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A ridiculous mistake. So much caught up in his haste to leave the Institute before night could fall, letting himself out without remembering to collect the stack of old files to peruse for his usual nighttime reading. Unnecessary to go back, really, as he could have picked them up the next day, but, well… he’d be even more bogged down than he was, if he let anything else go. Besides, it wasn’t as if he was walking home, so even if he got back after dark, it was fine.

It was only an extra five minutes. He’d just grab the files and go. Anything else could wait until the light of day. While he wasn’t certain on the origins of the threat to his own safety, it was still probably best not to take any chances.

In and out, then.

Perhaps it was his fault as much as it was Martin’s, Jon would think after the fact, that when he turned to walk back out of the records room, he very nearly met with a fire extinguisher to the face.

Still, as it was with the latest events that had happened and that suspect text, the suddenness of the thing made him cringe, and he managed to cycle through a few choices curses in his mind without saying them aloud, before Martin was the one to break the silence.

“… Jon?”

Jon huffed out a sharp breath, and carefully pushed the extinguisher away with the back of his hand. “Let’s try not to rearrange my face today, thank you.”

“Oh! God.” Martin dropped the fire extinguisher; Jon made a useless grab for it, and pretended Martin was the only one who flinched when it bounced to the floor. “Sorry!” Martin exclaimed. “So sorry, I–”

“Quaint, Martin.” His heart was still pounding. He should have gone home, and forgotten all about this. “Were you planning to take out our paranormal approximation of Jane Prentiss with a fire extinguisher?”

“Maybe! I dunno, I just heard… but you left! I locked the door behind you! I made sure I did.”

“I forgot my case.” He held up the aforementioned folders. “So I came back. I didn’t intend you to know I was here.”

“Jesus, I…” Martin took a step back, slumping against the door frame. “Why didn’t you call?” he demanded, and his voice cracked and put his face in his hands.

“I…” was only five minutes away. Something about the way Martin had wilted made him rethink the words. “… my apologies, Martin,” he said instead. If it sounded a bit lacklustre, well. Martin didn’t seem to notice. “I wasn’t thinking, I suppose. Usually it’s me or Elias who locks up.”

“Yeah.” Martin blew out a breath, and this one shook. “I’m just… a–a little jumpy.” He passed his fingers against his eyes.

Jon stilled with the folders still held aloft.

Was he crying? Ah. Well. Whatever had happened, Martin had… been through an ordeal. So the shock probably was enough to trigger this reaction. Except Jon wasn’t at all good for consoling– he would leave that sort of thing to Sasha, usually– and he and Martin weren’t… really friends to begin with.

So. This was uncomfortable.

“Martin.”

“I’m fine, I’ll be fine. I mean, I definitely won’t sleep tonight.” A weak laugh, and there were absolutely tears on his face even as he scrubbed at his skin. “But that’s not a big change from the usual the past couple weeks, huh?”

“Martin.”

“It’s okay, Jon, really. You should go home before it gets any darker out–”

“Martin.” If the man flinched from his tone and volume, it was hardly his fault that he wasn’t listening. Jon did, however, make a vested effort to lower his voice as the man stared placidly back at him. “Would you please sit down before you end up hurting one of us?”

“… yeah.” Martin dropped his hands. Only now did he sound defeated. Strange. Even through the whole thing, charging into the Institute and even throughout the following half an hour it had taken him to compose himself enough to make a statement. Now he was dropping onto the edge of the cot, slumping forward to put his head in his hands.

… right, then.

He tucked the folders under his arm. “Right. I’m not leaving yet, so do refrain from picking up a bat in my absence, if you could.” It was an idle remark, perhaps insensitive, but Jon strode out of the room before Martin could lift his head to answer.

No, comfort wasn’t exactly his brand.

… that being said, Martin was a creature of habit. So Jon was confident in preparing and taking an old, worn mug of tea back to the spare room. Confident enough, he amended, and raised his eyebrows as Martin stared when he offered it to him.

“It’s chamomile. One of your preferred, if I recall correctly.”

“I… yes.” Martin seemed to have composed himself in the handful of minutes that Jon had been in the kitchen. No tear tracks, no snotty noses. But his eyes were still a little red. There was no way Jon could miss noticing that. “You made me tea.”

“I do know how to make tea, Martin.”

“No, I didn’t mean… of course you know how to make tea.” Martin braced his hands on his knees, and… still didn’t move to take the mug.

Now Jon couldn’t help but click his tongue, once, before he caught himself in the chastisement. Comfort. Martin was a grown man, and even a capable one at his best. He didn’t need scolded like a school boy. Especially not now. “I think it’d be better hot,” he said instead, and that seemed to remind Martin that, yes, the tea was there for him, and for drinking.

He reached up to take it– Jon pretended, for his sake, and Martin’s, that the man’s hands weren’t still trembling– and then Jon turned to immediately retreat to stand beside the study desk once again. Martin sipped at the tea and Jon stood by, feeling vaguely like he ought not to leave him like this, just yet.

So. Yes. This was awkward.

But still. The tension seemed to ease a little from Martin’s shoulders as he drank, and his eyes were warm when he finally seemed to get the nerve to look up again. “… thank you, Jon.”

Ah, so he was getting back to the usual Martin, then.

He leaned a little back against the desk, and crossed his arms. “You’ll have to thank Elias for keeping a surplus of that tea here.”

At that, Martin’s eyes widened, and he hesitated with his fingers around the mug. “I’m drinking Elias’s tea?”

It wasn’t particularly amusing, really, but maybe the early mornings and uneasy nights were getting to him. He scoffed, a little, although did manage to stop himself rolling his eyes. “I don’t think he’ll execute punishment for some missing tea leaves. You can blame me if he tries.”

Martin laughed, then, just as small as Jon’s prior scoff on the topic. He sank a little further back into the makeshift lodgings their spare room provided, the horrid, uncomfortable cot and scratchy blankets, and smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be sure to do that.” Another deep breath, balancing his mug on his knee with the hand that hadn’t moved to brace against the bed. “But you should really go. Nothing’s safe, now, and night’s worse. Did you drive today, at least?”

Jon nodded.

“Oh, good, I was going to give you a tenner to help pay a cab…”

“There’s really no need.” Besides, he didn’t want to have to owe Martin a favor, let alone a tenner. Accepting money on loan wasn’t preferrable from anyone. “I’ll get home safely.”

“Ring the Institute’s phone when you get there.”

“Martin.”

“Please? Just… just ‘til this blows over.”

… it was fair. He’d requested the same from Sasha, Tim, and Elias, on a lesser scale, but Martin didn’t have a phone to text with at the moment. A call it was. “Very well. Are you going to lock the door again or shall I?”

“I will.” Immediate, tension back into the lines creasing his forehead. “I’ve got it, let’s go.”

It was a quiet walk back to the front. Martin was actually still being quiet, so Jon had taken the opportunity to flip through the folders he’d come back to collect. They’d keep him busy until it was time to sleep tonight. They were losing too many hours on their ‘safety schedule,’ as it were.

… he cast a glance sideways at Martin, although there was no real need for being sly. Martin wasn’t looking at him, but at the floor or the hallway or decidedly not the window as they walked by.

In his mind, Jon took a deep breath. In the same internal thought, imagined heaving it out as though it would stopper the words in his mind before he could say them. Or, perhaps, it was only to brace himself for the opening he was about to create, by his own choosing.

“You are allowed to call me, Martin.”

Now Martin looked around. “Huh?”

“Should the need arise.”

“Oh, yeah. I mean, I have before.”

… he had, but that was beside the point. “If you want me,” he clarified shortly. Granting Martin permission to call him all hours was more than a little daunting, but it was something he was granting nonetheless. For now.

Like earlier, with the tea, and the other day, offering the spare room, Martin looked… surprised. And then relieved. And then remarkably unemotional, like he was trying to sweep it all under the rug before Jon noticed. “I… thank you, Jon, but I’ll be fine. The Institute’s the safest place, right? It’s just… a little… oddly quiet here, sometimes, but I’m getting used to it.”

“Yes. Well. All the same.” Jon reached for the door, and settled with his hand on the deadbolt. “Until tomorrow, then.”

“But call tonight.”

“I will.”

“Good.”

… right. Now they were both hesitating. Martin’s skittiness was getting to him. He turned the lock. “I’m off, then. Enjoy your night.”

“You as well.”

If Martin was thrumming with tension and Jon cracked the door before opening it fully, neither of them brought attention to it. And if Martin answered on the first ring and they talked a little longer than Jon had originally planned once he was safely locked into his own flat…

Well. They didn’t need to bring that up, either.

  

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