Somewhere between Elias‘s smug admission of killing Gertrude and making letting Jon kill Leitner, and his reveal that everyone in the room but Daisy was now bound to him, something in Jon snapped. He stomped firmly down on the instincts that weren’t his insisting he was meant to serve the man. When Elias brought up transferring thrallship of his assistants like they were things, Jon lunged at him, fangs bared.
“ Stop ,” Elias snapped.
Jon stopped. Frozen, poised to leap, the fingers of his good hand curled like claws, he stopped. A heavy weight pressed down against his mind.
“Now, Jon,” Elias said, like he was scolding a misbehaving puppy. “I see you’ve still got a fledgling’s impulse control.” He stepped around the desk towards him, peering at his burned hand. “And you’ve managed to damage yourself rather badly. Well, I suppose it has only been a few weeks. Can’t expect you to be able to control yourself just yet.”
Jon didn’t, couldn’t, reply.
“What are you doing to him?”
“Let him go!”
“He’s fine,” Elias said, clapping Jon on the unmoving shoulder. Jon wanted to jerk away, but the grip on his mind wouldn’t let him. The new instincts were back, bringing an unearned sense of deep shame.
“He’s not breathing .” That was Martin.
“He doesn’t need to. Sit down, Jon.”
Jon collapsed back into the chair, feeling rather like a puppet with its strings cut. He didn’t need to breathe, but he gasped anyway. Something made him tilt his head back, baring his throat to Elias, who smiled.
“As I was saying,” continued Elias, “I did enthrall Martin, Tim, and Melanie with the intention of giving the three of you to Jon. However, as it appears Jon is... insufficiently prepared for the responsibilities involved, I suppose I’ll just have to keep you a little longer. You may go; I need to speak to Jon privately. Daisy, I’ll be in touch.”
Behind Jon, the room emptied, with only a “Glad you’re not dead” from Martin and a scoff from Melanie as farewells.
Elias loomed over Jon. “I don’t suppose you need me to tell you how foolish that was? I made you. You cannot fight me any more than you can fight your own blood. And what do you think would have happened if you had succeeded? The death of a sire is never pleasant for our kind, and your precious friends would have died. Is that what you want?”
“No,” Jon whispered, eyes on the ceiling.
“Then why—hm.” Jon’s mind tickled strangely as Elias rifled through his memories. “When did you last feed?”
“Leitner.” Why were his cheeks wet?
“And you didn’t once think to feed while you were out in the world? Of course not. We shall have to remedy that now. Tim!”
The door creaked open. “Should’ve known you knew I was listening,” Tim groused.
“Come here,” Elias said.
Jon wiped at his face. His hand came away crimson.
Tim was standing over him, eyeing the red tears. “Hi, boss. That’s new. Very Joe Spooky.”
Jon huffed. It might have been a laugh, or the start of a sob.
“Well?” said Elias. “You need blood, here it is. Go on.”
Jon just looked at the ceiling. He hadn’t fed from Georgie, even living with her for weeks, and she may well have let him if he’d asked politely. He certainly wasn’t going to feed from Tim, who wanted to be here even less than he did.
No matter how good he smelled, or how loudly his heartbeat rang to Jon’s ears.
“Jon,” Elias growled. “If I have to compel you to feed, I will. You really do not want that.”
A memory leapt to the front of Jon’s mind—eight years old, running for his life, a bully whose name Jon no longer remembered dying in his place. Another came after it, Daisy slamming him against the tree an hour earlier. Not-Sasha’s laugh echoing through the darkness. Jude Perry smiling. Then, Elias grinning bloodily at him, and a sudden sharp crack .
Jon flinched, good hand wrapping round the back of his neck. He hadn’t actually remembered dying before.
When the next memory showed worms burrowing into his flesh, he stood. “Fine!”
Jon turned to Tim. “I’m sorry.”
Tim rolled his eyes, putting his hands on Jon’s shoulders. “Just get it over with.”
He gasped as Jon’s fangs sank easily into his neck.
It didn’t taste like blood.
Well, obviously it did, it was blood. But it didn’t match the bitter, metallic taste Jon remembered from chapped lips and bitten tongues before all of this. It tasted—good. Almost sweet.
It shouldn’t taste good, he thought. He was drinking Tim’s blood . It was monstrous.
But so was Jon, now. And like so much of his life these days, he couldn’t do a thing to change it.
At least Tim didn’t seem to be in pain. Apart from that first gasp, he was silent, and the hands on Jon’s shoulders were relaxed.
For a long moment, there was nothing but the blood on his tongue and Tim’s pulse between his teeth. Then Elias said, “Jon,” and he realized it had been a bit longer than a moment.
Jon pulled his fangs away carefully, mindful not to cause Tim further injury.
“Very good! You managed not to damage him much. A little extra saliva on the punctures will help them heal faster,” Elias said helpfully.
“Shut up,” muttered Jon, but he licked his thumb and ran it over the marks. “Are you okay, Tim?”
“Fine,” said Tim, but his smile was brittle. “Worms, hallways, undead monsters feeding on my blood, it’s just a normal day at work really.”
“That will be all for today,” Elias said. “You may go. But, Jon?”
More pain through his mind. His grandmother’s most disapproving glance. Falling, endlessly. The snap as his neck broke. Jon staggered.
Elias smiled, but his eyes were hard. “ Don’t try another stunt like that again.”
Jon didn’t think he could , anymore. Every rebellious thought he had felt muffled.
He had to lean on Tim to get out of the office. They leaned against the corridor wall together, breathing hard.
“Why’d you attack him?” Tim asked. “Try to, anyway.”
“I was hungry,” Jon said.
“And you didn’t go after any of the humans in the room because…?”
“Elias was the only one talking about people like things .” Carefully, Jon stepped away from the wall. When he didn’t collapse, he limped for the stairs.
“Did you miss the part where we all die if he does?”
“Umm... yes.” Or it hadn’t mattered, in the moment. He was finding it hard to remember.
“Huh.” They walked in silence for a moment. “What was he doing when you wouldn’t bite me? And before we left?”
“You almost fell over.”
Jon sighed. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
“You looked like you were in pain.”
“Why do you care?” His paranoia the last year of his life had thoroughly burned their friendship, Jon knew. He couldn’t even be angry about it. He’d been awful.
Tim scowled. “If he could do it to you, he could do it to any of us. I want to know what we’re up against.”
“Fair.” Jon stopped, closing his eyes. “He was pulling up... memories. Bad ones. Like the worms. And, ah, dying.” His unburned hand moved to guard his neck. “Anything painful, I guess.”
“So he can make us relive our worst memories. Great.”
“Including ones he shouldn’t know about. From long before the Institute. Childhood.” Jon hadn’t ever told anyone about his first encounter with a vampire, apart from a tape recorder still in Georgie’s flat.
“Even better.” They reached the door to the Archives. Tim patted Jon’s shoulder, despite his flinch. “Great chat, boss. Let’s not do it again.”
Tim went... somewhere. Jon waved vaguely at the others and stumbled, blessedly alone, to his dark office.
He curled up behind the desk and tried very hard not to think.