He’s not sure how he gets back to London. He could know it - could Know it - but there are so many things happening all at once and Jon knows so many of them; so many fears and so much terror and so little hope, so that to pick out something as insignificant as ‘how he got from point A to point B’ amongst all of the terrors he’s known along the way would take more energy than he has in this moment. Of which there’s very little, overall, because with all the fear to drink in on the way here, he hasn’t slept at all.
He doesn’t actually need to sleep, not now. Doesn’t need to eat, either, at least not anything that can’t be put down in ink on paper or onto reels of tape. But his body still thinks it’s human, still hasn’t caught up to this new world and to what he is now, and so exhaustion drags at his bones as he steps around the terrors in the street to come upon the Institute, standing pristine and untouched throughout the horrors surrounding it.
(Well. There are eyes flashing at every window, just in the edge of vision, but weren’t they always there, really, even if they were never so visible?)
When he nears the threshold, Elias is there, as Jon had known deep down that he would be - standing there deadly still in a flurry of new information, Elias and Jonah and the other bodies he’s taken between all there for the picking if Jon only looks. All there for the picking if he doesn’t look, either, because the Eye is everywhere and everything now and what is he but an Archive for what it Sees?
“Oh, Jon,” Elias says when he gets closer, and his voice is soft and rapturous and it cuts through every bit of terror around them so that Jon can focus in a way that he hasn’t been able to for the entire journey.
He can focus on Elias, stood there on the threshold of the Institute with a hand held out toward him, expression beatific as he watches Jon trudge up the steps. He can focus on the way that, once they’re stood in the threshold together, Elias’ hand comes up to rest against Jon’s cheek and he finds himself leaning into the touch without any real conscious thought on his part. He can focus on the way that Elias’ touch becomes all-consuming, the way it drowns out the other input even more than his voice had.
“You did this.” There’s no bite to it, just the exhaustion threading through every inch of him, and Elias only presses his hand more firmly against Jon’s cheek.
“We did this, Jon,” Elias corrects, and Jon wants to argue. Wants to insist that he’d been an unwilling vessel for Elias’ - for Jonah Magnus’ - ritual, that he never would have loosed this on the world without a statement to puppet him.
(But there’s something inside of him that luxuriates in the terror around him, something that stretches out like a predator finally freed from its too-small cage, and all Jon could truly argue is that he wouldn’t have loosed this on the world without Elias yet.)
In the end, Jon just closes his eyes and breathes out, slow and quiet, and tries not to let it hitch when Elias’ thumb brushes over his cheekbone.
“Isn’t it beautiful, Jon?” Elias asks him, voice low and almost hypnotic. His thumb keeps moving slowly over Jon’s cheekbone, back and forth again and again, a motion that might send Jon to sleep if he still needed to. “All of this set in motion, and the Eye alone to stand above it all and watch forevermore. You to stand above it all, Jon.”
“I haven’t exactly been above it so far.”
Elias pauses the motion of his thumb and then taps Jon’s cheek sharply, making him open his eyes to scowl blearily at Elias as though he hadn’t been able to see him just fine with closed eyes, anyway.
“Come inside, then, where you can watch properly.”
He wants to say no, to leave and never come back to the Institute and to its eyes and to Elias at its head. Or, at least, he wants to want that. He wants to be someone, something, that would run back to Martin and work with him to undo this.
(He doesn’t know where he left Martin or how Martin is coping in this terrifying new world. He’s too afraid to Know.)
Instead, Jon only nods, and when Elias’ hand drops away from his face he tries not to react to the loss of touch. Elias smiles down at him, perfectly serene as though the world around them isn’t gone to hell, and then turns on his heel to lead Jon into the Institute.
Everything in there is the same. The old halls are emptier than usual, but they pass by Rosie sitting at her desk as though everything is normal. By the occasional researcher hurrying past with the exact same harried look that Jon remembers from his own tenure in research, no more or less than before the ritual. And it’s entirely unnecessary, but Jon glances at Elias anyway, waiting for him to fill in with words what Jon already knows without them.
“Really, Jon?” Elias asks without looking back, but after a moment he sighs and his tone turns more indulgent. “Well, I suppose if you’ve ever earned the coddling, it would be now. Yes. Some of the staff were more suited to the Eye than others. And the Institute does intend to continue, which means we require more staff than just ourselves, and so here they are; safe from harm and ready to continue serving our god.”
“And those who weren’t so fond of the Eye?”
“Oh, some of them will find their way here eventually, if only out of desperation. The rest… well, I’m sure they’ll find their way into the hands of some god, by one means or another.”
Most of them to the End sooner rather than later, Elias doesn’t say, and it might be something approaching a kindness if they didn’t both know it anyway.
They’re both silent then until they reach Elias’ office, and that’s another thing that remains the same as it ever was. Not that he’d truly expected it to be any different, even if the rest of the Institute had been more changed. Elias Bouchard, Jonah Magnus, any of the names between; whatever Jon wants to call the man in front of him, he’s definitely particular about the things he considers his own.
(His bodies, his office, his
Jon shakes his head abruptly, like he can shake the thought loose, but if the amused glance Elias sends back his way is any indication then he might as well not have bothered. Elias doesn’t make any comment, though, just circles around the desk to sit down behind it, settling into his usual spot as though it’s any other day. Jon hovers by the door, not sure what Elias’ intent is here. How he intends to have Jon watch properly.
“The window has a good enough view, if you’d prefer to see with your eyes,” Elias offers up mildly.
Elias pushes his chair back from the desk just a little, without standing up. “I would be more than happy to support you here, Jon.”
It takes him a moment, but it’s not like there are any good implications there; sitting in Elias’ lap or at his feet, kneeling at his feet, they’re all much the same and even if Jon couldn’t Know that Elias is thinking mostly of the last he’d still know it had to be something in that vein.
“The window will be fine, thank you,” he bites out, cheeks flushed in humiliated anger as he stalks over to it and stares out at London beneath them.
The office falls away from importance, once he’s looking out. The office, the Institute, the swift sick realization that he hadn’t even hesitated in following along with everything Elias said so long as it meant he’d be able to see this; all of it falls away, replaced with the horrors he can see in the streets below. Elias himself doesn’t fall away, not quite, but even his presence is less important right now. A single quiet instrument within an entire cacophonous orchestra, easily ignored even if he can’t entirely tune it out.
He’s not sure how long he stands there, watching, before he starts to get frustrated. Elias’ office is high up enough that he has a pretty good view of a lot of the horrors near the Institute, especially being able to see things down on the ground far better than human eyes could, but it’s still—
He’s still looking with his eyes, when he could so easily look from the sky itself and see so much more. He can’t concentrate with the window there, though, with the streets below him that he can see through his own eyes, and Jon hates himself a little for it but he turns, slowly, to face Elias again. To where Elias is sat exactly where he was before, watching Jon as though he’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen.
“There’s no need to explain yourself, Jon,” Elias tells him, voice soft in the quiet, and leans back in his chair as Jon steps toward him.
“I need to see more,” Jon says anyway, because he does need to explain himself, in words; needs that moment of pretending at humanity before he submits again to the reality of lacking it.
Elias only watches him, silent, and stays that way as Jon reaches him and sinks slowly to his knees before him. And then Jon is closing his eyes and he can see so much, so much that it ought to be too much, ought to be dizzying and terrifying and perhaps it is, a little. But it’s also what he is, isn’t it, and he’s helpless to do anything but lean into the fingers he feels threading through his hair as he kneels and watches everything outside.
He thinks he might be speaking as he kneels there, that he might be telling Elias snatches of statements that have never been given and will never need to be given when the Archive can snatch them up so easily now. He’s not entirely sure the threads of them are fully coherent when they come out of his mouth - there are so many statements, and he can only speak one of them at a time but the watching is so much less restricted than that - but Elias doesn’t seem to mind. He supposes Elias can probably pull the rest of the statement from Jon’s mind once he has the thread of it to start from, anyway; but whether that’s the case or whether he’s just sitting there and listening to Jon murmuring incoherent nonsense and half-finished sentences, he seems equally content to just sit and card his fingers through Jon’s hair, slow and soft and that tiniest grounding force against the unending flow of horrors.
He’s not sure how long he stays there without moving, only that his knees ache and his back is stiff when he finally opens his own eyes again and stares up at Elias’ face, coming back to himself that little bit different to when he left. Elias is staring back down at him, expression not unreadable for all that Jon might wish it is; awe and rapture and tenderness and, truly, the face of a man looking at the truest representation of his God that can be stuffed into a body that used to be human, and it’s all so much that Jon wants to turn away from it and hide himself.
“Are you truly something that can, now?” Elias asks, though his tone is gentle enough for once to temper the slap of the question, the slap of the answer that Jon does not need to give. He doesn’t need to be harsh with Jon to make him understand; not now, when Jon can do nothing but understand.
(All he can do to run away from the thought is to close his eyes and understand, once again, the horrors outside, with only Elias’ fingers stroking through his hair and down the back of his neck to keep him grounded in his body at all.)