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Primum non nocere

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Jonah takes to bruises well. He marks like a painting, mottled purple and yellow and green seeping over his skin like spilled ink, freckles sprayed over his shoulders between the blue-black imprints of teeth, the starburst of broken capillaries where a smack from a firm hand has pulled blood up against the skin. He wears damage beautifully, and for all that he is bird-boned and fine-featured, Jonathan knows that he is far more resilient than he looks - that for each bruise or graze or mark on him, he likely begged for twice as many.

As a doctor, he knows that the bruises are superficial, that they will fade and heal within days and leave Jonah perfect and unmarked again, no doubt impatient to be marked all over again. As a lover, he is hard-pressed not to feel concerned when he runs his finger down Jonah’s spine to the cleft of his arse and eyes the welts left against his backside by something wide and firm - a belt, perhaps? A strap? The bruising is mainly at the edges of wherever the implement fell, purpling and sore-looking, and Jonah shivers when Jonathan trails his fingertips over them, goosebumps rushing away from Jonathan’s stroking hand.

“Mordechai’s doing?” Jonathan asks softly and Jonah hums, pressing his cheek against the pillow he’s made of his folded arms, stretched luxuriantly on his stomach on the sofa in Jonathan’s front room. It’s serviceable, hardly opulent, but Jonah nuzzles against the fabric like it’s velvet. Most things end up looking more opulent with Jonah upon them. He elevates company, he elevates fittings and furnishings and clothes, even while he drags them all down to depravity with him.

“He took issue with my deportment,” Jonah murmurs with a conspiratorial glance over his shoulder, grinning like it’s something to be proud of. Maybe, for him, it is. He takes inordinate pleasure in trying to pull reactions from Mordechai, and for the life of him Jonathan can’t parse why. The man is stoic and steadfast, and the most Jonathan has seen Jonah accomplish is a brief curl of Mordechai’s lips, followed by recompense sufficient to have Jonah begging and crying before long. It seems that sometimes Jonah likes playing games that he knows he can’t win.

Jonathan brushes his thumb over the edge of one bruise and imagines Jonah bent over a chair or a desk or a bed, being lectured in steady terms on his deportment, his posture, the straightness of his spine when he kneels. There is no doubt that whatever this was, Jonah asked for it, Jonah bore it and Jonah will no doubt ask for it again. There are safeguards and protocols, words and gestures and ways in which Jonah can request a reprieve or a stop, can prod at the boundaries of his own fortitude without being pushed too far. Nonetheless, the bruises look sore.

“Perhaps,” Jonathan says, feeling distant from the words as they leave him, “I take issue with his.”

He can feel the muscles of Jonah’s thigh go tense under his palm when he smooths it down his leg, drawing a little circle with one fingertip at the ticklish back of his knee. Jonah doesn’t jerk away like he normally would; he has remarkable self-control, when he chooses to exercise it.

“Do you?” Jonah sounds supremely unconcerned, but his legs are still tense against Jonathan’s hand.

Jonathan mulls it over, balancing cerebral pragmatism with the emotional urge not to see Jonah hurt, counter-balancing all of that with the thrill that goes through him at imagining the sounds Jonah must have made when the strap fell, arching his spine and lifting himself onto his toes, forehead pressed to a yielding cushion or an unforgiving bed, hands clinging to the edge, perhaps, or perhaps tied behind him, or perhaps held firmly by the wrist in one of Mordechai’s broad hands.

As a healer, the only satisfaction in seeing bruises like this ought to be in soothing them, in salves and tinctures that will drain soreness and aid the recovery. He ought not to be curious about the rush of blood under skin, about the cries and gasps a body makes when it’s pushed far past what the mind can properly process.

“Jonathan?” Jonah’s leg does move, then, prodding him gently in the ribs as Jonah turns onto his side, balancing himself gingerly so as not to put too much pressure on the bruises. “What is it?”

“I’m not sure,” he replies, lifting his eyes briefly to meet Jonah’s searching gaze, dropping them again. “I am - trying to imagine, I think, how it is you can possibly enjoy that.”

“Is that all?” Jonah laughs, pushing himself upright and padding across the room to retrieve a decanter and a glass, pouring himself a drink. His gait is a little stiff-legged and Jonathan pulls his eyes away again, sitting down on the sofa and listening to the rustle of fabric as Jonah pulls his discarded shirt from the floor, tugging it over his head with a sigh. It’s Barnabas’, Jonathan thinks, too large for Jonah, loose at his shoulders and reaching midway down his thighs. “I’m sure Mordechai would be thrilled to give you a demonstration.”

Jonathan’s lip curls instinctively and he shakes his head. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary.”

“No?” Jonathan can see Jonah’s silhouette against the floorboards, the way he tilts his head as he stares at Jonathan, eyes bearing into the top of his skull. “Why does it matter, then? Isn’t it enough that I do enjoy it?”

“You enjoy an awful lot of things that aren’t advisable,” Jonathan says dryly, and hears an exasperated sigh dragged from Jonah’s chest, the clink as he sets his glass down again a little too hard.

“Oh, I see. This is out of concern for my wellbeing, is it? Are you going to demand Mordechai meet you with pistols at dawn for fucking me as I asked him to?” Jonathan doesn’t need to look up, he can imagine the expression on Jonah’s face well enough, the pinch at his brow and the curl of his lips, derision and irritation all at once. “Frankly, Jonathan, I don’t see that it’s any of your business.”

“Don’t you? As your doctor, if not your friend?”

“There are lots of doctors in London.” It’s blunt and cold, the snap of Jonah’s tongue against the syllables pricking Jonathan like a bee-sting, slamming a trapdoor shut on the discussion. Jonah pulls on his trousers, hissing in a breath through his teeth as the tight fabric no doubt aggravates the welts lying beneath, and Jonathan loathes it, loathes how much he wants to hear it again.

“I don’t mean to offend you,” he ventures slowly and Jonah scoffs, lacing his shirt and pulling a waistcoat over the top, taking his gloves from the pocket to pull them on as well.

“Don’t mistake being my doctor for being my keeper, Jonathan,” he snaps. “I assure you I’m wholly capable of deciding what I enjoy and what I don’t, and none of it is any concern of yours.”

“I’m only trying to understand-”

“Why? Why should you need to? What occurs between myself and Mordechai is our business. If you’re going to start getting grand ideas about defending my honour from him I’ll wash my hands of you, I swear it. I have no interest in being beholden to anybody’s ideals about how I should or should not behave.”

“Except when Mordechai takes issue with your deportment?” Jonathan asks, unable to help himself, and Jonah fixes him with a long, steady look from where he’s knelt on the floor, fingers stilled on the laces of his boots.

“Except when I allow Mordechai to do as much.”

“He hurts you.”

“Yes. As much as I want him to.”

“And you-”

Yes, Jonathan, and I like it. And I don’t care to hear your thoughts on whether or not I ought to. Treat the marks, if it makes you feel better about it, and if you can’t bear to, then I’ll find somebody else who will.”

Jonathan frowns, feeling a strange tangled knot of conflicting feelings lodge itself firmly in his throat while he watches Jonah fiddle with his cufflinks and pull his coat on, everything drawn close enough that Jonah will be decent for the cab ride home without any undue speculation.

“Alright,” he says finally. Better, surely, to let the matter slide until he is able to articulate his feelings properly to himself. Jonah has a horror of being owned or coddled or condescended to, and Jonathan is unwilling to risk the end of their acquaintance for the sake of an argument in which he cannot yet properly partake. “Alright. I apologise.”

Jonah’s shoulders relax visibly and he nods as he finishes buttoning his coat, letting Jonathan stand and approach him.

“Forgive me,” Jonathan sighs, catching Jonah’s hand and giving his fingers a quick squeeze. “I- I find it hard to see you hurt.”

“I know,” Jonah says simply, looking up at Jonathan, “I just don’t think it’s for quite the reasons you seem to think.” Jonathan opens his mouth to ask him what on earth he means by that, but before he has the chance Jonah pulls away to take his leave. “Talk to Barnabas, if you like,” he throws over his shoulder, “he might have encountered a similar conflict, though he was never foolish enough to voice it.”

And with that stinging comment off he goes, leaving Jonathan staring at his own front door, hand clenching and unclenching at his side.

- * - * - * -

Jonathan doesn’t intend to speak to Barnabas about the matter. Discussing Jonah’s activities with another person, even with arguably the closest of Jonah’s companions, feels like a betrayal. The line separating Jonah his patient from Jonah his friend is tenuous and fragile, and Jonathan is deeply wary of overstepping, not least because Jonah has already made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t consider his friendship or his services indispensable.

And, perhaps, nor should he. Jonathan has never liked the idea of being so dependent on another person that he couldn’t cut his ties if need be; he ought to be grateful to Jonah for reasserting that distance between them, the potential for them to go their separate ways. It’s healthy. It’s practical.

It stings anyway, of course, but some medicines are bitter and need to be swallowed regardless.

When he looks at Barnabas, he sees a man who has fallen thoroughly into Jonah’s sway, who will travel in the eddies and currents that he creates in society even if he encounters Scylla and Charybdis on the way. It cannot be wise to hand over one’s affections so freely, but Barnabas is sincere and earnest, so much so that Jonathan finds himself almost admiring the trust he places in Jonah, to cradle his heart in his palms or crush it beneath his heel. Perhaps there is some strength in allowing such weakness. Perhaps it is just foolishness after all, and Jonathan is almost as naive as Barnabas.

Either way, he finds him charming, easy company, and at the next of Smirke’s gatherings Jonathan settles himself by the fire next to Barnabas and tops up his glass of wine, watching Robert and Jonah debate something in excitable terms and, as far as Jonathan can tell, a mixture of English and German.

“Every time I’m invited to one of these I come expecting one thing and find something else entirely,” Barnabas says dryly, leaning sideways to bump his shoulder gently against Jonathan’s. “Jonah’s been on a knife-edge all day expecting some manner of debauchery and instead it seems that he and Robert won’t rest until they’ve proved Wittgenstein right or consigned him to the scrap-heap for all eternity.”

“What did you expect the first time?” Jonathan murmurs, and Barnabas laughs.

“Oh, I didn’t know what to think. Jonah dragged me along talking about scholars and academics and philosophers, and I thought I’d spend the evening surrounded by high-minded wordy types. And - well, I suppose I was. They just weren’t talking half as much as they were-”

“Yes, I see,” Jonathan interjects with a sigh, sipping his wine. “Well, I suppose there’s no law saying that one can’t be prolix and prurient all at once.”

“Giovanni’s certainly that. Long-winded and lecherous,” Barnabas says cheerfully. “Discursive and depraved. Convoluted and, ah-”

“Concupiscent?”

Quite.” Barnabas grins. “And Robert picks the strangest times to start babbling about philosophy, really. I’m convinced he saves his most outlandish theories for when Jonah’s tangled in enough rope that he can’t break out and throttle him himself.”

Jonathan smiles thinly and takes another sip of wine, watching Jonah lean forward intently to listen to Robert’s latest set of what sounds like quotations, quite obviously waiting for a trip of the tongue, a flaw in his logic on which he can pounce.

“Look at him,” Barnabas sighs, amused and exasperated all at once. “I was always taught that the essence of philosophy was in understanding that there are no real answers to be had, but nobility and dignity in the process of trying to find them anyway. I think Robert and Jonah might come to blows over it, sometimes, scrapping like children over things that can’t be answered.”

“The only way in which I’ve seen some of you come to blows with Jonah is when he can’t hit back,” Jonathan murmurs, feels Barnabas pull away and turn a surprised expression on him.

“Oh- well, that’s not the same thing at all.”

“Isn’t it?” Jonathan’s eyes are still on Jonah, the way his hands move as he illustrates his argument, graceful little arcs like a conductor. “Sometimes you’re downright vicious with him. Mordechai especially.”

Barnabas opens his mouth and closes it again, brushing his thumb over a loose silver thread on his waistcoat. Jonathan thinks he’s seen that embroidery before, somewhere else, shimmering silver on dove-grey.

“Is it that you wish we were gentler with him?” he asks eventually, soft and probing. “Or that you wish he liked it more when we were? You know that most of this is at his behest.”

“Yes. I know.” He does know that, intellectually, reasonably, he knows that Jonah goes out to press his limits as if by pushing past the limits of what a human body he can take he’ll prove something to somebody, to himself perhaps. “He seems determined to break himself.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Barnabas sighs. “I don’t think it’s self-destruction. It looks like it, perhaps, but I don’t think it has much to do with his body at all.”

“Then it’s a cerebral exercise?”

“Maybe. He seems much calmer afterwards. And there’s a trust in it, too - he knows that he can ask for what it is he wants from us, and knows that we’ll give it to him, and that we’ll not think any less of him afterwards. Haven’t you ever wanted anything that most people wouldn’t understand?”

“I think most of us in this room fit that particular definition,” Jonathan says slowly.

“Well, then. For whatever reason, sometimes Jonah wants to be hurt. Sometimes he wants to be hurt in a way that I can’t accommodate, and then he goes to Mordechai, or to whomever else, and if he wants somebody to be sweet to him, then I’m here.”

“And you don’t mind that?”

“That he’s honest about what he wants? Not really. Mordechai jokes about him being insatiable, but I don’t think there’s any one man that could satisfy him wholly.”

“And you don’t mind that?” Jonathan laughs, incredulous at the idea that Barnabas Bennett, the man who trails after Jonah wherever he goes, is so au fait with not being enough for him. He pulls his eyes away from Jonah, and for the first time he and Barnabas are looking at one another, not at him. Barnabas’ face is open and earnest, his curls falling loose from where they’ve been combed into place, his cuff stained with a droplet of wine that’s got away from him somewhere. Jonathan doesn’t think he has a single duplicitous bone in him.

“I don’t.” Barnabas smiles, bright and sincere. “I really don’t. I’d far rather he seek out what he needs than linger by my side alone and resent me for my insufficiencies. I don’t want him to sacrifice anything for my sake, it’s not necessary.”

Jonathan shakes his head, taking another sip of wine and wondering at the whole-hearted devotion of a man who feels himself inadequate. “He’s very lucky to have you,” he says finally, and hopes with all his soul that Jonah knows it.

“Don’t look so down. If you don’t want to hurt him, then don’t hurt him,” Barnabas replies, setting his hand delicately against Jonathan’s shoulder. “You can tend to him afterwards and do whatever mystical things have him rushing back to your side whenever you have an appointment available.”

“I’m not- I don’t-” Jonathan frowns, setting his glass down. “I don’t think that that’s the problem.”

“Oh?” Barnabas blinks, momentarily taken-aback, and then smiles once more. “Well, doctor, then the only thing to do is experiment, and judge the results accordingly.”

“Which results?” Jonah approaches with his hands in his pockets, raising an eyebrow at the two of them. “What’s the topic at hand?”

“You, of course,” Barnabas grins, reaching out for Jonah until he settles himself comfortably in his lap, pressing a fond kiss to his forehead.

“Just as it should be. Any aspect in particular?”

“Oh, is this the game we’re playing? Shall we list your favourable aspects and your unfavourable ones? One’s a much longer list, but I think I shall let you guess at where the balance lies.”

Barnabas is remarkably good at deflection, catching Jonah’s attention and drawing it elsewhere like a magic trick. Jonathan watches the smile bloom over Jonah’s face, all warmth and affection, and goes back to his wine.

- * - * - * -

“This is no place for a doctor, surely.” Mordechai’s voice is unmistakable even through the roar of a thunderous crowd, thrumming up Jonathan’s spine and drawing his shoulders up.

“I think it’s precisely the place for a doctor,” he replies tightly. “Can I help you, Mr Lukas?”

“I’m not one of your walking wounded.”

“A spectator, then?”

Mordechai chuckles. “Not today.” Jonathan turns, then, to see Mordechai stripped to the waist, a coat slung over his bare shoulders, sweat glistening in his chest hair and a peculiar twinkle in his eyes.

“Ah. I didn’t take you for a pugilist,” Jonathan says slowly, listening to the roar of the crowd as some other young hopeful is struck down in the ring. Another bruise, another set of broken bones for him to tend. He imagines the crunch of bone against his fist, the visceral brutality of it, and barely suppresses a shudder of distaste.

“Did you not?” Mordechai raises his eyebrows. “Ah, yes - you think I fight only against those who won’t hit back, isn’t that right?” Jonathan flushes, startled and embarrassed to have his own words parroted back to him, and Mordechai shakes his head. “Never fear, Dr Fanshawe, I can take a hit just as well as I give one.”

Jonathan stares at Mordechai for a moment, the easy set of his shoulders, the condescending tilt of his head, and turns away with pursed lips. “Good luck in your bout, Lukas. I’m sure if all goes well, there’ll be no need for you to end up back here.”

Here being the makeshift area cordoned off for those in need of treatment. Jonathan takes no pleasure in offering his services here where men and women alike seem determined to pound each other senseless in bare-knuckle bouts, but the money is easy and the injuries usually simple enough, cuts and bruises. And better him than that they have no doctor here at all, on those occasions where someone really is seriously injured.

The crowd is rowdy, as is the norm at these events, butchers and labourers rubbing shoulders with nobility in the throng, roaring and jeering at each blow, at every swing and every miss, the sound of punches landed drowned out by cheers and the fast-paced jabbering of bookies hustling for bets, money changing hands, enterprising people selling spiced wine and sweetmeats, the smell of sweat and dirt and blood in the air. Jonathan bends his head to his work, applying salves and packed-ice, splinting wrists and tending to bruises as each patient is brought through for his care.

Mordechai returns under his own steam but on shakier legs, jaw set stoically as he sits down on the wooden stool to which Jonathan gestures.

“Did you win?” Jonathan asks, washing his hands in the basin of water he’s sent for. “I haven’t seen your opponent.”

He can feel Mordechai’s eyes on the back of his neck, a shift of fabric as he adjusts his weight. “Your care won’t do him much good now.”

Jonathan turns sharply, eyes wide, and Mordechai laughs, the sound unexpected and jarring, like a glass being broken, like some ancient monument crumbling to the ground beneath. “Oh, come now. You think I’d beat a man to death in broad daylight without anybody intervening? Or perhaps you think I’m just monstrous enough to slay him with a single punch? No, doctor, I lost. Nothing more nefarious than that.”

“You’re treating this with remarkable levity,” Jonathan mutters, dragging his eyes over Mordechai. There’s a bruise blossoming against his cheekbone and his arm is hanging at a strange angle, the skin around it swollen with a strange lump where the bone protrudes. A dislocation, then.

“I suppose I am,” Mordechai agrees. “Jonah must have painted quite a picture of my misdeeds to have you mistrust me so.”

“No, that isn’t it,” Jonathan sighs. He can’t in good conscience allow Mordechai to think Jonah’s been slandering him behind his back, no matter how much he doesn’t wish to have this conversation. “I’m just privy to the effects of your- your ministrations.”

“Mmhm.” Mordechai lifts his uninjured shoulder in a shrug, accepting the bottle that Jonathan hands him and taking a long, deep swig. “You’ve never met somebody who enjoys pain before?”

Jonathan doesn’t reply for a moment, feeling gently around Mordechai’s injured shoulder, listening for soft grunts and hisses of pain. “Do you?” he says finally, and Mordechai chuckles.

“I can’t say this sort is doing much for me.”

Jonathan huffs, and Mordechai glances over his shoulder, eyebrow raised. “Seems to me that you don’t mind because it’s pain. You mind because it’s Jonah. I wonder, if I came to you with similar injuries, would you feel so inclined to jump to my defence?”

“I don’t think he’s fragile, if that’s what you mean.”

“Don’t you,” Mordechai murmurs, doubt laced through both syllables, and Jonathan scowls.

“Eyes front, Mr Lukas. Breathe in,” he instructs tightly, lifting Mordechai’s muscled arm and taking rather too much satisfaction in his yelp as he pushes his shoulder back into place. Mordechai tests it gingerly, flexing his fingers and rolling his shoulder back, grunting to himself as he tries to rub some of the soreness away.

“I’ll have that bottle back, if you don’t mind,” Jonathan adds, and Mordechai rolls his eyes.

“Your bedside manner needs work. You enjoyed that far too much.”

It’s unwise to blur the lines between a patient and anything else. But it seems that some lines, once crossed, only become easier to breach. Jonathan turns his eyes back to his equipment in silence and fancies he can hear Mordechai’s smile spreading across his face, the soft sound of his lips parting, his teeth pressed together in a grin.

“Ah- so that’s it,” he says softly. “Does Jonah know that you want to hurt him as much as I do?”

Jonathan straightens his spine, turning a cold look on Mordechai and watching him shrug it off. “I have other patients to attend to, Mr Lukas.”

“Of course.” Mordechai rises to his feet, towering over Jonathan who tilts his chin up and puts his shoulders back, feet firmly planted like he might throw a punch himself. “If it’s advice you want, you know where to find me.”

There’s something in his face that Jonathan can’t quite work out there, a sort of excitement running parallel to smugness. I can take a hit just as well as I can give one. Jonathan can’t deny that the urge to bring Mordechai down a peg or two is powerful, the idea of reducing Mordechai - in all his power, his strength, his confidence - to something baser, someone beholden to Jonathan’s mercy, to his ability to hurt him - or not - as he chooses...

Jonathan waits for the last of his patients to come through, and then returns home. He has some reading to do.

- * - * - * -

Jonah’s bruises have more or less faded when he next returns to Jonathan’s house, his neck and shoulders pale and unmarked again. Jonathan settles in the armchair in front of a fire and has Jonah sit between his legs, running a comb carefully through his hair. Jonah tilts his head back into his hands and closes his eyes, the two of them sitting in comfortable, companionable silence while the fire crackles and spits.

“What is it you like about being hurt?” Jonathan asks finally, watching a frown travel like a cloud over Jonah’s face before his expression smooths out.

“This again?” he asks lightly, and Jonathan sighs and sets the comb aside so he can draw his fingers through Jonah’s hair instead, soft auburn strands slipping against his fingers, long enough that it’s starting to curl gently at the ends.

“No, not- not why do you like it. What is it that you like.” There seems to him to be a distinct difference, less judgement and fewer preconceptions in the latter question, and Jonah seems to reach a similar conclusion judging by the way he lets out his breath slowly and leans his cheek against Jonathan’s thigh, adjusting his position so his legs won’t go numb.

“There’s a release in it, I suppose. Pain - physical pain is much easier to adjust to than any other sort of strain, don’t you find? I enjoy the challenge of it. I like the attention afterwards. And after enough pain, the mind goes sort of-” Jonah waves his hand in an uncharacteristically vague gesture and Jonathan smiles. That, at least, he’s familiar enough with, the way Jonah goes hazy after enough stimulation, pliant and soft-eyed in his arms.

“The performance of it?” he suggests softly, and Jonah grins.

“The danger,” he agrees, his tone almost reverent. “The threat.”

“You like to feel vulnerable.”

“Yes.”

Jonathan gathers Jonah’s hair at the nape of his neck like he might be about to plait it, gives it a gentle tug, increasing the pressure until Jonah tilts his head back, meeting Jonathan’s eyes, his lips parting a little, his look of surprise slipping into a wide smile.

“Are you sure?” Jonathan asks, keeping his own face neutral, one eyebrow raised.

Jonah laughs, breathless and delighted, letting his eyes close again. “Oh, yes,” he murmurs, and Jonathan allows himself to smile.

- * - * - * -

“So you’ve overcome your moral quandaries? Congratulations,” Barnabas says cheerfully when Jonathan lets him into his house, hanging up his hat and his coat and stripping off his gloves, one warm hand pressed close to Jonathan’s shoulder for the briefest moment.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“No?”

“No. Drink?”

“Please.” Barnabas wanders through to the sitting room, eyeing the books on the shelf and glancing over the titles there with feigned interest, hands clasped behind his back. “I must have been misinformed, then.”

“You know I don’t care for gossip, Barnabas.”

You don’t. Everybody else does, though.”

Jonathan stifles a sigh, pouring them each a brandy and handing a snifter to Barnabas with as much of a warning look as he feels comfortable mustering. “Then leave them to their chattering.”

“I do, I do.” Barnabas takes a sip, eyes merry as he watches Jonathan over the rim of the glass, slinging an arm against the mantelpiece and leaning there. “You ought to see Mordechai. Watching the doorway of Smirke’s office like he thinks you might wander in at any moment and put him on his knees again-”

Barnabas.”

“Oh, come now! You can’t begrudge me a little curiosity. It’s not just any man who can bring him to heel. And you know that as many questions as I ask, Jonah will ask double.”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Jonathan sighs, taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I didn’t bring you here to discuss Mordechai. And I ought to add that my patients are owed confidentiality.”

“Is that what he is? Your patient?”

“What else?”

“Your, ah- hm. Paramour? Whipping boy? Your pet?”

There’s something rather too excited in Barnabas’ tone, a quiver in his voice that makes Jonathan look up and frown. He sets his glasses to the side and puts his brandy down, approaching Barnabas to stand toe to toe with him, eyeing the flush on his cheeks. Jonathan takes the glass from him to set it on the mantel, lips pursed.

He’s brought Barnabas here as an accomplice, yes, and he doesn’t think that Barnabas is as prone to the enjoyment of pain as Jonah or Mordechai, but there needn’t be pain for him to enjoy the threat of it. Jonathan takes hold of Barnabas’ wrists, winding his fingers loosely around them and bringing them in front of him, smoothing his palms up until Barnabas’ fingers are laced together as well. He can hear his breathing hitch, see the way Barnabas straightens his spine and stands at attention for him.

“He isn’t my pet,” Jonathan says, speaking slowly and deliberately. “He doesn’t rely on me for his care or his upkeep. All I asked of him was obedience, and the understanding of the consequences should he fail to deliver. I’d ask the same of you.”

“Oh.” It escapes Barnabas in a rush of air, soft lips parted. His fingers twitch against Jonathan’s but he keeps his position. “Tonight?”

“That’s right.” Jonathan rubs his thumb over the back of Barnabas’ hand, soft and soothing. This is unexpected - it risks throwing tonight quite out of alignment with where he’d wanted to be. He needs Barnabas clear-headed, not dazed and swoony, he isn’t quite sure he’s capable of handling two men half out of their minds, and yet-

He’s adaptable. He’ll compromise.

“I’m going to hurt Jonah tonight, Barnabas, because he asked me to. I’d like for you to help me. Or, rather, to help him - to keep him steady, to assist me in taking care of him afterwards, to-”

“Fuck him?” Barnabas grins and Jonathan sighs, twisting the skin on the back of Barnabas’ hand in a quick, sharp pinch that has him yelping, letting out a string of half-laughed apologies.

“If he’s good. If you’re good,” Jonathan replies, soothing where he’s pinched Barnabas with his thumb. “I’ll need you to be good for me, Barnabas, can you do that?”

He can see the way the words settle themselves on Barnabas’ shoulder, heavy enough to drag his eyelids down, to weaken his knees. Jonathan feels something working itself loose inside him, like a splinter so deep he hadn’t known it was even there. Barnabas’ breath shudders out of him, ruffling Jonathan’s hair, and his wrists go lax against his hands.

“I can be good,” he agrees softly, and Jonathan smiles.

“Of course you can. Sit down, Barnabas, and have your drink. Jonah will be here soon.”

* * *

When Jonah follows Jonathan into the living room Barnabas has snapped himself out of his sudden haze and is sitting upright on the sofa, eyes bright with anticipation, lips curving into a delighted smile when Jonah steps between his legs to cup his cheek with one palm and rub a thumb fondly under his eyes.

“Hallo,” Barnabas says softly, turning his head to kiss the heel of Jonah’s hand, and Jonah smiles right back.

“The good doctor’s made all sorts of promises about what lies in store for me tonight. Are you quite sure I deserve it?”

“Oh, I’m sure you deserve everything we can give you. Everything and more,” Barnabas promises. Jonathan watches them from the doorway, the way that Barnabas looks at Jonah, the casual ownership in Jonah’s touch. Jonah holds Barnabas’ heart in his hands, and Jonathan doesn’t think he has the skill to mend things should Jonah ever decide to close his fist. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t worry him. Barnabas feels everything keenly, brings it to sit at his core and holds it there, turned inwards. Jonah feels everything too and throws it outwards, bends the world to what it needs to be, and Jonathan-

He watches. If one of them needs to be unfeeling, to mend what might be broken, then he can do that. He is well-practiced at that. They are his lovers, they are his friends, they are his patients, they are his.

The bruises on Jonah’s neck might have awakened rather more jealousy in Jonathan than he is willing to admit.

He turns away when Jonah bends to kiss Barnabas, leaving them to reacquaint themselves while he gathers what he needs.

When he returns to lay his tools to the side he’s removed his jacket and rolled his sleeves up to his elbow, slipped on a pair of leather gloves, worn soft with years of use. Not that either of his companions seem in a state to notice; Jonah is straddling Barnabas’ lap with one hand braced against the back of the sofa, the messy sound of their kissing loud in the otherwise silent room. All very well when one is taking part in it but the sound alone is distasteful. Jonathan clears his throat and they part, Jonah’s smile lazy and self-satisfied as he stretches a hand out towards Jonathan.

“Will you join us?”

“I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, Jonah,” Jonathan replies steadily, and doesn’t smile back. “Come here, please.”

Jonah obeys, the haze of arousal swiftly burned away by naked curiosity, and Barnabas tilts his head to watch them both, lips kiss-swollen and bitten red already.

“Will you lay a fire, Barnabas?” Jonathan murmurs, eyes on Jonah, and Barnabas stands to do so, watching the two of them over his shoulder as he lays logs in the grate and pokes at the coals.

“Jonathan-” Jonah starts, and Jonathan frowns, shaking his head and placing one slim finger to Jonah’s lips.

“No, no. Hush. There’s no need for you to speak. Let me explain to you what’s going to happen.” He removes his finger so he can reach for the buttons of Jonah’s waistcoat, slipping them free with cool efficiency before starting on the laces of Jonah’s shirt. “You’re going to do as I tell you, and I’m going to hurt you.”

“Shouldn’t that be or?” Jonah asks, head tilted, and Jonathan sighs. Testing, always testing. He reaches to grip Jonah’s jaw firmly in one hand, digging his fingers in mercilessly and tilting Jonah’s head up to meet his eyes for a moment. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, but there’s no better way to show Jonah that he’s serious.

“No, it shouldn’t. How much pleasure you want along with the pain is really up to you; if you’re good, then perhaps I’ll let Barnabas be sweet to you. If not, I’m sure he and I can occupy ourselves while you recover your composure.”

Jonah stares at him, and Jonathan can all but see the wheels turning in his head, the weighing of scales, the risk of disobedience versus the reward, the thrill of consequence. He stares at a fixed point between his eyes and waits for Jonah to look away before letting his jaw go.

“You know how to stop this if it goes past what you can bear,” he adds, softening his tone a little. “Do you have any other questions?”

“Are you going to do to me what you did to Mordechai?” Jonah asks outright, and Jonathan barely restrains himself from rolling his eyes. Barnabas is quiet by the fireplace, watching Jonathan with wide eyes, and Jonathan wonders how much either of them really know about what transpired between himself and Mordechai. Nothing but rumours, he thinks. He thinks it unlikely that Mordechai would give either of them much in the way of detail, for all their probing questions. It was a simple matter, anyhow. He challenged him, Jonathan answered the challenge, and Mordechai watches him now with new and grudging respect.

He’s secured another evening of his attention for himself in a week’s time. Jonathan is - to his own surprise - rather looking forward to it.

“No, Jonah. I don’t think there’s any need to frighten you the way I did him. He was arrogant enough to think I couldn’t do anything to him that might break his composure. You know better, don’t you?”

“Yes.” It’s a breath, the softest of admissions, and Jonathan nods.

“Good. Now stand still.”

He undresses Jonah swiftly, clinically, kneeling to unlace his boots and tapping first one foot, then the other, to have him lift them so he can remove them, his trousers, his undergarments, all of it, until Jonah is standing still and naked with his back warmed by the growing fire behind him. Jonathan touches the bandages at Jonah’s chest with his eyebrow raised in silent inquiry - there’s no need for them to come off, not if Jonah doesn’t want them to - and Jonah just nods, something soft and fond flickering into his expression for a moment.

“Barnabas, you can undress as well,” Jonathan adds, stepping closer to Jonah to run his fingers through his hair, brushing a hand down his spine to feel Jonah shiver. There’s a simple enjoyment in touching him, just like this, nothing targeted, nothing distinctly sexual, just the decadence of soft skin against his fingers, and cool metal where his thumb finds Jonah’s nipple on the next pass down. He pinches it between his fingers, rolling gently until Jonah’s eyes slip closed, increasing the pressure until Jonah’s brow furrows, a low sound dragged from him that grows into a gasp when Jonathan pinches harder, twists and watches the skin around his fingers go white.

“Ah. Sore?” he asks softly, and Jonah opens his eyes to give him a flat look.

“Evidently.”

“Cheeky.” Jonathan kisses Jonah’s forehead and steps back, going for his bag. “Let’s see what we can do about that. Over the arm of the sofa, Jonah, if you would. Under normal circumstances I’d gag you, but since I’m favoured with an assistant tonight-” he looks over at Barnabas who beams right back at him.

“Oh, happy to help,” he replies. “Where would you like me?”

“On the sofa, too. If you kneel in front of the arm-” Jonathan gestures and Barnabas nods, walking over to settle himself on his knees on the sofa cushions, Jonah bending over the arm and leaning in to glance a kiss off of Barnabas’ hipbone.

“Comfortable?” Barnabas asks, threading his fingers into Jonah’s hair, half-hard against his thigh already. Jonah hums, lifting himself up onto his toes and dropping his weight down again, tilting his head catlike into Barnabas’ touch.

“For now, yes. I imagine I won’t be for long - isn’t that right, doctor?” He folds his arms against the cushion of the sofa, resting his cheek there and watching Jonathan with dark and glittering eyes.

“Quite right,” Jonathan agrees, fighting to keep his voice steady against the sight of the firelight playing off Jonah’s thighs, the back of his knees, the soles of his feet as he shifts his weight once more, all the soft, tender places he might stroke or pinch or bite.

“You ought to tell me what you have planned,” Jonah prompts gently and Barnabas laughs.

“You mean to tell me you don’t want to be surprised, Jonah?”

“That depends on what the surprise is.”

“So contrary.” Barnabas makes it sound like the fondest of praises, the sweetest adulation, tucking his thumb under Jonah’s chin to lift it so he can press a kiss to his lips. Watching the two of them together is cloying, honey-sweet. Even now, Jonathan feels himself an intruder from time to time, wonders whether they’d notice if he left.

Jonah’s eyes turn his way again and Jonathan meets them steadily, pulling himself together. Jonah chases Barnabas’ tenderness, but he wants more than that, and one doesn’t chase honey without risking bee stings. Jonathan will provide them, if that’s what he wants, and whatever else is within his power to give.

“Your clever little mouth is more trouble than it’s worth, sometimes,” he remarks, turning away for a moment, and then back with his hands wrapped around a springy, slim cane. On loan from an acquaintance. Jonah’s eyes focus in on it and Jonathan can see the muscles in his thigh tense a little. “And whilst I could be rough with you until you were no longer able to talk, I think it far more useful to teach you to control it.”

There’s no need to pummel Jonah the way some people do. Jonathan thinks he’ll be more than equal to the task of hurting Jonah without harming him, and the challenge is more important than the pain itself. It’s a working theory. He’ll refine it as he goes.

“So-” he bends the cane against his hands, testing the give in it, “I’m going to paint you with a few stripes, Jonah, since you enjoy being marked so much. And while I do, I’ll put your mouth to use.”

Barnabas blinks at him, his expression a strange mixture of excitement and trepidation. “I- are you sure? That seems a swift path to robbing me of that which Jonah likes most about me,” he replies, tone still cheerful, if a little less steady. Jonah grins, baring his sharp, white teeth and opening his mouth to respond, and Jonathan rolls his eyes as he gives him a swift tap on the back of one thigh with the cane, not a proper blow, just bouncing the cane against the skin to make Jonah yelp.

“You needn’t put your cock in his mouth,” he replies, thumbing across the pink line on Jonah’s thigh, already fading as he rubs at it. “You can use your fingers. Or - if you prefer - we can simply gag him. I just think Jonah might be glad of the opportunity to exercise a little self-control. This isn’t a test of your courage, Barnabas.”

“Just an exercise in trust,” Barnabas sighs, rubbing his thumb against the corner of Jonah’s mouth with a contemplative look. “What do you think, angel? Ought I trust you?”

Jonah flicks his eyes to Jonathan, who - rather gratified by the fact that he’s sought permission this time - nods, gestures with the cane for him to go ahead and watches as he turns his eyes back to Barnabas, expression inscrutable.

“What do you think, Barnabas? Do you trust me?”

Barnabas snorts, and Jonathan barely resists the urge to roll his eyes. Really. It seems these two are scarcely able to manage a few words to one another without slipping back into saccharine wordplay. He takes a stride forwards to tangle his finger in Jonah’s hair and pull his head sharply back, the gasp he gets in response lancing through him like lightning.

“Open your mouth,” Jonathan instructs firmly and Jonah obeys, the tip of his tongue flashing out over his lower lip before he drops his jaw. “Good. Put out your tongue.” He does so, and Jonathan sees the way Barnabas shifts out of his peripheral vision, hands clenching briefly against his thighs.

“Jonathan- may I-” Barnabas starts quietly, and Jonathan’s lips twitch briefly into a smile. A little encouragement works wonders, apparently.

“Of course.”

Barnabas takes his time - whether due to wariness or just a general sense of indulgence Jonathan isn’t sure - and takes his cock in his hand, rubbing the head over Jonah’s tongue as he gives himself a few lazy strokes, sliding his hips forward into the wet heat of Jonah’s mouth. Jonah goes to seal his lips around him but Jonathan makes a soft, warning sound to keep him still, mouth open, breathing shallow as Barnabas hardens fully against his tongue.

Barnabas makes the sweetest noises. Unconscious little huffs of air, breaths catching against moans, and Jonathan wants to have each one repeated for him, catalogued, to know the timbre and pitch of each reaction and what it means, to play Barnabas like an instrument.

Another time. For now he catches Barnabas’ hand to place it over his own in Jonah’s hair - handing over the reins - and taps Jonah on the cheek with one fingertip.

“You can close your mouth, now. Pay attention, and keep your teeth to yourself. I’m sure you don’t want poor Barnabas suffering for your lack of ability.”

Jonah’s shoulders stiffen, and Jonathan can all but hear the indignation thrumming out of his thoughts, a little buzz at the back of his skull. Good. Jonah would take on the whole world one by one to disprove an insult, and stoking his pride will make him all the more determined to perform well.

For now, he turns his attention to the as yet unmarked skin of Jonah’s backside, rubbing a palm thoughtfully over the curve of it, adjusting his grip so he can press a thumb between Jonah’s cheeks, applying a little dry pressure until Jonah squirms like he can’t decide if he wants to writhe away or press back for more. Judging by the sounds that Barnabas is making, the way he’s rocking his hips forward, Jonah is applying himself most diligently to his task, and Jonathan turns away to do the same.

He’s never imagined that passable ability as a cricket batsman would be any good to him in this sort of circumstance. But he has a strong arm and good aim, and he sets the cane over the midpoint of Jonah’s backside, tapping once, twice, as a warning, and watching the way Jonah stiffens all over again.

“Ah, ah. Don’t do that. You’ll only make it hurt more,” he warns, his tone dry and dispassionate, almost clinical. “Not that that matters to me, you understand, but you ought to be paying attention to Barnabas, not what I’m doing back here.”

There’s another pointed silence and Jonathan allows himself a smile, tilting his head towards Barnabas and letting his eyes rove over his flushed cheeks, the way he’s biting his lip. “Lovely, isn’t it, not to have to worry about him talking back?”

He doesn’t wait for a reply before lifting his arm, bringing the cane down smartly and leaving it pressed to Jonah’s skin for a moment before lifting it away. It’s by no means the hardest hit he could have delivered - there’s a considerable element of risk, here, after all, and Jonah will mark just as beautifully from lighter hits as he will from a brutal encounter with a strap or a tawse. He lifts himself onto his toes again as the pain sets in, exhaling harshly through his nose - but there’s no expression of discomfort or alarm from Barnabas. Jonathan lets himself relax a little.

Six of the best is traditional, but the cane is light enough to be more a switch than anything else, so Jonathan settles on ten as a good round number, and sets to painting the stripes in careful lines over Jonah’s backside and the tops of his thighs, pausing after each one. Jonah squirms and makes soft whining sounds through his mouthful, nose pressed to Barnabas’ stomach as he - apparently - sucks as hard as he can, as if doing a good job here will elicit mercy from Jonathan.

It won’t. But Jonathan won’t spoil Barnabas’ fun by giving the game away.

On the eighth hit Jonah tries to cry out and nearly chokes, Barnabas pulling back to let him cough and splutter his way through reflexive tears, catching his breath and slumping a little against the sofa.

“Are you alright?” Barnabas asks softly with - Jonathan thinks - remarkable restraint given his cock is dark red, his balls drawn tight to his body. He can’t be far from the edge, now, and Jonathan doesn’t blame him given how eagerly Jonah has been sucking at him, taking him deep into his throat as if he can abstract himself from the cane entirely, distract from the pain with a different sort of sensation.

But - perhaps that’s not it. When Jonathan traces against the stripes forming, Jonah shudders, legs parting a little, and he’s slick and glistening in the firelight.

“I’m fine,” Jonah promises, trying to marry tenderness with obstinacy and ending up sounding downright petulant instead. “I- oh-” Jonathan preempts whatever he was about to say by sliding two fingers into him, crooking them neatly to press Jonah’s hips up and lift him onto his toes again.

“Hold that position,” Jonathan instructs, pulling his fingers out and wiping them against Jonah’s thigh. “I don’t believe I asked you to stop, did I?”

“You haven’t asked me anything,” Jonah scoffs, and Jonathan raises his eyebrows.

“Indeed? No- Barnabas, hold on a moment.”

Last two. He’d intended to be gentle enough, but there’s a challenge wound into all of Jonah’s stubbornness, and Jonathan has no intention of backing down just now. He steps back to take his previous position and brings the cane down once more, considerably more sharply than the previous hits, placing the line of it diagonally over the previous stripes. There’s a pause - half a second - before Jonah cries out in genuine shock, head dropping as he pants for breath and does a strange little dance from foot to foot as if he can shake the pain out through his legs.

Jonathan only gives him a few seconds for the pain to settle before he repeats it, another diagonal line that has Jonah choking on a sob, fingers clenched against the fabric of the sofa.

“Need I ask you again?” Jonathan tilts his head and waits for Jonah to shake his head, curls bouncing from side to side. “Jonah?”

“No,” Jonah gasps wetly, pressing his face into the crook of his elbow. “God, Jonathan-”

“Hush. Barnabas, take his hair again, hold his head.”

Barnabas does so, staring at Jonathan like he thinks he might have gone a little bit mad, like he thinks perhaps he might like it very much. Certainly Jonathan feels a little mad. This entire circumstance has an odd, dreamlike quality to it, but now he’s into his stride he finds himself rather liking it.

“Open your mouth again, Jonah,” he instructs, setting the cane down and standing at Barnabas’ side to admire the tearstains on Jonah’s flushed cheeks. “Stay still.” He wraps one gloved hand around Barnabas’ cock and feels him jolt against his side, free hand at the small of his back to steady him as he sets to giving him firm, efficient strokes, Barnabas’ hips bucking against his hand until the tip of his cock is a breath away from Jonah’s tongue. “There, now,” Jonathan says softly, dropping into a slightly sweeter tone and feeling Barnabas shudder, like Jonathan is unthreading him from the inside out, like he might just collapse against him.

“Jonathan,” he breathes, his voice gone tight, strained like a violin string wound too far, on the point of snapping, “Jonathan, please, please-”

“No need to ask me. Go ahead,” Jonathan replies, almost amused, touching his lips to Barnabas’ shoulder. “Good boy.”

He thinks that might just be it, those two words enough to make Barnabas cry out and paint Jonah’s tongue, his lips, his cheeks with thick, white ropes, Jonah blinking it out of his eyelashes and holding very still, as if to move would be to shatter the moment between them all.

Barnabas’ sides are heaving, driving breath from him, he’s panting like a racehorse and Jonathan can smell his sweat, it’s noisy and it’s visceral and it’s messy, and there is nothing about this he ought to like, it seems calculated to be inconvenient and overwhelming and overly physical, and yet - and yet -

He lets Barnabas go and nudges him back to sit on his heels, stroking his hair back from his forehead before turning his attention to Jonah.

“Now, then. What ought I do with you?” he sighs, smoothing his thumb over the come drying tacky against Jonah’s cheek and then pressing it against his tongue for Jonah to suck clean, eyes bright, still a little starry with unshed tears.

Jonah just sucks harder, swirling his tongue over the leather glove, and Jonathan can see his hips canting upwards, the way he’s shifting, like he can rub himself off against the arm of the sofa if he tries hard enough. Ever ambitious, Jonah. He remembers Jonah’s mouth against him, that clever tongue engaged in driving Jonathan past the point of distraction, skilled fingers against his hips, his hair, his thighs, the soft assurances Jonah murmurs into the darkness between them. No assurances need be given here. Jonathan is happier setting aside his own arousal to make sure that Barnabas and Jonah are taken care-of, and self-denial can be a pleasure all of its own, sometimes.

“I think,” Jonathan says softly, pulling his thumb out to brush it over Jonah’s other cheek, setting to collecting up as much of Barnabas’ spend as he can to have Jonah lick it from his hand, “I could do more or less whatever I liked to you. I wonder, how much would be too much? You’re clearly happy enough to have Mordechai thrash you, but that’s easy.”

Jonah’s eyes flash at him, defiant, and Jonathan laughs despite himself.

“Don’t look at me like that. It is. You’ve no idea the sort of things the body can take, under the right circumstances.”

“What would you do?” Barnabas interjects softly, still catching his breath, watching them both with wide, wide eyes. “You could pierce him again. He took very well to that.”

“Mm.” There’s a thought. Jonathan thinks about a row of gleaming needles, of slipping one against a delicate piece of stretched-tight skin, the resistance of it, increasing the pressure until it punches through in a cold little lance, the blood beading up around whatever gleaming ornamentation is slid through the new hole. The sound of the needle against Jonah’s flesh, the cry of helpless pain. Even the thought is overwhelming. He feels almost drunk with it.

“I could,” he agrees steadily, walking around to stand by the arm of the sofa and sliding his fingers between Jonah’s legs. “Here?” he suggests softly, circling a finger over Jonah’s cock until his body clenches tight and he keens for him, trembling all over. “A nice ring, maybe, that Barnabas could tug at with his teeth.”

God,” Barnabas breathes, and Jonah whimpers when Jonathan catches his cock tightly between two fingers, pinching and rolling in a way that has Jonah bucking against the sofa and Jonathan tutting, pulling his hand away to deliver a sharp smack to the top of his thigh.

“Be still, Jonah. Behave yourself,” he instructs sharply, and Jonah’s whimpering subsides. He spread his legs further apart, hips canted up like an offering, and Jonathan rubs two fingers over his slit, pressing one now-slick finger between his cheeks, opening him up as slowly as he can manage. “I don’t think I need to pierce you. You’re decorated enough, and there’s no need to gild the lily, but I could-” he cuts himself off, the words freezing in his throat.

It’s almost heretical. The years he spent learning, the oaths he took, all this disregarded in the space of a moment for the sake of Jonah’s moans and the way he writhes, for how Jonathan can’t stop looking at the stark red lines against the white of his arse, for how he feels utterly helpless with arousal even when he holds this entire situation in his hands.

Jonah shifts, lifting his head to stare over his shoulder at Jonathan with half-lidded eyes, lips parted, eyebrows raised in an expression that might be teasing if he didn’t look so utterly debauched.

“You could what?” he prompts softly and Jonathan swallows, pulling his finger from him and going to turn away, back to his bag, to change the subject, all his confidence swiftly drained away- before he gets far Jonah rears upright with surprising alacrity, catching his wrist and tugging him back against his chest. “Jonathan. Tell me,” he urges, and Jonathan feels his eyes pinning him in place, like a butterfly to a board.

“I-I...I could cut you,” he whispers it like a confession, like a sin, and Jonah’s fingers flex against his wrist.

“Yes,” he agrees - he agrees - and Jonathan is still dizzy with that when Jonah leans in to kiss him, tasting of salt all over, sweat and tears and Barnabas’ spend, his naked body pressed to Jonathan’s clothes like he hopes to encircle him in his coils and consume him entirely.

He might, one of these days. Jonathan doesn’t doubt it.

“But first,” Jonah murmurs, catching Jonathan’s bottom lip between his teeth, tilting his head to press kisses against his neck, “you’ll fuck me. Yes, doctor? Or have you lost your nerve?”

It’s a dare, Jonathan knows, Jonah nudging them back to their respective roles, bolstering him back to take charge. He could have any one of them worship him, and instead he chooses this - Jonathan still can’t pretend he understands it. No more than he understands the urge to catch Jonah by the throat and squeeze, to run his nails down his sides until he whimpers, to bite him until he bleeds. He could ignore his own wants for the sake of his oaths, but it seems he can’t ignore Jonah’s.

“I will,” he agrees, and Jonah’s smile is blinding, radiant. Jonathan thinks he knows what he means, now; five minutes ago Jonah was painted with Barnabas’ come, breathless, tearful, but they’re both of them caught entirely under his command. He would drop to his knees just as swiftly, if Jonah asked it.

Good,” Jonah breathes. “Where do you want me?”

Right. Yes. Back to it. Jonathan looks back to the sofa, meets Barnabas’ eyes for a moment, quiet and fascinated and intent, follows the line of a strand of sweat-damp hair from Barnabas’ hairline to his temple.

“Barnabas, will you kneel for me again?” he asks, and Barnabas’ lips curve into a fond smile.

“Anything,” he replies easily, kneeling with his back against the arm of the sofa so Jonathan can guide Jonah down with his back against Barnabas’ chest, watching as he shifts uncomfortably, the fabric of the sofa no doubt irritating his backside. Well, good. There’ll be more of that in due course. Jonathan sits at the other end of the sofa and presses one of Jonah’s knees up, batting his other leg down to rest against the floor, gifted with the sight of him eager and flushed.

He takes his gloves off and bends his head to press his lips to Jonah’s stomach, his thighs, starting with open-mouthed kisses and progressing to nips, to bites, a circle of tooth marks against Jonah’s thighs making him cry out, Jonathan’s nails pressed against his hips making him whimper. The sounds he makes. Jonah uses his voice like a weapon, sometimes coquettish and lilting, sometimes sharp enough that Jonathan thinks his words will slip between his ribs and to his heart, and hearing him lose his words to gasps and moans of unconscious, unsuppressed pleasure is electrifying.

Above him, he can hear Barnabas murmuring in Jonah’s ear. When he lifts his head he can see that Barnabas has one palm braced against Jonah’s stomach, his other hand playing with his nipples in a way that has Jonah’s head thrown back, the long column of his throat exposed, and Jonathan thinks I could bite him right there, imagines the taste of blood so strongly that he has to drop his eyes back down, biting Jonah’s thigh again instead.

When Jonathan next looks up his jaw is aching, and Jonah’s thighs are mottled with swiftly-forming bruises, starburst blossoms of broken capillaries from sharp nips of Jonathan’s teeth, deeper bruises from where he’s clenched his jaw and held to make Jonah arch. His lips, his chin are covered with Jonah’s slick and his arm is cramping where he’s pressed two fingers into Jonah, and he doesn’t know how many times Jonah has come, only that Jonah’s voice has gone cracked and exhausted, that Barnabas’ soft voice sounds more soothing, now, than encouraging.

Time to bring things to a close, then. Jonah twitches when Jonathan thumbs over his cock again, cracking his eyes open. They’re red-rimmed again, and Jonathan smiles, repeating the motion to hear Jonah whine, to see his stomach go tense as he shudders.

Nothing cerebral about this, nothing cleanly-catalogued and experimental as he’d envisaged it, he’s a mess, and the other two are as well, and he feels about as wrung out as Jonah must, by now.

“One more?” he suggests lightly, and Jonah’s head lolls against Barnabas’ shoulder as he breathes out heavily, Jonathan captivated by the motion of his throat as he swallows.

“I- I don’t know if I can,” he mumbles, and Jonathan laughs.

“Of course you can. One more,” he says decisively. He’s gentle about this one, for Jonah’s sake and for the sake of his own aches and exertions, laving the flat of his tongue over Jonah’s cock until Jonah sobs with the overstimulation, turning his face and burying it against Barnabas’ neck, voice pitched high in a series of broken little whimpers even as his hips twitch and rock forwards against Jonathan’s face. When he finally tenses and cries out, he goes so taut that Jonathan thinks he’ll do himself a mischief, running his palms soothingly over his flanks to settle him as Jonah pants hard in the aftermath.

“Good boy,” Jonathan adds, softly, a little experimental, and Jonah gives him a weary smile before nuzzling back against Barnabas’ neck. Well. Something more effective on Barnabas than it is Jonah, then, but that’s alright. It’s enough experimentation for one day.

The rest, at least is familiar.

Jonathan urges Barnabas to lie down on the sofa with Jonah stretched out on his stomach on top of him, cheek against his shoulder, all but purring as Barnabas strokes his hair. Jonathan fetches damp cloths and cool water for Jonah’s parched throat, examines each bruise and scrape and welt as carefully as he can, applies salves where needed and finally steps back secure in the knowledge that Jonah will live, and given a few days to recover he’ll be as good as new.

Which he knew already, of course. But it’s good to have it affirmed.

The two of them are silent when Jonathan fetches a blanket to pull over them, and he’s sure that they’re asleep, prepped to retreat to his study to read and let them rest when a hand reaches out to snag his wrist, and he looks down at Barnabas’ smiling face.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he teases, his breath ruffling Jonah’s hair, and Jonathan smiles.

“Not far. I’ve some letters to write.”

“Can you write them down here?”

“I...I could, yes. But the noise of my quill might disturb Jonah, and given how hard it is to convince him to sleep, I’m loath to rob him of it now.”

Barnabas nods, pressing a kiss to the top of Jonah’s head and shushing him when he shifts against his chest, smoothing a palm down his spine and gathering him closer before looking back at Jonathan.

“Look at you...so professional. You didn’t even take off your waistcoat,” he sighs, and Jonathan frowns.

“No. Well, I hardly saw the need.”

“No need,” Barnabas agrees slowly. “None at all, not if you don’t want to. But if- if you ever do want to, I shouldn’t want you to think that I’m only here for Jonah’s benefit.”

Jonathan opens his mouth and closes it again, feeling - now of all times, absurdly - his cheeks heating.

“Thank you,” he replies stiffly, not sure of how else to respond to such a comment, and Barnabas’ answering smile is fond and exasperated all at once.

“You must know the regard in which I hold you, Jonathan-”

That’s enough of that. Jonathan crouches next to the sofa and cups his hand against Barnabas’ cheek to silence him, brushing his thumb over his lower lip before leaning in to kiss him rather than voice any of the myriad concerns fluttering in his head like moths, the idea that surely Barnabas must now think less of him, that surely he must be humouring his own selfishness when he lies with a creature like Jonah in his arms.

“Another time,” he says softly when he pulls away, Barnabas gratifyingly starry-eyed as he chases the kiss as far as he can without disturbing Jonah’s head against his shoulder. “Go to sleep.”

“Yes, doctor,” Barnabas murmurs teasingly, and Jonathan finds the words good boy rising unbidden to the tip of his tongue, thinks he sees the vaguest flicker of disappointment on Barnabas’ face when he says nothing by way of response.

Another time.

Jonathan leaves them to sleep, sitting at his desk and watching the candle burn low with a quill pressed to his lower lip, staring into space awhile before setting the nib to the page.

M,

Many thanks - exactly as effective as you said it would be. Next time, perhaps something heavier might be appropriate; perhaps you might show me which tools you favour?

J