Actions

Work Header

A Break in the Clouds

Chapter Text

It’s only Tuesday, but he’s already aching for the soft bliss of a joint. Elias tips his head back, tugging a third cigarette from the crumpled pack; nicotine soothes his frayed nerves, but it also brings the world into a sharp focus that he doesn’t want.

He flicks the wheel, the grooves of the weighty lighter press roughly, a grounding sensation against the cool mists of London. It's a day as dreary and empty as any other, the lighters flame the only spark of life outside of the Institutes oppressive walls. He lights the end and takes a long, slow drag. 

“Those aren’t good for you.” a soft boyish voice says, a child's voice, on a Tuesday afternoon. “They call them cancer sticks for a reason.”

Elias looks down, and sees a young boy with big, bright green eyes that take up half his face, dressed in clothes a size too big, fuck he's tiny, like four? Who lets a nursery student run wild on a Tuesday? 

He sighs, he can’t smoke around a kid, and he’d just lit the thing too. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?” he drops it and drags his shoe across the smoldering stick, sickly gold smears across the dull pavement. “And where are your parents?” Elias gives a cursory look, but they're the only two people on the street.

“It’s July.” the kid frowns at him as ashy fingers, the colour of the cheap paper in children's novellas, or dusty long forgotten books, dig into a newspaper wrapped package. “And they're dead.” well fuck.

“Sorry.” Elias sighs, fingers tucking into the pack for a fourth. The kid lets out a hiss of disapproval and he shoves the pack back into his pocket. “Is your guardian around?”

“No, but it’s fine so long as I’m back by dinner.” the kid smiles sad and empty, world weary in the way no child should be. “She won’t miss me.”

“Ah- okay?” that lances his heart in a way that he’d thought he long buried. Christ he needed a spliff an hour ago. “That sounds lonely.” 

“Yes.” the spear twists, barbs catching as he searches for air. “You’re lonely too, aren’t you?” it’s not a question, not with those sharp chips of emerald pinning him with the weight of being known. This was . . . probably his department, fucks sake.

“Yeah.” Elias says, and looks at the kid, looks in a way he hasn’t bothered to in a long while. Scraped knees, and though ill fitting, the clothes were more formal: a white short sleeved shirt patterned with little green dots and khaki shorts. A small cloth satchel is slung over his shoulder, and he looks for all the world like a tiny researcher. “But that’s nothing for a, what are you?” he squints, they're a bit too perceptive for four. “A foundations student to worry about.” best to lowball anyways, eldritch horrors seem like they'd appreciate being underestimated in public.

“I’m eight.” the kid sniffs as if eight was any different from four, maybe not an unspeakable horror then, just a regular horror. “And I heard that the Magnus Institute deals with-” his little nose scrunches, cute. “-spooky things.” 

“Do you have a-” he cracks a grin, and then rethinks it as small hands tighten against their burden.”-spooky thing to deliver?” gods he hopes not, it’s bad enough when adults walk in and lay out all of their baggage, but for a child-

“There’s a spider in this book.” the kid says solemnly, raising his textbook sized parcel. “It ate Evan Pritchard.” a bloody fucking Leitner. Of course an eight year old would find a murder spider book. “This seemed like the best place to bring it.”

“I can take it for you.” Elias sighs, he might as well do his job. “I work in Artefact Storage-” would the kid even know what that means? “-we deal with books like this a lot.” as convenient as it was for Leitner to mark the cursed books, it would’ve been even nicer if the man had just burned them. Fucking Leitner, the amount of times Mary Keay had come shouting into Artefact Storage for Leitners after reaming poor Eric for not smuggling them out for her. God, poor Eric, blinded and then missing, he doesn’t know what Mary had done to him, but it was definitely her.

“How do I know it’s safe?” 

“Well we’re not allowed to take strangers down there.” Elias tries. “But I can promise you that I know how to handle it.”

“My name is Jon.” the kid, Jon, says, starting to look a little impatient. “Lets go.”

“Sorry?” he asks, wondering if he’d missed half the conversation. Usually things like that only happened when he was especially stoned, which he unfortunately was not.

“You know my name, so now we’re not strangers.” Jon looks at him like he’s an idiot, “I don’t have a favourite colour, I hate spiders, and I like to read. Lets go.”

“That’s not how these things work.” Elias protests weakly, but Jon is already tugging him towards the Institute's doors. His hands are cold, colder than one would expect for July. “And children can’t just wander the Institute without a guardian present!” he needs this job. This shitty, cursed job that's just respectable enough to not get cut off. And Wright’s been riding his ass lately, watching constantly with those cold shards of pale jade, as if he were looking for Elias to require a stern dressing down at any moment.

“You can be my uncle.” Jon sighs as if he's the one being put upon.

“We don’t even look related.” Elias says, would his job be at risk if he manhandled a child out of the building?

“Our colouring is close enough that no one will question it.” Jon says it with the confidence of a man who knows he won’t be wrong. The kids probably not wrong, but- wait why is he going along with this?

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to talk to strangers?” Elias asks, trying to gently peel delicate twigs from his wrist. For someone so frail looking, Jon’s grip is tight, like a shackle.

“You’re not a Stranger.” the emphasis is concerning, and if Gertrude wasn’t so, uh, driven, he’d dump the kid there to give a statement. Is she even back in today? “And I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told.” Jon's lip curls, and the wry grin looks all wrong, it was like staring at an adult who’s been twisted and shoved into a skin too small for them. “But if it makes you feel better, tell me something about you.” how gracious of this demanding eight year old to take his feelings into consideration.

“My name is Elias, my favourite colour is green, I hate the feeling of being watched, and I like-” he pauses, what does he like that isn’t incriminating? “-I like poetry.” 

Jon looks vaguely disgusted at that, “Poetry?” there’s a lot of emotion packed into that, somewhere between disbelief, exasperation, longing and a laugh.

“Lewis Carrol has some neat ones.” he shrugs, they were interesting to mull over sober or high, other abstract poets veered more into the territory of grinding fear and hollowed hearts that spill desolate ink across the page. Not to say Carrol didn’t do the same, but he leaned heavier into the absurdity then the horror of it all. “Not all his poems are Jabberwock, but if I had to say why, I guess there’s something nice about a series of poems written for others.“

“I guess.” Jon says, though he doesn’t look impressed. A little too serious for the absurdity Elias supposes. “You need to open the door.”

What? He blinks, the plaque for Artefact Storage stares down at him. He looks at Jon, who blinks back blandly, eyes near glowing in the poor lighting, not even bothering with trying to act normal. He may as well keep going.

“Right, I’ll just-” he digs around his other pocket, finding the key buried between wadded tissue and his lighter, not the best combination in hindsight. He pushes the door open and watches as Jon immediately sets the book on their Leitner processing table, barren for the most part. Outside of a small basket full of meager safety gear.

“Do you mind if I ask what Jon is short for?” Elias asks, pulling on a pair of thick gardening gloves, for all the Institutes money they couldn’t bother with providing specialised equipment.

“Don’t be stupid.” Jon huffs, climbing onto one of the stools that were tucked under the table.

Well, with an answer like that, how could he resist? “I suppose you’re right, how could I forget that it’s short for Jongleur.” Elias says, maintaining a straight face as he takes a scalpel and a pair of barbeque tongs to the newspaper. Direct contact typically initiates the compulsion, though with Leitner's anything could do it.

Jon lets out an aggrieved noise, cheeks puffing like an incensed kitten. “You’re not even trying!” 

“Sorry Jaundice.” he hums, ignoring Jon’s squawk as he gently cuts through- how much newspaper is there? He’s already cut through ten layers, he was expecting something like 'Charlotte’s Web', but this seemed much smaller. “How much newspaper did you use on this?”

“All of it.” Jon says with a vicious grin, which answers nothing, but tells Elias that he may as well continue with egging on the probably creepy horror movie child.

“How very thorough of you Jonty.” he thinks he can feel the paper growing more firm, nearing the center of this nightmare then. “Have you considered applying for a position?”

“Absolutely not!” Jon huffs, and Elias nods agreeably.

“Wise decision young Jonas. They catch you with promises of respectability, and then they pigeonhole you with crazy cursed things, and the spookiest ladies. The contracts a Faustian nightmare.” 

“You read the contract?” Jon squints at him, and Elias shrugs, he may not look remotely respectable in heavily creased slacks, and a filthy white shirt that’s designated specifically for work. It’s accumulated several permanent stains over the weeks: dirt smudges that never wash out, mysterious bug guts that should definitely not be that colour, and other souvenirs from whatever comes through Artefact Storage. But regardless of how he looks, he's not an idiot.

“Well yeah, Wright was uh, my boss that is, the boss, he was kind of rushing me through the process and if my politics professor taught me anything, it’s to read the fine print.” he tears off the next swathe of newspaper, it’s the last layer before he can see what sort of children’s book ate people.

“But you signed anyway.” Jon says, sounding so very aggrieved about unscrupulous contracts for an eight year old. “Why?”

“I needed a respectable job so I wouldn’t get disowned, and philosophy was the only subject I took that I sort of enjoyed, so I figured academia was the best place for me.” it's a white cardboard book, with thick square pages. A baby book really. He looks at Jon, all sharp rigid lines and serious demeanor. Elias can’t imagine him even deigning to glance at such a book. “The Magnus Institute was the least uppity about grades, and the supernatural sounded better than studying policy decisions for the rest of my life.” 

“So you knowingly tied yourself to the institute.” Jon’s head thunks against the wooden table, can baby horrors get concussions?

“I mean at least the Institute is more upfront about you signing your life away then any other company.” Elias says, picking the book up with his tongs, examining it from all angles. “But that’s enough about me, why come to the Institute if you know all this already?” it’s thicker than any cardboard book has a right to be, and a dark stain coats the bottom corner of the pages near the back of the book, but that's hardly unusual for a children's book.

“I was curious.” Jon says, slipping down from the stool. Elias wonders if he should stop him from poking around, but if Jon knows as much as Elias assumes he does, that’s wholly unnecessary. 'A Guest for Mr. Spider' is scrawled in spidery font, and scratchy webs cross the cover. This would be the book to have a murder spider. A bit too obvious for most spider related things, but if the target’s children, he supposes subtlety isn’t much of a priority.

“No you're not.” Elias sighs, prying open the book for a plate he already knows is there. “If you already know what’s up here, you’re not curious, not really.”

“I am!” Jon huffs, skin less ashen as he starts to get worked up. “And where’s all your coworkers?” that’s one of the worst deflections Elias has ever seen, but he’ll let it slide. Now time to shelve the bloody book.

“We don’t get cursed artefacts everyday, most of the time we help out in Research unless the Archives need something.” not that Elias didn’t loiter around Artefact Storage all day, but someone has too, the last time the room was empty for longer than an hour Mary Keay had broken in. “Most of the stuff sent in isn’t even supernatural, it’s just regular creepy dolls and old furniture.” they’d shoved all the dolls into a cursed wardrobe they were testing, one that held an alleged boogeyman, the next day they were gone. It had become their doll disposal unit when they’d started running out of space for them a few months ago

“Is that our next stop?” Jon asks, frowning at Artefact Storages extremely secure- and not at all a regular bookshelf with simple glass windows -Leitner storage unit. “I thought you said it would be secure.” 

“We submitted a request a couple years ago, but Wright’s been dragging his feet. I think he’s mad I don’t stay overtime for department head meetings.” wait, next stop? “We’re not going to the Archives, Johan.”

“You’re the Head of Artefact Storage?” Jon asks, squinting up at him. “Aren’t you-” 

“Elected head, no one wants to deal with Wright and I was late that day.” he shrugs, the pay increase is nice, and it isn’t like there's much better to do then send regular complaints to Wright. “And we don’t have clearance to go down there, Gertrude isn’t very nice.”

“I’ll make a statement.” Jon sniffs, not even twitching at the off base names anymore. He started out too strong, he’ll have to up the ante.

“With what guardian Johnnycake?” Jon stumbles at the name and is only kept upright by Elias catching his shoulder. 

“With my awful Uncle Eli,” Jon huffs, bristling as Elias lets go of the far too thin shoulder. He might have to become the kids actual uncle on account of the obvious neglect. Eldritch spawn or not. “Obviously.” if only he wasn’t so mean, Jon would be one of those adorable waif’s that appear on those old Dickensian dramas, the especially terrible ones that verged on comedy with how overblown everything was.

“And if I don’t?” he asks, hand resting on the Archives’ door handle.

“I know where you live.” Jon says, and nothing else, just looking at him with piercing emeralds. He must be fully done with pretending then.

“Fair enough.” he shrugs, and opens the door. “If we’re lucky the Archives staff will still be out of town and I can take the statement for them.” 

Jon doesn’t say anything, and just stands there frozen in mute horror. Elias isn’t particularly sure if it’s the messy state of the Archives, where you could tell at a glance that the technicolour explosion of file folders was deliberately sloppy, the alarmingly large portrait of Jonah Magnus that hung in one of the few spaces not covered in shelving, pale green eyes constantly watching over his subjects as he lounges on a chaise looking like an absolute twink, or the two figures that stood in front of the Head Archivists office. 

“We’re pretty sure the paintings cursed, but Wright won’t let us haul it into Artefact Storage, even though everyone knows that portraits that have eyes that follow you wherever you go are probably haunted.” he says, studiously avoiding Mary Keay’s hawk-like stare, poor Gerard got dragged into it today too. “Since Gerty isn’t in, I guess I’ll help you write out your statement.” he gently tucks Jon to his side, eldritch or not, Mary Keay can sniff out anything Leitner related, and no child should have to deal with her bullshit. Especially not sweet little Gerry who has so much of Eric in him, but he can’t do much about that, not yet anyways.

“Bouchard, where the Hell is Gertrude, she’s supposed to be back today!” Mary storms towards them, all sharp planes and mean wrinkles. Maybe if he ignores her harder she’ll just go away.

“Why can’t we just record it?” Jon asks, gaze locked on Gerry, well, there goes the pretend they don’t exist idea.

“Oh hello Gerry, would you like to hear some stories about your father?” he greets, ignoring Keay’s quickly over flowing anger as he sits Jon at Michael’s desk, Michael who definitely doesn’t have anything criminal or dangerous in his drawers. “And Gerty would blow a fuse if someone else recorded a statement, something about breaking protocol and a violation of the Archives or something.” 

“That’s stupid.” Jon huffs, grubby- well maybe not grubby, but greedy hands immediately start flipping through statements. Does he even have plausible deniability anymore? Probably never, he frowns at Magnus' stupid all-seeing portrait, he’s always been tempted to cut out its eyes, but it's an Archives problem. So long as he keeps to Artefact Storage, he can pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Where the fuck is she Bouchard?” Keay hisses, talons sinking into his shirt and digging into his shoulder. Was this assault? He hopes it is, then he could get her forcibly ejected.

“That’s not my department, Missus Delano.” Elias says, grinning easily as the surprisingly strong nails sink deeper.

“It’s Keay to you, Bouchard.” she snarls feral and vicious as sharp yellow canines peek out behind chapped lips. 

“You’ll have to take it up with Wright, but we can’t have unsupervised visitors wandering around the Archives.” Elias gives his best receptionist smile, he always knew that hell job would have value outside of a resume. 

“The boy?” she jabs her finger in Jon’s direction, Jon who’s wandered off flipping through a file every so often and putting it back when he’s done with it. He pretends not to see Jon shoving the odd statement into his little satchel. That’s not something Elias wants to get into, like at all, he’s fairly sure Gertrude is more dangerous then a spooky child, and what she doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

“My nephew, Jonquil.” Jon twitches at that one, too floral for his liking? “Who wouldn’t be unsupervised if you’d let me do my job.”

“I thought this wasn’t your department.” Keay smiles like a shark who caught a whiff of blood.

“It’s not.” he smiles a little wider, a little more dead, and a little more bright eyed “However, the Head of Artefact Storage normally takes statements when the Archivist and her assistants are unavailable.”

“They left a fool like you in charge of the Leitners?” she shrieks, and that may have been a mistake as nails bite through his shirt. “Who would let a waste like you be Head?” he thinks he might be bleeding. On the upside Jon’s stopped poking around the files and has headed towards Gerry, and oh, two socially awkward children makes for poor conversation. Oh well, it should do them both some good.

“Yes, it's a shame you weren’t nicer to me or you could have visited our collection.” which would have never happened, but Mary turns a truly spectacular shade of purple at that. “Would you like to leave a message for Gertrude? I’ll try to make sure it gets to her sometime in the next month, but you know how Bureaucracy is.” 

His head snaps to the side and there's a shrill cry from behind him. He’s confused until his cheek starts burning. 

Well, he should have expected this. He touches the skin lightly, and oh, the red and brown makes his fingers look positively autumnal, how nice of her to give him a reason.

He looks at the children, Jon is wide eyed and struggling against Gerard’s hold, that’s good. Though Gerard’s terror suggests something darker. 

Elias straightens to his full height, back cracking as it slides into a position meant for dealing with unpleasant and overbearing relatives, and wipes the blood off on his shirt. “I should hope that you learn some restraint, one might get the wrong idea about what goes on in your household.” there’s not enough against Keay to pin her for any one crime, but there’s a monster curling under her sagging skin far worse than any horror that lurks in the Archives statements.

“You have nothing!” she hisses, her hand raising once again, crimson glints off the gaudy rings that cling to her skeletal fingers. Her wrist is caught by an old papery hand, threaded with thick blue veins. He sags in relief, spectacular timing as always Wright.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave Mary Keay.” Wright says calm as ever, eyes a blistering tundra as he gives one of his doddering old man smiles, all genial senility in an imposing grey three piece. “I can’t have the public assaulting my employees within my own walls.” 

“I am not the public!” she hisses, resentment thickens like poison on her tongue. He can already hear her rant about the Von Closen lineage.

“Without your dearly departed young Delano, I’m afraid you are Mary.” he tuts softly. “I would hate to have to call security on Eric’s family.”

Elias withholds a derisive snort, as if family is a concept that holds meaning to either of them. He walks to the children and pulls out his cigarette packet, ignoring Jon’s tongue click of disapproval. He tugs out a plain business card, one of those stupid things that came with being a department head, all stiff white card with his office line and name scrawled in elegant print. 

“If you’re ever in trouble.” he murmurs, pressing it into Gerry’s hand as his mother calls for him, already storming out of the Archives. The nine year old accepts it solemnly before disappearing after his mother, and Elias has a sinking feeling that Gerry will never use it.

Then it’s just the three of them, and the room becomes a pressure vacuum as James Wright turns his gaze to them. Jon darts behind his legs, peering out nervously like a normal child, which he is not. “Who’s this Elias?” Wright asks with a smile that doesn’t sit right with his eyes.

“My nephew-” he needs another J-name, his eyes trail until it rests on the alarmingly large portrait. “-Jon-ack” a wheeze escapes him as Jon jabs him sharply with a bony elbow. “Jon. Just Jon, because he’s a brat.” Elias smiles as Jon bristles.

“You’ve lost uncle rights.” Jon grumbles. “Even Jaundice is better than that poncy name.” Wright’s smile ices over for a second, and it must be a silent generation thing to be so hung up on something like preserving the founder’s 'good name'. 

“I can see the resemblance.” Wright nods stiffly, and Elias would like to scream ‘what resemblance?’ but he doesn’t, because he’s a professional right now. A professional who’s covering for a shady eight year old because his sixty(?) year old boss is even shadier. “But I must ask, why is he here? It’s not safe for children to wander the Institute.”

“Oh he was just stopping in for a visit, sent off as a messenger about the next family reunion and all that, I think they’re trying to guilt trip me into going this time.” Elias says easily, donning an airy carefree tone. “Little Jon here is the most dashing one they’ve sent so far, and I must admit he’s already convinced me to treat him to ice cream in the ten minutes he’s been here.”

“Not Robin Hood.” Jon huffs quietly, slipping deeper into his shadow. “Let’s go.” 

“Can’t disobey the little prince.” Elias smiles, empty and placid as Jon grips onto him and tugs gently. “We’ll have to stop off for my blazer, can’t have this mess.” he gestures vaguely at the blood stains. “Oh and I’m not sure if you received my emails about department spending, Artefact Storage was hoping for a budget increase, hazmat suits, extinguishers and what not. It’d be a shame if there were a repeat incident of last year's fire, the Archives are just next door to us after all.” Elias strides past a mute Wright with even practiced steps as Jon darts forward. They do in fact need to stop off at his office, a tiny shoe box of a room, for his jacket and a few statements relating to newer artefacts that are tucked into a briefcase that has never taken work home.

The blazer is a cheap black polyester that he never would’ve considered before Artefact Storage, but it’s enough to pass as an average salaryman when out in public, and he doesn’t care if he bleeds on it. 

Jon is staring at him as he shrugs the jacket on in sharp, jerking motions. He then combs through messy black hair with his fingers until he thinks it’s reached some semblance of tidy.

“What’re you looking like that for?” Elias asks, beckoning for Jon to follow. “Most kids are delighted to get ice cream.”

“You don’t have to do that.” Jon frowns, fingers wrapped tightly around his bag strap. But he follows.

“I’m aware.” Elias says, fingers tapping against his cigarette box, better that, than the thin silver case that carry's what he really wants. “But I want to, and the institutes no place for a child.”

“I’m not a child.” Jon says. “And you have.” he taps his cheek gently. Right he’d forgotten about that. He snags a plaster from the overflowing first aid kit that he keeps tucked in his largest drawer.

“Of course you’re not.” Elias agrees, taking Jon’s hand anyways as they wander down to the street. “But there are better places to talk.”

“He’ll see anyways.” Jon says, but lets himself be guided to a nearby ice cream parlour. Elias passed it often on his commute, but never bothered with it, the institute was always freezing, especially in the basement levels.

“What’s the worst he can do? Kill me?” Elias asks with a crooked grin, but Jon doesn’t smile back. He sighs. “That’s not a good look.”

“Did you notice that Mr. Wright has the same eyes as the portrait?” Jon asks in the careful tones of a child delightedly pointing out a pointless detail. 

“Really now?” he says with honeyed indulgence, as he asks Jon about what flavour he wants.

“Yes, do you think it’s part of the position?” Jon asks, before asking for two test samples, earl grey and mint chip.

“You might be onto something.” he says, watching as Jon’s gaze flicks between the two flavours. “Two scoops for him in those flavours, and I’ll take an espresso caramel.” does coffee ice cream have caffeine? He hopes so. “Cup or cone?” he asks Jon.

“Cup.” a long talk then.

“Your son’s very cute.” the cashier smiles, handing him two cups, there's a waffle cone that he didn’t order sitting in Jon’s cup. Elias hums noncommittally as he finishes paying.

“It seems I’ve been promoted from terrible uncle.” he muses, handing Jon his cup.

“Your eyes are hazel and more narrow, your nose is completely different, aquiline while mine is thin and straight.” Jon huffs, gesticulating with his plastic spoon. 

“Yes, well that happens when one’s father is French.” Elias agrees, letting Jon lead him to a nearby bench. “Now before you start, I have a few questions for you.”

“Was the ice cream a bribe?” Jon asks, face twisting into a reluctant sulk, as he holds the ice cream at length.

“Hardly, it was an apology for having to meet Keay and Wright.” even if they weren’t at their peak awful, they're awful nonetheless. He pulls a few pages from his bag. “This is my bribe, I saw you stealing statements, and we both know the book wasn’t the real reason you came to the Institute.” Jon’s gaze is hungry, tracking the movements of the page, even though his bag was already full of them.

“One question per statement?” Jon asks.

“It seems fair enough.” Elias says, glancing at the statement he has, one about a mirror that never reflected quite right. The mirror itself was under a sheet in the back of storage with a ‘Do Not Touch’ note pinned to it. “Why point out the eyes?” 

“It’s important.” Jon replies, making grabby hands for the page.

“That’s a non-answer, I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t think it was important.” 

“Why do you think he’s trying so hard for an after hours meeting?” Jon asks instead, rubbing wearily at his eyes.

“I’d be a terrible host, no worthwhile connections.” Elias says with a shake of his head. “And I haven't done anything worth mentioning in my twenty-seven years.”

Jon looks at him like he’s an idiot, again. 

Oh.

“I see.” he sighs, trying to release the burgeoning pressure in his chest as he reaches for the silver case that’s buried beneath the papers.
“Stay focused!” Jon huffs swatting at his hand, before snatching the statement from his grasp. “I thought only the Archives kept statements.”

“We need them to understand how to handle the newer artefacts.” Elias shrugs. “We don’t keep them for longer than a month usually, but they should all be true.” he tugs out another statement, an older one that he’d forgotten to give back to Gertrude, a shovel that compelled it’s holder to dig its own grave. “Why do you care?”

“What?” Jon asks blankly, his ice cream slowly souping in his cup.

“No one would notice if I was gone or different, some might even prefer that, so why do you care?” he lists, impatience bleeding through as he stabs his own dessert.

“But that’s terrible!” Jon protests, and oh, he sounds like a child. “No one should- If that’s true then-” Jon’s eyes shine wetly, and he scrubs roughly at them with the back of his hand.

“Don’t equate my own insignificance to your connections.” Elias sighs, digging through his briefcase, he pulls out an old wadded handkerchief, a gift from his grandmother before she'd found him lacking. “You’re young, you can still grow and make meaningful ties.” he presses the cloth into Jon’s hands and carefully extracts the cup of mostly melted ice cream from trembling hands.

“No I can’t!” Jon wails, voice cracking as the tears increase, and in a panic Elias scoops him into a hug. Children reacted well to hugs, right? Jon’s tripping over unintelligible words as he buries his face into Elias’ jacket. Tentatively he rubs Jon’s back, feeling every ridge of his spine as he draws broad circles.

They sit like that for a while.

Elias tips his head back and stares at the washed out sky, just pale clouds crossing a grey sky. As mature as he is, Jon's still so very selfish in his concern. Can a fear like that ever be fully soothed? The sun is near buried under all the dull clouds, but he can catch flickers of its light behind a dense moving cluster.

“What if we had an arrangement?” he asks, when Jon’s breathing has evened out. “We meet up once a week and I’ll give you new statements in return for the old ones, and you can make sure I haven’t had an unplanned surgery.”

“What do you get out of all of this?” Jon asks, wary and puffy eyed, but still clinging tightly.

“I suppose I get a very cute nephew to talk about to my coworkers.” Elias laughs, as Jon lets out a flustered protest. “Everyone says we look something alike, we don’t but it’s a nice thought. He’s something of a miscreant, always wandering off to places he shouldn’t, but I suppose that’s how the little terror ferrets out all those secrets he collects.” Jon looks at him, teetering between hurt and hopeful. “But he’s kind and clever, so it’s not all bad dealing with his brattiness.” 

“You’re awful!” Jon huffs, but he’s smiling. A small tremulous thing that fits better than any previous expression he's donned.

“Anything for my darling Jones.” 

“It’s Jonathan, Jonathan Sims.” Jon sniffs, stern pride mingling with childish hope as he says. “What sort of uncle can’t get something like that right?” 

“Of course, my apologies dear Jonathan.” Elias says, letting Jon tug him away from their little bench and into the now bustling street.

Chapter Text

Elias pokes around the newest item to come to Artefact Storage, an ornate set of drinking glasses that compelled their users towards cannibalism. The glasses are etched with the image of fierce boars locking tusks, practically salivating for the taste of its kin. A pig eat pig world he supposes, but that doesn’t mean anything for cataloguing purposes. First he has to identify its materials, and then test its qualities. So long as he doesn’t drink from the cup, there should be no affect, hypothetically that is.

He wets a finger and runs it along the edge, and he’s twenty years in the past at the world's loneliest party as the crystal rings true. He tugs at his collar as the phantom weight of a tie pulls like a noose, he’s in a room full of people, but no one sees him. But he can see them, the unfocused gaze of his mother three glasses too deep as his father slips upstairs with someone else, the way violet peeks out from distended patches of his aunts heavily made up fa-

“You alright there boss?” a bright voice, one of the new Storage assistants asks. He doesn’t know her name yet, doesn’t know if he should bother, they have the highest turnover rate in the Institute. “You looked like the cup was getting to you.”

“Not in the way you’re thinking.” he shakes his head and presses his shaking hands against the edge of the table. “Just reminiscing about my society days.” 

“Ooh, big man was a party type?” she asks, reading the accompanying statement, she’s too cheery to last long in a place like this.

“You could say that.” the whispers haven’t gotten to her yet, they would soon enough. There was no point nipping the rumour in the bud either. “Can you check if we still have some pH strips and phenolphthalein left, I want to see if the effects are chemical.” he grabs a mug from the small tea station that sits at the back of the department and fills it with tap water, he also grabs the small carton of orange juice. He’s really not qualified for this, does Wright even know what Artefact Storage should be doing? Elias doesn’t, but he’s gotten so tired of sitting around doing nothing all day in an empty room.

“There’s a few strips left, but we need to restock soon.” she says, setting a half full bottle and an almost empty box of strips down, he really wouldn’t have gone this in depth if it wasn’t for the sake of trying to have someone else stay in this godforsaken department.

“Great, so the statement mentions that everything gains an iron taste to it, so we’re going to check if there’s a chemical change or if it’s just mental.” he says, pulling a worse for wear chemistry kit out from under the table. The protective cloth has kept the rack clean, but half the vials are missing, some from artefact properties, others from general clumsiness. “These are going to be our uh- basic unaffected samples.” he taps the little vials.

“Controls.” she substitutes with a silly grin, pouring the juice and water into the cups and vials. He really should learn her name, having someone more familiar with chemistry would probably let them actually do more around here. Not that he’s sure that that would be a good thing.

“Thanks, so I suppose now we just dip the strips and see if there’s any differences.” the strips are popped in, the water strips carry the same result, but upon removal the orange juice in the cup reads as seven, while the vials sample reads three. “It doesn’t look any different.” Elias frowns, did this mean it was time to pull out a microscope? He’d have to take this to research anyways, but they always complained if there wasn’t any preliminary work. Not that he’s sure how they would even attempt to look into this.

“Blood has a pH around seven.” she says, poking suspiciously at the crystal glass. “Shame we can’t drink from it, or test it.”

“The Archives have been eating up the budget with their travels.” Elias sighs, and what little budget is allotted to Artefact Storage mostly lays in the realm of Leitner acquisition, which they were already running out of shelving for. Yes Wright, let's just jam a whole library of evil books onto one crappy bookshelf! The man is definitely spiting him, Gertrude may be terrifying but that's no excuse for this level of gross negligence. “We could always buy some rats out of pocket, but there’s no reason to go out of our way.” he shrugs, falling back into a slouch as he records their findings.

He hears the door to Artefact Storage swing open. It’s probably Gertrude, or Wright, without looking up he grabs one of the control vials and downs it, scribbling out the rest of his findings.

“You’re la-” Jon’s voice trails off. “What are you doing?” he can hear an excited squeak from his assistant and Jon looks a cross between horrified and disappointed, like a tiny manager in his blue polo. He had forgotten it was Friday.

“Research.” he grins at the aghast eight year old. “Is it five already?” he checks his watch, and it’s ten past, oops. “Sorry about that, “ he sighs and turns to his new assistant. “You’re free to go, and just remember, rule one of Artefact Storage is don’t touch anything new, or with a 'don’t touch sign' on it.”

“Isn’t that just everything?” she sighs, tearing wide brown eyes from their guest.

“It sure is.” he agrees, smile stretching wider as Jon gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look. “Would you like to say hello Jon?” he eyes the remaining vial, he may as well down the orange juice while he's at it.

Jon takes one look at her, and Elias nearly chokes as he says. “No.” before glowering at him. “Hurry up already, I want to see that bookstore.”

“Sorry about him, you know how kids are.” Elias apologizes, not knowing at all how kids are, but she nods and waves it off with an airy laugh that wasn’t fit for the weighty atmosphere of the Institute. “I’ll grab my things and we’ll be off then.” he says to Jon, grabbing the glasses to dump on his way to his office. He doesn’t bother washing them and just fills them with water, it’s not as if the cleaning staff actually touches anything in here anyways, they knew better by now.

Once they step into the privacy of his office he grabs his stack of statement copies, now that Gertrude is back she’s been prowling through her shelves like a lioness who knew something was off. 

“In return for whatever you finished.” he says, holding out the small dossier.

“Do you even know how to put these back?” Jon asks, looking at him with clear doubt in his eyes.

“Not in the least.” he smiles, and watches as Jon’s expression pinches. “I can check if the Archives are empty and you can put them back yourself if you like?”

“Let’s go.”

Elias is assuming Jon means the Archives since his unfocused gaze lingers in its direction. So they go, the lights are off, and the door is locked, but he has a key, so it doesn’t matter.

Jon strides in and like the teensy supernatural librarian he is, starts shelving all the statements he’d taken without an ounce of hesitation. He lets his gaze leave Jon and snorts immediately. 

“What are you laughing about.” Jon asks, looking sour. Elias only points, and watches as Jon’s jaw drops, before a smile creeps across his face. “I wish I did that.” he says a little wistfully.

“I think everyone’s wanted to do that the moment they saw the stupid thing.” Elias agrees. He hopes to god that it was Gerty who had climbed the cabinets and nailed the sheet to the wall, the idea of stern, no-nonsense, never a hair out of place Gertrude covering up a picture of their esteemed founder with a bed sheet is the greatest thing to come out of his five years at the Institute.

Jon trots back to him, casts one last wishful glance at the covered portrait and tugs pointedly at his blazers hem. "I don't want to linger."

“Alright.” he says, shutting the lights and locking the door behind them.

They step out of the Institute and Elias offers his hand to Jon at the sight of the packed streets.

“I’m not a kid.” Jon grumbles, but he takes it anyways, and so, they make their way through the crowds. 

The shop he has in mind is an older one, full of secondhand books where the margins are full of little notes and beloved passages are marked in bright highlighter. The cashier smiles at them, a little more lively then usual, though he thinks that probably because of Jon.

Jon seems delighted by the smell of old books and the lack of patrons, eyes feasting on the overflowing shelves, though he grumbles as Elias tugs him towards the children's section. The children’s section is the best for what he has in mind, to feel the nostalgia pressed between the pages as sharp curling handwriting contrasts against large blocky letters and vibrant sketches.

It might not match the intimacy and haunting emotion that was pressed into the statements, but it's somewhat similar.

Jon is so rooted in seeing and knowing that he's more small adult than mature child, so wrapped up in his secrets that he's wrung out that they're now the very things squeezing him dry.

He trails a hand across broken spines and shining card before pausing on an old love. 

“Have you ever read ‘The Little Prince’?” he asks, tugging the book down regardless of Jon’s answer.

“No, it’s for children.” Jon sniffs, eyeing the thin volume as if it were especially offensive. He expected that, but it still stings.

“It’s a classic, adored by thousands of adults.” Elias says, flipping just the cover open, just in case of course. “I think you could enjoy it if you gave it a chance.” he thumbs through the pages, no notes decorate the empty spaces, but there are passages that have been highlighted and surrounded by stars and hearts. 

His gaze lingers on the image of the Prince and the Fox sitting in the fields of wheat together. He traces the passages and is struck by a deep ache as he remembers desperately drinking in the pages night after night for years. He’ll buy it whether or not Jon wants it, he wouldn’t mind having a copy for the office.

“Fine.” Jon says, as if he's been assigned a tedious chore. “I don’t like things that I feel like I’ve read before, so I can’t promise I’ll be able to read the whole way through.”

“It’s not quite like anything you’ll ever find.” Elias sighs wistfully, he had looked for years to find something that hit in a similar way, but to no success. “I suppose that’s what makes it so beautiful.”

“If you’re sure.” Jon says, but his gaze is fixated on the pages, the stern lines of his face soften, and his lips part in a soft oh as he drifts slowly through the text. “I had- it was odd I thought, you calling me that, when we left the Archives.” Jon says, his shaking fingers tracing the sketch of a lone rose sitting on a planet not much larger than a house. “But you really do See don’t you.” and then he’s lost to the pages once more. For someone with such a voracious appetite, Jon really does savour the words that greet him, lingering on the sparse text for far longer than necessary.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;” Elias quotes softly, though he doubts Jon can hear him through his sharp focus. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

Chapter Text

Elias stretches languidly in his chair, not bothering to stifle his yawn in the quiet solitude of Artefact Storage. Another listless day of waiting for nothing, his newest assistant has stuck around for whatever reason, and is currently visiting an old book symposium on a hunt for Leitner's. He hopes she’s unsuccessful, it would be nice to put that money towards something useful, like a new electric kettle, or better stools, maybe even a secure bookcase for all those other Leitner's they’re hoarding. 

Of course, knowing his luck Salesa would give him a call about some ridiculous object, like a door that led to rooms that didn’t exist. It wasn’t like they could actually test those doors either. One of Artefact Storages many, many policies was to not install and venture through mysterious doors anymore. This was on account of the multiple occasions of them slamming shut on whoever walked through; destroying the cord, or chain that tethered the intrepid explorer to reality. The paperwork was so dreadful and occurred so often, that it's one of the few things Wright has actually put his foot down about. 

Speaking of high turnovers, he still doesn’t know his newest, and only, assistants name. He refuses to until a full month passes; he would hate to get attached only for her to transfer out, or run afoul of a particularly malicious artifact. But bless her competence in all fields she deigns to touch, she’s already helped him come up with a better cataloguing system, and spreadsheets! Elias thinks he might just be a little bit in love.

He should do something nice for her, maybe a reference guide? Most of the artefacts have corresponding statements, but there were always little surprises that caught the unaware off guard. Elias’ eyes flick towards the one vault in Artefact Storage unbidden, it was half hidden behind one of their rolling shelves, and carried things far more precious than Leitner's and other monstrous objects.

Yes, he really should make that reference guide.

He slides off the chair and heads towards the Archives, setting his hand on the brass handle, he can feel the give and lets his shoulders fall. The door's unlocked, Gertrude was in. Gertrude with her hawk-like gaze that pierces ruthlessly through you in its relentless search for danger and secrets.

He’s hesitating too long, if he lingers any longer he won’t go in.

He pushes forward, and sees only two assistants, no light spills from Gertrude's window. She must be out.

“Ladies.” Elias greets with a languid wave, Emma Harvey casts him a sour look from behind thick gleaming lenses, and Sarah Carpenter gives a cheerful wave in return with a sun freckled hand.

“Here to slack off again Bouchard?” Harvey sneers as she tucks wisping grey laced with mousy brown behind her ear. 

“Is that any way to talk to a superior?” Elias asks, lips curling in a lazy smile as something black and hateful flickers through Harvey’s eyes.

“Superior to who?” Harvey asks, her pen nearly tearing through the thick stationary as she finishes carving out whatever it was the Archives wrote about. “You have no subordinates, none that hang around for longer than a month before transferring out to Research or the Library.” she dots her i’s with a fierce stab, nearly piercing clean through the poor paper.

“And yet, I am still a department head.” Elias says with a careless shrug as he leans back against an empty desk, it’s been a while since Harvey has last torn into him. He wonders if she’ll manage to make it hurt this time. 

“A king without a kingdom is what you are,” she points her pen in his direction, like a blade threatening to pierce through his armour. “Wor-”

“That’s enough Emma.” Sarah cuts in, standing in a smooth burst of jagged energy. “You’re getting nowhere, and Elias is probably here for a reason, I doubt he came down for a weekly lambasting.”

“Right you are Sarah!” he says, drawing his face into a cheery smile as he pushes off from the desk. “I came here for old statements relating to objects in Artefact Storage, we have a new hire you see, and she seems to be intent on sticking around.” his lips curve wider as Harvey bristles, and he claps his hands together as he continues, “If you could be so kind as to help me pick through your-” he eyes the mess of folders, hng “-ah system, and find the relevant documents that would be wonderful.”

“There’s a lot to sift through, can you at least narrow it down to some sort of latent theme?” Sarah sighs, finely manicured hands click against old wood. 

“I know you Archives lot don’t come down to Storage that often, but we have nearly every object imaginable pass through.” Elias sighs, before flipping through his mental catalogue. “Cannibalism comes up a fair amount, so does the uncanny valley with dolls and mirrors and the like, I don’t think I’ll need anything specific for Leitner's or paintings since they have a lot of overlap,” he’s honestly surprised that there hadn’t been some prick who curated all of the cursed paintings into some forbidden art gallery, though Salesa's getting pretty close with his collection of curios. “um, insects, teeth, a god awful amount of teeth, lots of eyes too now that I think about it, just uh, anything related to cursed organs?”

“How much of Artefact Storage is flesh?” Harvey demands, long skirt sweeping against the dusty floors. Did cleaning just avoid the basement levels altogether?

“One full shelving unit, I was trying to find Barnabas Bennett a couple months ago so I ended up sorting through all the remains we had.” Elias says with a shrug.

“Do I want to know who Barnabas is- er was?” Sarah asks, wearing the patented ‘Rest in Pieces dear ex-coworker, may I never be you.’ face that all Institute employees gained around the sixth funeral.

“Another Storage worker hung by your incompetent management?” Harvey sneers.

“I’ll have you know that the mortality rate of Artefact Storage has dropped by ninety-six percent under my watch.” Elias sniffs, pulling his shoulders tautly behind him, he’s above Harvey’s petty insults. And the one death that had occurred wasn’t his fault, he’d told them not to put on the stupid ring. “And Barnabas Bennett is rumoured to have been a-” how to put it delicately, he glances at the covered portrait, “-let’s just call him one of old Jonah’s dearest companions, and upon his death his remains were entrusted to the Institute.”

“How the hell are you missing an entire skeleton?” Sarah cries, tugging aggressively through the files, taking near illegible notes of their placement between slapping them into his hands.

“It’s not my fault.” Elias sighs, slouching back down and running a hand through his hair, destroying what little order was left to it. “The records for the last two centuries got turned to ash in the ‘Great Artefact Storage Fire of 94’ but I’ve elected to assume that our esteemed founder kept his ex’s bones at his house instead of here.” 

“It was literally just your office that got torched, not the entire department.” Sarah laughs, as if his predecessor hadn’t burned alive in that shoebox, or that the flames hadn’t tried to eat through the wall, melting large swathes of the stonework between them and the Archives. Flames like that really should have eaten away at the rest of Storage long before melting through stone, the suspected artefact had been destroyed as well. The case had been swept under the rug as a freak accident, but then so did every other death that revolved around Artefact Storage.

“Wright picked the creepiest wallpaper imaginable to cover the burns.” Elias grouses instead, as the pile in his hands grows taller. “It's one of those damask patterns, but there’s all these tiny eyes peering out of it. I spent a whole week trying to paint over them, but I still feel like I’m being watched all the time!”

“Poor baby.” Sarah snickers, patting him on the arm as they move onto the next aisle. “At least you don’t have his lordship watching your every move.”

“You can drape a sheet over him, I can’t just pin sheets over an entire room.” Elias had tried that already and had gotten a talking to from Wright who'd laid it on thick with soft paternal disappointment about how unprofessional it was, the sheets had come down shortly after. He was still waiting for a speech about how childish it was to paint on the walls, but they were his office walls, and he’ll do as he pleases. Maybe he’ll ask Jon for wallpaper suggestions, children love interior decorating, don’t they?

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Sarah shrugs, flipping through another statement, squinting at the notes scrawled on a supplemental paper. “Was the transdimensional smoking pipe true, or were there trace amounts of hallucinogens?” 

“Let me see the note.” Elias sighs, peering over Sarah’s shoulder. It’s his own messy scrawl that greets him, a well practiced near indecipherable mess that had taken ages to perfect after years of calligraphy lessons. “Hn, that one was fake, it didn’t hold any amplification properties either. Nothing more than a bad trip.” it had been disappointing, but he’d happily pocketed it for private use; it was rather handsome with its dark polished wood and gleaming silver accents.

“You would be the expert.” Sarah remarks dryly, in that dismissive side-eyed manner that was so very common to him these days.

“Thank you for the assistance. I’ll have these back to you by next week.” Elias says with a plastic smile, his fingers press into the stack of papers as the itch begins to sink its teeth into his lungs, clogging them with a bitter tar. 

They won’t be returned in a week, maybe not even a month, he’ll make sure of it. And it wasn’t as if the Archives actually did anything with their statements, too busy running around the world in search of the esoteric, as if they were field researchers.

Elias leaves the chill of the Archives for the copier room. He wasn’t writing all of this down, and he wasn’t in the mood for typing up dozens of statements and their pages of notes for a reference book that would hardly get any long term use.

“What’re you doing?” a familiarly young and weary voice demands.

“Ah, hello Jon, is it five already?” Elias asks, staring down the indignant eight year old. “And I’m scanning statements, don’t look so surprised, I’ve given you photocopies before.”

“Yes, but you can’t just handle statements like that!” Jon says, what a fussy and particular child. “Don’t you know how to handle old books?” 

“Can’t say I do. It must not have been deemed as relevant training.” Elias shrugs, swapping out the pages. This one was a nice weighty paper, parchment really, with a faded looping script that spilled across yellow, and signed by one Robert Smirke. Wasn’t that the famous architect? 

“That’s a two-hundred year old letter, you can’t just touch it with your greasy hands! Finger oils corrode paper! And you could be damaging it with the scanner!” Jon yells, though his voice doesn’t project particularly well, he must not yell very often. Was that bad? Weren’t children supposed to be experts at being heard?

“Alright then, why don’t you show me how it’s done?” Elias says, tucking his worry behind a playful smile. It really was nice to see Jon get so fired up about something so simple, though he’s a little curious as to where an eight year old would learn all this from.

“You either have to transcribe it yourself or make an audio recording.” Jon says as if it were common knowledge. “I suppose I can help you out since I’ll be reading these anyways.”

“How magnanimous of you.” Elias says with a wry grin, letting Jon lead the way back to Artefact Storage. “Anymore tips?”

“Staples are bad and can rust, worms should be killed on sight, they'll eat everything they can if given the chance, but CO2 canisters will kill them” Jon rubs at his arms, as if remembering the sensation before dropping them to his sides. “Oh, and um forget what I said about how you should record audio statements, that’s an Archivist thing, and Gertrude won’t like it, I’ll just give you the ones I’ve made next week.”

“I suppose paperclips are a no as well?” Elias sighs. Artefact Storage by merit of having several strangely combustible items has a plethora of fire extinguishers, an extinguisher for every occasion in triplicate. “And is it just CO2 or can any extinguisher work?”

“CO2 only, and definitely not, I mean I suppose paperclips would be marginally better, but that’s by virtue of not poking holes in the page.” Jon rambles off, so wound up that he’s forgotten to modulate his vocabulary.

“I see, thank you.” Elias says once Jon has finished his rant about the proper methods of dealing with worms that would try and eat you. “Is that what Gerty will do to me if I start doing her job? The Archives are hel- awful to find references in, and I can’t see her disliking me anymore than she does now.” 

“Gertrude isn’t aligned with worms, if anything she’ll just set your house on fire.” Jon scoffs, and Elias wonders if Gertrude had a hand in his predecessor's death before discarding the idea. That would be ridiculous, who would commit a murder in their own workplace where anyone could walk in. That was just asking to be arrested.

Jon frowns, deeper than his normal resting frown, a frown that erupts from noticing a slip in their conversational partners statements. “Gertrude hates you? That can’t be right”

“Not hate, at least I don’t think it’s there quite yet.” Elias says. It was more of a cold disdain about wasted potential and being unworthy of promotion he thinks. He’s not sure he can blame her for the resentment, she’s held the Head Archivist position for thirty years, it couldn’t have been easy as a woman in the sixties to hold such a position. After all, every department head has the dubious honour of attending every funding gala, and all their donors tended to be old white men.

Elias shakes his head as he shoulders open the door to Artefact Storage, catching the handle with his elbow. “Anyways, you mentioned making recordings yourself?” he asks, watching Jon twist his hands into his hem, wrinkling his shirt terribly.

“Ah- yes, it’s um, well you see,” Jon is stuttering, fingers twisting more viciously leaving stark creases in his shirt, “I just-”

“You want a more permanent record to keep for yourself?” Elias asks, setting the stack onto the Leitner table.

“Mhm!” Jon’s head snaps up and down in a vicious nod, just the once; but it looks so sharp and painful that Elias finds himself rubbing at the back of his own neck in sympathy.

“Would you like to get a head start on recording, or dinner?” Elias asks, he’d like to push for answers, but Jon didn’t seem to be in much of a sharing mood today. More shy and withdrawn, it's worrying in a way, how he wasn’t the same candid and sly child from their first meeting. Snapping between academic surety and childish uncertainty, maybe it had something to do with how decisive a question was? Should he keep to simpler 'yes and no' questions? Maybe this was normal for children?

“Um, statements please, but if you’re hungry, shouldn’t we go?” Jon mumbles, as he heaves himself onto a stool, already reaching for the old papers.

“There’s no reason we can’t order in, I do have a phone in my office, and a few menus to pick through.” 

There’s already a tape recorder sitting on the table, though Jon’s made no move to open his little satchel. Elias is willing to chalk it up to the Magnus effect of inexplicable oddities, perhaps they had a supernatural voyeur who appreciated a good spooky story. Though the process was perhaps more than a little backwards with a child narrator, but Jon didn’t seem the type to appreciate someone reading to him.

“You pick, I’m sure you won’t disappoint.” Jon says, gaze already glued to the papers in front of him. Elias is almost flattered by the comment, but Jon also seems like the sort of kid who inhales anything put in front of him, only eating to satiate his hunger with little opinion for taste or texture. 

“Do you have any allergies?” Elias asks, thinking of the unblemished gloss of the newest menu to be added to his collection. Was it too risky to try something new? Probably, perhaps the most crumpled would be best, it was a guarantee of tasty food at least.

“Not to food.” Jon says before clearing his throat and sitting up a little bit straighter. “Statement of Elizabeth Osgoode, regarding an antique mourning locket she was in the brief possession of in 1964. Original statement given December 4th 1964. Audio recording by Jonathan Sims, th-” he stumbles, tongue tripping as his face pinches. Jon presses the pause button and turns to Elias looking somewhat troubled. “I’m not sure how to refer to myself.” he confesses as if a child was meant to have some sort of job title for academia.

“Call yourself a ‘Junior Archivist’ or an ‘Artefact Storage Intern’ if you feel the need, and if anyone asks about your voice I’ll just say you had a bad run in with a Leitner.” Elias shrugs, he doubts Research planned to inquire about any artefacts, they rarely ever ventured into the basement levels, and everyone knows strange things tended to happen to its residents; inexplicable personality changes, mysterious disappearances and the occasional face change, just to name the most common.

“That’s degrading.” Jon grumbles, but clicks the play button anyways. “Junior Archivist of the Magnus Institute, London. Statement begins.” and off he goes, like he was born for the role.

Jon affected a cadence commonly found in overbearing forty year old's, a rasp trimmed his unusually unpolished syllables as he coloured Osgoode’s tale with appropriate levels of unease, fear and desperation as the interior of the locket was revealed. A portrait of its current owner who began to have a run of exceedingly bad luck that oft ran the course of many near death experiences. It’s as Jon is swapping tapes that Elias makes a comment.

“You’re quite the Archivist, have you considered staging a coup and ousting our current one?” Elias grins, only for it to fracture at the sight of Jon’s brief look of wide eyed terror that quickly smoothed into snooty disdain. The rest of his words evaporate, what was the part that had affected Jon?

“I have, but she’s terrifying.” Jon says with a straight face, as if the moment of unease had never existed. Elias can’t be sure, but he thinks Jon might actually be serious, time to file that under ‘things to be addressed later’. 

“Well, if you ever attempt it, let me know, you’ll have my full support.” Elias says watching as Jon attempts to bury his amusement behind a new piece of paper, but he can see the merry crinkle of his eyes alluding to a warm smile. “Anyways, I was thinking Chinese, this place has some of the strangest fortune cookies I’ve ever read, I think they're handmade to be honest.” he slides Jon the menu.

“Oh, that sounds neat, what’s it called?” Jon asks, fingers tracing the web like cracking of crumpled pamphlet paper. 

“Haven’t the faintest idea, I can’t read Chinese.” Elias laughs as Jon casts him a sullen look. “It’s not like the name matters when I have the pamphlet.”

“Names always matter.” Jon huffs.

“I suppose you can ask the delivery man when he comes by then.” Elias says, before leaving for his office to place an order.

When he returns Jon is recording again, not a statement but what appears to be research notes and his own personal thoughts.

“The locket appears to be linked to the End, drawing the shadow of death over its wearer. The regular alterations to the interior portrait indicate that the locket carries a level of foresight that is reminiscent of the Web, but then the End has been known to have some predictive powers.” Jon pauses, as Elias fully exits his office and sits again at the table. “Elizabeth appears to have met her end shortly after giving her statement, having been found hung on her own long hair. The locket disappeared shortly after her death and has not made itself known again. Why she didn’t just give it to the Institute while giving her statement I’ll never know, perhaps it carried a compulsion of sorts? Regardless of all that, the largest takeaway appears to be to not become attached to noticeably cursed jewelry. Statement ends.”

That didn’t sound child appropriate in the least, and Jon isn’t even attempting to sound his age. Elias elects not to ask about any of that and instead tries, “Our order should be here in twenty, do you want to wait outside with me for a bit?”

“Alright.” Jon says, and so they make their way to the steps.

It’s cloudy again, not that Elias expected much else from London but though it was the evening the heat still pressed against them; weighty and sticky, he rolls up his shirt sleeves as he mulls over a couple of thoughts.

“So, the End and the Web.” Elias says, leaning against one of the Magnus Institute's many pillars.

“What of them?” Jon asks, face souring at the mention of the Web. Was it linked to that spider Leitner?

“You mentioned them in your little follow-up, what are they?” Elias asks, watching as Jon sputters in what looks to be a mix of bewilderment and frustration.

“You’ve never crossed those terms in all your years at the institute?” Jon cries, hands clenching and unclenching in little spasms. “But you’ve been shelving according to Smirke’s Fourteen!”

“There’s fourteen of these little groups? Sounds awful.” Elias says, withholding his smile as Jon grows more frustrated, hands knotting in his hair now. “Hey, don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself.” Elias sighs, gently drawing Jon’s hands out of his newly crafted birds nest. “And my shelving is by commonalities in alleged psychological effects, and whether or not it’s fleshy. There’s really not much else to say other than I don’t fancy dealing with a dismembered leg that makes me feel incredibly empty and is possibly wreathed in tangible shadows. Once was more than enough.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say the shadow leg gave people depression?” Jon asks, and Elias dips his head in the affirmative immediately. Odd that. “I- never mind, so Smirke’s Fourteen Fears must mean nothing to you.” 

“Nothing at all.” Elias hums, that was an interesting party trick, it was probably eldritch. Or maybe it was a weird manipulation tactic that was biologically engineered for the benefit of children? He'd never had such luck with that as a child himself, but then, his parents didn't seem to have a nurturing bone in their body, not ones that didn't carry the tar like marrow of self-interest. He should probably go digging for one of those child psychology manuals shouldn’t he? Oh, a man's approaching the Institute, eye's shadowed by the brim of his cap. “Ah, I think our food is here. Are you going to ask about the restaurant name?”

“Yes.” Jon nods, Elias leaves him to it as he pulls out the amount he expects it to be, and then some as a tip. 

“I’d like to know the name of your restaurant please.” Jon says, tipping his chin up as he stares unblinkingly at the delivery man. Elias thinks that Jon is aiming for normal inquisitive child, but the luminescence of his eyes seems to tip him more into the territory of adorable horror. The delivery man must agree since he stutters something fierce.

“What is your restaurant's name?” Jon asks, distinctly less adorable then before. Definitely spooky with that near inaudible white noise buzzing quietly. 

Kumo no Ito!” the man shouts as if the words were ripped from him, and then he runs off, grease splotched bag on the ground before Elias can pay him.

“I guess I won’t be ordering from them again.” Elias sighs, tucking his wallet away, plastering an easy smile on before turning to Jon- “You alright there?” he asks, gently steadying the swaying child. Should he reprimand Jon for being rude? Eh, Jon wasn't his kid, and he doubts he could actually get him to stop if he didn't want to.

“I’m fine!” Jon huffs, shoving him away with all the force his twiggy limbs can muster. Not very much, but Elias releases him anyways. “Did you know ‘Kumo no Ito' is a Japanese short story? It translates to 'The Spiders Thread'.” 

“Why would a Chinese place use a Japanese name?” Elias asks, debating the merits of just picking Jon up as he watches the kid stumble up the stairs. 

“Don’t even think about it.” Jon glares, and Elias raises his hands in surrender. “Anyways, it's named for a famous children’s tale about a sinner who was offered mercy because of a singular act of kindness they’d performed.”

“Ah like Dostoevsky’s ‘Fable of the Onion’.” Elias nods, and Jon’s face blanks briefly before understanding floods his face.

“Yes exactly, except instead of offering an onion to a beggar, the sinner had spared the life of a lone spider.” 

“And this is important because?” Elias prods as he guides Jon to one of the few benches that sat outside the institute. 

“Because spider’s are of the Web.” Jon says as if it were obvious.

“All of them?” Elias asks, pulling out their two containers, and one of two paper bags. 

“Yes, all of them!” its a wonder Jon wasn’t already greying with how beleaguered he sounds. “Have you ever heard of a good spider in your life?”

‘Charlotte’s Web’ and if your spider is anything like the onion, I suppose some have to have been good to have made it to heaven.” Elias says, offering Jon a choice between chopsticks and a fork. Jon snatches the chopsticks with a mutinous look. "Though I think you might be overreacting."

“All good spiders are fictional, propaganda if anything.” Jon says, stabbing fiercely into his rice. “The issue at hand is that they’re up to something! And I'm not overreacting!”

“Then let’s check the fortune cookies.” Elias hums, pulling out the other paper bag, this one distinctly less greasy, then the previous. “If I were to leave cryptic propaganda and/or messages it would be in one of those.”

“Wouldn’t that be playing into their hands?” Jon asks, accepting the now in retrospect, somewhat pincer shaped cookie.

“Only if we eat them.” Elias grins, watching as Jon affects that wonderful dumbstruck look that makes him look like a wholly affronted eight year old.

“That doesn’t make any sense!” 

“I don’t make the rules.” Elias shrugs as he cracks open his own cookie. “The possibility of a career change is near. Neat, maybe I should see about bumping off Wright.” Elias jokes though Jon looks grey. 

“Not good?” Elias asks, and receives a stilted nod. Right then, he drops the cookie and grinds it into dust. “I suppose that future is gone with the wind now. I’m quite fond of my current position anyways.” Elias smiles weakly, right, Wright was a Victorian body hopper, and if Jon’s all knowingness was to be trusted, he was apparently a candidate for possession on account of having a pathetic social life. He could probably fix that himself if he wanted to, but people are exhausting on the best of days.

“I like you best the way you are.” Jon says eyes big and solemn as he shifts minutely closer, and Elias can’t help the warmth that flutters, he really shouldn’t be getting this attached. Jon tugs his paper slip out from the crushed cookies remains. “A danger foreseen is only half avoided.” Jon’s hands are trembling as he drops the paper to the ground.

“Let’s see about the next round, there are two more, surely they can’t all be miserable?” Elias says with false cheer, cracking open another one. “Enjoy yourself while you can.” and that was so much worse. “I’ve never been fond of these things anyways.” Elias laughs awkward and reedy as he slams the cookie beneath his foot.

“Your problem just got bigger. Think, what have you done.” Jon says in a dull monotone, eyes near glowing as he stares dully at the last cookie, which sits unbroken in his hand.

Chapter Text

Elias sighs as he spins on one of the new stools he’s acquired, watching the overhead lights blur into dissonant circles. Gertrude’s still lingering in her lair, so he can’t go and nose around for any wildly over the top false statements to slide to Jon between the real ones he’s hoarded for his reference notes. Not that he’s sure he’d be able to discern which statements were false that didn’t involve an artefact, those were always harder to verify.

Sarah wasn’t in either, off on another trail with Harvey and so, hadn’t come to bother him about the statements from last time. Something about an up and coming magician who had a penchant for audience participation and illusions. Apparently grumpy audience members would be chosen to enter one of those disappearing boxes, only to come back with the broadest smiles and emptiest eyes. He hopes they burn the cursed box, if there was one thing the Archives were good for in their field research, it was that they almost never came back with items for Storage. Though they were far more likely to attempt to smuggle out a few items, Leitner’s and items from the ‘Yikes! Fire’ and ‘Sudden Homicidal Urges’ shelves. He wishes they would steal some teeth, they could substitute them for breadcrumbs or something in case they ever get hopelessly lost in the woods.

Speaking of the Archives and smuggling, “Shelley for the love of god please tell me that isn’t a cat.”

Michael Shelley freezes, blue eyes wide behind oversized coke bottle lenses, large spindly hand gently cradling a dark bundle of fluff to his chest, as his messy blond waves fail to act as a curtain. “Why would there be a cat in the Magnus Institute?” Shelley laughs, the pitch breathy and the pauses between drag in a cacophony of unnerving nervousness. 

“You’re not hiding it here are you?” Elias asks, eyeing the very not cat-proofed room. If anything Artefact Storage was the least cat friendly department in the entire institute.

“Would you believe me if I said I got lost on my way to the Archives?” Shelley asks sheepishly.

“How do you still work with Gerty?” Elias asks, burying his face into his hands. “I think I’m embarrassed for you.”

“I can’t leave her all alone outside, it’s raining.” Shelley’s bottom lip quivers, and he raises the fluffball towards him. Oh, it’s a kitten. “It’s not like Artefact Storage is actually dangerous anyways, could you just watch her until the end of the day? I’ll owe you one.” Elias tries not to bristle at Shelley’s dismissiveness, how someone in the Archives could be that blind was beyond him.

But as he stares into the kitten's big green eyes it mews pitifully and he caves. “I’ll keep them in my office, but only until my shift ends, I have dinner plans.”

“You have a date?” Shelley asks, blue eyes falling on him with doubt clearly written across them. “Dressed like that?”

“Not a date.” Elias frowns, what’s wrong with how he’s dressed? He’s wearing a new shirt and everything, no mysterious stains or blood to be seen, just green floral print. His assistant had been very insistent that his usual shirt was unsalvageable, next week would make a full month for her. He hopes she sticks around. “It’s with my nephew, we play catch up every Friday.”

“You have a nephew?” Shelley asks, setting the kitten down on their Leitner handling table, and it immediately hops into his equipment basket. Elias can feel a headache beginning to tease at the edges of temples. Shelley looks like he wants to say more, but thinks better of it.

“Yes, his name’s Jon and he’s eight.” Elias says, walking over and picking the cat up, oh it’s light and so very soft and fluffy. “A bit of a terror with a hunger for good horror stories.”

“You’ve never mentioned your family before.” Shelley says, tugging at one of his shirt buttons.

“No one’s ever asked.” Elias says, words tart and clipped. No one asks him anything unless they need something, and Shelley was no exception. Shelley’s expression collapses, and he shoves away the pang of guilt. “Now get going before Gert-”

The door flies open.

“I needed you back five minutes ago Michael.” Gertrude says, walking in like she owns the place, pale grey flashing behind half-moon frames. “And here you are fraternizing with Bouchard, of all-” her lip curls at the sight of the kitten in his hands. “Do you have no sense of propriety?” 

“It’s great to see you too Gerty.” Elias says with a lazy smile, hoisting the kitten closer to his chest as his posture loosens. “I don’t see why I should, what’ll Wright do, fire me?” they both know that the department is close enough to collapse as it is, without Elias they’d be back to regular funerals and half the basement level a minefield of misfortune.

“Let’s go Michael.” Gertrude says, ignoring him as she sweeps back to the door, assistant in tow as low practical heels click dangerously against stupidly wooden floors. “Such a waste.” echoes quietly back to him as the thick wood door thuds audibly back into the frame.

“That was stupid.” he sighs, carrying the kitten to his office. He takes his faded green throw from off the back of his chair and awkwardly bunches it into a nest. “Michael was just being polite, but I guess that’s why.” he wants to yell or smoke, but the case is only for desperate occasions, and he won’t let Jon see him in such a state, he obviously needs a stable adult figure.

Which Elias really isn’t. But Jon had latched on so quickly, and he can’t just distance himself can he? He should, it’s not normal to do this kind of thing, no matter how mature he is, Jon’s a child with a stable, if distant guardian. He collapses into his chair that’s stupidly large for the room and runs through his options.

Should he look into trying to adopt him? He has a steady job, a good position, and he was never charged for possession despite his smoking being publicised to the entire Uni campus. It could easily be waved away as gossip. But, to try to adopt a kid that lived with his grandmother, a living blood relative, just because he’s had his heart swindled away in what was essentially three meetings? He couldn’t.

He should just cut ties, there’d be no issues, he could continue as normal, but he thinks of too thin shoulders and seeing the world, the interactions within it as transactional. No, he can’t just leave that alone.

“There’s no winning, is there?” he asks the cat, who’s happily made itself at home in his blanket.

“No winning at what?” Jon asks, and Elias jumps, knees clatter painfully against solid wood, and a pained groan escapes him. “Why is there a cat in Artefact Storage?” and like any child drops his bag and approaches it immediately to start playing with it.

“Shelley, ah, Michael Shelley, one of Gertrude's assistants brought him in.” he frowns, it shouldn’t be five yet, he checks his watch, it’s three. “You’re two hours early.”

Jon stares at him wide eyed, the green somehow brighter as it peeks out from the shadows of his yellow raincoats hood. “What’s the cat’s name?” 

“Jonathan.” Elias says as stern as he can manage, were all eight year old's this evasive?

“That’s a terrible name for a cat.” Jon huffs, and he resists the urge to bury his face into his hands. “And besides, she’s a girl. A regal lady who deserves a proper name.”

“Jon, why are you here so early?” his fingers tap impatiently across the desk, unsure of what to do without the familiar rolls of paper.

“I had a small window of opportunity and I took it.” Jon says, still kneeling with the kitten and squeezing its beans. “All the recordings I made are in my bag, I put them in a freezer bag just in case.”

“I’ll give you a statement if you tell me straight.” Elias tries, maybe he could just roll a slip of paper and go through the motions? “And thank you.” he pulls the plastic bag out, it’s stuffed full, the edges of the tapes carving white striations under the duress. How many had Jon read?

“I want one about being watched.” Jon replies, “I haven’t had one of those in a while.” 

“A statement about a haunted Harry Houdini painting for a proper answer.” Elias offers. It was kept as a guide for dealing with paintings, one of the few foundational texts for newcomers. Though not particularly practical for how to deal with paintings that didn’t deal with evoking negative emotions. The cursed version of- what was that famous melty clock painting called again? -‘The Dissolution of Reality’ or something, had all sorts of strange effects, like ant infestations and quiet chitinous sounds matched by the clicking of dry wings. He’d catalogued it under ‘Possible Pandemic’ instead of ‘Collapsing Sanity’ which was always one’s first assumption with surrealist art, but that tended to be too obvious to possibly be true. Though the person before him hadn’t thought so and some unfortunate soul had become an ant colony within a month. The department had shut down for a week.

“My grandmother grounded me for wandering off last Friday.” Jon says after a moment with an easy shrug of his shoulders. “But there’s nothing for me in Bournemouth.” 

“Bournemouth is a two hour drive.” Elias says, to which Jon gives an eye roll. “You can’t just travel four hours every week, that’s not-”

“I’m not a child Elias.” Jon huffs, not even looking at him. “She won’t even notice I’m gone, her book club always runs late, and Mr. Derwent is hosting dinner tonight, so that’s like an extra hour.”

“You’re eight,” however spooky and capable Jon may be, he’s still a child. “And how long does she normally leave you alone?” his fingers flick through the hours, four hours for commute plus two until five, plus however long dinner would take, if that was even still on the table. He takes a deep, fortifying breath and evenly says “She just leaves you for seven, eight hours for a book club?”

“Four hours for a book club and dinner, three for regular errands and travel time. And an extra one since Mr. Derwent always insists on having dessert platters after dinner. Those terrible low sugar ones that taste like cardboard too.” Jon corrects as if that’s the important part. “There’s always dinner in the fridge, and I usually stay out until five anyways, so it’s not really seven hours.”

His teeth grind down, jaw throbbing. He wonders if Jon is doing this deliberately.

“That’s hardly appropriate.” Elias says. Jon would react poorly to a direct criticism of his grandmother if this behaviour was normal, he itches for a smoke. 

“That’s just how it is, it’s not like I’m easy to be around for extended periods anyways.” Jon says casually, and that sounds like a ridiculous amount of neglect that needed to be unpacked. Jon helps the kitten stand on its hind legs as he gently waves its paws. “I’m thinking Duchess, she’s quite the graceful dancer.”

“Like the 'Aristocats'?” Elias asks instead of pushing the subject, like he wants to, watching as Jon’s brows furrowed in confusion. But his shoulders have loosened. He needs to plan this out before he pushes forward.

“The what?” 

“You know, like the Disney movie?” 

“Not really, no, I don’t watch movies.” Jon shrugs. Fuck it, Elias is adopting this poor child. He’ll reconnect with his god awful relatives if it will get him what he needs. 

“You’re watching this one, Artefact Storage has a VCR.” there hadn’t been any reports of haunted VCR tapes, but since every other technology has some haunting or another, Elias had managed to wrangle one of those out of Wright, in case of future occurrences of course. Though in retrospect it’s a terrible idea to play said cursed video, was he high when he requested it? It sounded like an idea he’d have when high. Another tick in the ‘Wright clearly doesn’t know how to run a supernatural research institute’ box.

Anyways, it didn’t get much professional use, it’s not like they had videos for training new employees. Elias mostly used it on especially slow days, where he would sit and keep watch of Artefact Storage with little else to do. But he’s rewatched the tapes so often he can recite all of the movies by heart, so it's mostly just collecting dust at this point. “It’ll keep you occupied while I work.” he says to Jon’s wholly unconvinced face.

“What do you even do when there aren’t any new artefacts?” Jon asks, and he can feel the weighty gaze of the eyes locked on him as he grabs a box off the top of a filing cabinet. Beneath tidy stacks of files is a whole box of movies, movies for every age and genre.

“I sit alone with my thoughts.” Elias says, shuffling through the plastic cases. “There’s not much to do between reorganizing the shelves again, or dusting. It’s all very boring, hence the movies.” they’d be able to do more retrievals if they actually had a full staff, but he doubt that’ll ever happen 

“Is that why the department’s so-” Jon asks, hand waving vaguely as he curls over Duchess and into the green throw.

“Exactly.” he nods, handing Jon the agreed upon statement, and settles behind his desk as the accordion brings in Chevalier’s playful tune. Even after watching the English version multiple times, it still felt odd hearing the blend of English and French instead of the pure French of his childhood. 

He splits his attention between skimming statements, making a short bullet list of things to introduce Jon to, questions he should ask and calls he’d unfortunately have to make, and of course, watching Jon’s reaction to the movie.

Jon isn’t all that invested at first, mostly sticking to reading his own statements quietly, the soft whispers of fear and horror blending with the bouncing instrumental and playful dialogue. But then, they hit the midway point as ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’ starts to peak and the statement and- were the tape recorders just following Jon? Not important, what is, is that Jon has become fully drawn into the movie. 

Elias should ask, shouldn’t he? Before he makes any moves to take him in, but it’s still too early, was there such a thing as a right time for this? He sighs and waits for the credits to roll to ask the question that’s been eating at him.

“Are you happy at your grandmother's Jon?” he asks, watching as the eight year old stiffens.

“Yes.” Jon says, too quickly for it to be true. He should try to trap him in a contradiction, to work out the answer for himself, anything else would be too heavy handed for Jon.

“Then why are you here?” Elias asks, pinching the bridge of his nose in hopes of relieving some tension. It doesn’t work. 

“We have an arrangement, or have you forgotten already?” Jon casts a disdainful look towards his briefcase, as if Elias was still some schoolboy who spent all hours drifting through on a cloud of earthy smoke. He resists the urge to drag his hand down his face, or tug at his hair, he can’t show signs of irritability.

“You’re doing this on purpose.” Elias says, what does one do with such a child? “I won’t reward you with another bribe.” he settles on, but Jon’s expression furls, scrunching in rising fury.

“I won’t just accept every bribe sent my way, like- like a child!” Jon spits, eyes flashing.

“Then how am I supposed to treat you Jon?” Elias snaps, standing up from his chair. “You’re eight and I want to respect your boundaries, truly I do.” he needs to pace, to move and get his frustration back under a manageable level. “But there’s clearly something wrong in your home life, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.”

“What’s so wrong with it?” Jon snaps back, feedback crackling as his words catch and break “I’m fed, and sheltered, I go to school and she buys me new books when I run out- there’s nothing wrong!”

“You’ve wandered into the office of a man you’ve met all of three times and made yourself at home.” how does Jon not understand how strange and dangerous this is between all his knowing and experiences, “You can apparently disappear for hours on end, where your only punishment is to be grounded and left unsupervised, not to mention-”

“That’s not it at all!” Jon shouts, cutting him off as he climbs to his feet. “You don’t get it!” 

“Then explain to me how this is okay. Tell me how many other children you know, that think this is normal.” Elias says, his anger a fine tremor that has his head and bones buzzing, but his mind is clear, too clear, like placid waters that reflect all he doesn’t want to see.

“Gerry does this sort of thing all the time.” Jon sneers, lips curving in a self satisfied smile that was all teeth and no sense.

“Then you can understand full well why I am concerned.” Elias says, watching as Jon stumbles, sneer wiped clean. “Do you think Mary Keay is a good mother? A good woman?”

“Well don’t bother, I didn’t ask for it.” Jon turns away, fists balling as he curls in on himself. “And if anything you should deliver this speech to Gerry, since he clearly needs it more than me.” 

“Gerard hasn’t come back and he hasn’t called. I can’t just march down to Morden and take him away unless he’s open to help.” Elias swallows the snarling hopelessness that wants to bite and tear until everyone else knows the same. His breaths are coming faster, and the office is growing too small, too many eyes bearing down and condemning him for his failings. “And why wouldn’t I care about you? I like you Jon, and for some odd reason you’ve decided that I'm worth something when-” he collapses back into his chair, bones hollow and blood burned cold, he’s so very tired. “It’s a terrible thing to be lonely Jon, you shouldn’t be so well acquainted with it.”

Jon’s anger seems to dissolve and his voice is so very small, like the whisper of tape being rewound. “You really shouldn’t. The arrangement was a mistake.” 

His breath catches on sharp, throat clogging frost, and Elias lurches clumsily from his seat. “Jon, what are you saying?”

“I’m ending this before it gets out of hand.” Jon says, voice wobbling as he turns on his heel and races out the door.

“Jonathan!” Elias calls stumbling after him, limbs uncooperative as yellow disappears behind Artefact Storage's door.

He flings it open and runs straight into a thin chest.

“Get the hell out of my way!” Elias snarls trying to shove whoever it was out of his path.

They’re a wall, immovable, and they catch him, flailing discordant limbs and all.

“Woah, hey, um calm down.” they shush him gently as if he’s some emotionally unstable toddler and it sends his head into a violent spin.

“Let go!” Elias throws his elbows as hard as he can and his captor lets out a groan of pain as their grip loosens, and Elias slips out and sprints forward and out of the Institute, fat droplets of rain fall like thick curses, plastering him in suffocating misery.

There’s not even a flicker of yellow to be seen in the downpour. 

Fuck.

He’s on the ground, knees throbbing in the aftershocks and numb in a way that has nothing to do with the rain. He closes his eyes and lets white noise wash over his ears.

When he opens them he’s back in his office and Michael Shelley is fussing over the cat.

“Why are you here?” he asks, tongue thick and leaden.

“You uh- you had an episode.” Shelley stutters, as if Elias hadn’t been present for his own meltdown. “I couldn’t just leave you there.”

“What do you want Shelley?” he’s too tired to glare, too tired to move or think.

“Well, um it’s uh five, and I thought maybe-” 

“Just take the cat and leave me be.” Elias runs a hand through his hair, still soaked, he hasn’t lost much time in his fit.

“Your plans?” Shelley gestures awkwardly at him.

“Cancelled, did you not notice the child in the bright yellow jacket?” Elias asks, toes curling in thankfully dry socks. 

“What kid? You just sort of burst out of Artefact Storage and started swinging and shouting.” Shelley smiles weakly, as Elias frowns, face pinching as he squints at the man. “For good reason, I’m sure.” is tacked on hastily and almost certainly disingenuous. He doesn’t want to look at Shelley anymore, with his rain spattered glasses and misty eyes. He looks at his desk, at the page of bullet points spotted with enough water to make the ink bleed and feels a knot build in his throat.

“Take Duchess and get out of my office.” Elias sighs, and when Shelley hesitates he barks rough and threaded with worn anger “Are you deaf as well as blind? Get out, now.” 

Shelley retreats, and Elias feels a dull pang as he wonders if this will be circulating next week, perhaps it’ll be spun as a psychotic break triggered by withdrawal. Won’t that be fun? He rips the paper, and feels nothing, so he rips it again, and again, and again. Until it’s in a pile of scraps that he can’t be bothered to clean up.

He stands up, shoves the tapes and their player into his briefcase, and briefly debates changing into one of his emergency suits, but what’s the point?

He goes home, to a too big, too quiet townhouse that’s never felt like his. Gifted to him after he got his research job, and something he had scrimped and pinched every extra penny to gain enough money to pay off, for the second his parents attempted to use it against him. Some extra as well for whatever else they would attempt to leverage over him, tuition, his first year of bills, all of it painstakingly kept track of and squirreled away.

The only sign that there's a resident in this spartan showhome is the letter he’s been ignoring for the past week, familiar looping script scrawled across expensive paper, and the filled voicemail tapes that were sloppily stacked on his entry table.

It was already a shit day, may as well add to it. He rips open the letter as he kicks off his shoes, a funeral invitation, his grandfather, one of the few relatives he hadn’t despised. He really does screw up at every turn. He grabs a handful of tapes and shuffles to the bathroom.

He slides into the hardly used tub, socks now sopping after a long walk squelch unpleasantly, and he dumps his briefcases contents into his lap. He plays the tape already in there and picks up the silver case that's clattered to the bottom of the tub. 

His hands tremble in a way they haven’t for a long time as he opens the case that he’s always kept tucked out of sight, but never out of mind. He lifts the first pristine roll to his lips and lights it; takes each pull deep into his lungs and feels his hands stop shaking. It’s not good, not fresh, his lungs are burning as fiercely as his eyes, but it takes the edge off as their argument replays. He picks apart every misstep and listens for every quaver and pause. And when the tape ends he rewinds it, and presses play again.

The spliff has burned down to his fingers and he drops it into the pools that have formed beneath him, but he doesn’t stop, he pulls out a new one, and pulls and pulls until his head is full of clouds.

Chapter Text

The phone is ringing. Never a good sign.

It’s rare for anyone to call Artefact Storage, whenever someone wanted something they typically waltzed in and demanded his immediate attention, as if there was nothing for him to do. Which while true, was still rude. And, sometimes, rare as it was, he liked to make work for himself, but that’s not the point. The point is, his phone is ringing and he could think of maybe five people it could be, and two on who it actually is.

Of the latter it could be: one, his parents who are tired of flooding his home phone with voicemails and have decided to grace his work hours with their delightful critiques and double edged offers. As if he hadn’t called them back to let them know that ‘Yes he would be attending, and no he doesn’t need a ride’. As if a two hour car ride with the most miserable pair of nitpickers is somehow preferable to public transit. Or it’s Salesa with the usual song and dance. He hopes it’s Salesa. 

The phone rings again, and he’s half tempted to let it go to voicemail, but there’s really no use putting it off any longer.

“You’ve reached the Magnus Institute; this is the head of Artefact Storage, Elias Bouchard speaking.” he sighs, if it’s his parents they’ll berate him either which way, and if it’s Salesa-

“Always so formal Elias.” Salesa teases and the tension leaves him so quickly he practically melts. “Perhaps a mimosa or two will do you some good.”

“Are you offering?” he leans back, reclining in his too big office chair. He’s not normally one for drinking, but it might make for a nice change of pace. And he’d been meaning to try friendship, sort of, just to assuage Jon. Jon who- not the time.

“But of course. However, some business before pleasure.” Salesa says, “I was hoping to get your assistance in identifying a few new pieces, first pickings would be yours, discounted as well.” 

“But of course,” Elias repeats, “That’s awfully generous of you-” uncharacteristically so, which meant “-concerned about a pick up?” it wasn’t often, but it was the one spot of excitement, he could rely on. And any distraction would be a welcome one.

“You Magnus people are always so suspicious, but yes.” Salesa pauses, and Elias can hear the shuffling of papers. “We made port today, though the call came into our offices last week, but when I called back for follow up, the woman who picked up said they made no such call, though the name was the same.”

“If this turns into a monster hunt I’m demanding a favour of the second degree.” Elias huffs scribbling down the details. Identity theft, a possible loss of time, lying? If it was an artefact it would deal with the warping of memories, dangerous in its own right, but hardly deadly. Salesa could handle something like that with ease.

“Oho second degree, that’s quite specific, do you have something in mind?” Salesa’s voice sharpens, though still light and jovial.

“Nothing too crazy, just a little assistance in ensuring things move along smoothly.” Elias replies, free access to Salesa’s legal team at no cost would be quite the boon. He’s sure the man would supply at a discount if Elias asked, but trading and collecting favours had become something of a game over the years of their acquaintanceship. “Would you happen to know the location and dress code?” 

“That popular tourist town, the sunny one where all your British authors go to die.” Salesa says, as if he doesn't have the name already written out. “And ah, nothing too fancy, unless you’d like to of course, it’s always a pleasure seeing you, how you say? Cleaned up.”

“Bournemouth.” Elias says with an eye roll before his stomach twists sharply. That was Jon’s town, he checks his watch, a quarter-past four. And now that he thinks about it- “I have to go there next weekend for a funeral, how long will follow-up take you?” would it be weird if he packed Jon a little care package, it couldn't be that difficult to find the Sims. No, no that would be creepy, but if statements are like food, he can't just leave Jon to starve. Maybe he could leave it outside the front door? If the grandmother's not in for most of the day, Jon would almost assuredly be the one to find it.

“Ah, my condolences. And one week will work just fine. Can I interest you in a ride there? The Dorian has more than enough room for one more.”

“No, but thank you.” Elias declines immediately, “We both know my sea legs are abysmal, and it’s only two hours out.”

“Such a shame, then we shall meet at the Bournemouth harbour at four pm sharp next Friday.” Salesa says, “Oh, and a word of warning Elias, I spotted The Tundra docking in the Port of London earlier.”

A chill washes down his spine, that meant one Peter Lukas would likely be skulking about the institute today. Which meant he was due for Artefact Storage at any moment now.

“Thank you for the warning, I’ll see you next week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to prepare.” Elias rushes out, he should still have his old filthy shirt somewhere, his current one was still unscathed and it wouldn’t do to look presentable.

“Best of luck my friend, and give the good captain my regards.” Salesa laughs as he hangs up, the bastard.

Elias drags a hand through his hair, gently styled with hairspray and a straightener into some 'trendy do' at Rosie’s insistence. Rosalyn ‘Rosie’ Li, the first person to make it past a month in Artefact Storage in a long while, and hopefully many more. Not the type of person he’d thought would stick around, but she’s refreshing with her tech savvy ways and insistence on turning him into a respectable member of upper management. 

Maybe he should try offloading the position onto her after a few more months, he’s probably accumulated enough experience to dip out to another position elsewhere, and it wasn’t like he had a particular reason to stick around. Well he did, had, might, it was still rather tenuous. And besides, interviews are awful, and cover letters are even worse, it’s literally just the resume rewritten into an essay and brushed over with a thick layer of lies and brown nosing. 

He’ll take his chances with a possible body snatcher, creepy donors, and Rosie’s aggressive fashion campaign. It’s much less threatening than the job market and corporate was about the same level of soul-sucking as body snatching anyways. And Rosie doesn't deserve having to deal with all the utter horsesh-

Oh, oh no, Rosie, she hasn’t been run through Lukas protocols yet. He changes into familiar worn cotton and hastily buttons it, sloppily, in an ‘I’m such a mess, don’t even think about me as vaguely attractive’ sort of way. Elias shrugs on his cheap blazer for good measure, the one that was a good wash or two away from falling apart at the seams. A man like Lukas would hopefully be repulsed by ill fitting polyester, and the residual stains Jon’s misery had left. 

A pang hits him, his thoughts keep circling back, caught in the gravity of something that’s far greater than him, again. His fingers twitch uncontrollably, tapping spastically at the case in his pocket; He pinches the bridge of his nose with his less shaky hand, lenses riding up as he shoves the feelings away for another day. He can stew at home, right now, business.

He really is a mess, compartmentalization used to be so much easier, weed and tears in his free time, and sobriety for his classes. He’d never been able to properly schedule his breakdowns, not like those mad lads in the library who would give themselves precisely five minutes to weep before returning to their work. Not the time Elias, focus.  

Elias grabs a thin dossier file, throws the door to his office open and looks at his ‘still here for some godforsaken reason’ assistant. “Rosie, I need you to take this. If I don’t call you tonight, follow the instructions in there. If I do, forget this conversation ever happened and return it on Monday.” he hands her the manilla folder, and proceeds to look for Storage’s wheely stairs. It’s stationed by the ‘Depression Inducers’ because of course it is.

“What the hell did you do?” she cries instead, drawing his attention back to her. Her sharp eyes are narrowed in disapproval as she waves a manicured hand -nails painted the same muted pink as her blazer- in a vague summation of his being. “It’s like week one all over again, people aren’t going to take you seriously like that." of course that’s what she’s focused on. "And why are you acting like a fatalist?” 

“That’s the point,” he forces his lips into a playful quirk and runs his hand through his hair in a hopefully roguish manner, “and you’ve been working awfully hard lately, have you thought about taking off early? Treating yourself to an early weekend?” her lips are pressed flat, she’s not buying his spiel. “Peter Lukas is a dreadful man, and we shouldn’t both have to deal with him.” Elias sighs after a lengthy period under her weighty gaze. “Please take the out, I’ll explain everything on Monday.”

“Fine, just for now.” Rosie says, gaze pressing him into submission for another long stretch. He hopes she doesn't push. “But if anything happens to you, I’ll kill him and then you myself.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Elias gives a wan smile, he wishes he could make it brighter, but only his customer service grin is within grasp, and that just won’t do. “Now scram, it wouldn’t do to have my efforts undone by a little small talk.” he waves his hand in a hopefully playful shooing motion.

“Stay safe boss. And milk him for some lab coats and safety goggles if you can.” Rosie sighs, before gracefully striding off, carefully coiffed locks of black bouncing stiffly against her shoulders as she slips through the door. 

She peeks back through hardly a minute later, “Oh, and Elias, I’ll burn your entire closet the next time I see you in that. We’ll be going shopping the second you’re available.” and without waiting for a response ducks back out. He listens as the calculated click of her heels disappear into the distance, taking all her vibrancy with it. 

Now then, Elias turns back to the steps and ignores the weighty fog that settles invisibly around his shoulders as he wheels the stairs towards the more useful artefacts. He may as well pick through anything that might be helpful for next week while he has the time. Not that he didn’t already have a particular artefact in mind. An old favourite that he always thinks about pocketing, if it weren’t from the nasty side effects induced by long term use.

One of those ‘Cursed Knowledge’ types of artefacts, ones that could drive an unsuspecting user to madness as they pump them with the addictive flavours of dirty secrets. Not that they couldn’t catch the aware either, but Elias was well acquainted with seeing more than he should, and the pull was never enough to keep him seeing.

He keeps the artefact in mind at the top of the shelf, in a small wooden box that could easily be pocketed. Wholly innocuous for something that revealed the darker nature of things. Elias grabs the smooth oak container, and flicks the clasp. All the ugliness in the world revealed by a simple monocle. He really should just keep it in his desk, he uses it often enough, and it wouldn’t do to lose it in the myriad of other artefacts.

But, as he thumbs the loop and fine gold chain, he remembers the completion of feasting on that which was hidden. A youth spent collecting and documenting any scraps of blackmail and leverage, he still has the binders, all near bursting as the sins accumulated. But, he won’t use them. Couldn’t, shouldn’t really, no matter how terrible the press of their gazes grew. 

He puts the monocle back into its case and pockets it, to be packed away for his trip next week. The temptation doesn’t leave, but the denial is a small comfort. Elias shivers, fingers wrapping around the painted rails as a chill sweeps through him. He stays focused on poking idly at the other artefacts that littered the top of the shelf. 

A weighty dip pen that spilled a heart's desire across the page, never requiring ink as it drew from it’s user. It granted it’s wielder all the right words to express themselves, but the more one used the pen, the more their true thoughts appeared, twisted and obsessive in rustic letters. He pockets that too, an innocuous bargaining tool if necessary. Perhaps a ‘Hand of Glory’ would be useful as well, though they erred on the side of criminally conspicuous outside of October.

Someone, Peter Lukas, clears their throat, it’s not the first time, but Elias almost believes that he can ignore Lukas back into his little ship.  

Elias runs his finger across the top of the shelf, and frowns at the pale grey that bleaches his skin, there’s no dust on the artefacts. But he should dust these next week anyways, at two to three shelves a day that was a whole week's worth of work. If he was lucky. Some artefacts never seemed to gather that fine grey film, while others did so in surplus. Another good way to sift through artefacts when their properties were ambiguous: the ‘Depression Inducers’ wallowed in it after a month, while ‘Yikes! Fire’ always seemed to be coated in a fine ashy powder after a week, and ‘Forbidden Knowledge’ artefacts always seemed untouched by dust no matter how much time would pass. The ‘Sudden Homicidal Urges’ collected dust like normal, but he’s fairly sure that’s because knives will still be able to slice through you regardless of how much dust accumulated.

“Elias, do you have a moment?” Lukas asks, all pleasant tones laced with thick irritation. Elias turns, bracing himself against the rails as he looks down at the giant of a man. Honestly, a diet of sea rations shouldn’t let someone stay that tall and broad. Perhaps he should wave at him with the ‘Hand of Glory’ most people hated that for whatever reason, it could only freeze someone when lit so he didn’t particularly understand the fear. Though he did have that lighter in his pocket.

No, no, tempting as it was, this is a ‘respected’ donor, and Lukas might take that as an invitation or something equally wretched. It would be wasted on Lukas anyways, there were only so many uses a Hand of Glory had before the candle melted down to nothing, and then it was just a macabre candlestick holder.

“I’m rather busy as you can see, and access to this department is restricted to scheduled appointments.” not that anyone actually scheduled or notified him in advance, but it was a department policy. Couldn’t have just anyone wander in and poke at all the cursed objects. 

“I was informed there was an opening by James.” Lukas smiles, it’s an unpleasant thin lipped thing that compels Elias to violence. But, this is a valued donor, and Rosie wants that new lab equipment. “I’ve been told that Artefact Storage is requesting more funding, and as you know, my family is one of the Institute’s primary backers. So I was hoping we could discuss what these extra funds would go to.”

“Would you like to see how the Leitner’s are currently being held?” Elias asks, slipping a hand into his pocket, fingers running against the frigid silver. The other sweeps towards the first shelf of the department, near bursting, and in dire need of being reorganized. Perhaps by size instead of name this go around, it would look nicer, and it wasn’t like they were supposed to read the damn things anyways.

“You look to be handling things just fine.” Lukas says, mild as milk as his pale grey eyes seem to gloss over the disaster shelf, before checking his wrist. “Though we could discuss this properly over a meal, I’d say your shift is just about done.” Elias swallows back the bile that’s forcing its way up in a violent gut twist of acidic disgust.

“Is that so.” he says, mind flipping through his excuses: last time he tried to wave off on not having proper attire, it had been unnerving as the newly minted head to be invited out by an important donor. Lukas had almost been charming with his whole, ‘Call me Peter.’ paired with the amiability that wafted off him. And then he’d been dragged out suit shopping, not to say he didn’t appreciate a free thousand pound suit, but it had been deeply uncomfortable. Lukas’ stare had been predatory, as if he were a potential meal and it had only progressed throughout the rest of the night. Needless to say he kept a suit for every occasion in his office closet now. Maybe he should just jump down and hope he lands poorly enough to break a leg.

“Oh, I see you’re in need of another suit, that one just won’t do. Perhaps a barber visit as well, restaurants can be incredibly particular.” 

“That’s not necessary.” Elias refuses to go to whatever torture chamber Lukas deems a barber, it would probably be ridiculously claustrophobic, set up in little ‘privacy stalls, with a barber that wouldn’t say a word the entire time, out of some sort of classist idea of respect. Those seemed to be the types of businesses Peter Lukas preferred, quiet and lonely. “I have a spare I can change into.”

Lukas perks up, never a good sign, stroking his pale beard as if he had a single useful thought in his head. It ages him terribly, pushing his projected age to 40 or so, but Elias is sure that there's a soft babyface hiding under all that hair. “If you’re uncomfortable, we could dine on the Tundra, my men will know better than to disturb me. And it's better than a lonely night in, wouldn’t you say?”

What he’d like to say is ‘Nothing is lonelier than a night out with you.’ but that was unlikely to end well. What Elias says instead is “Give me twenty minutes and I’ll be decent.” and as he climbs down the steps, he tries to ignore the way Lukas looms almost a full foot taller than him as he briskly walks to his office.

He closes the door behind him and tries not to slide to the floor. Dinner would be a miserable lengthy affair, appetisers, salads, main course, dessert and whatever else Lukas saw fit to ply the table with. Elias can’t bow out on account of feeling ill, last he tried that he narrowly escaped being manhandled to Lukas’ ship doctor. Ordering and eating little didn’t work either, Lukas just kept eating and would take his time as he filled the spaces between his bites with blather about ‘The beauty of being alone at sea’ or some nonsense, as if he didn’t have a full crew manning his ship for him. 

Elias picks through his meager selection: a well fitted emerald green statement piece that had been a gift to himself, too indulgent, it would be ruined for him by this experience. The horrendously overpriced three piece that Lukas had purchased him in it’s pale grey tones would feel too much like a collar, like it would give Lukas a sense of ownership if he wore the fine wool and silk. His tweed blazer, the one for conferences and auctions wouldn’t be enough either, mousy professor beside a bear of a man in captain's garb, no, too many eyes, and unlikely to be considered acceptable. Which left his funeral suit, a black relic from back when he was still in good graces with his parents. Three pieces, excruciatingly boring, and a little tight in the shoulders now, but that was manageable.

He changes into it, and tucks the tie into his pocket. Some places were tetchy about ties, and the only expensive gift he’d accept from Peter Lukas at this point will be a sizeable donation to his department. His hair is thankfully mostly straight still, and is combed promptly into, what had Rosie called them? Curtains? Ridiculous name, but simple enough after liberal use of a spray can that sends him into a sneezing fit. 

Elias is glad his eyes still burn too much for contacts, he wouldn’t want to look like he’s trying too hard for Peter Lukas of all people. 

Would he look too prepared if he took a printout of his budgeting proposal? He and Rosie had drafted it the other week, a general departmental overhaul that was by no means meant to be implemented within a year, but it would be a good starting point on where the money would go. He folds it neatly and tucks it into his breast pocket.

He walks out smelling like someone had dumped a bowl of punch over his head, sickeningly sweet and like one of those awful after show parties the drama club hosted, homey, overbearing and hopefully repulsive enough to keep Lukas and his weird hovering tendencies far far away. One would think the genial nature and friendly touches would be a comfort, but they’re so cold and empty, like the caress of a ghost, of mist, a pantomime of intimacy that leaves you emptier than before.

“Ah, there you are Elias, I was just about to knock. Make sure you didn’t get lost or anything.” Lukas smiles, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, it never does.

“My office isn’t exactly an ideal place to get ready for an impromptu dinner.” Elias says, as civilly as he can manage, hands sliding into his pockets, he can practically hear Rosie chiding him for ruining the line of his trousers. It’s nice to hear her nagging instead of his parents when it comes to physical presentation.

“If you needed help, you only had to ask.” Lukas hums, offering up an arm like this was some sort of date. Elias ignores it in favour of examining his nails, neatly trimmed, but the sides need to be filed or else they’d start catching on everything. What a bother, but it would give him something to pick at as Lukas went on one of his spiels.

“I doubt a ship captain such as yourself invests much time in such things.” Elias shrugs, Salesa however, that was a captain who would keep up to date with trends and styling. Ah right, Salesa wanted him to say hello, best to wait for a natural moment instead of wedging it in.

“Right you are, though I have to ask, what happened to your grey suit?” Lukas asks, gaze darting to his shoulders, where he’s sure the fabric bites. “It was quite lovely.”

“I’ve been informed by multiple sources that I am an autumn, and that pale greys will wash me out terribly.” Elias says, and by multiple sources he means Rosie and a series of articles from various magazines. “Apparently I should stick to dark saturated colours.” he and Rosie are fairly sure that the seasonal palettes don’t apply very well to people who aren't white, as she’s also an autumn and of a wholly different skin tone. On another note, he’s been informed by several people who aren’t Peter Lukas that he looks quite dashing in grey. 

“That’s quite a shame, perhaps we should get you a new one, a dark navy perhaps.”

Elias resists the urge to gag, ugh, then people would think they were colour coordinating. He doesn’t need Rosie to tell him that’s unbelievably tacky. 

“I’m more partial to bottle greens.” Elias says instead, as Lukas opens the door to some bland silver car, gesturing for him to climb into the backseat. The interior is black leather, cold and unyielding, the chauffeur doesn’t even acknowledge them. Lovely.

“Like the sea at night.” Lukas smiles, and Elias wants to bury his face in his hands. But he doesn’t, he hems and haws as Lukas extolls the beauty of being out alone on deck at night, counting the straining threads that were apparent in the drivers headrest all the while. He’s reached 112 by the time they pull into their destination, he’d lost count a couple of times when a turn was taken a little too harsh and had to start over, whether it be from his gaze being torn away or the delightful way Lukas would recoil whenever their knees brushed. 

The restaurant that greets them is a familiar one. His father favoured it for dressing downs, as patrons could request private tables, horrible claustrophobic rooms with no escape outside of humiliating retreat, and nothing to focus on for distraction. The food was excellent though, as excellent as British cuisine got anyways.

The table they’re seated at is like any other, plush cream coloured seating and dark wood paneling the walls. It's painfully bland and lacking in character, even the lone painting of a misty moorland is painfully dull, there were no horrors lurking in the fog, no lone figure to pick apart, just bleak landscape. Elias buries himself in the menu, it hasn't changed a bit in five years, disappointing but expected.

Lukas recommends a white fish.

Elias ignores him. He likes his food to taste.

Oh sure white fish is all about the soft flaky texture, and they paint it with the mildest herbs and butter to compliment the natural flavours, but it always felt like his teeth were working through a weightless mush. There was no presence to it. Even water left more of an impact then that spectre of a meat.

So he picks one of the more flavourful dishes on the menu, lambchops that would be served with a rich sauce. Elias' thoughts are drawn to 'Lamb to the Slaughter' all about the dangers of misconceptions. Was the white fish a misdirect? Peter Lukas was very much bland, white and flaky, as well as the epitome of entitled misanthrope, the way he sought to control the conversation in a way that left you feeling isolated, unheard. He doubts his serving will be large enough to do Lukas in anyways, and it was hardly an apt comparison. If anything it would be Salesa doing him in for going off with another captain, and that would require a level of intim-  

“Wouldn’t you say Elias?” ah, Lukas had still been talking, it had to be one of three topics, his little boat, the ocean, or the virtues of solitude. 

“I find myself disinclined to agree, though you’ve made some interesting points.” Elias nods, eyes focusing on the paneling behind his pale locks. Perhaps he should start counting the eyes in the wood, the artificial sensation of being watched might actually be preferable to the familiar loneliness of being a dinner ornament. 

“I’m sure I could persuade you to my side if you boarded The Tundra for the night.”

Absolutely not. 

Elias takes a practiced, tightly controlled extended sip from his water, and washes his revulsion back, feeling it settle like ice, hiding the bulk of itself in shadowed depths.

“Mr. Lukas, it wouldn’t be-”

“Peter if you would.” Lukas smiles, thin lips curving in a facsimile of warmth. 

“Mr. Lukas-” Elias says, with an equally bland smile. “-it would hardly be appropriate, and Mikaele would never forgive me for boarding another man's ship.” he pauses, taking in the way authenticity flickers across in stone faced neutrality, before dipping back towards a genial baring of teeth. “Ah, he says hello by the way, he saw you docking and meant to stop by, but he said you’d all but disappeared when he left The Dorian.” 

False of course, those two always steered clear of each other at the Institute's many events. The moment they were within ten metres of each other thinly veiled barbs would be traded, all silk wrapped steel and honeyed poison. It was the highlight of the night, waiting for the donor event to devolve into an utter shitshow. It didn’t always happen, but there was always some spectacle, usually Fairchild instigating something between Salesa and Lukas, where it was hours of taut silence before snapping at the slightest provocation into forever escalating animosity over ships, crews and reputation. And as all three were integral to the Institute’s ongoings, Wright couldn’t not invite the prime artefact dealer, or the representatives of two of the Institutes major donors, couldn't boot them either. But the party was always mercifully over once a glass of wine was thrown.

“Such a shame to have missed him.” Lukas says a moment too late to not be awkward, he swirls his white wine. Pale, thick fingers pressed firmly against delicate fogged glass. Elias half expected cracks to form under the weight of Lukas’ grip, but apparently he wouldn’t receive that pleasure tonight.

“Now then, shall we discuss how your donations will be utilised?” Elias asks, pulling out the pages he’d wedged into his breast pocket and sliding them smoothly across the table. 

“If you’re sure we can’t finish this after dinner.” Lukas cajoles terribly, voice not quite back to its regular steady cheer as he unfolds the wad of paper. "I always find myself more open to suggestions after a good meal and a walk down the harbour, among other things." there's something oily about the latter half of his offer, it makes Elias feel filthier then any spattering of beetle juice has managed yet. Oh, that was a fun movie, not relevant though, unless? No. decidedly not relevant.

“I’d much prefer to keep things professional, though I know you’re no stranger to mixing pleasure and business as it were.” Elias says with a delicate smile, "Mr. Wright is so very lucky to have your company, I doubt I'd be a match for that." the casual touches shared between Wright and Lukas spoke volumes about their relationship, and Elias doubted it was the pseudo uncle-nephew relation they claimed, as Fairchild liked to claim the same and Lukas' reception was much colder. And if Jon, who he’s terribly thankful for not showing up even if that invited a whole slew of other worries was correct, well Elias wants nothing to do with that.

Should he take the potshot? No, he's above mocking someone for theoretical kinks, and it won't get him what he wants, no matter how tempting it is.

Peter Lukas sits stock still and blessedly mute; Elias takes the opportunity to finally sip at his own wine -red, tart, and with the biting undercurrent of spice- it warms him as the room grows colder and Lukas' expression slides into something dangerously neutral, his cheer having apparently petered out. Without breaking eye contact Elias tacks on “We should wrap this up soon, I have a friend who’s expecting a call. I told her about how I was likely to run late, meeting with you and all, but she does worry so the darling.” 

Lukas doesn't open himself up to any jabs about his predictability either, which is a shame, but his gaze is sharper and his demeanor more subdued as they return to neutral ground. Perhaps it's not 'Lamb to the Slaughter' so much as unseelie dealings. Regardless, he has two people waiting for him in the mean time, which is more than he can say of his past self, even if it's not much outside of friendly acquaintanceships, it makes it much more difficult to sweep his possible murder under the rug. Especially so with Salesa's vendetta against Lukas, he can at least expect that Salesa will keep his case open solely out of spite if Lukas tries to bury the case under piles of green. 

The rest of dinner proceeds smoothly as Elias lays out the financial plan he and Rosie had poured hours into, sprinkling in hints of just enough little observances to imply a tidy file of well, blackmail is an ugly word. Social leveraging? Emergency protections? Just enough of that to keep Lukas on track, whenever the man attempted to regain control. Nothing to do with his intimacy with Wright, that's too speculative and meaningless, all things considered. And everything he has recorded is neatly tied into the Institutes failure to meet modern workplace standards, as well as all the financial oddities he'd found as a filing clerk. As primary sponsors, the Lukas reputation would likely take a hit if the Institute fell under fire and if Salesa's complaints were anything to go off of, it would open the family up to speculation and a long overdue investigation.

Needless to say, Peter Lukas withers under the threat of being exposed and Rosie will be incredibly happy with him come Monday.

He goes home with a spring in his step, an increased budget and just enough alcohol to tip him into the delightful realm of optimism.