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goodnight to this wretched form

Chapter Text

When Jon returns from the Lonely without Martin K. Blackwood, he finds himself alone. Elias is gone, Peter is – well. And the desiccated corpse of Jonah Magnus isn’t going to be having insightful conversations any time soon. He’s alone in the Panopticon, and he tells himself not to do anything he might regret later in his pain and his grief.

But that’s never stopped him before.


The Archivist returns to its desk in the Institute proper. The halls are deserted, the normal employees having fled in the aftermath of the violence and the ritual, so there is no one to react to its form until it reaches the office of the entity formerly known as Jonathan Sims, and there is someone there. And she reacts. The Archivist recalls a threat she made to Jonathan Sims ages ago. She would kill him, she said, because he was becoming a monster. And Beholding informs it that she got that gun from a dealer in a parking lot, shows it the transaction, and it barely has time to remark about how supremely unhelpful that is before she is shooting him, several times, while she backs away. She stumbles over a desk and looks panicked, so he stands completely still and does not approach her. This will be harder without assistants, but it has all the time in the world.

When her ammunition has run dry, the Archivist opens its eyes. Not the typical ones, the others, the ones that make you feel seen to your very core. And Basira is Seen and Known, and, to her credit, she does not drop the gun, but she does flee. The Archivist returns to its office and sits at its desk. It has a lot of eyes, more than Jonathan Sims ever had, and all the eyes belong to it. It is the Ceaseless Watcher. And all the doors are open, now.

The world settles down, eventually. The Archivist watches it happen.


The police don’t come near the Institute, when all is said and done. There is too much else to do, and no one wants to investigate the epicenter of the awful changes wrought upon the world. The Archivist watches them, and it sees Basira find Daisy after weeks of following a trail of corpses. It actually averts its gaze (well, not all of it) at their displays of tenderness, certain that they would not want it to see. Beholding stabs into its mind at that thought, reminding it that everything is available for it to see, regardless of what they want. It considers this, and turns two more eyes toward them. Still not all of them, but enough to dull the pain to an ache. Enough to pacify the Eye. It watches Basira pointedly not kill Daisy, and it Knows that she had begged for death when all this was over. It understands the difference between it and Daisy, but it does not think about it.

It is so distracted by not-thinking-about-it that it does not notice the thin, cold fog coalescing in its office door. It is gone just as soon as it appeared.

The Archivist knows that Beholding is the entity of seeing and not comprehending, but that does not stop it from being bored. It wants to make things happen. Beholding reminds it that its job is not to instigate, but to record, and it does not think some choice unkind things in return. It gets up from its desk and feels a chill when it passes by the chair in front of it, dusty from months of disuse. It hadn’t had visitors in a long time, even when it was Jonathan Sims. It pauses in the chill, focusing many, many eyes on the space around it, and it thinks it spots a curl of wet fog. It is too faint to be sure what it meant. But it was there. It files the curiosity away for later.

Jonathan Sims was very good at finding trouble, and at having trouble find him. The Archivist has to remember how to do this, now. It is especially difficult with the Beholding screaming in its head, but it wanders the halls of the Institute and Looks. It doesn’t have to walk in order to see what the aftermath looks like. It wants to anyway. It stalks the corridors, looking at the dried blood on the walls and floor, the spots on the ceiling where something had soaked through and gone moldy. There aren’t any bodies, and it Knows this is because the Hunters hadn’t left anything behind. It reaches Elias’s office and is honestly surprised to find that it looks completely normal. There are papers on the desk, shockingly messy. A pen case in one of the drawers containing 3 different fountain pens. There are no signs of a struggle. Why would there be? Elias has been missing since Jon went into the Lonely. It’s strange not Knowing something, but there it is. The Archivist entertains the possibility that Beholding has snapped him up, taken him into its being, and simply refuses to tell it this fact.

A cold draft passes over it again, and the Archivist snaps open eyes all around the room, this time quick enough to catch a ghostly human shape flee the space in front of it. It makes a pleased noise at the discovery and almost expects Beholding to chastise it for that, too. But it likes knowledge, and it likes new things, and it begrudgingly acknowledges that it is difficult to Know about things that concern other entities. Whatever or whoever this is, Beholding can’t See them, can’t pry into their secrets and make them tell it what makes them tick.

When the Archivist returns to its office, there is a mug of tea on his desk, curling steam like fog into the air.

 

Chapter Text

The tea goes cold. The Archivist is bothered by this, but it does not know why. The self is hard to contain and hard to understand, especially for a being so opposed to understanding by nature. He spends more time at its desk and watches the tea evaporate and a fungal colony grow out of the mug. It is still curious, and that is, itself, a curiosity. The Archivist should not reflect. The Archivist should not attempt to solve mysteries. The Archivist should watch and record and archive and that is all. Jonathan Sims does not make a very good Archivist, despite what he might have been told. So it decides to keep being a not-very-good Archivist and knocks on a door.

Elias had summoned him once, called him to the Panopticon. It thinks it could do that now as well, and it thinks of Helen as it picks a door to knock on. The door swings open, and she is leaning against a garishly painted doorframe that used to be plain varnished wood.

“Hello, Archivist. You’ve really done it now, haven’t you?” She steps into the Institute breakroom and immediately begins to fiddle with the dusty appliances, flicking the electric kettle on and off with her long fingers. Michael had kept its form fairly human most of the time, but Helen rather enjoyed… distorting herself, as it were. “Is Jon still in there? Or have you gone full Beholding?”

The Archivist considers the question, and does not answer. Helen makes a face that could generously be called a pout. “You’re boring now. You’re not going to beg for help again, are you?”

The Archivist doesn’t quite know how to put its question into words, so it makes her Know it instead. She pulls another face, almost disgusted.

“No,” she says through an echoing laugh, “I don’t know where Elias is. Good riddance. I did try to watch, but I lost track of him in the chaos. Considering it wasn’t my ritual you set off, I’ve been enjoying it maybe a bit more than I should.” It tries not to preen in appreciation at that, and asks another question. She sighs. “I can’t see into the Lonely any better than you can, Archivist. Probably worse, since seeing is your whole… thing.” She stops scratching looping patterns into the drywall. “I do know that the Lonely hate being watched.” She strides back to her door. “Have you heard there are people worshiping you?” And the door disappears as it slams shut.

The Archivist takes that moment to realize something: it hadn’t wanted Helen to leave. It was lonely, but loneliness was for people, not Archivists, and if Peter Lukas was still haunting the Institute then Jon would kill him again. He reaches out to Beholding, which has been uncharacteristically quiet during its conversation with the Spiral. It gets only a vague feeling of disapproval in return, but pressing further is told that no, Peter Lukas is gone and his presence hasn’t infected the place. It’s just normal loneliness. The problem is that it shouldn’t feel normal loneliness. It shouldn’t feel normal anything. It files the curiosity away for later.

And then the chill in the air is back, rushing past it as if a singular gust of wind was blowing through the halls. The Archivist wasted no time trying to look, this time, just ran, nearly tripping over its own feet to stay ahead of the chill. Because it had been blowing toward its office. When it reaches the office, it sees the book fluttering open on its desk and slams the door shut behind him with enough force to rattle the glass. It sets every eye available to it roaming around the small room, searching, Looking, Watching for the thing it was sure it had trapped. The Lonely hate being watched. The Archivist breathes hard with its back against the door and waits. It has the moth inside the killing jar, and it is waiting for its chance to spear it with a pin and examine it. It waits for so long that it considers that it missed them, that they slipped out before it shut the door, but then. The book that hadn’t been there before flutters and opens, and every eye is trained behind the desk. A sense of fear spikes in the room, and the Archivist realizes it hasn’t felt that fear so close since it drove Basira away. There is something very scared in the room with it. The feeling of power is heady. Got you. The Archivist walks in front of the desk, conventional eyes trained on the book – Love Letters and Poems of John Keats, the page header reads. And as it peers at the page the book has been opened to, he feels a prickling at the back of his neck, recognizes the feeling of being scrutinized, and the door swiftly opens and closes.

Damn.

The tea on the desk has only spilled a little. He puts the book on the overcrowded shelf behind the desk.


Closer of lovely eyes to lovely dreams,
Lover of loneliness, and wandering,
Of upcast eye, and tender pondering!
Thee must I praise above all other glories
That smile us on to tell delightful stories.

Chapter Text

The Archivist doesn’t feel the chill again for nearly two weeks after it left the book on its desk. The Archivist feels regretful about this, knowing that it spooked the Lonely person. And despite everything, the Institute is very empty. It doesn’t like the Institute being empty. There have always been assistants, and a boss, and all the other employees that Jon didn’t think too much about, in those last months, but desperately misses now.

The Archivist knows Beholding is upset with it. It Knows, of course, but even without the supernatural powers, it’s pretty clear from the constant headaches and the eyes that turn themselves towards him instead of out at the world. Watching the Watcher. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and it doesn’t particularly want to think about that. So it’s almost a welcome surprise when someone breaks into the Institute (though, it supposes, it’s not breaking if nothing was locked in the first place) with a very large knife and very ill intents.

Georgie Barker. 32 years old. Enjoys Hungarian food. Has a cat named The Admiral. Currently involved with – oh, that’s right. And at present, stalking toward the Archivist intending to do whatever it takes to kill it. It seems that trouble has no problem finding him, still. And it can’t stop the little thrill that incites in it – finally something is happening, even if it is potentially life-endangering. Beholding reminds it that it can still die, though it takes more than the average human. And Georgie knows exactly how to do it, not to mention the fact that she won’t be as easily deterred as Basira was. Georgie has a mission. Georgie isn’t just lashing out in fear and self defense. Georgie has a plan. Jonathan Sims knew Georgie, liked her despite everything they’d put each other through. But the Eye is screaming at him – at it – that it needs to kill her first, before she can get to him.

It’s almost symbolic, where its office is located. Very nearly in the center of the building. It’s almost child’s play to set a tape playing at its desk and slip through the trapdoor into the tunnels, watching her get closer and closer to her target. She is preternaturally quiet and meticulous, checking every room, and she really thought this would let her get the drop on it. A miasma of eyes follow her, staying just out of her line of sight, and then the Archivist is emerging through a trapdoor that it Knew would not creak and slipping into the hall behind Georgie-

And then it is knocked flat on its back before it can even raise the letter opener in its hand, and then things happen very quickly.

First, the Archivist feels a rush of elation at the return of the cold feeling, and he watches the fog coalesce into a vague person shape, wide and tall.

Next, it hears the letter opener clatter to the linoleum and thinks they may have just signed its death sentence. Georgie spins on her heel and charges at the sound of the metal clanging, looking as if she’ll simply run straight through the fog, but a voice cuts through its thoughts.

“That’s enough.”

And the voice is achingly, painfully familiar, and the Archivist’s heart would probably swell if Beholding didn’t choose that exact moment to flood its mind with a torrent of meaningless information (when Martin was seven the family dog died and he never got over it Georgie misses being afraid of the dark Tim nearly drowned every time he went to the beach but it didn’t stop him going back Melanie wasn’t adjusting well to the apocalypse and woke screaming most nights-). It’s the second most painful thing he’s ever felt, and it sends him curling to his side, a human instinct to protect vulnerable organs. Needless to say, it doesn’t help. He thinks he whimpers but can’t be sure.

He is distantly aware of the fact that he is not being stabbed to death. He is more acutely aware that Beholding is dissatisfied with him. The line between human and monster is thin, blurry, and semantic, but he’s been sat firmly on the wrong side of it, in Beholding’s eyes. And all the eyes belong to Beholding.

Martin is kneeling in front of him, helping him sit up, and running the impression of a hand over his face. It takes the ghost of a thumb swiping at his cheek to realize he’d shed tears.

“Jon, are you okay?”

And oh, the name on Martin’s lips is heaven and hell. It’s tender, just as he remembers, but the name is a reminder that pulls him back to coherent reality. The reality being, of course, that the Archivist is not Jon, that this has been an indulgence that Beholding will not tolerate, and that it really should return to its office now that the threat has been… neutralized? Spirited away into the Lonely? Taken care of.

Martin is still talking – why is he still talking? Why does he care? - but the Archivist untangles itself from him and makes its way back to its office, bruises fading rapidly. Martin does not follow, and it tries not to be hurt by this.

Chapter Text

The Archivist loses track of time. Time is inconsequential, hard to keep track of. Humans measure time with hunger and exhaustion, and the Archivist doesn’t experience those, so it doesn’t matter. It throws itself into its work, watching impassively, not interfering, and staunchly ignoring Martin’s continued presence in the Institute. Because he is, apparently, sticking around. The Lonely has always been a bit of a blind spot for the Eye, and to have its avatar so close and so unknown is endlessly frustrating. So it trains perhaps more eyes than necessary on him; if it can’t Know, it can at least observe.

It would be infuriating if the Archivist didn’t remind itself that it was above feelings like anger. He kept leaving tea on its desk, and once, when he caught an eye in a wall watching him, he actually tried to hold a staring contest with it. He didn’t win, of course, but it was… Well. It wasn’t anything, because the Archivist refused to find anything about the situation endearing. It does wonder why he hasn’t faded back into the Lonely. It’s itching to just ask, certain it could compel the answer out of him, but Martin hasn’t let himself be in the same room as it since its episode. The tea appears on its desk whenever it leaves the office to walk the halls, but it never catches him leaving it. It never drinks it, of course, but if it starts leaving a little more often, that’s neither here nor there.

Time is difficult to follow, but the Archivist thinks it’s been at least a few weeks of silent offerings (and it laughs at the thought of leaving libations for the god of watching) before it starts finding tapes on its desk along with the tea. Tapes with Martin’s voice on them. Some are old, just old statements that he’d recorded to take a bit of the weight off of Jon’s shoulders. There’s others, though, that it can tell were recorded post-Lonely, by the echo in his voice. There’s a part of the Archivist that wants to break the tapes, dash Martin’s attempt at a peace offering against the wall, drop them out a fifth floor window, but the part that is the Archivist cannot let new information go ignored.

So it presses play.

At first, there is only the sound of soft breathing and footsteps. Not footsteps in sand, but the soft tap of shoes on concrete, and the Archivist realizes that it’s Martin’s Lonely on the tape, not the long, empty beaches of Peter Lukas’s. It delights in having a recording of the change, and it wonders what it looks like. It almost stops the tape to attempt to enter the Lonely again so it can see for itself when a voice on the tape begins to speak.

“Statement of Martin Blackwood, regarding… What it means to be human. Recorded by subject. Date… A month and a half after the end of the world, I think.

“I feel like I should apologize. I’m not going to, but. Old habits. I’m not sure you understand, but I know Jon did. Jon understood a lot more than he gave himself credit for, and for all that you know and see and all, I don’t think you really do. So I’m not talking to the Archivist with this, I’m talking to Jon. Could you put him on?”

Martin laughs then, a soft, sad thing burbling from his throat. The Archivist can almost envision it shaking his shoulders a little with the rhythm of it, and it feels-

“I’m walking around London. The Lonely version of it. Now that I’ve replaced Peter, it seems I’m in charge of what form it takes. I wonder if that affects everyone who’s already been trapped here. I haven’t seen anyone else – though that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? - but I always found London lonelier than a beach. There’s something really sad about an empty city. It should be full of people, but it’s not. It’s weird, being an avatar. I mean, I was being groomed to replace Jonah in the Panopticon, not this, but it’s still power, and I guess Peter was right when he said he saw potential in me. I took to the Lonely like a duck to water. I’m very used to not getting what I want out of the people around me. I didn’t get what I wanted from my mother, or Elias, or you. And then I lost all three of you at once after the Unknowing. So I was perfectly lonely, with nothing to lose and nothing to give.

“What I said, in the Lonely. When you came for me. I did love you, at one point. I think I still do. If something like me is still capable of love. I want to love you, at any rate, and I want to protect you and be near you all the time and make you happy and that’s all love is, really. We’re both kind of in the same boat, now, I suppose, trying to decide whether we’re monsters or not. You’re not the only one who can watch people, Jon. I see you, too, when you leave that office and then race back as soon as your eyes spot me leaving things on your desk. It’s cute how your feet slide on the dusty linoleum, but your momentum doesn’t ever bowl you over like it did before all this. So you can put on that impassive facade, and pretend you’re satisfied with just sitting in your office and watching and not doing anything, but I know you’re still you because I’m still me. And the Martin that’s left in me still wants to love you.

“It’s funny. The Lonely doesn’t actually mind that I want to be near you. It likes relationships because it knows they end, but I think it also knows that it’s terrible to be here when you’re like this. It’s lonelier than the empty London, because I’m not missing everyone, just you, and you’re right here but I can’t reach you. So. Blood for the blood god, so to speak. Our gods want such different things from us. Mine wants me to feel terrible, and yours wants to excise your feelings out of you at any cost. I have a lot of time to think about these things, now. What it all means.

“I’m rambling. I didn’t realize how much easier it is to organize my thoughts when you’re around. I don’t know if that’s an Archivist thing, or just a… me-being-around-you thing. It was nice to talk to you, Jon. Even if I know you’re not going to talk back. I’ll stick around, though. Just in case you do.”

The footsteps and breathing continue before the tape runs out, thwipping against the spindle of the player, and Jon is already on the floor.

Chapter Text

He’s on the floor, writhing, mouth open in a silent cry of pain. There is no air in his lungs with which to scream, and the pain is far greater than that, anyhow. His head feels like it’s on fire, splitting open, floodgates open and pouring everything into his mind, and he shuts his eyes tight against the torrent, groping blindly for Beholding, for anything to support him while he breaks, and-

Jon can’t breathe.

He can’t breathe.

He needs to breathe, and the realization is what finally forces a choked wail from his throat, hoarse from disuse. He curls in on himself, fingernails drawing blood with how tightly he’s clutching his own arms, and finally, mercifully, shuts down completely.

The first thing he feels when he wakes again is empty. He feels abandoned. There is still pain, a sharp throbbing that reminds him of when he fell out of a tree as a child and hit his head hard on the ground, and an ache that pulses through his whole body, certainly indicative of bruises that will soon bloom on his skin. The next thing he notices is that his head is not lying on the floor, but on something pillowy, and cool, and soft. He can’t open his eyes, keeps them screwed shut, squeezing out tears, but his hands twitch, and then he is able to reach up and let out another pained sob as soft hands take hold of his. He knows who it is, holding him, without Knowing, without seeing, and he almost laughs at the sheer irony of it. He tries to say Martin’s name, but only gets halfway through the first syllable before his voice cracks and gives out. Martin’s thumbs rub at the backs of his hands, and it’s so tender that Jon risks opening his eyes a crack just to look at him.

A mistake, he realizes instantly, as the bright lights on the ceiling send a burst of pain lancing through his skull like the world’s angriest migraine, but it’s worth it for the sight of Martin leaning over him, the fluorescent lights filtering through his hair, fluffy and pale ginger, like a corona surrounding a celestial body. He holds the image in his mind as more tears leak from the corners of his eyes.

“Jon, don’t- don’t try to move. Just...” He trails off. What else is there to do? Jon brings Martin’s hands to his chest, aching to be closer. They’re faintly cold, but warming rapidly with his touch. If he could move any other part of himself he would curl against him, envelop himself in his arms, where it’s safe. It takes him a moment to realize that when he had opened his eyes, he had only opened the two. Not the plethora of eyes all around London, all around the world, watching everything. He tries to send a thought snaking out toward them, toward Beholding, and finds… nothing. Absolutely nothing. It’s like he’s hit a brick wall in his mind, except even bricks have substance, and his thoughts fizzle out into blankness. The eyes don’t belong to him anymore. For the first time in years, he doesn’t belong to Beholding anymore. No thrum of power coursing through his veins. No knowledge that comes to him, unbidden. No eyes lining the walls, watching him and Martin. They’re both alone now, and there’s nowhere Jon would rather be.

He makes a noise when he realizes. It could be a sob, but crossed with a laugh so completely that he can’t tell if it’s happy or sad. Martin startles against him and pulls him upright, holding his entire body close. He’s getting warmer (with love, Jon thinks, and he’s pleased that his sappiness survived the transition), and Jon curls into his lap and cries into his chest for what feels like ages before his breathing evens out. Martin just rubs his back and makes concerned noises at him, not asking any questions, though he must be dying to know what happened to put him in such a state.

“It’s… gone.” Jon manages eventually, the two words taking more out of him than he thought possible, and he hopes Martin understands what he means. When he responds, he sounds like the air has been stolen from his lungs.

“Oh. You’re…?”

Jon could start crying all over again at the tenderness, the hope in his voice. “I’m.” Is all he manages before Martin buries his own face in Jon’s hair and takes a shaky breath. And they hold each other through the pain, and the loss, and the love.


It takes time to get used to their new situation. Jon almost passes out from starvation in the first week; he’d spent so long sustaining himself on information alone that the hunger for food is a novel sensation. The world is different, too – the Eye may have rejected Jonathan Sims, but its grip on the world is still strangling. Martin is only hidden from it when he’s in the Lonely, and that is not an option anymore. There won’t be any hiding, now. There is fear, in the new, ruined world, but there was fear before, too. There will always be fear, and there will always be love to weather it.

Jon wakes screaming in the mornings. Being controlled and scrutinized and having one’s feelings shut off gets to a person, and it’s a wonder it took him this long to have a proper breakdown. Martin is there when he opens his eyes, sees the world for what it really is (full of love and support and safety and fear but mostly Martin, in front of him), and he is there when he has to close his eyes, needs the world to be dark and sightless to feel comfort. Jon thinks it worse when Martin has nightmares. He doesn’t wake screaming, doesn’t thrash at constricting sheets; he doesn’t wake at all. He grows cold and translucent next to him in bed until Jon takes his shoulders and shakes him out of it. He still belongs to the Lonely; in some ways, he always will.

They deal with their trauma in their own ways. Jon lies on the floor in the dark sometimes, cotton stuffed into his ears – the closest thing to sensory deprivation one can manage. He is afraid of seeing too much. Martin doesn’t go anywhere alone anymore, afraid he won’t find his way back to the world. They cope, and they survive, and they’re not thriving yet, but they’re weathering the storm together. The knowledge that someday, they’ll more than okay is enough.