jon’s memories of anything much before his thirteenth birthday are foggy, for the most part. it’s largely out of necessity - the talks in gcse psychology at school had said that people that experience trauma often repress memories of the event. not, of course, that jon’s traumatised. that would be silly . he’s just got a bad memory, is all, and the fact he can’t remember that day is nothing but a coincidence. the fact he jerks away when a spider crawls over the desk to come near his hand has nothing to do with it.
not that he thinks about it much.
the fact martin’s got a bloody soft spot for the things is fine, it doesn’t bother him in the slightest. the fact he glares at him across their desks when he gets a dopey expression on his face with one of the creatures crawling over his fingers means nothing.
“oh, look at you!” martin coos, turning his hand over and letting it run into his open palm with a little smile. “how’d you get in here, little one?”
“probably the baby of the big bugger you found last week,” tim says, grinning at him. “go put him outside next time you make tea.”
jon doesn’t look up from his paperwork, even though he’s very aware of the fact that the hairs on his arms are standing on end, thank you very much. reading statements about prentiss - if she’s even real , which he has very little proof of besides martin’s encounter with her - does that to him too, though. the thought of worms crawling through his body…
he’d rather not think about that, thank you very much. she haunts his dreams enough as it is.
work continues in much the same way as ever for a few days - reading and recording statements that he’s not entirely sure aren’t just the ramblings of someone long since gone insane; doing research on the ones he can’t explain away entirely, until tim raps his knuckles on the wood of his desk and startles him from his glaring at the paper as though it’ll reveal any secrets like that.
“letter for you, boss,” he says, dropping it on his laptop’s keyboard. “no idea who it’s from, though, rosie just gave me it on my way back from lunch.”
“right,” jon says, fighting to conceal his sigh. “ta. i’ll read it in a bit.”
tim gives him a mock salute that brings a smile to the very corners of jon’s mouth, the familiarity of the gesture warming his chest just a little from the inside. he glances over to where martin is sitting and looking more than a little frazzled while he studies the paper surrounding him and something on his laptop screen. it’s nice to see him working so hard, jon thinks, smiling a little as the crease between martin’s eyebrows gets a little more prominent when he picks up his phone.
but still. the letter. he needs to focus on that, at least for now.
the writing on it is neat, which feels wrong, tickling something at the back of jon’s brain that seems to shout this isn’t how it’s meant to be .
“quiet,” he says under his breath to himself, pressing the top edge of the envelope down with his nail before he reaches for the letter opener on the edge of his desk to open it with, careful not to tear it too much.
the paper inside is plain notebook paper, unremarkable apart from the message inside - “they don’t like what you breathe” because, really, what on earth is that supposed to mean?
“anything interesting?” tim calls across, startling martin into dropping his pen. “spill the beans, boss, i’m dying for a bit of gossip.”
“what is it?” sasha asks through a mouthful of her sandwich. jon winces a little, but tim just grins at her.
“i reckon that our jon’s gone and got himself a secret admirer,” tim all but crows, looking delighted with himself. “ totally unexpected, of course, since he doesn’t get out much-“
“oi,” jon weakly protests.
“-but,” tim continues, undeterred, “it’s what’s happened. who is it?”
feeling himself go red from the three pairs of eyes currently turned on him, jon clears his throat and shakes his head. “it’s nothing like that, tim,” he says sharply, “it’s just a letter. a bloody cryptic one at that.”
tim sighs and shrinks a little, visibly disappointed at the lack of anything exciting happening in the archives again. sasha looks thoughtful, chewing on the end of her pen, and martin’s face is schooled into a careful neutrality.
“well,” he eventually says. “you know it’s not one of us. you’ve seen our writing before.”
jon nods, scratching his jaw. “that’s true,” he says. “i’ll be honest, this isn’t the strangest thing that’s happened down here.”
“‘least it isn’t more worms, eh?” tim asks, before adding a hurried “sorry, martin,” after seeing how pale he went at the w- word.
jon nods at nothing for a second before stuffing the letter and envelope into his top desk drawer, forgetting about them almost immediately when he gets caught up in the research for a statement from a few years prior.
it’s almost comedic , really, when jon thinks about the note - the vagueness of it hadn’t mattered, in the end, after the attack, because it had made so much more sense. ‘they don’t like what you breathe’ indeed - the worms hadn’t liked the CO2 extinguishers in the least.
martin’s still hyper-aware of everything that’s going on around him, wary of any bugs that find their way into the dusty air of the archives. all bugs, that is, except the spiders - he’s still almost painfully gentle with them, cupping them between his palms and smiling a little when they weave their way through his fingers. jon still shudders when he imagines the legs running over his skin. if he thinks about it too much, he can almost swear he hears a knocking at a wooden door - knock knock, jon - so he still tries not to. he refuses to give a statement.
there’s a perfectly natural explanation for everything.
of course, tim hates him in the end, resentment bubbling up and up and up . martin tries to help, in his own hovery, unsure way, but jon’s certain cups of tea won’t do much to salvage anything at this point. his pushing - gentle, but still insistent - that jon speaks to tim is easily dismissed. what’s the point, really? unless martin wants them at each other’s throats, in which case he’ll get exactly that. if the man wants to watch a fight, all he needs to do is get jon and tim in the same room for more than the time it takes for them to walk past each other.
he sighs a little when martin leaves, leaning back in his seat a little bit and staring at the cluttered shelves that cover the wall across from his desk. there are dog-eared books and files pressed between folders. he dreads to think how many statements there are that he’s missed on those shelves. the one on his desk has priority, though - darren harlow, about a failed psychological experiment that involves, of all things, spiders .
jon never realised how much of his job would involve reading about spiders, but he’s seriously beginning to regret accepting the job at all.
the woman comes in early one thursday morning, wearing a beanie over her hair despite the considerably warm temperatures for late may. martin brings her down to jon’s office and presses a cup of tea into her hands after five minutes of silence, smiling at her a little colder than he usually would a guest, but jon hardly notices. he’s focusing more on the woman across from him, her fingers fidgeting with the cuffs of the sleeves on her jumper, bright colours standing out against her dark skin. she looks… out of place in the dull browns of the archives, across from jon in his own plain clothes.
“hello,” he says, tapping his fingers against his desk for a moment as he eyes her almost a little warily. something about her feels off . “i’m jon. jonathan sims, that is. head archivist.”
“i know,” she says with a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes, “i saw your name when i looked the institute up.”
“i was surprised,” she says. “you know last i remember, you were going to work in a library after you finished your degree.”
that catches him off guard. jon frowns a little and looks at her, really looks for a second. her smile’s grown a little wider and she looks amused - genuinely amused, like he’s just told her the funniest joke in the world.
“how do you know that?” he asks, frown growing deeper. “i never told anyone about that, miss…?”
“cane,” she says, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms, hands resting comfortably in her lap. “my name is annabelle cane, archivist. have you heard of me?”
jon only stares at her, eyebrows furrowed and eyes narrowed in unmistakable confusion. “i… have. there was - there was a statement about you, i think, by darren… something or other. a, um, a psychological experiment? he started telling us about his hallucinations, though, so in my opinion it’s virtually useless.”
laughing, annabelle shakes her head. “i should have known he’d have done that,” she says, still smiling a little bit, jumper pulled down over the bottom of her hands. “i didn’t mean in a statement , though.”
a few more seconds of silence, the eerie stillness so common to the archives settling in over the two of them again. they stare at each other until jon breaks the eye contact, shaking his head and looking towards the floor as he pushes his chair back from the desk and lets it spin out.
“i don’t know ,” he says. “i don’t know you, miss cane. in fact, i’d feel confident in saying that i’ve never seen you before in my life.”
there’s another pause, far shorter than the last, before annabelle starts to laugh. the sound of it’s almost grating, earning a wince from jon that only serves to make her laugh harder. “you’re so ignorant, archivist,” she says, an undercurrent of amusement still running through the words. “i never thought the eye would pick someone so forgetful to be the archivist - not after gertrude. ”
“you met her?”
“reputation means a lot to me,” annabelle shrugs. “i came here to see why you don’t have one yet.”
“well, i hope you were pleased,” jon says, scowling. “close the door to the stairs on your way out, please. ”
she simply laughs again and waves on her way out, the dull thud of the door to the outside world a sound that shoots through jon’s skull. hardly a few moments later, there’s a tentative knock, followed by one that seems so much stronger than it actually is if only because jon knows exactly who it is.
“she seemed… pleasant, ” martin says. he’s got a smile plastered on his face and his voice is so strained that tim can only roll his eyes at and even jon gives him a funny look.
“she was strange,” jon says, frowning. “acting like she’s known me for years… i can’t say i’ve ever met her in my life.”
“maybe it’s one of those parallel universe things,” tim says, grinning. “or maybe you’re just a forgetful old man and you can’t remember meeting her.”
huffing, jon shakes his head. “can’t be it,” he says, fidgeting with one of the pens on his desk. “i remember everything about my childhood, even if i don’t want to.”
“yikes,” tim says quietly.
“well,” martin says, “maybe she’s… maybe she’s some kind of stalker?”
tim snorts, shaking his head as he elbows martin in the side. “don’t sound so bloody hopeful, eh?”
the next time jon sees the woman, he’s not even entirely sure it is her, blending into the crowd of tourists in camden market as he wanders a little aimlessly in search of a birthday present for an old uni friend. catching a glimpse of her makes him do a double take, staring across at her as she moves through the crowd with an almost practiced ease. she looks at home, while jon’s almost painfully aware that he sticks out like a sore thumb.
he sees her on the tube again that evening, his bags clutched in one hand as he clings tightly to a pole with the other, in a carriage far too crowded for his liking. he glances to his right and she’s there, sitting and staring into space with bags by her feet.
jon looks away and doesn’t take his eyes away from the glass pane set into the doors until he has to get off, by which point she’s vanished anyway. he ignores the black shapes he swears he sees following him along the walls as he walks upstairs and doesn’t stop feeling like there’s something crawling over his skin until he’s shut the door of his flat behind him.
the box jon gets in the post from his grandmother’s house is something he’s never seen before, and it makes him sneeze the first time he stabs the scissors through the sellotape to open it, dragging them to cut through it and peer into it and stare confusedly at the contents.
he pulls one out and gasps, because the girl he’s sitting next to is her , annabelle, with dark hair and a lot younger. she’s unmistakeable, though, dark eyes and a smile that hasn’t changed over the years.
“oh, shit,” jon says, dropping onto the floor as he stares at the book in her lap, the cover he still knows so well even decades later. “oh no .”
he swears he can hear distant knocking.
annabelle never comes back to the institute. every statement about spiders only serves to make jon more on-edge, waiting for the woman to come back through the door, a burst of colour amongst the dull and muted tones of the regular archives. every time someone says there’s a woman here to see him, he has to fight to suppress a shudder, clenching his fists and digging his nails into his palms to suppress the shudders.
then comes the unknowing, and he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. he worries about clowns and mannequins and dancing, music and spinning and twirling colours -
he wakes up six months later in hospital. annabelle doesn’t cross his mind for weeks.
when he sees her again, finally, she looks a little more subdued. maybe that’s because of him, he thinks. maybe he’s just projecting, because that’s exactly how he feels too.
“jonathan,” she says, taking her seat across from him at his desk again. “it’s been a while.”
“annabelle,” he says, rubbing his face with one hand. “are you here to tell me off for what i did with the dark, too?”
“i’m here to call you an idiot,” she says. jon flinches - the words strike deep, at a memory so long buried he’d almost entirely forgotten it. “what you did was reckless. foolish. ”
“i hardly see why the web cares,” he says, almost bitterly. “you tried to kill me before, shouldn’t you be disappointed i’m still here?”
annabelle sighs and gives him another long-suffering look before she turns away from him. “your assistant was set to join us, you know? dear martin. before the lonely got to him, that is.”
“he’d probably have liked that.”
staring at the desk, jon thinks about martin’s smile whenever he got to talk about a spider. how gently he’d talk to the things, how protective he got. how he’d smile whenever jon was nice. how he seemed to light up when jon complimented him.
“idiot,” annabelle says again. “idiot man. you like him. you like him, we need him. go to him. get him back.”
“how do i do that?”
“i’m sure you’ll work it out,” she says, lips twitching into a smile. “go on, jonathan. go and bring martin home.”