Czegoś mi braknie, kogoś widzieć żądam
I am missing something, someone I need to see
It happened the first time just after Jon had clawed his way back to wakefulness, back to a body that felt too much and saw too little. Color and sound kaleidescoped around him for a moment, too much like the Unknowing: then it resolved, and he was not in the House of Wax, he was not even in Yarmouth. He was on the cot in archival storage. The voices resolved too, into ones he knew, thought they were talking too fast and too low to easily follow. He pushed himself upright with an involuntary grunt of pain as soon as he remembered how his arms worked.
Melanie, Martin and Basira were clustered around the door. Melanie was covered in some unidentifable gray powder -- ash? -- and Basira had a split lip and a t-shirt wrapped around her head instead of a proper hijab. Martin’s head was wound with with bandages, and when he spun around at Jon’s vocalization there was a vivid spot of blood leaking through them. “Jon,” he said, with a face full of joy and wonder, and the next instant Jon found himself wrapped in a wooly embrace that smelled alarmingly of smoke.
Basira and Melanie were also exclaiming in surprise, but they weren’t close enough to drown out what Martin was murmuring into Jon’s neck. “Oh, god, I love you so much.”
Jon tried to say excuse me, but his throat was too dry to produce more than a vague crackle, and in the next instant Melanie was prying Martin off him, saying, “Calm down, Concussion Boy, let him breathe.” Neither she nor Basira had reacted to Martin’s declaration -- had they heard it? By the time Jon had managed to sip enough water to ask, he had much more pressing questions: why were the fire alarms going off, what was Melanie covered with, how long had he been unconscious and also what the hell.
(The answers turned out to be: they had imploded some of the tunnels; dust, from said implosion; about six weeks; they were trying to neutralize Elias’s hold on the Institute without actually demolishing the building and before he murdered them all. Which, phrased like that, actually sounded quite reasonable.)
Later, though, once the situation had calmed somewhat, Jon remembered Martin’s warm breath on his neck and the press of his encircling arms. Surely he’d misheard him, though. Even a mildly concussed Martin wouldn’t just blurt out -- that. Would he? No. Of course not. Jon had been mostly dead for over a month; clearly he’d been mistaken. He’d put it out of his mind. There were more pressing matters.
Gdy z oczu znikniesz, nie mogę ni razu
W myśli twojego odnowić obrazu?
When I lose sight of you, I cannot at once
Recreate your image in my mind
Except it kept happening, after that.
Martin dropped off some statements at Jon’s flat, before Jon returned to work, and when he said goodbye he added a quiet, but distinct “sweetheart” at the end. It startled Jon badly enough that he dropped the whole stack of files and had to spend hours putting them back into order.
When he did come back to the archive, Martin brought him tea, and he was definitely humming “Good morning, love,” before he deposited it on the corner of Jon’s desk. Then, as if this was a perfectly normal thing to have said, he smiled at Jon and asked, “All right? Anything I can get for you?”
Martin actually glanced over his shoulder, as if Jon’s dumbstruck face might’ve been directed at a bookshelf. “All right, well, Basira and I are going to out to Kew Gardens to follow up on that beetle statement. I’ll let you know how it goes.”
Martin had changed, subtly, while Jon was on his dream journeys. He had a measure of quiet confidence, as if he had found some unshakeable core of himself under all the anxiety and colorful jumpers. As Jon reconstructed what had happened between the Unknowing and his rude awakening in the storage room, it made some sense: the three of them had beaten Elias at his own horrible game, through a combination of careful planning, ingenuity and improvised explosive devices. They’d been through hell and come out, if not singing, then at least somewhat musically inclined.
So Melanie was more peaceful, Basira was more focused, and Martin was less skittish, more … open. He asked for help instead of blundering through a task badly. He voiced his opinions and seemed less worried about seeking approval. He had at some point acquired an astonishing facility at swearing, though it took quite a bit to push him to it. And, for some reason, he kept showering Jon with little endearments, quiet but casual. Sweetheart with a cup of tea. I love you on the tail end of a phone call. My darling idiot , with a sigh and a smile, after Jon had fallen asleep at his desk again. (He’d almost protested that one, but a yawn had swallowed his attempt.)
The others never reacted, even when he was sure they must’ve heard it. If Jon had not committed himself to trusting them, he might’ve considered it a conspiracy. He definitely trusted them, though. He did.
He just also...wasn’t sure what to do with this new development. The old Jonathan Sims would’ve dismissed it as against the Institute’s fraternization policy and probably told Martin off for it besides. That Jonathan had, in some ways, died with Jane Prentiss. In the year or so since, Martin had been, what, a friend? Something like that. Faithful past the point of reason, tolerating Jon even when Jon could barely tolerate himself. He’d endured more, braved more, achieved more than Jon would ever have asked of him, revealing the kind, tenacious, surprisingly resourceful man hidden behind the quirky mannerisms and occasional moments of naivety.
Jon had never, as a rule, been good at emotions, neither his own nor anyone else’s (as Georgie would doubtlessly attest at length). But he could admit, at least, that he found the thought of pushing Martin away intolerable, even if he also knew it would be the wiser choice on many levels. And that … perhaps … Martin murmuring love you as he left for the night made something inside him soften, even as it baffled him.
If Jon were constitutionally capable of letting go of a mystery … well, he wouldn’t be in his present situation. But in this one case, he thought he might almost be able to do it, as long as it meant Martin wouldn’t stop.
Sam nie pojmuję, jak w twe zajdę progi
I myself will not know how I come to your doorstep
There was a morning when Jon emerged from his office, blinking and distracted, to find Basira attempting to take a statement directly. The man she was talking to was saying something about his daughter, and shadows on the water, but Basira kept interrupting him as she filled out the contact sheet. “Wait, sorry, say again?”
“Her name was Sireen. She was--”
“Sorry, erm, how to spell?”
“Okay. Okay. And, erm, how many years?”
“She was only seven.”
“And, your name, how to spell?”
“Zakariya. Z-K-R-Y-A. Suleiman. S-L-Y--”
“No, no, can spell.”
Jon slipped into the kitchenette to fix himself a stronger cup of tea, which is where Basira caught up him. “Hey, sorry, but do we have any sort of … translation service, or something, on call?”
“I … no, we don’t usually have a need for that,” Jon asked, nonplussed.
“Because Mr. Suleiman out there arrived as a refugee,” she explained, “so he barely speaks any English, and my Saturday-school Arabic isn’t getting me very far.”
He almost said a very stupid thing, which was what do you mean, he doesn’t speak English? before the significance of what she was saying really hit him. He put down the mug he’d been holding and took several deep breaths as his world, once again, reorientated itself.
“Jon?” Basira prompted him.
“I … may be able to help,” he finally said. Whether it would expand the nightmare rota or not, he suddenly had a need to test this.
Mr. Suleiman was still sitting near Basira’s desk, so Jon snagged Melanie’s chair and sat near him. He cleared his throat, once, as if that was going to make a difference. “Good afternoon, Mr. Suleiman. My name is Jonathan Sims, and I’m the head archivist here.”
If he concentrated very, very hard, he could tell that that wasn’t what he was actually saying, could feel his mouth shaping unfamiliar consonants. But only if he concentrated. Mr. Suleiman smiled wearily, and behind him, Basira’s eyebrows rose considerably. “Thank you, Mr. Sims,” Mr. Suleiman said in what could not possibly be a broad Midlands accent. “I was trying to tell your assistant about what happened to my daughter Sireen, on the boat, the one we were taking to Greece....”
Afterward he was gone, Jon felt simultaneously keyed-up and weary; he rolled his shoulders a few times in an effort to stave off the incipient tension headache. Basira dropped into her own chair and leaned forward. “Is this where you tell me you secretly read Arabic at Oxford?”
“Unfortunately, no,” Jon sighed. Trust, he reminded himself. “It seems that a fringe benefit of being the Archivist is a sort of … built-in Babel fish. Originally I thought it just applied to written statements, but apparently it’s now … expanded its scope, so to speak.”
Basira made a face. “I mean, that sounds handy, but … also really weird?”
“Yes, that seems to be par for the course with this particular fear god,” Jon grumbled. “Though at least it’s less invasive than some of its other gifts. And I’m not made of wax or worms or recycled clown parts, so, there’s that.”
Basira laughed at him. “Well, at least it helped get that statement down. Any ideas for follow-up?”
“Not sure … I’ll try to transcribe it later.” He popped the tape out of the cassette player and quickly wrote in the label. “For now I think I might need to lie down.”
Zda się, że lekkim snem zakończę życie;
Lecz mnie przebudza żywsze serca bicie,
Które mi głośno zadaje pytanie
It seems that this light dream will end my life;
But I am kept awake by a livier heartbeat
Which poses a question out loud
Jon was always going to ruin it, of course, but he had a choice of how, and a Friday night going over records of eighteenth-century property taxes was as good an option as any. Melanie and Basira had fled before they could be roped into this project, but Jon had been able to deputize Martin when he made the mistake of bringing over a cup of tea, and now it was very late and they still hadn’t tracked down the owners of the specific abattoir he was investigating.
“Maybe we should come back to it in the morning?” Martin proposed gently, when Jon couldn’t fight down a yawn.
“It’s here,” Jon insisted, “I know it’s here somewhere.”
“Will it stop being here if you take a break?”
Jon glared at him. “You’re welcome to leave if you wish.”
“No, it’s fine,” Martin sighed. And then, distinctly, “Sometimes I don’t know why I love you so much.”
There. That. They were sitting all of three feet apart; Jon couldn’t possibly have misheard it, there was no other possible interpretation. There were several possible interpretations for why his heart was suddenly in his throat, but (he thought rather hysterically) he shouldn’t theorize ahead of the data. He found he had to lick his lips before he could speak, and of all the possible ways he could’ve responded -- something insightful, or witty, or sarcastic -- the one thing that actually made it out of his mouth was a blank, “Why do you keep saying that?”
Martin’s reaction was … not what he’d anticipated. His eyes bulged, his face went stark white, and he pushed away from the desk as if it were electrified. “W-what did you say?”
“I asked--” Jon realized, belatedly, that the question was incredibly dim. But Martin’s reaction was unsettling. “Are you all right?”
Martin asked, in a high, strangled voice, “Since when did you speak Polish?”
Jon blinked at the non sequitur. “I … don’t speak Polish?”
“You are literally speaking Polish right now.”
Oh no. Oh god. Jon clapped a hand over his mouth, as if he could gather the offending words back inside. Martin just continued to stare, looking … god, he looked terrified. As if he’d only just remembered that Jon was a monster. Seeing that look on Martin’s face hurt, somewhere up under his ribs, like being stabbed without the blood loss.
Concentrating as hard as he could to make sure it was in English, Jon said, “Martin, I am so sorry.”
“Okay?” Martin said, and he at least leaned back in to his desk again, that was progress. “I guess? But … but if you’ve understood everything I was saying over the last couple weeks, I -- I think I need to go fling myself into the Thames now.”
“I didn’t realize you weren’t speaking English,” Jon tried to explain. “It’s an Archivist thing, I just … understand, sometimes, without noticing. But no one else seemed to think anything was odd, and I’d half convinced myself I was hallucinating it, and … I didn’t even know you spoke Polish.”
“I’ve told you before, my mum’s from Poland,” Martin said, a shade defensively. “We -- before she got sick we used to visit my grandparents every summer.”
Jon wasn’t sure Martin had told him that, actually, but it was also entirely possible that Martin had told him and Jon had discarded the trivia, back when Martin’s optimism and his fussing and his smile were an annoyance, not a lifeline. “Well, you never really spoke it around the archives before,” Jon mumbled.
Martin rubbed his face. “I … it always felt weird,” he admitted. “Like, out of character. And I worried, if I told anyone too much about my family, it would … they’d figure out, you know, about my CV and everything. But, erm, when were trying to break the cornerstone and stop Elias, I sort of got … slightly concussed? And apparently, when I was all disorientated, the Polish just slipped out. Basira must’ve thought I was possessed, too, at the time.”
“Wait, who else was possessed?” Jon said, then immediately corrected. “No, sorry -- not the point, I know.”
Martin now looked at up at him, more shy than scared. “The first time I sort of, blurted it out? When you woke up? You never said anything about it, though,” he continued. “And I want to absolutely emphasize that I didn’t know you understood Polish.”
“ I didn’t know I understood Polish, I’m hardly going to fault you .”
“So I … thought I was being, erm, discreet. Getting away with … but you understood all of it?”
Jon nodded. “All the … endearments, yes. And some of the more creative swearing, which in hindsight does seem a bit out of character.”
Martin’s laugh was a choked and wheezing thing. “Me screaming ‘Cock in your arse’ at the wireless printer is more out of character than me saying ‘I love you?’”
Jon’s mouth was so dry, his heartbeat so loud in his ears. “You’re not usually that angry,” he said, which wasn’t what he meant to say at all.
“Well, better at censoring it, at least,” he muttered.
That was it. That was the real change in him, that Jon had somehow missed until it was right in front of his face. This was the real Martin Blackwood, no more lies, no more masks. Still afraid of most things, but not of being seen. Jon had known him for two years and hardly known him at all, and he suddenly, desperately wanted to find out more.
“I’ll stop,” Martin was saying. “I promise, I won’t … I didn’t mean for it to get this awkward. I mean, obviously, I never even meant for you to know--”
Jon’s left hand, acting entirely independently of his brain, shot out and closed around Martin’s wrist. Martin frozen in place; his face had gradually shifted from sheet-white to an intense blush, and wasn’t it an irony that Jon could speak a thousand languages but not use his bloody words? “You don’t,” he stammered out, “don’t need to … stop.”
“Okay,” Martin said said in a very small voice.
“I … am an asshole,” Jon continued, “and a monster, and we are probably all going to die.”
“I mean, I know all that.” Martin attempted a small smile. “I have met you.”
He did. Of course he did. Martin had see Jon at his lowest point, and still whispered beloved where no one else could hear.
Lunging awkwardly over the desk didn’t feel like a decision so much as an inevitability, a gravitational force pulling him into Martin’s orbit. He wasn’t even sure which of them moved first, as Martin’s hand were already on him when he caught his hip on the desk, and his fingers were curled in Martin’s jumper before Martin was even out of his chair. They met the middle, and Jon pressed in for a kiss, all awkward and honest and unafraid.
It was fairly chaste, as kisses went, but when they broke it Jon kept one and on the back of Martin’s neck, kept their foreheads pressed together. Martin’s hands gradually settled at his waist. “I love you,” Jon said, but when he paid attention he could feel his mouth shape kocham cię.
Martin giggled. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry, I -- that is surreal.”
“I’ll take that over horrifying.”
“You’re not--” Martin stopped, and his eyes narrowed. “Was that a joke?”
“Yes, Martin. I occasionally make them.”
Martin grinned, and pressed a small, quick kiss to the side of Jon’s mouth. “I love you. In English. In whatever language you want.”
“I think English will do us for now.” Jon’s laptop gave the plaintive bleep of a dying battery, and he cast a guilty glance back at it -- but, well, perhaps he could justify taking that break after all. “Erm. Did you … shall we go get coffee?”
Martin groaned. “You are never going to sleep, are you?”
“Well, I’m open to persuasion.” Jon belatedly realized how that might be taken, and his heart tripped again, no, too far, now I have to explain -- but Martin just pulled away long enough to started gathering his coat. The world wouldn’t be any less doomed in the morning, and in the meantime, he had something else demanding his entire attention.