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Performance Management

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"Tim, how many times must we talk about this?" Elias has that stupid, smug look on his face again, the one that's completely at odds with his whole tired professor who's worried about you tone. "Rosie in Artifact Storage tells me that you've been pulling records about the calliope organ again."

"Isn't that my job? Pulling records about whatever stupid thing the Archivist needs this week?" Tim hasn't closed the door, doesn't intend to, and doesn't take a seat. Let Elias have to look up at him, and let anyone who might be passing by in the hall hear this sorry excuse for a reprimand.

"Not that one, which you are well aware of." Oh, lovely. Now he's doing the sharp thing, the look that prickles at the back of Tim's neck if it goes on for too long. "Tim, I have tried to be understanding of your... difficulties. I have been lenient with you. Clearly that has not been the correct course of action. Close the door."

"Close it yourself." Having a staring contest with Elias Bouchard is not the most intelligent thing Tim has ever done, not by a long shot, but perhaps Elias isn't the only one who hasn't been taking the correct course of action. "Or let everyone hear whatever it is you think I should be doing."

"I really don't think you want that." Elias opens the folder on his desk and begins to flip through the pages. "Hm, not that one. No, that one's not quite right, either. Ah, yes-- this is the one."

He takes out a thin sheaf of paper held together with a bent clip that's seen better days. It's old, printed in purple on thin paper like some terrible banda machine copy his parents would have had in school.

"Allowing you to run amok has proven a mistake, one I intend to rectify by giving you something to occupy your time." Elias' look goes far beyond a prickling on the back of his neck. Now it's the hideous, oppressive feeling of knowing he shouldn't be overseas, the strangling of the leash dragging him back to London and into this fucking mausoleum. Because that's what it is: people dying here, probably being interred in Artifact Storage when there's a body at all.

He can't stand where he is any more than he could have stayed in Malaysia. Walking the three steps to the door and closing it is every bit as inevitable as buying a return flight to Heathrow had been.

"Lock it," Elias says. He does. "Reading statements is part of your job, and I have allowed this petty insubordination of yours to go on long enough. You will read and record this statement, and any other statements you are given."

No is what he wants to say. No, I'm not having any of this, and if I could convince Martin to stop sucking your metaphorical cock long enough to think about what he's doing I'd get him to stop reading, too.

"That's a remarkably timely train of thought." He doesn't know what's worse, that whatever the hell is wrong here extends to his own head not being private or that the thought is somehow timely.

Elias hands over the papers, which feel like they might crumble if he handles them too roughly. The statement giver must have typed it before they'd come in and brought a copy to the Institute; most of their older written statements have at least cursory care taken towards their archival survival.

That he can't stop thinking about this with detached professionalism might be the worst part of all. Why is he railing against a lack of proper archival procedure when he's locked in a room with Elias and can't bring himself not to look down at the statements in his hands?

Click. That would be the tape recorder, then.

"Statement of Jack Leahy regarding a romantic assignation on the top floor of Centre Point. Original statement given to the Archive on the twenty-fourth of August, 1971. Statement recorded by Tim Stoker, Archival Assistant at the Magnus Institute," he says. What he means is fuck you, I'm not worshipping at whatever cult it is you've built here.

"Statement begins," Elias says when Tim doesn't, and just like that his delay of the inevitable ends. Statement begins is an order, one he's following even before he knows what he's doing.

The statement itself would be interesting if he weren't reading it under an odd, crawling sort of duress that he can't quite articulate. Architecture, gay London in the seventies, sneaking into a building no one had ever really used-- it's like someone had made a list titled things Tim Stoker enjoys reading.

"Rob knows someone in security. Don't ask me how he got us in without getting caught; do I look like I fucking know?" An accent that's not his slips into the cracks between words until he's talking like someone he's never been. Do I look like I fookin' know? "All I know is he did, and nobody bothered us on the way up. Whole place was like church on a Tuesday night or something, big old space that ought to be full of people but isn't."

Tim doesn't like thinking about spaces that should have people in them anymore, not since... well. Since before he'd been stupid enough to take this job.

It's easy enough to put out of his mind, since who has time to think about things like that when he's just snuck into a closed skyscraper with his boyfriend. He can feel the cold metal of the elevator door through his worn-thin shirt, rough hands slipping up under it and stubble against his cheek--

No. No, he can't feel any of that. He's standing in the middle of Elias' office, reading a statement against his will. They're the only two people here. There's no door at his back and even if there were, his shirt is in decent enough condition to insulate him from it.

Elias doesn't have stubble. His face would be smooth, his hands softer and cleverer as they unlatch his belt and unzip his trousers--

"I don't know whether to be surprised," Elias murmurs. Right, at least the bizarre things this statement is somehow putting into his head are surprising the evil demon or cultist or garden variety serial killer, or whatever the hell Elias really is. "But I suppose it does make things easier."

"This is harassment, you know." Tim manages to finally say something that isn't the statement, and all Elias does is smile at him. That stupid, condescending little smile that says look what a charming little mistake you've made. "You can't just do this to people!"

"Are you going to report me?" Elias sounds more delighted by the prospect than he has anything in their conversation so far. "To whom? I could call one of the Lukases if you like, put them on speakerphone and let them hear me put you in your place. But they might take issue with how lax I've been in employee discipline, so unless you would like to have that conversation read the statement."

He does. He can't help it, words spilling out of him in that voice that isn't his. Jack Leahy seems to not have known the difference between statement and pornography, and Tim can feel his face burning a furious red as he speaks.

"He's a bit of an exhibitionist, likes to go at it in places where people could see but won't. Because they're not looking. So the top floor of a building with massive windows but no lights, that's just Rob's sort of place. I didn't mind so long as we didn't get caught, and honestly it was quite exciting when he pressed my face up against the glass."

He can feel it against his face, cool and unyielding, feel his panting breaths fogging the glass as he presses his hands against it for leverage that isn't there. Someone-- Elias, it must be Elias-- holds his wrists, keeping his hands pinned in place.

Tim doesn't know how he's still reading. His eyes are closed, and he can't be holding onto the statement anymore. But he is; the words are there in his head, a breathless description of having his belt undone and his cock pressed against cold, frictionless glass.

"Gave him a bit of a laugh, said that we weren't to make a mess and that I'd have to clean the glass myself if I kept that up. Dirty bastard, as if he isn't the one who wanted to lick it up."

Dirty talk has never been Tim's thing-- it's hideously embarrassing and makes him cringe. It seems to have the opposite effect on the man in the statement, and Tim can't help but shiver. Do more than shiver, when teeth graze the back of his neck and slippery fingers seem to come out of nowhere to press inside of him. Haven't these bastards ever heard of foreplay?

But Jack Leahy hadn't wanted foreplay in 1971. He'd wanted to get fucked in the window of the tallest building in London. He'd wanted the boyfriend who'd snuck him up past security to shove him up against the glass and nail him there for everyone to see. So that's what Tim feels down to his bones, the giddy relief of yes, fucking finally, like that when a cock that might be in his head but might also be Elias' thrusts into him so hard that suddenly he can't breathe.

"He was so fucking good that at first I didn't realize he wasn't-- nnngh-- him anymore." He can't get through an entire sentence without some needy sound getting in the way now, some little bit of punctuation to demonstrate how much he likes it. Fuck Elias, fuck him, someday Tim is going to light this entire building on fire and laugh all the way to the airport. All the way to a jet that will take him to the other side of the fucking world, where they won't be able to call him back because they won't be around anymore.

Then he has to stop reading, stop plotting, stop doing anything besides hold on and try to breathe. One second he's trying not to moan and the next he's trying not to scream as what feels like the vastness of the universe fills him.

The words are still coming, even when his voice doesn't. Whatever it was, it was everywhere all at once, so much of it there wasn't even room for air in me. I didn't dare open my eyes, at least not until I couldn't feel the glass anymore. Then I did, and the lights were gone. Wherever I was, whatever I was with-- I wasn't at Centre Point anymore.

The weight on his wrists is gone, and all he can do is wheeze as each thrust forces the air from him while the pressure around his throat stops him from taking a deep enough breath. Too-deep exhale, too-shallow inhale, over and over until he's too disoriented to think of anything but the words he needs to say.

I should have been terrified, but all I could think of was how good it was. I wanted the blackness to swallow me whole, suck me dry until there was nothing left. I knew then and there I'd be ruined for anyone else-- how can you go back to a man after you've had the whole universe fuck you?

Dizziness and need and the strangled attempt at a moan each thrust wrung out of him are all he can focus on, every other thought slipping away from him. His thoughts are right in front of him when he's pushed forward, but with the fullness and heat and lack of oxygen thruming through him he forgets they're there. When he's pulled back, emptied but able to catch a constricted breath, he remembers them but they're all the way up there--

He manages to open his eyes, and what he doesn't see is blackness. No, there's a glimmer. City lights?

No, not city lights, either. The reflection of a fluorescent bulb, that's what it is. He's pressed against the polished surface of Elias' desk, bent over it with hands wrapped around his throat.

"You've almost got it," Elias says, quiet and encouraging and not at all like he's got his cock inside of Tim. "Just a bit more and you'll be finished."

Tim struggles against the grip on his throat, now too tight for him to breathe at all. Nothing, there's nothing. He's going to die like this, strangled on Elias Bouchard's desk in some murderous rape game. No one will ever find the body-- how long had it taken them to find Gertrude's? And people had been looking for her. No one's looking for Tim.

He makes one last choking sound as his eyes roll back and he comes. His fingers scrabble against the desk and his entire body thrashes as if trying to buck Elias off, and it all feels so good that he almost doesn't care that it's a death spasm. It's the best fucking orgasm he's ever had, his own moment of how can you go back to a person when you've had the whole universe?

Except then he doesn't die.

"Finish the statement, Tim."

He keeps his eyes closed, tries to remember how breathing works, and reads from the statement he's not looking at anymore.

"After that it gets a little bit hazy." His voice sounds ragged, and he doesn't know whether it's the choking or the statement. "I don't even remember if Rob came. The only reason I know I did was that he still wanted me to lick it up. As if I still had any interest in the insignificant things that excited him."

"Statement ends," Elias finishes for him. "You may do the follow-up later, when you're in a better state for research. Right I'll need you to right the mess you've made of my office."

He lifts Tim by the back of his shirt and pulls him up off the desk. It takes everything he has not to fall back down on weak knees, to catch his weight with his hands on the edge of the desk. Now that he's up, he can see that while his own trousers are around his knees, Elias looks impeccable. He's not even unzipped, for God's sake.

Tim tries very, very hard not to think about how any of this has worked.

There's only one thing amiss in the room besides Tim himself, and that's the desk. Papers scattered, fingerprints, what looks like spit-- probably from when Elias was choking the life out of him. And come, spattered over the desktop.

"Right, do you keep the cleaning supplies in here? Or will I have to do a walk of shame to the supply closet?" He knows it's a mistake as soon as he says it, but he can't help it. With the memory of that disorientation fading, his anger simmers back up.

"That won't be necessary. Since it seems its lesson has not stuck, we will revisit the statement." Elias just looks at him. "Specifically, the parts about how Mr. Leahy intended to clean up after himself."

"Lick it up yourself, if that's what you're into." His voice shakes. He can already feel it crawling up his spine again, that flirty warmth and half-serious intent to lick the glass.

"Clean up your mess, Mr. Stoker." The command carries the same weight as statement begins had, even without Elias' hand in his hair forcing him down to eye-level with the desk. "You will do as you are told, and I will teach you this lesson as many times as it takes for you to learn."

He does as he's told.

He opens his mouth and laps his own fucking come up off the polished desktop, licking the wood clean over and over until he can't taste himself on it anymore. Tim keeps on licking the desk even when he's sure it's finally clean and all he's doing is getting it dirty again, because Elias' hand slides down to press on the back of his neck but doesn't relent.

"I trust that we won't need to have any further discussions regarding your poor performance," Elias says. His hand on the back of Tim's neck is gentle, which feels wrong.

There's a warning squeeze when he doesn't answer, an instant of too much pressure that is just enough like having the breath ripped from him that he can't do anything but freeze up. "If you find yourself slipping, I do have more statements of a similarly... discretionary nature. There's one in particular that you might find a particularly helpful coaching session."

He refuses to think about what that could be.

"Or you could stay and record it now," Elias goes on, never removing his hand. "There are three statements remaining in that file. If you're going to continue to be unreasonable, you can at least make yourself useful and record another. Since you did so well on this one, I'll let you choose which one."

No. No, he's not going to stay and record three more of these things. Elias has lost his fucking mind--

"Tim. Why must you persist in making things so difficult?" Elias sighs like some exasperated father or teacher dealing with an unruly child. "You'll record all three of them before you leave tonight, then."

Elias lets go of him. Watches as he stumbles back into the chair he'd refused to sit in earlier.

And then he knows what's in those three statements just as he'd known about being pressed against a window that wasn't and unable to breathe. He knows, and he doesn't want it, he wants it out of his head before he has to live through every terrible second of it--

"I'll be back to check on you later," Elias says, pressing the next statement into his hands. This one is handwritten, faded and spidery and obviously much older than the first statement.

Click. The tape recorder.

Click. The door closing behind Elias.

"Statement of Peter Joensen regarding an unusual encounter on a whaling expedition," he reads, despite the chorus of no, no, no echoing about his skull. He's still hoarse, but the worst of it's already fading.

As he hears the sound of the key in the lock-- this time from the outside-- he can smell salt on the air and feel something decidedly inhuman wrap around his leg. Elias' footsteps receding in the distance punctuate the phantom sensation dozens of tiny, stinging suckers that send him writhing right out of the chair and onto the floor.

He doesn't lose his grip on the paper, much as he wants to. He wants to rip it in half, throw the tape recorder at the wall until it cracks into a mess of yellowed nineteen-eighties plastic and new old stock magnetic tape. Take a pair of scissors to that tape until no one will ever be able to hear him begging as he narrates his own nightmare.

He can't. Without Elias here to keep it in his head when he's not looking at it, he can do is hang on to the paper and read the fucking statement.

"Original statement given the twelfth of November, 1864. Statement recorded by Tim Stoker, Archival Assistant at the-- ahhh --the Magnus Institute."