There is not much that makes Peter Lukas feel ‘happy to be home’.
What greets him on the docks at 5:43 AM on a Tuesday morning is absolutely not turning the tide on this fact.
He does not see Elias first. He is not looking for the bastard, and he is incredibly unhappy to find there is a crowd, but the moment he decides to thin the fog he’s created he can tell that Elias is there. Waiting.
“Captain,” comes a voice from his ship; distant both on his and the crewmember’s parts.
“We seem to be being hailed.”
“Mn?” Peter allows, angling his head to focus in on the voice a touch. He doesn’t want to give the crewmember his full attention, not when the ship is brimming with chest-crushing isolation, but if Elias is up to something, he must sacrifice a small amount of attention to avoid losing the high so soon.
“J. Letters to follow,” the person says. “D-I-E. Rest. Message repeats. D-I-E. Message repeats.” The crewperson trails off for a moment. “Yeah,” they say with a touch of humour in their voice, “Message repeats. Message repeats…”
Peter scratches at his chin, allowing his fingers to comb through his beard. “Does he have a smug bastard smile, or is it more…” he makes his best recreation of a displeased Elias face, all knitted brow and petulant snarl.
“Uh,” the crewmember says, “I don’t… if you mean your husband-ex-husband, Captain, it’s not him who’s on the flags.”
The crewmember, who is slowly becoming distinct through the fog; nearly breaking through the haze to gain a solid outline, an expression, colour to their skin, a hairstyle— hands over her binoculars.
Peter takes a deep breath before he lifts them to his eyes, scanning the docks until he lands on the makeshift semaphore flags. It’s one of Elias’ archive rats, the one currently infused with fury. Melanie. She is still repeating her message, over and over, her actions mechanical and resigned.
Peter shifts his focus to her left. The Archivist is stood with one arm raised and waving, a pained grin painted on his face, the other clutching at the tacky costume-shop Naval-style school uniform he’s been dressed in. His loyal lapdog is beside him, dressed in the same and waving a straw hat with a slightly frantic smile.
To Melanie’s right is the wolf. How they managed to dress her in the same uniform is beyond Peter, though her crossed arms have seemingly ripped through the seams of her shirt so as to make it a sleeveless top, her muscle on proud display. Basira is beside Daisy. She, like Melanie, is not in costume, but holds a video camera towards the Tundra.
Peter is reticent to look directly at the resonant evil he can feel is behind these trussed-up dolls, but he knows that with Elias, it is often easier to get the pain over and done with.
The moment he turns the binoculars towards the horse-drawn cab stood behind the archival staff, the cabriolet door swings open and Tim is pushed out. Tim, also dressed in the ridiculous clothing stumbles but manages to save himself from a tumble. He sends a cursory glare back towards the cab before he sucks in a sigh, turns, and offers his hand to help Elias down.
He is, as expected, dressed as these children’s’ mournful mother, every inch decorated as a Regency-era Captain’s wife, be-wigged, frocked and complete with bonnet and shawl. Peter lowers the binoculars so he can pinch his brow, releasing a sigh so deep he practically evaporates into it.
By the time he’s cognizant enough to take a second look, Elias has joined his children on the dock, waving his handkerchief with such glee it’s almost toxic to look at. The Tundra is close enough now that he can see the befuddled look of hilarity on the crowd’s faces, several of them with their phones out, recording the strange group currently screaming Peter’s name with ‘welcome home’s and ‘ahoy’s.
And, because the crowd are sheep, the din only grows as these strangers join in on the ‘fun’, calling out to Peter to wish him well on his return. Peter can feel himself returning to humanity at an almost alarming clip, the attention causing pin-pricks of pain across his flesh.
He takes another, steadying breath, retreating a couple of steps away from the prow. He can hear Elias’s voice now, that ghastly drawl reaching its tendrils across the fog, calling out for the husband he has, apparently, pined for for years.
“Turn us around,” he orders, voice thinning in brewing panic. “Get us out of here.”
Now that [eye emoji] know u no what txting is, what r u wearing? [thinking face emoji] [eggplant emoji] [water drops emoji]
Received Tuesday 12:32
To Elias, Wouldn’t you like to know? From Peter Lukas
Sent Tuesday 12:36
[tick emoji] that’s literally y [eye emoji] asked?
Received Tuesday 12:38
To Elias, I don’t see how it is any of your business? Leave me be. From Peter Lukas
Sent Tuesday 13:41
[Gritted teeth emoji] Y do [eye emoji] even bother [upside down smile emoji] I’ll go elsewhere for a lunch break distraction
Received Tuesday 12:42
To Elias, I hope that you are happy. I asked a member of my crew why you would ask about my outfit today. They tell me that it is a sex thing. Is it a sex thing? Sincerely, your husband, Peter Lukas
Sent Tuesday 16:02
Dear Elias, I know that you always have your phone at hand. Is it a sex thing? Please answer. Sincerely, your husband, Peter Lukas
Sent Tuesday 16:12
Dearest Elias, I apologise that I did not realise it was a sex question. Yes I am somehow more ancient than you. I am wearing the coat you prefer. Please reply. Your doting husband, Peter Lukas
Sent Tuesday 18:05
Dearest Elias, Are you still upset? It has been a day. I am now wearing my captains hat and the longjohns you hate less. Are you wearing your sock garters? Yours in horny matrimony, your husband, Peter Lukas
Sent Wednesday 07:33
Elias, I hope you are so pleased with yourself. I had to speak to a member of my crew again today and they told me that you are ghosting me. After he explained what that was I did not send him to the Lonely in anger but for normal reasons. How dare you. If anyone in this relationship is doing ‘ghosting’ then it will be me! Ghosting commences now! From, Peter Lukas
Sent Wednesday 20:20
To Elias, What did you mean when you said you would go elsewhere for a distraction? From, Peter Lukas
Sent Wednesday 23:31
To Elias, Not that I care. From Peter Lukas
Sent Wednesday 23:39
To Elias, In fact I am glad, this is only fueling the Lonely! Not that I’m lonely and thinking about you sex messaging other people and telling them about those new heels. From Peter Lukas
Sent Thursday 07:45
To Elias, I am the one who paid for those heels if you recall! From Peter Lukas
Sent Thursday 09:00
[Call to ‘Elias Bitchard’ failed to connect Thursday 12:01]
[Call to ‘Elias Bitchard’ failed to connect Thursday 12:15]
Dear Elias, Pick up your phone! From Peter Lukas
Sent Thursday 14:22
[Call to ‘Elias Bitchard’ failed to connect 09:29]
[three cry laughing face emojis] O Peter, what a [kissing face emoji] little insight. No not this time, I [footsteps emoji] to hang around the archives and Melanie convinced [daisy emoji] to throw [butchers knife emoji] @ me, the scamp. Of course I [eye emoji] [brain emoji] so blocked it with my [phone emoji]. Martin took his [watch emoji] getting my # transferred [arrow emoji] this new device
Expect to receive a bill for that [stack of cash emoji]
Dear Elias, Not that I care. Your husband, Peter Lukas
[Cross emoji] that u care
Dear Elias, So. What are you wearing? Your doting husband, Peter Lukas
[eggplant emoji] [High heels emoji] [eggplant emoji] [peach emoji] [eggplant emoji]
[Call to Elias Bitchard, duration 48 minutes]
Jonah Magnus enjoys a donor ball more than many things in the world. The discomfort, the vileness he can invite within his walls, the charade of it all… it’s absolutely delicious.
Elias Bouchard revels in being able to display a husband, but he is thrilled to be able to display one who disassociates at the mere thought of being seen: pulled apart and investigated by every eye in the room.
Jonah ‘Elias Bouchard’ Magnus likes to stand in the middle of the room and to emphasise his words when he says “Oh Peter? Have I told everyone about how funny my husband is? You must talk to him, you simply must get to know my hilarious husband” while thinking check and mate over and over in Peter’s direction like the torrents of a river. “Japes and jests,” he says, even as polite conversationalists break off in order to find the man, “A man after my own heart, with his puns and his-”
Elias does not like it when, on finally distancing himself from well-wishers, he finds Peter distinctly not looking like he is in the fiery depths of his own personal hell.
He maintains a safe, shadowed distance from the man, who has introduced himself to the young Martin. They have yet to meet and the prospect excites Elias: of all those he’d like to set within Peter’s grasp, Martin is the ideal fodder.
“Hah,” Peter says, voice dripping with every modicum of lonely he can distill into it, “Yes, I am married to Elias.”
“How’s that, er… going for you?”
Peter breaks out a smile that could win awards, all pining maiden and wife-in-loveless-marriage. It sends thrills down Elias’s spine. It looks like it cracks Martin in two.
Elias smells recognition in Martin’s frown. Smells unreciprocated feelings and mournful love life and he cannot stop the grin from warping his face as Martin’s hand instantly comes to touch Peter’s forearm in solidarity.
Elias has to take a deep, adrenaline-filled breath to prevent himself from edging closer to the conversation, physically stopping himself from opening a third eye in public by bringing his champagne flute up to his lips and taking a long, calming sip.
Only, the touch does not seem to be repelling Peter. Peter seems to be leaning into it, his smile morphing into something akin to thankfulness. To kindred.
“I’m sorry to be a downer at a party like this, Martin,” Peter says, sounding almost like he means it. “Usually I love meeting Elias’s wonderful colleagues, but…” Peter lets out a wet little laugh, like he’s moments away from genuine emotion. “We’re in a bit of a rough spot right now, and… well, you can see how much fun he’s having.”
Elias is immediately pinned by Peter’s glance, Martin’s attention coming to glare directly through him, as if he’s being speared through. Elias cannot get rid of the grin splitting his face quite fast enough, and Martin turns his attention back to Peter with an alarming amount of real, palpable pity.
Elias finds a nearby swarm of guests and lodges himself within it, automatically churning through the conversation to ward some of the attention away from him.
Only, rather than fading into the crowd as he would rather do, a Watcher away from being Watched, he feels the eyes on him grow, Knowing without turning that Peter and Martin have been joined by Tim and Sasha.
Even Jon, when he arrives, drained and sated post-statement, joins the huddled group by the doors, and Elias feels a delightful little tingle as Jon flexes his powers to ‘keep an eye on’ Elias.
“Enough of my boring marriage problems,” Peter says, “Can I get anyone a top-up?” There’s a general shaking of heads before he bee-lines over towards the servers.
“Do you think he knows?” Sasha asks, voice dipping to a harried whisper.
“He’s got to, right?” Tim says, shoulders raised and defensive, every bit a cat on edge.
“No, no,” Martin says, adamantly not looking in Jon’s direction, “I really think he’s just. A normal guy. Like. He sounds really broken up that Elias is, and I quote ‘becoming more distant’.”
“He’s definitely in on it,” Tim says, shaking his head. “He’s married to Elias. The weirdo’s bizarre enough before being probably-evil.”
“Like you haven’t fucked weirder,” Sasha says.
“I definitely wouldn’t fuck someone with the name Bouchard.”
“He said,” Martin continues, “That ‘Elias used to be so kind’, and he, he said it with this… it was heartbreaking, like, it was a smile, but so sad, like I could see his whole heart shattering.”
“Just because you’re putting your own shit on him,” Tim says, not hiding a cool glance between Martin and Jon.
“Tim,” Sasha warns, Martin blustering and letting out offended ‘Now that’s not fair’s.
“Do we warn him?” Jon asks, obviously not understanding half the conversation but plowing through anyway. “That he should get away from Elias?”
“Hey Mr. Bouchard,” Tim says, pouring sickly sympathy into his voice. “We think you should divorce your husband because he’s maybe controlling supernatural horrors to make our very lives a living hell.”
“We could find their address,” Martin says, “Send some spousal abuse leaflets in a letter to him?”
“Yeah Martin, let’s doxx Elias to send him some junk mail.”
“It’s not doxxing, it’s…”
“It’s knowing where our boss lives because there’s no cybersecurity in this shithole workplace,” Sasha finishes for him. “But I don’t think it’s enough to save him, right? Unless we put the pressure on Elias instead.”
“Hey Double Boss, just wanted to check in after the party,” Tim says with a bright smile,
“Shouldn’t you divorce your husband since you’re literally evil and it’s not nice that you’re bullying an innocent old bear?”
“Yeah alright Tim,” Sasha says, “I’d love to hear your brilliant idea.”
“I still think he’s in on it.”
“Well I feel bad for him,” Martin says, defiant. “What do you think, Jon?”
“No harm keeping an eye out?”
“Wow,” Tim says, “Taking Martin’s side? What happened, Jon.”
“Alright Tim,” Sasha says, already dragging him away. “I think that’s enough of you today.”
Elias Bouchard does not like coming to the realisation that Peter has… disappeared. So focused had he been on watching his young archivists bicker amongst themselves, he had not chosen to watch Peter get himself a drink — which, in retrospect, was a rookie mistake.
Peter was likely halfway to the Tundra by this point, escaping both the party and his archivists’ attention. Elias clenched the flute just a little too hard, but kept the blank smile placed on his face. Peter would pay.
The next time the archivists meet Peter, it is the same time the next year. They have been joined by Melanie, Daisy and Basira, now, and they stand in a line at the back of the hall, resigned and exhausted and angry and Elias delights in it.
Peter has arrived with a black eye, already turning on his ‘woe is me’ waterworks, but Elias is prepared this year. He will not allow the same ruse to best him twice.
“Lukas!” he calls across the hall, feeling every eye snap to him, then to his suddenly-frozen husband. Elias swoops on Peter, already dipping a handkerchief into his glass. “Jesus Christ, darling, how on earth did this happen?” Elias dabs at the eye with a dainty press, his other hand curling protectively around Peter’s arm.
“Lukas?” he hears Tim say. “Thought his name was Peter-”
Elias’s heart thumps as the knowledge comes together within the archivists, the seven of them reaching the same conclusion with delicious synchronicity.
Martin’s disappointment tastes bitter and rancid and Elias bites his lip to stop himself from soaking himself in Tim’s “no, Tim, listen to us, the evil bastard’s husband is being bullied, you’re just mean.”
“Did you know he was Peter fucking Lukas?” Sasha snaps back.
“I should have… I should have seen,” Jon is saying, and Elias can’t watch them directly or it’ll all be too much for his delicate constitution.
“So in summary, evil Elias’s husband is equally the worst?” Basira says.
“You weren’t there okay,” Martin says, “He played with our emotions. I was worried about him.”
“Worried about evil-Elias’-evil-husband.”
“Because evil people can’t be evil to their spouses?” Martin shoots back, and the line of archivists goes bitter and silent.
Elias switches his attention back to Peter. “I walked into a door,” Peter says, letting nothing into his voice, now that his plan has been foiled. Elias can almost see the neurons in Peter’s brain firing as he furiously attempts to plan his way out of the new sets of attention he has found himself ensnared in.
“Hah,” Tim says, “We played this round of people last year, Sash. Remember? Fuck, Marry, Kill — Elias, a Lukas or Leitner.”
“They’re right there,” Sasha says, a mix of mortification and glee.
“Fuck Leitner for the thrill, marry a Lukas for the money and kill Elias because obviously,” Tim says, fondness in his voice. “I seem to remember you wanting to fuck—”
Peter appears in front of the archivists while Elias is distracted in delighting in Sasha’s terror.
“Hello,” Peter says, simply.
The archivists watch him, warily, before greeting him with a smattering of ‘uh, hi’s.
“Elias Bouchard has a daddy kink.”
Martin full-on spits out his drink, Tim releasing a small “What the fuck—”
Elias is on the group immediately, eyes glinting sharp at Peter. “I see you’ve met my husband!”
“The Institute isn’t the only Head he’s talented with.”
“Grammatically incorrect, Peter-”
“Get it? Because he gives me head-”
“Oh God,” Elias hears faintly, followed by a very distressed “What is happening?”
Elias’s smile stretches thin and icy. “Peter, you have a kink for me calling you daddy.”
“Elias has a voyeurism kink.”
“Peter gets off on me finding him at atms and forcing him to empty his bank account.”
There is a soft, pained sound that is distinctly Jon-flavoured.
“Elias lets me tie him up and leave him for hours.”
“Peter let me set up an entire room of mirrors.”
“I need to,” someone says, “There’s something important that I need to uh-”
“Elias wears the heeled boots I buy him and I pay him to step on me.”
“Peter takes me to expensive boutiques and fucks me in the changing rooms where other customers can hear.”
There’s the sound of a muffled fight, of several people attempting to hold someone back. “Let me go- get the fuck off me Daisy, it’s worth it, it’s worth dying to kill the bastards-”
“We shotgun expensive cigarettes together.”
“We sometimes both ignore our responsibilities and take each other for an entire long weekend away to properly indulge.”
“Fucking white people,” Basira’s voice says distantly, “They always fucking end up like this-”
“I like it when your hands are around my neck because I know you would never take my last breath,” Elias says, fingers in Peter’s beard now, Peter’s arms locking around Elias’s waist.
“I don’t mind when your eyes are on me. I know you enjoy the challenge of taking me apart without using your power.”
“I don’t mind when you leave because I know you’ll always come crawling back.”
“I leave cracks in the Lonely for you. I know you never look as hard as you could. I know you don’t abuse your power on me like you say you will. Having you miss me, knowing that you want to See me, to see me. That we share that. Together.”
“I'll never Know you enough.”
Jon’s lungs are, to put it lightly, burning.
Martin props him up in a kitchenette chair, using a wad of scrap paper to alternate between fanning himself and Jon.
The others scramble to collapse into what few chairs they have, musical-chairs style, the others letting the kitchen counters take their weight.
They’d run, as a team, faster and more cohesively than they’d performed before.
There is a horrified silence for a good, long moment, nobody quite daring to meet the eye of any other.
“Maybe…” Daisy clears her throat as the archivists surrounding her turn to her like moths collecting around a flame. “They were messing with us, right?”
“I hope so because if not I need a bucket of bleach—”
“No,” Jon says, faintly.
“Is it too early to carve my eyes out?” Melanie asks, “Would that delete the images?”
“No,” Jon repeats. There is more despair in his voice than they’ve heard in a good, long while.
“They’re obviously messing with us,” Tim says, almost-jovially. “Evil boss and his husband? Yeah. Messing with us.”
Sasha’s grin is fixed in a waxy mask as she stares, sightless at the wall.
“Pretty specific,” Basira says, one arm still on Melanie to keep her down. “To be messing with us.”
“It’s,” Jon manages to say, hand in a crushing grip on Martin’s arm. “It was all. The Eye. It. It told me. It was all…” He shudders. “They were not making anything up as a performance for us.”
He lets the thought disperse through the room like a bad smell.
“So do they… you know. Like each other?” Daisy asks.
Tim stands, letting out a distressed “Who! Cares!”
“Why would they stay together when they don’t even like each other?”
“Because it gets them off,” Basira says, “Weren’t you listening?”
“Sounds unhealthy,” Daisy says.
“Evil!” Tim says. “Because they’re evil bastard men!”
“Hey,” Sasha says, some humanity returning to her expression. “Maybe this is a good thing. Distracts them from doing that shit to us.”
“Destroy each other, horrible men?”
“I mean,” Sasha says, “At least it's consensual?”
“Is…” the group once again turns to Jon. “Is that… going to happen to me? Will that become my kink?”
“Which part-” Melanie starts to say, but Daisy clamps a hand over her mouth.
Jon slowly turns to Martin with more fear than any human has ever produced. “Martin, I … I need you to tell me now that no matter what, you will kill me—”
“Jon!” Martin says, cutting him off. “That’s not going to happen—”
“Please, Martin,” Jon continues, desperation building. “I swear to you, voyeurism is not and has never been my kink, the moment I exhibit any form of—”
There’s a short yelp as Melanie bites Daisy’s hand to release her. “Daisy if you don’t make it stop I will—”
The archive staff arrive to work on one late spring day to find a plastic-wrapped uniform on each desk.
There’s a nervousness they share as they cautiously unwrap them, Basira pulling on rubber gloves before even deigning to touch the packets.
“Sailor uniforms,” Melanie says, voice thick with disgust.
“This is a kink thing right,” Tim says, putting the white shirt against his chest and finding it tailored to his measurements.
Martin glances at Jon, whose eyes have glossed over. When he comes back to himself, he looks not-quite horrified.
“I don’t… It doesn’t seem kink-adjacent. Elias just thinks it will be… funny.”
“Elias does think it will be funny!” Elias says, beaming from the doorway. “You should all find a note attached!”
When nobody moves to find said note, Elias only smiles wider. “No worries, I can deliver the message, as one might say, orally.”
There’s a smattering of eye-rolling and feigned-gagging that Elias speaks over. “You are cordially invited to the vow renewal of Peter and Elias, upon Peter’s proud return from his expedition upon the Tundra. I would like you all to be my flower children.”
“No,” Melanie says.
“Yeah, no, uh, thanks,” Martin echoes, pushing the costume away from him.
“Why sailor cosplay anyway?” Daisy asks, nose wrinkling as she picks up a pair of white and navy shorts.
“I’m glad you asked, Daisy! My dearest husband arrives in London at the asscrack of dawn tomorrow and I wish to make his arrival out of the Lonely to be horrible. You will all stand on the docks waving at him, and he will hate it.”
“Look, Basira, there’s even a custom-made headscarf for you!”
“Great, I was looking for tinder to help start burn this building down.”
“Listen, gang,” Elias says, with faux plea in his voice-
“No,” Tim says. “How did you even get my measurements— no, wait, I don’t want to know you creepy old fuck.”
“If you come I’ll let you ask me any one question and I’ll answer it truthfully.”
“Fine,” Jon says. “I’ll go.”
“Uh, uh, uh! All of you or it doesn’t count.”
“No,” Melanie says. “I cannot stress this enough. No.”
“I will allow 2 of you not to wear the costumes.”
“Religious reasons,” Basira says immediately.
“Any question, answered truthfully.”
“Melanie,” Daisy says, voice kind. “We could use the information.”
Elias’s smile spreads. “I just want you all to know that I could make you. I could make Jon make you.”
There is a lot that makes Elias happy.
Standing on a dock at 5:43 AM on a Tuesday morning is absolutely one of these things.