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A door slammed, and Martin winced. He set the statements he’d been carrying on a nearby table, and looked up in time to see Jon storming down the corridor, scowl clouding his face. When he saw Martin his expression softened. Martin tried to ignore the thrill that ran through him at that. It didn’t mean anything. Jon was just being nice, was just glad to see someone who wasn’t Elias.

“Martin, what are you doing here?” Jon’s arms were crossed over his chest defensively, his shoulders hunched. Martin ached to give him a hug, but knew it wouldn’t be appreciated. So instead he reached for the statements he’d left on the small table and held them out to Jon.

“I thought these might help you. Everything we’ve found, looking for recent statements about the Stranger.”

Jon reached for them eagerly, plucking them from Martin’s grasp and paging through them. When he looked up, there was a small smile on his lips, and as absurd as it was, Martin’s heart fluttered. Just like some teen romance, the kind he’d read on the sly while pretending to like more normal things like horror and spy thrillers.

“Are you okay reading them on your own? I mean, if you need any help, just let me know.” The words tumbled from his mouth, and Jon’s brow furrowed. “I understand if you don’t want help, though, you’re the Archivist, and—”

Martin almost jumped out of his skin when Jon put a hand on his shoulder. Just resting there, fingers making only the barest dent in his jumper. Tentative, awkward, and very Jon. And it was more than Martin had ever hoped for.

“Martin, you should go home. Get some rest. Spend some time at, I don’t know, a park. Or go to a show.” Martin raised his eyebrows, and Jon let out a short laugh. “Or maybe not a show. Might hit a bit close to home.”

“A bit, yeah,” Martin said, offering a shaky smile. “I’ll think about it.”

“Good. That’s good.” Jon actually gave his shoulder a squeeze, and Martin desperately hoped he didn’t notice how Martin’s breath stuttered at the brief affection. Jon had enough to worry about, he didn’t need to concern himself with Martin’s silly crush. He watched Jon head towards his office, and hoped he wasn’t imagining that Jon’s steps seemed just a bit lighter, his back slightly straighter.

Then he continued on to Elias’s office.

Politeness ingrained by his mum in childhood made him knock, even though he knew it wasn’t necessary. Elias was watching him. After an explosive argument, they always had these meetings, and Elias never took his eye off the office door. Probably part of how he’d survived so long, and really, Martin couldn’t blame him. Couldn’t be a safe job.

But he was dithering, and his mum had always said he should work on that as well. He turned the knob with a quick twist, and closed the door behind him, sliding the lock into place. Elias might not want that, but so far he hadn’t complained. Locking the door gave Martin some small semblance of control. However false it was.

Elias didn’t even spare Martin a glance as he crossed the room as quietly as possible, afraid to disturb the oppressive silence that had settled in Jon’s wake. Should he take a seat, pretend this was a normal meeting? Sometimes it was, but from Jon’s state when he’d left, Martin didn’t think it was one of those times. And yet some part of him ached for that normality. Before he could think better of it, his fingers were wrapped around the back of the chair, over the deep notch where it looked like a knife had wedged into the wood. The scrape was deafening as he dragged it across the floor and sat down.

It was only then Elias looked up.

The spookiest thing about Elias was how ordinary he looked. Martin imagined Elias’s picture appeared in dictionary above the definition for middle-aged academic, and that very few would have noticed the odd darkness to his eyes, or the way he never seemed to blink quite enough. After all, Martin hadn’t seen it for the longest time. It was only when Elias had finally confessed to two murders that Martin realized everything about him was terribly wrong, constructed exactly for the purpose he served.

For the power they both served.

“You over think everything to calm your anxiety, but it’s only a temporary balm.” Elias’s bland observation was punctuated by the tape of his pen on the desk, and how he folded his hands as he looked at Martin. “You understand why you’re here.”

No, no, maybe this time—

“I just don’t see, I mean, I know this isn’t exactly a normal job, but it’s quite irregular.” Words he still couldn’t say catch in his throat. Like some childish magic, where if he ignored them, the monsters would go away.

“You did sign the contract, Martin.” Elias pushed the offending document across the desk, line upon line of neatly typed text with Martin’s signature splashed cleanly across the bottom. He didn’t take it. He knew what it said. “And while I certainly wouldn’t want to bring Jon into such a paltry dispute, as your direct supervisor—”

“No,” Martin said, cutting him off. He hated how small his voice sounded, and wished for a moment he were Tim, or Melanie, to yell back into Elias’s face. Not that it ever did them much good. Maybe it was better this way. “Please don’t.”

“Good. Because if the terms are violated, it won’t be you who suffers the consequences.” Jon’s name stood out starkly on the page, and not for the first time Martin wondered if Elias was lying. He wouldn’t dare hurt Jon, would he? Not when he was so important. But there was no way to be sure. He nodded. A faint shush of paper, and the contract was gone, safely ensconced in Elias’s top drawer.

“Perhaps it would help if I reminded you why you signed in the first place. What would you do for Jon?” Elias said it without inflection, like a question in a job interview, where if Martin got it wrong, he’s simply discard him, and choose another.

Martin answered without hesitation.


Elias sat back in his chair, his hands remaining on the desk. Watching Martin, like he always watched, but with an added air of triumph. He knew he’d won. And Martin couldn’t even hate him for it. He had signed the contract. And it was for Jon, after all.

“Please remove your clothing.” A crisp command with as little emotion as if he’d asked Martin to take note of an upcoming meeting.

“All of it?”

Elias inclined his head.

His hands trembled as he pulled the jumper over his head, followed by his undershirt, folding them neatly on the chair. Elias hated mess. His shoes, trousers and pants followed, joining the rest of the clothing. Through all of it Martin kept his gaze locked on the far wall. He’d even managed to stifle the involuntary gasp when his hand had brushed his already hard cock.

“Are our interludes that exciting?” Elias asked almost playfully. “Or was it meeting Jon in the hallway?”

Martin flushed with shame, and tried not to think of Jon, to imagine Jon in Elias’s place.

“Don’t worry,” Elias said. He leaned across the desk, as if letting Martin in on a secret, satisfied smile curved up his lips. “I want him too.”

“No.” The syllable escaped before he could stop it, a faint protest against a force he couldn’t even hope to fight. But maybe this was enough, Elias’s eyes locked on him. Maybe he’d be enough, so Elias would never have cause to turn these particular attentions on Jon.

“I want you to bring yourself to completion.” Clinical as always. It made the times he wasn’t worse.

Martin swallowed, nodded, and wrapped his hand around his cock.

After the first few strokes, he was forced to admit the friction was too much, and Elias offered nothing to help, nor gave any indication he intended to behind his steady, unwavering gaze. So with only a moment’s deliberation, Martin spat on his hand. Not really how he preferred it, but it’d have to do.

As he ran his hand over his length, he tried to think of nothing at all. Not Elias, and definitely not Jon. Because if he thought of Jon, then when he saw Jon next, this was what he’d remember, not the rare smiles or the fumbling attempts at kindness. He tightened his grip, twisting his wrist and increasing his pace. Tried to focus on the sheer physicality of it, not the emotion. The sooner he was done, the sooner Elias would hopefully let him go.

But it wasn’t working, this abstraction of pleasure, and Martin found his eyes drawn to Elias. His lips were slightly parted, and his fingers curled on his desk. Like there was something human in there after all, enjoying the sight of Martin for entirely human reasons. And Elias wasn’t unattractive. So was it really that bad, if Martin imagined for a moment it was Elias’s hand on his cock, his motions increasingly frantic? Better than the alternative. And Martin had always made the best of things.

He met Elias’s eyes. A shock ran through him, as if that was all he needed, sharp heat shooting down his cock, tightening his balls. He didn’t even try to stifle the quiet groan as he came onto the floor, then sagged against the chair, trying to catch his breath. The whole thing had been surreal, endless and over before he knew it. But it was done. He reached for his shirt.

“Our meeting hasn’t concluded, Martin.”

Owl silent Elias had stood and come around the desk, hand now pressing hard against the small of Martin’s back.

“Bend over,” he whispered in Martin ear, teeth catching on the shell.

Martin complied.

As Elias ran smooth fingers down Martin’s back, he tried not to shake. Before Elias had always let him go after he came, or simply asked Martin to suck him off then leave. But this was something else. What had Jon done?

The fingers reached the base of his spine, lingering along the curve of his arse. For some reason he’d thought Elias’s hands would be colder, but instead they were fever hot, and oddly wet. He must have missed Elias coating them with—something. He didn’t want to assume.

It was barely a surprise as Elias circled lower, lingering almost fondly before pressing a finger inside, followed quickly by another. Martin sucked in a desperate breath as Elias added another, and another. Too much, and too soon, skin stretched and oversensitive. The fingers twisted inside him, and Martin tried to pull away, but all that did was rub his cock against the desk, still aching from release. He whimpered, tried to protest. But Elias didn’t stop.

Instead his fingers found Martin’s prostate, and began a deliberate, slow massage, never letting up, never giving Martin the time he desperately needed to recover. He buried his face in the crook his elbow, and felt the hot liquid running down his arm. When had he started crying? Better Elias didn’t see, but that was stupid, wasn’t it? Elias saw everything. Martin’s fear, his shame, his devotion. Elias used it all.

“Do you like to imagine I’m Jon?” Elias was pressed against his side, the crisp jacket rubbing cruelly on his skin. “No, I don’t think you do. Too caught up in the naive belief that your selfish kindness matters. That Jon is a good person, who deserves your unswerving loyalty.” Martin was getting hard again. Too soon, the unerring pressure of Elias’s fingers sending shocks down his spine, to his cock, twitching against the desk. “But I do like to imagine you’re Jon. And you’re not as poor a substitute as I first feared.” Martin wanted more than anything to grind his cock against the desk, the pain of overstimulation now subsumed by his desire for release.

He gasped as he made contact with the wood, and yelped when Elias tugged him back with a bruising grip on one hip.

“Pretend I’m Jon.” The fingers dug in deeper, and Martin didn’t bother to bite back a moan. “Believe it, and you’ll find your release.”

“No,” Martin said. He shook but didn’t move as Elias plunged his fingers in and out, the lubricant worn off, leaving lines of burning pain in their way. “I can’t.”

“You would do anything for Jon, wouldn’t you?” His ministrations continued unabated, rubbing again in unhurried circles against Martin’s prostate, almost gentle if not for the shooting sensations his touch drew from Martin’s flesh. He couldn’t do it, because Jon would never do anything like this, no matter what Elias said. “Even if Jon were a monster.”

His heart hammered in his chest, and he still couldn’t hate Elias, not really. Not when he saw so much.

“Yes,” Martin said, voice cracking, tears running down his cheeks anew. “I would. Anything at all.”

“Then imagine,” Elias said, and his voice seemed to shift, the cadence changing, and no, no— “I am Jonathan Sims.”

His entire body tensed at the sound of the voice, the heat in his cock almost unbearable as he came again untouched, while Elias continued playing through it all, fingers twitching on all his strings.

Then Elias let him go.

Martin crumpled to the floor, tears still hot on his cheeks, but he didn’t even care anymore. He had to look, had to see. It was Elias, it had to be Elias. The room swam before him, vision clouded, and he wiped away the tears with a furious swipe of his arm, trying to see.

“Please clean up before you leave. I’d truly appreciate it.” His ears rang, and he heard the click of the door as it was shut again. Behind Elias. Jon had never been here. He took a steadying breath, wrapping his hand around the side of the desk to haul himself up. Elias had a toilet in his office. Useful, in times like these. So Martin could clean up. So Jon wouldn’t know. So Elias wouldn’t be furious at the mess.

Mind games, manipulation. Martin staggered into the small adjoining room and scrambled for the tap, splashing his face with water, trying to hide the tears and calm his beating heart.

“Better me than Jon,” he said. He hoped Elias heard. Perhaps even understood and agreed. Martin was not nearly as important, not as precious. Not Jon.

As he walked back into the office, wet rag clutched in his hand, he noticed Elias’s desk was no longer bare. Instead a piece of paper sat there, a single sentence upon it. At the bottom was Elias’s flourishing signature, alongside today’s date. Above it, a blank line.

Martin read the paper. No clauses, complications. None of the legalese of the document he’d signed two months ago. But what was the difference, really?

I will do anything for Jonathan Sims.

He signed without hesitation.