bit fuzzy to remember. There had been...oh. It was like when grandmother had checked out those books on tape from the library to play to him while he fell asleep, or for long car rides when he wouldn't stop wiggling. Mr. Magnus had brought him a bunch of Stories on tape. The narrator had a nice voice, even though the stories weren't about nice things. They made Jon feel nice though. Jon looked at the police and didn't feel nice. He felt like the worst person in the world, like he should be locked up and they should throw away the key. He had been gone too long from his grandmother again, and now she would tell him he was bad. Because he was. He had only been trying to help. But he messed it up again. Jon started to cry a little bit at that, just tears coming out. He made sure to be quiet. Crying in front of grown ups was bad and babyish. It gave them headaches. He had cried earlier hadn't he? He was the worst, and he was sorry. But sorry never made headaches feel better. And he had made a mess of Mr. Magnus' floor. Bad, bad, bad. And he hadn't even told the police about the spider and that meant George was dead without anyone knowing what had happened to him and Jon was alive and George wasn't and George wouldn't have been eaten by Mr. Spider if Jon hadn't picked up the book and it was all his fault everything was wrong and bad.

Jon hadn't stopped before to let him think that last thought. He had kept pushing that if he could just tell his story to someone who believed him, a proper grown up who was in charge of saving people, then it would be ok. He'd Known, deep down in his heart, that George was never coming back. He'd Known that before Mr. Spider's door even finished shutting. It was why he burned the book. But he hadn't let himself think about it. Hadn't let himself think it all the way through, or say it out loud. Hot tears slipped out of his eyes and into Mr. Magnus' collar, and Jon found he couldn't stop them but he could stop himself from making a noise.

 

Elias felt something hot trickle down his neck. Ugh, disgusting. Hopefully Jonathan wasn't also leaking snot onto his shirt. He finished up his conversation with the commissionaire and made to stand up and hand Jonathan over to the guardian ad litem. Who shrunk away from him. Delightful. Useless. Ellen hadn't returned to the room since she had brought him water, so that left- ah, no, the hardened Section 31 officer also refused to touch Jonathan. Fine. He turned to the useless so called "guardian" and asked her to bring more paper towels to clean Jonathan up with, and if she would be so kind as to ask Ellen to make tea on her way out. The woman simply looked at him like he was mad, turned and- oh she was going to leave the building entirely. A pity.

At least the officer didn't realize he was about to be stuck without a ride. He remained, arms crossed like a useless lump, while Elias carried Jonathan over to the door, stuck his head out and saw Ellen coming up the hallway with five cups of tea. Excellent, excellent woman. He knew there was a reason he kept her in this position for so long.

"Ah, Ellen," he said from the doorway, only to be interrupted almost immediately by the bright, professional tone that he knew only from long experience was a sign Ellen was absolutely having what she termed 'A Day'.

"Here we are Mr. Bouchard! A nice cup for everyone to settle their nerves. I've called the janitors and they're on their way for the floor. Best take the little one over to the washroom and get him cleaned up, everything should be settled by the time you two come back."

"Ah, I had rather hoped you would take him for just a moment while I speak with the authorities." There was a small silent battle of wills that Elias was very surprised he was having at all; honestly why hadn't she just taken the clearly crying child while he spoke with the police from the start. It was interrupted by Jonathan's muffled voice at his neck asking for "down please". Elias lowered him to the floor, where he scrubbed his face with his tiny hands and in a small voice said "m'srry."

Elias looked Jonathan and then at Ellen. There, now wouldn't she take him? He clearly was no threat any more. He looked utterly pathetic. She looked back at him with a look that clearly said if she was not going to be paid to be the head of an institute devoted to the supernatural, she was not going to be wiping the face of the supernatural. He supposed that's what he deserved for having her work so closely with Artifact Storage. Anything could be dangerous, no matter how deceptively innocent looking, and Ellen had been the one to switch the department over from written files to Excel spreadsheets of artifact powers. Damn the 80's and damn Microsoft.

He had clearly lost this battle unless he wanted to push it, and not knowing much about Jonathan he supposed he probably actually shouldn't push it. He looked down to where Jonathan had been, only to see that the past tense was very much required. He had a moment of panic, before he located Jonathan toddling off in the vague direction of the men's washroom. He sighed and followed along, wondering if it was even worth it at this point to question if Jonathan knew where he was going. He did, however, make sure to ask over his shoulder if Ellen could please find him a new suit, shirt, and tie before he got back.

Jon didn't realize he Knew where he was going, but he followed a vague feeling and hoped for the best. He got there in the end, although he wished it wasn't so fancy. It made him worry he wasn't supposed to be there. But as he stared at the sinks balefully, wondering how he was going to get up to them to rinse out his mouth without a little step stool like the one he had at home, he realized Mr. Magnus had followed him the whole time. He looked exhaustedly at Mr. Magnus, who had leaned against the wall with his arms crossed just Watching what Jon was going to do. Jon was overcome with a bashful, embarrassed silence. He didn't really have a reason for it. He was small, and he was tired, and he was sure he was bad, and his mouth felt gross, and here he was in a very fancy marble floor bathroom and Mr. Magnus was Looking at him and Jon couldn't get clean without his help.

It was Elias' nature to watch and not intervene. All this running around today had truly been an unprecedented amount of direct interference, and it had exhausted him. It took him a few beats to realize that he probably should assist Jonathan in reaching the taps if he wanted this to be over with. He sighed and strode over to Jonathan, reaching under his arms and hauling him up to the sink. Really he was very patient as Jon opened the taps, rinsed out his mouth, and scrubbed his face down with cold water. Most of the excess water landed on Jonathan's shirt, which was preferable to Elias' in his own humble opinion. Elias lowered Jonathan to the ground and grabbed one of the nice cotton hand towels to pat Jonathan's face dry with. Jonathan squirmed a little bit, but soon it was over and they were headed back to his office.

True to Ellen's word, in the short time they were gone the vomit had been cleaned up, the tape recorders neatly stacked within and around the box Elias had used, and there was a freshly dry cleaned suit and tie ensemble hanging on the coat rack. Acceptable enough, Elias supposed. Jon sat miserably in the chair he had been in before this unfortunate rigamarole as Elias checked his email and the policeman looked on.

"Jonathan, you'll be pleased to know your grandmother is coming here soon." Jon looked up at that, not knowing if he would in fact be pleased to know that. "You both will stay the night in London, and the police will have more information on your situation by tomorrow. Until she arrives in a few hours you may stay here, or at the police station. Do you have a preference?"

Elias of course had no intention of handing Jonathan over to the police, no matter how exhausted he was after this wretched ordeal. But of course the illusion of control was a powerful placator.

"Um..." Jon's eyes flicked between the policeman and Mr. Magnus. His grandmother didn't like it when she met him with the police. Maybe it would look better if he wasn't with them. And if the police said it was ok to stay here... "May I please stay with you?"

"Of course Jonathan. Now, PC Green I believe you know where the exit is-"

"Wait!" said Jon. "MayIpleasetellhimmyStory?"

Elias blinked. He had almost entirely forgotten- good heavens, he really was rattled. It was so much easier to think when you hadn't just sprinted up multiple floors to avert disaster and been rewarded by getting snot on you.

 

Jon had told the policeman his story, and he put in all the details he could think of, and he insisted the policeman write it down in his little notebook so he could be sure the whole story was right there and he got frustrated because the policeman wasn't doing it right but Mr. Magnus was writing everything down on a nice piece of paper with a nice pen so that was ok and he tried to give the policeman his backpack with the spider book and the policeman just refused to even touch it and it wasn't fair that now that the police believed him they still didn't help.

He had gotten really frustrated and even though he was trying to be polite to the police because that's what you were supposed to do he started yelling. He came all this way and he felt awful and it was all his fault George got eaten and he was trying to make it even just a little bit, not worth it, not better, because nothing could be worth it and this would never be better, but just a little bit more something. He couldn't explain it, and his face got all red when he tried to explain it to the policeman who just looked at him like he was Mr. Spider instead of just Jon and asked him didn't he know where he was because the police didn't take weird books that ate people but the Magnus Institute did. Jon told him he had never heard of the Magnus Institute before so that wasn't his fault and he turned to glare at Mr. Magnus because he could put two and two together and Mr. Magnus hadn't even said anything and Mr. Magnus looked like he was about to start laughing.

Chapter Text

Elias almost couldn't help it, the disgruntled face Jonathan made when he discovered what the Magnus Institute was for was frankly delightful. It was such a big expression for such a little face. It was hardly his fault that Jonathan hadn't found the time to ask before burrowing into his Archives and gorging himself. It truly boggled the mind, the sheer number of statements he read- he had read two statements alone before he had required the tapes at all and had barely even blinked. Elias remembered the days he had been carving out a space for Beholding within his soul, the labors he had undertaken before he was able to read more than one a fortnight. By the time he had developed his Institute and raised up his first Archivist, he had been able to streamline the process to once a week at the beginning stages. Once a week and here was a child absorbing more than the ear could reasonably decipher in one huge gulp. The sheer power!

And to think, all that power belonged to a little boy napping on his office floor under Elias' own soiled suit coat. With a his own little jacket rolled around a book of all things to serve as a pillow. What a child of Beholding! Elias' suit coat nearly swamped him, curled up as he was. It had been a few hours since his grandmother had been alerted, and Elias' could See she was still on the train. A pity. Jonathan had eaten supper of actual food and had promptly dropped like a stone down into sleep. Elias supposed he should be grateful Jonathan had been able to answer at least one question before dropping off, although it surprisingly it had been Ellen to get him to talk in between huge bites of mashed potatoes Jonathan had inhaled with frankly frightening speed. Now what had been his exact wording again- ah, yes.

Elias added to his excel spreadsheet regarding Jonathan, under the column B/"Information": "It's a lot to Look at all of Them. I don't think They're meant to be Looked at, like the staring at the sun. Except the Dark. That's not like staring at the sun at all, it's like staring at that sun that was made of Darkness instead. I don't think that sun was made with real science anyways. Science doesn't really work with Them."

The rest of the information tab was frustratingly sparse. He had spent nearly the whole time after Jonathan's little feast wrangling what information he could out of every available source. Jonathan Sims was 8 years old, had been orphaned at a young age, was taken care of by his grandmother, and had been brought back to said grandmother by the police a truly concerning number of times. By all accounts a normal, if studious and shy, child with a penchant for boredom and wandering. He had encountered a Web-aligned Lietner, which he had then burned after witnessing it eat a teenager, and had after waiting two days traveled three hours away to the police before wandering into the Archives. Elias tapped his pointer finger on his keyboard as he thought. No strong evidence to suggest he had been manifesting powers until today, unless something had happened to him on the numerous occasions he had wandered away from his guardian. Could he have been leaving to feed? There were no statements in the Archives from that time and location, but it wasn't unheard of that these things should take time to surface. But no- the level that Jonathan was at must have required an astonishing amount of feeding. Statements taking time to come to the Institute were one thing, hiding a fully realized Avatar's ascendance would require a larger population than Bournemouth could provide. Especially with Gertrude being so vigilant in keeping her Eyes open for any new developments. And he would flatter himself that he was hardly likely to miss such a thing either.

And yet, here such a thing slept. Tucked under his suit coat, tousled hair peeking out from under his collar, gently dreaming on an old copy of Mysteries of Indo-Chinese Origins. Could the Leitner have accelerated him so rapidly? The Web was powerful yes, but the books had never done such a thing before. Still the Mother of Puppets had many strings she could pull. What he wouldn't give to have been able to study the book before it was burned! He had sent Jonathan's backpack down to Artifact Storage for processing, and had Watched from his office and they ripped open the glued backpack to discover nothing but tape and ashes. A pity. Young Jonathan might have been a bit too much like Gertrude there. She at least could blame her pyromaniac habits on Agnes.

Speaking of which, ah, yes. Arthur Nolan had agreed to his meeting proposal, as had Diego Molina, and Eugene Vanderstock. Not all at the same time, of course. And all insisting on different "neutral" territory. As if any place was truly safe from the Eye. Fools. If anything could be learned from them it would be what not to do.

Hm. Elias eyed his excel document and highlighted "studious and shy". From all accounts Agnes had settled down from her incessant rages around the age of ten just before she had been sent away to Hill Top Road. Another young Avatar, with tremendous powers, of a studious and quiet nature, ending up near the Web's domain. It hardly boded well for Jonathan's future as a free agent of the Eye.

He wondered if it were truly wise to bring Jonathan close to him. Perhaps this would all end in disaster, another piece of the Mother's Web neatly woven. But he had long ago learned that such thinking inevitably lead to death spirals of circular logic. The Web would do what the Web always did, and the Eye would watch. Now, who was it safe to hand Jonathan off to? Certainly not Gertrude. The woman was hardly maternal, but more importantly had been ensnared by the Web already. Her devotion to the Eye was flawed. If Elias could barely head off disaster when Jonathan unleashed his power, Gertrude would probably take the shortest course of action and simply shoot him. It didn't bear thinking about.

Oh damn. Damn damn damn. That was a point, wasn't it? If Gertrude wasn't powerful enough to contain him, that left...damn. Elias hated being "hands on". His life was hardly suited to a child.

He raised his eyes to where Jonathan was sleeping, and got a nasty start when he saw Jonathan's eyes shining out from under his lapels, staring intently at him. How long had he been laying there, silently Watching him work?

The child was going to give himself a crick in the neck. Serves him right. Elias continued working on his files and his emails, resolutely not giving Jonathan any indication that his relentless staring was doing anything at all but drying out his eyeballs. He filled out a few more sections under the A/"Questions" column of his spreadsheet.

A42: How did he Know where BB's bones & statement were? Related to sensing the Archives?
A43: J polite to BB's bones & Knew his name, signs of consciousness within them? Life after death? Ghost?
A44: Was Statement forcibly pulled out of me by J when tape recorders were playing, or was that my own action? PC Green not affected?
B44: PC Green Section 31 due to witnessing political intrigue, no statement to give. Reminder to add email on improved screening of officers responding to MI
A45: Required feedings? Still needs human food, effects on growth? Metabolism?
A46: Growth small for age?
A47: It has been 12 mins 37 sec, no sign of blinking yet. Eyes need to blink?

Elias checked his emails, and was pleased to see the paperwork for forcible adoption had been fast tracked. Of course, the quickest solution would be for Jonathan's Grandmother to simply sign the paperwork, instead of having to give her the full 28 days required by law for her to unavoidably fail her appeal. Unless- well now that was a thought. If she were open to moving up to London, expenses paid, he could have a built in caretaker for Jonathan already available. Then again, she had hardly been able to keep track of him when he was in her care. He supposed it might be best to wait and see if she would be worth the money to move up here for supplemental support. There were services that one could buy for additional childcare with less of a hassle, although Jonathan was already attached to her.

And now to draft the suitably binding adoption paperwork.

Elias rolled back his chair with a satisfied smirk only to bump into Jonathan, standing right behind him, clutching the oversized sports jacket over his head like a blanket or an ill conceived ghost costume. When had he gotten up? More importantly, how much had he Seen? How was he able to get around right under Elias' nose without his notice?

"..." said Jonathan, ominously. Unblinking.

Elias grit his teeth. Avatars could be unpleasant at the best of times, and children doubly so. This one would need careful managing.

"Jonathan,"

"What are you doing? Is it a game? Can I play?"

"I am organizing a file, and since it is not a game you cannot play. Do you realize that you're doing that?"

"Doing what?"

"It's called Compelling, Jonathan. Avatars of the Eye like you and I can ask questions in such a way that people have to answer them."

Jonathan thought for a little bit. Things had been strange in his head for a bit but he felt it was strange that he didn't question this. Now that he thought back to his actions the past few days, he didn't understand why he had done what he did or said what he said. But there were lots of times that happened. Teachers would ask him why he had done something, and all he would be able to do would mumble that he didn't know, and they would say he was lying, but he wasn't. He just...did things sometimes. And he Knew lots of things other kids didn't but he couldn't tell them what book he had read it in because he read lots of books and it didn't make him a liar.

He thought a little bit more. About Compelling, and if it was a nice thing to do. He rubbed at his shoulder, and got the feeling someone had been mad at him for doing it before. People got mad at him for asking questions sometimes. There was never a right time to ask as many as he wanted. They didn't like to answer. If he had been Compelling them, he would have gotten more answers for sure. He didn't think his Questions sounded any different than those times. He thought a little bit more about what Mr. Magnus had called him. "Avatar of the Eye" didn't sound like something he'd read in a book before, but it sounded True. And "you and I" was important. There wasn't a lot of times Jon got to be part of a "you and I".

He Looked up at Mr. Magnus, and clutched Mr. Magnus's big coat around him more.

Elias was no stranger to battles of wills and long silences. This was only one of those. It was painful to sit there, Watching as Jonathan stared up at him unblinking, thoughts running about through his head. It was always more difficult to peer into the mind of an Avatar, difficult, but not impossible, but trying to decipher where Jon's thoughts were going was giving him a headache. It wasn't at all like reading a book, or plucking out the thoughts of other Avatars. Those at least came in neat full sentences. Trying to read Jonathan's mind was like trying to read sheet music of a ballet by peering through smoky glass at the ballerina's recitals. There was nothing written down, no full words or sounds. There was an impression of order, and measured steps, but also a lot of jumping about with no warning. He couldn't be sure but he was almost positive Jonathan had completely forgotten that he had been asked a Question at all, and was now entirely lost within his head. He hadn't had this much trouble since Mordecai, and they had both been relatively at the same power back then. Mordecai at least had had no leaps in logic. His thoughts had just moved so incredibly slowly that he could spend hours by himself and never run out of things to think inside his skull. Made him a devil with methodically auditing finances, but useless for conversation.

 

In the end, Elias had gotten very little out of Jonathan by the time his grandmother arrived frazzled to the long-closed Institute, escorted by no less than four Section 31 officers who Elias was gratified to See had actual experience with the supernatural. Elias had welcomed them all graciously with a smile, and handed Jonathan off to his grandmother immediately, directing them all to a waiting vehicle to take Jonathan and his grandmother to what was ostensibly a room provided by the authorities but was actually one of his own modest safe rooms. He Watched from afar as Jonathan got the scolding of his life and huddled miserably under the blankets, curled up as far away from his grandmother as possible. Hm. He supposed that Jonathan certainly deserved it, but he had hoped his grandmother would have at least asked him a few questions, or gotten some answers he could have learned from out of Jonathan. She hadn't allowed him to talk or explain himself at all, and as Elias Watched the small figure shake a little bit under the sheets he mused to himself that Jonathan certainly was prone to weeping. At least he did so quietly. Which, come to think of it, was unusual itself in a child, wasn't it? Weren't they prone to wailing so loudly that everyone in a city block could suffer along? Hm. This wasn't really the sort of thing he supposed his powers were for, but at least terror was the purview of the Eye- ah. Children wept silently when they didn't expect anyone to comfort them.

Interesting.

He spent the rest of the evening combing through Elizabeth Sims' memories of Jonathan, while she sat straight in terror, petrified by the feeling of being Watched growing that was stronger in the claustrophobic little room by the minute.

 

 

Jon wondered when they were going to go home, and if they were going soon, and why they were still here, and why the toothbrushes in the room they were in were covered in plastic and already had toothpaste on them. Was that normal? Did all hotel rooms have those? How come this hotel didn't have a big lobby like the ones in the TV shows? The uniforms on the TV were pretty cool, but he hadn't seen anybody wearing one, so maybe it was just an American thing. Maybe there were other TV shows that had British hotels in them, but he didn't see because he didn't watch more TV. It made his head hurt, and the screen was all fuzzy. The words didn't match up with the mouths sometimes, and that was weird. The TV was very small and boring and nothing like the movie theater, but the movie theater was full of people making noises and it was hard to watch the movie. The uniforms at the movie theater weren't very cool at all. The popcorn was pretty good though. What was for breakfast?

He showered and had to get back into his old clothes and that was gross, because they had gotten cold while he was in the shower so it wasn't at all like walking around in pajamas the next day and also he thought they might have smelled a bit like strange places he went and he hadn't even gotten to tell gran about where those places were last night and he might get into trouble if he started now but he wanted to tell her because he found a place that believed his spider story and also they had a whole room full of stories just like it and they had taken his book and that was good even though George wasn't coming back but Mr. Magnus had promised him that meant Mr. Spider also wasn't coming back and maybe it was worth it except nothing was worth it even though George had been very mean to him and it was mean of him to have even thought that even for one second. Did thinking mean things make you a mean person?

Gran combed his hair with her fingers and he squirmed a bit.

"Now Jon we are going to have breakfast and then we are going to meet with the police. And I want you to be on your best behavior."

Jon thought he was always on his best behavior, until he wasn't. But he couldn't always tell when he had stopped being on his best behavior until someone told him later. He wished they'd tell him before.

He was surprised they were going back to the Magnus Institute. He didn't think they were police, because he Knew where the police station was and this wasn't it. But they had been in charge of spooky books and Stories so maybe they were the kind of police that were for that. Except the police actually did something when people told them about crimes, didn't they? Jon felt instinctively the Magnus Institute was not a place that you could go for help like the way the police were supposed to be. But the police hadn't helped him either, had they?

They went to a big conference room with spinny chairs and Jon didn't even try to spin in them because he was on his best behavior. He tried to listen as the adults in the room talked, but it was mostly Mr. Magnus and another legal person explaining things to his gran which sounded very complicated. Jon instead found himself zoning out, staring at the wall across from him and thinking thoughts he couldn't remember later. Maybe he wasn't thinking any thoughts at all, or maybe he was having so many thoughts at once it was like he couldn't remember because they were all talking at the same time. It was nice. It felt comfortable just to drift off, quiet and not bothering anyone. He thought he heard his name though, so with great effort he tuned back in. His gran was looking at him. He tried to look not bored at all, and when he looked up at her and smiled to show how good he was being she looked like she was going to cry so maybe he wasn't supposed to have smiled and should have been serious instead. Maybe smiling was not best behavior when you're in a big room like this. He wished people would tell him the rules before he was suddenly no longer on his best behavior.

 

Elias was elated. He had expected a bit more of a fight, although he supposed he really shouldn't have after what he had Seen last night. Elizabeth Sims was a woman out of her depth, with barely enough energy to keep a normal child contained let alone an Avatar. It was pathetically simple to achieve, gentle caring tones about "What's best for Jonathan", and veiled disappointment in the "startling number of police calls", and of course "no one doubts you have been trying your best, but you are getting on in years". It might have been promising that she could see Jonathan on holidays and maintain contact with him, "even though it's not normally done in these circumstances, everyone can see that it isn't truly your fault, and it's in Jonathan's best interest we should all be flexible to make sure he is supported."

He had thought it would have taken more of the court system, but before noon he had a signed adoption paper for Jonathan Sims.

Chapter Text

Jon had missed something. Sometimes that happened when he zoned out, he'd tune back in and find the conversation had gone somewhere wildly different and he didn't know what was going on anymore. In this case, they were talking about "Easing the transition" and "moving companies" and he couldn't be sure but they might have been talking about moving his stuff. He frowned. Why would his stuff need to move? His things were fine where they were. And now they were talking about schools. That couldn't be right, Jon wasn't old enough to move schools. They couldn't be talking about him. Well, if they weren't talking about him, it was ok to zone back out. He went back to daydreaming while staring at the wall. He didn't register when from across the table Mr. Magnus waved his hand in front of his line of sight. He kept on day dreaming until his grandmother harshly shook his shoulder, and he nearly jumped from being thrown back into reality so suddenly.

"Do you understand what's happening Jon?" asked the lawerly-looking person gently.

Elias scoffed to himself, of course Jon understood, he was a child of Beholding.

"Nope!" said Jon, honestly.

"Ah." thought Elias, suddenly quite glad he had managed to find those books on adoption so late at night yesterday. He was even more glad he had take the time to read them in bed last night, sipping slowly on some scotch after leisurely terrifying Mrs. Sims. Now, how did they suggest this conversation go again?

He got up from his chair and walked over to Jonathan's, crouching down and looking him in the eye. "Jonathan, you know your grandmother is getting very old. Normally, children live with their parents, and not their grandparents. But your grandmother loves you very much, so when your parents passed on she took you in for as long as she could. Now she's getting too old to take care of you properly. She still loves you very much, but it's time for her to go back to being a grandparent and not a parent. I am going to be your parent now, and you are going to live with me until you are grown. You will still see your grandmother, and be able to call her, but because we both live so far away from each other we are only going to see her on holidays. Other families only see their grandparents on holidays, and talk to them over the phone on other days. So we're going to do that, just like the other families. Do you understand?"

Jon didn't understand. He did, the words made sense, and what Mr. Magnus said about other families made sense, but why was this happening? And why was it happening now? He looked at his gran, who didn't look so much like she was about to cry after Mr. Magnus said the things he said. She looked like she was nodding along. Gran knew lots of things, so she must have known this is how it would work. He thought, and he thought even harder, and he reached for that place within him that seemed to know things he didn't want to think about. He thought about how tired his gran was, and how much she complained about feeding him, and how much she hated when the police brought him back, and how much trouble he kept getting in. He couldn't remember what it was like when he just saw her on holidays. He thought about Mr. Magnus, and how he had said "you and I" yesterday, and how rare that was that Jon was part of a you-and-I. He thought about how Mr. Magnus had called them both Avatars of the Eye, and how he Knew his name but didn't know how he knew it. He thought about what his gran had said to her friend on the phone after mum's funeral when she didn't know Jon was listening on the stairs.

"Are you one of my dad's no-good feckless cousins?"

 

 

 

It had taken some time, but finally the adoption proceedings had wrapped up after his grandmother assured Jonathan that no, Mr. Bouchard was very much not his father's distant cousins who hadn't chosen to adopt him after the funeral. Jonathan had hugged his grandmother goodbye with some confusion, questioning her urgently on when they'd speak again or see each other again or if he could call that night and what he was supposed to do. His grandmother had answered them more candidly than she might have otherwise, but no horrifying surprises had come out of her mouth so Elias at least was satisfied.

Eventually Jonathan was safe and sound within Elias' house. He seemed unsettled, but Elias had full confidence he would eventually adjust. Jonathan wandered about the house, investigating absolutely everything. True to form he kept his hands behind his back, and seemed quietly pleased when Elias' had praised him for being respectful. As he was making dinner, Elias Watched Jonathan poke around and didn't interfere as Jonathan went into his office or his bedroom. He assumed it was natural for a child of Beholding to be curious about everything. Elias called him down from where he was investigating the shoe closet of all places to ask him if he wanted dinner first or a Story. Jonathan had fairly leapt down the stairwell in excitement, and as he rounded the corner one of his skinny elbows caught the door frame. Elias winced, expecting a flood of tears, but it was as though Jonathan hadn't noticed his body ramming into anything at all.

As Jonathan jumped into his seat at the table, Elias plated up a simple meal of buttered bowtie noodles and chicken for him, and sat across from him with his own more sophisticated plate of grilled chicken and lemon zest broccolini. He Watched as Jonathan ate with a frankly frightening speed. He seemed utterly focused on the food, without any attention spared for anything that would slow the process down. He hadn't thought that Jonathan was that starved, although the boy declined the offer of seconds. Elias was still making his way through his own plate, when Jonathan with nothing in front of him began to wriggle in his seat. His foot hooked to one of the spindles of the chair and began to bounce off that since he could not reach the floor.

"Jonathan," said Elias, "do you have something you wish to say?"

Jon looked at him in surprise. He wasn't thinking about anything really, so he didn't understand why Mr. Magnus asked that. He shook his head shyly and kept bouncing his leg.

Elias felt his eyes twitch. "Jonathan you are shaking the table."

Oh! Jon hadn't even noticed. He stopped bouncing his leg, and began to fiddle with the placemat in front of him. But it wasn't like grans, with loose threads to wriggle, so he stopped. He picked at his nails, and then he picked at his jeans, and then he almost picked his nose before he remembered where he was. Now that he thought about it his nose itched tremendously. He tried to distract himself from thinking about how much his nose itched, and then he heard a kind of muttering from beyond the walls. A car was going by with loud speakers. Mr. Magnus was saying something but he couldn't focus on it, because all he could hear was the car.

He was being ignored. Why was Jonathan ignoring him? Elizabeth Sims had assumed Jonathan was simply an occasionally rude and difficult child, but she hadn't even noticed him becoming an Avatar right under her nose. Elias could do far better than her he was sure, and he certainly had access to more complete methods of getting answers. He peered into Jonathan's head, and while he still couldn't read Jonathan's mind exactly, he Saw nothing but a car. Oh, he supposed if he strained his ears he could hear the faint sound of the "Spice Girls" from some rude hooligan's car. Was that what was taking up Jonathan's attention? Perhaps the driver had a Statement to give. Could he sense it from so far away, in a moving vehicle?

Perhaps it was time to feed Jonathan more than buttered noodles. He stood up and gathered Jonathan's plate, breaking his focus from the car. "Jonathan, it's time to get ready for bed. Where would you like to read your Story?"

Jon focused so quickly he felt his eyes contract. That happened sometimes, it was a funny feeling. Like he was zooming in like a camera. He recognized what Mr. Magnus had said, but in his haste to get to the Story his brain skipped several steps. This resulted not in Jon politely answering Mr. Magnus' question and then following bedtime steps one by one, but instead Jon leapt out of his chair and sprinted to the room Mr. Magnus had said was his. He stood in the center of the room for a moment before realizing he forgot what he was supposed to do next. What was he doing? Oh, getting ready for bedtime! He had to brush his teeth. So he went to the bathroom, and he realized he didn't have a little stepstool to get to the sink. So he went back to the bedroom, and Looked for a desk chair, but then he remembered there wasn't even a desk in this new room like he had back at home. So he went into the dining room and tried to grab a chair, but it was too big for him to move easily. So he Looked around didn't See anything he could use to get to the sink, so he went back into the bathroom and he got onto the closed toilet and then from the toilet he leveraged himself onto the countertop, and then he used his foot to open the drawer that contained a new child sized toothbrush in its packaging and he grabbed it with his hand after folding himself in half to reach it and it felt like he was about to fall but he ripped it open and then he realized he didn't have toothpaste so he scrambled down even though it was really high up and he went searching for some toothpaste and all his stuff was in the bedroom so he went back into the bedroom and then he remembered he needed to get into pajamas so he put down his toothbrush on the bed and he got into pajamas but he didn't have a basket to put his old clothes so he went looking for the laundry room but he was all turned around in this new building. He made it into the living room, and on the sidetable next to the couch there was a big white corded phone. Oh! Gran had said he could call tonight, he should do that before he went to bed! He dropped his clothes and scrambled up the couch, and dialed the number that his gran had drilled into his head.

Elias had begun to clean up from dinner as soon as Jonathan had rushed off, before his attention had been forcibly wrested away from scrubbing pans by the sound of wood scraping wood- was that a chair being moved?

He opened his senses and Watched Jonathan run around as his carefully organized house devolve into a whirlwind of open drawers, shredded packaging, chairs out of place, and clothing dropped all over his living room floor as Jonathan babbled to his grandmother. It occurred to him too late that he probably should have intervened before Jonathan made a mess of every room he walked into. He really should have read those books on childhood development. Surely some expert had pinned down the exact age children could follow simple orders.

Well. Jonathan had made the mess, and he would be the one to clean it up.

In the meantime, while Jonathan was busy talking to his grandmother, he might as well get some things out of the way. Elias tapped busily on his Motorola StarTAC mobile phone, coordinating with a very well paid Ellen who was still at the office at 6:30 organizing all the changes that would come with adopting Jon. Busy busy busy. There were simply so many things to think about. Ellen had arranged movers to pack up Jonathan's things, but they wouldn't be able to deliver for two days. Hm, better see if she could shop around and get that moved up to tomorrow, as Elias had only what Ellen had gotten delivered earlier for Jonathan. He had assumed he would have so much more time, but this was for the best. Any time away from a careful eye and who knows what problems Jonathan could get into.

Of course he now had to find out what level Jonathan was at for school, and should he arrange for private tutors or would socialization be required? Of course Jonathan would need watching during work hours, and school would provide an ample time sink complete with other children, but was it safe? Who could he trust to it if he went with an institution? Perhaps his contacts in other temples of the Eye would have more information.

He wished there wasn't such a huge time delay impeding their reply to his emails. Surely the Beijing chapter had records spanning back far enough that such a thing had happened before. He didn't expect anything out of America, but perhaps they would surprise him. Ellen knew to let him know immediately if any faxes had come in for him, but he didn't anticipate much until this time tomorrow. What else? Oh of course, a pediatrician. He expected his few medical contacts would be chomping at the bit to look Jonathan over and he honestly had no objection. The difficulty came with finding an intersection between "touched by the arcane" and "an expert in children", but he supposed worst case he could have Jonathan looked over by a regular pediatrician and then another more...specialized doctor. So much to do, so much to do! He sent off a call to a number he rarely used, and hoped Gertrude would forgive the intrusion on her pager. Wouldn't do for her to come back to any sudden shocks. She could be so very tetchy about those.

He folded his mobile phone and lowered the antenna and Looked about for Jonathan. He had apparently finished his phone conversation with his grandmother, and was beginning to wander out of the living room. Elias intercepted him and thus began the process of slowly cleaning up what Jonathan had disrupted. It was as though as soon as he put something down he forgot it existed entirely. Was this the same child who had been so fussy with the box of statements?

Eventually everything was as it should be, and Elias told Jonathan to get into bed for his Story. Just then his phone rang, which surprised him enormously. It was Gertrude, which had surprised him even more. Usually it took her some time before she would get back to him. Probably usually busy locating more suitable locations to destroy her enemies. As Elias answered, Jonathan went wandering out of bed to look for a Story on his own.

"Ah Gertrude, what a pleasant surprise to hear from you so soon. I trust your mission is proceeding satisfactorily?"

"Elias. May I inquire as to what you require? I am rather busy at the moment, I trust this is truly urgent."

"Yes I rather think it is. A child has entered the Institute marked by the Eye. I am managing the situation, but I thought it best to inform you as you tend to take an interest in these sort of things."

"That's what you called for? I know you are new at your position Elias, but this is hardly the sort of thing you bother an Archivist for."

"Gertrude we both know your position goes much deeper than simply the archives. Please give me some credit for observation, and if not me then to my predecessor who left excellent notes."

"What I wouldn't give to see those notes."

"I'm sure you would. Worried he may have said nasty things about you?"

"Hardly. However to the point, I still don't see what this has to do with me to the point you felt the need to call in the middle of the night."

"My apologies, things have just settled down here. And forgive me, I had understood you were on the continent, meaning it should only be 7:30. Hardly the middle of the night. Perhaps you're showing your age?"

"No need to take that tone young man. Why. Are. You. Calling?"

"He's more powerful than any Avatar I've ever seen Gertrude."

"I see."

"Quite."

"Do you need assistance?"

"I rather doubt even you could handle him once he gets going. For now the situation is contained, but he will need feeding. I don't mean to ruffle any of your feathers, but you will certainly see him in the Archives at some point."

"The Archives are hardly a place for children Elias."

"And Jonathan is hardly a regular child Gertrude."

"Hm. I have many questions that I don't suppose you care to share the answers to."

"At this point, I hardly know more than you. Hopefully by the time you finish I'll have more information for you. Good luck Gertrude."

"You as well Elias. Goodbye."

 

Well. That had gone as well as anything could with Gertrude. He cast his Eyes about for Jonathan and saw him not in bed, but clutching a huge volume that- oh hell. Hopefully he hadn't made a mess of the office when he went searching for that volume from Schwarzwald. He Looked into his office and was relieved to see that Jonathan had only dragged his chair over to the bookshelf to make off with that particular morsel. He supposed it shouldn't be such a surprise that Jonathan found those bound volumes, although he had planned on giving Jonathan some modern statements he had tucked away in his briefcase. Could Jonathan even read that volume? It was entirely in High German.

He grabbed his briefcase and moved to intercept Jonathan in the hallway.

"My, that's a big book you've found."

"Mmhmm! It's the Story I'm gonna read tonight."

"Surely not the whole thing?"

"Um, probably not. I think it's like a Storybook, with lots of different Stories in it."

"That's a very old book Jonathan. And it's very big for you. How about I hold it for you?"

"Hmm, ok." conceded Jonathan as he clambered into bed. Elias found himself perched on the side of the bed, somewhat curled around Jonathan to facilitate holding up the book in a manner that ensured Jonathan couldn't possibly damage it somehow. Heaven forbid he crease or tear a page in his clumsy little hands. Perhaps he'd even throw a tantrum when he inevitably realized he couldn't read his "Story".

Elias looked down to see Jonathan's lips moving the same way they had when he had been reading Barnabus' statement. Surprised, Elias felt his eyebrows climb towards his hairline as he asked if Jonathan would mind reading it out loud to him.

Jonathan readily complied, and read out a statement written in High German in flawless English. His clear little voice gave each person their own distinct way of talking, and Elias could feel their terror from all those hundreds of years ago rising within him. As he finished off the very last sentence, Jonathan gave a huge yawn.

"Well that's enough for tonight I think. Goodnight Jonathan." Elias shut the book gently and began to move as if to get up when he heard Jonathan begin to speak.

"Mr. Magnus, you said you and I...that we were both Avatars of the Eye. Um, but in the big room, you said you weren't related to my dad."

"Correct."

"Um, you're not related to my mum either are you?"

"No Jonathan, I am not."

"But...we're both...we're both related to the Eye right?"

"Hm, if by 'related' you mean 'birthed' then certainly not."

"Yeah I know, an Eye can't give birth I'm not stupid." said Jonathan a little crossly, before settling. "How would that even work? That'd be gross. But I mean like the other kind of related."

Elias sat there patiently as Jonathan fiddled with the edge of his pillow, waiting to see where he was going.

"Um, I was wondering, um, even if we're not the birth kind of related, we're still Eye related, and I was wondering. Because gran wouldn't give me away to someone who wasn't family, she said so to her best friend in the world, and she didn't even know I was listening so she wouldn't have lied. She said I wouldn't go into a System. And I didn't go into a System at all, and now I'm in your house and we're both Eyes. So, does that make us family?"

"Jonathan, I have a piece of paper signed right here that says we're family."

And so Jon was content, and he went to sleep.

Chapter Text

This was exhausting. Why didn't the legal system include a warning before closing an adoption? You would think meddling bureaucrats would love to design warning labels and legalese for bringing a tornado into your house. Elias was used to an orderly schedule. Rising at 6am, exercising in his private gym, shower, dress, eat a small breakfast, spy on others private lives, and arrive at the office promptly. Do his job, keep an Eye out, and return home for dinner, read, perhaps go to the cinema, or Look out for the dark workings of his enemies, or tune in to his employees lives that had particularly interesting home lives. He had no idea any more what Dennis from Research was going to do about his twin falling in love with his wife, or what the Church of the People's Host was up to these days. He couldn't remember the last time he had been able to complete a workout without being interrupted by Jonathan getting into something he shouldn't, or needing attention, or getting it into his head that he should investigate something that absolutely should not be trifled with. Every night Jonathan had screaming nightmares, and yet every morning there he was up like a daisy and ready to go.

Nothing had prepared him. Nothing in the books he had bought about children had dealt with Jonathan's needs to always be Seeing something new. He had peered into Elizabeth Sims' mind, yes, but he had thought she was overwhelmed because she was old. Elias knew what it was to feel old, to feel like a slowly winding down watch, where everything hurt and each missed tick was the sign of catastrophe. It was why he had taken over bodies as soon as it was even remotely plausible via nepotism they could be Head of the Institute. This body was young and strong, and every night he was exhausted and every morning he dreaded opening his eyes. Him! Dreading to Look! The mere thought of it!

His meetings with the survivors of the Cult of the Lightless Flame had been damn near fruitless. Each of them had regrets and anger towards the others about the wasted potential of Agnes' life (and wasn't it just so pleasant to have to find a way to prevent them all from taking their anger towards his Archivist out on him). Elias had to be very delicate as he had no intention on painting a target on Jonathan's back. He managed to imply that Jonathan was a Trojan Horse sent by the Web, their mutual enemy who had truly been the one to bind their messiah and (he made sure to stress) cripple his Archivist connections to the Eye. The three angry idiots had walked away assured that Jonathan was a ticking time bomb, designed to cripple the Institute and remove Elias from interfering with a long running plot of the Mother of Puppets by absorbing all of their time just to prevent Jonathan from unleashing his powers indiscriminately upon foes and followers of the Eye alike. The cult members had nodded along recalling the multiple times Agnes had melted their comrades and houses in her prepubescent rages.

Eugene Vanderbuilt suggested he always keep Jonathan fed to placate his powers. And that you always would need more than you thought you would when they really got into growing.

Diego Molina was even more useless, his best addition being that attempting retribution upon the Web to free Jonathan would probably play right into their sticky mandibles and lead to something even more horrible occurring. Which would perhaps be solid advice, if Elias had even been sure that Jonathan was part of a Web plot. When Elias had mentioned the Web-aligned Lietner perhaps boosting Jonathan's powers as he certainly hadn't been made intentionally by the Eye, Diego had smirked and brought out a slim red leather volume saying the books brought much power to those brave enough to use them. He added that he looked forward to seeing Jonathan's eyes melt out of his sockets from the cleansing fire Agnes would summon with the help of Asag, as soon as they had freed her from the Web's strands. Charming. Elias was viciously glad the Web had already ensured Diego's dreams would amount to nothing but a wasted life in the end.

Arthur Nolan had impressed upon him that every one of his subordinates and those of equal power with him would bicker over what to do with Jonathan. But if he was sure that Jonathan was "Beholding's Emissary" that perhaps they could combine forces to attempt to untangle what the Web had woven. Elias demurred, as he had no intention of accidentally setting Agnes loose. He hadn't phrased that as tactfully as he could, and a truly unfortunate scuffle broke out before they had mutually agreed to disagree.

The cafe still bore the scorch marks.

Messy. Elias hated coming out of his office for reasons like this. There was nothing wrong with staying safe in his office, as secure from the threat of Death as he could be before he achieved the Watcher's Crown. Gertrude should be out in the field like this, not him. Let her risk her aging neck. She at least knew none of them would dare lay a finger on her directly. If only the stubborn fools would have agreed to meet with her. They would defend her life to the death, certainly, but have a civil conversation? "Asag" forbid! Idiots.

All of this was information he more or less already Knew. He was sure the Cult of the Lightless Flame already knew he had guardianship over a child with how closely they guarded over both Gertrude and the Institute for fear of harm coming to Agnes, but it was galling all the same to have shared any information and gotten basically nothing back. They couldn't tell him if it was better to home school Jonathan or let him socialize, as both efforts had been disastrous for them. Only Eugene Vanderbuilt had even a modicum of practical information, and he had basically told him the exact same thing every doughy woman in the market remarked about feeding teenage boys as they loaded up shopping carts to tote back to their growing little failures.

 

The only saving grace of Jonathan's that gave him time to at least do his actual job was his fascination with reading. As long as Jonathan had a book in front of him, he would stay put. But he was so heinously picky! Elias had known from his intrusion into Elizabeth Sims' head that Jonathan would only read mundane books if they were unique, but she had basically run through every single title appropriate for Jonathan's age and a good number that were far too advanced for him. Elias had resorted to just letting him loose in the Library, but if Jonathan didn't find a title that grabbed his imagination he would wander off and create his own form of entertainment. When Elias emerged to deal with whatever havoc Jonathan had wriggled into, he would have to find something else for Jonathan to entertain himself with. Statements worked if Jonathan was hungry, and he usually was unless he thought he had found something more interesting, but he was wretchedly picky with statements too! He would only accept the oldest ones. He insisted that absolutely everyone was dead at the end, and he seemed suspicious of any newer statements Elias gave him. He insisted upon reading statements that were hundreds of years old, and Elias refused to hand over his delicate volumes to a sticky handed child. If he was being completely truthful, Jonathan took remarkable care over any book that came into his possession. It was just...well...Elias could be paranoid over the well being of the statements. Gertrude may misfile statements, but at least they were whole and sound. And Elias had so little left of when he was Jonah. He was at his heart a magpie, hoarding everything he could, but so few things were designed to last 200 years. The statements and books were the best preserved and the thought of any accidental harm befalling them made Elias panic down to his bones.

If given a copy or a sturdy book Elias thought would survive him, Jonathan would sit motionless for hours if necessary to finish the entire thing. One day Elias had tested Jonathan's awareness of his surroundings, simply to satisfy his own curiosity about these strange spells. Jonathan wouldn't notice food or water, no matter if it had been hours since he last ate or how good it smelled. Sometimes he would notice sounds, but he would get incandescently irritated at being interrupted. He didn't seem to notice any body pain, no matter what odd position he found himself stuck in for hours. He might wince or complain of dead limbs once he had finished, but with a book in front of him he seemed utterly detached from his body. It was baffling, and fascinating, and Elias nearly tore his hair out with frustration as he saw his supply of sturdy but ancient statements begin to dwindle rapidly. There seemed to be no limit for Jonathan's capacity for statements, truly ludicrous amounts that would have taken even Gertrude months took him a day. This situation was becoming untenable.

There was no other choice but to find him a school, if only for Elias' own sanity. He had Jonathan tested, and his test scores varied wildly. Sometimes Jonathan would achieve perfect scores of a college academic, other times he would get bored and return nothing but doodles. Elias paid for test after test until Jonathan amassed enough of these perfect scores to be accepted to a program set up for young geniuses. It was only a half day, and universities were constantly coming in and testing the students for their own research, but potential for discovery be damned Elias was going to get at least four uninterrupted hours if it traumatized an entire faculty.

 

And all of this was not even taking into account Jonathan's own issues with the adoption. He would vary wildly day to day on how well he was adjusting to a total change in lifestyle. Some days he would be obedient, understanding, and quiet. A model child in Elias' opinion. Other days he would be frustrated beyond words that he couldn't go to his favorite swing set, or talk to some child he had previously known, or get food that tasted like his grandmother made. He called his grandmother incessantly, which Elias had absolutely no objections to purely to get a moments respite. If a business matter came up via telephone, misuse of powers be damned, he would Know who was calling and ring them from his mobile phone. The little device had been a treat to himself, an upgrade and modernization when he took a new body, easily explained as a young man's vanity purchase upon achieving a significant promotion. As far as Elias was concerned now, it was worth its weight in gold. He knew Elizabeth Sims' certainly didn't mind the calls. He had Watched as she cried when Jonathan's bedroom had been completely emptied leaving nothing but the bare furniture. It soothed her to hear that Jonathan was doing well, even if she was alarmed at all the gory things Elias let him read. He hardly needed her permission or approval at any rate.

Sometimes he would be wary and skittish of Elias like a nervous fawn. Other times he fairly clung to him like a barnacle, insisting Elias repeat over and over that the Eye never let anyone go and that Elias and Jonathan would always be 'related'.

"Yes Jonathan," he found himself patiently repeating, "we are of the Eye and we are bound. I will always Know where you are."

Sometimes Jonathan would be satisfied. But sometimes he would say the oddest things. One time he denied Elias would be able to See him anywhere, because he couldn't See inside the Circus. Elias replied he would be able to See Jonathan even if he ran away to the circus. Jonathan had shook his head and cried that Elias was Lying and Lying was Bad. He said "lying" as though it should be an impossibility for Elias just as it was for Jonathan, as if it were not only a cardinal sin but an ability Jonathan resented him for being able to perform.

He constantly had nightmares, although that wasn't a surprise. Elias had tried to peer into them a few times but they were hazy and disconnected, full of figures he couldn't recognize and horrors he couldn't perceive. Elias never bothered to wake Jonathan up or try to comfort him. There was no point to delaying the inevitable. Sometimes though, when Jonathan's unconscious wails would wake him, he would project the feeling of being Watched into Jonathan's room. The heavy press of the Eye would have made grown men gibber and weep, but it seemed to quiet Jonathan. Elias just wanted to get some damn sleep. Just three peaceful days, three uninterrupted nights. A time when he didn't have to either cook two meals or try to get an eight year old raised by a woman who lived through the Blitz to try anything remotely new. But most importantly, sleep.

 

One night Elias awoke, dredged from sleep by an uncanny sixth sense only to see Jonathan at the foot his bed just...watching him. Eyes the only thing shining in the dark. Just standing there, in his bedroom, silently watching him. Elias raised his head blearily from the pillow and just waited for Jonathan to finish...whatever it was he was doing. This child was going to give this body a heart attack, and then where would he be? He should steal the body of a 20 year old now just in case. He should get that man they just hired in Research's medical history. Time for a company wide health mandate.

Eventually Jonathan had whispered in the eerie silence that he had had a nightmare. Well what did he want Elias to do about it? Jonathan had been having nightmares every night, and hadn't crept in to stare before.

...Unless he had.

He flopped his head down onto his pillow with a little groan and waved his hand. He had intended for it to be a "go away" gesture, but Jonathan had seen his movement as quiet the opposite and began to head over to the other side of the bed. Oh hell. Jonathan had clambered up and had gotten under the covers with whispered little "Thank you Mr. Magnus."

Well. Perhaps Elias wouldn't make the effort to wake up and explain properly that Jonathan should go back to his bed.

He deeply regretted his lack of effort at 3am when he awoke again to find Jonathan had somehow taken up 90% of the bed sprawled out like a starfish. He was so tiny how had he physically even managed such a feat?

This became something of a pattern. Not every night, certainly, but occasionally Elias would find himself staring at gimlet eyes in the dark and would resign himself to waking up the next morning teetering on the edge of his mattress. He really should tell Jonathan to go back to his own bed, but. Well. The next day Jonathan always seemed so much more settled. So much less likely to pester him with abandonment issues. And it seemed like he was less likely to have small tantrums through the day, as though he was better rested.

Truly the things Elias was going through.

 

 

 

Out of all the unexpected things that had happened in Elias' long life one of the most unexpected had to be that Arthur Nolan had given him good advice. The other temples of the Eye across the globe were ravenously curious about Jonathan. The Eye's nature made for a better chance at establishing long lasting institutions than say, the Corruption or the Desolation, so there was naturally many deeply entrenched powerful servants of Beholding that were now beginning to theorize and collaborate on what Jonathan could possibly mean. Wild theories were debated over fax lines, and Elias began to get a headache every time he saw yet another email demanding a conference call. One of the downsides of hiding his true seat of power was that every time he got a new body Elias found himself at the bottom of the seniority pecking order. His every judgement was called into question and debated over and over again. Beijing was calling for Jonathan's test scores to be sent over yet again, Washington was jockeying with Quebec on who was going to send a pediatrician, Greece was demanding a summit be held where everyone could meet Jonathan and democratically decide what to do.

It was a tremendous headache, and Elias snarled around the office like a lion with a wounded paw until he had finally wrangled the various organizations into agreeing that the likelihood of this being a Web plot was high and it was best to allow Elias to be the sole point of contact while the other observed from afar. It was the same old song and dance, something new occurs and bickering would break out until eventually everyone unanimously decided to just watch. Elias had played this game for decades and he wasn't about to surrender a possible linchpin to the Watchers Crown now.

Truly Elias had been leaning heavily upon the fear of the Web to keep his enemies and his esteemed colleagues away. But Smirke's rituals were powerful. Even if interrupted, they would bestow immense powers upon some of the survivors. Either the ritual would finally succeed, and they would all get what they wanted, or it would fail and only those closest to the ritual would benefit. Having already been granted large powers in one ritual, Elias was hungry to try again. He was taking all the risk with Jonathan and by the Eye he would be the one to reap the rewards.

Besides those bickering acolytes all agreed they had decades to watch and see before the Watcher's Crown was ready to be tried again. The only good things to come out of this whole headache was they all agreed to send over copies of their oldest statements to feed Jonathan. Though another heated debate had broken out over Jonathan's feeding requests: was this the result of a picky child, or an actual nutritional instinct? What would happen if Jonathan consumed a fresher statement? Had Elias tried it?

Of course he'd damn well tried it. Jonathan had looked at the date on the statement and refused to read it. He'd actually gone so far as to turn his nose up at it, and shut his eyes so tight he looked like a wrinkled lemon. Elias hadn't given him anything else for six days, and had taken the trouble to lock up both his offices and the Archives. Jonathan had become frighteningly weak around the fourth day and had begun to Look at him with a glint in his eyes that reminded Elias of something eldritch with large teeth that stalked the night. He still had refused to read the statement, any statement, from the 1900s no matter how much Elias promised him it was gruesome, or scary, or that everyone had died. He seemed to have lost all trust in Elias, even when he wasn't lying and begged Jonathan to compel him to see. Jonathan had stopped opening his mouth on the fifth morning, even for food and water. Elias had lost that hunger strike and Jonathan had gorged himself on an entire shelf of books taken from von Closen all those years ago.

Beijing was of the opinion that he simply hadn't tried hard enough. Quebec sniped back that this is why they would be the one sending the pediatrician. Beijing had taken offense and threatened to withdraw sending any statements along for Jonathan for the insult, despite Elias having stayed the hell out of it.

Elias had, for lack of anything better, treated the whole affair as a managerial misstep and had apologized to Jonathan in stilted words.

 

Jon was very mad. Mr. Magnus kept trying to have him read a Story where everyone wasn't dead. Jonathan Knew that would make his nightmares worse if he read anything with a person still alive at the end. He didn't understand why that was, because surely a story where someone survived would be even less scary, but he Knew it. All of his nightmares had blurry figures in them, and he didn't want them to have actual people faces. They were scary enough. He thought Mr. Magnus would have understood after he let Jon sleep in his bed when he had really really bad nightmares. The ones about monsters grabbing him, not just another blurry figure. Jon Knew if any monster got in Mr. Magnus could kill them. But Mr. Magnus didn't like to move, so if he was in his own room Mr. Magnus might not kill the monster before the monster got Jon. But if he was in the same bed, then Mr. Magnus would be able to kill it.

Jon wasn't stupid.

He Knew Mr. Magnus' apology was the kind that didn't sound like it was real. But Mr. Magnus wasn't used to apologizing, and Jon understood being bad at things that you didn't do all that often. He had been avoiding asking Questions because he didn't want to be rude and Compel someone, but this was important.

"Are you really sorry?"

"...Yes."

Mr. Magnus had kind of gasped at the end, like he had been fighting saying anything. Jon felt like he was right and Compelling was rude, but it was really really important. He darted forward and hugged Mr. Magnus' leg really quickly and said "I'm sorry too" as he let go and ran back to his room. He was still kinda mad. But he was sorry for being rude. He wasn't sorry about not reading the gross Story though. Stories where people survived were gross.

Chapter Text

Jon hated school. It wasn't at all like his old school. There wasn't a bunch of kids, and a lot of teachers, and a playground with swings he could be on by himself. The classes were really small so Jon couldn't hide in the back and stare out the window at all. And there were so many teachers! Some of them weren't real teachers apparently, but "researchers". They weren't like the Magnus Institute researchers, who did proper research about things that were spooky. These researchers just researched Jon. That wasn't interesting. He didn't want to do their stupid tests. He supposed the classes were even more boring than the classes at his old school. It was like he already Knew all the answers. It was boring. All the teachers and the researchers were very excited by all the facts he Knew, and Jon kinda liked that. He was happy to babble all the facts he Knew to them, but sometimes they just left when he was getting to the really interesting part.

It took days before one of the teachers moved on to something he didn't already Know but it was not fun at all. He had to write about his feelings, and about things that didn't have a real Answer like ethical questions or art or even poetry. Jon didn't like that at all. What was the point? How would he Know if he had done it right? What if he got it wrong? So many times Jon would find himself paralyzed, unable to answer, terrified of getting it wrong. He didn't want to disappoint anyone. They were all so happy when he got everything right. He didn't want to make them sad. He didn't want to be embarrassed. It felt like worms were in his stomach no matter how many times they told him to just turn in what he had. He didn't have anything.

And all the students had different work, so he couldn't even Ask a friend if they could show him how they had done theirs to See if he was doing it right. Not that he had any friends yet anyways. The teachers worked on "personalized lesson plans" and tried to have them all talk to each other to "learn social skills" but it was awkward. The days were so short there wasn't even a proper recess. There wasn't time to run around and play, except after school got out and everyone was waiting for their parents or their drivers to pick them up. Jon couldn't even walk to the Magnus Institute, no matter how many times he told the teachers he used to walk home from school all the time, and the Magnus Institute wasn't even that far away. He just had to sit and wait for one of the drivers Mr. Magnus hired to pick him up. He was too shy to really talk with the other students while he was waiting.

Mr. Magnus and his teachers said he just had to give it more time. It was hard being in a new school, they told him, and he would make friends soon. Jon didn't think so. He barely had friends at his old school, and he had been there for ages. What if people at this new school were just like the old one and thought he was weird?

Jon tried not to be weird, he really did. He also tried not to be quirky, or funny, or any of the other words grown ups used to say they liked you but could see why the other kids picked on you. He tried so hard but he messed it up somewhere. It seemed like a lot of the other kids at this school were weird though too. Lots of them were there because they didn't fit in at other schools. But that just meant that some of them were mean, like they were trying really hard not to be bullied so they became the biggest bullies to make sure no one attacked them. One boy in his class hadn't stopped picking on Jon on his fourth day. He had taken his drawing supplies and pushed him around a little bit before the teachers broke it up and made him give Jon back his crayons. Jon didn't sit next to him anymore. He hadn't called him weird, but it was only a matter of time before he said the word and then everyone in the whole class would say it too. When it was time for pickup and the number of students dwindled, Jon always got nervous until that other boy had been picked up. What if he was left alone with him?

 

One day it wasn't a driver who picked Jon up, but Mr. Magnus. Jon was surprised because this was the first time it had happened ever, usually there was driver who would take him back and Jon would go up to Mr. Magnus' office to read as many Stories as he liked until it was time to go home. Sometimes he didn't read though, because Mr. Magnus had given him coloring supplies. Jon would pull out big sheets of paper and scribble to his hearts content. He liked drawing Eyes, but he could never make them look right or the same as one another. All the Eyes didn't match up, like they just wanted to be an Eye instead of part of a pair. He had drawn one really really good Eye though, and he decided to keep that one with him. If he folded the paper carefully, there weren't any creases over the Eye and he could keep it in his pocket. He fiddled with its worn edges in the car as Mr. Magnus told him he had picked him up today because Today Was A Big Day.

Today, Mr. Magnus said, the Archivist and her Assistants were coming back. Mr. Magnus explained the Archivist was an Eye just like them, and the Assistants were supposed to help her get all the Stories together. Jon thought they had done a really really bad job, but he didn't tell Mr. Magnus that. Mr. Magnus explained he hadn't wanted to surprise Jon but the Archivist would come and go as she pleased. Jon thought that sounded silly, because Mr. Magnus could See and Know things and he told Mr. Magnus so too. Mr. Magnus said that was true, and that the Archivist wasn't at the Institute now but had just decided to come back and was on her way. And he had let Jon know very first of all because Jon was also an Eye. He made Jon promise that he wouldn't call him Mr. Magnus in front of the Archivist or the Assistants and if he did Mr. Magnus would be very cross and disappointed in Jon and Jon didn't want to make him disappointed because he didn't like disappointing anyone even though he still didn't understand why Mr. Magnus didn't like his name. But Jon would be on his best behavior for the Archivist.

Jon hoped she would like him.

 

Elias decided he would take Jonathan to the park to burn off some nervous energy before he met Gertrude. Truth be told he was somewhat nervous himself. Gertrude was ruthless, driven to stamp out every ritual, and hardly as in love with Eye as her predecessors had been. And there was Jonathan, a part of his plan for the Watcher's Crown at his smallest and most vulnerable. He was powerful, certainly, but Gertrude had faced power before. And she had destroyed it most...creatively. Elias Looked out at Jonathan running around on the grass playing some game of his own invention, and he was struck by just how small Jonathan was compared to the children around him. He barely weighed 23kg. Elias had dumbbells that weighed more than him!

And he hadn't noticed until Jonathan had started school, but Jonathan was really astonishingly gentle. When others would snap at him, Jonathan would withdraw. When that hideous little goblin who had been saddled with the name Asher had begun to actually physically threaten Jonathan, Elias had mentally braced for a bloodbath or something traumatic to happen, but Jonathan had simply...lost. He had been utterly pushed around and hadn't even tried to fight back until the teacher had broken it up. Elias had called the school that afternoon and had silkily commended the teachers for how swiftly they had attended to the matter, and had insinuated that if that little pestilence got near Jonathan again there would be more than simply words directed at the school. Of course they had assumed that Jonathan had told him about the altercation, but in truth Jonathan hadn't given any indication that something had happened to him. Fortunate for him that Elias was prone to Watching him throughout the day, just in case.

Speaking of which, just what Jonathan doing? He had taken out the little drawing of the Eye he had begun to carry with him everywhere and was pointing it at something in the dirt. Elias let his curiosity overtake him and got off the bench and walked over to Jonathan, listening to him babble as he got closer.

"..and this grass is good grass because when you step on it springs back so you can run really fast on it and it doesn't smell bad like asphalt. It smells really good, and doesn't get too hot, and if the grass is fresh cut it smells best of all but you can't run through it unless you're not wearing your good clothes because it'll stain everything green if it's just been cut. Some grass is crunchy, especially when it gets cold, and that's good grass too because the crunchy sound is nice, but it's not as nice to run through because if you trip it's sharp. So that's why green grass like this is the best kind of grass."

"Hello Jonathan. What are you doing?"

"I'm showing the Eye nice things. The Eye only watches horrible things lots of the time and if I only watched horrible things I would want to look at nice things too sometimes. And the Eye doesn't really understand why things are nice, so I'm explaining why. The Eye Knows lots of things but doesn't really Understand them so if I show it nice things and explain why they're nice that will help it Understand."

"Oh Jonathan. That's not really how the Eye works."

"There are lots of things I don't understand if nobody explains them to me, so it doesn't make sense to not at least try to show the Eye nice things and explain. How is it supposed to Understand if no one explains?" said Jonathan stubbornly.

Elias just patted him on the head. Oh my, it was like watching...well it was like watching a child try to feed grass to a dog. He would learn eventually. He left Jonathan showing the little drawing of the Eye a butterfly, or a leaf, or something equally innocuous and returned to his bench.

Eventually it came time to leave, so he signaled to Jonathan who waved back at him. As Jonathan was ambling back towards the bench, a mother sat down at the other end of the bench and tried to strike up a small conversation.

"So, which one is yours?"

Elias nodded towards Jonathan and said "That one, but I'm afraid we must be on our way." As Jonathan arrived at the bench Elias scooped him up into his arms and turned toward the woman who sat frozen as she was suddenly on the receiving end of both Elias' and Jonathan's stares.

She grinned nervously. "O-oh, I see. He has your eyes!"

 

 

In the car Jonathan began to wriggle excitedly. Elias had rather hoped all that energy had been burned out, but it seemed Jonathan still had plenty left to be worried about meeting this latest "Eye". Elias sighed and indulgently told Jonathan he could ask questions if he worked on what they had practiced, about phrasing them so they weren't Compelling.

"So, you're an Eye and I'm an Eye and we're both bound...um, is the- can- umm, the Archivist..."

"Gertrude is also bound to me and to the Eye. She is not bound necessarily to you. In families some people are related and some people aren't related in quite the same way, like how your grandmother is related to your father's cousins but your mother wasn't, and yet they were connected via family. I wonder what Gertrude would think of this metaphor come to think of it...hm. Perhaps I should have a conversation with her before you come into the room."

"And the Assistants aren't of the Eye yet."

"Correct. They are on the path and are tied to Gertrude, and to me, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are bound to the Eye."

"So they're related to you and Gertrude but not the Eye but the Eye sees them as maybe could be family like if they wanted to be and talked to the Eye more the Eye would adopt them."

"A little involved perhaps, but yes, that is roughly the circumstances."

Jonathan opened his new backpack and pulled out some crayons. Elias took a peek without taking his physical eyes off of the road to see that Jonathan was sketching what looked to be a very complex family tree. He seemed to be trying to make the Assistant's distant cousins. Thank heavens he hadn't drawn Elias and Gertrude as married. If he parsed Jonathan's scribbles correctly, Elias was either Gertrude's father or her elder brother. How very Greek Pantheon. Eventually Jonathan gave up and focused on the "tree" part of family tree, scribbling in green swirls for leaves. Ah, the tree was turning into a birch trunk- no, that would be eyes. The trunk was covered in eyes. Goodness he was getting into a singular artistic track recently.

 

After bustling Jonathan up into the safety of his office Elias Saw that Gertrude would arrive back with Sarah a half hour before Emma and Michael would return from their own separate trip. Now, to introduce Jonathan to them all at once or wait? Probably best to get it all over with. Especially with Emma in the mix. Ah well, at least he was already certain the Web was familiar with Jonathan. Best to let her play her games with Michael and Sarah and keep Gertrude pointed at the rituals that were really beginning to ramp up. A flaw of Smirke's membership of course. Being introduced and falling to the Powers all around the same time had lead to everyone trying out their Ritual as soon as they could. Now they were all doomed to be rather clustered together within a range of oh, roughly forty years? Difficult to keep track of really, with the ebb and flow of fear being so nebulous if you weren't affiliated with the specific Patron involved. Probably much shorter for the Entities that quickly generated fear like the Stranger or the Dark. 30 years, 20 if you excluded the more complex ramp ups to the rituals proper. No, that sounded too short. How long had it been since Angus Stacey had been killed in that whole complex Stranger nonsense? Goodness he had been in Richard Mendelssohn at the time. My but he missed that hair, it was always so easy to style. Probably saved him years of time just being able to never worry about fussing with it. But the knees had given out quickly in the end. Hardly worth the trade off.

As he was musing, Gertrude Robinson did what she did best, which was utterly disregard any plans or considerations he might have had and charge ahead anyways. Impossible woman. She had immediately begun to storm up to his office with Sarah in tow. He sighed and made sure Jonathan was aware she was coming up and had him clean up his drawing supplies.

"Gertrude. Welcome back. I trust you were successful?"

"Hm yes, I rather think so. Sarah and I were able to uncover two separate rituals beginning to organize. I suspect the Buried and the Flesh will be trying almost back-to-back."

"Anything that needs immediate attention?"

"Not at the moment. I rather think we've bought ourselves a few more years at least, and truth be told both of them were probably a decade away before being ready."

"Something to look forward to then. Good work Gertrude, Sarah."

"Now, I believe you have a far more interesting update yourself."

"Hm, quite. Jonathan, please say hello."

 

Jon hadn't been hiding. It was just that Mr. Magnus' desk was so tall. It nearly covered all of him. He was glad his eyes could see over and he didn't have to go on his tippy toes. He had been Looking at the ladies who came into the office, and he Knew which one of them was the Archivist but she didn't feel like he thought an Archivist should. She had grey hair and a lumpy sweater and that was ok, but she smelled like burning cobwebs and that was probably bad Jon thought. He didn't think an Archivist should smell like burning anything. And cobwebs reminded him of Mr. Spider, which he was trying really hard not to remember or think about at all or he'd get the really bad nightmares again.

But he wasn't hiding. He wasn't scared. He wasn't. He might have admitted to being nervous, maybe. He tugged on Mr. Magnus' trouser leg and found himself lifted up into his lap. Now he could See more, and that was better. Being taller was much better than being small. He buried half his face into Mr. Magnus' neck and managed a small "'llo".

Mr. Magnus bounced him on his lap a bit, which prompted Jon to keep going. He had to remember to be polite and not Compel or be weird. He took a deep breath and then he took his face out of Mr. Magnus' neck and then he turned to the two ladies and he Looked at the Archivist and he introduced himself.

"I want to Ask you lots of Questions but Asking is rude and I have learned that so I'm going to try to not Ask them but actually I do want to Know I just can't say it normal because if I do you'll have to tell me and that's called Compelling and that's rude. Hello my name is Jon it's nice to meet you I am an Eye and you are an Eye and your Assistants aren't Eyes but that's ok because they're still helping even if the Archives are messy. I want to Know why the Archives are so messy, and if it's because your Assistants aren't Eyes and can't See that fake stories touching real Stories is gross and also not how things should be. I want to Know lots of things but I was told you might want to Know some things about me. I am 8 years old and I used to live with my gran but now only talk to her on the phone and my new room is bigger than my old one and has all my stuff in it but I think my favorite thing in the whole wide world is my coloring set because it has almost every color you can get. I would also like to know what your favorite dinosaur is because everyone has a favorite dinosaur even though they're all dead now."

There. He hadn't Compelled and he'd asked normal questions-that-weren't-questions. Everyone asked about dinosaurs at his old school. His new school they hadn't but his new school wasn't really a school at all.

"Hello Jonathan. Who did this to you?"

Jonathan frowned. He wasn't sure what she meant, so cocked his head to the side and Looked at her quizzically.

"You see what I mean Gertrude. Totally immune."

"Indeed."

Jonathan felt quite put out. She hadn't answered any of his Questions even though he hadn't been rude about it. Grownups were always being rude to kids, like they didn't even think they were people. It was annoying. He huffed and wriggled out of Mr. Magnus' arms. If she was going to be rude to him and not answer any of his Questions, he wasn't going to talk to her. He walked around the desk and past the Archivist and towards Sarah-the-Assistant and Looked at her.

He hadn't liked Looking at the Archivist because of the cobwebs and the fire, but Sarah was nice to Look at. She Looked like the dark and the stars and most of all she looked like the Eye. Jon decided that he liked her and said so.

"I like your Eyes. You should be careful though because Mr. Fairchild likes adopting the people who See the Vast but he only takes them skydiving and he loves the daytime sky best of all. But the nighttime sky is even better because it has stars and stars make constellations and constellations tell you things and give you information on where you are and my very favorite constellation is Ursa Minor which means Little Bear and the Americans call it the Little Dipper because they think it doesn't look like a bear at all but that's probably because back in Antiquity there wasn't as much light pollution so they could see more stars to fill in the gaps even though some of those stars are dead now and the light just stopped reaching us because that's how far away everything is but it still shone very brightly and I really like that."

Sarah had looked at him a little funny, and Jon was starting to feel like maybe he had ruined all the introductions somehow. But then Sarah knelt down and smiled and had said in a very nice voice that she was pleased to meet him and that her favorite constellation was one that didn't have a name but it had fifteen stars in it and Jon was very impressed because most constellations weren't that big. He told her that he was very impressed she knew a constellation that big, and that he was glad the Dark and the Vast didn't get her because she was better for the Eye anyways.

But then something stopped him. It was kinda like when he thought about things he didn't really want to think about, and he started crying without knowing why. Sarah hugged him and Asked why he was sad except it wasn't an Ask it was just an ask and she gave really nice hugs.

And without knowing why he wailed "I don't want any of them to get you! Not even the Eye! You're still you!"

She rubbed his back a little and asked what he meant. "Sometimes I don't feel like I'm me anymore. And sometimes I think I'm becoming a monster like in the Stories, and I don't want to be a monster. I just want to be Jon. But They don't care about what you want. They just want to eat people, or hollow them out and fill them up with something different. And the Eye hollows you out by tricking you into Looking at things you shouldn't Look at, not ever, not even once. I didn't know, I didn't know, I didn't know! I didn't mean it, not really. I didn't mean to do it."

And she asked him what he meant again, and it was nice that it wasn't an Ask and she was still hugging him but now it felt like she hadn't heard what he just said. So he hugged her back a little tighter and said "You can't keep asking because one day you'll Ask and the Eye will have got you." And then he let her go and his face was all hot and he wanted to run away because he had just cried like a baby to someone he didn't even Know, not really. So he scrubbed his face and he went over to the bookshelf and he pulled down a Story and he curled up in the corner because he wanted to read a Story to make himself feel better and forget he was in a room with grownups who he had wanted to impress but had just cried in front of.

But before he could even start, Gertrude interrupted.

"Well the Eye's already got me young man. What did you do?"

"Who made you?"

"What is your purpose?"

"What do you Know?"

Jon stood up and he clutched the book like a shield and he yelled right back in her face. "STOP YELLING AT ME."

And he turned to Mr. Magnus and he yelled right at him too. "STOP TRYING TO LOOK IN MY HEAD."

And then he turned to the people who had just come in through the door and he screamed.

 

Elias startled at Jonathan's terrified sudden scream. What on earth was the matter? He turned away from trying to peer into Jonathan's mind and saw Michael and Emma standing in the doorway.

Jonathan dove out of his chair and ran towards Elias before stopping halfway looking momentarily torn. He darted forward and grabbed both Gertrude and Sarah's hands and began to try and haul them back towards Elias, and as they began to stumble back a fairly agonized look came over his face and he trembled before sprinting towards Michael, grabbing his arm and telling him to get behind.

None of this was very effective, considering how small Jon was. He had clearly intended to corral everyone behind Elias, but as they stumbled around they only took a few steps before stopping to look at Jonathan.

But Jonathan hadn't needed that much space. He simply needed a clear path between him and Emma.

"I SEE YOU."

Chapter Text

"TELL ME YOUR STORY EMMA HARVEY."

The compulsion crackled in the air like an unstoppable lightning storm. Elias was near breathless with it, he could no more look away than he could speak. He thought for a wild moment that Gertrude was going to step forward and try to stop Jonathan, stop him from what he was about to do to her best friend, but she remained as watchful and attentive as he was. No one in the room had a choice to do otherwise as Emma Harvey began to spill her tale of manipulation and woe. He would have dearly loved to have been able to peer into the thoughts of the others in the room, to See how they were experiencing this, or to Look through the various sigils he had hidden around his office to gain a different vantage point, but his attention was forcibly bound and rapt to the terrified words running from Emma Harvey's mouth. It was nothing he didn't know of course, except for a few of the particulars. He had been aware of her petty manipulations but she had never interfered with any of his plans and was thus none of his concern. Gertrude was no better. She had to have known. She had to have- no. Wait. Jonathan was forcing her to detail how she had hidden things from Gertrude. Petty, small little acts, unworthy of being able to truly disguise anything from an Archivist who should have been Looking. What he wouldn't have given to be able to See Gertrude's face!

 

Emma trembled like a spider whose web was caught in a maelstrom. She shook from fear but her words were smooth and clear, leaving no detail out. How she had felt, how the rising curiosity had led to travesties, how satisfied she had been throughout the entire process. Where she found the coffin, how satisfying it had been to find something Fiona could not escape, her bewilderment that nothing had eaten Sarah yet, her current plans for Michael's innocent ignorance, none of it was spared from Jonathan's gaze. Elias was profoundly impressed, but his awe rose to rapturous heights as Jonathan gave his next order.

"SHOW ME YOUR WEB, SPIDER."

Suddenly there were silvery threads covering the office. Elias could See them wrapped around his Archivist's eyes and ears, could See them wrapped around Sarah's wrists and ankles like a marionette, could See them threaded through Michael's curls in the worlds lightest blindfold and thick as headphones over his ears. To his own horror he could See them wrapped around his own hands and he fancied he could taste them on his tongue as he Saw gossamer threads run out his mouth. Emma needn't have bothered, he would have never intervened at any rate, but the fact she had managed to bind him without his Knowing. She had only been a small spider! A petty crawling thing in the dusty corners of the Archives, bloated with satisfaction but her webs had always been for smaller prey than him!

He could hear Jonathan's voice wobble as he shouted at Emma next. His throat was ragged with unsung sobs and his eyes ran with tears, but that didn't impact their effect at all. He wailed for Fiona, and for Sarah, and for Michael, and for Gertrude, and even Elias himself as he flung his last command at Emma Harvey.

"KNOW WHAT YOU DID."

Emma began to scream. She thrashed as terror that was not hers by right poured into her, the outcomes of all her little schemes, a spider thrashing in their own web like the flies they caught. She began to run wildly around the room, ramming into walls until blood poured from gashes on her skull, throwing herself upon a door that was not locked but she saw was as immobile as the locked doors she herself had sealed. She shrieked in shrill gasps that it was Too Close She Could Not Breathe as she flailed wildly around the room. Inevitably she bashed herself against the window, screaming to let her out, let her out, please, out, out out out! The window shattered in long blood covered shards as Emma Harvey fell to her death.

Elias Knew the moment she died, for Jonathan's compulsion was released and the spectral threads that bound him fell slack. Jonathan turned to the rest of the room, saw the disintegrating spiders webs, and began to wildly sob as he ran out of the room.

 

"What the hell-?" began Michael, as everyone fell slack and began to breathe again. Elias panted and spat, desperate to get the taste of web out of him mouth as Sarah began to claw wildly at her wrists. Gertrude stood frozen, her eyes staring at the bloody gaping breach in the window where the woman who had been her oldest friend had disappeared through.

Elias pushed his chair back and went to run after Jonathan, shouting over his shoulder to Ellen to call the police, that there had been a death, for Jonathan to wait and come back. But it was no use. Jonathan was nowhere within the hallways Elias ran wildly down. Eventually he slowed to a stop and tried to mentally grip himself. He cast about, Looking for Jonathan, but he could not See him.

 

Jon had run. He had run very fast and he just needed to get out to get out out out away from the spider's webs that covered everyone, even Mr. Magnus. He had Seen the threads everywhere, on everyone, and not all of them had fallen when Ms. Spider died. Nowhere was safe, they weren't safe, he wasn't safe where was safe from the spiders where could the threads not go-

He ran down the stairs and through the Archives and past the Stories, and he ran into an office that he Knew but had not been in and he pried up the floorboard with his little fingers and his chewed broken nails and he ran into the dark dark tunnels where there were no threads.

Jonathan refused to remember how long he was down in the tunnels.

It was dark, and it was quiet, and he couldn't See like he usually could. But that was ok, because nothing could See him either. It was dark, but it wasn't Dark-dark. It was just a regular lack of light. Which was scary, and he wished he had a light, but it wasn't the kind of Dark that was going to eat him. Sometimes he heard footsteps down in the tunnels, and he wouldn't say anything because he didn't want anyone finding him. He sat there in the darkness for a long time. He told himself it was like when he was in his old bedroom at grans, with the windows shut and when it was nighttime and he was under a blanket and he just had to not move. It wasn't like that at all, because he didn't have a blanket. He would have felt cold, but after being so scared he found himself sitting, unmoving, staring at a wall and just...drifting. He did that sometimes. He wished he could do it all the time. Nothing happened in his head, not really. Sometimes, when he was at grans, he could sit that way for as long as he pleased because gran would only call him once for supper and would give up after that. When he felt really sad he could just turn off his brain except for little snippets. He wished he could turn it all the ways off.

 

Elias was frantic. He had even gone so far as to drag Gertrude out of her stupor and try to get her to help, to do something, to try and use the powers Beholding had so graciously given her that she had tried to deny. Gertrude had slapped him.

"Get a hold of yourself Elias."

Elias had thought that was too far, and had told her so in the strictest terms. It had helped him clear his head of the horror of being unable to See, if only to focus on the outrage of being slapped. He took a deep breathe, focused, and ripped into every single employee's mind in a searing brutal attack to uncover if any of them had witnessed Jonathan. As he shifted through multiple people's heads at the same time, employees began to collapse clutching their heads, blood running out of their noses or their eyes. Gertrude slapped him again.

"The Archives, he went down towards the Archives. He has to be in the tunnels, there's no other place."

Gertrude's eyes had glinted at that, and Elias felt he had made a serious misstep in all but telling Gertrude he was unable to See into the tunnels. She had only recently discovered them and had yet to explore their twists and powers fully. In fact, had she even known about the entrance into her office? He had covered it in floorboards after that unfortunate incident with Stacey. He had always been too obsessed with Smirke and his work. Reclassifying the Fears was foolish, certainly, but that did not mean Stacey hadn't been thorough with tracing Smirke's architecture below the Institute.

They ran down the stairs to the Archives, the wail of police sirens echoing from outside the windows, and as they burst into Gertrude's office they saw the floor that had been torn by tiny hands. Elias was about to leap down into the darkness when Gertrude insisted they grab flashlights. Elias had gathered himself and had agreed, and had never regretted it more when turning back for flashlights meant they had been caught by the police.

 

"Oh Mr. Bouchard! There you are, here you go officers, this is Mr. Bouchard and Ms. Robinson. They were in the room for..um, the incident."

Damn Rosie to hell. Damn that meddling front desk secretary, damn her for seeing them rush past her, damn her for leading the first wave of police to him and not up to his office, damn her for thinking she was helping.

"Alright Mr. Bouchard, if you could just let us know what happened. In your own time."

"Officers, if you will excuse us, we are in somewhat of a hurry. My foster son was in the room during the unfortunate incident and fled down into service tunnels below the Institute. They're not safe for him, we need to retrieve him immediately."

"Right, Mr. Bouchard, if you could elaborate upon the incident-"

"There is an 8 year old lost down below up with no light, no idea where he is, and no way out. If we could please have this conversation before he gets hurt Officers."

"...Right. Um, we'll just, um, Longley, Smith, go interview the other witnesses. Rogers, Hanley, with me. Radio HQ we may have a search and rescue on our hands."

 

Jon heard footsteps. It was just one person though. He sat very still, and didn't have the wherewithal to do much more from his slumped position against the cool brick wall. It sounded like a man breathing. He turned his face towards where he heard the sound from, and a bright light flashed upon him.

"Hello Mister." he said in a monotone voice.

The light clicked off and the man's breathing sped up. It sounded like he was walking away. The man hadn't been too nice. Maybe he wasn't supposed to be here. He probably wasn't someone Jon wanted to talk to. Jon roused himself and stood up, and walked down another little corridor. Jon was standing in the middle of the hallway when he heard the man's shoes again. Ah. The tunnels were twisty down here. He stood very still, but he must have made some kind of noise because the light clicked back on and shone on his silent unmoving form.

"Hello Mister." he said again, too tired to change his flat tone.

The light clicked off again and the shoes went down another path. Jon didn't like that. He didn't like that he didn't Know who the man was. He didn't like being in the tunnels anymore, even if there weren't webs. He turned and quietly walked away, following a wall randomly as he didn't have a light to see where he was going. He heard the shoes again, but it sounded like it was almost right in front of him somehow. The light clicked on again.

"H-" was all Jon managed to get out before the man let out a small shriek and the walls began to move around him.

They moved too fast for him to cry out, and Jon found himself boxed in by cold brick.

He felt around, but couldn't find an opening. He felt blank. He laid down in the little room-that-hadn't-been, and could only manage to curl up a little bit. He thought he might have gone to sleep, but it was so dark there wasn't a difference between opening and closing his eyes.

 

Elias was going to strangle the police, and he was going to have Gertrude help him cover up the murders for her sins. They had been walking in a pack of five, flashlights shining out, and the police had been calling out like bleating sheep in the slaughtering ramps for Jonathan. There were...things down here in the dark in between spaces that would do best not to be disturbed. Two had given up the original search, and had gone back up to send reinforcements and chalk and shock blankets and all the things a proper rescue team needed. They had not yet returned. Elias didn't Know why, and that bothered him almost as much as the thought of Jonathan down here in this wretched place.

Obviously Jonathan could handle himself. Obviously. He had just killed a Daughter of the Mother of Puppets. But Emma had been a weak Avatar. And there were many things down here in the dark, and Jonathan didn't even have a light, and when was the last time he had eaten or had anything to drink? And Jonathan was so, so small. The Eye had gifted him with a child who would become a man by the time of the next Watchers Crown, possibly the most powerful Avatar of the Eye Elias had seen in his long life, and immortality and crown depended on strength. The Eye had brought Jonathan to him and Elias had let him escape into Smirke's damn tunnels alone and defenseless. Jonathan was a gentle child who colored bright Eyes of azure and hot pink and kaleidoscopes and turned to Elias when he was scared. He was so young, and Elias hadn't Watched him close enough.

 

It was Gertrude who had spotted it first, the tell tale signs in the dirt of a small body slumped against wall. Elias had spotted the small shoe prints, and then the larger ones. Then the trail had gone cold almost immediately, as the floor of the tunnels was hardly a muddy forest floor.

There was only one police officer left with them, and she had insisted upon taking pictures and putting down crime scene markers. Of all things for her to have with her- but of course she had been called to a crime scene. This was wasting time. Some thing that wore men's shoes had been near Jonathan. The paths split off into three different courses, and Elias was not so much as a fool as to suggest splitting up, but how he wanted to.

 

Jon found himself leaving the fog a little bit when he heard voices. They sounded angry, but at each other. One of them sounded really familiar. One of them sounded like he was the angriest of all.

Oh no. Oh no, no no no. This was like being dragged back by the police to gran but so much worse. He had run away, and he had gotten lost, and now Mr. Magnus was mad. And Mr. Magnus had been covered in cobwebs and Jon had just left him instead of trying to help. No no no no, he had messed it all up again. He ruined everything, and he was stuck in a small little room and Mr. Magnus was so mad and he was so sorry and he couldn't help it but he started crying quietly.

 

Elias's head snapped up, and he shushed Gertrude and PC Timewaster. Or whatever her name was. It was quiet, very quiet, but Elias had been hearing that sound every night for months now. It was the sound of a small child crying and trying not to be heard. He followed the sound, eyes wide and ears straining. He shone his flashlight down the three tunnels, and listened to the echoing hiccups of a child who just couldn't stop the tears from flowing no matter how hard he tried to stop them.

There- down the second pathway, the brickwork was disturbed. The tunnels looked, folded into itself? As though a wall that had once faced the interior was reversed. He gestured towards Gertrude and PC Whatsherface, and they crept quietly behind him. They made their way over and Elias gently tapped on the wall where a few hairline fractures appeared.

"Jonathan? Is that you?"

The crying only got faster, interspersed with sniffles as Jonathan lost control of his breathing.

"Breathe Jonathan, it's ok, it's ok. I'm here Jonathan. I found you. It's ok."

"I-I- I'm- I-"

"Jonathan, ok you alright? Is there anything with you?"

Now Jon was alarmed for a different reason. He hadn't realized something being in the tiny room with him was even an option. But there were lots of things that could wait quietly in the corners, or up on the ceiling. Like spiders.

He let out a small wail at the thought. "I don't Kn-know! I c-can't See anything, it-it's small and d-dark in here. I-I-I think I'm- I-"

"Jonathan, how big is it in there? Is there a way out?"

"N-no! I-it's j-j-just walls, I- I have to curl up if I w-want to l-ay down. I can touch a-all the w-walls if I open my arms?"

Right. That was it. Elias seized some of the bricks and began to tear at them with his fingers. He succeeded in tearing off some soil that clung to the inside-out wall, but as he ripped at it with increasingly frantic pace he could tell he wasn't moving any of the actual wall. Surely a wall that had been forcibly moved by- what? Some creature? Whatever it had been it wasn't a dedicated masonry team. Surely that had to have left a weakness somewhere. He began to bash at it with his shoulder, and looked around for anything to use as a tool to open up the wall even a crack. How much air was left?

"Elias- Elias! Elias calm down. I'm going back for help. Calm down Elias!" Gertrude Robinson, ever the cold voice of detached logic. This wasn't one of her doomed assistants, brought in only to die in the service of the Archivist. This wasn't the time.

"Fine." he growled. "Go back. Tell them to hurry."

Gertrude walked- walked!- off, marking the walls with chalk she apparently carried with her everywhere. Fine. Fine. Elias shone his flashlight around, hoping, begging, for- ah! There it was, a piece of pipe that had fallen off the wall when it had been moved. He grabbed the pipe and began swinging, chipped pieces of brick flying around him.

In the dark tunnel there was nothing but the sound of his heavy exhales and the solid thud of the pipe.

It seemed to go on forever before he managed to get a small crack to open into the small room. Air! Now Jonathan would have air. He kept swinging, widening the crack into a crevice, and then into a gap, and then finally a brick wobbled. He threw down the pipe and scrabbled at the loose brick, yanking it outwards lest it fall within and hit Jonathan.

He shone his light within the gap, and looked down at Jonathan's tear stained face. He shone the light all around and checked that there was nothing in the room with Jonathan. Phew. Empty. Calling it a "room" might be too generous. This was clearly meant to be a coffin. Elias saw red, and swore that whatever had done this would pay if it ever got within his Sight.

"Jonathan, I'm going to need you to stand against the opposite wall. I'm going to rip this wall apart brick by brick and we are going to get you out."

Jonathan pressed himself to the wall as far away as he could go, but it wasn't much. Elias began to work methodically, thrusting the pipe into the room and leveraging it against the wall until mortar crumbled. Eventually the hole grew large enough that he could reach through and drag Jonathan out. He held Jonathan and breathed in the scent of mortar and brick dust and sat in the tunnel for a long time while the PC graciously gave them space for as long as they needed it.

 

Eventually they all emerged safely, if dustier. Gertrude had even found the missing two PCs, which was a relief. Too many complications already.

The official story was that Emma Harvey had a psychotic break and had tragically fallen to her death. The police were keen to put the whole affair behind them, and to be quite honest Michael had unwittingly helped convince them by being completely transparent with what he had seen. A child had yelled at Emma Harvey, and she had begun to rant about evil conspiracies and bash herself against every surface. He had the good sense to leave out exactly what was said, as well as the spider webs, but his completely uncoached confusion had gone a long way to smoothing things over.

 

Elias didn't even want to think about the dust and dirt tracked all over his house. He threw away both sets of clothing, gave Jonathan two baths, and immediately called a cleaning service. Money was infinitely useful. As maids deep cleaned the foyer and everywhere else they had tracked the wretched stuff, Elias and Jonathan sat in Elias' bed and Jonathan read them both horrible stories where absolutely everyone died at the end.

 

Surprisingly it was Jonathan who insisted the next day that the entire Archival team have a meeting.

Chapter Text

Elias would admit to some slight frustration, if pressed, that he did not Know what Jonathan was going to say to the Archival team. He had attempted to peer into Jonathan's head, but once again the power difference had obscured his perception into nothing but blurry images. And how Jonathan jumped around! Both physically and mentally, the boy was like a grasshopper. Elias was having trouble just getting him to sit still and eat his breakfast, and resigned himself to be content Jonathan hadn't gotten jam anywhere but on his face. He wetted a paper towel and wiped Jonathan's face as he squirmed in his chair insisting "I can do it!" Elias snorted at that. Jonathan couldn't even see the mirror without the help of a step stool. Would this child never grow?

Actually, come to think of it... Elias frowned. Jonathan's shirt didn't fit as well as it had before, surely he hadn't literally grown overnight? Elias thought longingly of a time when the most referenced volumes on his shelf weren't brightly colored children's development books.

He had spent the entirety of breakfast impressing upon Jonathan the crucial fact that he was not to reveal under any circumstances that Elias was Jonah Magnus. Most of the discussion had been avoiding answering Jonathan's incessant "I want to know why not"'s out of concern there was no delicate way to truthfully answer that Gertrude would probably shoot him. In Jonathan's limited world view, family did not shoot other family, and for as long as he could Elias thought it was probably best to conceal that fact that some families did indeed shoot each other. All of the childhood development books pointed to that being the correct conclusion, although that did lead to some slight concern as to what all those Statements were doing to Jonathan's psyche.

They arrived at the Institute on time and put together, which Elias considered to be no small feat. They had had to turn back around when Elias remembered he hadn't contacted Jonathan's school to call him out "sick", only to remember that he owned a mobile phone now. They had turned back around and Elias had the novel experience of juggling a phone and driving in London morning traffic at the same time. The wonders of the modern age!

When they arrived at 9am on the dot it was to find that all of the Archival staff had beaten them there.

 

Jon was nervous. He probably shouldn't have been, because he was just going to meet other Eyes, and it was like a family reunion right? Except he couldn't remember any family reunions. A lot of people talked about them like they were no big deal though, so they must not be. But this was different. He had already been really weird earlier, and there had been a Spider, and only one of them had liked him. He hadn't really talked to Michael though. Sarah was nice, and she was probably safe. Gertrude had been mean and rude. Jon usually was rude back if someone was rude to him, because he had tried being really really nice in the hopes of changing their mind and that just made them meaner to him. But that was for his classmates, maybe grown ups were different? Mr. Magnus had been rude to him at first, but now he was nicer.

Oh. They were all here and they were Looking at him.

Jon shrunk back behind Mr. Magnus' leg, but Sarah gave him a friendly wave and that was really nice. He came out a bit more, but he grabbed up at Mr. Magnus' hand to hold. Just in case.

Jon Looked back, and none of them were Spiders, which was really good.

It was really quiet in the Archives. Mr. Magnus squeezed his hand and Jon thought that meant he should probably say something.

"Hi- I, I'm Jon!"

There was a really weird beat where nobody said anything, Gertrude was just Staring at him. And that felt rude, but Jon was Staring right back at her just as hard so that would show her.

"Hi Jon, I'm-" "Michael" "Sarah". The two assistants accidentally spoke over each other, which settled Jon a bit because it meant they were like him and didn't really Know where this conversation was going.

"Hello Ms. Sarah, hello Mr. Michael. It is very nice to meet you." Jon said politely. There was almost another pause, but Jon let go of Mr. Magnus' hand to tug at his shirt like he was straightening a jacket. He didn't have a jacket on right now, and he wished he did. Jackets were nice to fiddle with, because you could always count on them to need fiddling with and everyone understood fiddling with a jacket and it wasn't like shoelaces or pieces of eraser or other things he would fiddle with sometimes that other people didn't.

"You're probably wondering why I called you all here today. I thought it best to go over what happened yesterday."

Michael couldn't help it. He laughed a little bit, which made Jon startle and then glare at him a little, but cmon, this was a pipsqueak talking like a stuffy middle manager. He grinned at Elias and gestured between them. "Ha, a-a chip off the old block?"

Elias glared back. Michael threw up his hands at the force of those two glares in apology. "Sorry, s-sorry, you're right. Now isn't the time for joking."

"You don't have to hide being afraid behind jokes." said Jon solemnly.

Michael's eyebrows shot up to his hairline.

"I Knew someone who did that, when things got really scary, but that just meant nobody could help when he got really scared because they didn't Know. And then he got mad because nobody helped him."

Elias interrupted very smoothly and gently. "And who was that Jonathan?"

"I can't think about him or I'll barf." said Jon, matter of factly. "Oh! Yeah! I should tell you all that. If I think too hard about Them I barf. Like a lot. It's really gross. But I can think about lots of other things and then I'll Know! Like how I Knew that Spider was a Spider. She was gross but I didn't barf. And that's why we're all meeting because the Spider said lots of things about how she tricked you and that's not nice and it's pretty scary and I think we should all talk about those things so we Know who Knows what and who did what because of the Spider and not because of themselves."

There was silence in the room. Jon didn't know what kind of silence it was, so he figured he better fill it. Silences were the worst.

"Um, I didn't stay too long with the Spider so I don't think she got me but I was pretty scared so I ran down into the tunnels because the tunnels confuse everyones senses even the Spiders and even the Eye, I couldn't even See anything down there which was pretty scary and then I think I Saw a man only I couldn't really See if it was a man but it sounded like one and he sounded scared and he had a flashlight and then he locked me up in the wall but Mr.-" and here Jon shoved both hands over his mouth because he almost forgot. He looked up at Mr. Magnus who had a frozen smile on his face, the kind teachers made when they were really mad because someone just said a rude word and then Jon took his hands off of his mouth and squeezed Mr. Magnus' hand because it was ok because he hadn't said it yet and he kept going.

"Um. So he saved me and that's alright but I think I know who the man was in the tunnels and I think I can find him again but that's not the important part because the important part was when the Spider said she trapped Ms. Fiona in the coffin and I think that's the worst because I hate the Buried almost as much as I hate the Spiders and I Know where the coffin is and I think we should all go get it and rescue Ms. Fiona and we should do it soon because being in the coffin is awful and I Know that."

And there was more silence in the room, but it sounded like a thinking silence so that was ok. But then it went on too long and Jon got frustrated because sometimes thinking silences did that and it wasn't fair because just sitting in silence was awful and people should think faster. But then he had a thought and that was ok because he knew what to fill the silence up with.

"Oh yeah! And the Spider said that she made you not See anything Mr. Michael and that's awful too because it's really dangerous if you're going to be around these things and not know about them and I don't understand why nobody else told you and I think it was really mean of Ms. Gertrude not to tell you and maybe a little mean for Ms. Sarah not to tell you but it's most mean of Ms. Gertrude because she's the Archivist and is supposed to be in charge and that means keeping everyone safe especially Assistants because they're the Archivists best friends but maybe the Spider made them not say anything because the Spider tried to be Ms. Gertrude's best friend even though she wasn't because best friends don't lie to each other and it took me a long time to learn it but I Know that now. So we should tell you everything! I think Ms. Gertrude should go first, because she Knows a lot and also you are supposed to be friends because she's your Archivist only sometimes that's not how it works but that's how it should work because any Archivist needs friends a lot."

 

There was silence again and Jon hated it and he looked up to Mr. Magnus for help but Mr. Magnus had taken out the little notebook he kept in his suit jacket pockets and was writing really fast in it.

He looked at Ms. Gertrude but she wasn't saying anything she was just Looking at him so he turned to Look at Ms. Sarah next and she was also staring but not like, Looking staring, which was better because she was just looking at him with her eyes full of stars and he didn't want to cry but then she looked at him in quite a nice way and gave him a little thumbs up which was really really nice because he was almost getting the worms in his stomach again but that little thumbs up made the worms go away. So he turned to Look at Mr. Michael and he just looked really, really confused.

"Um..." said Jon, nervously. "Do you have any Questions?"

 

Mr. Michael did, in fact, have questions. So Jon went and he grabbed printer paper and he took out some pens (and he wished he had his backpack because his backpack had his crayons but Mr. Magnus had said he wasn't going to school today and Jon had been really happy about that so he didn't even touch his backpack) and he made a list of all the Fears but he was kinda jumbled about talking about Them because there was just so much so Ms. Gertrude took over which made Mr. Magnus cross because he wanted to hear what Jon had to say even if it was jumbled and that made Jon feel very good and warm inside. Mr. Magnus didn't always listen to him, especially when he started talking about things like types of dogs or Egyptology, but Jon figured that might have been because he was a grown-up and an Eye and already Knew those things anyways but they were interesting and he wanted to share them with someone so when that happened he'd take out his little drawing of the Eye and he'd explain why dogs were very good especially when they were happy about doing things like herding sheep or chasing things or guiding the blind and all those different jobs had different dogs to do them but all dogs still wanted to be people's friends and Jon thought that was the best part about dogs. The Eye never complained or interrupted so Jon thought it must have liked him talking so he kept doing it. It was nice to have a friend you could talk to about anything. And the Eye wasn't an imaginary friend, it was better than an imaginary friend because it was real.

 

Elias had been ecstatic when Jon had begun to detail what he Knew of the Fears. It was childish, and disorganized, and he spoke almost too quickly to keep up, but it was astonishing. He had never taught Jonathan these things, and Jonathan showed a remarkable aptitude for pulling facts out of the aether. Could this, at last, be a pure fount of information about the true Gods? And then of course, Gertrude Robinson interrupted. He frantically gestured over Jonathan's head for her to shut up and let the nearly omniscient child chosen by their God speak. Fortunately Gertrude had only gotten through assuring Michael that everything Jonathan had said was true, and a listing of the Fears in a more organized fashion than Jonathan's, before she allowed Jonathan to resume speaking.

But now, goddamnit, Jonathan decided to be shy. He had, apparently, decided that Gertrude spoke about it much better than he did, and he didn't like everyone staring at him when he wasn't sure if he was "doing it right". Goddamnit he knew he should have never picked Gertrude. Yes, she had been ruthless and had bought the Eye decades by stopping rivaling Rituals. Yes, he technically was indebted to her for destroying his enemies. But she was a terrible Archivist who couldn't even stop wanting to be the sole arbitrator of what her precious Assistants comprehended to appreciate the potential for knowledge in front of her, if only to ensure they would be better pawns to sacrifice later. In fact, Elias would go one further, she was just a terrible Archivist. Jonathan was right, her filing system was abysmal and had only become sloppier since Wright "died". Her connection to the Eye was marred and it showed. Her gifts were small because their God knew she didn't deserve them. She- she was Looking right at him. Elias reminded himself that Gertrude Robinson definitely had access to firearms and other less savory methods of death.

 

"Um...I-I actually do have some questions now, yes." Thank the Eye for Michael Shelley. Hopefully he could get Jonathan talking again.

"So, these Fears. They're able to change things in the real world for good- I mean not as in 'good' good just as in, as in permanent and real-"

"Yup!" interrupted Jon excitedly. "They can do all sorts of things! They can take people and change them, or make monsters they don't need to change at all, or make books that have weird powers or just eat people, or make actually any object super cursed, and they're super powerful but if you try to use that power at all you find yourself becoming more Them and less you. Sometimes even just seeing Them do something to other people can make you marked by Them, like you and the Spiral after Ryan!"

"How...how did you know about Ryan?" whispered Michael.

"Um, I'm an Eye. We're supposed to Know things." Jon looked at Michael strangely. Hadn't he been listening?

"Wait wait, you said me and the Spiral. The Spiral, the Twisting Deceit, that...that thing has 'm-marked' me?"

"Mmhmm! Every mark looks different. Like how Ms. Sarah has stars in her eyes, that's from the Vast. And you can't See it if you just Look with your regular eyes, but she got marked by the Dark. Um, actually, her shadow may be a little more dark? It's kinda hard to See, because it's a tiny mark. Not really a full claim. If you get really really marked then you can get adopted by one of them and then you're family with the rest of the Avatars and that's really good I think because I really like having more family because the one that came from my parents side was really really small but now I have all of you except you're not fully Chosen yet but you're a little marked and I think that's pretty close to being a little family which is pretty good I think." He beamed at everyone, who gave him various looks back.

"Um, so how- how does m-my mark look?"

Jon Looked at him strangely, before slapping his head exaggeratedly. "Oh! Of course you wouldn't be able to See, the Spiral is super tricky! And the Spider made sure you didn't See anything strange and that would include- oh that's really smart! I mean really bad and mean but the Spider's are also really smart which makes them really really dangerous and you should never mess with them even if they don't seem very powerful because you never know if they're like a little harmless jumping spider or it they're super deadly like a recluse which are both really small spiders. You can be a really small spider and be really really bad which is why spiders are the worst except I also saw a really big spider and its legs were bigger than George and George was really tall so big spiders are also bad and I don't care what people say about tarantulas being cute because they're big and fuzzy legs look really really bad when they're super big and you can trust me on that because I Saw it and it was horrible."

"Jonathan, I believe Michael asked you a question." interrupted Elias, trying to shepherd him back onto track. He Looked at Michael and couldn't spot what Jonathan could so easily identify. He had Known that Michael had observed the demise of his friend at the hand of the Spiral, but as to the exact mark...

"Oh yeah. Um, you're is kinda tricky. I want to know if I can I Ask you a Question. If I Ask you have to answer and that's called Compelling and lots of Eyes can do it but it's rude so I won't without getting permission first because if you have permission it makes it polite."

"Uh, yes. Unless it will hurt?"

"Oh! I don't think it hurts unless you really really really don't want to answer, because if you fight it sometimes people explode." And before Michael could respond, Jon kept going. Not because he wanted to prevent Michael from responding, but because he didn't realize Michael might want to say anything at all. "How old are you?"

"I'm..." Michael stopped. His brow crinkled. Elias tried to think, but his recollections of Michael's employment file suddenly didn't make any sense. He had been here when Eric was, except, no, that couldn't be because Eric left almost a decade ago and Michael had just started, except wait, he had been here when Emma was- wait. No. None of this was right. How old did Michael look? He seemed young and naive, but his voice...his 30s? No that wasn't right wait-

"Um...oops." said Jon as blood began to run from everyone's noses as they thought about Michael's timeline. He began to panic, he needed to distract everyone from thinking about Mr. Michael! "Uh, um, Everyone, what's your favorite kind of dog?"

"Mutts." "Pomeranian." "Don't have one." "Poodles." Everyone answered at the same time, voices overlapping until it was impossible to say who said what.

It did the trick though. Sarah got everyone tissues she kept in her purse and they all wiped up the blood as best they could while studiously not thinking at all about when exactly they had met Michael.

"Yeah, you've got a really deep one but that's not surprising because you used to be the Distortion but you didn't like it much and the Distortion didn't either so it's better that you become an Eye and also the Eye won't give you more bones in your hand and your hand felt really weird and it also pretty sharp so it's good you're not yet/haven't been/won't be/could be/shan't/could/were/are/was/had been/shouldn't be/will be/won't be/are/am/is/isn't/-" oh, he was on the ground. How did that happen? Ew, he had tissues up his nose.

"Are you back with us Jonathan?" asked Mr. Magnus worriedly. There were fingers in his hair. But they weren't sharp, so they didn't hurt. Oh. They were moving through his hair. It felt nice. They were Mr. Magnus'. Something was under his head. It was Ms. Gertrude's cardigan. He hoped he didn't get blood on it.

"It hurts to look at Them." said Jon, but it came out funny because there were tissues up his nose.

"Do you need another Story?"

"Yes please." said Jon in a very very small voice.

"How many do you need?"

Jon thought for a moment. "Um, just one? I think? To start?"

The Assistants went and they found the very oldest Stories which was good and proper of them because they were Assistants and that's what they did. Mr. Magnus read it to him and Jon frowned a little because he had always read the Stories to Mr. Magnus and if anyone was going to read him a Story he felt it should be Ms. Gertrude but he couldn't say why except maybe because it was her voice on all of those books on tape. Oh yeah, an Archivist was supposed to read the Stories, right? But Mr. Magnus reading was also nice. It wasn't supposed to happen, but it was nice.

He felt much better. He only needed one Story, even if it was a super long one. He sat up and pulled the tissues from his nose and then he threw away the tissues and then he handed Ms. Gertrude her cardigan back and said Thank You just the way he was taught.

Everyone looked a little shaken, so Elias decided it was time to break for tea. It was too early for lunch, but well, a tea break could be taken any time. And Jonathan looked like he could use some tea and biscuits.

 

After that was done, everyone fairly burned with questions, but felt too unsure to properly ask them. Sarah, surprisingly, was the one to break the ice first.

"So, right now Michael and I are 'marked', but not yet 'claimed'?"

Jon nodded. "Mmhm, the Eye has marked you both and if you keep reading Stories the Eye will claim you. But the Eye can get you lots of other ways. And sometimes there's titles that come with, but those are just made up by people so yeah. You wouldn't have to have one if you didn't want, but you have one now already."

Mr. Magnus was writing in his little book again. It was kinda annoying because it was a little distracting but Jon didn't say anything because it's rude to call out grownups on being distracting even if they tell you you're distracting all the time.

"And what are ours?"

"Oh! You already Know them. You're Assistants! Ms. Gertrude is the Archivist, and you're Ms. Gertrude's Assistants. If Ms. Gertrude dies you're not her Assistants anymore and you can leave because the Eye hasn't adopted you yet."

Elias went white as a sheet. He was torn between shutting Jonathan up or letting him speak. This was the most verbal Jonathan had been about anything related to the Fears, but why, why did he have to bring up that fact? He was utterly beside himself, and a war raged within him as he struggled with what to do. True to his ultimate nature, he Watched in agony as Jonathan continued.

Jonathan, for his part, suddenly screwed up his little face and reached in to his pocket to pull out his little Eye drawing. He looked at it earnestly and began to discuss with it.

"I have to tell them. I have to tell them all the facts, even if you don't want them to Know. If they want to leave they should be able to, because anyone who wants to leave you shouldn't be family in the first place, they're not even your friends. They're not your friends if you have to force them to stay. Friends who want to be around you are the best thing of all. It's really hard to find them sometimes, but when you do they're the very best thing in the whole wide world. But you'll never find them if you hold on to people who don't want to be your friend. It will just make them angry, and then they might try to leave you by going to someone else instead of just leaving you for nobody and leaving for someone else is the very worst feeling. It's not nice to try to keep people where they don't want to be. And even if you don't want to be nice, it's not smart to. Angry people can do a lot of damage if you hold them too close. You need to be open with people and trust them or they won't trust you back. I Know you don't Know all of this yet because I haven't shown you a Best Friend yet, but as soon as I get one I'll show you them and you'll Understand then, ok?"

He folded up the little Eye very carefully and then he turned to the rest of the group and said in a voice that sounded like he was pushing through a wall, "If you want to Quit without waiting for Ms. Gertrude to die, or if Ms. Gertrude wants to Quit, I Know a way but it's really extreme. There might be another way that I don't Know about because there's a lot I haven't Seen, but this is the way I Know for sure. You have to blind yourself. Any way will work." And then he begun panting like he had run a marathon. He took out the little Eye again and said to it "You have to trust me. Being nice to people means they'll be nice to you. And if they're nice to you, they'll give you lots more Stories and take good care of the Stories you already have. But if you're mean they'll burn all your Stories just like the very mean Books, and you'll have to start all over again and that would be sad."

"And what about you?" asked Sarah, ever curious, ever composed and competent.

Jon Looked up really quizzically. "Uhhh, I guess that would work? I dunno though. Not for sure. I don't Know if any Archive has ever blinded themselves."

"Is that what are Jonathan? An Archive?" asked Mr. Magnus, which was silly because Jon was pretty sure he had to have already Known.

"Uh yeah! You're the Watcher, or if you want to keep the A theme you could call yourself the Administrator because you run the whole Institute." (And here he broke to dramatically whisper to Michael "I told you all these names are made up really!") "Ms. Gertrude's the Archivist, and she records the Stories. And Ms. Sarah and Mr. Michael are Assistants because they help Ms. Gertrude keep everything in order and collect the Stories. And I'm the Archive because I hold all the True Stories, even the very Truest ones which are very hard to Know."

 

Elias nearly vibrated with excitement. Who could tell if this would be worth having let Gertrude and her wretched Assistants Know the truth about leaving, but he had raised up multiple Archivists and sacrificed countless more Assistants. This was the first new Knowledge he had received about the Eye, and he was ravenously hungry for it.

"Why are they so hard to Know?" Sarah, blessed Sarah, asked. When he or Gertrude Asked, they were met with incomprehension. When Sarah or Michael asked, Jonathan nearly tripped over himself to grant them Knowledge. Why? Was it, ironically, the lack of compulsions? What was the source of this wellspring?

"Because they're from the domains of the Fears themselves, and it's hard to remember them when I'm like this. I couldn't forget them when I was actually there. Time doesn't work right where the Fears are, but the Eye let me wander through all the Fears and Know all of them. I didn't want to like it. It felt right, but I was sure it was wrong. I'm glad I'm not there anymore. Being an Archive is much better out here. I can read only really old Stories instead of needing ones from people who are still alive, and that means I don't have to See them in my nightmares and they don't have to See me in theirs, which is really nice. I'm already pretty full, because this body is so tiny. My other one needed lots more. It was gross."

This apparently was too much information divulged, and Jonathan fell into a dead faint.

 

 

Elias was panicked. He had pushed him too hard. He had witnessed Jonathan faint already once that day- he was a child, he didn't know his limits! Obviously! This was a little boy who Elias had to argue with about bed time when it was clear his eyelids were almost glued shut. This was not a rational adult, and Elias should have Watched for the signs! He held Jonathan's limp little body and paced, and when he worried that was jostling him too much he laid him down on the breakroom couch HR had, and when he fretted there were too many people around he made Ellen find him a cot somewhere and blankets and pillows, and she had ordered some from some shop and sent Rosie to go pick them up and deliver them, and Elias had fussed over the little nest as he placed Jonathan within it.

He even found a little compact mirror and had placed it near Jonathan's mouth, and was obsessively Watching it to make sure it was still fogging, that Jonathan was still alive. As he sat across from Jonathan, hands steepled in front of his face, he heard arguments breaking out between the Archivist and her Assistants.

They could all Quit as much as he cared.

He'd find another patsy, and this time he'd keep Jonathan away from all of them. He didn't need them, he just needed a steady diet of old Stories- old Statements and those could be kept at the house. Gertrude had certainly derailed many rituals, but Elias had survived before her. The world remained. All he needed to do was ensure the world remained for another ten years, twenty, and then Jonathan might be grown enough to try the Watchers Crown.

 

By the time Jonathan awoke, Elias was in such a state that Michael and Sarah had begun to check on him instead. He neither wanted nor needed their damn tea.

 

When Jonathan awoke, it was as though he was a slate wiped clean. He couldn't remember meeting anything about the day, not arriving at the Institute not what he had said, nothing. He seemed to have even forgotten who Gertrude, Michael, and Sarah were.

"Jonathan, this is the Archivist. Gertrude Robinson. And these are her Assistants, Michael Shelley and Sarah Carpenter."

Jon seemed a little fuzzy when he responded. "What do assistants do?"

"They help the Archivist, get her Stories all organized and nice and make sure they're really true."

"...I want Assistants!"

Elias smiled indulgently. "We can get you some Assistants. As many as you like."

Jonathan reached out and grabbed Sarah's hand. "Mine."

"And what about me little man?" grinned Michael Shelley. Jonathan paused, thought about it, and graciously grabbed Miachael's hand as well. "Mine too."

"Jonathan, those are Gertrude's Assistants. You can't have them."

Jonathan pouted. "But she doesn't take care of them! Mine!"

"Sorry kiddo, looks like the boss gave a ruling. You're going to have to find your own."

Michael absolutely should not have said that. Under no circumstances should he have said that. Elias had read recently and had observed over the years that children grabbed on to the strangest things. They did not process things like adults. You said a very clear and direct sentence, and what they heard was something so warped not even the Spiral could conceive of it.

Elias of course had no notion of what was really going on in Jonathan's head, as he proceeded to throw the largest tantrum Elias had ever Seen him do before. Elias had bundled him up and dragged him kicking, screaming, and sobbing home and had put him to bed absurdly early.

Which only meant that Jonathan arose absurdly early, and before the light spilled over the horizon he was on a train to Bournemouth.

 

Jon's logic was, of course, impeccable. There were only three Assistants. Two of them he was told were Not His. One of them was trapped in the coffin in Joshua Gillespie's house. He Knew his Egyptology. If you dug something up, you found it. He had to go find an Assistant. He Knew where to dig one up.

As a bonus, he could probably visit his gran while he was down there.

Chapter Text

Elias Bouchard woke up at the luxurious time of 6am. As was his new habit, as soon as he awoke he Looked about for Jonathan. Five minutes later he was out the running out the door towards his car with his shirt improperly buttoned up.

 

Jon was very excited. He had his new backpack properly packed with all the things he would need for the trip. He had snacks, and a change of clothes, and a water bottle, and a torch that was shaped like a tiger and when you turned it on it pulled back its mouth and gave a little roar when the light turned on, and money, and his crayons, and paper, and his little drawing of the Eye was in his pocket just where it should be. He was SUPER prepared. It had been hard to be quiet and sneaky enough to gather up all that stuff and not wake Mr. Magnus but he had done it! He was glad his tiger torch had made it over from his grans house, because it was his favorite and just his size. Mr. Magnus had lots of torches in his house but all of them were very big and very heavy and they didn't roar when you turned them on so they weren't nearly as good at all.

He didn't have any trouble getting a ticket because he Knew how to use the machines even if they were lots taller than him. He didn't check what ticket the machine gave him until he was on the train and swinging his legs on the seat, but the ticket didn't say Bournemouth at all. The ticket was red and blue on one side and white on the other and it said things like "Zone" but not the name of a proper place. Jon didn't know if he got the right kind of ticket because he had just been kinda reaching to push buttons so maybe he pushed the wrong one but the machine let him in anyways when he reached up to swipe it so it must be ok. Nobody was on this carriage which he guessed was fine but it was a little weird, except he got on before the sun was up because he was just so excited to rescue Ms. Fiona so maybe everyone else was like Mr. Magnus and asleep. Mr. Magnus snored sometimes if he was sleeping on his left side and Jon Knew this because his snores were very loud and sometimes Jon Watched him when his nightmares were really scary and listening to Mr. Magnus snore was ok even though it was an annoying sound but now that he thought about it his snores kinda sounded like his torch. He pulled out his tiger torch and he pulled out his little drawing of the Eye and he spent a while explaining to the Eye why this was a very good torch and he could make it roar as many times as he liked and nobody on the train would tell him to shush and stop making it roar like his gran did because there wasn't anybody on the train.

 

Elias sped through the quiet early London streets at truly ludicrous speeds to get onto the highway. He dodged garbage men and nearly hit an early morning bicyclist and his only response was to speed up.

 

It was a three hour trip to get to Bournemouth and after that he still needed to get to Mr. Joshua's house, so Jonathan was glad he brought his crayons. He wasn't very good at drawing, but it made him happy so he kept doing it. And there was no one like Brian around any more to take his drawings or rip them or say they weren't good at all, so that was nice. When he got bored of coloring things he'd Ask the Eye about lots of interesting things, like dinosaurs and how many shoes there were on the train and how many of them had aglets which was a word he learned that meant the little plastic bits on the end of shoelaces and hardly anybody Knew that word but the Eye did and the Eye Knew exactly how many aglets there on the train which was very cool. He told the Eye so. It's important to let friends know when they've done something cool.

Eventually the trip ended, and he arrived. The Eye also Knew where Mr. Joshua's house was and that was good because Jon got lost lots of times before he Knew the Eye. That was a big part of why the police had brought him back to gran so many times, he didn't really mean to be gone so long, it was just hard remembering which way to go when you were in a place you'd never been. Mr. Joshua was still home, Jon could See him through the windows. The roads were really slanty, so Jon had to jump really really high to try and grab onto the windowsill ledge but he hadn't been able to make it so he'd gone over to the big black drainpipe and he'd climbed up that just like the rope in gym class and then he'd leapt to grab the windowsill and that's how he'd been able to Look right through the narrow window to look Mr. Joshua right in the eye as he was drinking his coffee.

Mr. Joshua probably hadn't been expecting it because his window was so high up but Jon was really good at gym class. Jon wanted to let Mr. Joshua know why he was here, so he mouthed the word "Coffin", but Mr. Joshua didn't seem to get it so Jon kept staring at him and began to actually say "Coffin" over and over and louder and louder but Mr. Joshua must not have realized because he put his coffee down and walked right out of his front door.

Jon felt that was rude.

 

Elias had almost debated not pulling over when the police car flashed its lights at him on the M3. In the end he decided to not add a police chase to this ridiculous morning, but he wasted no time as soon as the PC walked up to his window.

"Let me tell you how this is going to go officer. You are going to let me off with a warning, and you are going to do so now. When your supervisor asks what happened I don't care what you tell them as long as you get out of my way.

No. Don't speak.

Your wife. She's going to leave you. You think she doesn't know that you know, but you can see it coming. But you don't think you've done anything wrong, do you? You can't figure it out. You'd both been planning on having children. Shall I Show you what she sees when she looks at you?"

"Oh...oh god..."

"That's right. You think you have your temper under control. You think it's her that provokes you. But we both know the truth, don't we? You like it. You like taking your anger out on her."

"No I-I..."

"Don't speak. Look at all the damage you've caused. My, that is a lot of broken things, isn't it? Your plates, your walls, your marriage. And she knows you'd just as soon add her to the list if she got saddled with your child. You're just waiting until she's locked in with a baby, aren't you?"

"I d-didn't-"

"I said don't speak. You've been hiding the truth from yourself, telling yourself that really it's all her fault but it was never about her. This all goes back to you, and your need for control. It could have been anybody. But it ended up being her. You've damaged her officer, damaged her right down to her heart. And she's never going to give you children now. She's packing her bags, and you deserve it. You don't deserve to have a child. You know that now, right?"

"...ah...huu...aaah-"

"Very good. As you were officer. I hope you have a pleasant day."

 

Jon ended up breaking Mr. Joshua's window, just a little bit. He hadn't meant to do it! But it had been hard trying to open the window from the outside and his arms had gotten tired so instead of pushing up on the window he'd pushed in. But he hadn't gotten hurt and this was to rescue Ms. Fiona so hopefully he wouldn't be too mad. He'd been really careful stepping around the glass and now he had dragged a chair into the kitchen so he could get at the key in the freezer. He pulled out the Eye and said to it admiringly "Mr. Joshua is so smart! He's probably the smartest man in the whole wide world. He might even be smarter than Mr. Magnus, but don't tell him I said so."

Once he'd gotten the key out, he'd made sure to sweep up the broken bowl and the broken glass very very carefully. And he'd taken out a piece of paper and wrote in crayon in his very best handwriting:

"I have gone in to rescue Miss Fiona becase it is really bad in the Coffen. Last time I was in the Coffen it took me 3 whole days to come out so do not be alarmed if it takes me a while becase Ms. Fiona is in there really really far down. Sorry for the window Mr. Joshua I tried to clean it up but i may have missed some."

He would have written more but that took up almost the whole page, so that would have to do. He put the note on top of his backpack and he took out his tiger torch, and put the key into the lock and when he opened the Coffin it tried to sing at him but he turned on his tiger torch and it roared at it and that was good because it showed the Coffin he wasn't scared (even if he was just a little bit because the Coffin was awful.)

And he walked down the steps, making sure to shut the Coffin door behind him because he didn't want anyone else following him and maybe getting stuck too.

 

 

Elias Knew when the Coffin door shut. He pulled over to the side of the road and screamed and screamed.

 

 

"Ms. Fiona! Ms. Fiona! Where are you Ms. Fiona!"

It seemed like Jon had been calling for Ms. Fiona for hours or even days. He heard other people, but he Knew they weren't Ms. Fiona. Sometimes he'd start to get scared, so he'd turn off his tiger light for just a little tiny bit so he could turn it back on and here it roar. It made him feel better, a little braver. Eventually the passageway became really small, but that was ok because Jon was really small. And then it became less and less Jon sized, and more and more dirt filled. But Jon Knew he was going in the right direction. He was in a teeny tiny tunnel and he thought this might be the last time he'd be able to move his elbows for a while. So he took out his little drawing of the Eye and Looked at it quite seriously.

"I'm going to keep going but I might not be able to Look at you for a while. I want you to Know if I can't get you out to See Ms. Fiona in here it's going to be ok, because you'll be able to See Ms. Fiona when we get back up. So don't be scared. I would never ever leave you in the Dark or Bury you forever. Ok, See you soon."

And he gave the little drawing a hug and he folded it really carefully back up and put it in his deepest pocket so it would be secure. He meant what he said to the Eye, but a lot of it was really for him. He didn't think the Eye would mind though.

He Looked into the darkness and the closing walls, and he made his little tiger torch roar again to remind himself to be brave. And then he kept going.

 

 

Elias had been sitting by the front door of Mr. Gillespie's flat for hours now, mind completely blank. The door had been locked, and he didn't think there would be any difference in waiting outside or inside. Nothing mattered. The Buried had swallowed the strongest emissary of the Eye, and it would not give him back no matter how near Elias was. There was nothing further to be done.

Eventually Joshua Gillespie came home. Or at least walked up the stairs to his flat. He spotted Elias, shirt hastily buttoned and never fixed, sitting splayed legged in front of his door, and had stopped.

"I can hear you thinking. I'm not drunk, and I am not one of your neighbors. You've never had a single neighbor here Mr. Gillespie. Every single one of those flats is empty and lonely."

He turned his head, lifting it and staring through the hair that had fallen in front of his face.

"You saw him. You saw him in the window and you didn't do anything." He began to get up. Joshua Gillespie began to back away.

"It ate him. It ate a CHILD. And you could have stopped it." Joshua Gillespie began to run, but Elias ran faster. He grabbed on to Joshua's arms, but he simply shrugged out of his jacket and kept running faster. Elias was left with nothing but a strange man's jacket, clutching it in the stairwell. Joshua ran and he ran, but he could not escape the feeling of being Watched. Not even as he checked into the Laguna Hotel for an extended stay.

Eventually, having nothing else better to do, Elias fished out Joshua's keys from his jacket pocket and let himself in. There, he took in the sight of that small backpack (and it was so small, how did it look so large on Jonathan?) laying on the floor. He picked up the note, and his fingers traced the childish scrawl in green crayon. Abruptly, his spine stiffened.

Jonathan had been in the Coffin before? And had gotten out?

 

"Ms. Fiona! Ms. Fiona can you hear me?"

It was hard to shout when your chest is being squeezed. He couldn't stop though, he had to keep going. When you stop, that's when it presses the most. He tried to make the tiger torch roar again, but it had gotten knocked on a rock that jutted from one of the walls. It didn't make any more light, and the only roar left was a strange thing. Distorted, broken. It made Jon feel really sad. But he kept holding onto the smooth plastic anyways, in the hand that was facing where out should be. It had done its job for as long as it could, and that was important.

His throat was very dusty. He Knew he couldn't die from lack of water down here, but he wished he'd brought his water bottle anyways.

Eventually, he heard it. It was crying. It sounded more like sobbing, clumped with dust that had become mud inside of a throat, but it was a person.

"Ms. Fiona? Is that you?"

"H-hello? Hello? Who's there?"

"It's me- um, I mean, hello! My name is Jon. I'm an Eye! I mean, um, you worked at The Magnus Institute, right? You're an Assistant?"

"Y-yes?"

"Oh good! Then you're the right Ms. Fiona. I'm here to rescue you!"

"Oh thank God. Thank God thank God thank God. Wh-where are you?"

"I'm down here! Um, I think I see your hand, I'm going to grab it ok?"

"Ok, ok."

"Now we're going to get out of here."

"Um, Jon..."

"Yes?"

"Jon, dear, how old are you?"

"I'm 8!"

"Oh dear sweet God."

There was a pause, and then the sound of wriggling and shifting dirt.

"I think I'm stuck Ms. Fiona."

"Oh Jon dear, me too."

"I'm going to Ask the Eye which way to go, ok?"

"Alright dear."

 

"...Jon? Jon dear? Can you squeeze my hand?"

"T-the Eye doesn't Know M-ms. F-fiona. The Eye doesn't Know."

There is the sound of sobbing, and the sound of dirt compacting a little tighter.

"The Eye Knows everything and it can't See which w-way to g-go and I r-remember being here b-before and I got out because- because-"

"Jon, Jon I'm here. I'm here sweetheart." Fiona Law was almost sobbing, but there wasn't enough air for that.

"I can't find my anchor!" wailed Jon. "D-don't remember my anchor!"

"What's an anchor? Jon, Jon just keep talking. Please, just keep talking. Please."

"M-my anchor, I don't remember if it was...I don't Know! I-I-I, a rib? My rib? Or maybe all the books on tape Ms. Gertrude makes? Th-there were so many or-or maybe it was- maybe it was-"

"What Jon? Finish that sentence, you can d-do it J-jon. I know you can. Be brave. Y-you can do it."

"I don't remember!" wailed Jon. "I wasn't supposed to ever ever forget! Never ever ever and now I'll never see any of them again! M-m-mar-"

"Jon honey, Jon dear, dear b-breathe. I know it's hard here, I know. I know sweetheart. Shh. Shhh. I know. Oh Jon honey. I'm s-so so sorry you're here too."

"D-don't be sad Ms. Fiona. Or m-mad. Ple-please don't be mad at me."

"Oh dear I'm not mad at you. I'm not mad." Her thumb rubbed over the top of Jon's hand, which helped a little.

"I just g-got so mad when the Sp-sp-spider said she tricked you into be-being st-stuck here because I Knew h-ho-how awful it is. Th-th-this is just like last time but but now now now I don't e-even ha-have m-m-my a-a-anchor."

"Jon, Jon, oh Jon, don't cry honey don't cry, I'm here, I'm here baby. I'm here."

 

 

It had been less than 12 hours before Breekon and Hope had shown up, and with them a short and stocky man that Elias didn't recognize. Somehow, they had recognized the Coffin had swallowed another victim, and had come to collect it.

"Absolutely not." snarled Elias.

"Well you see Gov'nor, it's like this", said Breekon. "When the Coffin's 'et somefing, it don't need to be here no more." said Hope.

"Roight, and it's our job to deliver it where else it need's t' be." said Breekon. "Stands to reason." said Hope.

"This Coffin is not moving." said Elias. "It hasn't eaten Joshua Gillespie, and thus it can remain here."

"Not eaten him?" exclaimed the short man who was apparently named John. "Then where is he?"

"Don't see him anywhere around 'ere." "Roight you are Breekon. If he ain't 'ere, then who's the Coffin et?" "Just what I'd like to know Hope, just what I'd like to know."

"As to the whereabouts of Joshua Gillespie, as of 5:34pm today he is residing at the Laguna Hotel. As to who went inside the coffin, that is none of your concern."

"What, not gunna give us the room number?" "Downright disrespectful of the working man, I'd say. Can't do the job without all the facts."

"Will you leave if I tell you?" sneered Elias.

 

 

"Jon dear, what did you mean by a Spider tricking me?"

"Oh Ms. Fiona! That's the worst part! Ms. Emma was actually a Spider! An-and she tricked you into coming down here because she wanted to see what would kill you! And she tricked Ms. Sarah too and almost got her like you, and she tricked Mr. Michael into thinking nothing weird was going on at all, and she tricked Ms. Gertrude into not looking for Eric and thinking what happened to you was an accident but it wasn't it was just her playing a mean trick!"

"Emma? Our Emma?"

"Mmhmm but she wasn't ours at all! She wasn't an Eye she was a mean ole spider!"

"And Eric? What happened to Eric?"

 

 

Breekon and Hope had sat down on Joshua Gillespie's couch to watch the fireshow.

"It is my Coffin, and I shall take it wherever I please!"

"You most certainly will not move this Coffin until I am satisfied."

"Satisfied with what? I thought you people with the Watcher were supposed to 'Know' everything! Whoever climbed into this Coffin is not coming back about!"

"Then you won't object to a little wager then."

"Oh?"

"If I am right, and someone does climb out of the Coffin, you will owe me one favor. If I am wrong, then I shall owe you a favor."

"Well, those are certainly tempting stakes. What kind of favor did you have in mind?"

"Hmm, well. I suppose I could be called to assist, should the occasion arise."

"Assist? And what could you possibly offer in terms of assistance?"

"The Eye Knows many enemies of the Buried. I would of course be happy to answer a question you may have regarding their whereabouts or plans."

"Just one question? Seems a bit stingy, don't you think Hope?" "Oh come offit Breekon, he knows he's going to lose. Shouldn't be too keen to make the stakes too high if I was him."

"Fine." said Elias through gritted teeth. "What do you suggest then?"

"Keep your Archivist out of our way. She's made herself a nuisance enough."

"I'm afraid I can't do that", said Elias regretfully. "Despite how it may appear to outsiders due to our Institute's hm, managerial organization, I ah, am 'not the boss' of Gertrude. She is my senior, and has walked the path of the Eye for decades more than I."

"Takes a big man to admit that, I reckon." "You don't see too much of that these days, bossman admitting to not know as much as the regular working folk." "Same story everywhere Hope, some college twit comes swanning in, running roughshod over the folks what have been there decades." "Too right you are Breekon, but Mr. Boo-chAHd here, right decent of him, admitting he knows less than a little ole lady." "Proper respect for the craft, you just can't beat it."

 

 

"Ms. Fiona?"

"Yes, Jon?"

"Oh, it's just that you went quiet. I was just making sure you were still- still here."

"Sorry dear, it's just been such a long time since I've talked with anyone. I might have forgotten how."

Jon squeezed her hand.

 

 

Breekon and Hope slept in their van. John slept in Joshua's bed, and Elias took the couch as he had the first night. All he had to promise was a few paltry efforts to lead John to new victims for the Coffin. And that was only if Jon didn't emerge. If. What a terrible word.

Elias slid off the couch. He touched the warm Coffin, and heard it begin to scratch where he laid his hand. No, that was no more Jon than the wind howling outside. Jon wouldn't scratch. He didn't have the nails for it, all bitten down when he was thinking, or nervous, or bored. Elias thought about how small those hands were, would they even be able to open the Coffin from the inside? He checked that thought. Down that path lay madness, and flinging open the Coffin's lid himself. Even if he had not known very well what lay down there, he would have refused to give it the satisfaction of taking two of Beholding's own.

He wondered if anyone went hungry down there within the Buried's grasp. No one had ever come back to tell. Was Jon thinking he'd be hungry when he came back, as he packed the little baggie of crackers and a few apples in his backpack? The crackers were on the lower pantry shelves, and the apples at the very bottom of the refrigerator. Had they been the only thing Jon could reach without waking him?

Elias was maudlin over crackers. This is how the story ended, alone by a box reeking of pine, dirt, and fear. He took his hand off the Coffin and waited for the scratching to fade away, and when the sound finally left and he could pretend to himself it was just Jon in there, he crooned a bedtime story to Jon. One that was just the way he liked it, ancient, and everyone had died in the end.

 

"Ms. Fiona! Ms. Fiona!"

"Yes dear?"

"I-I Know it! I Know it now! I Know the way out!"

 

 

Joshua Gillespie made a quick detour on his way from the outdated rooms of the Laguna Hotel to work. When he saw the van emblazoned with the words Breekon and Hope, he took a long swig of his coffee and turned right back around.

 

 

It was not the dawn, nor the setting sun, nor midnight, nor high noon, nor any other esoterically special time when it happened. It was roughly around 2pm when Jon and Fiona emerged from the Coffin, only to find an empty flat waiting for them. Elias had left to go shop for shaving supplies and a change of clothing, and John was outside having a heated "discussion" with Breekon and Hope on how long they all planned on staying to win the bet. Breekon and Hope were insisting they had "other deliveries" to make, no matter how funny it was to watch Elias fret. John was insisting right back that he certainly couldn't carry the Coffin by himself upon his inevitable victory.

It was Hope who first spotted them, tramping down the stairs with an air of giddy victory, wildly unsteady and covered in mud. All three of them gawped as Jon waved cheerfully at them, calling from across the street they could pick up their Coffin now. They could have caught up to them easily, as Fiona had to use the wall to prop herself up enough to walk and Jon's gait was more newborn foal than anything human, but truth be told they were all too gobsmacked to do much more than stare.

 

Jon held onto Fiona's hand like a lifeline, and she clutched back just as eagerly as he babbled on, both of them heaving in great lungfuls of air.

"And my gran has two showers at her house and we can use those and I brought a change of clothes with me but I didn't bring any for you but you can probably use our machines to clean the ones you have on now. You'll like my gran! She's a little taller than you and she likes oranges best of all and-"

 

Elias' mobile phone rang with a number he had never seen before but Knew was Joshua Gillespie's home telephone.

"Well Watcher, looks like you've won your bet."

"Jon has emerged?"

"Him and some old lady. Now about that bet-"

Elias hung up on him. He poured every ounce of his focus into Seeing where Jon and Fiona were and where they were going. And there they were, clear as day and muddy as a ditch, shambling along towards Elizabeth Sims' house. They couldn't be expecting to reach there on foot- but of course they could. Jon was the one doing the planning. Elias raced back towards where he parked his car, and rang up Elizabeth Sims.

"Good afternoon Mrs. Sims! Jonathan had wanted to surprise you but I thought it best to ask permission first. We're on a little bit of a work trip nearby, and I was wondering if Jonathan, one of my employees, and myself could pop by to see you. Jonathan has missed you so.

Oh?

Ah I see.

Well that's very kind of you, but I would be happy to treat everyone to dinner tonight. What local restaurants do you recommend?

No it's no trouble at all.

Really I should be thanking you for agreeing on such short notice.

Oh you're too kind I'm sure.

Sounds wonderful. Certainly. See you soon. Goodbye."

 

He then took the time to drive back to Mr. Gillespie's house to quickly make himself presentable. While there, he accidentally interrupted Breekon and Hope attempting to forcibly pick up John who was screaming loud enough to worry the neighbors, had there been any neighbors to worry. He rolled his eyes and focused on quickly freshening up before beginning to shave. Honestly, the theatrics.

"Wait, wait, wait! It's not over yet! That idiot still is holding onto the Coffin waitwaitwait it's still singing! It'll still sing in the rain it's not ready put me down-"

Elias walked out the door looking neat as pin as Breekon and Hope did their ridiculous two man act, debating on if having two people escape the Coffin meant they needed to find three people to go into it to balance the scales. John was babbling something about finding more people, or finding out how those two escaped the Coffin in the first place and weren't they just a little curious and putmedownputmedown. It would be a shame to lose out on this particular favor but honestly Elias could care less.

 

Elias could feel a manic grin affixed on his face as drove down the street. As he pulled up alongside the pair he rolled down his windows.

"May I be the first to offer my congratulations?"

"Mister Magnus!" Jon shouted loudly and brightly.

Elias felt his eyes twitch but in the moment he didn't care. Damage control with Fiona Law of all people should be easy.

"Ms. Law, welcome back. Jonathan, I have called your grandmother and she'd be very happy to see all of us today. Hop in, both of you."

Elias felt his grin at the edge of his awareness, but it hadn't yet reached unbearable levels. He pulled out his cellphone as Jonathan and Fiona entered the car, rolling down every single window as they did so. Well. Perhaps the enclosed space of a car would be a little much, and they did reek of the Buried.

"Ah Mrs. Sims! I've just gotten into contact with my employee, she was caring for Jonathan while I was in a meeting and it seems they both took an unfortunate tumble into a mud pit. Oh no, everyone is fine! But I was wondering if I could impose upon you before dinner to help them get cleaned up. Oh wonderful. Thank you so much. We'll head right on over. See you soon. Goodbye."

"Well then Jonathan, Ms. Law, it is good to See you both back. We'll be heading over to your grandmother's house to get cleaned up and then going to dinner with her at a local restaurant."

And now Elias twisted in his seat until he was facing Jonathan, grubby and sore and exhausted but wildly happy in the back seat still clutching on to Fiona's hand. Elias's sharp and toothy grin didn't slip a bit as every single CCTV camera suddenly swiveled with a loud crack focusing intently upon Jonathan.

"Jonathan Sims if you ever do anything remotely like that again there is no place you can go that I will not track you down. There will be no where you can hide that I cannot find."

Jonathan looked at him, smile dimming a bit as he turned his head to the side. "Umm, yeah? That's what you said before? You said you'd always be able to See me no matter where I went, you promised. I- I don't understand? Did I, did I do something- please don't be mad?" And now Jonathan was crying. Fiona hugged him and pet his head a bit as he threw himself into her arms.

Elias reeled a bit.

Was Jonathan- Jonathan wasn't scared of the Eye. He wasn't afraid of the Eye or Elias Watching him. He was afraid of being unseen. And even more than that, he was afraid of Elias being upset with him, even if he didn't fear any specific punishment from Elias. How did you discipline a child like this? For that matter, how did you discipline a child for something anything remotely like the scale of what Jonathan had done? Time outs would hardly qualify.

"Jonathan, I am mad. I am mad because I was worried. What you did was incredibly dangerous, and you could have been trapped there forever. You deliberately snuck out of the house without asking, and you Know it's because I would have said no if you asked permission. I will never allow you to do anything that would risk your safety. You are important Jonathan. You cannot leave somewhere without telling the adult in charge, you cannot throw yourself into danger, you are not allowed to place yourself in harm’s way like that ever again. Do you understand me?"

Jonathan sniffled and nodded in Fiona's arms.

"We will discuss your punishment for running away and entering the Coffin at a later date. But today, we are going to visit your grandmother and have a nice dinner. You are going to get cleaned up, and we are not going to tell your grandmother that you ran away because that would make her sad. You don't want to make your grandmother sad, do you Jonathan?"

Jonathan trembled in Fiona's arms and shook his head. Elias peered into Jonathan's head and nearly goggled at the rising force of how upset Jonathan felt. Just two seconds ago he had been so happy! And now he was- his mind wasn't like a piece of music, or a water color, but the analogy of something mutable and full of expressions was there. Elias could sense nothing but internal writhing feelings of, disappointment? Anger? Melancholy? All the nebulous emotions that fell under the spectrum of "upset", but turned inwards.

Elias couldn't understand it. He had been remarkably even keeled, and had treated Jonathan more as an employee than a child. When he was a child, he would have been beaten for such a stunt. But he couldn't remember any caning feeling as bad as this.

Was there even a punishment he could devise that would be worse than what was storming within Jon's mind?

Elizabeth Sims had thought Jonathan was prone to hysterics to get out of punishment. She had thought he was weeping and wailing to trick her into pitying him and letting him off easy. But Elias could See these tears weren't for him, as a signal or a trick. These tears and silent sobs that wracked Jon's frame were because his small body couldn't hold this maelstrom without overflowing. And it was all directed inwards. There was no anger or hate within him that wasn't aimed at himself. It was wretched to behold.

He met Fiona Law's eyes and he wavered in bewilderment. How did one even move forward from this?

Elias reached a hand back and petted Jonathan's disgusting filthy curls. It was gritty, but now was not a time for quibbling over aesthetics.

"I am...very proud you managed to get out of the Buried. And I am glad you brought Ms. Fiona with you. I just wish you hadn't been in there at all, because it is powerful and dangerous."

Jonathan sniffled. "Th-thank you. I-I'm sorry. I'm s-sorry. It was r-really scary."

"I'm sure it was. Let's get you cleaned up, alright?"

 

 

When Elizabeth Sims opened the door, she did not expect the sheer amount of dirt. Her grandson beamed up at her, dried tear tracks on his checks the only part of his face not several shades grubbier than they should be. He was holding onto a woman who was around her age, who looked like she was about to fall down. And behind them, the man who had assured her that he was the best person to reign Jonathan in, looking neat as a pin.

"Hi gran! Ms. Fiona was Buried and I rescued her!"

Elizabeth directed Jonathan upstairs to what had previously been his bathroom, and let the walking dust cloud that presumably was Ms. Fiona into her own master bathroom. She graciously took her clothes- which reeked, what on earth- and began a wash cycle but left some of her own clothes outside the bathroom door just in case. Elizabeth was a good head and shoulders above Fiona, but something was certainly better than nothing.

Elias Bouchard, he of the expensive lawyers and smooth tongue, sat primly at her dining room table, smoothly apologizing for the disturbance. A construction field, Fiona tripping inwards, Jonathan jumping in to help lift her back up, compliments on what a brave and helpful little boy she had helped raise, how Jonathan was truly a delight.

Eventually Jonathan rushed down the stairs, mostly clean but with some stubborn smudges behind his ears. Elias sighed and went upstairs to make sure he cleaned himself thoroughly instead of getting too excited and skipping critical steps. That went a long way towards soothing some of the nagging voices that had begun to arise within Elizabeth's heart. It was for the best. Jonathan was too rambunctious, he was getting into danger with her. The worst that had happened under Elias' care was that he'd gotten a little muddy and had the opportunity to play pretend hero.

Fiona emerged from the master bathroom in Elizabeth's dress. It had been a little long on her, but she had wider hips than Elizabeth, and it was a flowy easy cut dress that were so ubiquitous among seaside shops, designed to fit every type of tourist. Elizabeth realized after a few beats that she and Fiona were both staring at each other, and that Fiona was blushing for some reason. She gestured over for Fiona to take a seat, and after a few hesitant head starts they got to talking.

 

Elias rubbed down Jonathan's hair and took a peek inside Fiona's head and was astonished.

It had been so long since she had talked to another person, was she doing this right? Thankfully Elizabeth wasn't much of a chatterbox. She looked so regal, even in a comfortable top and slacks. Gosh this was just like her, to be attracted to a widow. This was the first woman her own age she'd seen in- god what year is it? Anyways let it go Fiona, stop it. She a widow, she's not interested.

For amusements sake, he entered Elizabeth's head as well.

Fiona certainly cleaned up respectably. She looked very kind, like the kind of woman who could be the grandmother Elizabeth never was. Was she betraying her sons memory, by sending Jonathan away? But he had called almost every night, and was well taken care of, and here he was within her house again. She hadn't abandoned him entirely but- god. Did she do the right thing? Was she talking enough? She never was one for conversation. She should focus more. Fiona certainly wore that dress well. Elizabeth never had the hips for that kind of fashion. Fiona absolutely did. It was important that she impress Fiona. She wouldn't want one of Jonathan's caretakers to look down upon her. That was why. Fiona had a lovely smile. Had Jon called her Ms.?

 

Jon wiggled. Mr. Magnus had suddenly stopped toweling him down and was staring off at the wall. He poked him, and Mr. Magnus came back to himself enough to allow Jonathan to get dressed by himself. Jon didn't know what kind of expression Mr. Magnus was wearing, it was weird. He went to go downstairs and Mr. Magnus grabbed his arm and told him to wait just a little bit longer, that his gran and Fiona were having a conversation, and then he zoned out again. Oh. Mr. Magnus must be listening. Jon thought that was probably rude, but Mr. Magnus was the grown up and Jon didn't want to upset him again.

 

Elias was delighted. He was digging into Elizabeth Sims' memories and discovering she was so closeted that she had no idea there was even a room outside the closet. She didn't know what a closet was. She had been raised where being married was just what you did, and jokes and conversations of frigid wives and uncomfortable sex abounded. She held the opinion that advertisers used women mainly because everyone liked looking at women because they were the fairer sex.

And there she was, talking with Fiona Law. A woman who had been curious enough to seek out London's underground in every sense of the word. Before she had arrived at the Magnus Institute, she thought she had known all the secret places London had to offer, but the ones Fiona Law had moved in were far more wholesome than what the Magnus Institute offered her. Too curious for her own good, she had discovered early that women were the only lovers for her, but had never found a long term partner after her last lover had been pressured into marriage.

Never let it be said Elias didn't enjoy a little drama now and again.

 

 

If Jon had been capable of reading certain social cues, he would have found dinner to be odd. But he wasn't, so he didn't pick up on the fact that Mr. Magnus had subtly drawn the waiter aside and insisted on a candle at the table, nor that Ms. Fiona and his gran were talking an awful lot with each other. Grans were supposed to talk to ladies like them. And he was so happy Ms. Fiona was talking, because there wasn't a whole lot of talking down in the Buried and she had been lonely for so long. Anyways, he was always being told to shush at the dinner table, so he didn't mind too much when Mr. Magnus kept asking him not interrupt his gran. He hadn't meant to be rude.

Anyways, he was so hungry it didn't matter. He ate a whole plate full of spaghetti except it was that kind that didn't have red sauce but did have shrimp in it and that was his favorite. He had beamed big and broad when gran had asked Ms. Fiona what she did and she told gran that she worked as an Archival Assistant but Mr. Magnus had interrupted and said that she was probably going to be working directly with the Archive soon.

That was him! He got an Assistant!

 

Elizabeth thought it was a little odd how Elias had phrased it, but she congratulated Fiona on her promotion from Assistant to working solo with the archives.

 

Eventually the dinner ended, and Ms. Fiona and his gran had exchanged numbers since Ms. Fiona was sometimes looking after Jon. Jon thought that was entirely sensible. Jon didn't realize Ms. Fiona and his gran only had home phone numbers. He didn't really think about it. He was still pretty hungry, and he told Mr. Magnus so.

 

Elias hadn't expected it, but when he saw John and Breekon and Hope (who had apparently listened to his plaintive cries) walking towards the Laguna Hotel with the Coffin on a dolly, well. Would surprises never end?

"Jonathan. When you took Emma's 'Story', did that help you feel full?"

Jonathan thought for a moment. "I was too scared to really think about it...but, yeah! Yeah it did!"

"Well Jonathan, that man over there is the one who owns the Coffin. I bet he has lots of stories. You should go Ask him."

"Ask like Compelling?" Jonathan's eyes shone in the twilight.

"Oh yes Jonathan. As many as you like." said Elias indulgently.

 

Fiona hadn't wanted the conversation to end. She didn't know if that was because of how starved for human company she was, or if it was because of how intelligent she found Elizabeth. She offered to walk Elizabeth home, who had originally demurred, saying she was sure Elias would want to begin the drive back. Fiona had looked over her shoulder to see Elias with his hand on Jonathan's shoulder, and Jonathan talking to- good heavens, was that Breekon and Hope? And some other man she didn't recognize, but any friend of Breekon and Hope's was certainly no friend at all. She went to go over, to do something, but Elias had looked back over his shoulder and waved her on. Apparently this was all handled.

"It seems like Elias won't be leaving for a while."

"Well..." said Elizabeth, "I suppose my home isn't that far of a walk away. And your clothing is probably dry by now."

And as they carried on into the setting sun over the waters, they heard Jonathan's little voice in the background, piping up every time the mysterious stranger seemed to finish talking.

"Well why? Well why? Well why? Well why?

 

Joshua Gillespie stuck his head out the window of his hotel room to smoke a cigarette, and saw two blocks down the figures of the man outside his apartment door, a small child, John from Amsterdam, the two moving men, and a wooden pine box. There seemed to be some kind of discussion going on. He immediately stubbed out his cigarette and shut the window.

Chapter Text

Jon hated his pediatrician.

He was weird. He was an Eye, but Jon really really didn't want him to be. He only spoke with this weird accent, and even though Jon could understand everything he said he didn't like it. He really didn't like that Doctor Girard got excited when he could understand his accent and refused to speak normal. He could, Jon heard him talking to the nurses. So why did he only use that stupid accent for Jon? The Eye told him it was "Québécois" or "Quebec French" but that didn't answer anything. Nobody else spoke like that, and not many people could understand him when he spoke like that. So why did he keep doing it? It was weird. And he giggled. A lot. Which was even weirder.

 

Elias had to admit that Quebec had really come through with flying colors on their choice of pediatrician. They had really gathered a tremendous amount of data thanks to the good Doctor. Touched by the Flesh, and strongly of Beholding, he had gained the remarkable ability to peer through skin bone and organs like a walking X-Ray. Or whatever the latest medical breakthrough was called. MRI? Inconsequential. The point was Dr. Girard needed almost nothing to do a full diagnostic exam on Jonathan.

And Jonathan was so fascinating! Apparently his talent for reading any language extended to listening as well. Dr. Girard was fascinated to learn that Jonathan could perfectly understand him, but subconsciously recognized that he was not hearing English. He described it as an "accent" but was unable to articulate further. And yet there was no difference in the structure of his ears. Nothing about him was different at all, and yet! And yet!

Jonathan had grown noticeably after feasting on the "stories" of that Buried Avatar! Elias had thought Jonathan had grown after meeting Emma, but now almost none of his clothing fit right. Fascinating!

Doctor Girard had insisted Jonathan receive a full psychological workup, although he wasn't qualified to perform one. They would have to go through the usual channels, and then attempt to retroactively determine what was Jonathan and what was the Archive.

The Archive! That was a term that had really swung the bat at the hornets nest. Elias kept many things about Jonathan to himself within his little notebook, but Jonathan classifying himself as an Archive had gone onto the easily-shareable Excel document. Every Institution, Foundation, Department, and Library had gone utterly mad when they heard it. Elias found that his requests for ancient stories were now being met with demands that Jonathan appear in person to read them under supervision. Elias was once again having to wrangle everyone into submission, lest they act upon their veiled wishes to simply kidnap Jonathan for study. At least they had with them a doctor that prevented the any debates for the necessity of vivisection. Although the other chapters were demanding Jonathan receive regular scans as well, so they could be sent the print outs. Elias was rapidly developing a headache, but oh how it would be worth it.

 

Jon didn't like this doctor, not at all. So when Mr. Magnus was focused on his phone Jon did a rude thing and Compelled. And Compelled. And Compelled.

Mr. Magnus quickly got off his phone and dragged Jon out, but Jon got the doctor to stop giggling so he felt it was worth it. As he was being dragged out the doctor was demanding Mr. Magnus measure him in the morning to see if he grew at all.

Doctors were gross.

 

In punishment for Compelling, Jon had to sit in a boring room and stare at a boring wall and he Knew what a timeout was but that didn't make it any less boring!

Bored bored bored bored. Being bored was the worst.

And to make things even worse he didn't get to go get new clothes with Ms. Fiona like Mr. Magnus promised he could today. He had promised! But Jon had been rude, and being rude was bad, so now he had to wait a whole day in this boring boring boring time out.

Jon didn't think he was supposed to be in here a whole day. Mr. Magnus had said a specific time, but Jon forgot what he said. It felt like the whole day though. Jon wasn't really good with time. Sometimes things felt like they took hours but they didn't, and sometimes he could have sworn he was only doing something for ten minutes but nightfall happened.

His gran said "Only boring people were ever bored" and that must mean Jon was the most boring person in the world. That saying was stupid. Jon wasn't boring. This room was boring. He thought about talking to the Eye a bit but he couldn't even think of what to talk about. He couldn't even think of any questions. He was too bored to find something to un-bore him. So he just zoned out.

Sometimes when he zoned he'd make up worlds that weren't real, and sometimes he'd imagine scenes going in his head perfectly only to restart them from the beginning to see the same scene but with one tiny change. Jon had lots of worlds in him. But today's zone wasn't full scenes, it was just kind of snippets. He was too bored to imagine anything today. So he just sat there and thought absolutely nothing.

 

Elias peered in on Jonathan every so often during his time out. It wasn't a very long one, but he would admit to being disturbed at how still Jonathan was sitting. It was...unlike him. He took a look into his head, and it was as though there was only gentle white static. No, static would have been too busy. This was more akin to dust motes in front of a white wall. Maybe some flickers of movement, but largely nothing.

Fascinating.

He decided to keep working and peer in every so often to see when Jonathan left this state. They were long past when his time out was over, but Jonathan didn't seem to notice at all. Elias finally was able to get some work done, what a blessed relief. Truly he tried to be as "hands off" as possible, if only to ensure that he flew under the radar when he took a new body and not even the mannerisms of the CEO changed, but he still really did have to work.

The most potentially upsetting issue he had to deal with was Fiona's reemergence. Gertrude had taken it...stoically. Elias had expected a bit more of a reaction from her, and had in fact been looking forward to it. But Gertrude had simply welcomed her back and asked minimal follow up questions. For heavens sake, Sarah asked more questions than Gertrude. Michael asked more questions! Gertrude had simply sat there. What was the point of an Archivist who wasn't curious?

Fiona herself was clearly overwhelmed, readjusting to life outside the Buried. Finding out that she had never been legally declared dead was a relief, and finding out that Gertrude had kept her flat as a weapons storage had knocked her for a loop. Elias was just chagrined to realize that Gertrude had been funneling Fiona's paycheck into her plans this entire time- and yet she had gotten such stupendous results he supposed he probably shouldn't be too upset about the blatant fraud. Fiona had left early, and Elias had Watched her drift like a ghost in her old flat, her things largely untouched but interspersed with stacks of boxes she very much did not want to open. Eventually she became boring and so Elias turned his attention back to work. And of course, occasionally, Jonathan.

He kept checking back in through the hours and found Jonathan still sitting, slumped and motionless. Should he interrupt this experiment for some food? Best not to. This was valuable data, which shouldn't be interrupted for a juice box. Which reminded him, he needed to go grocery shopping for more of those little juice boxes Jonathan enjoyed in his lunch box. He was going through them like a fish goes through water.

 

Jon felt strange as he was loaded into the car. He felt...bad. A blah kind of bad. Mr. Magnus tried to Ask him things, like if he wanted food or what to have for dinner. But Jon didn't care. Jon didn't care about anything. He wished Mr. Magnus would go away. Everything was too much.

 

Elias may have...miscalculated. The experiment had run until it was time to go home, and Jonathan wasn't himself. Elias had originally thought it was just hunger, but Jonathan was listless to the point of refusing to even think about food. He tried pressing the issue, but Jonathan got temperamental. Tears appeared in his eyes and Elias thought another round of weeping was about to come up, but instead Jonathan had become angry. Overwhelmed. He might have even tried to hit Elias as he was unbuckling him from his seat, but his limbs were too uncoordinated in their flailing to be sure.

He didn't even eat anything at dinner. Elias tried spoon feeding him but Jonathan had only responded by wriggling away and huffing. He didn't even drink any juice. When Elias had tried insisting, Jonathan had erupted into a full scale tantrum, ending in him wobbling off to bed and collapsing into it. Elias had never heard of a child putting themselves to bed without supper. Most alarmingly of all, he didn't even want to read one of his Stories.

He just sat motionless under the covers, thinking the same dust mote thoughts.

Elias would admit to consternation as he scribbled in his little notebook. He consulted his children manuals, but none of them described such a thing, so he concluded it must be an Archive behavior. Worrying.

Theories:
Archive eventually motionless unless utilized? Holding pattern? Length of Archive life cycle = ???
Archive refused to take in more stories when shut down, end of storage ability already?
Not even sleeping?? Saves energy?
How much hungry child was interfering?
Usual Archive behavior? Unusual for Jonathan

In the name of science, Elias probably should have repeated the experiment. But when Jonathan awoke as his normal self the next day, Elias was too relieved to give any thoughts to the matter.

Jonathan came down for breakfast in a truly horribly fitting clothing. Elias probably should thank Elizabeth Sims for the fact that she had bought or accepted hand me downs several sizes too large with the understanding that Jonathan would grow into them in time. She had been wrong for quite some time, but today she was vindicated. Elias dug out those previously oversized shirts and found them to be a more acceptable fit for Jonathan, who changed willingly enough after inhaling pancakes.

Elias dutifully measured Jonathan's height on the little chart he had bought for just this reason. Truly it was astonishing how many options there were for tracking children's growth, and most of them were horrendous. Such a large percentage involved giraffes. Elias had purchased a very utilitarian ruler-themed one, thank you very much.

Doctor Girard's theories were correct. Jonathan had grown yet again. Would he require an interview with supernatural creatures at a specific rate to achieve his correct growth pattern? Much to think about. He should consult his manuals again to see if children's growth patterns were detailed. The Eye certainly was silent on the subject. Perhaps he should pick up more detailed medical textbooks.

 

While he was waiting to go to school, Jon asked the Eye all sorts of facts. The Eye Knew so many things! Like how many bones he had, and how many bones he had as a baby. It was weird babies had more bones. It was weirder to think he had been a baby. Babies, Jon concluded, were weird. He told the Eye so.

"Whatcha got there?"

Jon glared at Asher. "Nothing!" He shoved the Eye back into his pocket.

"Doesn't look like nothing. How come you're hiding?" Asher began to reach for Jon, who backed away.

"I'm not!" protested Jon, his face turning red.

"How come you're so weird?"

There is was. The word Jon had been fearing. It had finally happened, and now the whole class was going to say it, and he'd never make any friends at all, not here in this school and never ever because that word would follow him everywhere and he'd die friendless and alone and all they'd put on his tombstone was weird.

He began to breathe funny. He was hunching in on himself, and he was breathing weird, and this was why no one liked him, because Asher was right, because he couldn't just act normal. He didn't know what he had done wrong but it was something. Something in the way he talked or the way he walked was different and everyone could tell no matter how much he tried to be like everyone else.

He walked away, very quickly, to the reading nook so he could breathe as fast as he liked and hide behind a book, any book.

"Hey how come you're running? Aww is baby scared? I didn't even do anything! What a crybaby!"

"Asher, come here now." it was Ms. Diana's voice. Ms. Diana had Seen. And now she Knew he was a crybaby, and Asher was right. And she was his favorite teacher and now she Knew he was weird. He didn't hear the rest of Ms. Diana's words to Asher and he hiccuped behind his book. He didn't Know how long it was before Ms. Diana sat next to him.

"Jon, can you breathe with me? Can you do that for me Jon?"

"One." Big inhale. Exhale. "Two." Big inhale. Exhale. "Three."

Ms. Diana got rid of his hiccups, and Jon felt better. She even let him stay in the reading nook for a little bit until break time was over.

 

Elias stopped Watching long enough to make room in his schedule for a "Parent Teacher Conference". The Gifted Young Minds Program wasn't aware they were going to have one, but he would make sure it happened.

 

Elias picked Jonathan up himself that day, and had a small chat with the program director. His smile reminded the program director of a very polite shark as they scheduled a more in-depth meeting. Elias took Jonathan to the park before returning to work. It made for a long lunch break, but what else was the point of being the boss?

When they returned to the Institute, he settled Jon in the corner of his office and took a glance down into the Archives to see how everyone was doing with Fiona's reemergence.

 

 

It was...awkward. There were only three desks in the bullpen, and Sarah had taken her old one. Leaving Fiona with...Emma's. Emma, who had been her friend for years. Who had been trying to get her killed for the exact same amount of time. Oh, she knew Eric and Emma had laughed at her behind her back. She wasn't that deaf. But they had been young, and it was the way of the young to chortle at the foibles of the old.

God, Eric. His fate sounded so gruesome. She knew that Mary had been no good for him, but did he listen? No. the young never listen to the old when it comes to matters of the heart. She sighed over her tea. Her favorite mug had gone missing. Sarah and Michael were perfectly fine and lovely, and had filled her in over many, many biscuits and multiple cups of tea. But my God were the Archives disjointed now. It seemed Sarah and Michael rarely had even been in the same room together, always sent away on different trips, always with Emma or Gertrude right at their elbows. Not at all like how she remembered the Archives. But then, it seemed there wasn't much filing being done nowadays.

Michael was under the assumption that Gertrude had been too old, too frail to really do her job. Bless him, what did that make her then?

Sarah hadn't been directly informed that the lackadaisical filing system was a result of paranoia, but she had put two and two together. Elias Bouchard becomes head of the Institute, and suddenly Gertrude orders every different filing system and throws them all together? She had been hiding something. Sarah just hadn't known if it was Gertrude's age or actually a true threat.

Fiona desperately missed Angus. Under Angus, everyone had known what was going on. Oh, not truly. Not completely. But as much as Angus had Known, they had known. They had been doing something important. They had been uncovering secrets and re-writing all that was Known about these Dread Powers. All the death, all the destruction, all the lost friends...and still Fiona had pressed on, secure in the Knowledge that she was a part of a society dedicated to uncovering and exposing the rot and corruption of their world. She had thought Gertrude had understood that, in her relentless quest to destroy all the emissaries of the Stranger involved in Angus's death. Fiona had thought of Gertrude as a just crusader, but she apparently was just as susceptible to the rot as anyone.

Surely, Fiona had thought, surely Gertrude would not have tolerated the Web's presence within her Archives. But Emma's plans had dovetailed with Gertrude's which were apparently to use human sacrifices when needed to stop Rituals.

Fiona was glad Jon had claimed her. Jon was a sweet little boy, and if he would grow into the kind of man who would sacrifice his friends, well, she would be dead of hopefully natural causes by then.

"I think we need to stage a coup."

Fiona's thought's stopped in their tracks. What? She wretched her head up to look at Sarah, earnestly talking to Michael- oh. Over Fiona's desk. They hadn't left after fetching her tea. And here she was woolgathering like a ninny. She really had lost all sense of company down in that wretched place.

"I'm sorry, are you mad?" said Michael.

"She must be, to be talking about it here." replied Fiona, taking a long sip. "The Archivist's door is practically paper even with normal hearing, I hate to think of how easy it would be for Gertrude to use her powers now. She must have grown tremendously while I was...away. Angus, God rest his soul, was always accidentally ripping thoughts out of our heads by the end. Couldn't help himself, like he was a radio tuned in to our frequencies."

"Look," insisted Sarah, "I think we need to go to Elias. You saw Gertrude, she was wrapped up in Web!"

"Yeah but no more than me, right?" said Michael. "I mean, we both had it over our faces."

"You didn't see it." said Sarah, desperately. "Once Emma died, your Webs went slack. But Gertrude's were still mostly taunt. I was looking right at her when it happened. She's in it up to her neck. It's not safe!"

"None of this is safe dearie." said Fiona, more calmly than she felt she ought. "You should take the out. Blind yourself."

"Oh that's easy for you to say. Your new duties are taking an eight year old shopping, you know you're never going to be in the line of fire again." snapped Sarah.

"Maybe I should get a dog." mused Michael. "Start training a seeing eye dog before I go blind- I hear they cost a fortune."

"So you're blinding yourself?" said Fiona.

"I don't know! I don't- look, you people have had years of this stuff, and this, this was just a normal office job last week! I don't know if I'm being serious! But- fuck there were spider webs over my eyes!"

"Look there's no call for that kind of language young man."

"What- if there's any time for it, it'd be now! You're the one who got locked in a box for years, you should- you should be shouting it with me!"

Fiona's hand trembled as she put her cup down. She had been trying so hard to avoid thinking about how the Archives were in the basement. You just had to keep a stiff upper lip about this sort of stuff. That's how they made it through the Blitz, and that's how- oh there she goes.

 

"Michael what did you do!"

"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm so sorry, I didn't know she would faint! Oh my god what if I killed her, oh my god I am so sorry. I should, should I call someone? What do you do for people who have fainted? Do you turn them on their side? Was her tea hot? Oh my god what if I gave her burns too-"

Fiona came back to herself slowly. That was a short one.

"I need some air." she sat up shakily. "I'm- I'll be fine. I just need some air." She wobbled her way out of the Archives, leaning on Michael's elbow as he helped her up the stairs. She didn't even realize she had a huge tea stain on her jumper until the wind hit it.

 

Something was wrong with his Assistant.

Jon Knew this. Jon Knew this suddenly, and without warning coloring was no longer important at all. He raced out of his empty room and down the stairs, feeling the press of Mr. Magnus' Eyes upon him but that was ok because his Assistant was in trouble.

He found Ms. Fiona right outside the Institute with Mr. Michael and Ms. Sarah near her. Mr. Michael was holding onto her arm and Ms. Sarah was crowding her and that was bad because she just came out of the Buried and she didn't need to be crowded anymore!

Jon raced over to her and pushed Ms. Sarah back, and then turned and kicked Mr. Michael in the shins.

"Stop being mean to her!" he yelled. "You have to give her space! You're not allowed to be mean!"

And then because Mr. Michael hadn't let go Jon kicked him in the shins again.

When Mr. Michael let go to clutch at his shin, Ms. Fiona kinda sank down onto the ground. Jon stood by her and glared until Ms. Sarah and Mr. Michael backed up. Jon didn't give her a hug, because a hug was probably going to be too much like being stuck.

He sat as far away from Ms. Fiona as he could and held out his hand. Ms. Fiona didn't see it for a long time, but then she took it and that was alright. Jon started Looking up.

"One cloud." he said, breathing in.

"Two clouds." he said, breathing out.

He kept Looking up and counting clouds to his breaths. It made him have to breathe a lot slower, but that was ok. Ms. Fiona began to match him, and that was good. And she started Looking up too, which was even better. Clouds were fluffy, and nice, and meant lots of space.

Ms. Fiona's breathing was better, but now they had run out of clouds. So Jon looked around.

"Eye spy with my little eye, someone with a little dog."

Ms. Fiona looked around, and pointed at a man with a big leash on a very small dog. Then she went.

"I spy with my little eye, someone ordering coffee."

Jon pointed at a man through a coffee shop window, and then he went.

"Eye spy with my little eye, someone with a funny hat."

This one took Fiona a while, but she found the man who was wearing a perfectly normal fedora eventually. This went on for some time, pointing out different strangers, different people who were very far away. She had missed people. Eventually, she found that instead of doing this for her benefit, she was now struggling to find people further and further away as Jon had terrific eyesight and her old eyes were struggling. She gave Jon's hand a squeeze and thanked him.

 

"Ah, Jonathan. I See you and the Archival staff have time to play games now." said Elias, smiling politely from the top of the stairs.

Jonathan flushed. "Sorry-" he began, but Elias held up his hand.

"Not to worry Jonathan, you did nothing wrong. But, I really must insist on Knowing why you ran out of the room."

Jon jumped to his feet. "Ms. Gertrude's Assistants were being mean to Ms. Fiona! Tell them that's not allowed! It's against the rules to be mean!"

"I See." said Elias, eyes glittering. "And how did you Know?"

Jon crossed his arms angrily. "Ms. Fiona is my Assistant. You said."

"Yes Jonathan," said Elias patiently, "but how did you Know she needed help."

Jonathan shrugged. "I unnono."

Of course. Jonathan couldn't tell him when he had been in the Buried before, nor how he had gotten out, nor how he Knew things, nor why he did the things he did. It was as though he ran purely on instinct, until he offhandedly dropped information that could only have come from specific knowledge. He had Known he had taken three days to become free from the Buried the first time, but didn't remember how or when it had happened. If Elias hadn't been able to peer into his head, he would have never believed him. He would have thought Jonathan the most outrageous little liar in the world. Certainly his colleagues across the world did. Was this the Web's influence? The Spiral's? What was preventing Jonathan from fully remembering whatever horrible thing had apparently happened to him?

Ignorant of Elias' internal despair, Jonathan continued. "You have to tell Ms. Gertrude that she needs to make sure her Assistants aren't mean to mine. You gotta. Because I haven't Seen Ms. Gertrude at all and she's supposed to be in charge and the grown ups in charge are supposed to stop bullying. It's the rules."

"Jon dear, they weren't bullying me. Michael and I just had a bit of a whoopsy, he didn't mean to make me remember the...the Coffin."

Jonathan turned and glared at her, and then his face softened as he stared into her eyes. He squeezed her hand, and then he turned back shamefacedly to Sarah and Michael.

"...Sorry for kicking you Mr. Michael."

"No harm done little man! You kick like a mule, have you been working out?"

Jonathan giggled at Michael's grin, but it wasn't a full easy giggle. It was the giggle of a nervous child who was guessing if he was supposed to laugh or not. Michael gave him a thumbs up and something within Jonathan seemed to settle.

"You know, I do believe it's time that you and Ms. Fiona went on that shopping trip we discussed. Past time we got you some new clothes. Here, take my card."

"Hey yeah little man, looks like you grew three feet last night!"

Jon looked at Michael strangely. "I've only got two."

"What?"

"I've only got two feet. I'm an Eye, not the Flesh." explained Jonathan patiently. As Jonathan and Fiona walked away, Michael nearly broke a rib trying to suppress his hysteria-tinged laughter.

 

Jon wanted clothing that fit. Ms. Fiona wanted clothing that was bigger and he'd "grow into". Jon thought all old ladies must think the same, because that's what his gran said every time even when he didn't grow all that much. Jon was tired of everything being too big.

They compromised. Ms. Fiona bought most of his clothing too big, but he got some that were just right. And also he got to pick out shoes that lit up on the side and that was the absolute coolest.

 

When they got back to the Institute Jon was very excited to show everyone his new shoes, but there was a shouting match going on.

Well, it wasn't quite a shouting match. But it sounded like it should have been. It was the kind of shouting match adults had where their voices got louder but their tones didn't change and they never admitted they were yelling. Ms. Gertrude and Mr. Magnus were like two big cats in a too small cage.

 

"Gertrude, I know we haven't gotten along quite as well as my predecessor, but breaking into my office is beyond the pale."

"Oh yes Elias, we do have a very different working relationship than James and I. But then again, I hadn't been around when James became the Head. If I had, I might have noticed."

"Gertrude."

"Were your eyes always that color Elias?"

"Hoping to find a pair of contact lenses in my desk drawer, Gertrude?"

"Oh I was hoping to find much more than that."

"I take it you didn't find anything. All that waiting for the right moment, until I was distracted with that little scene with your Assistants. Was it worth it Gertrude?"

"I've had my suspicions for some time, but do you know, I rather think I don't need the contents of your desk to prove them. Jonathan?"

"Leave him out of this."

"Jonathan, what is this man's name?"

Jon blinked. He didn't like any of this. He didn't want any part of...whatever this was.

"You're rude." he said honestly. "Compelling is rude and you Know that. And you're mean to your Assistants, when an Archivist shouldn't be. They're not toys you know. They're real people with real people feelings. And anyways your war against rituals is stupid. You don't deserve Assistants if you're going to be mean to them."

The tension in the room changed a bit after that. He walked over to Mr. Michael and Ms. Sarah and he grabbed Mr. Michael's hands and he Looked at Ms. Sarah until she grabbed Mr. Michael's hands and then they all walked out of the Archives.

Jon herded them to a place he Knew sold ice cream and they all sat down and ate some.

"Christ, what do you suppose all that was about?" asked Mr. Michael.

"Oh, Ms. Gertrude is mad because Mr. Magnus stole Mr. Elias' body and didn't tell anyone." said Jon casually as he ate his coffee-toffee ice cream cone. In the background, a phone was ringing.

"...What?" said Ms. Sarah, while Ms. Fiona made a weird noise.

"Oh yeah, Mr. Magnus is super scared of Terminus so he steals bodies and I've told him that's wrong but he's going to keep doing it until he figures out something better." Jon licked a bit that was threatening to drip, and Ms. Fiona started scrubbing at his face with a napkin. The phone kept ringing, because the lady scooping ice cream was mid scoop and couldn't pick it up.

"So this whole time, Elias has been, what, Jonah Magnus?" said Sarah.

"Oh not the whole time. Just when he's the Head of the Institute." said Jon, matter-of-factly. "Yeah Mr. Elias was a real person and then Mr. Magnus swapped out his eyes which is gross. Ms. Gertrude should have Known though, I mean, she's the Archivist. It's her job to Know. I dunno why she's being so weird about it."

The lady behind the counter picked up and then sounded very confused as she called out "Phone for Jonathan?"

Jon wandered up to the desk and was handed the phone.

"Jonathan stop talking."

"Ok Mr. Magnus!"

Jon wandered back.

"Didja see my new shoes? They light up when I step! Do you think they'll light up even more if I jump?"

 

Jons new shoes did not, in fact, light up more if he jumped, but that was ok. Sometimes experiments were just fun to do. He swung in between Ms. Sarah and Ms. Fiona, and that was fun, and then he got to sit on top of Mr. Michael's shoulders and that was the best because Mr. Michael was so tall. Jon felt like he could See everything.

The Assistants chatted among themselves and wondered when it would be "safe" to go back. Jon snorted. "It's safe right now. They won't do anything to you, even if they're being butts."

"Jon!"

"Sorry Ms. Fiona."

"...they are kinda being butts though."

"Michael! We are not encouraging this!"

Jon grinned. Mr. Michael was fun. Ms. Sarah had been his favorite first, and then Ms. Fiona, but Mr. Michael was growing on him fast.

"So...Jonah Magnus is alive. And he's taking over people's bodies. Is Elias even still in there?"

Jon was watching a bird. They were so much closer up here on Mr. Michael's shoulders. Was this how adults saw the world all the time?

"Let's review. We work for an evil eldritch fear god. Our boss is a body snatcher from the 1800s, and our other boss was planning on sacrificing us to save the world. But on top of that, she might be compromised by one of these other evil fear gods, who is very different than our evil fear god. All 14 of these fear gods want to end the world in uniquely horrible ways. And we have the option of
A: Blinding ourselves and living our new lives as free blind people, who may or may not still be eaten by fear gods.
B: Murdering Gertrude, leaving us free to be as we are now sight and all, to be possibly or possibly not eaten by fear gods.
C: Working in the Archives trying to thwart all the evil fear gods, except we work for the omniscient one who will no doubt behold all our plans, and we may or may not still get eaten by fear gods.
D: Working in the Archives willingly, embracing our dread overlords and being granted terrible powers for a terrible price in the hopes that we will not be eaten by fear gods. Of course, we still could be eaten."

"Yes Michael I think that about sums it up." said Ms. Fiona dryly.

"Option E:" piped up Jon, unexpectedly from atop Michael's shoulders. "we get Gertrude some non-spider friends and teach her to care about other people."

"Uh, Jon sweetheart-"

"Some people in my class go to school to learn to care about other people, even if they don't need to go for the school parts. I think Ms. Gertrude is really lonely and we should find her some friends so she stops Looking at people like chess pieces." said Jon stubbornly. "You can totally teach people how to make friends."

"Jon dear I don't think that really solves our problems." said Ms. Fiona.

"It'll stop her from sacrificing you." Jon pointed out reasonably.

"Kid's got a point."

"Yes thank you so much Michael." said Ms. Sarah.

"Or you could be my Assistants. I'd never sacrifice you. I'd never sacrifice anyone." said Jon fiercely. "But...you might still get eaten. I dunno if I can protect you from everything. There's lots of things out there. Oh! Speaking of protection!" he began to wave frantically to someone off in the distance.

When the distant figure got close enough, Jon released his hold on Mr. Michael's head to cup his hands over his mouth and yell. "HI! CAN GERTRUDE AND I TALK TO AGNES TOMORROW? AT HER CAFE. OK THANK YOU!"

Chapter Text

"No. Absolutely not."

"But-"

"I said no Jonathan."

"Pleeeeeeaaaaaase?"

"Jonathan I am not letting you go off to sip tea with the Messiah of the Desolation."

"But Ms. Gertrude will be there the whole time!"

"Jonathan. This is final."

"M-"

"I said no Jonathan. Go to the corner, 5 minutes."

Jon hated the corner. It was boring, and there was nothing to Look at, and it meant he did something wrong, but he didn't and it wasn't his fault Mr. Magnus wasn't listening to his reasons because he didn't even get to say them and he was sure Mr. Magnus would agree if he would just listen.

 

Jonah Magnus sat down at his desk heavily, and shoved his face into his hands. Across the room Jonathan was sitting cross legged and grumpy, with his elbows resting on his knees and his cheeks angrily resting on his face.

What the hell was he supposed to do now.

He supposed it was foolish of him, to have trusted Jonathan to keep his secret. He was on borrowed time the moment he allowed Jonathan to interact with any of the Archival staff. Why hadn't he found a school that could take Jonathan for the full day. Why was it so hard to find care for a child that was remotely out of the ordinary. Why the hell had he even cared if Jonathan had an "incident" at school. Cover ups were simple compared to this.

He couldn't even be mad at Jonathan. This was as inevitable as the moon and tide. Jonathan literally was incapable of lying. Should he have found another title for Jonathan to try? If so, what? Guardian? What could Jonathan have possibly called him?

And even if it was reasonable to punish him, could he even think of what punishment to give? He still had no idea how to punish Jonathan for running away into the Coffin, and all his musing on the subject had not prepared him for what he should do if Jonathan spilled his secret. Arthur Nolan's words echoed in his ears.

"She was a brat."

Arthur had been surprisingly candid on Agnes' tumultuous childhood. He supposed he technically was doing better than they were, at least Jonathan had only killed one employee. And that one had been a double agent. Agnes had melted and destroyed several cult members in her tantrums. The worst Jonathan had done was hit him accidentally with his tiny flailing limbs. And given away the keys to his final death. But at least that one hadn't been active maliciousness. At least Jonah had that small measure of comfort, that when his death came Jonathan probably hadn't meant it. Hell.

 

Jon wasn't going to give up. This was important. And now he had an Assistant who had to help him. So that was good. Ms. Fiona could get all the supplies, and Jon could put them in his backpack and sneak out with Ms. Gertrude to meet Ms. Agnes tomorrow.

 

Could he withhold Statements? Would that be too cruel? How much of Jonathan's biology required them? Was it like sending him to bed without supper, or more akin to starvation? Would he permanently hurt Jonathan if he did that? And hellfire, he still didn't have cooperation from the other branches to send over their old Statements. They were all demanding he take an 8 year old harbinger of the Dread Power of Beholding on an airplane for hours and hours, all so they could poke and prod at him in person. Damn them all. They could come to him and that was final. Enough of this whining that they wanted their own resources at hand- Jonah knew very well that their true objection had nothing whatsoever to do with rationality. Avatars of the Eye would, if left to their own devices, over time become more and more entrenched within their own facilities. How long had it been since he himself had left London?

All of this was to say that Jonathan was rapidly running out of Institute Statements. Damn damn damn. Would none of them bend their necks and send him something.

Hellfire. Gertrude Robinson was going to ensure the only neck bending would be his under a guillotine.

 

Ms. Fiona should have a list. Jon could write her a shopping list as soon as he was out of this stupid corner which was stupid and gross and boring. As soon as he could get to his crayon set and the paper in his backpack. How long was 5 minutes? It felt like it had been forever. But Jon wasn't very good with time.

 

When would she kill him? She had all the required information, it wasn't as though she wasn't clever enough to put together the pieces of the Panopticon. Or she would just come at him straight away and pop his eyeballs like grapes. If it had just been the Assistants, well, he could Look into their minds easily enough. But Gertrude would presumably Know if he Looked. Did he risk it? Actually, he supposed his first warning would be when Gertrude blinded herself. Presumably as long as she still had her own eyesight, he would be spared a melon baller straight to his eyesockets.

He picked up his head from his hands and wearily glanced at the time. Ah.

"Jonathan you may leave the corner now."

 

Jon scurried over to his backpack and began busily writing his list.

1. Lots and lots of oven mitts. Good ones!
2. A fire extinguisher

Jon tapped his green crayon to his lips. Was that it? Did firefighters have special kinds of oven mitts regular people could buy? Oh, those were probably called gloves and not mitts. He didn't think they made them in his size, but Ms. Fiona might be able to find some. He drew a picture of a firefighter and circled the hand in big red circles and drew an arrow so Ms. Fiona would Know what kind he was talking about.

He wandered out to go find Ms. Fiona. Mr. Magnus was glumly staring down at his desk, so he didn't notice when he left. Which was fine. Jon wasn't a baby. He could walk to his very own Assistant all by himself.

 

What would happen to Jonathan after he was dead? Who would ensure he was cared for? Would Jonathan even survive? Jonah was beginning to regret adding the same clause to Jonathan's adoption paperwork as he did to the Archival employment offers.

No. Jonathan was probably powerful enough to survive his death. But what if he got hurt?

Well. Obviously Jonah would be beyond caring at that point. Obviously. No need to worry if Jonathan's development was stunted if Jonah wasn't going to be the one using him for the Watcher's Crown.

But imagine Beijing raising Jonathan. They were the eldest among them, and had the most old Statements. It would be logical for them to gain control over Jonathan. Greece would put up a good fight, and Washington would raise a lot of bluster despite being absolutely hopeless at the task, but no, Beijing was the most likely candidate. And yet they were the ones who suggested he starve Jonathan into compliance! They had been henpecking him constantly to try and be more firm with Jonathan, to See what would happen if he took a more recent statement. They would hurt him out of ignorance and bullheadedness and the sheer desire to Know what would happen! And their version of discipline, especially in regards to being directed at Jonathan, well. It was hard to imagine let alone stomach.

The problem with disciplining Jonathan was that there didn't seem to be a middle ground. There were light punishments, like time outs and no snack time, or there were dreadful punishments like denying him Statements until he became so weak he needed to be carried. Where the hell was the midway point?

You couldn't even speak somewhat meanly to him without him bursting into tears. And Jonathan felt so terrible that Jonah was constantly surprised he didn't disappear into the Lonely on the spot. If only Jonathan would get upset at someone other than himself. It was maddening.

Jonah had no experience to draw upon. His own father had been distant, and he had been raised by a nanny and tutor until he was sent away to school. All very appropriate for his time of course, but that meant his hazy recollections involved either having no force behind any threats or being soundly beaten. He was given to understand this was no longer the appropriate methods of discipline. In his long life, he had never bothered to sire a child let alone raise one, and he had taken great care to not be involved in any of the potential family his victims may have left behind.

Should he join that parenting class? The books were obviously useless. He needed to consult an expert.

 

Ms. Fiona and Mr. Michael and Ms. Sarah and Ms. Gertrude were all exactly where they were supposed to be, which made Jon feel happy. Everything was so much better when things were the way they were supposed to be.

"Hello everybody!"

"Hello Jon." "Hi little boss!" "Hello!" came a chorus of replies.

"What brings you down here today?" asked Michael jauntily.

"I need Ms. Fiona to get supplies for our rendezvous with Ms. Agnes tomorrow." said Jon primly, as he handed over the crayon-filled paper.

"Oh? Managed to make Magnus agree?" said Ms. Sarah, surprised.

"Nope!" said Jon cheerfully.

He clambered up onto a desk chair, which swiveled around until Jon managed to stop it by grabbing onto a nearby desk.

"But this is important, and Ms. Gertrude never listens to what Mr. Magnus says anyways so I figure she'll be ok with going."

"And why exactly is this so important?" asked Ms. Gertrude with a raised eyebrow.

"Secret!" said Jon, holding up a finger. "That's for me and the Assistants to Know and you to find out."

"Hmph." said Ms. Gertrude, her eyes glittering as she stared at Jon. Jon didn't mind. It was nice to be stared at now, especially since Mr. Magnus wasn't Looking at him. He didn't use to like being stared at, but this was Eye staring so it was ok.

"And if I agree to this little outing?"

"You'll get to Know more!" said Jon cheerfully.

"And if I don't care to learn more?"

Jon goggled at her. This is why he was right when he called her a bad Archivist.

 

Would it even matter if he signed up for a parenting class? Would he even live that long?

He imagines himself sitting in an uncomfortable chair with clueless couples listening to someone with a degree that sounds, to his own Georgian ears, entirely made up. He then imagined himself dying in the middle of the class, slumping over and no doubt horrifying some pregnant woman. It was hardly an appealing picture.

Could he pay someone to come to him? If he was nearby he may have at least a chance at fending off Gertrude. But there were so many entrances to the tunnels.

...Could he hire a hitman to take out Gertrude?

 

It took some doing, but eventually Jon got Ms. Gertrude to agree 100% to going. Ms. Fiona went out and bought the supplies he asked for and he carefully packed them all away in his little backpack. It was really smart of Ms. Fiona to get a small kitchen fire extinguisher. It was just his size and fit perfectly, but he'd have to stuff his jumper into his backpack to hide the lumps it left.

Oh! He needed a bag that you could put hot things into. He told Ms. Fiona this, and she went to a camping supply store and came back with a bag you could put hot coals into. He admired her thinking. He really did have the best Assistant.

Oh and he needed tongs! Ms. Fiona went to her own kitchen and came back with some metal tongs with a rubber handle. Jon clicked them a bunch of times, like a little crab. He only meant to do it once, but then he went clickclickclick until the tongs went away into his backpack too.

He could tell Ms. Gertrude was trying to put together what all the items were for. She did try Asking, and said "Jonathan, I am quite used to preparing for any...eventualities that may arise. I would be happy to help, if you would let me know what exactly we're meant to be doing."

"We're just gonna talk to Ms. Agnes. I think we should, she's pretty lonely and she can't hurt you and you can't hurt her. And I think that's pretty important because a lot of people you talk to can hurt you or you can hurt them and they Know that so they're scared. You should talk to normal people but you're too busy so we're going to talk to Ms. Agnes."

"Jonathan, is there a point to this conversation?"

"Yes."

"Are you going to let me know what it is?"

"Yes."

"Jonathan."

Jon blinked at her. He didn't understand why she was using that tone. He had answered her questions.

 

Fiona looked at Jon's confused little face and felt a pang in her heart. He was such a sweet boy, but sometimes how he answered things made her wonder. She wasn't at all sure that Jon fully understood conversations, not that she'd observed him have many. Subtext seemed to just fly by him. She hadn't spent too much time around children, heaven knew, but she wasn't fully convinced this was usual child development.

Then again children could be remarkably dense sometimes. They were still learning after all.

And here he was, planning on having a conversation over a cup of tea with Agnes Montague. Fiona had remembered the madcap rush to try to stop Agnes' ascension. Those had been the days! Gertrude had been so young back then. She hadn't been, of course, far older than Gertrude or Eric or...or Emma, but they had all done their best. Running around like chickens trying to find anything about the Cult of the Lightless Flame. Trying to stop the Final Ascension of a Demonic Messiah that would burn the world to ashes.

And here they were, planning a tea party with her. Goodness how the world turned.

 

A hitman probably wouldn't work. But if he could manipulate a few people, or things that used to be people, into seeking revenge...just pull a few strings and- well to be honest that probably wouldn't work either. Gertrude was protected by the Cult of the Lightless Flame, and when something snuck through their defenses she had proven herself more than capable of dispatching any unpleasant visitors.

Would nothing stop this woman?

He had to try, didn't he?

Maybe he should buy a gun. A new one. He'd kept his old one for so long- now that he thought about it he couldn't actually be sure he had purchased the thing before or after The Great War.

 

 

It was decided. Ms. Fiona would stay behind tomorrow, ostensibly so Mr. Magnus wouldn't get suspicious, but really because Jon wanted to make sure his Assistant was safe. He thought everyone could tell the real reason, but he didn't want to say it out loud. It was rude to let old people Know they were old.

Ms. Sarah and Mr. Michael would distract Mr. Magnus while he and Ms. Gertrude went to meet Ms. Agnes. It was perfect, because for some reason Mr. Magnus was already super distracted. Jon hoped it would last until tomorrow.

 

 

When Jon got back from school to the Magnus Institute, he popped into Mr. Magnus' office and told him he was going downstairs to color with Ms. Fiona. Mr. Magnus waved him off, as he was on the phone talking. As Jon left the room he heard "I swear Peter, if Salesa can get a ship full of cursed items through customs how hard can it possibly be to get me a g-"

He and Ms. Gertrude left through the regular door, which Jon thought was silly because the tunnels were right there in her office and didn't they want to be super sneaky? Ms. Gertrude had said she didn't want to use them until she explored them more from this end, and did Jon Know his way around them? Jon had to admit he didn't Know, because Knowing didn't work in the tunnels. Ms. Gertrude wondered how far they went, and Jon told her since they were so twisty they went for miles and miles and she should Ask Ms. Fiona because Ms. Fiona worked with Mr. Angus and he studied all about the tunnels because he was studying Smirke and how to prove him wrong which was good because Smirke himself Knew he was wrong by the end.

Ms. Gertrude looked very thoughtful at that.

Eventually they made it to the cafe, and Jon waved at Ms. Agnes through the windows. She didn't wave back, but she did nod, which Jon thought was good. Ms. Agnes didn't seem like the kind of person to wave anyways.

 

Gertrude had to admit it was purely curiosity that led to this meeting. Jonathan was an odd child, and Gertrude had too much experience with the Powers to assume he was benign. Or if he was currently benign, that he would remain that way. She herself had struggled for years to maintain a tight grip on the addiction the Eye had afflicted her with. It was no easy task, and she very much doubted that an eight year old who couldn't stay on topic if his life depended on it would be able to resist the Eye's call. So what could his motivation be, to meet with her and Agnes Montague of all people in broad daylight?

El- Jonah. Jonah Magnus had some small discussion with her regarding Jonathan, but he had seemed...proprietary. As though he was afraid Gertrude would "remove" Jonathan if he so much as breathed in her direction. Which meant, of course, that Jonathan was the key to Jonah's plans for a Ritual. The Watcher's Crown should be decades off, if her own senses were to be trusted. But perhaps it would be best to remove Jonathan before he grew into something monstrous. Or, alternatively, she could, heh, keep an Eye on him. He may yet develop into something unusable to Magnus, though she very much doubted it. And, of course, there was no telling what Jonah Magnus would be capable of if she ruined his plans for the Watchers Crown.

She supposed that meant that she first had to kill Jonah Magnus before deciding what to do with Jonathan.

That part would be tricky. Especially considering that not all the Assistants may willingly blind themselves. But there was no time to think on it now, as they entered the cafe.

 

 

Jon wasted no time in beelining over to Ms. Agnes first.

"Hi Ms. Agnes! I'm Jon, and Ms. Gertrude and I are going to order first and then we'll be right back. Ok bye!"

He left Ms. Agnes and went back in line for the register. Ms. Gertrude ordered something with espresso and Jon ordered carrot sticks and chocolate milk. The carrot sticks came in a little plastic box, which Jon thought was shabby considering the pastries got put on nice fancy plates. Ms. Agnes didn't have anything but a drink in front of her, and Jon felt a little bad eating in front of her when she didn't have anything she could eat. Ms. Gertrude could eat regular people food and hadn't ordered anything, so Jon was not going to share his sticks with her. But Ms. Agnes didn't really have a choice. She couldn't even drink her coffee. Coffee was bitter though. Tea was much nicer. But he supposed Agnes didn't Know that because she didn't drink anything, not even tea.

Jon thought that was sad. Jon Knew he loved tea. He hadn't found one that tasted right yet, but he Knew tea was very good.

"Hi Ms. Agnes. Um, I'm Jon. O-oh, I said that already. Um."

Ms. Agnes looked at him, with her very calm face, and she told him hello. Ms. Agnes had a really, really pretty face. And her hair was really pretty too.

"So, Jon. I assume there is a reason you wanted to meet."

Jon wished he had written down what he wanted to say. It was so much easier to have a plan then it was to speak. He wiggled a little in his seat but he didn't give himself too much time to think because the silence was starting up and silence was the worst.

"I hate Spiders." he blurted out. "I really, really hate Spiders. And I Know you and Ms. Gertrude hate Spiders too, more than anything. And um, I think that's important. That we all hate spiders."

He Looked at Ms. Gertrude, and he Looked back at Ms. Agnes. Neither of them were going to say anything, so he took a breath and continued.

"Um, and I, I think we have lots more in common. But especially you two. You two have lots in common and I think you should both talk about it."

He Looked right in Ms. Agnes' eyes when he said that. They seemed very sad, but the rest of her face didn't Look sad.

Ms. Gertrude was no help at all. She kept Looking right at him, and that almost made Jon want to cry because that wasn't the point of this! And also it meant there was going to be more silence which was the worst. Jon wanted to eat his carrot sticks. But eating alone was weird. But he hadn't had any snack today. But it was rude to eat in front of someone that couldn't.

Jon unzipped his backpack and took out his crayons and his papers while he waited for Ms. Agnes or Ms. Gertrude to say something. Did the silence feel weird to them too? Jon felt like fidgeting. He felt like he had to fidget or he was gonna die. Probably of embarrassment. Didn't they hear how loud the silence was? If he ate a carrot stick the crunching would echo. That's how silent it was.

"Um, Ms. Agnes. Um. You eat what feeds the Desolation right?"

Ms. Agnes nodded slowly.

"So you burn things that people love, and that feeds you?"

She nodded again, and her hands noticeably didn't move around her cup of tea.

Jon Looked at his crayon set, and picked out a green crayon that was nearly worn down.

"This one is called Teal. It's my favorite to draw Eyes with. I think it's one of the prettiest colors in the whole wide world. Here, let me show you." He scribbled on his piece of paper, and made a teal circle and filled it in. "You can burn it, if you want."

He pushed the crayon over to Ms. Agnes, and left it right in front of her. She looked at him quizzically, before stretching out her hand and lightly touching it. It bubbled and charred instantly, it's bright paper curling away as the wax ran down into a puddle on the table, steam rising from it. Jon nodded and ate a carrot stick.

"And this one is called Sea Green. I really like this one because it's very calm and nice. I like this set because it has almost every single color there is. I take them everywhere." He drew a wave on his paper, because that's what Sea Green was for. He pushed it towards Ms. Agnes, and as she burned it he thought about his home near the sea and started to feel really, really sad. He usually tried to hide how sad he was feeling, but that wouldn't make any sense right now so he let himself feel as sad as he felt as he watched the pretty color burn away into a black and bubbling gross mess. He thought about how sometimes, he'd sit on the swings near the beach and he'd swing all by himself and watch the waves come in, and sometimes the very tops of them would be just that shade of green that he wouldn't have in his crayon box again. He let himself eat another carrot stick, as he pulled out a blue crayon this time.

"This one is called Denim, but I don't really think it looks like what jeans are made of. Jeans come in all sorts of colors. But I like this for coloring waves and Eyes. I guess I draw a lot of both those things, which makes sense because I used to live by the sea and I'm an Eye. I didn't like drawing Eyes until I was one."

He kept feeding Agnes crayons and eating his carrot sticks, but eventually he ran out of carrots. Ms. Agnes was of the Fire though, and Fire was always hungry. It was probably rude to stop feeding her when she was still hungry, even though she probably would never, ever feel full. So Jon kept feeding her crayons and he made sure he didn't hide how sad he was at all, and he might have gone too far because now he was crying really really hard and Ms. Gertrude was glaring at people who were Looking over and maybe thinking about coming over to See what was wrong and Jon felt better about that. It was good Ms. Gertrude kept everyone away, because they might try to make him feel better and that wouldn't help fill up Ms. Agnes at all and also it was kind of nice to be able to cry about things and have a really good reason for it because sometimes Jon would cry by himself and he didn't even Know why he was so sad but he always tried to hide it from Mr. Magnus because crying gave grown ups headaches and it was bad to cry in front of them.

But not Ms. Agnes. It was good to cry in front of Ms. Agnes. It was allowed. So Jon let himself be as miserable as he liked and he kept feeding Ms. Agnes his crayons until he got down to the really ugly crayons he hardly ever used. He didn't think it would be good to feed her those, they would probably taste really gross. So he scrubbed his face with his sleeve and he tried not to Compel when he said "D-did, i-is, I I mean, I-I-I r-re-really h-hope y-you're f-feeling m-more f-full now Ms. Ms. Agnes."

 

The table was a wreck. The smell lingering was acrid and horrible, and it didn't bear thinking about how deep the stain from the ruined wax had sunk into the granite top. Gertrude was having to glare away both patrons and employees alike who were staring and wondering what on earth was going on over there. Once they met her stare, they would quickly decide to leave well enough alone. But it was difficult to be circumspect while their table smelt like chemical death and a red faced crying school child was hiccupping everywhere.

She passed him the small paper napkin that had come with her drink. Jonathan burbled out a very polite, if watery, thank you before blowing his nose with it and dropping the now ruined wet clump of what once was paper in front of him. This table was disgusting.

But Agnes herself was looking much...brighter. It was subtle, but she seemed to glow a bit more in the sunlight that streamed through the window. They shared a look, and Agnes pressed her hand down onto the blacked heap of way until even that turned into ashes which she gently blew away. Leaving only a deep, dark stain on the previously cold stone.

 

"Thank you." said Agnes.

"Y-you're welcome." said Jonathan, who was beginning to get his breathing under control. "W-will you still be able to eat my sadness even if I'm feeling sad later?"

Agnes nodded gravely. "I have burned them, and I will feel their loss."

Jonathan brightened up. "Ok, that's good. Because I'm going to really miss them, and now all that sadness will help you instead of just being sad."

Agnes turned her head ever so subtly. "But you would not have felt their absence if you had not given them to me. So what would you have to be sad about?"

"Oh," said Jonathan, "all sorts of things. But I think about those things when I color, sometimes. Or when I want to color. Or when I see those colors. So even if I get a new set, I'll think about the old set and all the sadness I would have felt about the color of sea gets turned into the color of that crayon. And you can eat it. Instead of me just being sad about not being near the sea."

He paused and fiddled with his own cup. "...I...I get that it's babyish. To be sad about the sea. Because my life right now isn't really so bad. It's not. So I shouldn't feel so sad about my old life. But...I miss it. I miss before I was an Eye. I'm not like you. I-I think."

"Were you born with a Destiny?" asked Agnes.

Jon thought a little bit. "No, I don't think so. Not at first. I think I was Made to have a Destiny. I didn't like it. It was bad."

"Was?" probed Agnes gently.

"I...I can't think about Before too hard. Or I'll puke. But...I think...I think I was Made. I think I was tricked. But I...I got away? Maybe? No, I don't think so. But somehow, it's better. Like it's not a Destiny any more. But maybe just a possible future. It could still happen, but not...not if I do things right."

Jonathan looked a little green.

"I think I'm gonna barf if I keep thinking about it. I think I need to lay down."

 

Gertrude Robinson would confess she didn't have a maternal bone in her body. So it was a surprise to her that she drew her chair alongside Jonathan's and let him lay her head in her lap. The rest of him fit neatly into his own chair, curled up. Her fingers carded through his hair and he shut his eyes tight and took deep breaths. Eventually it seemed like he drifted off into a sort of trance.

 

"Well." said Gertrude. "I confess, I have no idea why Jonathan set up this little meeting."

"I think Jon is very lucky." said Agnes gravely. "It's no easy thing, to become free of a Destiny."

"We have no idea what happened to him." Gertrude said plainly. "None of our people Know, and believe me when I say we would assuredly Know if one of us had done it. Sometimes he will get very close to telling us what happened, but the last time he fainted and didn't wake up for some time. This is the first I'm hearing of it possibly being deliberate."

Agnes' eyes were bright and piercing.

"When I heard the Institute of Beholding had gained a child, I had thought the Watcher had attempted a twisted version of the Desolation's Ritual."

"I assure you, no such thing occurred. I'm not even sure it would be possible, to recreate the events that led to you. How would that even work? We couldn't exactly cover an entire forest in eyeballs." Gertrude snorted. "I suppose it may be technically possible, as is anything with these Powers, but if it is I certainly have no inkling on how. Nor would I want to Know."

"That is not what one usually hears from Beholding's Own." said Agnes.

"Hah! I suppose not. But then, I've always tried to stay as far as I can from the Eye's desires. Doesn't always work, of course."

"No, none of us can fully help what we are."

"Still, I like to think I do as best I can. Jonathan, on the other hand. Never seen the Eye be so gentle before. It demands he give so little, yet gives him so much."

"I do not recall if I was the same. I think by the time I was his size, I was in the Spider's nest. It is...difficult to recall what feelings were in there."

From Gertrude's lap Jonathan groaned. "I hate Spiders. I hate Spiders so much."

"Oh?" said Agnes. "What cause have you to hate the Spiders?"

"A Spider ate George, right in front of me. And, I know George wasn't all that nice, but he didn't deserve to get eaten. And then I tried to go to the police about the Spider, but nobody listened. But the Magnus Institute was there on my way home, and I told my Spider Story and they took the book the Spider came out of even though I had burned it. A-and then there was a Spider. There was a Spider there in the Institute, and I got it to go away, but there were so many webs. And not all of them were from that Spider. Lots were still there after she was gone.

And I Know you and Ms. Gertrude don't talk, because you both got tricked by the Spiders into being bound, and that's not fair."

Jonathan groggily popped his head above the table, his hair standing up on half of his head. Oops. Gertrude had never claimed to be particularly skilled with dealing with children, and apparently there must be some sort of trick even to petting their heads. Jonathan looked like he came through a hedge backwards.

"Spiders," Jonathan said with feeling, "are buttheads."

Gertrude saw something she suspected was very rare indeed. She saw Agnes Montague smile.

She looked radiant.

 

 

"WHERE IS JONATHAN?" screamed Jonah Magnus to the Archives staff. The Archives staff were pretty sure they were in deep shit.

 

 

"...and Ms. Gertrude likes to burn things, and you need to burn things, and that's another reason why I think you both should be friends." said Jon, as he was swinging in between Ms. Agnes and Ms. Gertrude. They had left the cafe when Ms. Gertrude got a page, so now they were walking in Hyde Park but on the paved paths really far away from most people. Jon had pulled out one of the oven mitts Ms. Fiona gave him and had put it over the hand that was holding Ms. Agnes', but the oven mitt was for a grown up so it went past his elbow.

"I don't mean to brag, but I did light that entire mansion belonging to The Flesh on fire last week." said Gertrude

"Oh, that was you?" asked Agnes excitedly. (Well, excited for Agnes.)

Jon was really glad Ms. Fiona had gotten him lots of mitts, because sometimes Ms. Agnes would get excited when she was talking and the glove would suddenly burst into flame. Jon didn't panic though. He just threw hit mitt onto the pavement and pulled out his little extinguisher. Then he put out the oven mitt, and used Ms. Fiona's kitchen tongs to put it into the little camping baggie she got him. Not littering was important.

He slipped on another oven mitt and put his backpack back on, and grabbed Ms. Agnes' hand again. Ms. Agnes and Ms. Gertrude didn't swing him as high as Ms. Sarah and Mr. Michael did, but they were still pretty good at it.

"Yes, the smell of it has quite put me off any barbecue for a good long while I suspect."

"We had heard that the Flesh lost one of their major benefactors."

"Mm, he had made his fortune in beef if I recall correctly."

 

 

Where the hell was Jonathan? Jonah had damn near shredded his tires to get to this miserable little cafe in the middle of London traffic, and there was only a scorch mark and an acrid smell where he should have been. Was he too late? He couldn't be too late. He would have Known if anything had happened to Jonathan.

 

Michael looked at Fiona and Sarah. "On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you think it'll go if the boss finds out I texted Gertrude a warning?"

 

Jon was beaming to himself. This park had a whole pirate ship to play on. It was mostly babies playing on it right now, because all the big kids like him were in school, but that just meant he could climb to the very highest part and he had it all to himself. From the top of the big rope basket he clung and Looked down at Gertrude and Agnes talking on a bench. Jon felt like the smartest person in the whole wide world.

 

Jonah parked the car at the first available spot, which was so far away from the cafe because of course it was, and began to Look with all his might for Jonathan. He was more circumspect than when he had searched for Jonathan, but not by much. Being so spread thin, Looking over city blocks instead of only the Institute, he hardly had the power to burst any blood vessels. A knock at his window startled him, and he pulled back his focus to see Jude Perry glaring at him.

"Oi, Bouchard. Your freaky kid is in the park with your Archivist. Get them away from Agnes if you know what's good for you."

 

Jon was really happy that Ms. Agnes and Ms. Gertrude were talking so much. He was laying down on the grass in front of them as the Eye tried to tell him how to fold his paper to make origami. He had Asked the Eye what else he could do with his paper now that he didn't have any nice crayons, and it told him, but he'd never done origami before so he Asked the Eye how and now he was trying to make a frog. Apparently origami frogs could jump. Jon thought that sounded cool.

Jon wasn't really paying attention to what the grown ups were talking about, and he especially wasn't paying attention once he finally managed to get a frog that could jump. It was hard to make it jump on the grass, so he made it jump on the bench. He was getting pretty good at making it jump really far, when it jumped right over Ms. Gertrude and onto Ms. Agnes.

It immediately burst into flames.

"Oh." said Jon. "Whoops. Sorry Ms. Agnes!"

Ms. Agnes looked a little surprised, then she composed herself really fast. "Do not worry Jon. I think perhaps you may call that...a surprise snack."

Jon grinned really big and set to making more frogs.

 

 

Why was this park so big. Wasn't London crowded enough without insisting on such huge sprawling green nothing taking up valuable real estate? Jonah was jogging and felt like he was getting nowhere. Jonathan was in the hands of Gertrude Robinson and Agnes Montague. Gertrude, who would do anything to stop a Ritual, and Agnes, who could burn anything until not even the ashes remained. Jonah sped up.

 

 

"Hey I have a Question but I won't Ask it like a Question-Question."

"Does he do this every time?"

"Yes, Jonathan can force people to answer any question he asks. He calls it 'rude', and I'm inclined to agree with him."

"Useful."

"Of that I have no doubt."

"Ms. Agnes I want to Ask a Question but I promise I won't Ask-ask. Ms. Agnes. Ms. Agnes. Ms. Agneeeeeeees."

"You may proceed Jon."

"So you can burn anything and you can't really stop from accidentally burning things but you're still wearing clothes and sitting on things and walking on things and they're not getting burned."

"Ah. I believe my powers burn that which is loved or valued, but I make things I touch that are not cared for hot as well. I do not wear synthetic fibers. Too much melting."

"So you don't care about your clothes and nobody cares about chairs but if you put on something super loved like someone's super special outfit or sat on their gran's favorite chair it would burn."

"Yes."

"I suppose people would always burn because everyone's got someone."

"Hm. Everyone I have touched has burned. I think the gentlest I have been able to manage was a boy who had almost no one."

"Oh yeah, you kissed him on the cheek in the Spider House. That house is weird. I wanna Know what's going on there because there's so many weird things around it but I don't want the Spiders to get me, even if it's burned all the way down."

"..."

"Yes, he does that. We haven't the foggiest how, nor where he pulls it from. I have extensive experience with how the Eye feels, and when Jonathan does this little act I can't feel a thing. It's as though he already Knows the information."

"Hey! Stop talking about me like I'm not here. It's rude." Jon glared. Ms. Agnes laughed. It was really short, and not the prettiest sound, but Jon thought it was nice. Like a crackly fire. Ms. Gertrude seemed like she thought so too. Ms. Agnes didn't have a face that seemed to laugh much. So Jon supposed it was ok, even if she was laughing at him.

"Now I would ask you a question Jon."

"Yes, Ms. Agnes?"

"Do you truly not mind not being able to fulfill your Destiny?"

Jon thought really hard. "I think...I think a part of me would have really liked it. But I don't think that part of me was me originally. I'm not mad. Even though I can't See all I want to See, that's ok. Because there's lots of things in this world that are better than what They want the world to be."

"I wouldn't know." said Agnes softly. "There has never been a me that was not a part of the Devouring Flame."

Jon launched a frog at her face.

"Nu-uh! That's not true Ms. Agnes."

"What?" said Agnes, bewildered for perhaps the first time.

"..." paused Jon, as his brain looped the last words and unscrambled them. "Oh. I'm sorry, I thought you said there was no part of you that wasn't the Devouring Flame. My brain mixed up your words. Sorry."

And he busily sat to making another frog as he went on. "There's lots of parts of you that aren't the Desolation at all. So I thought you said a Lie. But you really said you had been born with a little piece of the Desolation attached to you, and that's probably True. But you're not only the Desolation, and you're not even like the Distortion. The Distortion takes full people and merges them directly with itself, so they think they're actually a...a limb of it. But you're not like that."

"And what am I?" asked Agnes, intrigued. Gertrude's eyes were as piercing as Agnes' as they both stared at Jon busily making a little paper frog.

"You're....hmm, it's hard to find the words. You're like a candle lit from a bonfire. Yeah it was started by the same fire, but it's not the same fire at all. It's fueled by different things. And yeah, if you tipped over a candle it could light a house on fire just like the bonfire could. But it's not the same fire all connected. I dunno, does that make sense? I'm not good with all this..." and here he waved a small hand, "poetry stuff."

Jonathan finished his frog. "I'm gonna name him, and give him a story, and play with him a little bit before I launch him at you Ms. Agnes. So I'll love him more. And then he'll be tastier. Ok bye!"

And then he ran off to make his little frog jump up a nearby tree trunk.

 

 

Jonah was getting looks from the joggers around him. It was probably his wing tipped shoes. Really the whole ensemble, but runners always noticed shoes first. It didn't matter, because he wasn't here to impress them and he was lapping them anyways.

 

 

When Jon came back with Sir François The Third The Fantastic Frog, Agnes and Gertrude were sitting in silence. But it wasn't like their earlier silences, that were kinda tense a little bit sad. This was just a comfy silence of people who ran out of things to say but didn't really mind. Which was good because Jon had another Question. But first, the important things.

"Ms. Gertrude, Ms. Gertrude!"

"Yes Jonathan?"

"This is Sir François The Third The Fantastic Frog." said Jon solemnly. "He's the best jumper in the whole wide world. He can jump over really big roots. And he likes eating dragonflies best of all because he's a Knight and it's a Knight's job to slay dragons. You gotta hold him and tell him you love him."

Ms. Gertrude accepted Sir François The Third The Fantastic Frog in her outstretched palm and said with absolutely no inflection "I love him."

"No Ms. Gertrude! You gotta mean it."

"I love him." There was only a mild difference in her tone.

"Ok now launch him at Ms. Agnes. You launch him by pressing on his butt. You don't have to worry about aiming because he's the best jumper I've ever made."

"Well Ms. Agnes?" said Ms. Gertrude with a raised eyebrow. "Are you ready to receive this Knight?"

"Present him to me." said Ms. Agnes, with all the solemnity of a Queen.

Ms. Gertrude launched Sir François The Third The Fantastic Frog kinda badly. But Jon didn't hold it against her, because she hadn't much practice launching frogs. Ms. Agnes still looked really regal as Sir François The Third The Fantastic Frog hit her on the arm and burst into flames.

Jon politely clapped.

 

 

These shoes were not designed for running. And he was sweating through his shirt. And worst of all, he was beginning to get a stitch in his side. What was the point of stealing young bodies if they couldn't handle a run through the park? Oh, he should never have let Jonathan throw him off his gym routine. There just was hardly any time for the treadmill now that Jonathan was in his life. Surely other parents didn't have to deal with this.

 

 

"Ok I have lots of Questions but I really want to Know this one." and without waiting for a response Jon launched into it. "So you and Ms. Gertrude are bonded, and I don't really understand what that means. My question is if you touched Ms. Gertrude would she burn and I said all of that without a question mark so if you don't Know that's ok."

Ms. Gertrude and Ms. Agnes looked thoughtful.

 

 

Jude Perry was somehow running towards him from the opposite direction. How? What?

"Bouchard you asshole run faster. They're this way, move it!"

The only explanation possible for Jude Perry running a literal ring around him was that wax people didn't get stitches in their sides.

 

 

They tried it on Gertrude's hair first, making sure Jonathan had his little fire extinguisher ready. There was nothing. Next they tried it on Gertrude's pinky toe, which Gertrude explained was the most expendable limb. When Agnes looked at her she grimly explained she had given the matter a great deal of thought considering some of the...sacrifices her line of work demanded.

There was no change.

Jonathan was gleefully doing what might generously be called a proto-tapdance when Agnes and Gertrude, wide eyed, burning gaze meeting piercing sight, held up their hands and interlocked their fingers.

 

Jon was scooped up from behind. Actually, no, that wasn't right. He replayed the moment in his brain. Someone had grabbed him under his arms, and hauled, and then they were rolling and now that someone was curled up around him like a little ball. And it was a man and he smelled really sweaty.

Oh, it was Mr. Magnus!

"I've got you I've got you I've got you" said Mr. Magnus into his hair. Jon let this pass because it was True. Mr. Magnus stood up and he hauled Jon up with him and he was clinging and smushing Jon right into his chest which was heaving.

Mr. Magnus was walking off without Jon's backpack and without letting Jon say goodbye to Ms. Agnes and that was rude and he tried to say something but Mr. Magnus just hauled him up higher until Jon's face was smushed into his neck which was really sweaty so it was gross. Jon wriggled and smushed his face all over Mr. Magnus' shoulder because that was at least covered in shirt.

They had gotten really far from Ms. Gertrude and Ms. Agnus and Jon's backpack before Mr. Magnus loosened his grip enough so Jon could unsmoosh his face but that just meant that Mr. Magnus stared at him with big round eyes and he said

"Jonathan Sims you are grounded. You are not leaving my side for a single moment."

Jon thought that was just a little bit dramatic.

Chapter Text

They didn't return to the house.

The house was just a shell anyways, easily discarded every twenty years with a new host body. His true stonghold would always be the Institute, and it would always be ready to house him for decades if need be. Jonah didn't say a word to any one on his way up to his overflowing office and the secret apartment behind it. If anyone wanted to comment, they could send an email to HR.

Jonathan, to his credit, seemed to understand that now was not the time to try Jonah's patience. He had tried to protest in the park, but by the time Jonah had him buckled into the car he had quieted. It had taken a long time for Jonah to get used to the straps involved in the car seat, but all the books had said they were for ages 4-8 and Jonathan was smaller than the typical 8 year old. He'd have to do this for at least another year, unless he could feed enough Avatars to Jonathan.

And wasn't that a dilemma, Jonah thought to himself as he emailed Ellen to pick up supplies for Jonathan. What was the proper feeding rate for Jonathan? How could he manage to keep the Archive fed but Jonathan out of harm's way? And why hadn't he already supplied his hideaway with things for Jonathan? It shouldn't have taken an emergency for him to realize.

When Ellen returned with supplies, Jonah gestured to her on where she should leave them. He refused to release Jonathan.

 

Jon was very quiet. He couldn't tell if Mr. Magnus was mad at him or not. Mr. Magnus's arms were shaking a little, they hadn't done that in the park. His hands had been a little shaky when he was driving, but his arms had only really begun shaking when they got into his office. Part of Jon was concerned when Mr. Magnus just flopped them both into his nice desk chair, even though Mr. Magnus was gross and the chair was too nice to sit in when you were gross, but a larger part of Jon told him to be quiet so he was. He didn't move his arms from around Mr. Magnus' neck, because he seemed to need it.

 

When Ellen was done with her infernal fussing, Jonah carried Jonathan over to the door and locked it. Then he sealed it with every esoteric symbol he knew, and activated his barriers for the windows. He went to the furthest wall and pressed the small brass Eye hidden behind a bookcase. The wall broke in twain to become a set of hinged doors, beyond which were the series of rooms he had been using for nearly two centuries now.

Gone was the impersonal furniture and tastefully bland decor. Here was everything throughout the centuries that he had desired to keep close and safe. No one (had they known what they were looking at) upon seeing his office and his Institute could claim that Jonah Magnus was a man who let things go easily. Not the bones of his former friends, not books that were better off burned, not even the rambling statements of the simply drunk.

It was a jumble, but there was a semblance of order. And if need be, Jonah Magnus could hold off the trials of the mundane and the esoteric world from within these walls.

 

Jon was impressed. He'd never Seen so much stuff in once place. He tried twisting every which way to get a good Look, but Mr. Magnus had him clamped tightly to his chest so he couldn't See everything he wanted to.

 

Jonathan was wriggling. Jonah's tired brain at first made him hold all the tighter in response, but then he pieced together what Jonathan wanted and he let out a chuckle. Of course the Eye's Child would want to investigate. And it was probably time he released him.

Just...just one more moment.

 

 

Jonah supposed it was best to take a shower. But how could he, when the moment he let go of Jonathan something could grab him? The Fears could reach anywhere. He had wards, but how useful were they really? They had stood the test when it came to other Avatars, but manifestations of the Dread Powers directly? How many Statements were lurking downstairs when something had leaked through the cracks in reality that were within someone's home?

It was a challenge to even let Jonathan go. Jonah feared the moment he put him down that the floor would transform into the Buried, or would swing open into the Distortion's hallways, or something would come lunging out of the darkness from under his desk.

No, that was a lie. What Jonah truly feared was more rooted in logic than that. The Fears were summoned to rich hunting ground. If there was something they could feed on, and luck forsook you, they would manifest. Jonathan had been within touching distance of the Messiah of the Fear that fed on the fear of loss. Of destruction of what was precious and unique. Who's to say Agnes' gaze didn't place a huge target on Jonathan? All of the Eye's servants were aware of him, beginning to calculate their own futures with him in mind. With the force of all those within Beholding's circle wishing to see Jonathan grow, how could he not have presented as a veritable feast for The Lightless Flame?

How could he keep Jonathan safe? He thought of the issue while scrubbing his hair in the shower. Truly, it was only the habits and skills of multiple lifetimes of splitting his attention that allowed him to keep track of what he was doing. On one side of the curtain, his physical body and rinsing off his impromptu cardio training. Within his mind, the complicated checks and balances of the esoteric and how best to ensure safety in an unsafe world. On the other side of the curtain, Jonathan growing bored with rearranging the toiletries. Jonah Looked out at him from behind the eyes of a L'Oréal Kids Shampoo and decided to finish his shower now before Jonathan took it into his head to do something that would be hard to clean up.

Jonah was glad he had renovated the shower to be in that modern style, so overlarge that one end contained a bench where towels and robes were stored. He toweled off and threw on a robe before pulling back the curtain and interrupting Jonathan from building the Leaning Tower of Pisa out of gaudy plastic packaging. Is this what children's supplies looked like these days? How heinously garish.

Jonathan surprised by immediately abandoning his tower and beginning to get ready to shower himself. At Jonah's raised eyebrows, Jonathan wrinkled his nose and gave him such a disgruntled and disappointed stare.

"You got sweat on me. It was gross."

Jonah had to concede the point. He put away the remnants of the no-longer-Leaning-but-Collapsed Tower, and helped Jonathan dry his hair when he came out in his own little robe. Once he finished toweling off Jonathan's hair, Jonathan put up his dressing gown's hood.

Why on earth did a dressing gown need a hood? Oh. Because Jonathan's green dressing gown was actually a frog dressing gown, and the hood made up the face. It had little flaps at the top for eyes. And there was Jonathan, small and swamped in green terrycloth, grinning up at him from under a too-big hood.

The Desolation was going to eat this child.

 

 

"So," said Gertrude, "I suppose that concludes our meeting." She stood up and brushed off her skirt.

Agnes stayed seated on the bench, as poised as any queen on a throne. "He seemed quite concerned about the Mother of Puppets."

"I should say so. I'm not sure if he knows something...or maybe if he can sense something coming. But it could be that he's been rattled by the discovery of one of the Web's agents within our walls."

"Oh? Would that be the one, how did he put it, he 'got to go away'?"

"Hm, yes. She threw herself out a window."

"Ah. So that's why that happened. We had wondered."

"Yes."

"Were you two close?"

"Yes."

Agnes nodded and pressed no further.

 

 

 

"So what's the news?" asked Sarah.

"Elias- Jonah, he ran in with Jon and they haven't left his office." said Fiona. "And apparently, he's been telling everyone I've been away on sick leave. For cancer! For heaven's sake they're probably going to send down a cake or something equally trite. No- I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. It's lovely that they would care, if I truly had gotten cancer. I'm just so- I'm so- He can't just-"

Michael placed a tentative hand on Fiona's shoulder. She reached back up and squeezed it gratefully.

 

 

"I shall want to speak with him again." declared Agnes.

"Oh? In need of a few more frogs?"

"He is not of the Flame, but still. A child of one of Them. There are not many of us. I shall speak with him again soon."

"Hm. Could be tricky, after that little display of Elias'."

"We have our ways."

"Oh do you now? Well then, if you have your ways."

"Do not mock me!" said Agnes, her eyes flashing. "We are of the Desolation, all resistance burns before us."

"And what do you intend to do once you have burned through all of Elias's resistance?" ask Gertrude, matching Agnes's stare.

"What do you think Archivist?" intruded Jude Perry. "What does a flame always do? Shall you listen to Agnes Montague go on about the raptures of destruction? Of seeing the little amount of fat your scrawny rat of a Messiah has run down from his baby cheeks to drip like tears and sizzle upon the scorched charred bones he will stand on? You are not worthy to even be in her presence, let alone to hear such hosannas to the Power that shall triumph alone. Will your Eye cry, do you think? When we burn down this world and all within it, will it finally weep futile boiling tears, for once moved beyond Watching?" and here Jude grinned, her voice stretching out the words like runny wax. "No, it won't, will it? The Eye would watch it's child boil away in the gutter and do nothing. There is nothing you or Elias Bouchard can do but Watch."

 

The meeting was concluded as Jude led Agnes away, glaring hatefully behind them at Gertrude all the while. Gertrude rolled her eyes at the theatrics and picked up Jonathan's backpack. She noted, as she always noted such telling details, that Agnes had said very little for herself.

 

 

Jonah Magnus tried to think Elias Bouchard thoughts. He really, truly did. He tried to think the kind of thoughts that would lead a man to getting dressed and scheduling a disciplinary meeting with the Archival staff over the phone as though it were truly a simple part of a normal business.

But Jonah could not think the kind of spreadsheet based banalities that would allow him to put the mask of Elias Bouchard back on. All he could think of were twisting horrors, a compendium of a lifetime of the macabre playing out in his memory, overlaying itself like a clinging film to the world around him.

"The year is 1996. Your name is Elias Bouchard. The year is 1996. It is a Tuesday. HR is trying to find new hires for Accounting. Your name is Elias Bouchard. It is 1996."

The year was 1901, and a child went missing after touching a strange landscape. The year is 1849, and a little girl finds herself surrounded by a family she doesn't recognize. The year is 1967, and a door sends a toddler to a different house filled with halls that don't make sense. The year is 1952, and a baby brother is thrown into a hessian bag before walking the tightrope across a roaring circus. The year is 1996, and an eight year boy old reads a book that eats people-

 

Hang it all. It's almost 5pm anyways. Much more professional to schedule something for tomorrow.

Jonah gave up the ghost and got them both into sleepware. Jon's had stripes all over his, which Elias supposed was more dignified than the other alternative set Ellen had brought that had some sort of...creature on it. He honestly wasn't sure what species he was looking at. But, it did have eyes. If something took Jonathan in the night, he'd be able to See through them and locate Jonathan even if they thought to use other measures to hide from the Eye's gaze. Jonah quickly had Jonathan switch shirts.

 

 

At first, Jon didn't mind the Staring. It was kinda nice, to always feel the Eye on him. It settled a deep part of him that he wasn't really conscious off, a part that Knew what it was to be Watched, and that being Watched was better than being alone. The part that craved attention from the teachers, from authority figures, from anyone bigger and stronger than Jon. At his old school, he didn't have a rubric for how to please his classmates. But he Knew how to make his teachers happy. He did, he Knew what needed to be done to get their attention in a good way. He just didn't do it all of the time. But he wanted to. He wanted to make grown ups happy. If no one on the playground would be his friend, maybe having the teacher like him and smile at him would be enough.

So he didn't mind the Staring, not really. This was supposed to be a punishment?

 

 

This was a punishment.

Grounding apparently meant no going outside. Not for days And Mr. Magnus wouldn't stop Staring at him. And Jon didn't realize how many things he would like to do that involved Mr. Magnus not Looking at him. Like scratching an itch. Or reading this book he found that said "Diary".

 

 

Jonah Magnus regretted every single second of this.

Jonathan wouldn't stop touching everything. He had been ever so polite with the pale facade of Jonah's house and Archives, it had lulled him into a false sense of security. Apparently his safe rooms looked like the world most interesting archeology playset. Was this what it would have been like? If he had died all those years ago, of a natural death, and his belongings were put into some museum for children? Watching as a ghost, unable to intervene when Jonathan decided that he, a boy who weighed the same as a terrier, should absolutely leverage all of his limited upper body strength in shifting a huge pile of items to get to a trunk underneath?

Hang on. He wasn't a ghost, and he should have very much intervened before Jonathan wedged himself in there.

 

 

Mr. Magnus hoisted him up from under what was sure to be a very interesting pile if only Jon could have sorted it and gotten down to the bottom trunk. Jon had never seen a trunk like that up close before. It looked like a treasure chest, and it wasn't fair that Mr. Magnus had scooped him before he could discover what was inside it. Jon wanted to Know.

He wiggled but Mr. Magnus didn't let him go. He huffed angrily but reluctantly settled back. He hoped it wouldn't last too long though. Hugging wasn't something he was used to. It was really nice at the beginning, but now that he discovered Mr. Magnus would pick him up every time he asked it had lost it's novelty in comparison to all the things in this room he hadn't Seen yet.

There was a stuffed parakeet! It was big, dead, and fluffy! And Jon Knew that because it hadn't been tucked away in a case or a cage and it had fallen on him!

You didn't get stuffed parakeets falling on you in just any old room, in Jon's experience.

 

 

Jonah had run out of ways to keep Jonathan out of trouble, short of sitting on him. How did such a small child have limbs strength and dexterity of a gigantic octopus? Jonathan had created a grand new game for himself. It was called "How violently can I contort myself before I get dropped?" Apparently one won said game by, shockingly, getting dropped. So far Jonah had managed to catch him midair every time, to Jonathan's delighted giggles, but it was only so much longer until his head cracked all over the floor like an egg. Jonah told Jonathan so, and Jonathan only howled in laughter.

Considering Jonah was currently holding him upside down by his leg, he would have thought Jonathan might have given the threat a little more credence. He called him a menace as he flipped Jonathan right-side up, beaming and for all the world not looking like someone who was eagerly throwing themselves to their ignoble demise. Were all children suicidal? He recalled all the jokes acquaintances made over the years about the struggle for trying to keep their child away from dangers, but he had thought they were simply remarking upon how very stupid their children were.

 

Eventually, as all things must, the game ended. Jonathan did not manage to throw himself into the floorboards, so Jonah counted it as a win. He did, however, force some kind of weird slow fall that left both of them on the ground. That surely was at least worth a point to Jonathan in this strange made up game.

 

 

Jon was bored. He hadn't been able to do anything.

 

 

How was Jonathan already fidgety. They had just finished what could only be described as roughhousing not twenty minutes ago. Wasn't he tired?

 

 

Jon was so bored. He didn't have anything to color and he wasn't allowed to touch the dead parakeet and he wasn't allowed to Look in the pirate treasure chest and he wasn't allowed to read the book called Diary.

No one had ever been more bored than him. He told Mr. Magnus so.

"Jonathan, you've had quite the day."

No he hasn't. He hasn't gotten to do anything but sit in this room with interesting stuff he wasn't allowed to touch.

"...be reasonable Jonathan. The hyperbole is a bit much."

"Nu-uh! This has been a boring day and I didn't even get to Look inside the trunk and that's the only interesting thing that's been interesting all day."

"What about your little excursion to the park? You still haven't told me what that was about."

"That was ages ago."

"...what?" Jonah was flabbergasted. He began to scour his memory, seeking holes that would indicate the Spiral's presence. Jonathan couldn't lie. How long had they been trapped in these rooms? He scooped Jonathan up from the floor and began investigating their supply levels, the clocks on the walls, his emails and his phone.

All of them pointed to no missed time at all.

That meant nothing. The Entities could warp what they wished.

 

Through the panic though, a nasty little suspicion began to grow. The more material gathered that matched the dates he sought, the more he recalled Jonathan's strange fit where he had sat motionless all day, believing himself to be in a 5 minute time out.

"Jonathan, how long would you say we've been in these rooms?"

"Uhh...I dunno."

"If you had to guess. Without Asking the Eye."

"Uhhhhhhhhh...12 hours."

"12 hours?"

"...5 hours?"

"12 hours or 5 hours?"

 

"Uhh, uuum, I dunno!" said Jon desperately. He hated not having the answers. Just tell him what was right and he'll say that!

"I want to Ask the Eye. The Eye would Know. I don't Know! I'm sorry, 'msrry..." he trailed off, feeling ashamed. His voice got very small and he clung a little bit tighter to Mr. Magnus in apology and he couldn't Look at him so he was glad that he was being carried because he could duck his head down into Mr. Magnus's shoulder and no one would see how red his face was.

"Shh, shh Jonathan. I've thought of a game we could play, if you'd like."

Jon lifted his head. "A game?"

 

Jon didn't think he liked this game. It was...ok, he guessed. But weird. He wasn't sure if he was doing it right.

The rules were really simple. Mr. Magnus would Look at a clock, say "start", and when he said "end" Jon had to guess how long it had been. He couldn't Ask the Eye, or peek a Look at the clocks. He could do whatever he wanted in the mean time. That part was ok. Except what he really wanted to do was unstack all the stuff covering the pirate chest. But Mr. Magnus wouldn't let him, even though the pile only wobbled a little.

Jon didn't like the feeling this game gave him. He didn't feel like he Knew things. It felt...it felt nerve wracking because what if he got it wrong? There wasn't anything bad in the game that would happen to him (that he knew of...) but even the idea of Mr. Magnus Knowing he was wrong about something as simple as time felt bad. He hoped he got all the answers correct.

 

Jonathan's answers were wildly over the board. Jonah hadn't changed the interval one bit. It was 5 minutes every time. If Jonathan didn't have anything in his hands, or a goal he was working towards with a tangible end, his answers would stretch wildly. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, it seemed as though Jonathan was simply guessing.

If Jonathan had something to do, his answers were more likely to be closer to the target. But closer didn't equal correct. One time he had said less than a minute!

What was the benefit to this timeless state?

Was the Archive intended to be dormant?

Was that why the Archive wouldn't grow without taking statements live off other Avatars?

Or could this be related to Simon's theory, that time worked differently for the Great Ones? Jonah had always assumed Simon's particular biases had led to that conclusion, but there was certainly plenty of evidence within the Archives to suggest They could manipulate time itself, not just the perception thereof.

Perhaps it would be safe to Ask just one Question. Or should he say, "question".

"Jonathan, how about we play a different game?"

"Uh, ok! How did I do with the last one?"

"You got 60 points."

Jon nodded. That sounded like a lot, but not too much. That was probably right.

"This game is a questions game. A finding game. I'm going to tell you some true things, and some false things. If you can tell me when I'm lying, you win."

"Ok!"

"Hmmm let's see, what to choose...I think we should go with an Eye theme because we're both Eyes. Does that sound fun to you?"

Jon nodded really fast. It made him happy when he heard Mr. Magnus talk about them both being Eyes. It was important. Mr. Magnus wouldn't let him go. He wouldn't leave. And...and if he did, if he...if something got him...Jon checked that thought. He didn't want to finish it, he had to focus on what Mr. Magnus was saying and it was a sad and bad thought anyways so it should just go away.

"Ok, here we go Jonathan! The Eye Knows where we are always."

"True!"

"Very good Jonathan! The Eye Knows what time it is, if you Ask it."

"Pfft, true!"

"Hah, think this is an easy game? We're just starting!" and here Jonah tweaked Jon's nose, like he remembered adults doing to him when he was small.

Jon thought that was a little odd, but Mr. Magnus kept talking so he didn't interrupt. He just rubbed at his nose.

"The Eye doesn't Know what time it is where the Eye is."

"Pffft duh, there isn't any such thing as Time where the Eye is!"

Jon grinned proudly, then immediately vomited.

 

 

 

The Assistants were getting drunk. Well, not so drunk that they would regret it in the morning. But drunk enough just to feel life was maybe just a funny old thing, instead of buckling under the weight of sober nihilism.

They had just reached the point of feeling sorry for themselves, and had almost reached the point of cheerful deliberate devil-may-care facades, when Gertrude Robinson dropped a backpack on the half of the booth Fiona was sitting in.

"See that this gets back to Jonathan."

"I'm sorry, what?" said Michael.

"Fiona is his assistant now, I assume she knows what to do with this. They left it at the park when Magnus ran for his life."

"I'm sorry, ran for his life?" said Sarah.

"Hm, yes, I assume so. I think he thought we were going to immolate young Jonathan in broad daylight in Hyde Park."

"And were you?" asked Fiona, entirely too calmly for the other Assistant's tastes.

"I certainly had no plans to. I can't say the same for Agnes, but if I had to guess, no. She seemed quite charmed by him. Be likely to kidnap him if we're not careful."

"I'm sorry, what?" said Michael again, with more feeling.

"What an awful lot of 'I'm sorries' from you two young people. Is that how people talk these days? Never thought I'd see the day when I'd take a phrase out of your playbook Fiona." said Gertrude dryly.

"Didn't plan on getting to be my age then Gertrude?" said Fiona, sipping her beer.

"After the first year? I was more concerned with just surviving to the next one." Gertrude laughed, not a full laugh, or a kind one, but it was there somewhere, dancing behind her even keeled tone.

"So, are we to expect an attack?" asked Fiona.

"Hm, yes. Yes I'd say so. I don't think Agnes wants any damage to Jonathan, at least initially, but she certainly is interested in getting her hands on him. I can't imagine the Cult of the Lightless Flame will be too circumspect in....collateral damage when they come for him."

"I assume the defenses from the first round are still in place?" said Fiona, as she finished her beer and stole Michael's refill that had just been placed on the table.

"Oh yes, and more besides. I really should show you all the clever things Eric and I were able to put together. Of course, Eric was only so useful after he married Mary."

Fiona snorted. "Oh yes, so much more useful once she told him everything that was going on. And to think of all the years you wasted keeping him the dark. Could have had that clever young man helping you right from the start, but no, secrets were important, weren't they?"

"Yes. They were." said Gertrude calmly. Calm in the way a red sky at morning looked to a sailor. "The more people who knew the truth, the more people who got involved in the whole business."

"Involved-" said Fiona, slamming her fist on the table.

"Yes, involved." interrupted Gertrude. "If I had never told Emma about the Powers, do you think she would have fallen to the Web? Hm? Do you think she would have ever gotten the idea to have theories and to experiment if she had simply stayed as a filing clerk? Managed to keep Eric away longer than Emma, but he was always a homebody. Stayed safe in the Archives, always fixating on the proper temperatures and acid free paper. Safe. You were a lost cause from the start, with Angus running his theories every where he went-"

"You keep his name out of your mouth. Angus was a good man."

"Was he though? At the end? Was he still even a man at all? I sometimes wonder."

Fiona grabbed the backpack, slung it over one shoulder, and threw money down onto the table. "And look where that precious ignorance got us all Gertrude. Poor Sarah lined up to be the next lamb on the chopping block once I got led astray, Michael kept in such a state so as to be a good sacrificial lamb to bleed out over the altar of your Ceaseless Vengance, me stuck bleating and buried in Hell itself, and Eric a vellum page in a book for all his fussing over acid-free paper."

"Wait- a book? Eric? Fiona, what are you saying."

"Oh, did Jon not tell you? He told everyone else. Perhaps he thought you already Knew. He assumes people care about where their Assistants end up." Fiona was spitting venom now, toe to toe with Gertrude, neither willing to give an inch.

"That's not fair Fiona. I've looked for Eric for years-"

"Don't you lie to me Gertrude Robinson. You've been looking for his corpse on whatever battleground you've made for yourself this time."

 

Michael wished Fiona hadn't stolen his refill. He could really use another drink. Sarah, the absolute eagle eyed angel, saw his predicament and made the sign for "another round" to the barkeep.

 

 

Jon was back into his froggy dressing gown, after getting clean for the second time that day. He had a nauseous blank look on his face as Mr. Magnus let him sip real ginger ale and eat some saltines in bed. The bed was way too big for Jon, and he was propped up with lots of fluffy pillows. Why were there so many pillows? Ugh, he didn't even want to think any questions. No more questions. The time for questions was over. Question time had become no-such-thing-as-time. End of question time.

 

Jonah Magnus was kicking himself. Of course that was too much. And he only had a few Statements suitable for Jonathan in the safe rooms. Why hadn't he updated them? No clothes or supplies or toys packed away for Jonathan, and he didn't even have a spare bed. At the very least he should have more Statements than the paltry handful he still had! He'd thought to pack away taxidermy but not a child-sized toothbrush.

The problem was that he hadn't been thinking. He had been running ever since the day Jonathan burrowed into his life. He was better than this. He had to be better than this. Jonathan's very life was at stake. And with his life, Jonah's immortality.

 

"Would you like to read a Story?"

Jonathan gave a truly pitiful little nod. Oh, his head must be hurting so badly. Should Jonah dim the lights, or would that make it harder for Jonathan to read?

 

 

The barkeep wasn't giving them any actual glasses. Sarah was sure he was afraid if he sent over any glass over to the table Gertrude or Fiona would get it in someone's eyes. This wasn't the first time Sarah had drunk a beer out of a plastic cup, but it was the first time she had paid for the privilege. The usual cause was Sarah pouring her own crap beer into her own terrible thick plastic cups and lamenting the small salary of an Archive Assistant. Come to think of it, this job should come with hazard pay.

She and Michael began talks of unionizing while Gertrude and Fiona wrapped up their antagonism by channeling it towards Mary. Whoever this Mary was, Fiona and Gertrude were not fans. And were going to break into her house.

Michael suggested they petition for free legal council to be added as an official part of their employment package. Sarah nodded and wrote that down on a napkin. They certainly broke enough laws in this job.

 

 

If Jonah hadn't been so wretchedly overeager, he could have given Jonathan Smirke's statement and discussed his thoughts. What he wouldn't give to Know what Jon thought about the Powers and balance- but now that he reflected a little longer, perhaps he shouldn't give over Smirke's statement. Perhaps even reading about those theories would cause Jonathan to try to think too hard about Them directly.

Jonah packed for an apocalypse, but he wasn't sure he envisioned quite so much potential vomit when he chose his supplies.

For now, von Closen's statement would do.

 

 

von Closen's statement was a mistake.

 

"And it was so mean of you to steal those book and it wasn't poor Mr. Albrecht's fault and you should have given the books back because he was an Archivist even though he didn't Know it yet and you already had an Archive begun in England and now Germany doesn't get one at all and just because it made you more powerful doesn't mean it was right it was just greedy and you still had decades before you were even going to try a Ritual so you didn't even need them and-"

 

When Jonathan finished reading Jonah the riot act, which was allowed purely because Jonathan looked so very frail, he began to drift off to sleep. As his eyelids fluttered shut he murmured just low enough for Jonah to hear "There's something...something important I'm forgetting. Something...something about a family. The Eye...or Mr. Albrecht...something...something very important."

Jonah nearly shook him awake right then. He dithered, and ultimately decided on letting Jonathan sleep. Purely to prevent more vomit of course, or perhaps one of those terrible fainting spells. If Jonathan didn't remember come morning time he surely would regret this, but for now. For now it was probably best to let Jonathan sleep.

It occurred to Jonah that if an emergency happened, and Jonathan was pushed so far not even Statements would help, that locked within these safe rooms he was the only other Avatar Jonathan could possibly feed on.

Hm.

Perhaps it would be safer to call in an ally. Someone who Jonathan could feed off of in emergency (not that Jonah planned on giving a warning), and who could be trusted upon for his discretion. Someone who wouldn't be able to hurt Jonathan under Jonah's watchful Eye. Someone who was easy to manipulate, if not so direct in his thoughts it verged on simple-mindedness. Someone who was coming by his office anyways and it wouldn't be suspicious to anyone watching when he wasn't seen leaving.

Hell, he should probably stop prevaricating to himself. Peter was bringing in the Tundra soon.

 

He went over to his computer, and added "Call Peter" under "Parent-Teacher Conference" and "Disciplinary Meeting For Archival Assistants" on his Schedule+

Chapter Text

Jonah made up the couch into a makeshift bed, taking extra linens and pillows with him. Throughout the night, he kept waking up. He should, for dignity's sake, claim it was due to the couch. And it wouldn't even be so much of a lie, truly. The problem was the couch was lower than the bed, so Jonah had to sit up to check if Jonathan was still sleeping soundly. And once he was sitting up, he was awake enough that surely he had to go over and check that it truly was Jonathan.

After all, the Stranger had always been at war with the Eye. Jonah had been disappointed in Angus's early demise, and had truly expected more from the man. But at least what killed him wore his face badly enough that it was obvious. "The Grinning Wheel" indeed. The thing didn't look remotely human, and was quite ghastly. When Gertrude had set it on fire she really had been doing a service for the overall aesthetics of I-Do-Not-Know-You. Honestly weren't they supposed to be the theatrical group? But he was getting off topic. The Stranger could replace those you Knew with their own pale imitations, and they did not have the common courtesy to knock before entering.

Jonah did not recall how many times he ended up getting up that night. Part way through Jonathan did his usual starfish impression and tossed half the pillows off of the bed, which had startled Jonah awake. He had replaced the pillows gently, only to discover when he next awoke that Jonathan was clinging tightly to one of them like a small koala. Did 8 year olds still use stuffed toys? Should he get Jonathan some?

Perhaps he could get one with large eyes.

Oh, Jonah no longer needed to peer through false Eyes to See what he wanted to, but it was so much easier. Like reading a short word in your mother tongue. Whereas Looking where there were no Eyes at all was like reading a full novel in a language you learned in university. Doable, but tedious. So much easier to Look through false Eyes, or baring that, the real Eyes within your victim's skull. It had been the very first manifestation of his powers, the personalized gifts from his god. How he had exulted when it had first appeared! And after the Panopticon, how paltry it seemed.

And yet, in an emergency, speed was of the essence. He should take Jonathan shopping. So many things Fiona had bought him were completely respectable solid color staples, when children's clothing had so many plentiful options for optics. Clearly this was something that needed his personal attention. Come to think of it, didn't he have an Eye pin somewhere in here? He could affix it to Jonathan's shirts in the meantime.

No, he shouldn't get up and try finding it in the dark. He'd wake Jonathan. And a cranky 8 year old was the last thing he needed right now.

Jonah Magnus stared up at the ceiling from his uncomfortable couch-nest until he couldn't take it any more. He checked on Jonathan again. This time would be the last time. Right after he was sure Jonathan was all right, he'd go to sleep.

 

 

Come morning, Jonah Magnus looked like he had been hit by a truck. He glared at the dark circles under his eyes in the mirror as Jonathan bounced around, exploring everything he didn't get the chance to last night instead of sitting down and eating breakfast.

How on earth he was going to get through all the meetings he had planned today, he had no idea.

He drank strong coffee while Jonathan made some no doubt expensive crashing sounds in the background.

After checking that Jonathan wasn't hurt, he corralled him into eating some breakfast and getting cleaned up. He didn't even look at the mess, resolving to deal with it later as he daubed some concealer under his eyes. Truly Queen Victoria had no idea what she was talking about when she declared cosmetics "vulgar", as far as Jonah was concerned they were a secret weapon in the art of appearing unassailable.

He sent an email over to Fiona, asking her to arrive at his office promptly when she got in to work. Thankfully The Gifted Young Minds Program was a modern research facility and also had email, as Jonah was able to quickly send over a notification that Jonathan was "out sick" and would not be able to come to school today. He further went on to confirm that the Parent-Teacher conference would be occurring at the all ready agreed upon time. Email, what a wonderful invention. So simple and effective! Much better than a telegram, or paying a street urchin to run over a handwritten message. The wonders of the modern age.

 

 

Fiona was surprised to find she had an email at all. Oh yes, the Institute had gotten them all an email lookup (number? phrase? address? box?) back in '93, or was it '92, but Fiona never had much truck with it. There wasn't much that needed to be dealt with via email in the Archives. They had always gotten along just fine without the ugly, complicated looking thing. All the blue-on-white was almost unreadable to her old eyes.

The point was, she had never gotten into the habit of checking her email once in her life. So the terse phone call from Elias at 9:15 demanding she come up to his office was a surprise.

 

 

Jonah Magnus wore the body of Elias Bouchard almost impeccably seated behind the great oak desk. Fiona thought to herself that there was something off, but she couldn't quite place it.

"Ah, Fiona. Good morning."

"Good morning Mr...?"

"Bouchard will still do nicely, I think. But please, call me Elias. Now, in regards to your new duties, I know it can be difficult to adjust to new processes but here at the Magnus Institute we strive to modernize where we can. You will be expected to check your email each morning. There may be some other small areas of technological advancement we may need to discuss as we come across, but email is-"

As "Elias" rambled on about "upcoming processes" and "adjustments", Fiona found herself irritably hoping he would get to the point. It was all so painfully mundane. When she had been working with Agnus, they had assumed that Richard Mendelssohn had been a figurehead. Oh, he certainly had spoken openly about the Dread Powers and had sprightly debates with Angus regarding his theories of reclassification, but he had been so painfully mundane they had all assumed he simply knew so much because of how much information the Institute had gathered over the years. They had thought him normal, if not a bit useless.

Finding out he was secretly a body-snatching occultist from the 1800s made the whole paper pushing persona seem so utterly ludicrous. Why bother to stay alive throughout the centuries if all you were going to do was organize files? Why kill multiple people and assume their lives only to live them in the most boring possible manner? For heaven's sake the man wasn't even rich. He still had to beg for donations to keep the Institute funded. At least invest in some stocks! Or take over someone set to inherit millions- do something other than sit behind the exact same desk for decades.

"I'm sorry Fiona, that I'm not wealthy enough for your exacting standards. I'm sure it must be disappointing that I actually work for a living. Sometimes, alas, paperwork actually is necessary." interrupted Elias mildly.

Fiona started, yanked out of her musings with horror.

"Yes I can in fact read your mind. And yes, the entire time. I know everything about you Fiona Law. Every secret, every embarrassing moment you'd rather forget, and everything you'd rather other people didn't find out. Now, regarding your newest duties, you will be watching over Jonathan today while I go offsite for a meeting. And if any harm comes to him you will learn what else I can do."

Fiona paled and stuttered, and whatever she was desperately clutching about to say was interrupted by the bookshelf on the rear wall of the office swinging open to reveal Jonathan, yawning and eating a bagel.

 

 

Elias, (and he was Elias now, having managed to get into the proper mentality) felt his eye twitch. He wished Jonathan would not insist on revealing all of his secrets, but he supposed that's what happens when you put the button for the secret door at a height an eight year old can reach.

"Good morning Ms. Fiona! I thought I heard you through the secret door! Isn't it great?" said Jonathan brightly. He moseyed over and grabbed Fiona's hand, leading her over to the entrance to the private and completely secret secure bunker no one had ever seen before before Elias intercepted.

"Jonathan, those rooms are private."

"Oh." said Jonathan, blinking. He ate some more of his bagel and thought. "Can I at least show Ms. Fiona the parrot?"

"Don't talk with your mouth full." said Elias automatically. "No, you may not take anything outside of the rooms."

"Not anything?" said Jonathan, horrified. "Not even my backpack?"

"You may take your backpack out," conceded Elias "but you won't be needing it today as you will not be going to school. I've already let them know."

"Not going to school? Why?" said Jonathan, too tired and befuddled to remember not to compel.

"Because I said so." answered Elias, thankful that old chestnut was technically the truth and thus an easy reply. "And what did we say about compelling, hm?"

"Oh! M'sorry, I didn't mean to." said Jonathan, shamefaced.

"Apology accepted. Now, go collect anything of yours you would like to have for today. You'll be staying up here with Fiona."

Jonathan wandered back and as the bookshelf swung closed behind him Elias turned to Fiona and hissed with deadly seriousness "If you tell anyone at all about those rooms, I will Know. And I will make sure you will regret it until your dying day. Do we understand each other?"

Fiona nodded, pale.

 

 

It was weird that he wasn't going to school. But at least he got to spend the whole day with his very own Assistant, which was better than when the teacher would call on him in class and say "Very good!" when he Knew the answer. Ms. Fiona said he was "very good" the whole time.

And Mr. Magnus was there too, because they were still in his office. He had a desk brought up just for Jon, and Jon got to work in his office and feel very important. First he worked on his homework, even though he usually hated homework, because you did work in an office, and homework was work. Normally he hated homework because home wasn't school and it felt out-of-place to be thinking about school at home, or home at school. It was disorganized. And also sometimes Jon forgot he even had any homework at all, and then he'd get in trouble the next day which was bad. So even if he did his homework he'd worry he'd forgotten something and then the stress would make him anxious. And sometimes he'd forget he was stressed about forgetting homework, but he'd still feel stress even though he'd forgotten the reason he felt stressed at all which just wasn't fair.

But today he got all of his homework done for sure because he asked his Assistant to double check that he hadn't forgotten anything at all and Ms. Fiona said he hadn't so that was great.

 

 

Fiona was still terrified of Elias, but as the day wore on it became hard to entirely fear a man who was clearly struggling not to coo over a child who was mimicking him. Jon was acting like a tiny fussy little manager, organizing "files" and studiously focusing on math worksheets with the same look of serious concentration as filing tax forms. Fiona struggled not to laugh when Jon quite straight faced asked her to go over his "schedule" and "appointments" and make sure his "forms" were correct, when what he really meant was "did I do all of my homework, and did I do it right?"

Out of the corner of her eye she watched Elias' shoulders shake a bit when Jon began tapping his papers on the desk to straighten them out while thanking her for her diligence.

 

 

Homework always felt like it took forever so it was a surprise when it was over and there was still lots of the day left. Jon didn't really Know what to do next.

He didn't have his crayons, and he didn't want to make paper frogs, and there wasn't enough space to run around, and there weren't enough hiding spots to play hide-and-seek, and there was nothing new to See. He floundered a bit.

He opened up the floor to suggestions.

"Why don't you color a bit hm? I have some nice printer paper right here." offered Mr. Magnus from his very big desk.

"I don't have my crayons anymore." said Jon honestly. " Ms. Agnes ate them."

"Ate them?" said Mr. Magnus, startled.

"Yup! She burned all of the best ones and then I felt sad and she ate my sadness." said Jon, digging about for his crayons to show Mr. Magnus all the ugly colors left.

Mr. Magnus didn't like that.

 

 

"Unbelievable! It's just utterly unbelievable Peter, that now I have to do everything myself." ranted Elias on his mobile. "I swear Peter, you would not believe how difficult it is to find competent help these days."

Elias paused and listened as he looked over different children-sized beds for sale in the bustling store. "Oh that's all very well and good for you to say, you can feed your patron by throwing the incompetent ones away."

He made his selection and switched his mobile to the other ear impatiently while juggling his other purchases. "I am not overly attached to my employees."

The store manager who was assisting him outfit an entire child's bedroom in one go graciously dodged his gesticulating arms while thinking hungrily of the commission they would receive.

"No. No I am not going to let you- No! Look, I have some very promising leads for you from some statement givers. Very promising. Throw one of them. Yes, one. Of course I have more you glutton, but if you throw all of them away on the first day you'll run off back to your boat tomorrow. I know you, you reprobate.

Fine. Fine yes, we'll make a wager. Stakes to be decided upon when you arrive."

He checked out and paid for delivery, but waved off the additional offer of set up service to the manager's disappointment.

"And I have so many things to do today. I have to meet with Jonathan's teachers- No. No you cannot throw them into the Lonely too. You have been deprived this trip, haven't you? Mmhmm, poor Peter. Yes, it's so very sad. Your life is so very hard."

Elias walked back out to his car, carrying the bags and bags of art supplies, toys, and clothing covered in animals with big eyes.

 

 

Instead of coloring, Jon and Ms. Fiona were writing letters to Jon's gran. Ms. Fiona explained she and Gran wrote each other letters every week.

"We tried the whole telephone conversations, but truth be told, your grandmother isn't much of a talker." whispered Ms. Fiona conspiratorially. "She has a lot more to say if she can take her time thinking about it, in my opinion."

Jon had to agree this was so. On his own phone conversations he was doing most of the talking to his gran. Telling her about his school, and the Eye, and Stories, and what kind of dogs he saw that day, and what he ate for breakfast, and all sorts of important things. He didn't really realize it until Ms. Fiona said something, but he was doing all of the talking and Gran hardly said a word.

Jon wasn't sure what to write in a letter though. It seemed terribly serious, a whole letter. Words he could just make more of, but putting it down onto paper? It made them seem so much bigger because they took so much time to write. But at the same time they seemed so much smaller because when he re-read what he had written it didn't seem like very much even though it took the whole page.

He remembered not to Ask but instead politely work his way around the question of if Ms. Fiona and his gran still talked on the phone, because he was worried he should have been writing letters this whole time instead if his gran didn't really like it. Ms. Fiona had laughed and said they did, but she did most of the talking. Letters every week, she joked, at least gave his gran a few words uninterrupted.

Jon felt better, and kept working on his letter when Ms. Gertrude came in and interrupted.

 

 

Fiona was startled when Gertrude entered. Partly because of the forceful way she threw open the door, but also because she had expected Gertrude to have at least waited a day before boldly announcing "We move on Pinhole Books today."

"I'm afraid I can't today Gertrude." said Fiona, gesturing helplessly at Jon.

Gertrude looked coldly back.

"I don't see the problem. Leave him here."

Fiona was just about to start finding a way to delicately explain in front of Jon that Elias would possibly non-metaphorically have her head when Gertrude continued.

"One of my contacts says the child is out again. Mary is alone. We have the required supplies. I need you to be the distraction- unless you'd rather I ask Michael?"

"Can't this wait until Elias returns?" begged Fiona.

"Well, where is he? And when will he return?" begrudgingly asked Gertrude.

"He's at a parent-teacher conference-" began Fiona.

"He's at a what?" said Gertrude, face blank.

 

Elias straightened his jacket and tugged at his cuffs as he exited the car. He tried to think of what he had prepared for this meeting. Blackmail on the Head of the organization, the teacher's darkest fear, a selection of times the teacher failed from the perspective of some of her students- he hoped he wouldn't have to use any of them of course, but it always helped to be prepared.

He casually rifled through the mind of a passing teacher and Beheld a scene from earlier that morning.

In the teachers lounge of the Gifted Young Minds Program, staff gathered around fairly horrible coffee and muttering began around all the Good-Morning's about the trials and tribulations that were sure to come with the day.

"Ugh, did you hear what Diana's got to deal with today?"

"What?"

"Some kid in her class had a 2 second ordeal with 'bullying' and now the parents are coming for her head."

"Oh, that's too bad for her."

"So mum's on the warpath?"

"No, I don't think so. Now that I think about it, actually it's a single dad? The one who works for that freaky place. You know, the ghost stories place. How they ever afforded this place is beyond me. Probably a research grant."

"Hah, probably made his kid a super-genius with a haunted book."

"Yeah! Or he's possessed by some spoooky mathematician ghost."

"Haha, oh you're so bad."

"Hey, what are you three talking about?"

"Spooky ghost parent teacher conference Diana's going to have to have today."

"Oh I know who you're talking about! The total helicopter parent?"

"Is he?"

"Absolutely, you know Diana. She keeps a tight ship. The kid barely has a mean word said to him before daddy-dearest calls up. Downright spooky how fast he does it too."

"You think they've got telepathy over at Spook Stories Incorporated?"

"Hah! Wouldn't be surprised."

"I don't know, I think it's kinda sweet. He's pretty young isn't he? Probably a first time dad. I wonder what happened to the mum...poor dear."

"He's not that young, I don't know, early 30s?"

"But if the kid's in Diana's class that had to mean he had him in his early 20s max, right? I think you should lay off him. Who knows what kind of story's going on."

"Oh come off it. That's no excuse for going off the deep end. You're just defending him because you saw him pick up the kid in a suit that one time."

"What!"

 

Well. That was...enlightening. What on earth was a "helicopter-parent"?

 

 

Jon had remembered something, but then Ms. Fiona kept talking and he forgot it again. It was so frustrating to have your thoughts be interrupted. Sometimes that would happen, where he'd forget something for a while and then remember it out of nowhere, or he'd suddenly come to the answer of a problem he didn't even Know he'd been working on. But when that thought got interrupted it would just fade away. He hated that feeling. He hated it so much.

Ms. Fiona and Ms. Gertrude were talking about plans and strategies and timing, so Jon pushed his stack of paper and pencil towards Ms. Fiona in case they needed to use it and wandered away from his desk. It was so...so annoying. It had been on the tip of his tongue. What was it?

As he meandered, Ms. Fiona stopped paying so much attention to him which was fine. He wanted to be alone to think anyways. It was so hard to think though while they were both talking. He was sure he could remember his thoughts if he just got somewhere quiet. He wanted to go back to the secret rooms, but those were secret. So instead, he slipped out the front door and into the hallway.

He didn't really recognize where his feet were taking him. That happened sometimes, when he was very deep in thought. He just kept moving and then he'd come out of his head to find he didn't recognize where he was. He tried to explain it to his gran, but she said that was no excuse for wandering off. But lots of times he couldn't think unless he was moving! It was a conundrum.

As he walked, he accidentally bumped into someone a little bigger than him.

"Oof!" said Jon, falling back a little.

"Oh!" said the stranger, stumbling with books in his arms. The stranger was a boy a few years older than him, with strawberry blond hair and a black t-shirt.

Once they both righted themselves, Jon offered up an apology.

"I'm sorry for walking into you, I hope you're all right."

"That's all right, I wasn't looking where I was going either. Are you ok?"

"I'm fine! I just...I think I'm lost actually. I don't think I was supposed to walk this far. Actually I think I was supposed to stay in my room." Jon said this bewilderedly, as though he couldn't comprehend why he wasn't in the Magnus Institute that moment.

"Oh, well, um. Do you want to come back to mine? We have a phone you could use?"

"Sure!" said Jon, cheerfully and trustingly. "I'm Jon, Jon Sims."

"I'm Gerard. I live in Morden, it's kinda far. But the tube makes it pretty fast! Should only be a 30 minute tube ride, and then my house is 20 minutes walk."

"That sounds fine." said Jon, who had no understanding of time.

 

 

Fiona Law was certain she was going to be murdered. No one could find Jon anywhere and she was going to be murdered as soon as her eldritch murder-prone boss returned. She hadn't fainted but she wasn't standing near any ledges just in case.

There were three possibilities. One, Jon had gone back into the rooms she shouldn't know about and couldn't open because she couldn't find the damn secret lever. Two, he was somewhere of his own choosing. Three, he had been taken by something.

"Well you can put that out of your mind." said Gertrude, when Fiona offered her thoughts (sans option one). "I would have Known if anything had entered the Institute. He's wandered off and he'll return. That's what children do, isn't it? Wander? Explore? He probably is playing with a marker somewhere." she said dismissively.

"How can you be so cold!" cried Fiona. "He's a child and-"

"And a monster." Gertrude interrupted. "Make no mistake about it Fiona Law. That is not a true child. That is a foul thing leeching off of a child's soul. Young Jonathan has done very well to hold onto himself so far, but do not ever forget he has been chosen by the Eye. You think me cold? I am nothing compared to the others who have been taken by these Entities and have lost themselves. If Jonathan isn't playing, then he's feeding. And if you think Jonah Magnus is monstrous then consider that Jonathan is even more powerful. These things grant power based off how much terror and pain has been wrought in their name. Jonathan is powerful enough you'd almost think he ended the whole world. Jonah Magnus is already planing on using him for such a purpose. Fiona, given the opportunity, he will doom all of humanity."

Fiona was aghast. Gertrude continued in a low voice.

"I am sorry that Jonathan is what he is. He seems like he was a sweet child. He should have grown into a good man. But he is no longer what he seems to be. There are monsters in this world, Fiona, that you could sit across from and have a perfectly lovely cup of tea with. They would be polite, and cordial, and seem like the most normal person in the whole world. And they would destroy you without a shred of remorse. They wouldn't even remember your name, nor care what happened to you so long as it fed their god. Frankly Fiona, if he stayed lost it would be better for all of us."

Fiona shakily sat down. She knew Gertrude was telling the truth- but damn her, it didn't make it easier. Jon- Jonathan. Whatever he was, he still looked like a child. He still talked like a child. He still wrote his grandmother in the clumsy hand of a child. Oh god- if Jonathan was kidnapped, or, or died, how would she ever tell Elizabeth? But if he was as strong as Gertrude said, then surely- surely. Surely he'd be safe? Surely he would be fine with or without her searching.

To hell with it. He looked like a child, talked like a child, and acted like a child. If he had done something horrible in the past, it was what it was. If he was doing something horrible in the present, it was her job as his minder and as an adult to stop it. If he was going to do something horrible in the future, it had better be after she died or she'd give his ear such a twist see if she wouldn't.

She stood up, brushed her skirts, and went out to look for Jonathan.

Gertrude cast her eyes upwards in exasperation and went to fetch Sarah and Michael. Her plan would need some tweaking, but any plan without flexibility was a plan doomed to failure.

 

 

Mr. Roberts, head of The Gifted Young Minds Program, was the very picture of an elderly academic, from his balding white head to his fussy goatee and all the way down to the tweed patches on his jacket. He was used to overly-concerned parents in his line of work, and expected this to be a tedious but routine trial.

"Mr. Bouchard, as you know all of our students are subject to various research tests centering around youth high IQ. Most of our students take University courses for the second half of the day, and we are truly here for early socialization intervention. We are deeply sorry that Jonathan feels bullied-"

"Not feels." interrupted Elias mildly. "Was."

"Well, as you can see Jonathan is a sensitive child. So-"

"Yes, he is. Which is why it is particularly heinous your staff allowed him to be bullied." smiled Elias, without it touching his eyes.

"Ms. Diana intervened-"

"And she would not have had to, had my request that Asher be placed far away from Jonathan."

"And we have complied to the best of our ability. Asher and Jonathan are no longer seated next to each other, nor do they interact with each other during schoolwork."

"And yet, despite your 'best ability', we are still here." said Elias, mild as milk, folding his hands in front of him.

"Look, to be perfectly candid with you Mr. Bouchard, an important part of socialization is learning how to deal with negative behaviors in peers."

"So your allowing Jonathan to be bullied is truly for his character?" said Elias with even-keeled outrage. "Am I supposed to thank you now that you haven't taught basic manners to that other child as part of his 'socialization'?"

"Well it's more complex than that Mr. Bouchard- I, I mean to say, I" and here Elias began to get a very nasty look in his eyes indeed. Mr. Roberts began to feel as though a great many people were watching him from behind, from just out of sight. He suddenly felt as nervous as he had been defending his thesis all those decades ago- no, no it was worse. Something wasn’t right. He began to feel a kind of panicked rage.

"Some students, they're not properly equipt- there are...look it's not our fault he's got ADD!"

Elais gave a slow blink. "I'm sorry?"

"Oh my goodness, please forget you heard that. It's not my place to give away Asher's medical condition. It's just- it's an additional challenge containing his impulses."

"Well, be that as it may," began Elias. "whatever 'Ay Dee Dee' is it hardly is my concern. Either you-"

Elias caught the whisper of "helicopter-parent" from the mind across him, and he decided to go rummaging for it's exact definition. That's when the meeting devolved into something much less polite.

 

 

Gerard and Jon talked on the tube, while adults grumpily shifted in the crowded car and completely failed to notice two children without supervision.

"Having a bookshop must be pretty cool. If I had a bookshop I'd read everything I wanted and then sell it for more books, so I'd never run out of things to read."

"Yeah, that sounds pretty great. Mum doesn't do that though. Mum only wants really rare books, I think the shop is just an excuse to let everyone know she's buying."

"Oh, like the books you have right now."

"Kinda. These are old volumes that are sorta rare, but there's nothing special about them. I couldn't find the real books I was after, so I'm bringing these home so hopefully Mum can make a profit to buy one of the books she really wants."

"That's still kinda cool!"

"Thanks, I'm not real good at finding the books mum wants yet. I've found a few though! She gets really happy when I bring them home. Means she didn't have to pay out the nose for it. She always says 'If I were as rich as Lietner-"

"Oh! The Library guy!"

"You know him?" asked Gerard incredulously.

"Not personally or anything," admitted Jon "one of his books...I..." and here he tried not to cry as he whispered "it had a Spider in it. And then George took the book from me and the Spider ate George."

"Woah." said Gerard. He didn't know what else to say. After some time he asked "Do you still have it?"

"No, I burned it." said Jon, a little satisfaction washing away the lump in his throat that always arose from thinking about Mr. Spider and George.

"Burned it?" yelped Gerard.

"Yeah. It was no good, it was evil and it ate people and I took it home and I burned it right in the sink. And then I put the ashes in a box and I taped it all up and I gave it to the Magnus Institute so even if the Spider is a teeny tiny bit alive it can't get out." said Jon viciously, a triumphant light in his eyes.

And Gerard, Gerard who brought back all these terrible books that did terrible things, who secretly quietly wished his Mum looked at him the way she looked at the books, who was beginning to think there might not be a book that made Mum happy enough that he never had to touch another one again, looked at Jon and from his heart of hearts whispered "Cool."

 

 

Mary Keay was not a stupid woman. She did not survive this long in the world not to be able to spot a trap. So when two agents of that ivory tower that purported to be an "Institute" walked in to her shop, she was on alert. The little dogs never strayed far without their handler, so where was Gertrude-

 

 

Diana had been called in to the Head of The Gifted Young Minds Program expecting the usual routine. Talk with the parents after her boss had intervened and begun smoothing things out, explain what happened in the classroom and what would happen going forward, discuss the child's unique needs and strategize collaboratively on what needed to be done going forward.

What she found instead was her boss silently weeping in front of a perfectly calm and poised man in a suit she assumed was Jon's father. Needless to say, she was a bit thrown for a loop. She clutched the file folder she carried expressly for this meeting tighter in her hands.

"Ah, the famed Ms. Diana. Please, have a seat." said Mr. Bouchard, cordially as though this was his own office.

"Excuse me, is this a bad time?" she said nervously in the doorway. Her boss did not respond.

"Not at all." replied Mr. Bouchard graciously. "I've been looking forward to discussing Jonathan's progress with you."

She cautiously entered the room as though it were a lions den and not a perfectly normal office. "He's...a delight to have in class?" she tremulously offered.

"I'm delighted to hear it." said Mr. Bouchard. "Excuse us, Mr. Roberts. Would you please step outside for just a moment."

Mr. Roberts shakily gathered himself and all but fled the room, not stopping once to even glance at Diana.

"Please, have a seat." he gestured broadly, encompassing both the empty chair across from him and next to him. Diana felt odd at the thought of sitting in her boss' chair, but she felt equally uncomfortable as sitting in the chair so close to Mr. Bouchard. She compromised by pulling the empty chair next to Mr. Bouchard far enough out and towards the door that it felt as though there was enough breathing room between her and those strangely focused eyes.

"Now, I would like to begin by saying I appreciate the quick manner you pulled the two boys apart. My Jonathan is quite taken with you, and truly enjoys your tutelage. I was just explaining to Mr. Roberts how removing him from your class would be unacceptable considering what an excellent influence you are on him."

"Thank you?" offered Diana.

"You will be pleased to know that Asher will no longer be in your class. So, I think it would be best if we spent our time together discussing your perceptions of Jonathan. I am eager to hear your thoughts on his development." said Mr. Bouchard, talking as though he was in charge of the program. Diana wasn't sure what was going on, but she was unsettled enough to let it stand.

"Well, Jon is, as I said, a pleasure to have in class. He's astonishingly intelligent, as you know."

Mr. Bouchard nodded, smiling genially.

Diana took a breathe and continued. "As you know," (damn how many times had she already said "as you know"? Something about Mr. Bouchard was rattling her down to her bones.) "um, as you know," (damn it) "all of our students here receive the benefit of multiple psychological exams. Normally such exams would require your child's GP to call for them, but to ensure clean data on the development of high IQ children we run a full gamut of exams for all of our students regardless if they exhibit symptoms."

Mr. Bouchard's eyes gleamed with sudden avarice. "I would very much appreciate being sent the results of those exams at your earliest convenience."

"Um, yes, yes of course Mr. Bouchard. I can get those sent over to you. Jon hasn't been in our program long enough for some of the more long-term studies but-"

"Of course, whatever data you have presently will be perfectly sufficient so long as I am kept updated." interrupted Mr. Bouchard, with what seemed to be unusual eagerness.

"Well, I'm not in charge of that but I'll make a note of it for the researchers. Um, some of their research is more specialized and is focusing on their own larger works so you may not be able to access it until it's published. I'm not really sure how that side of things works? But at any rate, um. Jon is kind, and knows quite a lot. He's very sweet but um."

She shook herself, and mentally splashed her face in some cold water.

"Look, Mr. Bouchard, may I be candid?"

"By all means." said Mr. Bouchard graciously.

"We aren't doctors. We're a research facility. So I can't give any diagnosis, but Jon's results...he's definitely got something going on. Can you tell me more about his background?"

Mr. Bouchard gave what sounded like a very abridged backstory. He adopted Jon from his overwhelmed grandmother, after a series of police calls.

Diana nodded. "That would make sense for some of these results. Here let me show you," she offered up some files from the folder she had brought with her and Mr. Bouchard took them with barely disguised rapidity.

"I would say at a very minimum he's got terrible anxiety. Some children are just anxious, sometimes it's a result of trauma. Look, here, on the next page you can see where I've marked when he's had panic attacks in class. I can usually spot one brewing and redirect, but sometimes he's being set off by some stimulus I can't identify. His coping mechanism seems to be drawing eyes. Honestly it's um...it's getting be a bit much? But if it calms him down- just here, look."

She drew out some samples of artwork. They had all been drawn by different children, and it was easy to see which one was Jon's. In the corner of each page, children had drawn a bright cheerful sun sometimes with sunglasses and a smile. Jon had drawn a huge staring eye.

Every single one of the stick figures was crying, except one that was bigger. The faces were abstract of course, but Diana couldn't help but be unsettled by how cheerful that single figure was, surrounded by all that misery.

She was honestly a little creeped out by how fond Mr. Bouchard's smile grew when he saw it. He asked if he could keep it. What a terribly weird man.

 

 

Elias kept reading through the gathered data and paused. He jabbed his finger down at "possible ADHD III”.

“Could you explain more about this? I’m afraid I don’t recognize the term.”

“Oh! Of course, ADHD is what they’re calling ADD now and-“

"Are you suggesting" said Elias, going very still and cold, "that Jonathan has anything in common with that...other child?"

"Oh, um, you already know about-"

"Before Mr. Roberts had what I can only assume is an attack of guilt for letting a child in his care come to harm, yes. He did disclose Asher's condition. I hardly think it funny to suggest Jonathan is anything like that boy. I cannot possibly think of two dissimilar children."

Diana privately took a moment to think that it didn't sound at all like her boss to let a diagnosis slip. But he was clearly having...some kind of day.

"I don't mean to be gilb Mr. Bouchard. I- have you heard of the DSM? The latest update came out about a year, year and half ago. We used to think all the children with ADD were like Asher- were um, exhibiting very specific kinds of symptoms. Impulsiveness, inability to sit still, tendency to interrupt and be loud. But, and this is really cutting edge stuff, we now know there are three subsets of ADD, and they can include quieter children. It's not really my specialty, but I sat in on a lecture about it, and I really think Jonathan could benefit from seeing a GP.

We have resources for parents as well! It can be challenging raising a child so far from the usual range. Um, there's group meetings? With a psychologist? For the parents, to help discuss tips and tricks towards raising a non-nuerotypical child. It’s a little broad, and isn’t um, exclusively focused on ADD, but a lot of our parents seems to benefit from it.”

 

Elias supposed it wasn't their fault. Without all of the data of Jonathan's background, of course the staff of The Gifted Young Minds program was going to draw false conclusions. They couldn't possibly account for Jonathan being an Archive. Still, it was intriguing that there may be workarounds to behaviors that mimicked these symptoms. And after all, he was, above all else, a being driven towards acquiring knowledge. He took a pamphlet for the support group and returned to the Institute.

He was rather shocked to discover absolutely none of the Archival staff, including the Archive, were present.

 

 

Jon was having lots of fun. Once he and Gerard figured out they both Knew lots of things about Them, it was like they could finally speak freely without grown-ups mucking about or worrying about kids who didn't Know. The conversation wandered all over the place, not just about Them, but also about books and which stories were the best and Gerard had never read Howl's Moving Castle and that was terrible and also they talked about ice cream flavors and important things like which kind of bug was the best except Gerard didn't want to talk about bugs because it reminded him of the Corruption which Jon thought was fair because the Corruption was gross so they talked about kinds of cats instead and neither of them remembered any kind of cat breed names off the top of their heads but Gerard liked cats that had big ears and Jon liked very fat cats and they both agreed those were equally important kind of cats.

 

"Um, you could call me Gerry, if you want." said Gerard, not looking anywhere near Jon at all. "That's what I- that's what my friends call me."

"Oh, ok! Gerry it is then." said Jon, smiling and completely unaware of how Gerry's whole body changed when he said it. "Are we friends then?"

"If you want to be." said Gerry, still not looking directly at Jon, but staring off with a put upon air of coolness.

"I would like that very much! You're my first friend I've made since I've moved to London that hasn't been a grown-up." said Jon, staring directly at Gerry earnestly. Had Gerry been anyone else, he might have been off-put by how intensely Jon was staring. Everyone else at school was. And everyone at school already had their friend groups, and they didn’t want to make room for the kid who kept staring. But he couldn't help it! He didn't realize he was doing it too much until it was too late. It was weird though, before Mr. Spider, he used to not like looking people in the eyes. Now it was as though he couldn't stop.

 

 

Gerry didn't mind Jon's staring. Gerry hadn't made a friend in his whole life. Mum had always kept him at home, away from other children. And when he was big enough, she had sent him off to find Books. Lietners. They, they were horrible but they made mum so happy. He wanted to be good for mum. He did- but, maybe. Maybe mum didn't want to be good for him. She barely ever even looked at him unless he had a Lietner.

But Jon looked at him. Jon looked at him properly, and was interested in everything he had to say. He listened. Mum never listened. And even if he was a little kid, he wasn't a baby. He burned a Lietner. He could have sold it, or run from it, or gotten eaten by it, but he didn't. He did the thing that Gerry thought was probably the smartest thing of all. He burned it. Gerry thought that was the coolest thing he'd ever heard of. Jon was like the singers in that CD he found in a charity shop. Jon didn't care about the System. Jon burned it all the way to the ground.

They were getting pretty close to his house now. Gerry selfishly felt like maybe they should take the long way around and keep walking.

(Gerry didn't even think about a grown up being worried about Jon being missing. His mum never worried when he was gone.)

"Would you like to get some candy? My treat. We could pop by the corner shop if you want." He jingled the change in his pocket he had left over from buying the books mum probably wouldn't even look at twice. It just...he just felt better when he came back home with books. At least his mum looked at him for a moment before she realized they were the boring kind.

 

 

They ate their candy while Gerry explained all sorts of things about music to Jon, who didn't hear anything unless it was on the radio in the car. Jon thought Gerry Knew lots of really really cool things.

While they were eating they heard an explosion.

Jon Looked to Gerry, who looked back at him and asked if he wanted to go walk down by the river.

If Gerry wasn't worried, Jon wasn't worried either. He happily said yes.

 

Gerry was worried.

That explosion sounded like it came from nearby, and the only place he could think of would be the shop. Mum had all sorts of people stop by, and some that weren't people at all. They could get very nasty. He didn't want Jon anywhere near that.

They could come back later. If it wasn't the shop, the mum wasn't expecting him at a certain time. And if it was the shop, well, mum could protect herself. She was his mum. Nobody could beat her.

 

 

Fiona Law was trying very hard not to think about what was actually physically happening to her. She understood intellectually that those who interacted with the Dread Powers, those who served them, could be...changed. Could be granted powers. After decades of service, she supposed it might be her due.

She preferred to think of whatever instinct that was now moving her was completely natural. It wasn't, but she preferred all the same.

She remembered when Jacqueline had her first granddaughter stay the night, and how she joked she had gained a "grandmum-sense" for where she was at all times. It would be just her luck, Fiona figured, that instead of getting something like the ability to See if danger was coming or to Know lottery numbers she ended up with a supernatural homing beacon to an eight year old.

But why Morden of all places?

It was purely the paranoia talking that made her worry this had something to do with Mary. Yes, Mary's bookshop was in Morden. But Mary had no way of...of luring Jon over, nor would there be any reason why she would want to.

So when the explosion happened, in a blind startled panic she reached deep into the place in her soul the Eye now lived in and heaved.

 

 

Elias first tried Looking through the Eye pin on Jonathan's shirt, but all he Saw was wide slow moving river. He tried Looking through Fiona's eyes but all he Saw were trees and a dirt trail. He tried Looking through Sarah's eyes and that's when he was nearly blinded by a huge explosion.

As he reeled backwards deep within the Archives, rubbing at his own eyes, he tripped over a wastebasket and landed hard on his arse.

From this undignified position he frantically beseeched the Eye to let him Know where Jonathan was. It took a lot of energy to call upon Beholding, but there was no time.

 

A short while later, Elias Bouchard was arrested after having run down to the tube station and vaulting over the ticket gates. Fare-jumping came with the option of an on-the-spot fine or potential criminal record if prosecuted. Elias Bouchard was recorded as having thrown his wallet at the officer's face, and subsequently getting arrested for assaulting an officer.

 

 

"Jonathan Sims what do you think you are doing?" bellowed Fiona from across the river, loud enough to make the leaves quake.

"Uh oh" said Jon guiltily. He had heard that tone before and it never led to anything good.

"Do we need to run?" said Gerry.

Wow, Gerry would even run from adults, even ones that used that voice. He really was like that band he'd been telling Jon about, the ones that didn't care what anybody thought and fought the Authority. (The Power?) Gerry was absolutely the coolest person Jon had ever ever met in his life.

"Um, no, that's just my Assistant. I got her out of the Buried from the Coffin so she's my Assistant and not Gertrude's even if she was Gertrude's Assistant first. Ms. Fiona is really nice, it's just- I think she's mad I wandered off." he said shamefaced, shoes prodding at the dirt a little.

 

His mum had told him about the Buried. She said it swallowed you whole and never ever let you go. She said nobody had ever gotten out. And Jon had gone in there? To rescue someone? And did? Jon was the absolute coolest.

 

"-just wandering off like that, giving everyone such a scare, what were you thinking-"

Oh god it was like his gran but worse. He hoped it didn't hurt Gerry's opinion of him. It was hard to look cool when your Assistant had you by the ear and was lecturing loud enough to scare the birds.

Oh no. Oh no oh no oh no. Now she was picking him up and hugging him. This was the worst. She was embarrassing him in front of Gerry!

 

Gerry could tell Jon was embarrassed. But honestly? He was a little jealous. It was like watching a family on TV. Gerry didn't really think people did that sort of thing.

 

"And just who is this? Are you running around with strangers?"

"Noooooo! He's not a Stranger!" protested Jon, wriggling in Fiona's arms. Heavens he was so light! "He's my friend. His name is Gerry!"

The little blond boy who looked to be around Jon's age stuck out one of his hands at a stiff awkward angle for her to shake. "Gerard Keay, ma'm."

"Keay? As in, Mary Keay?"

"That's right ma'm, my mother ma'm." said Gerry, nervously.

"You wouldn't happen to be our Eric's boy, would you?"

Gerry didn't know much about his father. He knew his name, and that he'd worked for the Magnus Institute, and that his mother had taken him away from it. He swallowed nervously. "Y-yes?"

Suddenly Fiona felt herself go deaf(er) in one ear as Jon gave a shout.

"THAT'S WHAT I FORGOT!"

 

 

The fight was still ongoing. Mary was a fierce opponent, and they had already triggered some her previously set defenses.

Sarah had dragged Michael to safety, both of them bleeding as Gertrude and Mary fought on inside. The sirens wailed as a firetruck and ambulance arrived on the scene. Michael was begging and pleading with the firemen to stay out, that they didn't know what they were getting into, that it wasn't safe. The EMTs patched both Sarah and Michael up as the firemen began asking them questions. Was it a bomb? Was there a gas leak?

There wasn't any actual fire raging, which Sarah didn't know whether to attribute to some sort of book-protecting spell Mary had over her shop, or if the explosion was caused by something unrelated to fire. As Sarah and Michael tried to answer the swarming questions, the earth rumbled and shook as small but terribly deep pits began to open up on the sidewalk. The firemen jumped back and began ordering an evacuation of the buildings surrounding Pinhole Books, which wasn't entirely necessary as the neighbors had come down to see what was going on.

Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah spotted a trio of figures approaching the bookshop. It couldn't be- but it was. Fiona and Jon and another child she didn't recognize were walking towards them.

 

"Hi Ms. Sarah! Hi Mr. Michael!" said Jon cheerfully. Sarah was grateful the EMT's had already bandaged their wounds so Jon would be spared the sight of their blood.

"Hi little man." said Michael, dizzily. "Two little men? Am I concussed or are there two little men before me?"

Jon said, a touch too loudly for Michael's pounding head, "This is Gerry! This is his house, and I remembered what I was trying to remember earlier!"

"Good, good." said Michael, clearly not having absorbed anything Jon had actually said. Sarah figured he sounded concussed. “She-Who-Wields-The-Books is battling within."

"Ok, well I'm not gonna fight her. I'm just going to go in for a bit."

"That's very good." said Michael, again not processing a thing. Sarah and Fiona both tried to lunge for Jon but he had already zipped past the threshold of the crumbling potholes dotting the Buried-stricken sidewalk.

 

 

Jon wandered through the overflowing bookshelves, hearing fighting going on. But it was ok because it was Gertrude and Gertrude could fight anything and win so he wasn't worried. Deep, deep down in him, this felt almost familiar. The sounds of struggle and strife and suffering right before him, but he walked untouched through it all.

He felt like he should be saying something, but he didn't Know what. So instead he began to sing a little song to himself. It had nonsense words and a nonsense tune, but it made him feel better.

"La la la laa laa, dee dee deee, doo doo dooo dum badadumbumbum" went Jon, the top of his head just visible as he meandered about the register.

Gertrude and Mary slowly both noticed him, and their battle ground to a stuttering halt in their mutual confusion. Both heads turned as they tracked Jon's wandering with poorly-disguised bewilderment.

Jon started to wander through the maze of shelving towards a small side room and by unspoken agreement both women began cautiously stalking after him, neither willing to expose their back to the other.

Aha! There it was. Jon had to scramble up on top of an old worn chair, its fabric ripped and fraying under his light up sneakers, but he found it. The Catalogue of the Trapped Dead. It felt gross.

"Hey! You little brat, that's mine-" hissed Mary, starting forward. Gertrude used this momentary advantage and struck a blow. By what means Jon had no idea, as he had already completely disregarded them in favor of flipping through the pages to find the one he was Looking for. Ah, there it was. He used his finger as a bookmark so he wouldn't lose his place as he went hunting for the kitchen. On his way through the doorway he slipped a little on the blood coating the floor, but otherwise his path was clear.

He was quite happy to get to the kitchen because touching the pages made of skin was a gross feeling. He was pretty sure this one still had hairs on it. Ew. He had to rummage through a few drawers before he found what he was searching for. It was so interesting how different everyone's kitchens were. Nobody used the drawers the same way. Jon turned that thought over in his head as he hoisted himself up onto the countertop by the sink, which was no easy task with a book, scissors, and a lighter in his hand.

He poked his tongue out a little in concentration as he carefully cut the page of Eric Delano free from the book. Mary shrieked from the kitchen doorway as he dropped the rest of the book into the sink and lit it on fire.

"Don't worry Mrs. Keay!" he said, hopping down from the countertop. "You wouldn't have liked it in there. You wouldn't have liked it at all. It can't be used for real immortality."

Gertrude appeared from behind Mary and tackled her to the floor. Jon delicately stepped around them humming his same nonsense tune and left the same way he came.

 

Michael, Sarah, and Gerry waited with bated breath listening to the sounds of vicious fighting within. As Jon emerged from the front door, they let out a collective sigh.

"Oh thank god he got out." said Fiona fervently. Just as she spoke, Pinhole Books erupted in an upwards explosion, the Desolation reaching towards the Vast. Jon had sensed it was coming so he didn’t even look back.

"Of course he got out." said Gerry, reverently. "He's cool."

 

 

 

Of all the things Peter Lukas was expecting when he docked, it was not a call from a spitting-mad Elias telling him to come bail him out.

 

 

"Well." said Sarah, looking at the charred remains of Pinhole Books that still somehow rang with the sounds of battle. "What now?"

There was no reply from her companions as the firefighters began spraying water from a great distance away.

"Um." said Gerry, who now really, really didn't want to go home. His mum would be so mad, he thought glumly, looking out at the ruined bookshop. She was still fighting, and she would win, because she was mum. But he really really didn't want to be around her after she did.

Jon gasped. "You can stay with us! It'll be a sleepover." he said with relish. "I've never had a sleepover before!"

Gerry hadn't either, but he'd seen them on TV. It sounded more fun than the last time he'd tried to run away, when he'd ended up kipping on a park bench for a long and bitterly cold night. He was pretty sure his bedroom was ruined anyhow, not that he'd had much stuff. But it had been his.

"I'm sorry, who's this?" said Sarah.

"A little dude! Little man and little dude, dynamic duo. Dudo. Doo-dood-duuuo."

"Michael, why don't you lay back down, alright?"

"This is Gerry!" said Jon brightly, grabbing on to Gerry's hand. "Can he sleep over Ms. Fiona please? Please please pleeeease?"

It really wasn't Fiona's call to make. But this had been a hell of a day. And the battle still sounded like it was raging.

"Um, it's ok if I can't. I know some good places to sleep around here. Parks where they don't kick you out." began Gerry.

Fiona felt her eye twitch. "Gerry dear, did you know I knew your father?"

"Oh, uh, really?" said Gerry, uncertain.

"Oh yes. We were good friends. Tell you what, how about you and Jon go back to the Institute with Sarah and Michael. I'm going to go have a chat with your mother." saying this, Fiona Law rolled up the sleeves on her cardigan and strode into the smoldering building.

Chapter Text

Elias paced in the tiny room he had been unceremoniously shoved in and anxiously Beheld what was going on. Oh how he was going to have words with the Chief Superintendent when next they spoke. He paced impatiently in the tiny room in which he had been stowed and wished viciously that anyone would come near enough to him for him to "talk" to, but no, these petty little tyrants were getting their kicks where they could. He supposed it amused them to leave him here to rot. He was going to strangle Peter if he didn't hurry up. He cast out his mind to See what was keeping the PCs away.

Oh. Oh no.

They had figured out who he was from his wallet, and now they were all trying to get ahold of their superiors to figure out how to proceed and now he was at the mercy of bureaucracy.

As he paced about like a dog in a too-small kennel, he Beheld Jonathan delightedly opening up the shopping he had stowed away in his office and graciously sharing it with some sort of hooligan child. Who was that boy? His hair was too long, as though no one had taken him to a barber in months. Not long enough to look like a conscious choice, not short enough to show anyone had been taking care. And there was Jonathan happily passing this...this feral street child all these new art supplies. Where the hell was any of his staff?

Sarah, off in the corner trying to keep Michael from falling asleep. Fiona and Gertrude...oh now surely the police wouldn't fall for that.

 

 

If it wasn't the oldest trick in the book, it was surely on the first page thought Fiona as she and Gertrude put on their act.

"Oh officers, it was terrible!" she sniffed into a borrowed handkerchief. "We had just popped in to take a look around for a new book, and then, and then-"

"There there m'am, take your time." said an officer gently.

"It's a disgrace!" said Gertrude, putting her arms around Fiona. "What do our taxes pay for? My mother-in-law has a condition! She could have died from shock! She could have died from falling rubble! You need to make sure this is taken care of- I don't care who I have to contact, the papers will hear of this!"

 

 

 

Gerry felt very professional as he snapped another marker out of the black plastic...book? kit? He didn't know what it was called but it had everything. Watercolors, markers, colored pencils, crayons, some kind of oily crayon that he didn't know the name of but went on real well- this kit even had little scissors! He'd never had a new kit before, with markers that didn't squeak when you tried to use them.

He'd seen kits like this in the charity shops, missing pieces and dented, but this one was new. His mum had let him buy some supplies, sometimes, when there was a little leftover money, because art kept him quiet and occupied. Sometimes she even hung his art up on the fridge, so Gerry knew he was doing it right.

Jon looked at his work like he'd hang it on the moon.

Gerry felt very clever and smart as he showed Jon some tricks on how to blend colors. He knew he didn't have long before his mum came back to get him, but he wished he could stay here forever.

 

 

 

In the rubble of Pinhole Books, a hand twitched clutched around a book no living thing had any business touching. Something that had once been human began to move under the rubble.

 

 

 

Elias leaned back against the wall, and with nothing better to do he Watched over Jon. Apparently the bigger child was the spawn of Mary Keay, and the Archival staff had outright attacked Mary in retribution. How had he missed this? Ugh, it was terribly frustrating have such little time to himself these days. He was sure he must have missed other large developments while his attention was otherwise engaged.

Speaking of large developments when was Peter going to finish moving his colossal carcass off of his damn boat. He was wearing that stupid grin too, the one he always wore when he thought of some terrible joke. Honestly that man. Infuriating. And could he at least have the sense to leave his damn hat behind- no, there it was, perched jauntily on his head. Honestly.

He was probably staying out of the Lonely on purpose just to taunt him. Peter's default state was to wander about via the Lonely, and on particularly rough days it took him effort to actually be visible. But there he was, swanning about in the open.

Was he stopping for coffee?

Elias could have screamed. Black coffee could be found anywhere- hell, he'd drown Peter in the stuff back at the Institute if he wanted.

Peter took a big sip with that stupid I-know-I'm-annoying-someone face. He'd found it endearing when directed at anyone other than himself. Now he found it anything but. Elias did not Know all the exact repercussions of what exactly happened to Avatars after Jonathan fed on them, but now he hoped it would be painful.

Probably better for his blood pressure if he Watched Jonathan instead. Wait- was that a flap of skin laying on the floor?

Peter needed to hurry the hell up he needed to get out of this cell.

 

 

Jon let Mr. Michael color with them, because Ms. Sarah said she needed help making sure he didn't go to sleep. She had read somewhere that you shouldn't go right to sleep after a concussion, and Jon figured as an adult she would know. She kept trying to get him to drink more water, but Jon privately thought she was probably giving him too much. He remembered the feeling of how frustrating it was when someone kept giving him drinks when he was trying to focus. Sarah kept giving Mr. Michael glasses of water. Jon felt it should be in a mug. Interrupting drinks were annoying but they were better when they were in a mug.

Mr. Michael wasn't as good as Gerry at art. He kept drawing lots of circles and he couldn't get any perspective right. All the angels were wrong. All the circles overlapped, and he used the ugliest colors to do it. Jon didn't understand how that could possibly help his headache.

Ms. Sarah was just as nice as Jon remembered her to be. She asked Gerry lots of questions, but that was still ok because she hadn't Asked one yet so she still her. Stuff like what did he like to eat, how often he ate, and what his favorite colors were. Gerry said his favorite color was black, and Jon Looked nervously at Ms. Sarah's dark, dark shadow. He hoped the Dark didn't get Gerry. Gerry was too good at art to never See what he made. The Dark wasn't for cool people like Gerry. The Dark was for babies. Jon scribbled harder at the paper until it tore, suddenly feeling vicious. The Dark couldn't have Gerry.

 

 

Elias couldn’t believe the cops believed it. The paramedics had watched Fiona enter the building after the fighting started why had the police talked to these brazen hussies first!

“A-n-g-e-l-a” spelled Fiona helpfully. “Last name G-r-a-h-m, and my daughter-in-law’s name is Daphne spelled D-”

 

 

 

Her thoughts were wildly scattered, but she hoped she held it together on the outside for all of the boys sake. Sarah didn’t know where Elias was, and out of everything else that had happened that day, that concerned her most. What was he doing? Was he putting together something terrible? Was he getting the police? Sarah was pretty sure she had actually just helped pull off a hit.

Mary had seemed like a totally normal woman until the fighting began. Sarah still wasn’t entirely sure what she had seen, but that hadn’t been a normal fight.

None of this was normal. When she’d applied to this job, she’d been fresh out of Uni. Chipper and cheerful and anxious to please, worried she wasn’t doing something right and no one would tell her until it was too late. She had thought her biggest worry was getting fired for misfiling something. Hah!

At least the boys were keeping each other occupied and Michael awake. To distract herself from the rising delayed panic, she obsessively tried to figure out where the hell Gerry was going to sleep. When Elias returned he was going to do something awful to them, she just knew it. There was no way in hell Gerry could return to whoever Mary was, if she was even alive? God were Gertrude and Fiona alive?

She had thought it best to take everyone away before the police showed up even though the paramedics and firefighters had tried to make them stay. She hoped they would put down her cheerful rudeness down to shock. It was rude to leave before everything was settled, wasn’t it? She had been cheery about it though- oh why was she worried about what strangers thought about her as long as they didn’t realize she was part of the reason the shop exploded in the first place?

Every time she got nervous she only got more polite, which she supposed wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just once she wished she could tell people to back off in a properly angry voice.

Her thoughts were flying around in her head, refusing to settle. But they kept wheeling around the question of where Gerry was going to go. Should she call someone? Some official service? Would they put together that- oh my god had they kidnapped a child? Was she going to get arrested for kidnapping?

Is that where Elias was? With the police?

 

 

The police still hadn't decided what to do with him. Apparently none of them could contact the person in charge of “dealing” with all responses regarding the Magnus Institute, which was no surprise as he was currently having a very scandalous tryst outside of his office. Ugh. Elias may have been an Avatar of viewing that which was wished to be unseen, but he wished he hadn’t Looked at that particular moment. Watching an old man and a very underpaid lady attempt positions better suited towards acrobats than an out-of-shape pale Englishman in a tacky hotel room was hardly what he was interested in Seeing. Elias paced around his small cell and sent the heavy press of the Eye after Peter, who only whistled cheerfully in the sad deserted dive bar in which he was drinking his black coffee for one.

 

 

 

Fiona leaned against the sturdy tree trunk and watched the slow moving river surrounded by gently waving white flowers as she took a long drag from her cigarette and felt the blood drip down her temple. Now that they had successfully avoided the police, the adrenaline began to fade and she found herself in a mood that made her feel almost as though she were floating alongside her own body.

"You know, I really feel it should have been a longer time since I've lied to the cops." she remarked to Gertrude. "Feels like so much has happened since that statement- oh when was it now? The one with the bugs?

"You'll have to elaborate. We've got an entire Entity devoted to 'bugs' and our line of work isn't exactly clean." said Gertrude, from the other side of the tree.

"Oh you know the one. The one with that collector and the pins? And they all started crawling out of the cases?" said Fiona, tilting her head back up to the sky as ash floated in the breeze. "I don't think Emma intended to get quite so close to that one as she did."

"Oh?" said Gertrude, distractedly while bandaging her own wounds with strips of torn cardigan. Perhaps they should have stayed around for the paramedics to patch them up properly, but she thought it best to leave before they began talking with the constables.

"You know, I'm not sure I can go back to the Institute now. I mean, with Jon wandering away on my watch. Elias threatened to out me if any harm came to Jon." said Fiona, feeling disconnected from it all.

"Oh did he now." said Gertrude, a frozen stillness settling over her face.

"You know, when I first heard Elias was the head I thought to myself 'Richard better not have left any blackmail notes on me.' Always was such a fiend for it- still is I suppose."

"Hah, I suppose he is. Both of them being Magnus goes a long way towards explaining things."

"Hope he rots in hell."

"Surprised you still believe in hell."

"Well if it doesn't exist in the hereafter, in our line of work we can at least say it exists on earth."

"You're not wrong. Dekker still believes in all of it, if you can credit it."

"Hm."

"How exactly did Magnus phrase it?"

"Oh," and here Fiona waved her hand about, "you know, 'I Know All Of Your Secrets' etc etc, 'Everything you'd rather other people not find out. Very theatrical about it. Did you know he could read minds?"

"Well if I didn't before, I do now. Seeing what my own powers are trying to push me towards, it's not an entire surprise. You know, I think I've figured out why so many of us at the Institute were closeted. I had assumed it was because 'Richard' was one of us- not that we'd ever spoken about it, of course. I'm glad to say Magnus never took me into his confidences one way or the other. But no, I think." and here she paused and scrubbed a particularly stubborn bloodstain. "I think it all boils down to fear. I think he's eating our fear of discovery. The fear of being seen and known."

Fiona would have sat bold upright if the bloodloss hadn't made this tree so comfortable. "What a bastard. Still, I suppose I can't exactly avoid him, being tied to the Institute as I am. Must have to go back eventually."

"You could blind yourself."

"Hah! Yes, I suppose I could. These old eyes weren't made to last forever. Figures it would happen now though, did you know I manifested earlier today?"

"What, really? After all these years?"

"Yes. I now Know where Jon is at all times."

"....really."

"Yes!" snapped Fiona. "And a fat lot of good it does me. And will do me, especially if I blind myself and run off on- on the continent or wherever I can get to." And here Fiona Law felt herself slipping from that timeless, disembodied feeling she had been floating in and found herself bursting into ragged tears. She leaned one hand against her forehead and cried and cried as the smoke from her cigarette twisted upwards gently in the wind.

 

 

Gertrude regretted that if she breathed a word of her plans to Fiona, they would be doomed the moment Jonah peered into her head. She would have to do this on her own. So be it then.

Jonah Magnus had to die.

 

 

The sun was setting and Gertrude and Fiona weren't back yet and Michael felt better but he still wasn't better how long did it take someone to recover from a concussion and where was Gerry going to sleep and where was Jon going to sleep because Elias wasn't back yet either and Sarah felt like she was going out of her mind with worry.

To keep herself from utterly falling apart, she was relentlessly cheerful. It may be a crumbling facade but it was the only thing she had to prop up. While the boys had moved on from coloring to playing some kind of incomprehensible game with X-Men action figures. It was clear the only person who knew what the X-Men were was Michael, which struck Sarah as terribly sad. Did neither of these boys have a TV?

Sarah took up the unused paper from the earlier coloring session and began to make plans. Plans for what would happen if Gertrude and Fiona came back, plans for what to do if only one of them came back, plans for where to take Michael if his injuries got worse, plans for when Elias came back, plans for if Elias was mad, plans for if Elias wasn't, plans for if Gertrude came back and Elias was mad, plans for if only Fiona came back and Elias was mad, plans within plans within plans.

They made her feel like she was at least doing something useful, but eventually even they weren't enough.

So instead of planning, she did what her mother had always done. She bustled.

She bustled down to the Archives and retrieved the little cot and all the bedding bought for Jon earlier, and she bustled to the break room and made hot coco out of probably expired packets for the boys, and she bustled about the Library's New Media section to retrieve a tv on an ingenious wheeled contraption and she bustled it up into Elias's office and she bustled all the boys into some kind of blanket nest pillow fort with some nice hot coco and some kind of movie called "The Pagemaster". It was animated, so it was probably fine.

She bustled about taking everyone's orders for some takeaway, and once she finished all of that she looked at the two boys having a cozy movie night. She felt it should have made her feel calmer, but she just wished she could bustle more.

Bustling kept the panic away.

Michael had kept trying to interrupt her bustling. He’d kept offering to help, to ask what she needed, to talk to him, but she didn’t want help. She wanted to bustle for as long as possible. Finally, when the boys were distracted with the movie, he’d gently drawn her aside to the farthest corner away and asked her to just talk to him.

But how could she?

How could she when that awful fake chipper voice would be the only thing that would come out of her mouth? And the only thing worse than that voice would be if it broke.

Sarah wasn’t sure how much he really understood, but she was glad when he hugged her that her face was covered by his chest as she began to fight back tears.

 

 

Elias had to admit, having obsessively watched over his Jonathan and Gerry Keay, that they were a charming pair of friends. Jonathan had been having a time of it at his school, and it was nice to See him truly playing as a little boy ought to.

This is what he sent him to school for in the first place. Socialization, that wasn’t within another Entity’s domain.

And of course, it was very thoughtful of Sarah to give him such a nourishing dinner. She had no idea Elias was feeding off of her fear, but the gesture was appreciated all the same.

The pleasure of a far off and distant meal did nothing to sooth his fury at Peter’s deliberate abandonment. He would make Peter deeply regret trying to feed off of him.

 

 

 

Peter was having a swell time. It was, he would admit, a little annoying feeling the press of the Eye upon him sporadically, but It meant Elias wasn’t truly mad at him. If Elias had been, he would have Watched and Watched until Peter couldn’t stand it anymore. The fact that his Eyes were turned elsewhere for so long meant he didn’t really need Peter right now, and that was a delightfully cold feeling the black coffee did nothing to touch.

He waited until the first trickle of bar goers trickled in and idly supped on the general feeling of desperate loneliness. The drive to go anywhere that had people in it, even a low down dive bar open early, and yet holding off until the very earliest they felt it would be “ok” to go to a bar. Delicious. A bit like bar peanuts, a good snack, but hardly filling.

He couldn’t wait until he got to fill up on those statement givers Elias would point him towards. Funding the Institute had excellent perks.

Perhaps Elias could go with him, pull out their darkest most shameful inadequacies and hold them up as shinning examples as to why no one would ever care about them before Peter pushed them so deep into the Lonely they never emerged again.

After all, they hadn’t had a dinner date night in such a long time.

 

 

Mary Keay had been declared dead. What else could she have been? No pulse, no breath, no movement at all.

The destruction of Pinhole Books was waved off as a gas leak, but privately passed on to those in the force that had already filled out a Section 31 form. They, of course, would do absolutely nothing with the information. What could be done? But they noted it all the same.

They also noted the next morning that Mary Keay’s corpse had seemingly walked itself out of the morgue.

 

 

Elias had found himself beyond incandescent anger in the hours he had been forcibly left to rot. Instead, it compressed, and sharpened, and turned from a raging inferno into a beautifully cold icicle. It helped that Jonathan was safe, and was now asleep in the little blanket nest next to Mary’s boy who had also fallen soundly into dreams.

So when he was led out to a grinning Peter, he did not do something….sans decorum.

That could wait until the car.

 

 

The car was the usual long black Mercedes 560 SEL. Elias Knew this not because he wanted to, but because Peter hadn’t shut up about buying the damn thing. He had been so excited to find a car that could make him feel lonely and cut off even with multiple people riding with him.

The driver, of course, was the first person who couldn’t interact with Peter. He had been working for the Lukases for years, though Peter did not know his true name, or for that matter, the fake name he’d signed with. The car had come with a small curtain to divide the driver from the passenger, but Peter had gone the additional mile by adding a wall of smoked glass. Elias didn’t care to Know if it was through some technological marvel or Peter’s own talents, but the driver wouldn’t be able to hear or see a thing.

But the true draw for this particular limo for Peter was the ridiculous raised divider between the passengers. Elias found it terribly impractical, unless one was keen to balance an entire bottle of scotch between the passengers. Which they had tried. Happier days.

The barrier was proving its worth now. Elias wasn’t sure if the cold, hard rage that had settled within him could have withstood touching Peter without fracturing into crystalline shards.

No. He couldn’t think like that. He had to play nice, and cordial, and then feed Peter screaming to Jonathan.

“Peter.”

 

Peter sat up straighter in his chair. It had been a long time since Elias had used that tone. It wasn’t how he foresaw the evening going, but he was absolutely game for it. He had thought the situation would have been reversed, considering he could use the I’ve-just-bailed-you-out-of-jail-you-bad-man angle which he’d been thinking of the whole time at the bar. But then again, the other way was perfectly fun as well.

 

Elias saw the look in Peter’s eyes and realized he had to drastically modify his tone. He kept forgetting that Peter was an idiot.

He supposed he should add “when it came to reading people” but he wasn’t feeling charitable.

He had to consciously focus on what he actually liked about Peter to have a chance of wrestling himself into the correct frame of mind. He supposed he should be thankful that Peter was the one person he could count on to help when things really went sideways. And he did come through, eventually. And under that stupid hat, his hair was doing that curling wave that was really quite lovely. And his broad shoulders did wonders for that jacket. There. He was rich, reliable, and technically attractive. The fact that he was a person who loved needling everyone around him and playing those ridiculous jump scare pranks- no, no, focus on the way his eyes turned up at the corners when he smiled. Keep composure.

Now to have a productive conversation about expectations vis a vis reasonable timeframes for bailing someone out of jail.

 

 

The driver, whose name was coincidentally Daniel and David depending on which ID you checked, had no idea what was going on back there but they’d been stopped at their destination for 30 minutes and he wasn’t sure if he could park here.

 

 

Sarah heard Elias speaking with someone as he walked down the corridor and immediately began fretting harder. But the moment she poked her head out the door, she saw no one but Elias.

“Hello Sarah.” said Elias cordially, eyes shining in the unlit hallway. “Thank you for watching over everyone. You diligence has been noted, and is appreciated.”

Sarah stepped back and shivered as she felt a cold breeze come in from the hallway.

 

 

Jon heard people talking, and lifted his head just a little bit. His head felt so heavy, and he was halfway towards allowing sleep to pull him back under when Jon found himself waking up to being lifted, blankets coming with him. He recognized Mr. Magnus was picking him up, and sleepily nuzzled into his shoulder. He should just go back to sleep, if Mr. Magnus would just put him back down next to Gerry- Gerry! His eyes slammed open and he wriggled his hands outside of the blanket cocoon to grab Mr. Magnus’s face.

 

Elias startled slightly to feel himself be gently slapped by the tiniest open hands- no it wasn’t a slap, Jon was trying to grab his face but his limbs were too uncoordinated with sleep.

He gripped Jonathan tighter as Jon’s eyes opened and met his. The moonlight streamed in weakly through the windows, and could not have possibly accounted for Jonathan’s eyes shining in the dark.

“I remembered.” Jonathan whispered in that breathy way of children trying to keep quiet. “I remembered what was important. About Mr. Albrecht. And I found them. And I rescued them. I did it.”

Elias was stunned, stock still in his dark, dark office that had been transformed into a playroom, a bedroom, and then again into this void filled with half-formed shapes in the dark. The silence held nothing but faint echoes of breathing. The soft sounds reverberated strangely in the overfilled office, as Jonathan wordlessly commanded to be let down. Elias placed him gently onto the rug, and Jonathan shed his blankets like a second skin as he reached for the strip of human parchment laying upon the floor.

 

Jonathan carefully picked it up with one hand, and the other clutched at Elias’s and led him to the furthest recesses far away from the feeble moonlight.

“I didn’t want to do this in front of Gerry. In case it went bad.” Jonathan explained softly.

Elias became alarmed. That was clearly a remnant of Lietner and if Jonathan thought it could go bad-

“Why do you think that?” asked Elias gently, quietly in the dark. He kept his voice soft and free of any compulsion, in the hopes that Jonathan would answer more readily.

“Because, sometimes…even though, even though we’d really like someone to stay…it’s..it’s not…I…dad’s…sometimes…when people are hurt…I don’t remember my dad but dads are supposed to…” and here he clutched Elias’s trouser leg and buried his face into the side of Elias’s thigh unable to continue.

Elias found himself trying to parse this as he gently pet Jonathan’s head and waited patiently for him to gather himself and explain.

He felt more than heard Jonathan whisper, tears in his throat “They’re supposed to want to stay but sometimes they’re too hurt to- sometimes…sometimes it’s mean to Ask them to…”

Jonathan shuddered and shook his head against Elias’s thigh before withdrawing completely. Elias wanted to Know more before Jonathan read from a Lietner. He wanted to Know the danger, what would happen, and Jonathan needed to wait and answer his questions before-

But he was too late. Jonathan had already begun to read, and Elias could feel the swell of power and terror rising. His heart leapt to his mouth, and every hair on his body stood straight up as the reek of Terminus began to flood the darkened corner.

Out of Jonathan’s innocent mouth came the quiet and disquieting sentences written on that skin.

“When he opened his eyes, he saw nothing, but he heard her breathing, slow and steady and focused, and he immediately knew that she was finally going to kill him. When the garden shears plunged into his chest, he was surprised by how little actual pain there was- just the sudden feeling of moisture on his chest and the realization that his body was growing weak, fading away.”

A silvery figure began to form, and Elias tried to figure out just what exactly Jonathan was summoning. What book did he rip this scrap of skin and ink from? Lietners were sometimes best read only in snippets- should he interrupt? But this was clearly a scrap in and of itself. How much did Jonathan Know about this book? Better yet- how much did he Understand?

“He wished she would say she was sorry she was doing this, that she loved him, that she would miss him. But he knew better, and his final thought was a gentle sadness at how little he was surprised.”

Oh no. Oh no. Elias was beginning to realize why exactly Jonathan wouldn’t want this read in front of Gerry. The figure had begun to coalesce into a man whose features he could almost make out, a face hazy like a dream but he Knew down to his bones exactly who Jonathan was summoning-

“And so Eric Delano ended.”

 

The faded form of Eric Delano stood before them, a hazy look on his face that soon clarified into bewilderment as he took in his surroundings and realized he was very much not in the usual bookstore.

 

Eric first beheld the man standing right across from him.

“Elias? Elias Bouchard? What are you doing- what are you wearing?

Jonah Magnus puppeted Elias’s head to look down at himself wearing a perfectly normal suit.

Eric looked down as well, and for the first time noticed Jonathan, small and young and peering up at him with big awestruck eyes.

“G-gerry?” said Eric softly.

Jonathan shook his head gently and pointed silently towards the lump of blankets that was Gerry across the room.

Sarah and Michael, stock still in the dark, stood in horrified slack jawed silence at the ghostly apparition before them. Michaels mouth was moving soundlessly, but not wordlessly. Elias prayed Jonathan didn’t understand swears enough to be able to spot what Michael was mouthing to himself.

Eric tried to move towards Gerry, hand outstretched, but stoped.

“What the hell is going on?” asked Eric. His words were passionate, but his tone was flat and almost disaffected. It echoed strangely with every word, and Elias found himself both entranced and disgusted by it. It evoked the same emotion as a song you weren’t sure if you liked or not.

“Elias, why am I here? Why is my son sleeping on the floor- is Gerry ok? Why are you in a suit, what happened to Mary? What happened? Where are we?”

The wrong tones reminded Elias of when the Stranger tore apart Angus and wore his face. The Grinning Wheel was not especially talented at mimicking proper tones- but instead of sounding manic and cheerful, Eric sounded remote and vaguely disappointed. Opposite in almost every way, but equally wrong.

Elias gripped Jonathan’s shoulder, trying to hold on to him lest he approach Eric and do something dangerous.

“Shh!” shushed Jonathan anxiously, with a finger to his lips.

 

Jon Knew shushing grown ups was rude. Even when grown ups shushed him a lot, they got mad when he did it back.

But this was important. Mr. Eric could make everything so much worse if he didn’t shush!

Mr. Eric stopped talking though, his eyebrows climbing up in surprise. Grown ups weren’t used to being shushed.

“Please,” begged Jon, “don’t wake Gerry. Not yet. Not until you answer.”

“Elias,” asked Mr. Eric softly, “what is going on?”

But Mr. Magnus didn’t speak.

“Mr. Eric,” said Jon anxiously, trembling a little at the importance of this conversation, feverous to get it exactly right with the words tripping over themselves to get out before he was interrupted or stopped or something went wrong, “I Know being in the book feels Bad. And I Know you really really care about Gerry. And his mum is awful and horrible and she’s not going to treat him right. So I was thinking it might be best if he never ever ever goes back there again.”

Mr. Eric didn’t say anything, but he had a look on his face like he was still processing what Jon was saying so Jon hurried up to keep talking before Mr. Eric could finish processing and interrupt him because if he was interrupted he’d never Remember what he’d been trying to say.

“But kids can’t live all on their own and they need a family and I Knew you were in the book so I rescued you while Ms. Gertrude and Gerry’s mum were fighting so maybe you could be Gerry’s dad- I mean you’re already his dad but I mean his dad that’s also his dad dad…but. But I Know the book is bad. And being in the book makes you feel bad. So if you wanted to…if you really wanted to I could burn your page like I burned the rest of the book. Or. Or I could try something. But I can’t promise it will work. To make it hurt less.”

 

Elias almost hadn’t been able to follow Jonathan as he sped-rambled in a whisper. His ears strained to keep up and his mind lagged behind, but he was reasonably sure he was doing better than Eric who looked, for all his flattened emotions, what could only be termed as “gob smacked”.

Jonathan seemed to interpret this silence as negative in some way. He grew abashed and shuffled his feet a little.

“I Know it’s a big question. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I just- I thought it would be better to ask because choice is important. I’m sorry, I can, I can put you back if you want?”

 

Eric Delano said nothing. His ghostly form drifted over to the sleeping form of his son. He knelt down to where Gerry was gently dreaming, his hand drifting forward like a moonbeam before gently coming to a stop, hovering over Gerry’s head. His strawberry blond hair a washed out shock against the blankets, made paler by moonlight until for all the world it nearly exactly matched Eric’s.

 

The world stayed frozen like that for a long time.

 

Eric slowly unfolded himself and walked back over to the dark corner and for the first time really properly looked at Jon.

“You’re of the Eye, aren’t you.”

Jon nodded.

“I got out. I left. I quit. I quit for my son. And here you are. What. Are you doing. With my son.

 

Jonathan was quiet for a moment, and then out of his mouth came strange tones Elias never had heard him use before.

“Gerard Keay, son of the line of von Closen. Seeker. Searcher. Trained in the Knowledge. Beloved by the Eye. The Eye would give him much, should he choose to let it.”

Eric hissed out “You shall not have my son.

“That choice is not yours, Eric Delano.” said Jonathan with the placid certainty of the tomb. “Eric Delano, trapped within the Eye’s domain, carved his way out. But he could not carve his way free of all that trapped him, and doomed the one he would have placed before all others. Left to the devices of Mary Keay, she who refuses to choose. She is not beloved by the Eye. Her hatred makes the Eye only more appealing to him. This is the way of trapped children.”

Eric planted his feet as though he were a mountain and not a shade standing between Jonathan and his child.

He is not the Eye’s.

“Not yet.” agreed whatever spoke with Jonathan’s mouth. “Not as you are.” His eyes glittered.

Eric narrowed his eyes. “I quit.”

“You removed your mortal eyes.” said Jonathan. “And yet, here you See again.”

Eric’s eyes widened, horrified. “No- no- I-“

“Which means the Eye can intercede.” continued Jonathan calmly. “Mary Keay suspected the book she first wielded could grant more than a shade of agonized death. She was right. There is much the Eye Knows, and could grant you. In the name of your son, will you take it? The choice is yours.”

Eric gritted his teeth. “I will fight you. I will fight you every step of the way, and I will keep my son from you.”

Jonathan nodded. “This is Known.” And then he gasped, and under his hands Elias felt Jonathan’s skinny shoulders shudder, as suddenly he was the Jonathan Elias had Known before.

 

Jon Looked up at Mr. Eric, because this next bit was the most important part of all. “If I do this, I can’t promise you won’t have pain. I can’t promise you’ll be the same either. But you’ll be solid, and you probably won’t feel so bad. Maybe.”

“So that’s the choice eh?” said Eric, nodding. “As long as I still love Gerry and hate the Eye. As long as I won’t hurt him. As long as I can save him.”

“I don’t Know the future for certain,” admitted Jon “but I Know you’ll still be you. And you’ll still be bound to the book. If your page gets burned, you go away. Forever.”

And Eric Delano made his choice.

 

The marker squeaked as Jon wrote carefully with it. His tongue poked out a bit from his mouth, because he was concentrating and this was important.

 

 

When he was done, he was so exhausted he fell back into sleep as Mr. Magnus wrapped him back in his blanket and carried him back to Gerry. In the little blanket nest, the two boys dreamed strange and incomprehensible dreams with small smiles on their faces as Eric Delano stood Watch.

 

 

 

 

Peter Lukas had sidestepped directly into the Lonely when he saw a woman’s head poke out of Elias’s office. The Lonely was…complex. Elias had tried to make him read thick books about alternate dimensions and Peter had tried, he really had…but actually he hadn’t. He’d used them as decoration in his cabin so he could remember how far away he was from Elias, but he’d never done so much as crack them open.

What did it matter anyways? Elias was constantly pestering him to Know how it manifested, and he would always reply he’d be happy to shove him into it.

Mostly the world was the same. Mostly. Sometimes it was different, but sometimes it wasn’t. It just was.

When he had been Richard, Elias had gifted him a handsome set of dictionaries and thesauruses, which Peter had cheerfully placed right next to the other books.

Time moved differently sometimes, maybe. Or maybe it was just Peter. And when he went into the Lonely things that had been so important…faded. However he felt about Elias, remembering to show up to planned meetings was difficult. And the energy required…well it made him exhausted just to think about.

It was less energy to turn his ears back on to listen if anyone was around in the “real” room. If they were, he’d just stay in “his” room instead.

He noted the light changed its shade of grey, so he supposed the night was over. Probably. Not that it really mattered.

As he drifted gently in the embrace of his god, his thoughts dampened and muzzy, he opened his ears in periodically and heard snippets.

Seemed very emotional out there. Messy.

He didn’t care for any of the staff at the Magnus Institute, but when he tuned back in and heard Gertrude Robinson’s voice, he paid attention.

Chapter Text

Gertrude Robinson was not a woman predisposed to soft gentle words mincing deferentially around difficult subjects.

"Elias."

"Gertrude. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I'm sure you're aware. But I thought it best to have this little chat face to face, to avoid any...misunderstandings."

"I'm sure there are any number of things you could be referring to."

"Then let me get right to the point. You, I am sure, are looking for ways to get rid of me. While I am looking for ways to get rid of you. For the time being, we both have several inconvenient roadblocks standing in our way, but that won't last forever."

"You're always so refreshingly clear sighted Gertrude."

"Don't."

"Hm?" said Elias, with a grin in his voice. Peter, drifting softly in the Lonely with his ears vaguely tuned in, would have bet solid money it was entirely real. Elias couldn't help himself sometimes, even when he was in fear for his life or you genuinely had him cornered, the man had perfected those deft little mannerisms that made it seem like for all the world you were doing what he wanted. Impossible man.

"If you try to kill me, you're going to have to get through the Cult of the Lightless Flame. And a few of my own little amusements prepared for such an eventuality."

Elias gasped in mock outrage. "Gertrude! Suspicious from the beginning? What a life you have led, to have such thoughts and so early in our work partnership."

Gertrude snorted. "Hardly. Back to my point, you shameless old snake, I can't kill you without either losing my eyes or my life."

"And of course, your assistants." Elias slyly pointed out. "But that was never really the sort of thing to slow you down, was it?"

"In fact," said Gertrude calmly, refusing to rise to the bait, "I had been intending to make them the subject of my next point."

"Oh?"

"You may have been a bit busy, but I should hope it did not escape your notice that Fiona manifested."

Elias felt his eyebrows threaten to rise to his hairline before he subdued them. "Ah? Well I suppose congratulations are in order then. Wonderful news, Jonathan will be so happy to have added to our little 'family'. I wonder if I should throw a party."

Gertrude snorted again. "What, have a banner that says 'Congratulations, it's a Grandmother'?"

A genuine bark of laughter escaped Elias. Peter relished in the sting that came from hearing it after so long, and knowing he had not been the one to inspire it. That he was inches away, and yet he was entirely incapable of reaching out and joining in. All he had to do was leave the Lonely, but the energy required to do so...to step out and face other people, to try and talk and even think of what he had to say...Peter felt his exhaustion rise and the feeling he could only describe as "grey" rising behind his eyes. It didn't feel like the moment before crying. It felt like when you had to cry, only to realize you had no tears left.

Elias's mirth didn't last long. Peter would have wagered that Gertrude's face had done that thing, where her expression fell so sharply into cold-eyed neutrality that you felt the very air change. Brr. Terrifying woman.

"Do you know what her powers are? She can sense where Jonathan is at all times. The Eye has chosen her specifically as one of Jonathan's minders. If you so much as breathe a word in relation to that little stunt of a threat you gave her, you won't just be hurting her. You'll be hurting the Eye's plans for Jonathan."

Only silence from Elias. Gertrude continued on with dreadful relish.

"You can't touch her. And if I find out you try to further her connection to the Eye- if there is even a line of a Statement that crosses her path- then rest assured, Jonah, my plans will find an accelerated timeline. I may not be able to kill you- but we both know there's so very many things that are worse than death, don't we? That goes for the rest of them as well. If you meddle with the Archives, then believe me when I say you will find yourself living out Elias Bouchard's lifetime in unpleasant circumstances."

Peter felt that Elias may have needed another voice by his side, but as he stepped out of the Lonely, Gertrude's eyes swiveled to him immediately.

"Well well well, look who finally decided to join us." she said with such devastating precision that Peter had no choice but to step back immediately into the Lonely.

 

 

Peter drifted further, his only measure of time the vague snippets he caught of Elias on the phone.

“There’s nothing illegal about it! Standing on the sidewalk is- How dare you! I don’t care for your tone and your wretched insinuations- creepy? I was merely waiting for Jonathan- yes yes, I know when school ends. Oh? Now you’re banning me from the coffee shop? I wasn’t aware you owned it. It is my right as a paying customer- no! I was not looking in the windows! The shop is across the street- I don’t care what your staff thinks they see- Investigate? Investigate! I’ll have them investigate your entire facility you pompous-“

Peter tuned back out. It was safer in the Lonely, away from the shouting. The anger. Even if it wasn't directed at him- the energy it took to listen and make sure it wasn't coming his way, or be expected to chime in on anyone's side. It was too much. It was so much safer in the Lonely. Even if it was beginning to hurt. It was a good kind of hurt. It was the kind of hurt he could control. He could choose to step out of the Lonely, he knew that. He could. He was sure of it. If it was hurting him to be alone, at least it was his choice. It was so much safer to be hurt when you got to control what kind of hurt it was. It was still under his control. He was fine. He could handle it.

 

Peter stopped using his ears to hear words. Or rather, the words were muffled. Indistinct. It would have taken too much energy to try to decipher them.

The sounds of a child. Or two children? A door closing, or opening. It hardly mattered.

Later. Much later, or maybe no time at all. It sounded quiet. He perhaps could take a peek out- he saw an old woman he didn't recognize, and two children coloring, and then Gertrude Robinson opened the door, Looked right at him, and said archly "Ah, he finally emerges!"

Peter slammed the Lonely back around himself.

 

 

The Lonely was beginning to smell. Peter was mostly blind to it, but sometimes he'd catch a whiff and be revolted. But he stopped noticing it soon enough, and it was never quite at the level that he had to leave. It came back though. Just to remind him what kind of place he was in. What kind of place he was building around himself.

He'd pulled books off the bookshelf, and opened the drawers in Elias's office. He couldn't remember when he'd done that, but he must have. It didn't matter. In the real world, the office was neat and tidy. It didn't matter what Peter did in "his" room. It didn't have to be neat. Putting something back where it "belonged" just wasn't necessary enough to use his energy on.

It was fine. No one else was going to see this anyways.

 

 

Elias and a man Peter didn't know were arguing.

Something about...children? Something about children leaving, or playing together?

It didn't matter. Peter stopped processing the words again. All that mattered was that Elias wasn't alone. That meant it wasn't safe to come out.

If pressed, Peter wouldn't have been able to say what he expected anyone else to do that was so horrible. All he knew was that it wasn't comfortable to leave. It wasn't right to leave. He felt disconnected from his body, but he thought, sometimes, that he might need something. He might be hungry? How long had it been since he ate? Or drank? Or went to the bathroom? There was nothing but books and curios in this room. He had nothing.

He had no one.

He thought that maybe he should leave, but there were people out there. He could wait a little bit longer. It surely wasn't that bad yet.

 

 

Finally, the office was quiet.

The Lonely one and the real one.

Peter cautiously stepped out, and saw Elias working quietly at his desk.

He reveled in the silence for a little while, staring blankly at Elias's bowed back as the pencil made small scratching sounds.

No one around to ask him "Where have you been all this time?" or "Finally decided to leave your hole then?" or "Look who it is!"

Just the quiet.

But it was different. It wasn't the quiet of the Lonely. There was a small bit of warmth just from having another person in the room, just to be near someone again. Peter swayed a bit, and in between his blinks Elias had quietly pushed back his chair and stood next to him and- oh. Oh he was softly cupping his cheek.

"Oh Peter, it has been too long for you, hasn't it?" said Elias gently. Peter could only nod. He began to feel shame again, prickling up at being seen like this. Disheveled, swaying, and he was sure he stunk. But he was too tired to fix it. He was too tired to think.

He was led gently, so gently, through quiet halls into a quiet car, which drove through quiet streets, until they passed a figure walking, hunched in his coat alone on the London streets.

The car pulled to a stop, and Peter got out. He fed.

And when he got back into the car, the street was empty, and Elias drove him onward. Through silent streets, the lamplight scrolling across the car windows as they drove, until they passed a woman holding herself in the lamplight outside of an empty closed shop. She stayed in the light, and Peter knew she was hoping desperately that she could be safe if only she was somewhere well lit, but she needed to find somewhere else with people and she had thought this place stayed open later and-

And Peter Lukas fed again.

 

He got back in the car and nodded when Elias asked him if he felt better.

Elias drove him back to his house, and Peter Lukas fell asleep in Elias's empty bed in his empty shell of a house.

 

When he awoke, he knew the house was gloriously empty. Awfully kind of Elias to sleep somewhere else, Knowing that Peter could barely stand to be around another person last night.

As Peter yawningly used the master shower, he realized he felt up to a spot of breakfast. He toweled off, dressed in the clothing he had left here last time, and left the house, completely missing the changes to the guest room or the rest of the house. As far as he was concerned, it was exactly the same bland single bachelor house it had been when he had last arrived.

The house phone ringing disturbed the undampened silence that had already been broken by Peter's own footsteps. Peter picked it up with a jaunty "Good morning!", having just enough energy to recover his usual cheerful facade.

"My my, you're sounding better Peter." came the tinny sounds of a pleased Elias.

"Fit as a fiddle!" said Peter, with a broad grin that was only partially a lie. "I'll feel even better once you point me towards those statement givers you promised me."

"My dear Peter, who do you think those midnight snacks of yours were?"

"Eliiiiaaaas" pouted Peter.

"Oh very well, I may have a few more for you. Would you care to come up to the office?"

"I'll bring coffee!" said Peter cheerfully.

"Excellent. Oh, a bit of warning. There's someone I'd like you to meet."

Peter frowned into the receiver "Elias-"

"Peter. I promise you enough lonely souls to feed you for an eternity for brunch. This is important."

"Oh very well." said Peter uneasily.

"...you're not even going to ask who it is?"

"Shan't!" said Peter, cheeky again. "That's more your scene than mine."

"Peter," said Elias exasperatedly, "the Eye doesn't have a monopoly on asking basic questions."

Peter gave a broad shrug, knowing that Elias would See it.

"Oh you're impossible," groused Elias. He was always so prickly, thought Peter fondly, like a cat when you rubbed its fur wrong. Peter would enjoy this shore leave while he could, before their inevitable fight drove him back onto the Tundra. "Listen carefully Peter, this is important.”

“Is it anyone other than that kiddo you’ve been dragging around?”

There was that delightful flustered sigh of Elias’s. One of Peter’s favorite sounds.

“So you did realize. Honestly Peter, why must you insist on needling me so?”

“Someone has to.” said Peter cheerily. “Be a bit surprised if it was anyone else, if I’m being honest. He’s only been the only thing you’ve nattered my ear off about.”

“Yes, when I can get a hold of you. If you’d just keep that phone I bought you charged-“

Peter shrugged again, switching the bulky house phone to the other ear and twirling the cord. “I seem to remember someone else’s name on that bill.”

“Oh you know what I mean. Fine, picked up for you.”

“The Tundra is a fine ship but she wasn’t built with electrical ports everywhere Elias. Forgive me for not buying a ship that didn’t exist yet.”

“Well you could just-“ began Elias through gritted teeth.

“Unplug my lamp? And leave me in the dark?” Peter dramatically put a hand to his heart. “I never thought I’d see the day when you-“ “Peter-“ “-a devotee of the Eye” “-stop being ridiculous-“ “order me to plunge myself-“

 

 

Jon was having an ok morning, he guessed. Mr. Magnus was ignoring him to talk on the phone while he ate his breakfast. Which wasn’t the worst. But he’d gone somewhere last night and when he’d came back he smelled different.

Jon Knew that smell, and it made him uneasy. He didn’t know why he Knew it though.

He wished Mr. Magnus would finish up fighting (was it fighting?) with the person on the phone. He wanted to go out and play with Gerry. It was Saturday, which meant he could have the whole day to play with Gerry as long as his father didn’t find out.

Jon tried to fish out the remaining cereal from his bowl that was mostly leftover milk. Fiddling with his spoon helped him concentrate on the problem.

At first he and Gerry got to play all the time, since Mr. Eric’s page was in the Archives. Gerry slept down there, and Mr. Eric Looked over him, and that was brilliant because Jon could come down to Gerry or Gerry could come up to him.

But then Mr. Eric had enrolled Gerry in school too, but it wasn’t Jon’s school which was so unfair. If they’d gone to school together they could have been best friends at school too, instead of lonely and picked on at separate schools. Jon wasn’t stupid, he Knew Gerry would have been in a different classroom since he was bigger, but there was a difference between another classroom and another school. And Gerry’s schedule was different. He got back so much later, which wasn’t fair, because Jon had to be by himself for hours and then Gerry had homework and they didn’t get to hang out for ages until it was time for dinner and they didn’t even get to eat together even though they were in the same building and it wasn’t fair.

 

“Jonathan.” said Mr. Magnus as he snapped his phone closed. Jon started guiltily, for no reason. “Go and clean up your room. We will be having company.”

In the secret rooms?” Asked Jon curiously.

“Yes. Jonathan Sims we talked about Compelling. Go to your room this instant.”

“But I didn’t mean to!” protested Jon.

“No excuses. Five. Four.”

“I didn’t mean to compel! It was an accident!”

“Three.”

It wasn’t fair- Jon needed Mr. Magnus to Know that he hadn’t meant to be Bad but now Mr. Magnus wasn’t even listening and-

“Two.”

Jon gave up and scurried to his room. He didn’t Know what would happen if Mr. Magnus got to One, but he bet it would be something horrible like not being able to play with Gerry all day. It wasn’t fair.

He stomped around his room and started throwing clothes on the floor into the hamper with extreme prejudice. He flopped onto his bed and screamed into a pillow, just a little bit, and kicked his feet, just for a few moments, until he felt better. He angrily yanked his sheets into order, and fluffed his pillows in a movement that wasn’t so much fluffing as it was punching.

He hated not being listened to. He hated it so much when people thought he was being bad on purpose and he wasn’t and-

 

 

Elias frowned at he Looked in on Jonathan. This boded ill for Jonathan’s first meeting with Peter. He hoped this mood would pass soon. He began to nervously clean up from breakfast and scrubbed the dishes a bit harder than strictly necessary as he fretted.

Sometimes Jonathan’s moods were like a summer storm. The smallest thing would set him off, and he’d be in a terrible temper but it would fade after he’d had a good cry. Sometimes Jonathan’s mood were longer lasting. He seemed to have no limit to the length he could hold a grudge, and if something set him off often the whole day would be ruined.

Jonathan was a fairly sweet tempered child, but he got so overwhelmed sometimes. It was unnerving to see the switch. Elias stayed far, far away when Jonathan got this way. He assumed that other guardians never had to worry their charges would smite them if they attracted their attention.

But there was nothing for it. Jonathan had to have discipline, or he’d be a completely ungovernable hellion. Elias had seen the results of overly lax parenting, and he had no intention of letting Jonathan go to seed like that. He needed him useful and biddable when it came time for the Watchers Crown. So if he needed to take risks now while he was young, it was nerve wracking but necessary.

As Elias scrubbed, he idly thought about baby elephants. Put a rope around them when they were small, and by the time they grew to their full size, they had stopped fighting the rope. Never even realizing they had grown strong enough to break the rope with ease.

Honestly though, Jonathan probably had already outgrown the rope. And wasn’t that a terrifying thought? Elias fervently prayed he never realized it.

 

 

Jon was working out his feelings by aggressively resorting his entire bedroom. It felt good to move things around. He had read somewhere that sharks had to keep swimming or they’d die. He felt like that too sometimes. If he stopped reorganizing for even a moment then his bedroom would be a shambles for weeks and weeks until he got like this again so he refused to stop even a little bit.

He wished he was as strong as Mr. Magnus so he could push his bed into a new corner of the room. But he didn’t want to have Mr. Magnus here at all in case he was still mad. Jon didn’t want anyone disappointed in him Looking at him at all.

He made an entirely new organization system and told himself he was going to stick with this one for sure this time. All of his toys were arranged around his bed, by size and color. The smaller ones faced inwards, so the could Watch him while he slept, and the big ones faced outwards so they could Watch for any threats. They were sorted by size and color and it was so satisfying it made something settle in Jon’s chest.

While he was cleaning, he had found things he’d thought he’d lost, like a whole jacket and some jeans he liked, and a good pen, and a single shoe, and a lot of dust.

He hadn’t thought he’d lost the dust, of course, but he hadn’t realized how much of it there was until he began to sneeze. He Watched the dust drift sometimes, staring off with nothing in his mind but Watching the motes. And since he Watched them, they must be his. And if they were his, and he hadn’t remembered they were there, then he guessed they counted as being lost.

Speaking of which, something was pinging him in the back of his mind. Something about something being lost. Something he’d misplaced, maybe? That described a lot of things.

It bothered Jon when he Knew he was forgetting something but couldn’t grasp what he’d forgotten.

He pushed his laundry hamper out of his room so he’d remember to take it to be washed and kept cleaning.

 

 

Elias Looked in on Jonathan and saw a maelstrom. This child was so perplexing- Elias had to harp and harp and harp for Jonathan to clean his room and put things where they needed to be, and then sometimes he would get into a strop and do…this.

Elias bewilderedly Watched Jon run out of his room, gallop to the bathroom, grab a handful of Q-tips, and charge back into his room to use those Q-tips to scrub minuscule amount of dirt out of the corners of his room.

What was the cause of this wild swing between utter apathy at disorganization and a reverent need for order? If only Peter weren’t due to arrive so soon- this was vital data to be gathered and Elias hated the thought of interrupting it.

It didn’t take Jonathan that long to finish reorganizing his room, as he truthfully had very little. Elizabeth Sims hadn’t expected to take in a child, and had only had him for two years before Jonathan came under Elias’s care. In the turmoil of his young life, he had acquired very little other than a host of abandonment issues. When his father had died, Jonathan had been two and his mother had poured all their liquid money into his funeral and survival afterwards. Very little left over for toys, even if she had been inclined to buy them within the depths of her mourning. Three years saw her own decline, and then his grandmother had to deal with moving Jonathan in and the estate sale. Most things hadn’t survived the move or the years as Jonathan grew. When the movers had brought Jonathan’s things to Elias’s home, it had mostly been a jumble of old clothes and battered school supplies. And most of those had been left behind as Elias moved them out of his facade of a home.

So truly Jonathan only had to organize what Elias had been able to procure in those shopping bags. And still he managed to make a mess. Elias probably shouldn’t have bought him so many art kits, he mused as he watched Jonathan fuss with organizing them. So many little fiddly pieces.

Eventually, it seemed Jonathan had completed his cleaning to his own satisfaction. The methods of organization and why they were superior to the way they had been before were inscrutable to Elias, but if Jonathan was content and the floor was clear he supposed he had no objections.

 

…of course, thought Elias as he watched Jon sit on his bed and relax, he could have some objections in the case. Vis a vis the fact the Jonathan seemed to have completely forgotten he pushed his hamper into the hallway.

Elias had tested this over and over, and as best as he could determine, if something wasn’t within Jonathan’s immediate line of sight it was likely he would forget about it entirely. Even if he was the one who put it there.

Could it be that containing all the “Stories” within Jonathan’s mind meant information was essentially filed away? No matter if it was mundane or arcane?

Speaking of which, it was probably best if Elias went through the pockets of Jonathan’s clothes before the washer got to them. Or would it be better to remind Jonathan to do it?

 

 

Elias was dumbfounded. There was damn near a treasure trove in Jonathan’s pockets- train tickets, sticks, coins, crumpled museum pass stickers, hell he was surprised he hadn’t found a damn frog yet. But that was to be expected of a curious little boy. What truly shocked him was the carefully folded little Eye in the pocket of a jacket Elias thought had gone missing.

Jonathan had been so protective of it. He hadn’t gone anywhere without it for the longest time. And he hadn’t replaced it.

Elias had thought he had been carrying it around this whole time, but here it was, abandoned.

Was Jonathan turning away from their god?

 

Jon had thought he was in trouble still when Mr. Magnus had come into his room, but he had just wanted to empty his pockets before the laundry. Jon had forgotten about the hamper, and he was embarrassed Mr. Magnus had to remind him about it. He felt so stupid when he forgot things, because other people didn’t seem to. Other people seemed to remember a lot more than he could. They never wandered away with a task unfinished, or forgot- or forgot his Eye!

Jon gasped in excitement and grabbed at Mr. Magnus’s arms for him to give him the little drawing back.

 

Elias felt the drawing fall from nerveless fingers as Jonathan excitedly clutched at it and began babbling to it.

Jonathan immediately ran back into his room and slammed the door, excitedly showing the Eye all the changes he had made.

What?

 

Elias sat in his office and steepled his fingers, deep in thought.

Peter was due to arrive soon, and Jonathan was finally washed and dressed and ready to receive visitors. He had prepped Jonathan as best he could, and he hoped it would be sufficient to avoid any unpleasantries before he managed to get Peter locked behind the sigils deeper in the rooms.

The office had been barricaded, but Peter had still been able to slip sideways into the Lonely. He hadn’t walked out of the office, so Elias assumed his sigils did something at least.

Fortunately those were not the only ones he had. Deeper within the honeycombed rooms beyond were sigils that should keep Peter powerless as a living larder.

Jonathan hadn’t grown since he had Compelled Dr. Girard. Who was no longer returning any calls at all.

Elias had gotten so nervous about that, he had let Jonathan out to go to school again simply to have enough space between them in case Jonathan got hungrier than old dry statements could satisfy. The Cult of the Lightless Flame had made him so nervous that he had taken to doing his work from a coffee shop right across the street, horribly exposed, but closer to hand. They had eventually spotted him, so the situation was quickly becoming untenable. Summer holiday was around the corner, and couldn’t come fast enough.

But those were all side considerations. What was distracting him, absorbing his every thought, was why had Jonathan abandoned that little Eye only to pick it up so gleefully later?

He was chattering away to it as though nothing had changed, as though there hadn’t even been a blip of time in between their last “conversation”.

Elias carefully marked down “time blind + blind to anything out of sight = ?” and circled the words “blind” with force. Never a good word to have in conjunction to the acolytes of the Eye. Was this the Spider’s doing?

Was this the Dark’s?

Emma had been a petty Avatar, small and weak. And there was Sarah, down in the archives, marked by the Dark. Where was the line between “marked” and “Avatar”? Stacy had tried to find it. He had died in the pursuit of that knowledge, fruitlessly scrabbling at definitions and lines.

Jonathan had carried that little Eye with him everywhere until he met Sarah.

Elias couldn’t afford to take any chances.

How was he going to get her out of the archives without Gertrude suspecting him? How best to arrange a small…workplace accident.

 

 

Peter wasn’t sure what he had expected when he opened Elias’s office door, ladened down with two coffees and a small hot chocolate. He had thought about deliberately bringing nothing for Jonathan, because nothing brought a stab of loneliness to a child like being left out, but he figured it would be best to avoid antagonizing Elias when it came to the child. For now. Until Elias led him to those other statement givers.

Since he had not expected anything, he wasn’t particularly surprised to see Elias sitting with that particular look that meant someone was going to meet a very subtle fate. Cheerfully disregarding Elias’s thought process he slapped the drinks down onto the desk.

“I’m not interrupting, am I?”

Elias startled, and glared at him before his gaze softened into exasperation. He opened his mouth to say something-

 

 

YOU.






 

Eyes glowed from behind Elias, and the sounds of running trainers slapping the floor and-

 

Elias supposed it wasn’t surprising. This was the first Avatar Jonathan had seen in a while, and he was bound to be hungry. He sat and did not interfere as Jonathan emerged from what little shadows there were in the office. He had a brief moment of surprise as Jonathan bodily pounced on Peter instead of repeating whatever he had done with Emma, and then when Peter lifted Jonathan up and flung him into the Lonely Elias began to scream-

“PETER-“

 

 

But before he could even finish his outraged shriek, Jonathan was back. Watching his reappearance felt as though his eyes were spasming, as though his brain was trying to tell his eyes they hadn’t truly seen what they had just Seen.

Jonathan yelled wildly and charged back at Peter, who grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and threw him down towards the floor where he sank arms outstretched into a rising mist.

 

Elias stood up from his desk. “PETER, BRING HIM BACK.”

“WHAT THE HELL ELIAS.” yelled Peter. “What kind of feral-“

“Bring him back Peter-“

Peter paid him no mind and continued yelling, enraged and confused and determined to give Elias an earful.

Elias was beginning to breathe differently. Jonathan had reappeared almost instantaneously the first time but now how long had it been how long had it been why was time feeling this way-

“Breathe Elias, breathe dammit!” Elias slapped Peter’s hand off of his back.

“Bring that child back! Peter! Peter he’s a child he didn’t mean-”

“The hell! He came at me like a rabid dog Elias! He can stay there and cool off and you can take your introduction and shove-“

“Peter. Peter!” interrupted Elias urgently, and to his horror Peter heard it too. Elias’s eyes were wide and fixed beyond his shoulder and as Peter turned to look he saw what he had been hearing. A bookshelf rocking as though something was climbing-

Jonathan leapt down, teeth bared like a panther, screaming.

Peter shrieked and flung out a hand just in time.

As Jonathan was flung back into a patch of mist he screamed out in fury “YOU TOOK MY MAH-“

 

 

In the aftermath Elias and Peter stood stock still in shock, surrounded by the swirling mist and upturned papers gently fluttering down.

 

 

Jon wandered around the mists with a scowl. He would show him. He would hurt him.

He would hurt him for taking- for- he would-

Jon slapped at his head and growled. The Forsaken made you forget. He hated forgetting. He hated this kind of forgetting even more, feeling Knowledge drain away from him. How DARE it. But Jon wasn’t here because the mists wanted him.

Jon had Seen footprints.

Jon had Seen many footprints. And he Knew these were fresh footprints. The mists had just eaten.

And Jon was going to make that man suffer.

 

 

Elias couldn’t believe it. What had happened. How had it gone so wrong, so quickly?

He had assumed Jonathan had attacked Emma so rapidly because she had been of the Web, and Jonathan had been terrified by that Lietner. Jonathan had been quite polite as he had feasted upon that Buried Mr. John. And he had been agitated but controlled when he interrogated Dr. Girard.

What had caused this? What had Jonathan been saying, before he had been swallowed up by the Lonely?

As the silence stretched on Elias felt something crack open within him in despair. He had brought Jonathan’s destruction. In his arrogance he had invited it over for coffee.

 

 

Jon Saw her first. She was so lost. She was so lonely. She had been just trying to find people- any one, any one at all, please, please she couldn’t be alone again-

Jon took her hand.

And as she looked down at him in surprise, tears and snot running down her face, he scowled with the determination of a bloodhound at another set of footprints she hadn’t noticed. A man’s footprints, when had they been there? They hadn’t been there before she was sure of it she had been all alone but his overlapped hers and that just wasn’t possible-

 

 

Peter made a noise Elias had never heard and clutched at his stomach. Elias almost didn’t bother to Look, but as he turned slightly Peter bowed over in half and made gagging noises.

Suddenly the mists cleared with the force of an implosion.

Hand in hand Jonathan stood with two people Elias recognized with a start. The doomed statement givers stood trembling, blinking away tears and clutching one another. Jonathan Looked down at Peter gagging on the floor and scornfully stepped away to lead the couple outside.