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Written for yuletide 2011. I was assigned navaan, who requested fic about The Unwritten.

Title: In the Indifferent Darkness
Author: voleuse
Fandom: The Unwritten
Characters: Tom, Lizzie, Richard
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Prometheus returned to think up the blow-torch.
Notes: Spoilers through the "Leviathan" arc. (I have read the first four TPBs, but am not entirely caught up with the comics.)

and the feet of the first heretic
started to burn

What Tom hated most, especially now that he knew what the books really meant for him, was that a sliver of his heart rung like crystal at the idea of the fourteenth book. Part of him wanted to push everything aside--the blood and the fear and mourning--and go back to his old flat. He wanted to kick his shoes off and clutch a glass of whiskey, to draw the curtains and plunge back into Tommy Taylor's world the old-fashioned way.

Tom had never loved books the way people expected a lauded author's son to love books. He'd been trained too precisely to love; each page was another inch sunk deeper in a universe only he and his father had inhabited. He looked at a building, whether bustling or decrepit, and found it caked with meaning. He envied other people their ability to walk past a structure without feeling the pains and joys emanating from the stones.

So when he first caught sight of the billboards for the final book, and heard the chatter peppering the sidewalk conversations like gunpowder, he should have considered what new wonders, or horrors, awaited him.

Instead, he blinked and thought of Peter Price's trembling hands, pressed against the soot-stained surface of the horn. He remembered the echo of Sue Sparrow's gasping, sorrowful breaths, and the whisper he lent Tommy Taylor whenever he read that final page.

When he had first read that passage, so long ago, it had been in galley form, pages his father had begrudgingly pushed across the desk to him. By the time he reached that final scene, Tom had hidden under the grand piano in the salon, his knees curled against his chest. It had been a little dusty, and his nose was running. He had a paper cut from three chapters previous, when that first Gossamok had leapt out of the shadows. He read the last page four times, then five. The edge crumpled in his fists, and his heartbeat resounded in his chest, triple-fast.

For so many years, people asked him what he thought happened next, and Tom demurred. Everybody has a different idea, he would say, because that was the savvy answer.

But he wanted to know, just as the masses had. He wanted his version to be true.

Zeus didn't give a damn
and Hera
really liked it.

Scars zig-zagged across Lizzie's hands like ley lines. She studied them by the light of the alarm clock, as if the whip-thin tracings were another alphabet she could harness. Behind her, Tom grumbled in his sleep, and his hand tightened on her hip. She leaned her head back, and his breath whiffled her hair.

Not Tommy, she thought, idly. There were other nots knotting within her, the loose ends too perilous to tug. This much she knew: the representation was both the person and not the person, at once. Tom would never escape from Tommy, and Tommy would never escape from Tom. She preferred one to the other, but that had nothing to do with what they needed to do.

She closed her eyes and felt the mud of the Thames squishing between her toes. It was clammy and dense, with things best unthought occasionally prodding against the soles of her feet. The fog sneaked under the ragged hem of her dress, and she wondered if the bread would be warm, finally, or once again stale.

Tom's arm slid across her side. She opened her eyes again, and everything righted. The story ghosted away.

Lizzie sat up and stretched, reached back to graze her fingers against Tom's jaw before she stood. They'd set the motel room thermostat low, and she shivered as she tugged a T-shirt over her head. Tom had thrown his coat over one of the rickety armchairs; Lizzie stared at it for a moment, her fingers twitching to unroll the map, to parse the landmarks and order them into another narrative.

She turned away, though, because she had other tools. She sank cross-legged to the carpet and pulled three paperbacks from her purse. Our Town. The Da Vinci Code. Othello. She read them in turns, chapter by chapter by chapter.

She left the scissors in her bag. For now.

But it didn't work out this time
and only fetters
grew on his ankles

Richard sat on the edge of his bed and tried not to squint against the glare of the lamp.

There were three bottles on the motel room table. All three were wrapped in paper bags, and only one of them was bourbon. Tom had brought the one, and Lizzie the other two, converging on his hotel room like they were contestants in some mad reality show. They'd lined up the bottles on the table, then ordered a pizza to split between the three of them.

They'd sat around the table, joking about school and Page Six and Becks. Then Richard said something about traveling around in a TARDIS, and Tom noticed he hadn't eaten any of the pizza.

"Well," Richard said in response, and Tom got this look on his face, his Tommy Taylor look, Richard liked to call it. He'd noticed it first in an interview he'd watched on YouTube, right before he'd started this assignment. Tommy had been asked to compare the Taylor books to Tolkien, and for a second, he'd got a distant look on his face, like he could see something around that nobody else could.

It hadn't lasted for more than a few seconds, but Richard recognized it again at the prison. Grime everywhere they touched, and everything smelling of piss. They'd be sitting in their cell, listening to the grunting across the way, and Tommy would start talking about Robinson Crusoe's islands and the Bermuda Triangle. All fluff and conspiracy theory, but Richard couldn't ever pass it off for a madman's ravings.

Lizzie reached across the table and tapped Richard's chin. Her hands smelled like parmesan and he tilted his head to prolong the touch. Tom smiled at them both. "We could stay," he offered, and there were things swimming in those words that Richard didn't know how to parse yet.

"It's all right," Richard said.

Lizzie brushed her lips against his cheek, and Tom clapped him on the shoulder.

Richard sank back to the edge of his bed as long as he could ignore the blood, calling to him.


A/N: Title, summary, and headings adapted from Miroslav Hubb's Discovery of Fire.

Originally posted here.

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