Incident 3606-AB
rating: +18+x

“A pit?”

August had barely finished pouring drinks for himself and the Doctor before she’d gone into it. He sat down, brow furrowed, and stared out into the yard, as if he’d be able to see this hole in the ground from the porch. When the hole didn’t magically appear, he ruffled his hair in thought – the same sandy-brown hair he’d had for the past twenty-something years. Whatever had happened to him all those years ago, it had stopped him getting any older. He wasn’t as disturbed about it anymore. This didn’t seem to surprise the Foundation staff, either. Lack of aging was a common side-effect with these things, it seemed.

“Yes,” said Dr. Ruth. “I know your family has owned this land for quite some time. Were you aware of the pit beneath the foundation?”

“Well, no,” said August. “We don’t got – sorry – don’t have a basement or a cellar here. Just the shed out back. There isn’t anything underground.”

“As I said, it turns out there is, August. We’re looking into it.” She paused to consider the lemonade her charge had poured for her and took a tentative sip. Considering he was only working with what groceries the Foundation provided him, it wasn’t bad. “If there is anything down there,” she went on, “the research team believes it’s likely that the anomaly around your home is connected somehow. We might discover what exactly is causing the, ah…”

“Rotting animals, Doc.”

“To put it bluntly, I suppose.”

“Blunt is fine. I’m used to them now,” he said dismissively. “They’re just a part of my life.” But following this, his drifting gaze appeared troubled.

“Are you worried about it?” Dr. Ruth asked.

August sighed and folded his arms across his knees. “Doc… Y’think whatever’s down there… You think it’s giving me these dreams?”

The hesitation in her answer was more worrying.

“It’s not outside of the realm of possibility,” she replied carefully. “But, August… I don’t want you to focus on that. Even if the anomaly is causing the dreams… we don’t know if that anomaly is necessarily him.

He’d known what her response would be before she said it. No one with the Foundation had encouraged it – the vivid hallucinations, the waking dreams, the dreams that were so deep that he often couldn’t remember where he was when he woke up in the morning. No matter how he expressed the pain of his adoration, the agony of never knowing if he’d be able to make physical contact with the figure dominating his unconscious mind… Clearly they didn’t understand. They thought it was unhealthy. And maybe it was, when the obsession overtook all sense of self-preservation, stopped him eating, bathing, only kept him locked in his room with his artwork and his frequent returns to sleep, to beautiful dreams.

“I know,” he said simply. “I… I know. It’s alright, though. It’s enough… seeing him the way he wants me to. If it has to be when I’m sleeping, that’s fine.”

“Good.” The doctor scribbled on her notepad. Always with the notepad. The pen paused. “And how have you been sleeping lately?”

“Fine. No more than usual. I’m getting better with the alarm.”

“Seven hours?”

“Give or take. I feel rested, at least. And I… Well, I get out of bed fine, I guess.”

“Good. That’s excellent progress.”

There was nothing he could do to stop the hallucinations when he was awake, but the dreams… The dreams were far more vivid, more real and tangible in ways that dreams shouldn’t have been. He could feel them, taste them, hear them like a lover’s soft whisper. When he’d told the last shrink about his increasing desire to simply stay asleep, just keep dreaming and never wake up… well, they’d made it clear how they thought about that. Although he’d been given a very compelling reason not to do so.

He was, after all, the only one capable of serving. No one else could gather the corpses and the skeletons of the birds and beasts inexplicably drawn, or so August believed, to the site of worship for his God. He alone was immune to the entropic energy centered on his home.

He couldn’t sleep forever. Not yet. Not until he was finally called to lie down for the last time.

This was, Dr. Ruth decided, one of the most difficult psychological files she had been tasked with managing since the start of her work with the Foundation. Little had changed in the development of 3606-A’s mental state since she had begun working with him – although they’d at least gotten his sleep schedule back on track. It was apparent from the records of her predecessors that he was much better than in prior years, when this obsession with the imaginary entity consumed his sleeping and waking hours alike. No, his evaluations were simple and clean-cut these days.

Even so, she wasn’t all that sure that the frequency of his artistic works had abated at all. At the moment, Dr. Ruth found herself sorting through the latest week’s-worth of ink drawings, charcoal studies, photocopied dream journals, and crumpled pencil sketches to find just a few among the pile that felt relevant enough to keep. Almost every art piece was the same: a handsome, eerily androgynous male figure with cascading ink-black hair, lovingly rendered from every conceivable angle and position. Exquisite care and attention was lavished on the shape of the mouth, the delicate curve of the neck, the soft jawline. Everything save for the eyes, which were always furiously erased and redrawn, repainted, recolored over and over again until the final product was impossible to decipher. If the doctor didn’t know better, she might have believed these to be studies of someone August Mayes was very intimately familiar with, rather than someone he had only dreamed up. But which drawings were really that important to his psychological profile?

Well… She could at least leave out the more explicit of his renders. The dream journals, too… she wondered if he considered that Foundation staff would be examining these. She shuffled them unabashedly into a face-down pile on the side of the desk, making a mental note to return them to 3606-A the next week.

A knock on the office door made her scan the remaining face-up papers for anything untoward before she responded. “Yes?”

The door cracked halfway, a harried-looking young man poking his face in with a manila envelope at hand. “Dr. Ruth… Apologies for the interruption. About 3606…”

“Right, right. They did say they’d have made their way into the pit by now, didn’t they?”

“Last night, Doctor. The research team has been working with the photographs and the imaging results… But they, ah… they said these photos would interest you.”

This struck Dr. Ruth as quite odd. She wasn’t usually among the first to receive updates about these things. “My job is to carry out 3606-A’s psychological evaluations,” she said warily. “The research team is aware of that, yes?”

“Yes… They’re very insistent that this is relevant.”

Dr. Ruth sighed and gestured to the already vast array of documents and artworks she was sorting through. “Leave it here. I’ll take a look.”

With the messenger gone, the manila envelope sat atop her workload ominously. What was so urgent for her to see? She glanced briefly at the Level 2 Security warning stamped across the front before undoing the string clasp. The acrid smell of photo developer struck her first. These had obviously been freshly made. Carefully, she slid the stack of photos out and laid aside the envelope, examining them each in turn.

The first photo was the pit, apparently: a wide, yet shallow area cut into the earth and the stone below the dwelling, lit with harsh chemical lamps. The second, what seemed to be a coffin-shaped depression in the center of the pit’s floor, and something lying inside it…

At the third photo, Dr. Ruth stifled a sharp gasp.

“No… you’ve got to be kidding me.”

The fourth, fifth, and sixth photos were the same as the third. All shots of the depression in the rock from different angles, to best display its single occupant. It lay still, eyes closed, apparently undisturbed by the chemical lamps and flashbulbs and the field agents no doubt getting uncomfortably close. Dr. Ruth laid the photos on her desk alongside the stacks of 3606-A’s drawings, whose subject was now unmistakable.

Across the corner of a photograph of the slender, black-haired male laying in apparent sleep, or perhaps death, a code was hurriedly scribbled in marker — the new designation “3606-B”.

The dewy grass was cool under his bare feet. Early morning’s chill was beginning to fade in the beams of rising sun breaking through the trees. Strangely quiet, bereft of birdsong.

How long had it been since he’d gotten this far from the house before? Every time he’d tried, he’d collapsed into one of those painful fits until he was dragged back to the yard. And then he stopped trying. Stopped trying to escape his proper place, allowed the Foundation to fence him in with the… with the…

What had he been doing before this?

No sooner had he thought this than the disquieting silence was gently shaken. Some faint, soft sound echoed from somewhere nearby. A female voice, openly sobbing. He found himself drawn to it, fear overtaken by his need to find its source.

Not too far away, he found her… A young woman with long, sandy hair, her checked dress tattered around her folded knees, thin arms hugging her shoulders, which shook with her weeping. Something about her seemed familiar, painfully so. He was opening his mouth before he realized what would come out.


The girl shivered at her name, bringing her downturned face to look at him. His chest tightened, tongue frozen in his mouth.

No… This… this was not right.

His sister’s face, once so freckled and full of life, was molten, black with decay, dripping freely onto the lap of her dress. As he watched, unable to move, a single hazel eye fixed on him and overflowed with tears, which mixed with the liquefaction of her flesh.

“August… Why did you leave us like this?”

He clapped his hands over his ears, shaking his head furiously. “I… I didn’t mean to – I didn’t do this! Cath, you gotta believe me, I didn’t mean for this to happen…”

“They couldn’t do anything for me… My body was rotten before I’d even died. I was alive the whole time the meat was melting off my bones. It hurts… August, it hurts… Why didn’t it happen to you? Why did it have to be Mama and me?”

“I don’t know,” he gasped, squeezing his eyes shut. Knees shaking, he sank to the ground and wept through his words. “I don’t know what happened… I didn’t do it… Please don’t look at me like that! Cath… Please, Cath, I…”

There were hands bracing his jaw, lifting his face, gentle fingers drawing the tears from his cheeks. Burning hot and frigid cold at once. He lowered his own hands and forced himself to look up… But the figure half-shadowed in morning sun was not his sister.

“Lagu –”

He could never say the name, not in this man’s presence. Each time he tried, the sound simply dissolved on his tongue, choked him as if his breath was swallowing itself. The male figure smiled indulgently, silken black hair drifting over his left eye as he caressed August’s face and throat. The soft lips never parted, but he could hear the gentle voice piercing through his head.

You are still here because I desire it.

You’ll sleep when I’m done with you.

Until then… My beloved, my servant…

August screwed up his eyes against the cacophony blaring through his ears, the painful noise that carried this loving voice… Gasping for breath, he looked up as the ringing faded and saw the figure’s mouth opening…

What came out was not sound. A viscous, black liquid, like coal-stained honey, was spilling unbidden from seemingly nowhere. A crazed impulse overtook August, as if he could die if he didn’t obey it… He was meant to drink this… He was –

He was awake.

The tinny noise of the alarm clock dragged him into the day. Immediately annoyed, August seized the thing and slapped it face-down on the nightstand. His body ached like he’d been running all night. Maybe… maybe he could just have ten more minutes…

But no sooner had he let his head touch the pillow again than another noise came up from across the house. Someone was knocking on the door. Damn them. Didn’t the Foundation usually wait until after noon to bother him? He groaned, rolled out of bed, and threw the house robe on over his nightclothes. As he did so, he glanced at the bedroom window and noticed a pair of cardinals huddled up against the sill, unmoving. They were already thinning with decay, but both still had their bright crimson plumage.

Two little red birds. Strange. But stranger things had happened.

He’d have to remember they were there when he did his cleaning that day.

The knocking came again, more insistent. Thoroughly irritated now, he bustled to the other side of the house. “I’m comin’, I’m comin’, keep your shirt on!”

Dr. Ruth was beginning to doubt the research team’s decision. Sure, it was important to find out the exact nature of the connection between Subject A and B. The anomaly would never be better understood without it. But was this really the way to go about it?

It was drizzling beyond the awning of the porch where she sat with 3606-A – no, in this state of vulnerability and weakness, he was only August Mayes, suddenly the scared young man he was twenty-one years ago. A part of him she’d never seen in person.

Shaking hands slowly shuffled the same four photos over and over again, his eyes glazed over as he stared at each in turn. His face was paler than she’d ever seen it. After what seemed ages, he laid the photos on the patio table and raked an unsteady hand back through his hair, gazing mindlessly out into the yard.

“Well,” he grimaced with a waver in his voice, “I guess that answers that, doesn’t it?”

“Honestly, it doesn’t answer much, August,” said Dr. Ruth. “We don’t know what this is, or what danger it poses to you or this area. The Foundation’s priority is its containment and protection, as well as yours–”

“It, it, why do you keep saying it?” he said hoarsely. “He. He is not a danger to me. And he’s been contained all these years, why the concern now?”

We do not know if he’s dangerous to you. You’re immune to the decaying effect around the house. But the fact that leaving the property causes you such excruciating pain, the fact that you’re put into a coma when you step past the gate, does that not concern you enough to believe that this entity is capable of harm? Be reasonable.”

But August had gone back to staring at the photos laid in front of him, eyes wandering the images almost hungrily. The rain dripping from the eaves was a gentle cadence, a hush that curtained the two in an increasingly uneasy proximity. “I haven’t done him justice yet,” he murmured. “This is… the clearest I've ever seen his face. He’s impossibly beautiful, Doctor. I told you. Isn’t he?”

She sighed and leaned back in her seat. “August, please focus. The Foundation needs to understand the entity a little better before we can adjust containment procedures, and you need to be made aware of it, but I don’t want you to obsess over something buried under your house.”

“The way you talk about him is so irreverent,” he muttered. “If you all want to understand him so much, then learn to praise him as he deserves, why don’t you? The animals know that much. Every carcass is an offering to him.”


“I want to meet him,” he whispered. “I… I need to. This is what he wanted. I was meant to–”

August,” she said more insistently. “It’s not sentient. Preliminary scans have shown us that much. It doesn’t breathe. It doesn’t respond to external stimuli. There’s no readable brain activity. There is no ‘meeting’ it. What you see in those photos is all there is. There’s no reason for you to go down there.”

“He’s been projecting himself to me,” August argued. “The dreams, the hallucinations, it’s how he communicates with me! You’re trying to tell me someone who’s brain-dead is capable of doing that?”

“It’s an anomaly. There’s a lot that goes on in our field that’s not easily explained, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually communicating with you or that it feels anything for you…”

It was the wrong thing to say. August abruptly stood and overturned the patio table entirely, the photos fluttering behind him as he stalked back into the house, leaving a shellshocked Dr. Ruth in his wake. She unwound slightly, then recoiled when he slammed the door.

Left with the rain and the scattered photographs, Dr. Ruth sighed and stared wistfully out to the lawn, where that ominous opening in the earth was still being tended by men in stark-white biohazard suits.

Over the next few days, things began to settle down. Even after extensive testing by the research team and containment specialists, there wasn’t much evidence that Subject B posed any more threat than previously thought. The radius of decay still seemed centered primarily on the house for reasons unknown, and test subjects left in the pit seemed to be safe from its effect.

Aside from the questionable status of the entity, however, there was one thing that made it slightly dangerous. On occasion, a thick black liquid would begin seeping from the closed eyes and mouth – the same fluid that seemed to make up the whole of the body’s insides and the organs that bore deep into the surrounding earth, insofar as imaging equipment had shown. No one had been foolish enough to touch this fluid with their bare hands – wisely, because a lab mouse later exposed to it was desiccated in under a minute, as if the decaying effect had been distilled into a syrup.

A barely-living cadaver, body overflowing with liquid rot. This thing was what August Mayes revered as a god. Had there been others before him who believed so? Once containment was re-established, the other research teams had gone to work, including those setting out to try and match Subject B to any groups of interest known by the Foundation.

Which left Dr. Ruth with her efforts to stabilize Subject A’s mental state.

Was it wrong to have said those things to him? No… No, she couldn’t encourage these delusions, the obsession and the exaltation of this entity, regardless of whether it really was something akin to a “god” or not. It wasn’t healthy for him. And there was no way of knowing what would happen if the two came in direct contact. At this point, the researchers were having trouble even deciding if Subject A was a part of 3606’s anomaly, or simply under the effect of his connection to B. Could this thing attach itself to others if A were to die? Was it preventing A’s death entirely?

No. These things weren’t her concern. Her prerogative was August’s psychological health.

Which, in her opinion, was deteriorating rapidly following the team’s decision to reveal Subject B’s existence to him.

Damn them. They were setting back decades of progress. She’d been monitoring the situation more closely since that day, checking back in on the house every afternoon, but August no longer answered the door. The skeletons and carcasses of animals were piling up around the house with no one to collect them. The provisions delivered to the porch hadn’t been taken in that week, and she feared he’d stopped eating. The next fear was suicide – but she was assured that he was at least still alive inside, based on readings of the house.

Her next step had been to petition the team lead to consider amnestics. She was denied. Subject A’s lucid dreaming was deemed too pertinent to uncovering Subject B’s anomaly. She argued that this could still be useful if August didn’t know that the entity was real. Still denied.

So she did what she could. She checked in on him. Day after day after day.

That evening, it was raining even harder than it had when this started. Despite her umbrella, the legs of her trousers were soaked by the time she made it up to the patio. The grocery bags were still unattended and sagging against the front door. The windows were as dark as the steel-gray sky. She shook out her umbrella and rapped on the wood.

Silence. She knocked again, harder.

And then she was pounding on the door with her fist, face red with irritation. “August, that’s enough! You’re acting like a spoiled child! Come out here, right–

The door swung open as she’d drawn her fist back again.

The man at the doorway was a different person than she remembered. August’s eyes were encircled with deep shadows, his sandy hair unkempt and cheeks shallow. He seemed to be in a state of undress, only hugging a woolen blanket around his freckled shoulders.

“What do you want, Doctor?” he croaked out.

“What do I want?” she repeated, exasperated. “August, you had me worried sick. You’ve got to stop this. Whatever you’re feeling right now, we can work this out together, but I need you to stop closing yourself off… Please.”

But the distant look on August’s face didn’t make her confident he’d heard all of this. His eyes began to water, threatening to spill over.

“He’s still calling to me,” he said hoarsely. “It won’t stop. He – he knows I can feel him nearby.”

Dr. Ruth’s shoulders slackened as she shook her head. “August… That’s just –”

“Don’t tell me it’s a dream!” he groaned, trying to blink back the tears. “Even if it was before, it’s… I… I can’t sleep anymore. I’m not sleeping. I’m awake, and it won’t stop. I hear his voice, I feel the chill of his hands, I taste the sweet decay of his very breath! I can’t ignore it all, Doctor, I’m… I’m not…”

August’s voice dissolved as he struggled to speak, his shoulders trembling with suppressed sobs.
Were it anyone else, Dr. Ruth would be able to remain professional, surely… But August Mayes had robbed her of that. This man was not a lab animal, not a specimen for study, not an emotionless anomaly. He was just a young man drawn into this horrible thing, forced to live his life surrounded by constant death and rot. And right now… right now, he needed some kind of comfort.

He fell easily into her arms when she offered them, leaning his forehead on her slim shoulder as he wept. She hesitated, then carefully stroked his matted hair with a sigh. “August, I’m so sorry… I promise this will be better soon. We’ll take care of you…”

“D-doctor… please… please tell me…”

“What is it?”

“They’re… not guarding the tunnel right now, are they?”

It took Dr. Ruth a moment to realize what he’d just said. Too long.

Hands were wrapped around her throat, squeezing, shaking. She gasped and clawed at the man’s arms, staring up into the tear-streaked face over her, into the wide, watery hazel eyes overflowing with mixed malice and regret.

“I’m sorry,” he choked out. “I’m sorry… I’m s-so sorry… I can’t… I have to…!”

The summer rain was freezing. August couldn’t feel his legs moving under him anymore. Those dozen meters into the yard where the tunnel’s entrance lay under an unguarded tarp felt like miles.

What had he just done?

No… No… Dr. Ruth was fine. He hadn’t killed her. He’d only knocked her out. He was sure of that. Her pulse had felt so strong under his fingers when she went limp –

Oh, god, what was happening to him? Why was he doing this?

He staggered through the deluge, wide eyed, mouth dry and open, the blanket long discarded when it became too heavy in the rain. He was numb. He’d been numb for days.

It was the first time in the past week he’d seen the place without anyone in or around it. He’d counted the people that went in and came out that day through his window. He was sure no one was down there anymore, no one between him and…

But they’d set up security cameras. He was sure someone had seen him do what he did to Dr. Ruth, and they’d see him going down into the tunnel. He didn’t have much time, then. But it would be enough. All he had to do was make it down to the pit and…

Then what?

He’d know when he was there. He’d know the will of his God when he stood before his altar. He would know.

The descent into the tunnel was via a metal ladder, like climbing into a well. The rain pouring down the uncovered shaft made his steps unsteady, made him test his grip on each slippery rung before moving on. He could feel his heart thumping against his tongue. Nearly there. Almost…

Half-starved, his body wouldn’t move any faster than it already was, despite the rising sense of urgency in his limbs. He braced the rough earthen walls of the path with his hands, panting, dragging himself on. The chemical lamps were still lit at the end. Almost there. He was so close. He’d make it, he just had to get there before anyone else…

His ragged breath resounded faintly in the open space of the pit. Unlike the tunnels, this place didn’t seem to be dug out so clumsily… The walls were smooth, gently curved, with tree roots almost cautiously intruding along it all, casting long shadows across the low ceiling in the lamplight. And in the center –

The distant shouts of men far behind him were drowned out by the ringing in his ears. His lungs weren’t working right, his heart stumbling to meet the burden of his body.

It was like a shallow grave, this resting place where the unearthly entity lay in perfect tranquility. He was more than August had ever dreamed, more than the paltry photographs could ever hope to capture.

Skin like the moon, faintly colored at his extremities as if with frostbite. Long hair like ink spun into silk. A face neither masculine nor feminine, yet both at once, exquisitely shaped as if by otherworldly hands.

Soft lips gently parted, inviting.

Calling him.

Silently calling his name.

“Subject 3606-A, you are in breach of Foundation security! Stand up and back away from the entity!”

August had sunk himself into the hollow before he knew what he was doing. He was shaking, from his nerves or from the chill of his own skin, he didn’t know. The still body below him offered no heat, no comfort, and yet he felt compulsion enveloping him, starving mouth seeking what had been offered –

“Get the tranquilizer. 3606-A, this is your final warning! If you do not comply, security staff will be forced to –”

The ringing in his ears had climbed to a peak. He was deaf to all else. Trembling hands gingerly, carefully held the entity’s shapely jaw, only daring to touch with the barest of his fingertips, as if lifting a chalice of delicate crystal. As he drew near, the open mouth began to weep… A night-black liquid overflowed from the figure’s lips, and before it was able to slip down his face, August hurried to seal his mouth against –

He was gone.

The disquiet melted from inside him. There was a heat flooding his throat, his empty stomach as he swallowed mouthfuls of black liquid, its sensation on his tongue numbing and burning him…

It tasted of copper, of clover honey and lamb, of snowmelt and fragrant spice. The aroma of it was soaking through his brain and dissolving him, bleeding through every inch of his quaking body…

He was frozen there for what felt like ages, bound to the entity of death and decay at the mouth… And he was suddenly, calmly content to simply die there.

Not yet.

August snapped back to earth as he was seized roughly about the arms and torn from the hollow where the entity lay, black liquid dripping from his mouth. He’d been nearly dragged away from the grave when he began to fight, panicked, desperate to get back to where he belonged. No – not now, not now!

He twisted himself in the grasp of the men who held him, finding the unshielded face of the guard bending his left arm backwards, and violently spat out what was in his mouth.

Immediately, the man screamed and let go of him, frantically trying to wipe the corrosive black substance from his face, to little effect. It was as if he’d been drenched in hydrochloric acid. The flesh shriveled, liquified and sloughed off his skull and into his decaying hands, his strangled voice thinning as the breath slipped from his lungs like a deflating balloon.

August’s stomach turned, and immediately the urge rose to regurgitate what he’d drunk – but he suppressed it. It wasn’t harming him. It was a gift… something given to him and him alone, deadly only to the unworthy who tried to restrain him.

Or so it would be, but the other Foundation agents weren’t as unprepared. Safe in their biohazard suits, they wrestled him to the ground and pinned him there as he howled like a wounded animal. He couldn’t throw them off. He couldn’t get back. Not like this… Not like this…

“Let go of me! LET GO OF ME! LET ME GO! I won’t, I won’t, please, let me…!”

“Hold him down!”

“Fuck - what the fuck just happened to Yates!?”

“Idiot didn’t wear his suit like we said –”

“Let go of me, let go, let go, I need to go –”

“They didn’t say he could do shit like –”

“He couldn’t, he must have –”

“Let go… please… please… I’m begging you, let me…”

“Where’s the fucking tranq?”

“Here, just hold him –”

August strained to look back, cheek pressed to the cold earth, his breathing ragged. The sting of the needle in his arm barely registered through the adrenaline.

And slowly, finally, the pit spun into darkness.

The atmosphere around the containment site had changed in less than a week. Before, it was simply a low-maintenance Euclid-class anomaly, whose danger could be suppressed with deliveries of livestock and standard supplies for its single human resident. Now, there was a small and constant rotation of agents, and the howling screams that kept rising up and fading into hoarse sobbing did nothing for Foundation morale.

It was still impossible for staff to be inside of 3606 itself for longer than five minutes at a time, and so it was equally impossible to confine Subject A to his home following the incident. Instead, a sterile medical tent had been erected on the lawn, with Subject A as its sole occupant, occasionally visited by Foundation agents and medical personnel.

This was how Dr. Ruth found the place when she returned, just eight days after her assault. She wouldn’t be staying long, but she was assured there was very little she could do to interfere with Subject A’s containment at the time.

“He’s harmless for the moment,” was what the team lead had casually told her outside the tent.

At first glance, however, she thought the measures to contain him were a bit excessive.

August Mayes had not dealt with the incident well. Attempts to leave him with minimal security measures had left him with deep gouges around his arms and throat from self-injury, though most of these were either bandaged or healing – his wrists and ankles were bound to a sturdy bed by thick leather restraints to prevent more, with an additional strap across his chest to keep him from trying to change position. There was something like a metal dog muzzle over his nose and mouth, perhaps to keep him from biting, but more likely because much of the staff attending him weren’t entirely convinced he hadn’t been able to produce Subject B’s decaying fluids on his own. To get around the blockage of his mouth, he was being fed intravenously, although it was likely he would have continued refusing meals if they hadn’t done so anyway.

Dr. Ruth wished with all her being that she hadn’t had to see him this way. Not like this.

At the sound of her sighing, August opened a bleary eye and tilted his face to her, his breathing thin behind the muzzle. It seemed to be taking him a moment to recognize her… or maybe just to decide what to say.

“Did I hurt you?” he said faintly, voice muffled by the metal.

Dr. Ruth felt for her neck automatically – the bruises and scratches had mostly faded, but there was a bandage on the side of her head where she’d struck herself on the porch railing. “Not as badly as you’ve done to yourself, I think,” she replied.

His eyes fluttered a moment, as if he were trying to stay awake. “I’m sorry.”

“You’d said that.”

“I was… I am.”

“It’s over, regardless.” Dr. Ruth hesitated, her mouth hanging open slightly, then pushed on. “August… This is the last time you’re ever going to see me.”

To her surprise, he sighed, slowly, as if in relief. “Did they… They listened to me?”

“What? … Listened about what?”

“Th-they’re… going to kill me?”

She blanched. “August, they wouldn’t –”

“I’ve begged them to,” he whimpered. “I’ve been pleading for days. Doctor, please, tell them… Please… I want to die. I can’t live like this. I want to go back–”

“I’m being removed from your case, August,” she snapped.

He fell silent, reddened eyes unblinking. “Why?”

Why?” she repeated ruefully. “Because I let you cloud my judgment. I made terrible decisions to accommodate you, and it nearly got me killed in the end. The blood of the man you killed is on my hands, too. No – a good portion of the team assigned to you is being removed from the Foundation entirely for this incident. Only one person dying from this was a miracle. And you still want to add to the casualties – you want them to execute something they’ve been protecting for the past twenty years?

“Is that all I am? Do you feel that way, too?”

“You –” She scoffed in disgust, hugging her own arms and glaring at the ground. “You bastard. I wish it was the only way I saw you. It was supposed to be that way. It’s the way I’ve been able to work with every other anomaly in my care. Why did it have to be you?

The sound of August’s breath made a faint, tinny echo against the muzzle. Outside the tent, the air was thick with the sound of cicadas trilling in the woods.

“Why are you telling me this?” he said, voice weakening.

Dr. Ruth forced herself to look back at him, her eyes shining with the threat of tears. “Because you’re not going to remember it anyway,” she said bitterly. “They’re giving you amnestics today, like I suggested to them weeks ago. You’ll forget everything that happened since they found the pit. So will I, when I leave the Foundation.”

He fell quiet again, unmoving.

“I thought you’d be more upset by that,” said Dr. Ruth.

“I am,” he whispered. “But I’ll forget why, won’t I? I’ll forget why I want to die now. I’ll forget the way I feel in his absence. I’ll forget how it felt t… to kiss him. To drink the nectar from his lips. I won’t know how it consumed me, and I won’t long for it so much that my very existence without it feels like agony. I’ll forget what… what happened down there.”

Dr. Ruth bit her lip, torn between anger and misery. “August… I did all that for you, I ignored all rational behavior and acted out of turn because I lo–”

“Doctor.” His voice was breaking, his body sagging down in the restraints. “Please don’t… make me hurt you more than I already have.”

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