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blossoming alone over you

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"You've got a crush," Jane says with a smile, looking down at the cards. Gerard looks immediately annoyed, which is how she knows she's right. "The crystals told me," she says dreamily, before he can ask how she knew. This isn't really true — she believes in her intuition and singing energy but not particularly inanimate objects engaging in office gossip. But she likes pissing off her coworker. For a man who works in a spiritual bookshop doing tarot readings, he's surprisingly skeptical.

"Ugh," he says, gathering his cards up into a pile, fed up with them and her.

"But am I wrong?"

"No," he admits sullenly. "It's just a crush, though. I don't even know the guy. I haven't even seen him."

"Amazon customer service rep?" she guesses. "You know they're paid to be nice."

"Radio DJ," Gerard says gloomily. Thumbs at the corners of his deck; the gilting on the edges is starting to flake.

"At a station you're getting played on?" Jane asks, and Gerard nods shortly, jaw tight. Jane makes a sympathetic noise and gets up to take their mugs to the sink. "I'd ask why you always go for people in a position of authority, but I don't need to speak to the crystals to know that. This isn't going to be another Gertrude situation, is it?"

"No," Gerard sighs. "It's just a crush. He's got a good voice, that's all. Don't even know him."

"And what did he have to say about your music?" Jane asks archly.

Gerard buries his face in his hands. "Called it 'transcendent', didn't he."

"Oh sweetheart," Jane says, squeezes his shoulder. "You are fucked."

"Why are you always here?" Jon asks in irritation as he puts down a plate. Georgie just looks at him, amused.

"Because, Jonathan, my side-gig is not stuck in antiquity and therefore makes money, which means I don't have to spend my time toiling away at a day job." She opens a sugar packet and adds it to her coffee.

Jon scowls at her. "Podcasts are a fad," he says curtly.

"Right, yeah. A fad which is letting me sit in the comfy chair and work on my iPad while you, Mr Radio Is Forever, slave at the espresso machine to make my coffee. Could I get another serviette, please?"

"Get it yourself," Jon says, sitting opposite her. "I'm on my break."

"Ah, there it is. The winning customer service keeping this place in business." Which, all right, she has a point: it's lunch time and the cafe is disconcertingly empty.

Jon grimaces. "It's not my fault. Or, it's not entirely my fault. They've opened up a Starbucks around the corner."

"Right. And the fact that last week Melanie threatened to cut a customer's balls off and someone put it on YouTube has nothing to do with it."

"She's getting quite the feminist cult following," Jon says mildly. "Besides, that's still not my fault."

"You made her employee of the month!"

"Well," Jon doesn't smile, but he does the thing he does where he gives the impression of amusement without really moving his face. "All advertising is good advertising."

Martin gets home late, drunk on the adrenaline of the stage. His poem tonight had been about a tree, the Fortingall Yew, but also about transitioning, and it's probably the best reaction he's ever gotten to a piece. Even Basira's butch girlfriend, who is the meanest critic he knows, had said, "Solid work, Blackwood," and clapped him on the shoulder.

He wishes Jon had been there.

It's hard not to dwell on it as he makes a cup of tea, brings it with him into the shower to drink, both activities calming but also prone to awakening his rumination. He knows Jon is busy, takes more shifts than him and is deep in a passion project besides, and he knows there's no point getting upset when he can't make something or another, but — he also knows it isn't just about tonight. As the sadness sits like a hard pit in his belly, he steps into the hot water, and tries to wash away his anxiety about their relationship.

They've been friends for a few years (or, Martin has loved Jon for those years and Jon obliviously thought that's just how friendship looked) but the bit where they're boyfriends as well as flatmates, that's new. A fragile little development that brings Martin so much joy that overanalyzing it is almost a defense measure. But sometimes it feels like they see each other even less now, and that hurts worse when if they were together Martin could touch him, could curl up with Jon and cuddle him and tell him how handsome he is, how handsome Martin thinks he is, and they could listen to that new band Jon likes and Jon would talk to Martin about music even though Martin doesn't understand much more than what he's picked up from studying poetry. It doesn't matter. Everything Jon is passionate about makes him lovely, and that holds Martin's interest more than the subject itself.

He snaps out of the daydream and sips his tea, careful not to get the shower spray in the mug. These were the sort of shower longings he used to have before they were dating. Shouldn't they just be his reality now?

Something about that hurt feels germinal, at least, and he finishes up quickly so he can dry off and find his phone, stands naked in the kitchen to jot down the phrases that have started to thread though his mind.

The time on the microwave catches his eye, glowing in the dim, and he curses under his breath. Opens the radio app on his phone, coming in midway through a song. He carries it with him while he finishes getting ready for bed, and then curls up under the covers with the phone on the pillow alongside him.

"That was Massive Attack's Angel following Mitski's Nobody. It's a quarter past midnight and you're listening to The London Eye with Jonathan Sims. Tonight's theme is The Lonely." Martin closes his eyes and smiles despite his own loneliness. Jon may not be here in person, but Martin can still have the low murmur of his radio voice to accompany him to sleep.

The coffee machine is broken.

"You're shitting me," groans Gerard.

"You should try green tea," says Jane, just to get under his skin, "It's better for you."

Gerard gives her a dark look, and gets his coat. "It is too early in the morning for this. I'm going to go find coffee."

"They just opened up a Starbucks next lane over," Jane tells him, and Gerard looks, if anything, even stormier.

"You disgust me," he tells her, and she beams at him.

It's drizzling outside, just a mist of grey that gets under the collar of Gerard's big black jacket and makes his long dyed hair frizz a little. He's pretty sure his eyeliner is waterproof but he keeps his head down all the same, hands tucked into the deep pockets of his coat. Kicks through a puddle, feeling like shit for no particular reason other than he hasn't had caffeine and the weather is depressing and he hates his day job.

There is actually a cafe not too far from here, just enough of a walk that it's never worth it when he can make his own in the store's back room. But he's grateful to get in out of the weather when he finds it — even more grateful when he sees it's nearly empty, apart from a man in a suit reading the paper and a couple of teens in school uniform. The man behind the cash register is reading, one hip leans against the counter, and Gerard has to clear his throat to get his attention.

"Yes?" He sounds annoyed to be interrupted, which is rich when this is his job and he's hardly busy. But on the other hand — Gerard knows the feeling. Cuts him some slack and just gives his order. The man punches it in silently, rings him up, doles out his change, and then moves to start making it.

He leaves his book in front of the register, and Gerard looks at it: it's non-fiction, a complex dissection of parapsychology. The sort of thing he tries to convince Jane to order into the shop all the time (she worries that people will actually buy and read the books and just never come back to buy from them again.) In fact, he's surprised then, that he's never seen the barista in the store, takes a closer look at him. No: he's too memorable, pockmarks of burn scars scattered across one side of his face, and a more serious one twisting up his right hand. Gerard has a good memory for those sort of details.

The barista catches him looking with a raised eyebrow, and Gerard realizes it probably looks like he's staring at the scars instead of the sharp, handsome profile of the man beneath (instead of wondering about the mind beneath that) and he looks away quickly, a touch embarrassed.

"Jared," he calls eventually, setting the coffee down. Gerard comes over and takes it.

"It's Gerard, actually," he says.

"That's what I said."

"No, you said— it's Gerard. G-e-r."

"That's what I said," the barista says again, more emphatically. "Jared."

Gerard stares at him, not sure if the man's taking the piss. "You know what, fine. Thanks for the coffee." He doesn't tip, just goes back out into the wet.

It's only later, much later, as he listens to the radio announcer say, "And once again, I've played you The Haunting by High Priestess. Whilst, as I'm sure regular listeners have picked up by now, I am a fan of the band in general, something about this final track evokes the moody sublime of classic goth sound rather than the folk-punk anarchy of the rest of the album. Vocalist Jared Keay—"

It's Gerard, Gerard almost says aloud, annoyed all over again, and then: "Fuck."

Jon has always had a better head for math than people, and tends to think of regular customers by the numbers he punches into the bizarre register they'd bought on eBay when the more traditional one broke, the strings that mean "small half-strength soy flat white one pump vanilla", or whatever. The tattooed goth is medium double-shot iced americano with mint, which sounds awful but Jon tried it himself in the back room after the third time the man comes back, and found it quite palatable. Not particularly suited to the way autumn seems to be coming early to London this year, but certainly drinkable in its own right.

The tatted-up old goth, Gerard, is becoming something of a regular now, and it's hard not to notice him as more than a string of numbers. Sometimes he ducks in early or in the middle of the day to grab a coffee and return to, presumably, his own daily grind. But occasionally he comes in for the last hour before they close, sitting in a wicker chair by the window and scribbling in a notebook.

He's always doing something with his hands. Jon's eyes are drawn to them continually: the eye tattoos over the knuckles and joints are fascinating in their own right, but then he'll be playing with his straw or shuffling cards that seem to come from nowhere or twirling his pen, tapping out an idle rhythm, and Jon can become so transfixed by them that he forgets what he's doing.

For as much as he's not particularly good as social niceties, Jon's nosiness does occasionally outweigh his shyness, so after a few weeks of Gerard making regular appearances, at the end of a slow day Jon approaches to wipe down a nearby table and prepare to close up shop, and decides to ask: "What do your tattoos mean?"

"They're eyes," says Gerard.

Jon immediately regrets asking. "Yes, I can see that, I just — why. Why are they eyes."

"I like eyes," Gerard says in a tone like a shrug.

"I suppose you must, if you got them tattooed on you," Jon says sharply, and retreats into the back room rather than bother him any further.

Despite his injured pride, he does try again, this time approaching with some of the end of the day cakes on a little plate, and a drink for both of them. He takes a seat opposite Gerard, who seems startled.

"You're here a lot," says Jon.

Gerard gives him a funny look. "Yeah, it's a cafe." He takes a tartlet, turns it over in his fingers. "Is this some kind of customer loyalty thing?"

"Perhaps I just want to get to know my regulars," says Jon, hating how stiff and snippy he sounds but unable to properly turn it off. He winces and tries: "I just meant... do you work around here?"

"Yeah," says Gerard. "Shop called 'Eternal Mother'."

Jon knows it immediately, scowls. "Snake oil," he says. Absolute trash. He doesn't believe in the vibratory energy of crystals or the healing power of- of whatever ridiculous clap trap it's currently selling.

"Hey," says Gerard, sipping his drink unemotionally, "Watch it. It's a vehicle for me to study real parapsychology, and do tarot, which I'm good at, and get paid, which is the most important bit."

Jon humphs out his nose, but something there has caught his interest. "You enjoy parapsychology, then?"

"Yeah," says Gerard. "I really like Smirke's entities, actually."

"Oh," Jon is surprised, "As do I. It's not particularly popular — too reductive — but I find the categorizations uniquely soothing."

"There's this show you should listen to, then. On the radio. London Eye with Jonathan Sims? It's one of my favorites."

Now Jon feels positively bowled over. "I, er," he says, wondering if he'll find this coincidence funny or not, later. "Yes, I..."

But Gerard, slurping his ice with a straw, has a glint in his eye and a hint of a smile and Jon's eyes narrow. "Hang about," he says, "You know who I am, don't you? You're my fan."

"Think you'll find you're my fan, actually," Gerard says, smile blossoming fully across his face. His teeth are a little crooked, in a charming way. "Play my music nearly every set."

"What?" says Jon, and then, because it's a fairly unusual name, "Gerard Keay."

Which he is pronouncing perfectly reasonably, but Gerard says, "It's Gerard, actually. But you can call me Gerry. All my friends do."

"You've got a crush," Martin says, tone flat.

"That's not what I said!" Jon retorts, immediately defensive, prickled by the upset he can hear in his boyfriend's voice. "Please don't be jealous, I was only saying—"

"Jon," Martin says longsufferingly, "You were lovingly describing his hair to me. You know all this stuff about him — you talk to him! You don't talk to anyone. You definitely don't talk to me."

"Obviously not if this is the reception I get," grumbles Jon, and Martin exhales. He hates always having to be the one to make a concession, but he hates being angry at Jon more.

"It's all right," he says, sliding into Jon's space, putting an arm around him and trying not to take it personally when Jon tenses. "I mean, it's all right if you've got a crush on someone else. Maybe it's for the best?"

"What do you mean," asks Jon.

"Well." Martin wobbles back and forth for a moment on whether to continue with this line of discussion, but it's been building and building in him, so: "Maybe you should see someone else. We can — take a break. Just from being boyfriends, I'm not going to kick you out or anything, but we tried it and. It isn't working."

Jon goes even more rigid, jaw clenched, face paled. "I don't take your meaning."

"Um." Martin's brow creases. "I'm not sure how much clearer I can be—"

"No," says Jon impatiently, wriggling out of Martin's embrace and sitting to face him properly. "You're breaking up with me, I understand that. I don't understand why. You said you loved me."

"I do! Jon, I do," Martin says immediately, hating the note of betrayal in Jon's voice. "Probably always will." The truth of that is an old ache by now. "But you don't — you don't love me."

Jon stares at him. "What?" He grabs Martin's face suddenly, dark eyes all determined. "Martin Blackwood, I care for you more than just about anyone else on this earth."

"But not..." Martin fumbles, feels the sick rush of long-repressed tears suddenly springing to his eyes. "Not enough to-to spend time with me, or kiss me, or, or — you don't have a cr, a crush on me. You're not thinking about, um, my hands, are you Jon, or else— or else we'd—"

"Ah." Understanding seems to wash over Jon and he goes distant. "This is about sex."

Martin sniffs, flushing a little. "S'pose, um, yeah. Yeah it is."

"I don't want to have sex with you," Jon tells him. Martin's face starts to crumple, but Jon is still gripping it, intent. "I don't want to have sex with Gerard the goth, either. I'm sure you're disappointed that we haven't consummated our relationship, and if it is truly making you miserable I am willing to try for some sort of compromise, but Martin, I simply— I just don't. Much like sport, I find sex theoretically fascinating, and understandable from an evolutionary point of view, but, not something I enjoy or want to participate in."

Martin blinks at him, and he sort of feels like one very large train of feelings just collided into a totally different one somewhere in his chest, and it's hard to sort out what's what amidst the wreckage.

"But I do love you," Jon tells him, firm and gentle. "I apologize for — putting off this conversation by focusing on other parts of my life."

Martin nods, a little dazed. Then he kisses Jon, and he's crying at the same time, but they're just sort of residual tears now, all that backed up sadness expelling itself. Jon kisses back tenderly, and for a while that's all there is between them.

When they break, Jon wipes his cheek with a thumb. "Please don't leave," he says quietly.

"I won't," promises Martin, exhaling. "How could I ever. God. Jon."

Tentative: "So we're all right, then?"

"Yes. Sort of? Just— please try and make more time for me. I'm not going to pressure you into sex, it just feels like, between the radio and your research and the cafe, I don't even rank bronze medal in your life, you know?"

Jon looks like he might argue, but then shakes his head. "I understand how you could have that impression," he concedes. "I shall try to ensure we spend more time together." Another light peck to Martin's lips, and he drags him close to curl up together again, snuggling on the couch with nothing to particularly occupy them except idle conversation and Martin's fingers playing through Jon's hair.

"Er, hello?"

"Hello dear, how can I help you."

"Um. I don't ... I don't know really. Just looking, thanks." There's a pause and then, "Actually, do you have, is there a Gerard who works here?"

Gerard's ears prick up at his name, and he sticks his head 'round the curtain to see who's calling on him. He doesn't recognize the guy. "That's me," he says, saving him from Jane. "I'm doing readings today, if you want one."

He can tell immediately that this man does not want a tarot reading, feels incredibly out of place amongst the Crystals and Pages for the New Ages, as their sign calls it. Yet: "Er, all right. Yes. Is it- is it expensive?"

It is. But the value is for people who will actually listen and get something out of it. And there aren't any other customers right now. "Pay what you like," he says, "Come on back."

Martin comes past the heavy, spangly purple velvet curtains, and takes a seat at the old wood table, slouching into it, fingers curling together. "You're... not really what I was expecting. I mean! You look lovely! Just, I thought you were a goth, or something?"

Gerard laughs and takes his face veil off. "The crossdressing makes it seem like an experience, normal people eat that exotic bullshit right up." His earrings are only clip-on and are starting to hurt, so he pulls those off too — honestly Wednesdays are always so quiet he hasn't really made much of an effort aside from the makeup and dress. "Sometimes I put on a bald cap and pretend to be my late mum, that spooks people."

"She's the one with her picture on the sign?"

"The very one." Gerard picks up the cards and shuffles them, examining his guest, trying to get a bead on him. "So, why were you expecting a goth?" He suddenly looks startled. "You're not a fan, are you?"

"No!" says Martin. "No, um, though I have heard, I mean, I do like your music, but that's not why I'm here. I'm um. I'm friends with Jon?"

Gerard is surprised, suddenly both wary and intrigued at once. "Yeah? Jonathan Sims. Radio host and barista."

"Yeah." Martin's smile crooks the corner of his mouth and Gerard feels a sympathetic pang, because he probably looks exactly that hopelessly lovestruck when he thinks about Jon as well. "Yeah," Martin repeats, fidgeting. "Actually, I'm kind of his boyfriend?"

Oh. Fuck. Gerard immediately reevaluates this whole encounter. "Listen, mate, if you're here to tell me to stay away from him, I didn't know—"

"No no no," Martin interrupts hastily, gesturing emphatically. "No, um, it's okay, I'm not — well, at first I was a little bit jealous, but then I thought. I dunno, the way Jon told it I felt like you might like him a bit? Not that he knows, he's oblivious."

Gerard is confused and unimpressed, shuffling the cards a little faster, trying not to let this hurt him. "So you figured you'd come around and rub it in?"

"I. Thought I might ask you out, actually?" Martin squeaks, and then Gerard's face must do something stupid because he laughs shakily. "Yeah. Jon... really likes you, and Jon doesn't like many people. And sometimes we have really different, um, needs. So, I thought maybe I'd come see for myself, what you're like."


"And you're really good looking and wearing a fortune tellers get up and snarking at me, so I'm inviting you over for dinner."

Gerard isn't sure what to think. If this is flirting, Martin is very bad at it, both too direct and a little bit all over the place, making his intentions hard to get a clear read on. And he isn't totally sure he isn't inviting Gerard back to his flat to put some newspaper down and Patrick Bateman him — he doesn't look like the type, but it's always the quiet ones.

"Could I read for you before I answer?" he asks. "No charge." He thinks the cards might help him get a better idea of what his options are, what he wants to do. He focuses on them, on the energy of Martin across from him, nervous and bold. On the little fizz in his chest at the idea Jon might like him back. He doesn't really have a specific question, but his intention is to receive guidance on these dinner possibilities.

And ah, there's the Three of Cups, which could not be a clearer sign from the universe that this is a good idea. He draws the Lovers, the Devil, the Ace of Wands, the Nine of Swords. And then the High Priestess, which makes him chuckle quietly. Sometimes that card comes up to represent his mother, and sometimes his music, but on this occasion it feels like a reminder to trust in magic.

"All right," he tells Martin, who seems bemused by this style of decision making. "After work. I'll come over for tea."

It's a rare night that Jon and Martin are both going to be home together — but becoming less rare, as they work to make time for each other. Jon is looking forward to a quiet night in. He tosses his keys in the bowl by the door and pulls off his scarf and jacket and shoes, but his ears prick up at the sound of voices from the living room.

"Oh, Jon, hi," says Martin happily when he enters. The room is dim, as there's a film on, but Martin eating take out by the blue light of the screen is a fairly ordinary sight. Only this time, there's Gerard Keay, sitting on his couch, face made up, one arm draped across Martin's shoulders while the other handle his chopsticks. "I got you that ma po tofu you like, grab a carton and come sit with us."

He makes space, looking entreatingly at Jon, and if for a moment Jon had felt a chill of jealous upset lance him, he realizes now that it was needless. Martin isn't doing this to hurt him. Even Jon's emotionally oblivious ass can see that this is an offering of some kind.

"There's room for three?" he asks, crossing to get his food.

"We'll make room," Martin reassures him, and they do.

Martin gets home late, drunk on the adrenaline of the stage. His poem tonight had been about triads of history, the ways sometimes three people can compliment each other better than two.

"You," Gerard accuses him as he shuts the front door behind them, "Are so obvious."

Martin bumps their shoulders together hard, secret smile cast downwards. "Got to draw from life, right? Besides, you can talk. I've read the lyrics you've been writing."

Gerard snorts. "And who says they're about you two?"

"What else would have you writing that sappy stuff instead of your usual misanthropy?" points out Martin smugly.

"You like my music," Gerard reminds him. "Martin, you like my music."

"Well. You're no Taylor Swift."

Gerard slaps his ass lightly as they get ready for bed, and Martin blushes, grins. Tugs Gerard in by the black t-shirt the man thinks qualifies as pajamas, kisses him slowly, the joy of the night still thrumming in his veins.

"Come on," Gerard says softly, tugging him to where they can lay down. "Don't want to miss the start."

They curl up together, legs tangled, one pillow, and Martin opens the radio app on his phone. "It's midnight," comes their boyfriend's voice, clear in the dark room, "And you're listening to The London Eye with Jonathan Sims, your late night guide to the dark corners of the world. Tonight's theme is: The End."