Jonah doesn’t know when he begins to suspect that something’s wrong.
It’s not an immediate cause for concern, not seeing Barnabas for a time. It’s not even uncommon; they’re both so often busy with their work, especially in the spring.
It’s just turned to April, and the weather’s warming. Barnabas will be working himself to the bone at his tailoring shop, and Jonah’s been taking statements from the backlog of people who refuse to travel in winter for weeks now.
It makes sense that they won’t cross paths for a few days. Even a week, perhaps.
But Jonah simply has a sense that something isn’t right about this particular time, though perhaps it’s just that he’s spent so long entwined with Barnabas that his absence aches like a lost tooth.
Then, Jonah passes Mordechai Lukas on the street, unwittingly meets his eyes, and Knows.
Jonah doesn’t sleep that night. He stays awake, knees hugged to his chest, blood dripping in a steady stream from his nose, as he forces his Watching Eyes to focus, to search.
There's no sign of Barnabas in his shop, in his house, at the Institute. Jonah can't widen his gaze any more than that, can't search the whole of London, but Jonah can't even find his shape, or any of the traces that people leave of themselves, in the places they’ve recently been.
He tries to delude himself for a while, that he can’t find Barnabas only because it’s beyond his skillset—too close to the Hunt for the Eye.
The denial lasts until he reaches the Institute the next morning, and there’s a letter on his desk, folded but unsealed, his name written on the outside in a familiar hand.
Jonah pours himself a glass of whiskey, fingers shaking, and drinks it as he reads.
In the silence afterwards, he throws his glass across the room. It shatters against the wall, and Jonah bites his lip to keep in a scream.
Jonah’s always known that he’ll have to kill Barnabas.
Barnabas is… a liability. He was a liability even before he started to hold Jonah back, making him question his burgeoning allegiance to the Eye. He simply knows too much. He’s too close, too fond, too likely to be an exception to Jonah’s rules.
Jonah’s always known, yes, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for it yet. He loves Barnabas, that’s why Barnabas is so dangerous to him, he doesn’t want to lose him, even though he must.
But he’ll never have another opportunity like this, he’s sure of it. If he saves Barnabas from this, he’ll just have to kill him later on, and Jonah knows he won’t be able to stomach it—if he is weak now, he’ll be weak then, and forever.
Jonah buries his face in his hands and lets himself sob, just for a moment, before he wipes the tears from his eyes and makes up his mind.
He’ll see what happens.
He retrieves a book of poetry from his shelf, slides the letter between two pages, and locks it in a drawer of his desk.
He’ll wait and see.
The worst thing is, no one seems to even notice.
Barnabas has been gone for ten days, by Jonah’s count. Ten days, and no one’s gone looking, no one’s asked about him, save for Jonathan, who takes Jonah’s helpless shrug as though it was answer enough, as though it doesn’t matter.
It does matter. It should matter. It infuriates him, that Barnabas is gone, and no one even cares. He wants to scream at the top of his lungs that something is wrong, that something crucial is missing, why doesn’t anyone see?
But Jonah wanted to see what would happen, and this is it.
A fortnight after Mordechai strands Barnabas in the Lonely, Jonah is lying with his head pillowed on Robert Smirke’s thigh, passing a pipe of opium back and forth.
Maybe it’s the drugs, or the late night, or the slow ache in his chest finally reaching a peak, but the next time the pipe leaves his fingers he asks, barely knowing why he says it, “Robert?”
“Hm?” Smirke replies, absently.
“You ought to hold a party. We haven’t had one in a while.”
There’s a reason for that. They’ve all grown apart from one another, no longer so young and careless as they used to be, no longer so malleable. Some have withdrawn. Some, like Jonah, have surged forward into servitude to one Entity or another.
There have been deaths, but not ones too close to home. When their circle learns that Barnabas is dead, a casualty of their curiosity, they will split—into the ones opposed to taking innocent lives, and the ones that see it as necessary.
Every time they reunite, they draw closer to the event horizon that will break what was once the strongest bond any of them had ever known.
But Robert hums to himself again, unaware, and says, “Yes, I suppose I ought.”
The party is held in Smirke’s townhouse, with only a few in attendance. Jonah, Robert himself, Jonathan Fanshawe, and Mordechai.
Mordechai, who cast Barnabas into the Lonely.
But it would be suspicious to ask that he not attend, so Jonah grits his teeth into a smile and doesn’t say a word.
He watches their reactions as he undresses. Smirke is appreciative, as he always is, Jonathan is cool and seemingly unaffected, though Jonah knows he is, and Mordechai…
Mordechai smiles at him.
Jonah’s stomach turns over.
Smirke mistakes his faltering smile for nervousness and tilts Jonah’s chin up, brushing a thumb across his lips. “It’s been some time, hasn’t it?” he murmurs, dipping his thumb into Jonah’s mouth for him to suckle on, childishly, as Mordechai unbuttons his trousers, and Jonathan buckles on his harness.
Jonah loses himself in the sensations as they descend on him—Mordechai’s thick fingers sliding between his folds, opening him up, scissoring. Smirke holding Jonah by the hair, pulling him flat onto his back on the settee, so that Jonathan, lacquered wooden cock between his still-clothed thighs, can leave deep, smarting bites down his neck.
Mordechai spears him open on his cock, and Jonah moans, loud and wanton, but his heart isn’t in it. He can only really feel where Barnabas would be—the ghosting of his hands across his stomach and chest, playing with the piercings in his nipples, smiling fondly the whole time.
He can feel Mordechai’s cold gaze, can see the smirk on his face without even looking.
Robert tugs him upward in one smooth motion, hand fisted at the roots of his hair to maneuver him without causing undue pain. Jonah lets himself be pressed into Mordechai’s chest, head half-turned to watch Jonathan suck bruises at each notch of his spine as he slicks his fingers with oil.
Jonah comes unexpectedly, with a whimper of a cry, when Jonathan’s finger pushes into his arse. He clenches around him for a moment, thighs trembling, then relaxes, feeling the press of penetration from both sides.
(Barnabas would stand behind Mordechai, hands on his broad shoulders like they belong there, and kiss Jonah, deep and sure and sweet.)
Jonathan moves from one finger to two, to three, and then the tip of his cock presses at Jonah’s hole.
Mordechai reaches between the press of their bodies to touch Jonah’s cock, and Jonah comes again, fluid spurting over Mordechai’s fingers and cock, and Barnabas would let up, would move his hand to Jonah’s hip, or his cheek, or his own mouth, but Mordechai…
Mordechai presses his fingers harder into Jonah’s cock, just as Jonathan sheaths himself in Jonah, chest pressed to Jonah’s back, and for some reason Jonah fixates on the buttons, pressing against his spine alongside the bruises, cold against his skin.
Barnabas carved buttons himself, when he had spare time. It was even more delicate than his sewing work, and more captivating—his strong, calloused hands holding an animal bone and a delicate carving tool, closer to a needle than a knife.
He hadn’t made them quickly enough to sell them, but he always used them on the garments he made for Jonah and Jonathan, a quiet declaration, as if the time he spent fitting their clothes to make a man’s shape from their soft bodies wasn’t enough.
As if the simple act of loving them didn’t bloom with dedication, with adoration.
Jonah begins to cry.
Robert strokes his hair back from his face and coos that he’s doing well, so well , darling boy, such a good boy, and Jonah can only feel the pressure of being penetrated, and Mordechai’s fingers grinding cruelly into his cock, and how wrong it all feels.
He knows he initiated this to comfort himself, that these sensations used to comfort him, to bear him aloft. He knows that when he used to cry when he was fucked it was because he was so overwhelmed with pleasure, and if it went deeper than that it was simply cathartic.
Barnabas would know the difference. Barnabas would see him weeping and squirming and would call a halt, but Barnabas isn’t there.
Jonah opens his eyes, intending to catch Robert’s gaze, but he finds Mordechai’s eyes first, icy and serious, and he’s sure they were blue once, but now they’ve been leached of color, drained to a dull grey.
There’s no warmth in them, even when Mordechai smiles, and Jonah cries and cries.
After a moment of eye contact, Mordechai lifts his free hand and cups the back of Jonah’s head, pulling him close to his chest.
Jonah hates himself as he clings to Mordechai’s half-open shirt, hates himself as he hides his face against his shoulder and sobs like a child, hates himself for seeking comfort for something he chose, something—
Something he Knows, suddenly, that Mordechai did as a favor for him.
He knows, too, that Mordechai is the only one who will ever know what happened to Barnabas. Jonah won’t tell Smirke, won’t tell Jonathan. He won’t tell anyone. The secret will stay between them, until they go to their graves.
Mordechai comes with a long groan and a convulsive shudder, one arm wrapped around Jonah, cradling him to his chest, and the other still pressed between Jonah’s thighs.
Jonah doesn’t know if he’s come again, just that he can’t stop shaking.
“Jonah?” Jonathan asks, as he pulls out, leaving Jonah feeling hollowed out. “Are you all right?”
“I think we overwhelmed him,” Robert says, as Mordechai lifts Jonah off his softening cock and settles him on the settee.
“We ought to have invited Barnabas,” Jonathan frets, thumbing across Jonah’s cheek.
It takes everything Jonah has, everything, not to scream. He forces it back so harshly that it stops the tears entirely. He blinks at Jonathan through the sticky haze of stoppered grief, waiting for him to notice, for him to see.
Jonathan kisses him sweetly. “There you are. Feeling better?”
Jonah nods, but Jonathan must see that it’s a lie, because his brow furrows, and he strokes Jonah’s cheek again.
“Maybe you should go home,” he says. “Rest. It doesn’t seem like you’re with us, and I wouldn’t want to continue if that’s true.”
Jonah’s too exhausted to argue.
Smirke presses a glass of water into his hands, and he drinks it, and then another, and eats grapes from Jonathan’s fingers, until they deem him fit to go.
He dresses himself, and allows Mordechai to take him in his carriage back to the townhouse that serves as both the Institute and his home. He allows Mordechai inside, inviting the monster willingly across the threshold, uncaring.
Mordechai fucks him, slow and very nearly sweet, on the rug in front of the fire, and Jonah cries without pause, breathing short and harsh through his nose, as Mordechai wrings two, three, five orgasms out of him before he comes himself, over Jonah’s belly.
There’s no tenderness in Mordechai’s touch as he hefts Jonah into a chair and cleans him up with a damp cloth. There’s no love to the way he counts ice cubes into a glass and pours what Jonah is distantly sure is an exact fifth of whiskey.
He doesn’t say a word as Jonah sobs like he's being torn apart, doesn’t say a word when the glass slips from Jonah’s numb fingers and shatters, only sweeps the glass and scattered ice into a pile and tosses the mess into the dying fire.
Doesn’t say a word when Jonah has to swallow, convulsively, repeatedly, to keep himself from begging Mordechai to bring Barnabas back to him.
He doesn’t say a word, but when Jonah wakes up the next morning, eyes puffy and chest aching and head clear as polished glass, he isn’t in the chair by the fire where he remembers crying until he couldn’t hold his head up any longer.
He’s tucked into his bed, and Mordechai is gone.
Barnabas is gone, too. He’ll stay gone, and Jonah will hold the secret of what happened to him in his mouth like a swallowed star, and he will See what happens when a man who was so certain he was loved is Forsaken.