The loss of control is sharp enough to hurt, limbs locking up instantly as Elias is thrown into the backseat of his personal two-man shitshow. The pain isn’t just physical, although the whiplash is enough to make him mentally flinch. The idea of willingly giving up his autonomy is unthinkable, and the feeling of powerlessness that almost immediately washes over him makes him want to cry.
But he’s a big boy, and he pulls himself together the same way he always has: several nasty repression tactics, and a silent vow to get higher than the fucking international space station when this whole thing is over. If it’s ever over, a part of him thinks bitterly, but he quickly shakes it away. He’s going to be optimistic! After all, he’s got Michael now, and that’s all that matters. He believes in his friend, and their ability to stab any obstacle in their way. It’s all going to be fine.
The body-snatcher, Jonah, wakes up remarkably slower than he did the previous time, although that might just be down to the lack of a coffee table for Elias to crack his head on. But, as always, it doesn’t take long for things to start going wrong.
Or, in Elias’ case, going fucking excellently. After a couple of slow blinks and a stifled yawn that somehow still manages to sound pretentious, Jonah freezes. Elias can pinpoint the exact moment where the imposter starts to regret his decisions the night before, obviously remembering the very incriminating carnage left on the archive floor. Carnage that Elias had been no less than thrilled to contribute to, thank you very much.
He feels like cackling, and elects to graduate to a full-level evil laugh as Jonah quickly vacates the small storage room, power-walking towards the main room, because of course a man that stuck-up would never be caught dead sprinting.
About halfway there, Jonah stops dead in his tracks, eyebrows furrowing. With what Elias assumes to be an expression of utter disgust, the imposter examines his wrinkled appearance, hands toying with the space where his tie should be. Elias snickers as they backtrack to the previous room, his own hands pulling the thin duvet off the bed to search for, presumably, the rest of his outfit. Obviously, the search is in vain, and with every second he can feel the man wearing his skin getting more and more agitated.
“Where the hell-“ Jonah mumbles, now fully upturning the few small boxes littering the floor. After a few minutes, Elias finds himself sitting on his heels watching in glee as Jonah becomes almost frantic, somehow managing to curse profusely without actually swearing, rather reminding him of a children’s TV presenter stubbing their toe.
Eventually the body-snatcher cuts his losses. “I’ve got a spare one somewhere, anyway,” he hears himself mumble, and the expression on his face is one Elias would comfortably define as confused as all shit. The ‘I’ve got bigger things to worry about,’ is left unsaid, but Elias reads it loud and clear in the tension filling the small room. He’d guess the imposter isn’t too used to not knowing all the answers, judging by the firmly clenched firsts stiff at his sides.
Thanks to some miracle on the part of the architect of the Institute, reaching Elias’s (Jonah’s) office requires walking through the archives themselves. Suffice it to say, they never reach their destination.
The place is a mess. The floor is strewn with broken cassettes and scattered files, and that’s without Elias’ interference. Obviously, Jonah hadn’t realised the extent of the damage in his fury the night before, because his body stiffens so much that Elias is convinced that something’s going to break. There are no censored curses this time as boxes and rubble get displaced.
It’s incredibly amusing to see (or to feel, he supposes) someone as uptight and well-kempt as the imposter get down on their knees to start sifting pile after pile of ruined plastic and reems of tape. And there’s so much of the stuff, all of it unnecessarily hard to keep a grip on. But still, Jonah is single-minded in his task, and Elias can’t exactly fault that. Except he can, because Jonah is someone who deserves to be faulted and Elias can hold a grudge like nobodies business.
He isn’t sure how long the same pattern continues for, but eventually he can feel beads sweat start to roll down his back, and the light of the morning sun is unmistakable as it seeps in past the thick blinds. Jonah seems to realise this too, shifting from organising piles of waste to actually of disposing of them. That is, if disposing is actually code for ‘dumping them into the big basins of evidence in artifact storage’, which has Elias mentally shaking his head and pulling out his best ‘disapproving parent’ tutting.
Soon enough, the main room is clear of evidence of Jonah’s trigger-happy brick-based tape-icide, including the weapon itself being stashed in a small cupboard, out of reach. The small smile on his face clearly suggests that Jonah feels like it’s been a job well done.
Elias feels a lot more validated when Sasha arrives for the day and Jonah, having foreseen her arrival, greets her, unaware of her wide-eyed stare of alarm as she examines her boss. Her boss, who Elias knows for sure is unaware of the problem – his usually perfectly coiffed hair is unkempt, courtesy of Michael’s affinity for awkward petting, and the back of his shirt is covered in the ink that Elias spilt on a whim the night before, not to even mention the deep slashes of long, sharp nails in scored deep into the fabric. And perhaps worst of all-
“Oh my fucking god!” Sasha exclaims, the words coming out after a small pause that Elias assumes she was using to rethink all of her career decisions. “What did you do to your face?” She chokes, clearly trying to stifle her panicked laughter through the sleeves of her jacket.
“His face?” Tim’s voice drifts from the room behind her, getting closer, and Elias has never been a religious man, but the expression on Tim’s face alone is enough to make him believe in some kind of god. As soon as Tim enters the room he freezes, staring blankly at Jonah with wide eyes, before quickly backing out, practically throwing himself back out of the door. His howl of laughter is just barely cut off as it firmly slams shut behind him.
Sasha, in an attempt to salvage any remaining professionalism, clears her throat, still obviously fighting back a snicker. “Uhm, Elias…” she begins, sounding uncertain, “I’m liking the change in style! But…” Unable to find the proper words, she vaguely gestures to his mangled, ink-stained clothing. “I mean, I can’t exactly say anything, but you’ve always been strict on me about the dress code, so…”
Elias can still hear Tim’s muffled hollering outside.
Jonah’s voice is icy as he replies, “What on earth are you talking about, Miss James?”
“Ah, never mind.” As if sensing the danger that comes with insulting the imposter’s fashion sense, she shakes her head quickly and takes a step back.
Jonah smiles politely. “I understand, the dress code can be strict, but that’s for a good reason. I’ve temporarily misplaced my tie and jacket, but I assure you that the code is still in full effect. Understand?” He sounds so smugly condescending that Elias wholeheartedly agrees with the strained expression that crosses her face.
“You lost your tie…?” Sasha asks uncertainly, eyes still glued to Jonah’s shirt, so torn up that it’s practically hanging off his body, and gradually making their way up to examine Jonah’s rough-shaven face. Elias adores Michael, but even with all the love in his heart, he can’t defend their hairdressing skills. Jonah looks like he went for a couple of rounds with a pair of hedge trimmers and lost, brutally. “Oh. Oh! Right, of course. I’m sure you’ll find it soon.” Jonah is clearly not in the mood for casual conversation, and Sasha takes the hint with a level of grace usually reserved for professional ballerinas.
Elias can feel himself level a critical glare at her, that’s quickly broken when she takes several quick steps backwards and practically sprints away.
Jonah must be a beautiful sight to see, Elias muses as the man shrugs, shooting Sasha a judgemental look, and retreats back to his office. They get about halfway before Martin intercepts with wide eyes.
“Ah, Elias!” he squeaks, and somewhere in the distance Elias is sure he can hear Tim choke. “I like the change! Very avant-garde?” Jonah gives the obviously terrified man a strange look, but nods in acknowledgement all the same.
The icing on the proverbial cake is Jon. Sweet, perfect Jon, who barely glances up from his work when Jonah strides past his office, and offers nothing but a confused look that is quickly replaced by a small shrug, the man quickly returning to his tapes like absolutely nothing is wrong. Within only thirty minutes is has become abundantly clear to Elias that none of the archival staff are willing to fight this battle (with the notable exception of Tim, who would absolutely say something but is too busy being physically restrained by Sasha making use of an ethernet cable to seize the opportunity), and Elias starts to wonder if there are any mirrors at all in this maze of a building.
Jonah takes a while to search his office for a replacement clothing, grumbling the whole time about the impropriety of it all and taking several frantic swipes at the ink covering his desk, courtesy of Elias. To his eternal joy, the thing is clearly unsalvageable. Eventually he procures a matching suit jacket and tie from somewhere, and the sight of his own hands putting the floral monstrosity on his body deals more psychic damage than he thought could even be possible. The imposter seems happy enough with himself though, stroking the fabric fondly.
Any contentedness is quickly obliterated when the body-snatcher opens his desk drawer to retrieve a pen, and is promptly mobbed by the spiders that Elias almost forgot he’d put in there the night before. “Shit!” Jonah curses violently, scrambling backwards, and wow, Elias is certain he only put maybe four or five in there, but he’s not exactly unhappy with the hundreds of tiny spiders scrambling over each other to pour out of the drawer. Elias cackles as the imposter swings at them frantically, doing his best to dislodge them as they fight to clamber up his arm.
He’s so busy trying to get the persistent little things off his clothing, Jonah almost misses the other presence in the room.
The imposter swings around suddenly to face the newcomer in his office, who’s leaning against the doorframe at its entrance with an awkwardly forced smile on his face. “Hey boss,” Tim greets, clearly not wating to be here. He’s clutching an ancient looking laptop in one arm, tapping hesitantly on the door with the other. Jonah straightens up immediately, trying to subtly brush the remaining spiders off his desk.
“Tim, a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?”
“I, uh…” Tim scratches the back of his head uncomfortably. “Word got sent down from artifact storage a few minutes ago, something about vandalism? I’m not too sure.” More shuffling. “Anyway, they wanted someone to review the security footage, make sure everything’s okay, y’know?”
Tim’s clearly stalling.
“Anyway, I did it, and most of the footage is corrupt. Well, not corrupt, it runs just fine, but it’s pretty much unwatchable. Too much static, interference, whatever. I just, uh. Here.” He shoves the old, beaten up laptop he’d been holding into Jonah’s hands, not quite meeting his eyes.
The imposter takes it with furrowed eyebrows, clearly concerned. “Tim, are you quite alright-”
“I’m fine!” Tim squeaks, already halfway out of the door. “Well, this has been great, but I’ve got a lot of work to do, so-“ He gets about a step away before there’s a thud and a quiet hiss.
“Tim, you agreed that you’d do it! We did rock-paper-scissors and everything!” Whispers Sasha, clearly doing her best to hide in the corridor, out of view. Tim whimpers in response, although Elias supposes it might just be from how she just slugged him in the gut.
“Why don’t you? You found it!” Tim hisses back, apparently under the impression that he’s out of view too. Jonah clears his throat impatiently. “Oh, uh-“ Tim stutters, looking decidedly panicked. “Hey, boss, we found something of yours, and we figured you might like it back?”
There’s another thud and Tim squeaks, glaring out into the hallway once again. He steps into the office once again, now rubbing his arm. “Me. I meant, I found it, it was definitely me.”
“Well? Get on with it!”
Tim coughs. “Happy Hanukkah, boss,” he mutters, before pulling out several long, torn up strips of fabric from his pocket and delicately arranging them on Jonah’s ink-stained, spider-covered desk. Which Tim clearly realises after he’s started arranging the fabric, but has elected to studiously ignore.
“Is that… my tie?”
“Possibly?” Tim replies, not sounding too sure himself. He returns to his pocket and pulls out even more scraps of fabric, dumping them with the rest. He does this several times, the imposter’s eyes widening with every new piece added. “Well, have a great day,” Tim claps his hand together once he’s finally done, offers a small but confident nod, and starts out of the room. The door shuts behind him, but immediately swings back open, with Tim sheepishly sticking his head back into the room. “Also, if it’s not too much trouble, could you find a place in the budget to buy Sasha a new paper shredder? Hers got kind of broken… Unrelated, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Jonah echoes in a whisper, staring at the now closed door for several seconds, clearly processing what the hell just happened. Eventually he slumps down into his office chair, staring intently at the pile of torn up fabric. Jonah pokes it tentatively, shoulders slumping.
And then they’re not in the office, but in the archives, staring out of Martin’s eyes with a jolt. The man is sitting at his desk chair, sipping nervously at his mug of tea while Sasha and Tim wrestle with the truly miserable looking remains of Sasha’s shredder.
“I’m just saying,” Tim is muttering defensively, “something is definitely going on.”
“No shit something is going on!” Sasha hisses back, casting nervous glances towards the archive entrance. “Pick your poison – shall we talk about how he looks like he got mauled by a bear, or about how he trashed the fucking room?”
“Well, hey now,” Martin cuts in, “we don’t know that it was him! A lot of the footage was unwatchable.”
“Oh, so we’re ignoring the parts that were actually watchable, then?” Tim asks with an exasperated look. “Because courtesy of our absolutely garbage CCTV system, I now have a perfectly cut gif of Elias taking a brick to what could very possibly be murder evidence! Not to mention all of the other freaky stuff he does!”
“Oh, can you send it to me?” Sasha asks excitedly, before remembering herself. “But there’s clearly more to it than that. He still looks un-mauled in the footage, remember? Something else had to have happened!”
“I’ll send it to the group chat,” Tim mumbles. “And yeah, probably. But it’s not like we’ll be able to find anything, everything after that until, like, three in the morning is static.” He quickly returns to fiddling with his phone, watching what Elias can only just make out to be a video recording of the footage.
“Wait, isn’t Annabelle in the group chat too? Isn’t it illegal to share CCTV footage outside of work or something…?” Martin asks nervously, holding his mug tighter. Sasha smiles and whacks his leg good-naturedly with the file she’s holding.
“It’s okay, if anything goes wrong, we’ll take the fall. Don’t be so worried! And hey,” she flashes him a broad smile,” if anything, all of the incriminating stuff will be hidden behind the static, probably! That’s how it works, working with the supernatural, or whatever this is.”
“Do you think he’s okay?” Martin asks worriedly.
“Elias? Ah, who cares?”
“Tim! He’s our boss, of course we care!” He admonishes, taking a few more worried glances around the room. “And you saw what he looked like earlier, it was like he didn’t even notice. He notices everything! I once wore trousers that were a size too small and he dragged me into his office to talk about how he expects us all to live up to his ‘incredibly considerate’ standards!”
“Oh god, don’t get me started about his dress code,” Sasha rubs her temples. “I don’t want to turn grey before I’m thirty, thanks very much.”
“He’d probably enjoy that, actually,” Tim snickers. “Knowing him, he’d think grey was a more dignified colour.” Sasha shoves him playfully, climbing to her feet.
“Either way, gentlemen,” she says, “there’s nothing we can do now except hope that he’s not lost his mind. But let’s be real, as long as the pay checks keep coming in, none of us have anywhere else we can go.”
“In this economy?” Tim snickers, still sprawled on the floor. “Oh fuck, don’t ever try to convince me to go back on the job market, it’s hell.”
Martin raises his mug in a mock toast. “To hopefully not losing our jobs!” Elias winces at that.
The other two join him, Sasha with her own mug and Tim simply miming the gesture. “Okay, but for real,” he sighs. “What are we going to tell artifact storage about the courtyard?”
Jonah sits in his office with his head in his hands, staring at the marred wood of his desk. Elias knows this because by extension, he is also sitting in his office with his head in his hands, staring at the cloying mixture of ink and spider blood. Once he’d finished spying on Martin, a move that Elias tutted furiously at just because he could, the imposter had actually taken the time to investigate whatever it was that had his archivists acting so strangely.
Elias would feel bad if he didn’t think the guy was a prick.
As a great man once sung (according to Tim, who would sing his favourite songs on repeat while cleaning out the cupboards at the back of the archive), ‘well, the years start coming and they don’t stop coming’. Except in this case, ‘years’ is code for ‘shit Elias thought would be funny the night before and it turns out that he was absolutely right’. Elias hopes he isn’t messing up the lyrics to a song he’s never heard before. Judging by the amount of gusto the other assistants would join Tim with, apparently the song is a popular one. They’d probably be mad if he massacred it.
Anyway, apparently once shit hit the fan it kept on hitting, and now Jonah is sitting in his office, staring blankly between the small handheld mirror he’d demanded from his assistant Rosie, and the old laptop he’d been given by Tim. Elias is convinced that the guy can’t choose between which is more of a pressing matter: the sight of his own (hideous, repulsive, abominable) facial hair removed, or the sight of Elias gleefully flipping off the security camera immediately after waking up.
Elias is pretty proud of both, actually.
If he had to wager a guess, he’d say that Jonah isn’t the kind of person to enjoy losing his perfectly maintained control. And as far as control-losing scenarios go, finding out that somebody just hijacked your body in the dead of night seems like it might rank pretty high. Judging by the furious clench of his fists and by the rate at which the imposter is flitting from person to person, stealing their eyes on a whim, he apparently agrees with that assessment.
“That fucking spiral,” he spits, tension practically locking him in place. The imposter didn’t go to the courtyard in person – hell, he hasn’t left his office for hours – but he made sure to analyse the whole situation from multiple points of view. Absently, Elias wonders whether using the institute’s employees as walking live-streams (a term he’s heard Sasha throw around a lot, in reference to a platform with a name he can’t remember – it was something like, spasm? Jerk?) is grounds for a harassment lawsuit. He’s almost certain that it is.
Jonah doesn’t seem surprised to see the file marked ‘Michael Shelley’ among those found in the remains of the fire. He simply shakes his head, teeth grinding together, and writes the word ‘DISTORTION’ along the top of the paper he’s using for his notes. He does, however, seem to be taken aback by the news of all the books burnt alongside it.
But by far the greatest blow (and Elias’s greatest achievement, by extension) is the news that the last item burnt by the fire was Jonah’s own suit jacket. He mentally mimes a chef’s kiss when the thing is brought out, charred and in pieces. The imposter reels back like he’s been shot, and personally, Elias is feeling slightly betrayed by that fact. “All of the effort I went to to burn those books, and that’s what the guy wants to focus on?” he mutters to himself, only somewhat bitter.
So now Jonah sits, like he has for the last two hours, lights turned out, sitting in the dark in the spare shirt that he practically tore up his office for, watching the security footage on repeat.
It plays. The static begins. He rewinds the video.
He heaves a long sigh, before clambering to his feet and stepping into the bright hallway. When they reach the archives the hushed chatter filling the room cuts off almost immediately, and he’s met with the stairs of Jonah’s four extremely guilty looking employees.
“Ah, Elias,” Jon eventually says into the awkward quiet that follows. “You’re looking… better?” It’s phrased as a question but the man clearly doesn’t expect an answer, looking distinctly like he wants the floor to swallow him whole.
“Yeah, you are!” Martin tacks on with a large, forced smile. The imposter clenches his teeth, struggling to keep his deadpan expression.
“Miss James,” he says, ignoring Martin in favour of looking at Sasha. “I was wondering if you’d do me a slight favour.”
“Uh, sure,” she startles, clearly not expecting that. “What do you need?”
“You have Miss Cane’s contact information, yes?”
“Yes- wait, no, not at all-“ Sasha coughs, catching herself. “Why would I have that? You told me not to talk to her so why would I-“
“Call her.” His tone leaves no room for argument. “Tell her that she’s to meet with me, tomorrow.”
“Oh, um…” None of the four look like they know how to respond to that, gaping quietly as the body-snatcher turns on his heel and walks away.
“Wait, what if she’s busy?” Tim calls after him.
“Tell her she won’t be.”
“Won’t be busy? What kind of response is that-“
Tim’s indignation is cut off as the door slams closed. Jonah is on the warpath, is seems, so Elias settles back and prepares himself for whatever the imposter’s got planned. As they stride down the institute’s winding corridors, a small spider nestled on Jonah’s replacement suit jacket makes itself known.
“Sorry about dragging Annabelle into this mess, I guess,” Elias glumly tells the tiny thing as Jonah crushes it between his thumb and his pointer finger. “It’s a cruel world, buddy.”