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Going Back

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The room wouldn’t stop spinning.

 

He kept it together just long enough to get Melanie out of Elias’s office. Jonathan Sims, Human Shield. Who would’ve thought it?

 

But now, stumbling down to the Archives, he wasn’t so sure. Everything was scrambled, neither here nor there. His arm throbbed and the hallway tilted, or perhaps he tilted. Wouldn’t that be funny? Just walking sideways down the hall while everyone stared. Don’t mind me! He let out an involuntary giggle- did it echo? Like Helen’s voice echoed? Like poor Michael’s? No, not ‘poor Michael.’ He tried to kill you!

 

Right, right. 

 

He was getting some looks. Jon was starting to get used to this whole ‘pariah’ business. He was never the most social person, but people would still greet him in the hallways. Now, though. Now they just stared and whispered. It’s not their fault, of course. He knows he doesn’t look good. Jon hadn’t seen a mirror in a good long while, but he certainly wasn’t feeling good. The Circus had done a number on him and it’s not like he had time to make himself presentable before going back to the office. The Distortion wouldn’t have allowed them to make pit stops. Be funny if it did, though.

 

He laughed again, stumbling into a wall. A woman looked as if she wanted to help, reaching out an arm that was slapped away by her companion. “Leave him,” the man whispered. He was right to. Jon was starting to think this whole avatar business was contagious. 

 

“Don’t worry,” he whispered back in an attempt to be reassuring. It probably would have come off better if his voice didn’t have the consistency of sandpaper. “I’ll be gone soon enough!” He smiled and they scurried off, looking horrified. Huh.

 

He didn’t know what he meant by ‘gone.’ Out of their hair, back in the Archives, dead in a hole somewhere. It was all the same to him. 

 

There was a song playing in his mind, an incessant, repetitive tune that should be cheerful but it was not. He hummed along with it.

 

Ten minutes or two days later, he stumbled through the door to the Archives, tripping down the stairs at a rate more like falling. No one was there to greet him, perhaps it was lunch time? Jon was very hungry. But that wasn’t a good indicator of time- Jon was always hungry now. For answers, for food, for someone to look at him without anger. Hungry hungry hungry.

 

Someone must have left a thing or two in the break room. Martin always had snacks lying about. Maybe he could have one of Tim’s protein bars? Melanie’s Gatorades? So many choices it almost made him weep. 

 

Elias was always saying he chose this. He’s starting to agree. He always wanted more- more answers, more information. The choice was always easy then- go wherever the knowledge takes you. So why was this one so goddamn hard?  Just pick some food, any fucking food you’re so hungry-

 

It would be nice if someone picked for him. He hadn’t had to choose his own food for a while, but now the options were just overwhelming. Just let him have one more thing out of his control. He wasn’t ready to go back to normal, not just yet.

 

But they had to move forward, he knew that. Jon wanted answers and so did the rest of them. They never liked the answers he gave them. Is that Jon’s fault, really? Maybe. Everyone else seemed to think so. Elias didn’t tell them he’d been kidnapped, but he’d been gone all the same. It’s sad isn’t it, when you become a person no one will miss? Jon missed them. Jon missed everything that was real, flesh and blood and warm. Jon was selfish that way.

 

But now he had an answer. Something good that came out of all of this, a lead. Tim would be happy. He might even thank him.

 

The world tilted and Jon tilted with it.

 


 

“Hang on- is that Jon?”

 

Martin peered into the break room on his return from lunch; he wasn’t expecting anyone else to be here. But there was a small figure there in the dark, swaying on their feet. He rushed over and flicked on the light switch- it was Jon! His excitement was dampened, however, when he got a good look at the man.

 

Jon looked bad. Martin didn’t think he could possibly look worse than he did after Daisy brought him back but no, this was definitely worse. At least then he’d been angry, rushing around and demanding answers from Elias. Now though, he was just...swaying, his eyes distant and cloudy, not even noticing the other occupant in the room. His hair was tangled and long, his face was gaunt. He was drowning in his clothes- clothes that were dirty and blood stained and torn as if he spent the last month living in the woods. “Jon?” he asked hesitantly, inching forward in the room like he was approaching a spooked animal. “Jon, are you alright?”

 

No answer. Jon was humming, a strange, childish tune like something from a music box or an ice cream truck. Tim was silent and still behind him; Martin wasn’t surprised he was unwilling to help. It was a horrifying picture, after all, and he and Jon weren’t on the best of terms. Martin managed to get close enough to venture a hand on Jon’s shoulder.

 

This seemingly broke him out of his fog and stopped that god-awful hum. His eyes cleared as he turned to Martin and smiled- Martin had always wanted Jon to smile at him but not like this, never like this. Happy and dreamy yet somehow manic. “Oh!” he croaked; he sounded as if his voice hadn’t been used in days. “M-Martin, you’re here!”

 

“Yes, I am,” he explained slowly, trying to match his smile if only to put him at ease. “Are- are you alright, Jon? We haven’t seen you for a while, and you look- well, not great.” That was an understatement. There was a strange, glowing sheen on his otherwise unhealthy frame, like a doll that’d been covered in greasepaint. It was unnerving, to say the least.

 

“Yes!” Jon said excitedly, grabbing at his arm with thin, spindly fingers. There was a desperate strength behind it. “Now that you’re here. Where’s Tim? I have to- I need to find Tim!”

 

That was not a good idea. “Erm, are you sure?” he hedged, trying to usher him into a seat but Jon was having none of it and pulling at his arm insistently. “Jon, I really think you should get to a doctor, I mean look at you-”

 

“Tim!” Jon called in that croaking, animated voice. The man in question looked irritated at first, and then clearly disturbed by the man in front of him. “Tim, I have news.”

 

Tim backed up as Jon approached and leaned forward on his desk as if imparting a secret. ‘I know where it’s going to be. The Unknowing.”  Martin watched as Tim’s eyes lit up unwillingly and he grabbed at Jon, pushing him into his own desk chair. Easy, Martin wanted to chide, though he knew Tim wouldn’t heed it. He had a one-track mind when it came to dealing with the Circus.

 

“Where?” Tim asked urgently, his hands on Jon’s shoulders as if ready to shake him lest he gave the wrong answer. Martin noticed the way Jon leaned into the touch, threatening as it was. “Where?”

 

“A wax museum!” The words were...delighted. Jon was smiling like a child giving a teacher the correct answer and that strange, clouded look was coming back into his eyes. “I don’t know which one, though. They didn’t tell me that.” Who?

 

“Who?” Tim echoed his thoughts and pushed Jon up straight as he listed to the side. “Was this- was this one of your powers? How long have you known?”

 

“No, not this time,” Jon patiently explained. “I was there. I’ve known for- hm, Elias said - about a month!” What? Tim’s eyes narrowed and his hands gripped harder. Jon didn’t seem to notice. “I would’ve told you, but I was all tied up!” He reached his hands up imploringly, sleeves slipping down his arms to reveal wrists rubbed raw, clearly infected. Martin gasped and even Tim let up, looking nauseated. 

 

“Jon,” Martin kneeled by the chair, trying to meet his eyes. “Jon, what happened? Who did this to you?”

 

Without Tim’s help, Jon fell to the side of the chair, only supported by it’s arm. His shirt, worryingly baggy, slipped off his shoulder to reveal deeply bruised skin, blooming a purple and green that seemed to extend beyond what they could see. Jon must have noticed their horrified stares, for he rushed to reassure them. 

 

“I can’t even feel it anymore, really. She just liked to see what colors she could make me turn.”

 

Martin could’ve thrown up.

 

“Who’s she?”  Tim stuttered out, horror rooting him in place though his hands twitched in what look liked an urge to help.

 

“The clown. Nikola. Needed- needed my skin for the dance. She couldn’t cut me up yet. I was almost-” Jon was no longer there with them, not anymore. “I was almost ready.” He pitched forward, eyes rolling back in his head and Martin rushed to grab him but Tim got there first, sweeping an arm under his chest and pulling him back up on the chair. There was a feral, unhinged look in the man’s eyes- anger, fear, and something he couldn’t name making his arms shake even as they kept Jon in a tight grip. 

 

“Should- should we get him to the hospital? This is bad, Tim.”

 

“No!” Jon shot up in the seat, arms flailing in a sudden panic. “No more- no more strange hands! I don’t w-want them touching me, please Martin, I don’t want to I don’t want to-”

 

“Shh,” it was Tim who hushed him, leaning Jon into his side and taking most of his weight. He was completely attentive now in an entirely different way- Martin would say it was protective if he didn’t know the man’s real feelings. “We won’t. How about we take you to the cot, have a rest, yeah?”

 

“Tim…” Shouldn’t they be doing more? A nap wouldn’t cure him- he needed real medical attention.

 

“Just for now,” he said and his tone didn’t leave room for any arguments. “He doesn’t want it. Not right now.” Martin wondered what made him suddenly attuned to Jon’s needs- as if a switch had been flipped at the mention of a clown. He followed behind like a lost puppy, watching as Tim took a still-murmuring Jon into Document Storage.

 

“Their hands, Tim. I don’t- too much touching-”

 

“I’ll let go of you as soon as you’re settled,” Tim promised, laying him down with the utmost care as Martin watched from the doorway. “I’m sorry-”

 

But Jon’s arm shot out and grabbed at Tim’s as he tried to walk away. “Not- not yours. I-I didn’t mean yours.”

 

And to Martin’s surprise Tim sat down, leaning back against the cot and entwining his hand with Jon’s. His eyes held that same far-away look as Jon’s, as if he were trapped in a memory and seeing something else entirely. Martin suddenly feels like he’s intruding.

 

He shuts the door and lets them be.