Face - Scream, Sizzle
Jonothon Starsmore furnaceface
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Hannibal's House, Thursday Evening

It had hurt, once. It had hurt until the hurt had become too great, and then it had started to become empty. He vaguely remembered the hurt, the pressure on his shoulders, the overwhelming desperation for it to go away, what it was like to be well aware that he couldn't breathe, but none of that seemed to matter, now.

He'd been shown how to breathe again. Instead of drowning in hurt and confusion and guilt and fear, he'd bartered... something... something, for the ability to breathe. Only, that wasn't it either. What had he traded that important something for?

What was the word?


He'd felt joy, once. It had been beautiful until he felt full to bursting, but even that was empty, now. All he knew was that he needed it, needed to keep breathing it in, because his other option was to go back to the hurt, and he couldn't do that, wasn't strong enough, didn't dare. Whatever he was breathing in now wasn't joy, but that didn't matter. It wasn't hurt, either.

He sat on the floor, backed into a corner, eyes pure-white and out of focus, one hand holding the vial to his face as he focused fiercely on breathing himself away. It glowed bright between his fingers, brighter even than the mostly-guttered flame that was visible under bandages that were hanging loose around him.

No, it didn't much matter what he was breathing in. All that mattered was that when he exhaled, he lost a little bit more of himself along with it.

Radio this morning had been a bit alarming; Bob dropping by to explain further about the thefts and the purchased items hadn't been a comfort, but had begun to cement in Hannibal's mind the thought that the decline in Jono's health was due to more than just the island's sickness.

"We know he bought at least one thing from that store," he said to Karla. "I suspect that wasn't the only thing."

"Of course he did," Karla said, trying to cover up her concern with exasperation and failing terribly. "Excellent. I was looking for another reason to strangle Gaunt with his own intestines. This serves that purpose nicely."

The poisoning of the island, the theft of her Jewel, and now the could add Jono's guttering life-force to the list of things he had to answer for.

"He's still not answering when I talk to him, even on psychic threads," she said. "I'd say all the lights are on but no one's home--but even the lights are dimming. It's like yelling into a void and it shouldn't be. He's normally brimming with power and now he's just...empty."

Hannibal looked toward the stairs, his mouth set in a grim line. "Well, whatever it is, he's got to get rid of it." He headed determinedly upstairs. "I suppose the silver lining is that he's unlikely to be able to blast us to pieces at the moment."

He was under no illusions that this would be easy.

"Aren't you Mr. Optimist," Karla said, starting up the stairs. Sorry, Hannibal. Four years on Fandom means that Karla was convinced that there was no catastrophe that couldn't be snarked through. "You always know just what to say to cheer a girl right up."

She got to the door to Hannibal's room and opened it, instinctively looking for the bright yellow-orange that signaled Jono's presence. To her eyes and her psychic senses, Jono was a bright flare of color and power, an impossible-to-miss, ever-shifting shock of 'Here I am!'

...She didn't find it.

Ignoring years of Protocol, Karla stumbled inside the room. "Jono? Jono!"

Hannibal might not have the psychic senses Karla did, but Karla's reaction didn't speak well, and the fact Jono wasn't in bed where he'd left him...

"What is that light?" He was trying not to push Karla out of the way, but this was both fascinating and worrying.

Karla shifted over, happy to have Hannibal there to help her figure out what to do next.

"I don't know," she said. "But I'm guessing we found whatever it was he bought."

She knelt down next to him, shaking his shoulder gently. And then slightly less gently when he didn't respond. "Jono? Jono! Jono, please."


Hannibal knelt next to Jono and set a hand on his cheek. There were no flames there for him to touch, but he hoped the skin-to-skin contact might help.

"Jono," he said calmly, "we need to speak with you." He sent thoughts of affection and concern as he reached up to take Jono's hand and try gently to tug it from his face and find out what was in it.

The shaking, Jono hadn't responded to. Jonothon couldn't care less about being shaken. His neck might hurt for it later, but what did that matter now, while he had his vial? The hand on his face caught his attention, though from somewhere far away. Which meant that he was well aware of the hand that closed around his own and the vial he was clutching to so desperately.

His head snapped up, then, sending a few more wrappings falling loose around his shoulders to reveal the shattered wreck that was the rest of his face, and his eyes flared hot red. He was incapable of much, but impotent, nightmarish rage was apparently not one of those things.

Hannibal met his eyes and raised an eyebrow at him. At least that was a response. "Jono. Will you show me what you have there?"

Karla forced herself to relax. Jono's reaction had been startling, but not particularly surprising, considering the other reports they'd heard of.

Even potential violence was better than the vast, aching emptiness of before.

"Please? We promise not to touch."

Jono's gaze flicked between them, Hannibal to Karla and back again, the expression on what was left of his face looking... dubious, if one was a fan of severe understatement. His eyes hadn't stopped glowing. He did raise an eyebrow at the both of them, though, clutching his vial tighter, pulling it... well, it would have been 'to his chest,' but all things considered, he might as well have just tucked it away inside of himself, at this point.

He didn't reply in words, but there was a flicker of something white-hot, something distressed and angry and desperate. This was his. It was his, and there was no way he was parting with it.

He needed it.

"So much so that you're willing to strike at the people who love you most in the world for so much as reaching for it?" Karla asked, eyebrow raised. "So much so that you've locked yourself away from us to...to focus on it?"

Whatever the Hell it was.

"Away from us. Away from Kayla. She can't find the Music anymore, Jono." She nodded at his vial. "How can that possibly be worth losing so much?"

She didn't mention what it was doing to him. Jono had never cared about the cost to himself. Merciful Darkness, sometimes he embraced it.

Hannibal didn't bother saying anything, since Jono didn't seem to be functioning on a verbal level. Instead, he thought at him, sending him snatches of song - Pearl Jam, Metallica. He sent Joni's big-eyed face when she wanted something, and the taste of too-greasy fish and chips and dark ale.

And in response to all of that, to the music and the memories and the mention of Kayla, Jonothon flinched, his eyes shifting from red back to white. He looked down for a moment, slowly unclasping his hands to reveal the glowing vial that he was clutching so tightly to.

And then, faintly, an explanation. Still not in words. He was too tired for words. But that was part of it, right there. The tired, the hurt. He was feeling the hurt now, and so help him, he was going to share that fact. And then, because it was right there and he couldn't resist at this point even if he wanted to, still with that tenuous thread between them so they could get a sense of what he was feeling, as though looking through a foggy window, he pulled the vial toward his face again.

He inhaled again. The vial glowed brightly for a few seconds before he lowered it, looking more tired as he did so.

But for those few seconds, he'd felt...

He'd felt nothing at all, where once he'd felt joy. And nothing at all was still a definite step up from this.

"Oh Jono." Karla recognized this hurt. Not all of it, of course, but she'd been there when the seeds of this hurt had been planted, so long ago. She'd watched it get watered and nurtured over the years, during the war, with Raven, with the nightmares that wouldn't end, with the assassinations performed in the dead of night. Hell, she'd helped feed this hurt, in a hundred little ways. Keeping Hannibal's secret might be the newest and possibly the most egregious, but it was hardly the only time it had happened.

*Let us in?*

Nothing was better? Hannibal refused to believe that. That was Jono's depression talking. And it was being fed by Leland Gaunt, and by that vial. He narrowed his eyes and sent further images and feelings to Jono: Jono's own hurt and rage at being controlled, being used, having his mind played with. His discomfort with Hannibal's diet. Here was all of that and more: this vial was eating him, and controlling him to do it.

Jono didn't so much as look up at that. Karla's reaction gave him a pang that felt far distant, and Hannibal's explanation served to make him feel more tired. What if he was being controlled? What difference did it make? What could be break from here?

But, grudgingly, he left a crack in the door along with that pang. His walls were sitting in ruin inside his head, and he couldn't even be bothered to worry about the poor housekeeping. He simply stood there in his mind's eye, tired, brown eyes turned down toward the ground that was mostly composed of void.

"Hannibal, why don't you link with me," Karla suggested softly. "I can bring you in as more than just a regular psychic thread."

She glanced up and him with solemn eyes. If there was another flash of aggression while they were in Jono's mind, Karla would be better able to protect him, mentally. She had every faith in Hannibal's abilities, but he didn't have the learned--or even natural--defenses of someone with psychic or telepathic powers.

Hannibal nodded. "After you, then."

Karla reached out for Hannibal's mind with delicate psychic fingers, wrapping him up with a small flourish of power and bringing him into her own mind. For all that Karla could be many things, including petulant, flighty, acerbic, and obtuse, her mind was a very ordered place, presenting as a modified version of the estate and grounds. Not that Hannibal would have much time to look around because Karla was bringing them both through that small crack that Jono had left for them and into the vast emptiness that was his mind.

She was used to emptiness. The Blood had the Darkness and the Abyss and, more than once, Karla had fallen into the blackness within her own Self. But this--this was barren. She'd seen Jono hurting and broken before. But she'd never seen him so hollowed.

Hannibal looked around, but there wasn't much to see. None of the lights or the sharks that had been here previously. Only Jono.

He walked up to Jono and just watched him for a moment, taking in every clue he could get from his appearance.

The only clue that Jonothon had to offer was in what wasn't there. His face was tired, his shoulders sagged and his eyes were watching the both of them warily. But that was it. He wasn't shifting haphazard from one mind to the next. He wasn't fire-flesh-blue-whole-bones-hollow, ad infinitum.

He was just... Jono. If slightly transparent. If clearly having difficulty standing on his own two feet, even here in his mind.

"Now what?"

Karla had asked to come in. Well. Now they were in. Hi.

"Do you really believe that nothing is better than something, even if that something is pain?" Karla asked, looking around. She wanted so badly to bring back sunshine in here, and strawberries, and animatronic parrots and little blonde infants that laughed whenever he looked their way, but she knotted her fingers together and ignored the temptation. They would be reminders, yes, but of violations.

They would do this with words and nothing else then.

"You know he's using you, right? He's sucking up your soul through a straw. And not just yours. He's gone after your students, Jono, pulling their strings like puppets and turning them into weapons." Karla was choosing her words very deliberately, yes. "And when he's done killing the island, he's going to move on to another place and start this all over again."

"You know I believe that, Karla. We've had that talk before."

She had asked for a couple of months, then. He remembered that talk, at least. One thing in a very short list of things that wasn't currently sitting in a haze. He closed his eyes, and everything about him was a study in exhaustion... and uncertainty.

"What do you want me to do about this? Get angry? Hunt him down and wrap my flame around him and take him down with me? I'd be lucky to stand right now. I can't do anything. I can't help anyone."

"You can help yourself," Hannibal said calmly. "You may not always believe that you're worthy of it, but I do. We do, or we wouldn't be here." He took Jono's hand in one of his and stroked his face with the other. "You will never get a chance to see that if you give up now. Never get to give me that kiss, or sing to Kayla's mind again, or turn into a snake and bite Warren, or argue about fish and chips. Never play guitar again. Is nothing better than all those things?"

Jono looked at Hannibal for a long moment in silence before slowly, grudgingly shaking his head, 'no.'

"Those things don't hurt," he allowed. "Or else I'd remember what they felt like."

He was, at least, capable of enough rational thought to know that much. Whatever was being left behind the more he cored himself out seemed to be the part of him that hurt the most. Maybe because it was the part of him that was most prone to caring.

"He's taken those things from you to make you give up hope faster." Hannibal smiled; it may have had a fierce edge to it. "But you can take them back. I remember how you feel about me, about Karla and Kayla and the others." Lights in the darkness, his feelings had been. Swords against snakes. "Share my memories of your feelings. Take strength from them."

"We have so many memories of things to share with you," Karla said. "Of happy times and laughter and yet further attempts to make me understand what a re ro is and why we should go around it. Maybe Kayla will understand it. She was born hearing the bells, remember?"

The bells that Jono had played for her, specifically so she could be his little Cockney girl.

"We don't want you to fight with Gaunt. We just don't want to lose you to him. You're my family, Jono. Please let us help you remember what that means."

"Bells..." Jono looked quietly between Karla and Hannibal. And then, hesitantly, he nodded. "Show me."

Maybe he didn't remember the reasons that he hated people rearranging what was in his head. Maybe he was so far gone that he didn't have it left in him to care.

Maybe he wanted to see if there was one beautiful thing left in the world that could replace the feelings that were killing him by inches.

He gave Hannibal's hand a weak squeeze, and held his other out to Karla..


Hannibal's smile widened, and he sent Jono back his own feelings, filtered through Hannibal's experience of them. The lights that were his love for his friends, the sharks that tried to prey on that. The swords they became when he let himself be his own weapon. They ghosted into life around them, not as strong as they had been, but carrying all the strength and affection and many-faceted beauty Hannibal could remember them carrying for Jono.

"You showed me how to talk to my daughter," Karla said, reaching out to take Jono's offered hand. "I don't know how long the two of you were talking before that. Your senior year of high school, you were voted prom king, do you remember? You still have the tiara among your things. Once, you won a bet with Julian and he had to wear a dress for a week; you were very insistent on the amount of ruffles there should be. And one time, you directed a play that included a chicken suit and an astronaut costume. And, in case you don't remember, that was when we were putting on The Consequence of Being Frank."

Words, yes, and memories too, shimmering into life the way Hannibal's images had, complete with sounds and scents and even tastes echoing down the link they shared.

Jono had long ago lost the ability to cry, but there in his mind's eye, there were tears welling in his eyes. The lights that Hannibal was sharing with him hovered close, the swords surrounding them and pointing outwards as sharks swam around the edges of what was left of his consciousness. Karla's sampling of memories jarred images around them, of arguments - It was a crown, thank you - and victories - there had been just enough ruffles - and moments in time that made him laugh to think back on, even if they had driven him half mad at the time.

"There... are no astronauts in Wilde," he protested, quietly. And then he closed his eyes and bowed his head. He was so damn tired. "I... I want... more of that. More real."

Hollow was easier, and gone took no effort at all. But real came with warm, and he very much missed the warm.

Hannibal touched those tears, smeared them with his thumb. "You may have all the real you like. But first you have to break the unreal. Destroy the illusion."

"That's something only you can do," Karla said softly. "Not us. But when it's over you'll have it all back. You'll have chewy beers, and songs with lyrics that involve the word 'something' over and over again, and yet another chance to convince me that movies can be good, even though they're in black and white and have subtitles."

One day, you might even convince her that Kurosawa was a good director! But not if you gave up now, Jono!

"Come back to us. Come back to me and Hannibal. To Kayla and maybe even Nommy, one day." You were the only person who knew his name, Jon! For all that is compassionate in you, don't let his real name be Nommy. "To Ange and Jubilee, who knew you even before I did. You have so many people who love you and care for you. Please come back to us, to the real, and let us make more memories together."

There in his head, Jonothon's face screwed up, and he pulled in a shuddering breath as he nuzzled against Hannibal's hand. This was not exactly helping the tears to go away. Not by a long shot.

"Break the unreal," he murmured, swallowing deeply. "But I'm so tired. Hannibal. Karla. I..."

He let go of both of their hands and wrapped his arms around himself.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry for this."

There wasn't much left to him, but there was enough will to take them and shove them both out of his head, shunting them into the real world just in time to see him lift that vial in his hand and thrust it down against the floor. Glass shattered against the hardwood, and a ghostly shape formed out of the mist that rose from the shards, large and imposing and looking almost like a mirror of Jono himself. It screamed, a shrill, ear-splitting noise, and then faded away.

And Jonothon, flame still guttered, stared down at the broken pieces of his blissful silence, scattered across the floor.

Karla had another memory then, of Jono surrounded by broken glass. She understood why he had taken the oblivion offered, why he'd resisted against coming back for so long. Which was why she was ignoring the glass to turn to give him something real, something warm right then. "Three--" she said, and didn't bother counting down any further, instead wrapping gentle arms around him in a deep, albeit careful, hug.

Hannibal wrapped his arms around Jono in reality and kissed his cheek. "There is no need to apologize. You've done it. I'm very proud of you." He stroked Jono's hair and kept him close, letting him feel his pride and approval.

Jono managed to nod a little, though he wasn't sure his heart was in it. His head wasn't. He still felt so far away from himself, like an echo of him, like some part of him was somewhere else entirely, screaming and struggling and railing against nothingness.

He leaned against them both, and, not for the first time in his life, and likely not the last, he wished that he could cry.

[OOC: Establishy and NFI! OOC welcome, preplayed with them who be in the post, who are awesome!]