Lest Back the Awful Door Should Spring by Emachinscat
A Trollhunters Fan-Fiction
Summary: Sequel to "That I Could Fear a Door." When Jim is arrested by the Tribunal and thrown in prison, something in him breaks again that he thought had been fixed. Suddenly, it's like he's back in the Darklands, reliving the worst moments of his life that seem determined to never let him go. TW: PTSD, depression, panic attacks. Written for Febuwhump onTumblr. Day 3: imprisonment
A/N: This is a sequel to my earlier story, "That I Could Fear a Door." You don't necessarily have to read it first, but it definitely gives more context (and whump and angst). Takes place at the end of the Tribunal arc, so spoilers for that. I hope you enjoy, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!
TW/CW for PTSD, depression, and panic attacks.
Lest Back the Awful Door Should Spring
I fitted to the latch
My hand, with trembling care,
Lest back the awful door should spring,
And leave me standing there.I moved my fingers off
As cautiously as glass,
And held my ears, and like a thief
Fled gasping from the house.
- From "Home" by Emily Dickinson
Jim wouldn't go so far as to say that his life had gone back to normal after re-adjusting to life outside of the Darklands, but he had fallen into a new kind of rhythm that allowed him to live again. He was more like his old self in many ways - he smiled again, for one. He didn't laugh as much as he used to, but when he did it was genuine, and his life and Trollmarket and school and home didn't feel so much like they belonged to someone else anymore. He still had nightmares, but even they were coming less frequently.
His confidence was coming back, too - slowly. As his thinned, weakened frame began to fill out once more and lean muscles reformed, as cuts and bruises shrunk and changed color and finally disappeared, he felt better. More like his old self. He didn't actively avoid mirrors anymore. He still struggled with feeling like he wasn't enough, like he hadn't been strong enough or brave enough or trusted his friends enough or fought back against Gunmar enough, but his bi-weekly chats with Nomura had started to break up those thought patterns, too.
It got harder, and he felt himself slipping back into old fears and feelings, when they could no longer deny the horrible truth that Gunmar had escaped from the Darklands, that he had followed Jim through. A part of Jim wished that he himself had just stayed there, that his friends would have let the bridge get buried, and that he had died there. Then his friends, his town, his whole world, wouldn't be living in the impending shadow of Gunmar's brutal reign.
He held himself together though, mostly, because the best thing he could do for his friends and Arcadia was to work tirelessly against Gunmar's return and fight even harder to keep the two worlds he inhabited - troll and human - safe until they could find a way to defeat the Gumm-Gumm king or send him back to hell.
He hit a very rocky patch when Draal got possessed. When he'd refused to fight his friend in the hallway of his school, when he saw those glowing, blank eyes and heard the voice from his nightmares taunt from his friend's mouth like poison squeezed from a stone, it wasn't just because he didn't want to hurt Draal that he held back. He didn't realize it until after the battle, after Draal had gone and he was alone in his room trying to process all that had happened, but there had been a small part of him that was hoping that his efforts to defend himself would be half-hearted enough for Draal to land a killing blow. It wasn't necessarily that he wanted to die. But he didn't think he'd be too broken up about it if he did.
But his guilt had soon been replaced with a rushing rage and determination - Gunmar had taken too much already; he would not have Draal! - and soon he was pushing forward, friends at his side, defending Arcadia and Trollmarket, searching tome after tome in Blinky's vast collection in any ounce of spare time for a cure, anything that would save Draal.
He managed to stay strong - though if it weren't for Toby and Claire, Blinky and Aaarrrgghh, Draal and Nomura, he would have crumbled long ago - and to fight off the demons that had been raging war against his mind and soul since the moment he'd entered the Darklands alone.
That is, until he was arrested by the Tribunal on his way down to Trollmarket after a surprisingly fun day in detention. The moment Usurna's guards grabbed his arms and started hauling him away, everything that Jim had so carefully and painfully pieced back together shattered, like he was a child who had glued a broken vase back together hoping no one would notice, but someone slammed a door too hard and the glue couldn't hold…
He didn't even hear Claire and Toby calling after him, demanding that he be released. He barely even registered the shocked and indignant faces of his friends in Trollmarket who watched as he was dragged between two enormous trolls, their stone-like hands completely dwarfing his arms, like he was a criminal or a traitor.
He didn't struggle at first. He just stared ahead. He could only feel the pressure of the brutes' paws around his arms, strong enough to break each one with the tiniest of twitches. He had been here before, felt the cold, unrelenting grip, felt the toes of his sneakers drag and catch on stone. He knew what came after.
Cages that shocked, near-starvation, pain and beatings and abuse and fear and darkness and fighting, again and again, exhausted, dying, please no, not again!
And then he was fighting, thrashing and bucking and very nearly wrenching his arms out of their sockets in the process. If the trolls holding him had fought against him, he might not even have arms anymore. And yet he still struggled, needing to get away, to be free, no more hands touching him, grabbing him, throwing him, no more bars or cages or prisons, please -
And then he was airborne, having been tossed like a bag of dirty laundry by the trolls flanking him, and his armor clanged as he hit the back of a cage in Trollmarket's prison. Not even registering the pain in his arms or head, he lunged to his feet, metal boots slipping slightly on the slick floor of the cage, escape his only thought, his only goal, he could figure the rest out later.
With a jarring ring of metal on metal, the cage door slammed shut in his face, and he fell back, balance askew, as the cage was pulled up by a heavy chain, almost to the ceiling, before being tied off. He hung there, barely able to comprehend the swaying of his claustrophobic prison, only seeing the bars and still feeling the great hands on his arms and flashing between the small metal cage and a damp, cold cell with glowing orange bars. He tried to fight off the panic, but it already had him in its crushing grip, weighing down on his chest so heavily that he fought for breath. Why did this keep happening to him? Didn't they know, couldn't they tell, that he didn't want to be here?
Jim curled in on himself as much as his armor would allow, resting his chin on the hard, cool plates on his knees. He tried to ground himself, remind himself that this wasn't the Darklands, that he wasn't in the hands of Gunmar, and even if Usurna did plan on executing him like he'd vaguely heard her say as he was lifted higher and higher, surely she would maintain order and keep him safe throughout the trial. Her guards wouldn't throw him around like Gunmar's had. And his friends would flatten anyone who tried.
Slowly, with great effort, Jim began the arduous, perilous climb out of his own mind, flinching at the nightmares bleeding through the cracks, reaching out their dark tendrils and trying to drag him back down.
When Jim finally opened his eyes and lifted his head, it was to see that he was alone, save for the other trolls in prison, eyeing him curiously. Jim's breath caught in his throat - where were they? How could they leave him here, like this? Alone, in a cage, caught between the present and the past and not wanting to be a part of either.
He couldn't know that while he had been fighting to wrest control of himself, battling the delirious fog of memories, that his friends had been forcibly herded out of the room by Usurna and Vendel - Usurna because she was determined to keep a tight hold over things until the details of the trial could be sorted, and Vendel because he knew showing favoritism would only cost the Trollhunter more in the long run.
If Jim were in his right mind, fully in this world and not limping with one foot in the Darklands, he wouldn't have thought for a moment that his friends would have willingly abandoned him. After all, they'd stuck by him at his very worst, when he'd all but lost himself and almost didn't find his way back. They'd proven they'd do anything for him, even when he messed up. So they wouldn't abandon him now.
But Jim wasn't in his right mind.
He was terrified, in a limbo of things that had already happened and that he wanted nothing more than to forget and things that were happening now that had brought the past out of hiding. He wanted nothing more than to go home, to hug his mom and curl up under his blankets with his walkie-talkie and joke around with Toby until late in the night, to read comics and daydream about Claire and watch Gun Robot. He was angry, and hurt, and not sure what was real anymore. The bars of the cage loomed all around him, and were they getting closer? Were they glowing orange?
Trembling, his chest heaving with the effort it took to draw in a breath, hands and feet tingling like he'd been sitting on them all day, a high ringing in his ears and his stomach curdling like he'd just finished a glass of year-old milk, Jim folded in on himself and gave in to the darkness that was calling him, praying that sleep would come, or death, he didn't care which at this point and it felt like he was dying anyway…
He woke up screaming. A series of clangs rent the air and ricocheted off the walls of the underground prison as his cries startled his fellow prisoners awake, and the sounds and grumbles and growls of, Keep it down, jeez almost sent Jim into another panic attack.
But his mind was a little clearer with sleep, and he sat up from where he'd been slumped, half against the floor of the cage and half against the bars. His pulse still seemed to rattle his bones, and his muscles were tense and sore - from being manhandled, but also from the intense desire to move, to run, even though there was nowhere to run to.
The nightmares had brought him perfect clarity. He realized that he had never asked for any of this: not the amulet, not the role of Trollhunter, not the constant danger he put himself in, not the pain or the trauma of the Darklands, even if he had gone in of his own free will, and not this.
Well, he'd had it. He was done. He'd put everything on the line, gone through the unspeakable, been hurt again and again, had brought back Claire's brother, had saved his friends and Arcadia and Trollmarket more times than he could count… and where had it gotten him?
Caged like an animal, no escape, almost certainly awaiting an unpleasant death, abandoned by his friends, left alone in the dark.
He only hesitated for a fraction of a second before removing the amulet and feeling his armor peel away, leaving him small and vulnerable. There had been good times. Surely his friends hadn't meant to leave him like this, all alone. Probably they had no choice. And often he had enjoyed being the Trollhunter. It had given him a sense of purpose, more friends than he'd ever had before, the knowledge that he was truly making a difference.
The moment of uncertainty retreated as quickly as it had encroached, and he flung the amulet through the bars of the cage, as far from his body as he could, both dreading and anticipating the moment when it would fly back to him.
He'd never had any choice.
His skin was crawling as the amulet materialized in his hands once more. He wanted to climb out of his own skin, ram himself into the bars of the cage until he somehow broke through or collapsed into a bloody pulp onto the floor. He just needed to get away.
And so, when a disembodied voice spoke out of the amulet and introduced itself as Unkar the Unfortunate and offered to take him on an It's a Wonderful Life-themed ride through his own life, Jim didn't even pause to think. It didn't matter that the goal of this out-of-body expedition was obviously to get him to rethink his decision about being the Trollhunter.
He would take anything he could get, anything at all, as long as it got him out of this cage. And so he went, not expecting anything to change, fully intending to stand by his choice to stop being the Trollhunter, and truly believing that nothing he saw would convince him otherwise.
And if he was wrong, then he would just die as the Trollhunter instead of plain old Jim Lake. Either way, he thought miserably, he'd be afraid and alone.
He closed his eyes and gratefully let the amulet take him.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading - I hope you enjoyed. I'd love to know what you thought! Also, this isn't the last venture into this storyline / more angsty universe: I'll be playing in it some more soon, so keep an eye out if you're interested in more! :)