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"Listen—"

"You listen." You don't raise your voice; you don't need to. "I don't even—" You choke up for a moment, and shake your head sharply before the warmth in your eyes can become tears. "I don't get to—You called me family, Jon."

Neither of you has time for you to recount what you told Reva, or explain the one thing she got wrong: you might learn to bear the weight of this, but you will never find closure. In your memory you have only taken these cruises alone, but in the rush to prepare samples before the storm, you sometimes found yourself reaching into empty air for a piece of glassware that no one handed you. If you leave Jon here, the rest of your life will be like that: the shape of yourself folded around a ragged emptiness no one else can see, habits you don't understand, questions without answers. Grief without a home.

"We brought each other this far," you say instead, thinking of the hours spent winding tapes forward and back and of the way he said I'm right behind you, not as a threat but as a promise—as reassurance. "We'll get each other out." And with the precise, painstaking attention you would take with a solution on the verge of precipitating, you reach your left hand back, and you do not look.

Nothing happens.

With reality unsteady and your heartbeat careening wildly, you can't tell how long you wait, but the stretching silence almost makes you miss the static. You're just opening your mouth to argue again when you register something against your palm—not warmth or pressure or the crackle of blood reviving a sleeping limb, but something like the memory of them, described by someone who has never felt any of the three. Hesitantly you curl your fingers, then laugh under your breath; the sensation gets no stronger and the one-way mirror shows only empty air behind you, yet your fist refuses to close.

"Okay," you say shakily, to reassure yourself as much as Jon. "Okay. I've got you."

He doesn't answer. It was too much to hope for, you suppose, that after a suspended eternity in this place he would have the strength to cling to himself and you and speech all at once. You'll just have to trust him, one more time, enough to keep moving.

You don't need him to tell you what to do next, after all. The glass is already cracked, a web of jagged lines smashing your face into unrecognizable shards. If you let them, those would mesmerize you; you could live a lifetime in endless iterations of this single moment, none of them quite the same.

You lift your free fist, give the hand you can't feel a squeeze, and aim for the center of the web.

---

You won't sail the aftermath of this smoothly. None of Jonathan's vanished past came through with him; Reva will pull strings to get him a functional legal identity, and three months down the line you will pick up the story when his voice falters under Anabelle's stare, but in some ways he will always be a ghost in his own life. You'll start taking audio logs on your phone after the first time the sound of your own voice, underlaid with the gentle whir of a tape recorder, leaves you trembling at your desk. Both of you will snap at each other for things that aren't your fault: you tripping into what you can't know is a tired argument, him making light of your lingering grief when he only means to make you laugh.

But you will sail it together, which in the end will be all either of you needs to make the bad spells worthwhile. It will take all of an afternoon in the lab to find yourselves dancing seamlessly around one another, and another week to learn that you can still argue without risking your familiarity or mutual respect. (Investigating Mallux will feel much the same, though despite your best efforts Mallux itself will long outlast your first—first new—joint publication project. Fortunately, you're both stubborn.) Neither of you will hesitate the first time you need to make—or pick up—a call in the middle of the night. Eventually, when the sting of your missing memories has faded enough, Jon will delight in being able to use old jokes for the first time; you will throw balls of crumpled paper at him for the worst of them, even as you smother laughter.

Now and then, while watching a movie with Jon or updating Reva and Nelly on your findings or simply putting your groceries away, you'll remember your own confused anguish over hearing you were like family to me and give yourself time to linger over it as though tracing an unexplained childhood scar. Somewhere in the midst of all this Anabelle will start to call, at first for advice on gifts for the brother she's learning to have or to ask for details about dream she suspects might be a memory—until one day, laughing into the receiver over some anecdote from her work, you realize that the two of you are friends, too, now. She'll check on you when the laughter trails off, and when you tell her you're okay, you will mean those words more than you will have meant them in a long time.

But all of that will come later. Right now, you are stumbling through a door and cataloguing the things you thought you might never get back: Nelly and Reva's exclamations, deep breaths of briny air, the engines' steady hum. You are holding tight to the hand finally, finally warm and solid in yours. You are turning at last to find an exhausted-looking man you don't recognize, who can only be one person, and throwing your arms around his shoulders as both of you shake.

Right now you are learning, with triumph brighter and warmer than the pain in your bleeding hand, the sound of your best friend's laughter.