Martin finds an umbrella in a bin outside the church. He almost misses it, but the distinctive crook of the wooden handle poking up from the top gets his attention. “This is a nice umbrella,” he says to Jon, because it is: good material, nice spokes, big enough for two normal sized humans or one larger-than-strictly-average-sized human and one ridicuously thin and tiny man to stand comfortably underneath it. “I wonder why someone threw it out?”
Jon shrugs. “Optimism?”
“We are in Scotland,” Martin points out, and pushes the umbrella open. As predicted, it covers him and Jon comfortably. The handle feels nice in his hand, smooth except for a spot near the base where the brand must be engraved into the wood. He rubs his thumb over it, pleased.
Jon’s mouth quirks very slightly. “Blind optimism,” he suggests, and steps sideways into Martin’s space, bumping their arms together companionably. Martin’s still not done being shocked by it, all the small ways Jon touches him now. He feels his cheeks reddening.
“Well, I’m keeping it,” Martin says, and folds the umbrella back up.
When they get back to the cabin, Martin sets it by the door and promptly forgets about it.
They decide what to do the morning after the Panopticon, the two of them and Basira doing their best to recover in Martin’s flat, even though each of them spent a fair portion of the previous evening in tears. Martin wakes up before Jon does, and decides to go out and buy coffee and pastries just so that he doesn’t spend an hour staring creepily at the reality of Jon Sims in his bed, his absurdly thin body curled in on itself, arms tucked tightly against his chest, a little bit of dark hair in his mouth. Basira’s already awake when he goes out to the living room, tapping away on her phone, her face set, dark shadows under her eyes.
“Thought I’d pop down to the coffee shop on the corner,” he says, and it comes out weirdly normal, like this was any other morning in the Archives, before he’d left. “D’you want anything?”
Basira considers him carefully. “Americano with an extra shot,” she says. “Thanks.” She goes back to her phone, and Martin gets his wallet, goes down to the shops.
He’s waiting for the barista to make the drinks when he remembers that he told Jon Sims he loved him yesterday, and his chest goes odd and hot, and then he remembers that Peter Lukas is dead, and Martin doesn’t have to die for Jon or the world or anything else that he knows of, and he winds up having a quiet panic attack in the bathroom of a Caffe Nero. I just...get to live, he thinks when he can breathe again, and it feels ridiculously false. There has to be a hitch, or a price, or--something.
By the time he gets back to his flat the drinks are mostly lukewarm. Also Jon is awake, sitting on the couch next to Basira, looking very serious despite the fact that he’s absolutely drowning in a pair of Martin’s sweatpants and a T-shirt that’s quite tight on Martin but bares both Jon’s collarbones and most of one shoulder. Oh god, Martin thinks, and crumples the bag of pastries a little in his hand.
“Martin!” Jon says, jumping up at the sound of the door and taking a few steps towards Martin before halting himself, like he isn’t sure what he was actually going to do when he got there. “You’re back.”
“Yeah,” Martin says, and hands Jon a coffee. “Sorry it took me a while.”
“It’s okay,” Jon says, and it comes out in the same odd, soft voice Jon uses with him now, the one that Martin has no idea what to do with, and takes the cup from him. Their fingers brush, and Martin shivers.
“Coffee?” Basira asks plaintively, and Martin laughs and comes fully into the room.
They wind up sitting on the floor of Martin’s living room, discussing their options.
“We’ve got a problem,” Basira says.
“We’ve got five problems,” Jon amends. “Well, six problems.”
“Well, six problems and a lizard,” Martin says, and then reddens when Basira and Jon both look blankly at him. “Sorry, sorry, it’s--you probably haven’t seen it, never mind.”
“Okay,” Basira says, mercifully ignoring this, “Our first problem. The Institute’s shut down. We don’t know when it’ll be open again, or even when we’ll be let back into the building. No one’s--I don’t know if anyone was hurt from upstairs, but there was a lot of blood. The police told me they’d be in touch, but--speaking from experience, this isn’t the kind of thing where we’re back up and running in a day. They’ll send teams in. Forensics people.”
“Lord knows what they’ll find,” Jon mutters, and Martin winces, remembering the Not-Sasha. Maybe he could have stopped Peter. Talked him out of it, or--reasoned with him. Something.
“More to the point,” Basira says. “We’re all three of us in trouble. Jon, you need statements to live. Martin and I have to go into work. The longest I’ve been able to stay away from work was after the Unknowing, and that’s because Lukas gave us two week’s compassionate leave. I think it was only okay then because it was sanctioned--I’ve started feeling sick after a bank holiday otherwise. And with our boss currently dead--”
“--and/or undead,” Jon says.
“I don’t know that we’re getting a grace period.”
“Right,” Martin says, and frowns. “Well--what if we had a grace period?”
Basira narrows her eyes. “How?”
“Peter’s dead,” Martin says, ignoring the way his stomach turns over at saying the words out loud. “Elias is--the head of the institute in a metaphysical way, but not literally. I mean, who’s in charge now?”
“Oh,” Jon says, staring at him. “You are.”
“I thought I might be,” Martin says, thinking about how the department heads had started coming to him with issues about a month into his tenure as Peter’s assistant, and about what he’d said to the bystander--what you say you are matters, somewhere like the Magnus Institute. “In which case, I--am giving us all an extended leave from work while we sort all this out,” he says, but slowly--the words feel odd and thick coming out of his mouth.
Basira has both eyebrows raised high. “Okay,” she says. “Well, I hope that works. Now we just have to worry about you,” she says, turning to Jon.
“I--feel okay right now, actually,” Jon says. “I think--Lukas was--it was more sating than usual.” He avoids looking at either of them, fidgeting with the drawstring of his borrowed sweatpants. “Possibly because it--ah, ended in his--demise.”
“Christ,” Basira says, and rubs at her face. “Well, small mercies, I guess. That’s not gonna hold out forever, though.”
“No,” Jon says softly. “I don’t imagine it will.”
“So really,” she says, “we have two options. Either you try to quit--”
Martin makes a small involuntary noise, reaching out for Jon before he realizes he’s going to, and Jon catches his hand, squeezing it reassuringly.
“--Or you go back to work,” Basira continues. “I don’t like that option, because frankly, you’re a murder suspect again, Jon, and it looks even worse than it did before. Elias is missing, Peter’s body is--maybe down in the tunnels?--Daisy is--Daisy’s gone, and the Institute is covered in blood and scorch marks,” she says grimly. “If I had your case, I’d arrest you first and ask questions later.”
“He can’t go to prison,” Martin objects. “It’s not like they’ll give him access to statements!”
“Right, like I said, it’s a bad idea,” Basira says. “Which brings us back to option one.”
“No,” Martin says immediately. “We don’t know what that would do to you,” he says to Jon, tightening his grip on his hand. “That could kill you, and it’s not worth it. Not to me.”
Jon is looking at him with an expression it sort of hurts Martin to see, hopeless but tender. “We should at least consider it,” Jon says.
“I’ve considered it,” Martin says, voice rising. “I’ve considered that I watched you die once already, and it almost killed me, and I flat out refuse to do it again.”
There’s a heavy silence, and Martin remembers all over again that they don’t know where Daisy is, or what she’ll be like when they catch up to her again. He can’t bring himself to look at Basira.
“Right,” Basira says quietly, much kinder than he deserves. “Okay. We’ll figure something else out.”
Jon strokes his thumb over Martin’s knuckles, and then says: “I--Basira, is there any danger to you going back to the Institute? When it reopens?”
“No more than usual,” she says, and clears her throat. “Actually less, considering that the Eye is vulnerable to attack right now.”
“Okay,” he says. “Could you just--send me statements? Like E--like Jonah did when I was on the run the, the last time.”
“Could do,” she says. “If you think you can hold out that long.”
“I can,” Jon says. “I mean--I have to, so I will.”
“Thank you,” Martin says, mostly to Jon’s hand, but Basira gives him a neutral shrug in reply, understanding.
“Now that’s settled,” she says. “Where are you going to go? You can’t stay here. It’s the first place they’ll look for you.”
“We could stay at a hotel?” Jon suggests, but Basira’s already shaking her head again.
“Actually,” she says. “Hang on. How do you feel about rain?”
It rains a lot in the Highlands.
Martin gets used to the sight of Jon soaked to the bone, because god forbid the man ever remember to dress for the weather, or carry an umbrella. Once he wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of rain, and no Jon beside him in the bed--a brief inspection of the main room of the cabin reveals an equally empty room.
Instantly, Martin assumes the worst--something’s come for them at last, or maybe he’s finally woken up from whatever this implausible, unlikely dream has been, and he’s going to have to face the future on his own again--but when he flings open the front door, heart pounding, Jon jerks up from where he’s huddled under the black umbrella Martin found in the garbage, dropping it in his surprise.
“Jon!” he says, clutching his chest. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Oh,” Jon says, and--holds up the now thoroughly doused cigarette he has clutched in his hand, along with his old-fashioned lighter. He stoops to pick up the umbrella in his other hand, looking like a sheepish wet rat. “I--didn’t want to wake you, and I know you don’t like the smell--”
“You absolute madman,” Martin says, and tugs him inside, dropping the open umbrella on the floor.
He wraps Jon up in a towel on the sofa, then puts the kettle on, buying himself time to get his heartbeat back under control.
When he comes back to the sofa, pressing a hot mug of tea into Jon’s hands, Jon looks less soaking and more adorably rumpled, his hair frizzing out in a damp halo.
Martin loves him.
They haven’t actually had a conversation about it. It, them, their feelings, what they are to each other. Martin feels vaguely that they should, just on the basis of their awful track record of misunderstanding each other if nothing else, but he also can’t help but feel that it doesn’t apply this time. He saw Jon in the Lonely, and Jon saw him. Every night since then Jon’s followed him into the bedroom, and aside for one brief moment the first night when Jon hesitated by the side of the bed and said “Is this all right?” they haven’t discussed that, either. Martin still finds himself tearing up whenever Jon hugs him, heartache prickling in his chest like a numb limb coming awake.
“Sorry,” Jon says, fidgeting slightly with the towel. “I thought this would be the least disruptive--but I appear to have miscalculated that.”
“More to the point, you don’t need to go out in a thunderstorm when you want to smoke a cigarette,” Martin says, stroking at the chill skin of Jon’s bare ankle to soften it. “I don’t like the smell, true, but it’s not worth you catching your death.”
“I’m not going to catch my death,” Jon says indignantly. “I’m not the heroine of a Georgian novel.”
“Yeah, well, Marianne Dashwood had more sense,” Martin says, and then he has to more or less explain the plot of Sense and Sensibility to Jon, even though Jon did an English literature degree and Martin’s classical education mostly comes from movies starring Emma Thompson. As they talk, Jon sort of slowly relaxes against him until they’re basically cuddling on the sofa. It’s late, Martin thinks--three, maybe four in the morning, and still coming down in buckets. What better place to be, he thinks, than here, in this dimly lit room, with Jonathan Sims tucked against his side, smelling faintly of wet flannel and cigarette smoke.
“Was it bad dreams?” he asks Jon when they’ve both been quiet for a while, because good dreams never sent anyone out into a thunderstorm at four in the morning.
“Always,” Jon answers quietly, and Martin runs a hand up and down over Jon’s shoulder, a thoughtlessly soothing gesture. “And when you got up--”
“--I thought I was back in the Lonely for a minute, yeah,” Martin admits.
Jon sighs, resettling himself against Martin’s chest. “It’ll get better,” he says, uncertain. “It’s already better, isn’t it?”
Martin blinks at him. “Jon,” he says, honest and hushed. “This is--the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
Jon doesn’t reply, but pulls Martin’s hand up to his mouth, and presses a fervent kiss to Martin’s knuckles. The touch goes straight to Martin’s gut, pulling him taut as a wire--and then he’s crying again, or something like it, gasping for air in Jon’s arms. “I’m happy too,” Jon whispers, like it’s a secret, like it’s a confession, something he couldn’t say to anyone else. “Martin, I’m happy too.”
The next time Martin remembers to take the umbrella out with him on a walk, he notices that it isn’t a brand name at all engraved in the wood, but initials. A.C. He thinks vaguely that he should mention it to Jon, but then he spots a really fluffy dog on the walk back, and it goes right out of his head.
They talk to Basira every week, but nothing really changes: still no word from Daisy, no sign of Jonah Magnus, no progress from the police.
Eventually they let her back into the Magnus Institute, and she finally sends them a care package full of statements.
“Well,” he says to Jon, “as fun as listening to you monologue is--”
“Hmph,” Jon says, a dry look on his face.
“--I will give you your privacy,” he finishes. “Go for a walk.”
“Let me know if you see any good cows,” Jon says as Martin goes for his scarf.
“Obviously I’ll let you know if I see any good cows,” Martin says, and heads out, still grinning.
Martin’s halfway down the lane when he realizes the already overcast sky is darkening. He considers just continuing on--a little rain never hurt anyone, and it’s not like it’s cold out--but on the other hand, there’s that perfectly nice umbrella, right by the door. He won’t even need to disturb Jon much if he pops back and grabs it.
He decides to head back, and good thing, too--the wind starts picking up when he’s most of the way there.
But when he opens the door, trying not to disturb the even voice he can hear monologuing in the next room, the umbrella isn’t there. Martin frowns, annoyed, and then remembers that Jon took it out yesterday. He sighs, then heads to the bedroom door.
“Jon,” he says, opening the door, “Sorry to interrupt, but have you seen the--”
Jon doesn’t stop reading, but stares at him desperately, even as he carries on, voice low and poisonously familiar. There are tear tracks down his face, and the statement is shaking in his hands, and what he’s saying is-- “but my God, when you came to me already marked by the Web, I knew it had to be you.”
“Jon,” Martin says, horrified, and Jon continues, speaking the words even though he’s not looking at the paper.
This is it, Martin realizes, in dull shock. The shoe dropping, the boot coming down, the price for all this joy.
“I even held out some small hope you had been sent by the Spider as some sort of implicit blessing on the whole project,” Jon says, as Martin jerks forward, rips the paper out of his hands. He doesn’t stop talking, although he grabs at Martin’s arms, nails digging into Martin’s skin. His voice remains horribly level. “And do you know what? I think it was.”
“Oh god,” Martin says, as Jon--as Jonah keeps speaking through Jon, sick with terror. “Oh god, oh god, what do I do.”
He tries covering Jon’s mouth with his hand, but he can feel Jon speaking the words into his closed mouth, and knows it hasn’t worked. He tries shoving his scarf into Jon’s mouth, but Jon fights that, even as Martin can tell he’s trying not to, and it’s not enough, it’s not working, it’s all happening too fast--
He panics for a second, too afraid to think, and Jonah says, smugly: “And it did serve another purpose, of course. It inadvertently pushed you to confront death, a mark I had been very worried about trying to orchestrate.”
“I’m so sorry about this,” Martin says desperately, and covers Jon’s mouth with his hand again. This time he covers Jon’s nose as well, gripping him tightly against Martin’s own body so he doesn’t have the leverage to escape. Jon does fight him, bucking wildly in Martin’s arms, and Martin does his best to hang on, frantically telling himself that if Jon survived the Unknowing, he can survive a few minutes without oxygen, he can , even as his eyes blur with tears. After an absolutely awful stretch of time, Jon goes limp, and finally there is silence.
Martin gasps and takes his hand away, shifting Jon in his arms so he can take his pulse. It’s still there, thank god, thank god. “Please wake up,” he says stupidly, and kisses Jon’s slack face again and again. “Oh god, I’m so sorry, please wake up.”
Eventually Jon stirs, and Martin sobs with relief when he doesn’t immediately start speaking again. Jon doesn’t open his eyes, but brings his hands shakily up to cover his face. “Martin,” he says through his hands, in an awful rasp. “It’s not over. He--if I open my eyes again, he’ll--”
“Oh,” Martin says, and looks wildly around for the scarf, dropped on the floor. Carefully he winds it around Jon’s face, makes a temporary blindfold.
“Thank god you came back,” Jon says roughly, and then he gives a horrible little laugh. “He--Martin, he was going to--he was going to end the world. He was going to use me to--”
“You won’t,” Martin promises him, and kisses Jon’s temple, fierce and mindless. “You won’t do it.”
“I will,” Jon says, with a panicked rattle of breath. “If I open my eyes again, I will. I won’t have a choice.”
“I’ll--burn it,” Martin says desperately. “Maybe if the statement’s gone--”
Jon shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No, it’s already in me. I can feel it, trying to get out. You have to do it. You have to blind me.”
“Jon,” Martin says, heart beating so fast he can feel it in his throat.
“Please,” Jon says, and fumbles a hand out until he’s touching Martin’s face, thumb skating over Martin’s cheekbone. “Martin--I can’t--I don’t want to die, but I’d rather die than do what he wants. Please help me.”
And what can Martin do, when the person he loves asks him for help? Only what he’s always done.
“Okay,” Martin says, and turns his face into Jon’s hand, presses a hard kiss to the center of his palm. “But you’re gonna live, okay? Promise me that if I, if I do this you’re going to be all right.”
“I’ll try,” Jon swears. “I promise, I’ll do whatever I can. Please, Martin, it has to be now.”
“Okay,” Martin says, and blinks the tears back. “Okay, okay--stay here.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jon says softly.
Very carefully Martin lays Jon down on the bed, and gets up. He gets as far as the kitchenette--the drawer full of bread knives--and then the tears overwhelm him again. He stands there for a full minute, shoulders heaving, and then-- “I can’t, I don’t know what to do,” he calls to Jon, and the words are barely legible.
“I trust you,” Jon calls back, hoarse. “Martin--I trust you.”
Martin reaches into the drawer and pulls out the first thing that comes to hand. It’s Jon’s lighter, the web design gleaming in the half-light from the storm. It’s a horrible idea, but--it’s probably safer to sterilize whatever he uses, even cauterize the wound. The second thing that comes to hand is a metal kebab skewer. He stops himself from thinking through the rest of it, just runs back to the bedroom, tools in hand.
“I’ve got something,” he says, and Jon shivers, hands pressed hard over the blindfold.
“Thank you,” Jon says, but his voice breaks in the middle of it.
“I don’t,” Martin begins, and crosses to the bed, sits down next to Jon, dropping his hideous implements so he can take one of Jon’s hands in his. Jon squeezes his hand immediately. He’s trembling. “I don’t think you should be awake for it.”
“No,” Jon says. “No, I--I’d like to see you again. If that’s all right.”
Martin chokes. What can you say to that?
“But you’ll have to be quick,” Jon continues, speaking quickly himself. “I only had about one more page left to read. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes,” Martin says, because he’s already decided to do it. “I can do that for you.”
“Thank you,” Jon whispers.
“Okay,” Martin says, and clears his throat. “Okay, I have to let go of your hand.”
“Okay,” Jon says, and carefully gets go of him, clutching at the bedspread immediately instead. “Ah--can you--maybe you should tie me up?” he asks uncertainly, and Martin remembers how he’d fought before, and goes to find another scarf.
He binds Jon’s hands to the headboard, hating the way Jon’s whole body is shaking, and then he goes to flick the lighter on. It takes him a few tries, but he gets it to light, and then he carefully heats up the metal of the skewer. It gets hotter than Martin thinks maybe it should--the metal almost red at the tip.
Jon is breathing in big shallow gasps, and when Martin finally says “I’m ready,” Jon nods sharply.
“I trust you,” he repeats. “Do it.”
Martin carefully unwinds the scarf from Jon’s face one-handed. “All right, sweetheart,” he says, as steadily as he can. “Open your eyes.”
Jon opens his eyes.
There isn’t any fucking reception at Daisy’s safehouse.
Martin drives Jon’s car to the village even though he doesn’t have a license, and then calls 999 while trying not to listen to the sounds coming from the passenger seat. It’s pouring rain, the sky almost purple with relief. Forgot my umbrella, he thinks hysterically. Better turn back.
Martin spends hours in the hospital waiting room. He calls Basira, trying to find out if he’s about to get arrested for--torture, or worse, and Daisy answers the call.
“I’m all right, Martin,” she says. “I--found a way out.”
“I’m glad,” he tells her, and scrubs tiredly at his face. “We found one, too.”
“Ah,” she says. “Not so easy, is it?”
“No,” he agrees, trembling with exhaustion. “Not so easy.”
She hands Basira the phone after a while, and Martin fills her in on the rest of it: what he remembers of Jonah Magnus’s statement, that he thinks the Eye is stopped for now but there’s nothing stopping Jonah from trying again with another archivist, a few years from now.
“We’ll deal with that when it comes,” Basira says, and she can’t hide the sheer giddy joy in her voice, not even over hundreds of miles and a poor mobile connection. “We know what to look for now. We know how to stop it.”
Then she asks Martin about Jon, and he tells her everything he knows, which isn’t much, and she says to tell the police and staff that Jon’s wounds were self-inflicted, which Martin already did because he isn’t stupid. Then she promises to call a friend in the Aberdeen police service, and then she tells Martin to get some sleep, or if he won’t get some sleep, at least take care of himself and eat some food.
Martin hangs up the call and buries his face in his hands.
“There there,” a smooth voice says, and Martin jerks up, eyes wide. “It wasn’t so bad.”
In the seat next to him is a woman. She’s black, with dyed blonde hair and dark, glittering eyes. A spiderweb of scarring crosses her right temple.
Martin is very certain there was not a woman sitting there a moment ago.
She smiles at him. “Unless you’d have preferred the alternative?”
“A.C.,” Martin stutters, and her smile widens.
“Very good,” Annabelle Cane tells him. “You've always been so observant, Martin.”
“Why did you do it,” Martin demands. “Why did you help us?”
She tilts her head to the side, but somehow her eyes never move. She isn’t blinking, either. “Well,” she says. “We had other ideas. Ones a little more--hm. Permanent than this one. But you spotted the umbrella! Well done, you. In the other Scotland, you missed it.”
Martin stares at her. “What do you want from us?” he asks, skin crawling.
“Just to see if you’ve changed your mind,” she says merrily. “You'd make an excellent spider, Mr. Blackwood. You could keep him safe for the rest of his days.”
Martin doesn’t need to think about it. “No thanks,” he says.
Annabelle nods, like she was expecting this. She probably was. “The offer stands,” she says. “After all, Jonah Magnus is still out there.”
“I’m absolutely positive,” Martin says, but by the time he finishes saying it, Annabelle Cane isn’t there any longer. She never really was.
“Oh,” Jon says when they finally let Martin in to see him, and Martin takes his hand. “Oh, it’s you.”
“It’s me,” Martin agrees, and kisses Jon’s fingers. “I’ve got you.”
“Oh good,” Jon says, and sort of--lists towards Martin in the hospital bed, sweet as a heavily-drugged man can be.
“I love you,” Martin says, for the first time since the Lonely. “Really a lot.”
“That’s nice,” Jon says, and pulls Martin’s hand up to his chest, curls around it the way he curls around his own hands when he’s falling asleep. It really wasn’t ever about the words.
“How are you feeling?” Martin asks gently.
“Splendid,” Jon says, and makes a very soft sound when Martin brings his free hand up to carefully stroke his hair. “Martin,” he says after a moment.
“What, ah.” Jon frowns under his bandage. “What do we do now?”
Martin thinks about it.
“Oh,” he says, realizing. “I think--Jon, I think we get to live.”