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Consign Me Not To Darkness

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There is a particularly vehement curse from Jon’s office and Martin is on his feet in an instant and heading to the door. He doesn’t knock, just pushes it open.

Jon is scrabbling around on the floor after a sheaf of papers that he must have knocked off. He’s struggling to pick them up, one hand still obviously stiff from the burns, and after a second where Martin thinks horrified of how that must have come about, he kneels to help.

These are statements, not Statements, so Martin doesn’t feel bad about not keeping them in some kind of order. he just piles them up on the end of the desk, noting the chewed up biro lid and the three mugs filled with varying amounts of stone cold tea.

“Jon, are you-“ Martin begins and then bites back the question because none of them are okay, they might never be okay again and Jon may be the least okay person that Martin has ever met who isn’t a literal monster.

“I’m fine Martin,” Jon replies anyway and he pushes himself up to his feet with a soft groan and Martin winces at the cracks that his joints make. “I must have knocked them.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and moves back towards his chair using the edge of the desk to hold himself up because-

He’s swaying on his feet. Martin doesn’t need any supernatural powers to see that.

“Jon, I think you need to take a break.”

Jon snorts and drops onto his chair as though a lead weight is dragging him down. “I have too much to do.”

He picks up a pen and the lid is immediately at his mouth as he drags over a few of the papers, teeth nibbling at the plastic.

“Right, I’ll just-“

Jon makes a soft noise that means that Martin no longer exists in the room as far as Jon is concerned. He hovers next to the desk, watching for a second. He watches Jon’s burnt hand curl against the green leather of the desk so his joints look stiff and Martin half expects to hear them crack.

He can see the way Jon’s hands shake, turning already spidery writing into a near incomprehensible scrawl. Jon reaches out again for another piece of paper and his hand hits the stack and papers flutter to the ground and Jon just stares at them. His eyes are wide and jaw clenched. His hands fist against the desk. He takes a shuddering breath. Then another, and Martin feels like a voyeur and he can’t-

He isn’t doing this anymore.

Jon shifts on his chair, stooping to reach the fallen papers, and Martin moves in to grab the wrist of Jon’s good hand, fingers curling around it. It’s thinner than he’d expected.

Jon jolts at the contact and stares at where Martin’s hand is on his wist. He slowly looks up towards Martin, brow furrowed. But there is no sharp retort or demand on his lips. He just looks at him.

“Jon- you need to take a break,” Martin says.

“I-‘ Jon says, and then he blinks a few times like he’s trying to gather his words. His gaze flicks down towards Martin’s hand again.
“You’re obviously exhausted. It’s not healthy Jon.”

Jon hasn’t pulled away from Martin’s grasp, and maybe he’s pushing it a bit, keeping hold when he knows that Jon is prickly and uncomfortable at the best of times, but he’s pretty sure that as soon as he lets go, Jon is going to pick up those papers and go right back to work.

“I have to keep working,” Jon replies. He sounds distant, like he’s lost, and that just makes Martin more determined.

“Look I… I know things are bad, Jon but you’ve got to stop sometime.“

His grip on Jon’s wrist tightens, squeezing firmly, but gently, and he sees Jon’s pupils go wide, and the way he slumps, like a wire has been cut. Jon’s arm hangs loose in Martin’s grip and he looks away, staring down at the ground.

“I can’t I- I can’t stop thinking,” Jon says. “I close my eyes and I’m still thinking. About everything. So I might as well make myself useful and get some work done.”

There is an exhaustion in his voice that verges on defeat and Martin hates it with every fibre of his being. He longs for the snappish dismissal of the early days in the archives, because at least then he’d know that things were fine. And they aren’t. Things might never be fine again. For any of them. But he has to try.

“What about sleeping medication?” he asks desperately.

Jon shakes his head. He still doesn’t try to pull away. “No. Nightmares.”

It doesn’t surprise Martin to hear that. Not as much as he thinks it should. God know they’ve all got their own these days and once he would have been shocked to hear that anything caused them for Jonathan Sims, but, like so many things, not anymore.

“Well what about-“ Martin begins, and turns over everything he can think of and dismisses them in turn. Tea is for mild social anxiety, not the apocalypse. Alcohol and drugs are liable to leave them in a worse situation tomorrow. Sex… well, he’s pretty sure he’s heard enough to know that Jon doesn’t do that, and even if he did, a casual hookup sounds more dangerous than helpful.

Jon gives a weak tug, not really trying to get away, and Martin’s grip tightens unthinkingly. In the second before he lets go, he hears the gasp from Jon, a little aborted thing, and sees the shudder run through him.

“I should get back to work,” Jon says and extricates himself from Martin. he turns back to the desk with a movement that is painful to watch, like someone who has full body bruises.

And that’s it. Martin knows it. Jon will go back to work until he passes out on the desk. He’ll sleep poorly and wake early and be irritated and unkind tomorrow. Rinse. Repeat. Until the tension in the Archives becomes so thick that someone finally snaps and the impending apocalypse will have nothing on the Great Archives Massacre of 2017.

No. No. Martin isn’t going to let that happen.

“I’ve got an idea,” he says.

There must be something in his voice, because Jon looks up at him, like Martin has dragged his head up. He doesn’t speak, but Martin can see the question in his eyes.

“Well-“ Martin begins and suddenly realises that this is probably not his smartest idea, but he’s committed now. And he thinks it might help. Just a hunch. Either it’ll work or he will never be able to look Jon in the eyes again. “Icouldtieyouup.”
The words tumble out of him in a rush, and Jon is still staring at him, that little crease between his eyebrows deepening in confusion.

“Pardon?”

Martin lets out a breath and reaches up to scrub a hand across his face. “I could… tie… you up.”

It takes a moment longer before he realises how that sounds, and he hopes the horrified expression he is obviously wearing is enough to keep Jon from trying to run away immediately as he forges on. “No! I don’t- I don’t mean like… tie you to a chair or- or kidnap you. I just mean… like… like bondage.”

He wants to die on the spot.

Jon is still staring at him, and there’s a slow pained expression creeping across his face. “Martin,” he says, and his voice has a gentleness to it, like he’s planning to break up with him even though they aren’t- aren’t anything. “I don’t- I’m not interested in sex. At all. With anyone.”

Martin feels the mortification creeping up his neck in shades of red. He shakes his head violently. “It doesn’t have to be! About sex I mean. I just thought-“

He lets out a long breath and hey, at least Jon hasn’t told him to fuck off. He fixes his gaze on a point on the wall above Jon’s head.

“It doesn’t have to be sexual,” he says finally, each word as precise as he can make it. “It can just be about- about letting go. About not having to- to think or control things. About feeling safe.”

He risks a glance at Jon’s face. He doesn’t look disgusted which is about as good as Martin could have hoped for. Instead he looks… frowny, but curious. There’s a way that he tilts his head when there’s an idea he wants to poke at, like a bird hunting down a worm, and he has that now.

Martin barrels on. “It can be pretty nice actually. Sort of… freeing. You get tied up and it’s just you and the ropes or scarves and your body and the person you trust to take care of you and it can really clear out your head for a while. It does for me.”

He’s pretty sure he’s as red as a regular white English family at the end of a holiday to Mallorca.

Jon raises an eyebrow. “Do you regularly get tied up, Martin? Do I need to persuade Elias to hire more security?”

Oh god, he’s pretty sure he’s in more danger from Elias honestly. Jon doesn’t sound horrified though. He just sounds wry. Amused even. He’s joking, Martin realises with a jolt, and that gives him the courage to continue.

“I mean, not recently,” Martin says. He sort of wishes that Jon would Compel it out of him, because at least then it wouldn’t feel like pulling teeth to get it out. He sucks in a breath. “But I have been. And uh… it helped a couple of times when I was really anxious, and I know other people who’ve said the same and- and I just thought it might help.”

The words fall into the silence of the Archive. It’s a funny thing; he thinks the silences in the Archive are worse than anywhere else he’s been. He’s not sure if that’s supernatural or psychological or architectural, or maybe a combination of all three. In any case, it goes on for long enough that he wants to bolt. He’s sure he can find things to keep him busy and out of sight for the next few days until the next emergency drives this from Jon’s mind.

Jon sighs and leans back in his chair. His gaze flits to Martin’s hand still around his wrist with a curious expression. “What exactly would this entail?”

Martin’s heart skips a beat and he hardly dares believe that Jon might be considering it. Or at least is holding himself back enough to not immediately tell Martin to get out of his office and never return.

Which is lucky because none of them can leave.

“Well… I’m not expecting you to get naked or anything. But I’ve- I’ve got some rope. At home. Nice stuff.” Stuff that he’d bought before moving to the Archives from research. Stuff he’d bought when he’d still had an approximation of a social life and a chance of taking someone home. “We could go there. And I’d be there the whole time. You wouldn’t ever be on your own. And you’d have a word to say in case you needed to stop.”

“Yes Martin. I am aware of the concept of a safe word,” Jon says. His voice is dry enough to use as kindling. He finally pulls away and drops his hand into his lap. Martin can’t help but notice that he loops the fingers of his other hand around it where Martin’s had been.

“Oh. I-“

“I have used the internet. I’m not completely out of touch.”

“Right.” It’s easy to forget sometimes, when most of the time Jon is in here with paper statements and an old tape recorder. He doesn’t think he uses his laptop for work much anymore. And work is all they seem to do these days. “So… how long roughly should I be avoiding you for after this?” Might as well figure this out and save himself a small amount of awkwardness next week.

“I didn’t say no.”

Martin stares at him. Jon stares back. He’s not sure if the intensity of the stare is a new thing, a side-effect of whatever they’re all sort of serving now, or if Jon has always been like that and Martin was too flustered to notice.

Jon leans forward and his hands twist in his lap. “Frankly, Martin. I am willing to try just about anything at this point.” It sounds like the words are being dragged out of him. “I’m tired. I can’t function like this. And I need to be functional. I can’t afford not to be. So if you think this may help, I’ll try it.”

Martin’s stomach swoops and for a moment he thinks he might be sick from nerves. He’d never considered that Jon might agree. He’d never considered this situation at all honestly, and Jon is looking at him and Martin watches as he rubs his fingers over the spot where Martin’s hand had wrapped around his wrist.

“O-okay then. Um. Shall I- I’ll get my coat and we can… go?”

“That sounds like a plan,” Jon replies. He pushes himself up to his feet and Martin skitters away to grab his jacket and they meet by the door to the Institute and just… stop there. It feels like taking a step outside is going to change things. He’s never taken anyone from work back to his flat, and even knowing it isn’t going to be sexual doesn’t mean that it isn’t intimate and this is Jon after all.

“Well?” Jon says.

“Oh. Right.” Apparently he’s leading the way. Which makes sense since it’s his flat they’re going to, but it feels wrong somehow. Martin isn’t a leader. He’s always tagged along after Jon. “It’s just a few stops on the tube.”

They both know where that is, so it feels less awkward as they head towards Embankment. It’s only just starting to get dark despite how late it is, the full flush of summer only reluctantly giving up the daylight even approaching 10pm, and the air is still warm. The streets are busy enough that it feels almost safe, and Martin can see the white bones of the London Eye out towards Westminster, the carriages lit up like a merry-go-round.

As soon as the thought occurs, he shudders. Too much like circuses for comfort.

Despite that, the walk is pleasant, and he feels a pang of regret when they reach the station and head down towards the Northern Line.

The train pulls up as Martin is still trying to stuff his Oyster card into his wallet. He grabs a seat and Jon settles next to him. Their knees brush. It’s not strange for that to happen on the tube—sort of inevitable really—but there’s plenty of extra seats and it’s Jon next to him.

He wonders what Jon will look like tied up, wrapped in a web of rope and helpless. He spends a moment idly considering the best way to tie him, before he realises that is probably not the safest thought to have in a public place when Jonathan Sims is sitting right next to him.

“How did you find this out?”

It takes Martin a minute to really register that Jon’s spoken. All he can manage when he does is a rather clueless “Hm?”

Jon tilts his head, that hungry bird look again. “About- about being tied up helping to settle your mind? It doesn’t seem the sort of thing you try by accident.”

“Oh.” Martin can feel the flush creeping back along his neck. Some people it wouldn’t bother him. He’d talked once with Tim about it, and there’d been a little teasing but it hadn’t felt like this. It’s different with Jon. “Well, when I moved to London I used to- I did actually have a social life.” He reaches up to rub at his neck, like it will somehow make the awkward retreat. “First time living on my own, you know? I wanted to try everything. I had a boyfriend and we tried some stuff at home, and went to a few uh… we went to a few fetish clubs and-“

He is going to die before they ever get to his flat. He chances a look at Jon’s face. Jon is mercifully not looking at him because Martin doesn’t know what he’d do if he was. He also doesn’t know what to think about the fact that Jon isn’t looking at him.

“So yeah,” he finishes. “Got tied up a few times. It was nice. Quietened my head down. It’s hard to be anxious about screwing things up when you’re strapped down and someone else is in charge.” He takes a deep breath and is suddenly very glad that there’s no-one sitting near them. “And that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about my sex life.”

Or lack of one for the past couple of years. If he’s honest with himself, it’s not a huge loss. He likes sex. It’s fun. But he’d never been much into casual hookups and had never felt like he needed it as much as other people did. Maybe he was just too used to denying himself.

“I didn’t know,” Jon says. He has his thumb at his mouth, worrying the side of it with his teeth.

“Well, I’m not Tim. I don’t really talk about that stuff at work. No reason you should.”

Jon gives a little hum, and Martin wonders what he’s thinking. Probably trying to decide whether to have a sudden vital appointment crop up as soon as they get off the train.

The train journey which seems near endless with Jon sitting next to him. The twenty minute commute stretches out into what feels like an hour and Martin is really glad he doesn’t live further out.

He sits back with a heavy sigh, and stares up at the adverts. Gyms, investment companies, life insurance. He wonders if they pay out if you get murdered and skinned by evil mannequins and circus dolls. Not that he has any life insurance. His workplace pension is starting to feel a little bit redundant these days too.

Christ, the existence of the accounting department at the Magnus Institute just seems weird now. On the one hand, they technically serve some kind of extra-dimensional entity of pure fear. On the other, they also pay people to deal with payroll and their taxes. It’s just not right.

“Ah, Martin?”

Martin straightens up and looks over at Jon. “Yeah?”

“Stockwell, right?”

“Oh-“ The train’s slowing down, and the display above the door says Stockwell. “Oh, yes. Sorry I- lost in thought.”

Jon gives a small smile that makes Martin’s heart beat twice as fast. “I know the feeling.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess you do.” He stands up quickly and they hop off the train and head up to ground level.

He pauses just outside, where there’s a little Tesco. “I need to pick up a few things. Do you want anything Jon?”

Food is what he’s getting at. Jon is bad at feeding himself and he’s pretty sure he hasn’t eaten since lunch at least. Jon, predictably, shakes his head. “I’m fine Martin. But thank you.”

“I’ll just be a sec then.” Martin heads into the shop and grabs a basket. He doesn’t have much in the way of food in, and anyway, if they’re going to do this, then he’s going to do it right. He’s going to make sure Jon is taken care of.

A couple of bottles of water and then he skirts around to the snack aisle. He’d always liked biscuits after a session, found them quite comforting, but he has no idea what would work for Jon. He chews on his lip for a moment before deciding to get a selection. There’s biscuits and trail mix and chocolate bars and cereal bars, and he doubles back to grab a selection of sandwiches and pasta salad in case Jon changes his mind and decides to eat and-

It hits him as he’s adding another pack of Hobnobs to the basket. Jon is waiting for him outside. Jonathan Sims is coming to his flat. Jonathan Sims, the Archivist, agreed to let Martin tie him up.

He stumbles towards the freezers at the back of the store and leans his forehead against one of them. Part of him is hysterically wondering how he can survive Jane Prentiss and other actual literal monsters, but Jon wanting to do anything with him is the thing that breaks his brain. Most of the rest of him is drowning in a heady mix of excitement and dread.

“Get a grip,” he mutters to himself. He straightens up and heads towards the checkout. He does stop to pick up a bottle of wine though. For afterwards. Either it goes well and it’ll be nice to unwind, or it goes terribly, Jon leaves and never wants to talk to him again, he burns every bridge, in which case he will really need a drink.

Jon is still there— Matin can see a sliver of him when he peers out the door while he’s paying for his stuff. The cashier gives him a knowing smile as he packs the wine into his bag. “Hot date?”

Martin presses his lips together tightly, and stares down at his hands as he slides the pack of biscuits into it. “Something like that.”

She nods and looks a bit smug like she knows exactly what that means, which is rich when Martin doesn’t have a clue. Unfortunately it also makes him think about it, about Jon tied up beneath him, helpless and his. He imagines trailing his fingers down Jon’s sides, over the planes of his back, skin warm beneath his fingers. Imagines the way that Jon would shift at the touch, muscles flexing and shifting. How warm and solid he would feel.

And maybe they’d kiss. Kissing is okay right? Or at least maybe Martin would kiss the back of his neck, nuzzle there against hair going grey far too early.

He sucks in a breath and forces down the urge to run back to the freezers again and maybe shut himself in one until his body stops.

Finally he emerges from the shop and finds Jon, stubbing out a cigarette, a guilty look on his face as he scuffs it out with the toe of his Oxfords.

Martin gives him a disapproving look and Jon sighs. “I did say I’d try anything. And you were in the shop for a long time.”

It isn’t really an explanation or an apology. But Martin sighs and holds up the bags, unwilling to get into an argument which might lead to Jon leaving. “I got snacks.”

“There’s two of us. You look like you’re planning to feed an army.”

“I haven’t had time to go shopping for a while,” Martin says. He does have an unhealthily large stock of tinned and dried food these days. Being trapped in your own flat for two weeks makes you start thinking about that kind of thing. Survivalist stuff. Except Bear Grylls never had to deal with a flesh hive attempting to smoke him out of his flat and infest him.

“Well,” Jon says, “lead the way.”

Martin nods and sets off. It only takes a couple of minutes. He unlocks the door and shoves it open, then stands aside to let Jon in. As soon as he’s over the threshold, he closes the door and throws one of the bolts. He’s added a couple more recently, along with the heavy duty draught excluder brushes at the bottom of the door. And the selection of cans of insulation spray foam next to each door and window just in case.

Jon is looking around, and Martin knows that he’s taking in every bit of his flat and cataloguing it, and also probably feeding that knowledge to the kind of entity that can rightfully have the description ‘eldritch’ applied to it.

“I’ll just…” He heads into the kitchen and starts packing away the stuff that needs to go into the fridge. The water bottles and some of the snacks he leaves in the bag.

“Do you want tea?” he calls. He puts the kettle on before he gets a response anyway, because he’s definitely going to need a moment to ground himself. Can’t be full of jitters when you’ve got someone tied up.

“Please,” Jon calls back and Martin sets about making the tea.

It’s soothing, making tea. Like a ritual. Teabags and hot water and milk, the sound of the kettle boiling and the click of the spoon against the mug. He knows how it works. He knows every step without thinking. The world may be falling apart around him, leaving him balanced precariously on some horrible precipice, but for this one spot of time, he knows exactly what he is doing.

He carries the mugs out and finds Jon perched on the battered sofa, right on the edge, hands twisting in his lap. He looks like he’s going to bolt at any second. The smile that he gives when Martin offers him the mug is small and tight. He takes the mug though, and curls long fingers around it.

Martin drops himself at the other and of the sofa, drawing his feet up next to him and tries not to drown in the silence which stretches out between them worse than any uncomfortable conversation at the Archives had. Worse even than when Jon had been practically stalking them in the midst of his paranoia. At least then Martin had been able to get angry about it.

He’s halfway through his tea when he can’t take it anymore. He leans forward and sets the mug down on the coffee table, loud enough that Jon jolts, like he’d been dozing off, or at least lost in his own thoughts.

“We’re going to do this properly,” Martin says, trying to imbue his voice with the confidence of some of the professional doms he’d seen at clubs, back when he still did that sort of thing. He isn’t sure it works, but Jon’s focus switches to him. He looks wary, but he isn’t laughing at least?

“I don’t know how to do ‘this’ properly,” Jon replies. He’s gripping the mug like he wants to break it.

“Well, we need to talk about it. No really,” he adds when Jon snorts.

“You might have noticed that talking about things is not exactly my strong point.”

Martin’s lips tighten into an unhappy line. Of course he’s noticed. If Jon had been good at talking about things, then Tim might not be this angry stranger, and Jon might not have been accused of murder. But blurting that out isn’t going to help things, and he can’t go into this angry. It doesn’t help. It’s wrong.

“Well, you’re going to have to learn,” he says, and maybe it’s due to how tired he is of all this - they’re facing an apocalypse, they should be a united front! - but it comes out firm, a command rather than a request.

Jon blinks at him in surprise, and his eyes narrow with an expression of confusion which smooths into acceptance. “Alright then.”

He looks surprised that he’s agreed. Perhaps as surprised as Martin is. Martin smiles anyway and leans over to pat Jon’s arm, and give it a gentle squeeze.

It’s a little hilarious when Jon looks like a startled cat at the content, hilarious but mostly sad. He’d come back to the Institute with a few more scars. Martin hasn’t asked about them but he gets the impression there hasn’t been much positive physical contact in Jon’s life recently.

“Obviously, sexual contact is a no,” Martin begins, “but what about other kinds of touching? I could just tie you up and sit and watch, but contact can help sometimes. But I need to know what’s off limits.”

Jon frowns, and chews on his lip. Martin’s pleased that he’s giving it real thought, not just saying that it doesn’t matter, that he doesn’t care. That he isn’t worth being taken care of. He looks back up and meets Martin’s gaze. “Let’s say nothing below the waist except for the ah- the process of tying me up.”

“That’s a good start,” Martin says, and he gives Jon’s arm another warm squeeze, then rubs his thumb against the pulse point in his wrist. It’s a good step. He deserves to be rewarded for it, even if that reward is just being touched by someone who doesn’t want to hurt him.

“What more can there possibly be?” Jon asks, in a low mutter.

“Well, there’s a big difference between me stroking your back, and me biting your neck, or pinching a nipple.” He wonders how much Jon would squirm if he did though, if he’d yelp or if he’d moan.

There is a faint pink tinge to Jon’s cheeks, and his eyes go wide as though he hadn’t considered how many different ways Martin could touch him. “I think I’d rather avoid any biting,” he says after a moment. “And pinching of anything doesn’t sound very soothing.” He hesitates for a moment before continuing with “But stroking, things like that, that sounds… pleasant.”

“And what about… kissing?” Martin asks, the words impulsively tripping off his tongue. He immediately wants to take them back; his selfish desires aren’t supposed to be part of this. What if Jon thinks that Martin only made this offer to hit on him?

Jon’s tongue flicks out over his lips. He takes his time like he’s giving it as much consideration as anything else Martin has asked. Martin hardly dares breathe.

“Why don’t we try and find out?” is what Jon says, and Martin’s heart pounds loudly enough that he’s sure his neighbours will hear it (he knows that’s a lie - they hadn’t noticed him trapped there for two weeks, the knocking on his door coming whenever he tried to sleep).

“W-what?”

Jon turns an amused look on him, amused and shy, and Martin has never felt less like someone in control of things.

“Kissing,” Jon says, and it’s weird hearing him say it. He makes the word sound clinical. “We could try. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t hate it either. It’s always depended on the person.”

“No pressure then,” Martin says, giving an awkward little laugh. He’s wanted to kiss Jon for ages, and now that the opportunity has arisen, he’s going to have performance anxiety. What if Jon decides that his kissing is… unpalatable?

“I don’t mean-“ Jon sighs and straightens up in his seat, and then his hand is on Martin’s. “I’m not fond of tongues, of deep kissing. And some of my previous partners have really enjoyed that.”

“Oh! Okay, I can do that.” He does like the occasional filthy kiss, but he’d always rather cuddle and watch something together, than make out for ages, so he grasps the distinction. “I mean, can I do that?”

“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I didn’t want to,” Jon replies.

“Alright then.”

His heart is fluttering like a mad moth at a lightbulb. He leans in and raises a hand to cup against Jon’s cheek. He feels him startle and then relax and then their lips touch. Jon’s are dry, a little chapped, but softer than he’d expected. They move together, brushing closer, pulling away, and then Jon’s hand curls up against Martin’s neck and he wants to melt.

Jon pulls away, and Martin can feel his breath on his lips. He opens his mouth to speak, but Jon closes that gap quickly to kiss him again, a soft, lingering press of lips followed by a teasing scrape of teeth.

Martin’s lips feel like they’re tingling when they do part. He reaches up to touch them, and it feels like there’s a lump in his throat. He’s just kissed Jonathan Sims.

“Um-“ Oh very intelligent Martin. “So do I pass?” he asks. He feels a little shaky now. It was a good kiss, for him at least, and he would like to do it again. What if Jon had hated it?

But Jon is smiling, a fond expression that makes Martin want to kiss him again, over and over if it will keep him looking like that. It soothes some of the hard lines on Jon’s face, softens them, until he looks almost like the Jon he’d known before the Archives. Not that they’d even been friends then but it made the changes in all of them that much starker.

“Yes, Martin,” Jon says. “That was pleasant.”

“Oh good,” Martin says, the words released on a soft exhale and he hadn’t realised he’d been holding his breath. “‘cause that was really nice.”

Jon kisses him again then, just a peck on the lips, but he’s already dazed so it feels like the sweetest kiss he’s ever tasted.

“Any more questions?” he asks.

Martin shakes his head. “No. I think we’re good.”

“I’ll get my stuff then.”

He leans over and kisses Jon’s cheek, squeezes his arm again. He likes the pink tinge to Jon’s cheeks and hey, maybe this will work. There’s definitely a stupid smile on his face as he heads to the bedroom.

The box is under the bed, and Martin pulls it out and opens it up to grab what he needs. It’s not a huge collection, or particularly impressive, but there’s enough in there to be fun on the rare occasion when Martin does bring someone home.

There’s a coil of rope in there, vibrant purple and soft - it had cost a lot for someone who’d just moved to London, but it had been worth it. He pulls it out along with a large pair of scissors in case he needs to remove the ropes quickly. No matter what else, he’s careful, and he’d had that drilled into him.

Jon is back to clutching the mug when Martin returns. He’s staring into it like it holds the secrets to the universe. It might do. What does Martin know?

Martin sits back down and drops the rope onto the sofa between them. Jon jolts and stares down at the items. He touches the rope with one finger like he’s afraid it might bite him.

“It’s prettier than I thought it would be,” he says. he glances up at Martin, his lips curled into a wry smile. “I was expecting more coarse brown stuff.”

Martin wrinkles his nose. “No. I don’t like the itchy ones. I got this with one of my first paycheques from the Institute actually.”

“Glad to know a researcher’s wage was put to good use,” Jon replies. It lacks the acerbic edge that Martin is used to, sounds more amused than scornful.

“Well, you’re benefitting now, Jon.”

“Yes, I suppose I am.” He sets his cup down and fixes Martin with his full attention. Martin wonders if it was always so intense to have Jon focussed on him completely, or if it’s a new development. Or maybe he’d just never really had Jon focussed on him before things started to get weird. “How do we do this then?”

Martin feels a warmth down to his core at the way that Jon says ‘we’, and he sits up straighter, shoulders pulled back out of the habitual slouch that comes from hours spent hunched over laptops and documents. It helps to put him into the right mindset. He could have changed as well; he has a nice silky black shirt that always makes him feel good, but in the end, mindset is the thing that matters. Everything else is set dressing.

“I’m going to tie you up,” Martin says. He pitches his voice a little lower than usual, and harder. Jon straightens up when he hears it. That’s a good start. “You’re going to kneel for me, hands behind your back, and I’m going to tie you up.”
There’s a shiver from Jon this time. Martin leans over and touches his hand. He’s not alone. Martin won’t leave him alone.

“Do I have to undress?” Jon asks. There is something shy in the question.

Martin gives his wrist a squeeze and smiles. “Only as much as you’re comfortable with.”

This isn’t about teasing. Isn’t about him. Just about Jon’s comfort.

Jon nods, and shifts in his seat, then shrugs out of his jacket and starts to unfasten the buttons of his shirt. Martin stares. Can’t help it. He never thought he’d get the chance to see Jon anything other than fully buttoned up and proper. Each button exposes a little more skin, and a few more scars.

His stomach lurches when he sees them. The silvery scars stand out harshly against Jon’s skin, little clusters of them where the worms had begun to burrow into him after Martin had-

No. It’s not the time for that. He’s had enough anxiety spirals to know that he needs to cut them off early. Besides, it’s much nicer to focus on Jon, on dusky skin being exposed, on the dark hair that curls across his chest. He is not what Martin would call hot, but there is a beauty to him. It is the kind that you see in liturgical artwork, distant and untouchable and vaguely inhuman.

And then the shirt is shed and neatly folded and Jon is looking at him again. “Is this okay?”

Matin has to fight to retain his composure when what he really wants is to babble and let his feelings run riot. He reigns himself in though, and gives Jon a reassuring smile. Tonight, this is his job.

“Perfect,” he says. Another touch against Jon’s arm, and he savours the smile on Jon’s lips for the second it’s there. “We’ll use traffic lights as a warning. Green means everything’s okay, yellow, you need me to slow down or to take a moment. Red. I’ll stop right then and get you out immediately. No questions asked. Okay?”

“I don’t think that is nec-“

“It is,” Martin says firmly. He leans in, meeting Jon’s gaze, expression stern. “It is necessary, Jon. I’m not going to do this if it isn’t done properly.”

He braces himself for this to end, for Jon to grab his shirt and stalk off, but he’s not going to be the thing that Jon uses to punish himself with. The expressions wash across Jon’s face, annoyance and frustration until finally they fade and there’s just relief. His lips twist into a smile and it’s so grateful that Martin’s chest aches.

“Alright. You’re in charge.”

And then Jon slides off the sofa and onto his knees on the floor, hands crossed behind his back. He stares up at Martin with such a look of hope and gratitude that it takes his breath away.

All he can do is stare, the moment taut and thick between them. Martin wants to sear this moment into his memory, the sight of Jon on his knees, shoulders knotted back to hold his hands behind him, and begging Martin to tie him up. He looks like he belongs there, folded up on Martin’s living room floor.

That behaviour deserves reward. He leans forward and rests his hand against the top of Jon’s head. His fingers curl through his hair, rubbing at Jon’s scalp. Jon’s brow creases at the touch, like he’s trying to work out if he likes this and how he’s supposed to react. After a moment, the frown smoothes. He doesn’t pull away or tell Martin to stop, so he’s going to assume that he doesn’t hate it.

It feels good too, slides something into place inside Martin, a sense of calm and certainty running through him. He can do this. He’s good at it. For this moment he can take care of Jon, keep him safe, and maybe help him let go of some of that terrible stress he carries around.

He curves his hand lower to splay his fingers against Jon’s cheek. “I’m to tie you up now.”

This time he can feel the shudder that runs through Jon at the words. But it isn’t fear. It’s anticipation.

Martin picks up the rope and gets Jon to turn around and present his back. He takes a moment to consider his path and traces his fingers across the planes of Jon’s back as he thinks. His skin is warmer than he’d expected, considering Jon’s usual chilly demeanour, and he smiles when Jon shifts and shivers beneath him, leaning unthinkingly into the touches.

Everything falls away with the first knot. Martin’s hands move without him needing to think about it, spinning well known patterns across Jon’s flesh with the rope. It’s meditation and prayer and he thinks he needed this as much as Jon, a place to spend that energy that belongs nowhere else in his life right now.

He ties the last knot and sits back to take a breath and admire his handiwork. The purple is a beautiful contrast against Jon’s skin as it twists around him, holding his arms still at the small of his back, and looping around his waist then curling up to criss-cross his chest and back and shoulders.

Martin stands up and walks around so he can see Jon’s front. his head is bowed, a look of intense concentration on his face. He shifts his weight from leg to leg, testing out the warp and weft of the bonds. Martin rests a hand against his head again, and suddenly all of the intent scrutiny is on him.

“Is this okay, Jon?” he asks.

Jon’s tongue flicks out over his lips. The ropes tighten around his chest when he breathes in, and slacken with his soft exhale. “Strange,” he says. His voice has that note to it, the kind he gets when he is testing out the feel of something on his tongue.

Martin catches his chin again, drags him away from his seeking. “What colour?”

“Green,” Jon says. He sounds certain.

Martin leans in and kisses him. Jon gasps against his lips, his whole body tensing against the ropes before he relaxes and kisses back, lips pressed eagerly against Martin’s. He cups Jon’s jaw, holds him still until he’s done and then pulls away.

“I’ll be right here, Jon,” he promises. “I’m not going anywhere.”

He knows how disorienting it can be the first time, the fifth time, any time. He knows it’s important to be there. He wants this to be good for Jon.

He strokes Jon’s hair again, curls a thick strand of it between his fingers. Then he pulls away and goes to get his laptop. Pretends he doesn’t hear the soft huff of breath from Jon.

He settles back on the sofa and pulls up a playlist, one that likes having on in the background while does other things. It fills the room with gentle noise, but doesn’t have any sharp edges to pull his attention towards it. He flicks idly through a few websites, checks his email. Nothing important. He doesn’t get many emails. Not personal ones.

Jon shifts, a soft gasp escaping him and Martin reaches out to touch his neck, slides warm fingers down between his shoulder blades, anchors him back in his body. He relaxes at the touch with a shudder and Martin keeps up the soothing stroking motion as he skims through a couple of articles that piqued his interest and have been sitting around on tabs for days. Beneath the music, the only sound is Jon’s breathing and the shift of his body beneath the ropes.

He senses more than sees the moment when Jon falls. It’s not anything supernatural, just practice. He recognises the slow unwinding of tension that sinks through Jon’s muscles, and the way his fingers unclench. He recognises the deep inhale and release and the slump of shoulders. He recognises the loosening of muscles warped tight and knotted where he touches Jon’s back. He recognises them intimately.

He curls his palm against Jon’s neck and tugs him unresisting back to lean against him. Jon makes a soft noise, wordless and sleepy and rests his cheek against Martin’s thigh. His eyes are half closed, and distant, and his face is slack. Martin doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jon without what he thought was a permanent crease on his forehead, but it’s smoothed out now. He looks peaceful.

Deep affection for this strange and hurt and lovely man wells in his chest. It mingles with breathless pride; he’s the one who did this, him, and no-one else gets to see it. He slides his fingers once more into Jon’s hair, and scratches his nails lightly against his scalp. Jon makes another soft noise — not quite a moan, but a good noise — and leans into the touch, eyes dropping completely shut.

Martin would keep him there forever if he could. he wishes that he could seal this piece of time off in a bubble, away from monsters and gods.

He keeps up the gentle touches, stroking Jon’s hair or exploring the planes and crests of his back. Pretends to read articles on his laptop but his attention is all on Jon. He watches the minute changes in expression, the way his lips tighten with fleeting thoughts, and how his eyelashes brush his skin when he blinks.

“Jon?” he says softly. Jon does not stir, although he is awake. “Jon?”

It takes a few seconds before Jon hears him. He tilts his head so he can peer up at Martin without moving away from where he’s leaning. There’s a soft look in his eyes, like he’s somewhere far away, and very lovely, and Martin hates to pull him away, but he also has to take care of him.

He smiles warmly at Jon. “I’m going to untie you, okay?”

Jon’s brow furrows. His lips move like he’s trying to make words work. Martin strokes his thumb across his lips. “It’s okay. You’ve done good. But I don’t want you to lose feeling.”

That seems to mollify him, and he lets Martin ease him away from his leg. He stays still as Martin begins to unravel the ropes, and Martin keeps up a soft stream of chatter as he does it. He tells Jon how good he’s been, how beautiful, how proud Martin is of him. He fills those words with all the feelings that he keeps bottled up and sealed away and hopes that Jon will forgive him this indulgence.

When the ropes are off, he eases Jon’s arms down from where they’re clasped and rubs them carefully, fingers running over thin wrists. He fights down the flashfire of anger at the burn scars, and meets Jon’s gaze instead. Jon blinks at him. He looks sleepy, and confused, but not panicked which is a good sign.

“What colour, Jon?” Martin asks, gentle but allowing no protest.

“I-“ Jon says. His voice is thready, distant, and a shudder runs through him him. “Um… green?”

Martin stops what he’s doing and takes Jon’s hands in his and laces their fingers together. “I need you to be sure, Jon. What colour?”

Has he pushed too far? Or had he just not accounted for some supernatural sensitivity?

But Jon blinks again, and his voice is firmed this time when he says “Green”.

Martin lets out a relieved huff of breath. “Good. Keep talking to me, Jon. How do you feel?”

“Uh… it’s odd,” Jon begins, his face taking on the more familiar contours of thought. “I feel- distant? Everything’s a little hazy. But in a nice way. It’s soft.”

Martin squeezes Jon’s hands. “Yeah, it gets like that sometimes,” he agrees. “Can you stand up? You can lean on me.”

Normally he’s sure that Jon would protest ‘yes I am perfectly capable of standing on my own Martin’. But now he lets Martin pull him slowly to his feet. He staggers a little, hisses as the blood floods back into his legs.

Martin slides an arm around him and guides him to sit down on the sofa. He has a thick blanket there, fake fur, that he uses on cold nights because the old sash windows are draughty and he doesn’t get paid enough to keep the heating on all the time. He pulls it off the back of the sofa and drapes it around Jon’s shoulders.

“I’ll be back in a second,” he says. He hesitates for a second and then presses a kiss to the top of Jon’s head.

Jon gives him a surprised look, but smiles. The expression is still a little distant, ghosting along the edge of that soft unreal place before he plunges back into sharp-edged reality.

Martin hurries into the kitchen and grabs the bag of snacks that he’d left there earlier, then returns to the living room and immediately settles himself next to Jon on the sofa. Jon sits there stiffly, drowned in the grey fuzz of the blanket. Martin sighs and tugs him close up against his side.

“You did so well,” he murmurs to him. “You’re so good. I’m so proud of you.”

Jon melts against his side with the words. It makes Martin smile, remembering times when that was him, when his partner’s praise had made him feel like the rest of the world was distant and all that existed was the safety of here and now.

“I didn’t know what kind of snacks you’d like,” he says. He grabs the bag and opens it, offering it to Jon. “Pick what you like? And you should drink some water too. That’s important.”

“Uh-“ Jon looks baffled. There’s still a bit of that fuzziness in his eyes, as his gaze flicks between Martin’s face and the plastic bag.

“You need to eat,” Martin says, putting a little bit of that force into his voice. “There’s lots of… hormones and stuff, brain chemicals. They can be pretty nasty if you’re not taken care of.”

Stick to the practical things, Martin. The science. Not the part that just wants to make sure that Jon is safe and taken care of. Jon doesn’t eat properly at the best of times, so Martin isn’t going to let him skip this now.

Jon seems overwhelmed by the choice, and gives Martin this wide-eyed look of confusion that makes his heart ache. Right. Jon is terrible at taking care of himself at the best of times. Why would this be any different? And he’d sounded so relieved when he’d told Martin he was in charge so-

His grip around Jon tightens, and he sets the bag out on his lap. He grabs a cereal bar, one with chocolate chips in it, and tears open the packet. He offers it to Jon who takes it and stares at it like it’s some alien object.

“Go on,” Martin prompts. He grabs one for himself and takes a bite, and that seems to encourage Jon. He takes a tentative first bite, and then wolfs down the rest of it like he hasn’t eaten all day.

He probably hasn’t.

It shifts something, and Jon reaches for the bag again without prompting to grab another snack bar. Martin presses a bottle of water into his hand. He takes it and his fingers brush against Martin’s.

“How are you feeling now?” Martin asks. His gaze fixes on way Jon’s throat bobs as he drinks the water.

“I don’t- hm,” Jon says, mouth working as he tries to puzzle out his feelings. His eyes look sharper now, and he’s a bit more focussed when he looks at Martin. “It was… interesting,” he says.

“it’s alright if you didn’t like it, Jon,” Martin hurries to reassure him. There’s a crack opening up in his chest though, at the thought that Jon might have had a bad experience. That Martin has somehow harmed him.

Jon lets out an annoyed breath. “That’s not what I mean. I mean, it was good. I feel- good. I think. It’s hard to describe. But I think I liked it.”

Martin’s shoulders slump, tension he hadn’t realised he was holding seeping out of him. Oh good. He’d been worried there. “I’m glad.”

It sounds so shallow, when what he really wants to say is ‘thank you for sharing this with me, for trusting me, for letting me serve you like this’. When what he wants to say is ‘I think I love you’.

Jon settles back against his side, chewing the rest of the snack bar thoughtfully. Martin eats his own, and runs his hand up and down Jon’s side under the blanket, letting Jon ease out of it slowly.

“It did help, Martin,” he says a while later. It’s quite, but so’s the room apart from the still playing music that might as well be wallpaper for all the attention they’re paying to it. “It was odd at first. Being tied up is… strange. They didn’t use rope when I- when-“ He shakes his head and Martin knows now to push on that front right now. He doesn’t want to ruin the afterglow and undo all that work. “But after a while, there was something nice about being helpless, about not having to make a decision.”

“It can be petty nice, yeah,” Martin agrees. He gives Jon a lopsided smile and leans over to kiss the top of his head. “When I did this a lot- or well, more often than now anyway, I liked it when work was stressful.”

When he’d spent every day paranoid that today was the day they’d find out, when Elias would come marching down to the library and personally fire him over his fake CV. It’s actually horrifying now he knows what he does, that Elias had probably known the whole time. But he can’t change things now.

“I can see that,” Jon agrees. He finishes off the snack bar and then starts to pull away. “I should- I should probably go. This was- nice, Martin.”

He pushes himself to his feet before Martin can stop him, then staggers and sways on his feet. Martin jumps up and wraps an arm around him again, and eases him back down. “Don’t- Jon- You need to take it easy. And-“ The idea comes to him. “And I’m in charge right now, right?”

Jon stares at him, blinks, and there is a look on his face like he is seeing Martin for the first time. “Right. Yes, you are.”

Martin smiles and moves him back to the sofa, but doesn’t stop him when he reaches for his shirt. “Just stay for a while, okay? I don’t like the thought of you trying to get the tube home like this.”

Alone, and spaced out and probably exhausted. Even if this had been before, before there were genuine unnatural threats to their lives, Martin still wouldn’t have wanted him wandering off so soon.

Jon pulls his shirt on, but does not button it, and he reaches into the bag once more, much to Martin’s delight, and pulls out a pack of Hobnobs and tears them open. “I just don’t want to be a nuisance.”

“What?” Martin says. “Why would you think that?”

“All of this. Taking care of me. The least I can do is not impose more than necessary.”

For someone so intelligent, Martin thinks, Jonathan Sims can be incredibly stupid. “You’re not,” he says, with the same firmness he’d used when tying Jon up. “You’re not imposing. I do this because I like doing it.” He twists the edge of the blanket between his fingers. “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want to do it.”

“But you didn’t- you didn’t exactly get anything out of it,” Jon says. There is a fracture in his voice, an old hurt that hasn’t quite healed over, still ragged at the edges.

Martin stares at him, and then shakes his head, a smile crossing his lips. “I did though,” he says. “You got to relax, and I liked seeing that. I like taking care of you. Of people,” he rushes to add.

“But-“ Jon begins, and no, Martin is not doing this. He’s not going to let Jon talk himself into thinking that this is a bad thing.

“No. I know how I feel, Jon,” he says firmly. “I liked watching you relax, and the fuzzy expression you got and I liked touching you. But mostly I liked knowing you trust me.” His face must be bright red by now, especially with the way Jon is staring at him. Whatever fuzziness was there, it’s gone now that Jon has a new puzzle to solve. And okay, it’s a bit disconcerting when the puzzle Jon has to solve is him, but he doesn’t look away.

“I do,” Jon says. And then again, more firmly. “I do trust you, Martin.”

Warmth blooms and spread through Martin at hearing that and he has to duck his head to hide the stupid infatuated grin on his face. “Oh, um- thanks? I mean, that’s good! And please don’t think you’re an imposition, Jon.”

“Right.”

Something must have worked in what he said because Jon pulls the fuzzy blanket back around himself. He’s still sitting bolt upright though like he’s afraid to touch now that he’s back in his own head.

“Can I hold you again?” Martin asks.

“Oh. Yes. I- that would be nice.”

Martin wraps his arm ‘round Jon, and eases him back down to curl against his side. It is everything Martin has ever hoped for. More than he’s ever hoped for because part of him is still adjusting to Jon not hating him. Jon lets out a heavy sigh and closes his eyes. it might be Martin’s imagination, but he’s pretty sure that Jon snuggles closer against him.

It’s easy to sit there in the warm, basking in the feeling on Jonathan Sims pressed up against his side. He thinks Jon might actually be asleep. Eventually though he has to move because his leg is dead.

Jon stirs as soon as he does, and blinks blearily up at him. He looks very disapproving that Martin has disturbed him. It is wholly adorable. He didn’t realise Jon could look adorable.

“Sorry. My leg,” he says and Jon grudgingly lets him extricate himself. “Are you feeling okay now?”

Jon scrubs a hand across his face. “Yes. Actually quite rested. I was sleeping. I should probably get home though.”

What he means, is go back to the Archives. Martin isn’t actually sure if he has a flat anymore actually. He’s always there in the morning before anyone else, and he leaves, if he leaves, after everyone else too.

“You could stay here,” Martin blurts out. “It’s late. You’d have to get a cab anyway.”

“I couldn’t. I don’t want to-“

The words die on Jon’s tongue when he sees the look that Martin is giving him, raised eyebrows and disapproval because they’d talked about this.

“If you really don’t want to, that’s fine,” Martin says, “but don’t go because you think you’re imposing. You’re welcome.”

He’d rather that than have Jon spend even more time in the Archive, probably undoing everything that’s happened tonight. He deserves one night away from it.

Jon looks towards the door, and then at Martin and then down at the sofa. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. I am tired. I might actually sleep. But-“ he adds, giving Martin a stern look, “I’ll take the sofa.”

It is a compromise that Martin is willing to make if it means that Jon stays the night and actually sleeps for a while. Besides, the sofa is pretty comfy. Martin has fallen asleep there a lot.

“Sounds good,” he says, positively beaming at Jon. “I’ll grab you a pillow and- oh there’s tea next to the kettle if you want a drink and the bathroom is through there.”

“Thank you Martin,” Jon says. His lips have curled up in a smile and Martin likes to hope that he looks fond. “For tonight. For everything.”

He should just say no problem. But he wants- if they’ve come this far then- “We could do it again sometime? Or- it was nice kissing you.”

He wants the floor to swallow him. He pushes that thought away quickly because considering everything that’s happened, the floor may actually open up and swallow him.

Jon’s cheeks look flushed. “I- I liked it too. I would like to do this again.”

Martin’s heart thumps hard in his chest. He tries to force down the feeling, because things don’t go this way for him. But Jon is here. Jon liked kissing him and he trusts him and- maybe that’s enough. Maybe that works for now.

“Um- great. C-can I kiss you again?”

A kiss before bed. It’s so cliche it hurts and makes Martin’s stomach lurch pleasantly.

“Come here then,” Jon says, beckoning him down.

He doesn’t need any more encouragement. The kiss is a slow press of lips, and Jon’s hand curling against his cheek. It is warmth and gratitude and a sweetness that is so painfully absent from most of their lives. If he never gets anything else, not another moment with Jon, he has this. This is real.

Jon pulls away and nudges his forehead against Martin’s. “That was- goodnight, Martin.”

“Yeah,” Martin says, even as neither of them make any attempt to move. “Goodnight Jon.”