It was a slow day in the archives, the hours dragging out in a frustrating trickle. The quiet was almost oppressive, the dull background noises deafened by the press of the dirt around the basement that the archives called home.
Tim had been working on a case for most of the morning, gathering information on a statement that Jon had given him with a quiet mutter about how ridiculous it was. Sasha was pouring over a book she'd got from the library, scribbling notes onto a piece of scrap paper, the scratch of her pencil a calming backdrop to Tim's own research. Martin had wandered off to make tea a few minutes earlier while he waited for a relative of a statement giver to call him back.
A loud thud and the sound of several things falling sounded from Jon's office, followed by muffled cursing. Tim glanced over at Sasha and raised an eyebrow. She shrugged.
"Jon!" He called. "You good in there?"
There was a pause, then Jon's office door was wrenched open.
Tim was on his feet in a second, reaching for his friend.
"Jon, what happened?"
Jon staggered towards him. Blood was running down his face, dripping off his chin, his eyes wild and unfocused. His shirt was slowly soaking through with blood, more of it seeping down from a cut on his neck, and as he reached for Tim, he saw a large, blistering burn across his right hand.
"Tim-" His voice was ragged and pained. "You're alive."
"Yeah, I- Jon, what the hell happened?" Tim caught him just as his knees gave out. He looped his arms under Jon's, trying to ignore the way the blood made his narrow shoulders slick.
"Martin!" Sasha called, grabbing the first aid kit that they had managed to convince Elias to install. "Martin!!"
"Yeah?" Martin poked his head out of the break room. His eyes widened at the site of Jon's unconscious form against Tim. "What happened?"
"Call an ambulance. Go!" Sasha shooed him away. "Tim, get him on the floor."
Tim lowered him as carefully as he could. Sasha grabbed a pair of scissors off his desk and cut his shirt off him, apologising under her breath.
Tim swore. Under the blood, Jon's chest was covered in small circular wounds, with more injuries littered here and there.
"I know. She glanced up at him. "I know."
"Tim, focus. Hand here." She grabbed his hand and put it over a deep cut on Jon's arm. It was seeping blood. "Put pressure on that. We need to try and stop the bleeding."
"Right, right, okay." Tim fought down the bile rising up in his throat. Memories of clowns, of his brother- He shook them away.
Jon needed him. Tim could focus.
He covered the cut with his hands, pressing down in an attempt to slow the bleeding. Sasha was the trained first aider, but Tim had some experience from his more active hobbies. One too many slips and falls on a hike had encouraged him to get at least some basic training. He knew his way around an injury, but this... He was out of his depth. Sasha babbled somethings about blood loss and bandages and it all went over Tim's head.
"Oh my god..." Sasha swiped away some of the blood from Jon's hand, revealing the extent of the burn there. Tim gagged, doubling over Jon's body. "Tim, stay with me. Come on, I need you to stay here, okay? Oh Jesus Christ, Jon."
There was another gash across his neck, this one much thinner than the one on his arm, almost sickeningly careful in its neatness.
Martin reappeared in the doorway. "Paramedics are on their way, I told Rosie to let them in. What can I do?"
"Put your hand here." She directed him to one of the patches of blood on his leg that was darker than the others, the fabric shiny and saturated from the wound it was hiding. "Don't move. All we can do is wait for the paramedics."
"That's it?" Tim could feel himself shaking. He'd known Jon years, he refused to let him bleed out on the floor of their spooky work. "There has to be something else."
"Tim, he's bleeding too much for us to do anything. This is so far beyond anything I can do."
The wait for the paramedics was horrible, the adrenaline coursing through Tim's body driving him to move, go, find whatever did this to Jon, but he stayed still, watching as his friend slowly bled out, his bloody cheeks turning gradually more grey.
The cacophony of the hospital was a steady, awful backdrop to Tims thoughts. He was tired, his neck had an uncomfortable crick thanks to a night spent in a hospital waiting room. He wanted to shower, he wanted to scream, and most of all, he wanted Jon to wake up.
A nurse hurried past, clipboard in hand, a chipper customer service smile on his face.
Tim thumbed at the cuff of his shirt. Some of Jon's blood was dried onto the seam. Martin was doing a run round everyone's flats for a change of clothing and some basic hygiene items, but until he got back Tim was alone with his thoughts.
A phone rang. Someone took a little too long to answer it, letting the sound ring out through the waiting room.
With nothing better to do than mope, Tim dozed.
Tim was in an empty wax museum. It wasn't a place he knew, but in a strange way he recognised the pillars and harsh smell of smoke that set his teeth on edge with a quiet rage.
Jon was curled up on the floor next to him, a too big t-shirt drowning the tired droop of his narrow shoulders.
Jon looked up at him. "Hello Tim."
Jon shrugged. "I guess so. How do you feel?"
Tim frowned. "I- I don't know. Angry, I think?"
Jon nodded sagely. "That makes sense."
"Is it worth asking what this place is?"
Jon sighed and leant backwards until he was laying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. "I have a headache."
Sitting next to him, Tim examined the bandages across Jon's hand and neck. "I thought you didn't get sick."
Jon smiled. There was no light behind it. "Not anymore. It's just- I can't see very well here. It's in its nature."
"You should get your eyes tested."
That got a laugh. It was short, more surprised than actual humour. "You'd be surprised to find out how accurate that statement is." Jon frowned suddenly. "Not statement. That's the wrong word."
"Workaholic." Tim accused.
Humming, Tim lay down next to Jon, feeling the way the floor cracked beneath him. "What happens when I wake up? Do you go back to being in a coma."
"Not sure. I'm more lucid here. I wonder why?"
"Where is here?"
Somewhere in the distance, a quiet rumble of thunder started. It shook the floor under them. Tim sat up and watched chunks of the ceiling crumble and fall away, far too slowly. "Boss?"
"It's alright, Tim. It can't hurt us this time."
"Tim." Sasha's voice woke him up. He blinked against the harsh lights of the waiting room and looked up at her. She looked as exhausted as he felt.
Sasha took a deep breath. "The doctor says he lost a lot of blood. It's- It's impressive that he's alive. Still no sign of Elias, I called Rosie and she said he was off on a business trip and not answering his phone."
Tim let out a long, unsteady breath. "Sash...."
"Yeah." She dropped down next to him, placing a calming hand on his knee. "It's all a bit shit."
"I just... I don't want him to die."
"Of course not, he's our friend."
He slumped down in his chair. "I love him, you know? Not like that, just- I've known him for years. My first day in Research, this scrawny little jackass showed up and sat at the desk next to mine and now-" He waved a hand at the waiting room around them. "Now I'm sat waiting to hear if he's going to live or if- I need him to live."
"Will he? Can we be sure? He wasn't exactly healthy before a ghost or whatever put him through a blender, what if he just isn't strong enough? He used to smoke, Sasha. I don't think he's eaten anything in the last 48 hours. When we used to do stakeouts together, he thought those old lady mints were enough food."
Sasha chuckled softly. "That sounds like Jon."
Tim covered her hand with his own. She laced their fingers together and gave him an encouraging squeeze. "I want him to be okay." He whispered. She hummed softly and leant over to rest her head on his shoulder. One of her fingers traced calming lines across his knuckles.
"Hey guys." Martin dropped a bag onto the chair next to them. "I got all the stuff."
Tim pulled open the bag and found the shirt that Martin had bought for him. He found the bathroom and shrugged out of his dirty shirt, pulling the fresh one on gratefully. He caught sight of his haggard reflection in the mirror and stuck out his tongue at it.
When he got back to Sasha and Martin, they were talking to a doctor that Tim faintly remembered.
The doctor showed them into the room, offering to give them a moment with Jon. He was stretched out on the bed, his torso and legs covered in the thin blanket in a cheap mockery of sleep.
Strangely, the peace was most unlike Jon.
Tim pulled up one of the plastic chairs by the bed and rested his elbows on his knees.
"Come on, you bastard. Wake up."
Sasha let out a quiet laugh. "He's never done as he's told."
"There's a first time for everything." Martin hummed, sitting next to Tim and carefully placing a hand over Jon's.
Tim stared at Jon, trying to see past the bandages to his old friend, desperately searching for some hint that he was fine, that they would be okay, that this was a blip in their story rather than the end.
"Oh my god."
Tim's head snapped around and he was on his feet in an instant. "Um, this is a private room."
The woman who had just walked in had the decency to look at least somewhat embarrassed. "Oh, sorry, Georgie Barker." She pointed at herself. "I'm Jon's emergency contact? The doctors called me, they said there had been an accident." She sighed and dropped her bag at the foot of Jon's bed. Crossing around to the head of the bed, she stroked a piece of Jon's hair off his forehead. "What happened to him?"
Tim shrugged. "To be honest, we have no idea. He was in his office, and then-" He waved a hand at Jon's bandages. "Something made him look like he'd lost a fight with a cheese grater."
"Really? That's it?"
"Trust me, we wish we had more answers." Sasha said.
Georgie looked at her. "And who are you lot?"
"His coworkers." Tim said, at the same time that Martin said "His friends." Tim glanced at him, but he was staring at Georgie with an inscrutable expression.
"I didn't know how to get in touch with any family members." Sasha piped up.
Georgie shook her head. "He doesn't have any. It was just him and his grandmother, but she died a few years ago I think. Last I heard, that was it. I don't even think he had any cousins."
Tim's heart broke a little bit. He glanced at Sasha and saw that she was desperately fighting down pity for Jon as well.
"This happened when he was at work?"
"He was in his office, something did," Tim gestured at Jon. "this to him, and then he came stumbling out asking if we were okay."
"And you didn't see anything?"
Sasha shook her head. "His door was shut. I've checked through the archives, I couldn't find any traces of something that could've done this, but the police had already cleared a lot away. I'm planning on heading back this afternoon to do another search of his office if they'll let me in."
Georgie looked impressed. "Nice. If you need some help, let me know."
Sasha gave her a small smile. "Thanks."
Georgie glanced at Martin, then down at the hand still gripping Jon's and nodded. "Thanks for not just leaving him here. He's an idiot when it comes to looking after himself."
"Don't worry." Sasha sighed. "We know."