To resist an entity was tremendously difficult, Jon was sure they all knew that. The more one had been touched by an entity, the more of their personhood was tied up in it, each one colouring a different aspect of the person it claimed.
The Eye had been overriding his morals, or if he was feeling charitable, it had been trying to. Constantly feeding him information in a bid for him to forget, to not care, to just feed like it wanted him to. Information about how this person was cruel to their niece, how they had abandoned their friend, how they weren’t a good person, so surely, surely they deserved some punishment.
Jon tried to block it out, but it was hard. Sometimes he thought he might surrender just for a moment of peace in his own mind.
Daisy’s words came to him in moments like that. Listen to the quiet. It worked, a lot of the time.
Thoughts of Daisy were what was occupying his mind now, if only to block out the Eye. The Hunt wasn’t having the same effect on her that the Eye was on him. Daisy’s morals had always been grey, and that remained even now. Refusing the Hunt had dimmed a fire within her to almost nothing and, most concerningly, drained her strength. Admittedly the coffin was also to blame, but Jon knew that she would continue to waste away like this for as long as she resisted.
There had to be another way, surely. He could subsist on statements without taking live ones, there must be some equivalent for the Hunt.
Well. There was one, insultingly simple option, but Jon wasn’t sure he could even bring himself to suggest it. It was childish and silly, and Daisy had already tried to kill him a few times, he didn’t need her doing it again if he offended her that much with his stupid idea.
She cornered him anyway. “You’re being weird.” She said, moments after they had left the institute for lunch.
Jon snorted. “When am I not?”
“Weird for you.” She emphasised. “Jumpier than usual. Like you’re hiding something.”
“I’m… not.” Jon said. They had reached the park now, and took a seat on a bench under a tree. The sky was grey, threatening to rain, which Jon honestly preferred these days. Less people around, less temptation. With a sigh, he began to eat his sandwich, imagining Martin’s chiding words to bring himself to do so.
A hand ruffled his hair and Jon yelped, flinching away. He stared at Daisy in wide-eyed shock, only managing to ask, “Why?”
She shrugged. “You were moping again.”
Jon rolled his eyes, trying and failing to be annoyed as he adjusted his hair as best he could. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”
“I’m not putting up with it at least.” Daisy said. Jon swallowed a smile. Her dour sense of humour was one that amused him to no end. “So stop it and tell me whatever rubbish you were being weird about.”
“Hmm?” Jon swallowed the last of his sandwich. “Oh, that’s… really not important, Daisy.”
“That’s why it’s small talk, Jon.”
The steel in her voice made him pause. “I’ve been… trying to think of some kind of… outlet, for you.” He admitted. “The fears aren’t… they’re difficult to handle, we both know that, but I at least have statements, it’s enough to- to keep me going, and I’ve been trying to think of something that could work for the Hunt.”
She hummed in response, tipping her head back to look up at the clouds. “Come up with something then?”
“Ah, no, not really.”
Daisy cocked her head. “I don’t believe you.”
Jon bristled. “And why’s that?”
She laughed quietly. “You’re a terrible liar.”
“I- well that’s hardly the… fine, I didn’t come up with anything… sensible.”
“First word I’d use to describe the Hunt; sensible.”
Jon groaned. She wasn’t going to let this go. “Fine, all I could think of was a game of tig, alright?! But that obviously won’t work.”
Daisy nodded slowly, her eyes fixed on a point in the distance. “You’re right.” She said faintly. “That won’t work.”
“We don’t have enough people.”
Jon froze. “What?”
She grinned at him with a spark in her eye. “Run.”
“W-wait, Daisy hold on a moment!” Jon scrambled to his feet, holding his hands out. “I-I’m hardly fit, I- doubt I’ll be any good as…” Prey. The word caught in his throat.
Daisy remained seated on the bench, but the spark in her eye didn’t fade. “Just a test.” She said, “I’ll give you a head start.”
“Oh- oh, I mean, I suppose…”
Jon couldn’t quite put a word to the emotion that seized him; not quite fear, not quite excitement. All he could really think of doing was what Daisy had told him to. Run.
He hurried further into the park, grateful that the lousy weather had kept most people away, and dove into a small bunch of trees and bushes, hoping that Daisy wouldn’t see him.
This was ridiculous, Jon thought, feeling panicked laughter bubble up in his stomach. This was only going to end one way, and besides, Daisy wasn’t going to hurt him.
Now that he was actually in this situation, Jon started to think that maybe it wasn’t the best idea. Statements didn’t give him any chance of hurting a real person by reading them. Chasing someone down…
Jon yelped, fell, then scarpered back through the bushes, blood pounding in his ears. Bad idea, bad idea, Daisy was laughing, and he could practically hear the growl in her voice and smell the blood on her breath.
Daisy breathed deeply, letting him get ahead a little before going after him. It was hard to tell, but she did feel better even after such a short, playful chase. Stronger.
She darted from tree to tree, chuckling whenever she saw Jon looking behind him and around, trying to find her. She liked this, she decided. This could help.
Jon was right, he wasn’t what anyone would call fast. Daisy knew he wasn’t fit, wasn’t strong, so she curbed her impulse to tackle him to the grass, instead using his own momentum to push him against a tree, spinning him around so he didn’t break his glasses. “Got you.” She sing-songed.
Jon froze, his breathing becoming more and more shallow by the moment. He was in the park, Daisy was his friend, this was fine, it was fine.
But he could hear the leaves, see trees, feel Daisy’s hands holding him still, and all of a sudden there was a knife against his throat again. “D-Daisy…”
Those same hands pushed him down to the ground and Jon squeezed his eyes shut. No. He forced his breathing to slow down. There was no knife against his throat. He was safe.
Once he had repeated that sentence in his mind a few times, reinforced its truthfulness, Jon opened his eyes. Daisy was still there, one hand on his shoulder and the other against his side. She wasn’t holding him very firmly, but nonetheless he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape easily. Her eyes were clear of any bloodlust though, her face free of that feral smile. There was only her normal smile.
Then her hand started squeezing at his side and Jon decided it was an evil smile after all.
He yelped, jumped, which did nothing to help him escape, and grabbed Daisy’s wrist on instinct, staring at her with wide eyes. “Daisy- what are you- no, dON’T!”
Jon’s free hand clapped over his mouth, trying to keep the embarrassing noises in as Daisy’s hand squeezed up and down his side and ribs. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had tickled him, had clean forgotten that he was even ticklish until a moment ago, and now he was struggling with all his might not to burst out giggling.
Daisy’s fingers were soft and electric, wiggling up and down his torso like a dog sniffing out a bone. The metaphor became even more accurate when she homed in on that one rib midway down that seemed to tickle an inordinate amount more than any of the others and fixate on it.
Jon screeched and bucked, bursting out cackling and kicking. He felt his glasses sliding down his face but couldn’t find any motivation to stop them. He tugged desperately at Daisy’s wrist, but even in his frantic state Jon knew which of them was stronger. All his resistance did was lead her other hand to stop gripping his shoulder and assault his other side.
Mercifully, Jon became aware that only one of his ribs was quite that ticklish, and there was no similar spot on his other side. It was small comfort though, and he sank into the ground in a weak attempt at escape. He could feel himself blushing, his laughter getting more and more high-pitched as she continued, unable to say more than the start of any word he tried to articulate. And all the while he could feel Daisy’s eyes burning into him, sense her wicked smile, feel her chuckle.
When his laughter had turned to hiccups, Daisy stopped, pulling her hands away with a satisfied grin.
Jon panted for breath. His hair was dishevelled, but at least his glasses hadn’t fallen and broken. He rubbed his sides in an attempt to get rid of the tingling and gave Daisy what he hoped was an exasperated look. “Why?”
She chuckled. “Sniffing out weak spots? Very Hunt.” Jon flushed and she cocked her head. “You alright?”
“Other than your unprovoked assault, yes.”
She hummed. Jon really was a terrible liar. “You thought I’d lost control.”
“N-no.” Jon said, surprising Daisy with his sincerity. “I didn’t think you had, but it was- it was a concern.” He took a stabilising breath, looking her over. “You look… better.”
Daisy nodded. “I feel better.” She admitted. “Screw physical therapy, should just do this instead.”
Jon surprised himself by laughing. “Yes, well in that case we could perhaps make this… regular?”
She raised an eyebrow. “You volunteering?”
Jon coughed awkwardly, feeling the flush return to his cheeks. “You- you can talk to the others of course, but I-I’d like to help. If I can.”
“Mmhm.” Daisy hummed. They all knew by now that Jon was self-sacrificial to a dangerous degree, but she got the feeling that that wasn’t what this was. Like their unlikely bond, like his moping over Martin, it seemed more to do with how lonely he was. Aching for someone, anyone who didn’t resent him. “Alright.” She shrugged, getting to her feet. “You’d better be able to run faster than that next time.”
Jon huffed a laugh and stood as well. “I suppose I should get some trainers.”
Daisy swallowed a laugh. “Yeah.” That would definitely make a difference.
There were times, many times, when Basira felt like the only sane person in the room. With Jon’s suicidal impulsiveness and Daisy’s stoic ability to egg others on without saying a word, she was tempted to put them on child leashes. She wasn’t sure what Martin was up to, but she would put money on it being at least as stupid as diving into the coffin.
All that to say that she wasn’t exactly surprised when Jon came tearing into the breakroom, eyes wide and breathing heavy, clearly trying to escape from… something.
“Jon? What’s going on?” Basira tensed in alarm, trying to prepare for… whatever Jon was running from.
He was barely paying attention to her, but did seem to note the concern. “Ah, no, Basira, it’s- well, it’s Daisy?” Approaching footsteps made him yelp and he bolted back out the way he had come, hurrying down the corridor.
Moments later Basira saw her partner following him. Daisy stopped and grinned at her through the break room window, which put her mind somewhat at ease.
Not so much at ease that she didn’t run after them when she heard a scream.
Honestly. It was almost like they were trying to scare her.
Basira followed the sounds of the scuffle, the little cut off yelps and sound of bodies moving, until she found herself in the stacks. The sight before her had her stomach clenching. Jon, face down on the ground and struggling, pinned by a smirking Daisy. “I’ve got you now.” She growled.
Basira shook herself. Not good. “Daisy!” She shouted, refusing to go for a weapon just yet. “Let him go.”
Daisy looked up at her, confusing Basira. Her eyes were clear. This… wasn’t the Hunt. Or at least she hadn’t lost control. Then she grinned and dug her fingers into Jon’s sides, eliciting a scream identical to the one she had heard before. She took a weary step closer. “Are you killing him? Kind of sounds like you’re killing him.”
Jon bucked, apparently now noticing that Basira was there. “Help!” He squeezed out, trying his best to squirm free. “Basira- help!”
Daisy laughed and targeted the death spot midway up his ribcage on one side. “Not killing him.” She said, “He’s just very ticklish.”
Basira saw the truth of her words when Jon abruptly burst out laughing, something he’d clearly been resisting before. She felt herself smirk. “I see.”
“Yeah.” Daisy grinned.
Jon pressed his face into the linoleum floor, wishing he could muffle himself somehow. This was far too embarrassing, it was bad enough with just Daisy, now Basira was watching him giggle like a child on the ground. “Gahaha- HELP!” he squealed, reaching out for Basira only to immediately regret it when Daisy’s hand shot into his underarm getting a loud snort.
Basira did her best to bury her smile, but it was difficult. These two were beyond childish. She’d be lying if she said it wasn’t cute. She gave Daisy a curt nod. “Carry on.”
“Nononono, d-ahaha- don’t leave me!”
Basira raised an eyebrow at those words as she left. Very dramatic, even for Jon. Overdramatic even, which meant…
She risked a glance back from just outside the door. Yep, that smile sold it. Despite his pleading for a rescue, Jon clearly didn’t have much of an issue with this.
Her own smile resurfaced as she returned to the breakroom, the sound of Jon’s laughter echoing after her.
Jon almost wished he could hate this. It would certainly save him some pride. He couldn’t though. For all his inability to help Martin or Basira or Melanie or anyone else, he could help Daisy. She had been getting livelier by the day since they had started their game of chase; more light in her eyes and meat on her bones, and that made Jon feel a bit better about himself. After everything.
Daisy was his friend now, too. Which wasn’t something he’d ever expected could happen, but Jon found himself happy about it. She was dry and sarcastic, just like him, and her quiet companionship was… nice.
The hunts were nice too. Maybe running so much would help him escape danger in the future. It certainly couldn’t hurt. And Jon couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed so much.
Daisy knew he’d been having fun with this, he could see it in her eyes every time he begged for mercy. She also seemed to have an uncanny knack for demanding a hunt any time Jon was feeling particularly down. If she said she could smell his emotions, Jon would believe her.
At least he’d been doing a somewhat better job of evading her this time.
Martin had noticed the slight change in the institute in recent weeks. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly, but he’d spotted glimpses. Jon, who he’d gone out of his way to avoid seeing, darting past doorways to rooms Martin was in. The sound of pounding, uneven footsteps, chased by softer surer ones. Yelps of surprise. Some laughter.
He wasn’t sure what to make of it. On one hand it was loud and pointless, and just disrupted anything he was trying to do. More than once he was sure Jon had seen him, fading away in under a second and still certain it wasn’t fast enough. On the other hand, well. He’d seen Jon smile, once. Fleeting as he ran by, but still there.
The memory of it brought a flush to Martin’s cheeks, and he realised with some shock that his hands were becoming visible. He corrected that.
Footsteps echoed down the hall and Martin looked up in surprise. He hadn’t heard anyone coming. He didn’t thing anyone ever came up here.
“Jo-on, I know you’re there.” It was… teasing. Sing-song. Daisy. Of course.
A soft yelp emanated from the broom closet a few doors down from where Martin stood, and a moment later Jon tumbled out of it. Martin told himself that the swoop in his stomach was dread. He really shouldn’t be around Jon now.
Daisy appeared at the end of the hall. Jon balked, scrambling in the other direction, running down the hallway towards where Martin was standing, invisible and intangible, and Martin… stuck out his foot.
He really didn’t think it would work. Mostly he’d done it as a little joke to himself, a moment of indulgence.
Jon crashed to the ground, his foot catching on… nothing? No, it was something, something was definitely there, he wasn’t so clumsy that he’d trip on his own legs. He tried to get to his feet and keep going, looking for what he’d tripped on and- “Martin!”
Martin blinked in surprise, looking down to his hands to check and yes, he was still invisible. Jon must have used the Eye again, probably by accident.
He should go. He should really go.
Jon didn’t move, though he had a few seconds before Daisy caught up with him. He stayed frozen on the ground, halfway through getting up, staring at the hazy figure standing there. He wanted to say something, he wanted to do something, but he felt like he was looking at a scared animal. Like any movement or sound would drive Martin away, and even as inevitable as that was, he knew how much it was going to hurt.
Then the reason he’d been running in the first place abruptly made herself known, and Jon yelped as she grabbed his sides. “Naha- Daisy no!”
He ducked his head into the floor to hide, knowing there was no stopping her now, even if he really didn’t need Martin to know how horrifically ticklish he was. It was embarrassing, he wanted Martin to think of him as… well, it was hard to put into words, but he knew Martin had had feelings for him at some point, he wanted to retain whatever mask had elicited that. Not giggle helplessly on the floor.
Martin found that he couldn’t move. He stared at the scene unfolding before him in disbelief. Jon was… laughing. Daisy was tickling up and down his ribs and he was laughing and blushing and barely even trying to push her away.
It was adorable.
Martin felt his mouth tilting up into a small grin. He couldn’t quite find the motivation to scrub it from his face. Looking at Jon like this now, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen him laugh before. He was usually so serious and uptight, nothing like the squirming laughing mess before him. Martin had spent the last several months burying his feelings for Jon under a thick blanket of fog, but now?
Well, the fog felt like it was starting to thin.
Jon squeezed his eyes shut, for once in his life forcing ignorance. He didn’t want time to pass. He wanted to stay in this moment. In this moment he was laughing and happy, he was playing with his friend, and Martin was there. Keeping his eyes closed extended that feeling.
One of Daisy’s fingers lingered at a spot between his ribs, and Jon was quite proud that he managed to swallow his squeak. Not that he was capable of such a sound. He was surprised, however, when she leaned close to his ear and growled, “Should I leave you two alone?”
Her hands stilled as she asked, half teasing and half… something else. Jon panted for breath, still giggling on and off. Leave them alone? Wait…
He opened his eyes cautiously. The first thing he saw was Daisy’s face, that fiery spark in her eyes and smile on her lips that always felt like it hid fangs just out of sight. There was a softness that wasn’t normally there, though. Looking past her, Jon could see why.
Martin was standing just where he had been before. The fog that usually shrouded him had dissipated somewhat. Jon could make out the colour of his jumper, his curly hair didn’t fade away into mist. And he was smiling. A fond little smile that was directed squarely at Jon and which made his stomach swoop. God, he had missed that smile.
Jon smiled back at him for what felt like an eon. He wished it was. Daisy stayed mercifully silent and still. Jon could see the moment the realisation swept across Martin’s face, the hesitance and nervousness returning, and he cringed internally, waiting for him to glare and vanish.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Martin reached out with one hand for the barest moment, seeming to catch himself halfway. He looked almost apologetic.
Jon tried his best to put everything he was thinking into his gaze. I trust you. I understand. Please be safe. I love you.
He wasn’t sure if Martin understood.
But the last part of him to disappear was his affectionate little smile.
It didn’t hurt as much as Jon had thought it would; he took some solace in that.
Daisy nudged him gently. “You okay?”
Jon’s eyes flicked away from that space in the doorway. He sighed. “I think so.”
She stood and held out a hand. “Come on. Pub night.”
“Oh- a-alright.” Jon let her pull him to his feet. “Daisy, I… thank you.”
Her hand mussed his hair, making Jon splutter but not try to get away. “Anything to stop you moping.”
Jon chuckled. Surprising as it was, he was glad that Daisy was with him.