They have time before the world ends.
The first few days all about recovery. In the Lonely, everything had felt far away. Not their love for each other, not that, not now not ever. They hadn’t been hungry or thirsty though, and the tiredness they had felt had been the sort you might experience on a rainy afternoon just before winter, when the whole world is wearying and gray. As soon as they had stepped back into the world though, that was when everything they hadn’t been experiencing came rushing back.
Martin staggers under the weight of everything and Jon is right there.
“Easy now.” Jon’s voice is so soft. “Lean on me.”
Elias is nowhere in sight, and Jon is grateful for that as much as he wants some answers. After what he did to Peter, after his statement, he feels like possibly he’d be able to force some answers out of the old man as well. But there’s Martin to think of now, Martin leaning against him looking like he’s halfway to passing out. Jon has a feeling that he himself doesn’t look much better. He’s no longer hungry at least, but he feels like he could curl up on the hard stones and sleep for a week.
They find Basira in the tunnels near the entrance back up into the archives. For a long moment they just stare at each other. She’s been crying, but her voice doesn’t betray that fact when she speaks, only the shine of tears in the light of her torch give her away.
Martin gives a weak little chuckle at Jon’s side. “No? I mean, yes?”
“Right. Is Elias with you?”
“No. Basira, how long were we gone? Is Daisy—“
Basira cuts Jon off. “She’s— I don’t know where she is. The police got here not too long ago and I didn’t hear any screaming, so she’s not upstairs. You two need to leave. I found another way out while I was looking for you, comes out about a mile from here.”
“Basira, we can’t just leave you—“
“Yes you can, Jon. After that whole thing with Gertrude and then Jurgen Leitner, they’ll hold you for questioning and suspicion at least. Martin they’ll definitely question. I was police, and sectioned on top of it. Yeah, I’ll get questioned, but I also might be able to steer their investigation away from the two of you, keep some of the secrets safe. Plus I have to stay. Daisy might— come back.”
Jon doesn’t need to See, not when he has ears to hear what Basira is saying. “She gave in, didn’t she?”
Basira’s mouth hardens. “She chose to give herself over to save us.”
“Basira, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, just go.” She reaches into her pocket, pulls cash out of her wallet and thrusts it at Jon. “Get a hotel or something, don’t use any of your cards—“
“I have done this before,” Jon says, taking her money because it would be foolish to refuse it. He’ll pay her back.
Basira just gives him a look. “I’ll contact you as soon as I can. Take that tunnel there. It goes straight for a bit, then at the first intersection you take a left, followed by two rights and another left. You got that?”
“I do,” Martin says quietly. “A left, two rights, and a left. I’m good with directions.”
“Great. Now go.”
Everything is a bit hazy after that, exhaustion turning experiences into blurry memories. They must have gotten a room and eaten something, because when Jon is fully aware of the world again he’s in a bed and there’s some takeaway cartons on the nightstand, and those are small details next to the big one, the most important one.
Martin is sleeping next to Jon.
Jon holds very still. It gives him time to count the faint constellation of freckles across Martin’s nose, to listen to the sound of him breathing. This feels right. The circumstances that lead to this were terrible, but this feels right. This closeness.
Martin shifts in his sleep, brow furrowing. “Jon?” His eyes open. “Oh.” It’s a soft, sleepy exclamation. “There you are.”
“Is this— is this all right? Do you want me to move? I could—“ He looks around. There’s only the one bed. “I could sleep on the floor.”
Martin blinks at him, and Jon is suddenly put in mind of a sleepy owl. “Could you— if you wanted to you could— move closer? I dreamt….” Martin trails off, but Jon can feel the shudder that moves through him. “I was alone again.”
Oh. “I’m right here,” Jon says softly as he moves over and fits himself against Martin’s chest. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Promise?” Martin’s arm curls around him, as if he’s assuring himself that Jon is still there, still with him. There’s a shivery quality to his breathing, as if he’s on the verge of tears.
“I promise,” Jon says, and hopes that the universe will not make a liar of him.
Martin’s breathing eases, deepens, and moments later he’s asleep once more.
Jon falls asleep listening to the sound of Martin’s heart beating. It’s the best sound he’s ever heard.
“You’re saying we should just—leave.”
It’s been two days since they’ve walked out of the Lonely, and Martin, Jon and Basira are in a pub in a part of town that Martin has always stayed well away from. No one will think to look for them there, and the pub is noisy enough that no one will overhear them talking at their table in the corner, but that’s all it has going for it. Martin ordered ale for the look of the thing, but he can’t bring himself to drink it.
Basira nods. She has smudgy dark circles under her eyes that she hasn’t even bothered trying to hide with makeup. “Daisy has a safehouse in Scotland. It’s rather nice actually. Haven’t been there in awhile, might need some airing out. We— used to stay there sometimes.”
There’s the sound of a plate breaking, followed by yelling. Martin flinches, hunching his shoulders. Sudden loud sounds remind him of his mother. She had always walked with a heavy tread, had been a slammer of doors and a banger of plates when she had been well, and only death had taken her ability to shout.
Jon’s hand brushes his under the table and Martin takes it, taking a slow breath out as he forces himself to straighten up.
“Scotland,” Jon says thoughtfully before turning to Martin. “What do you think?”
“I’ve always wanted to go,” Martin says. “I’ve always wanted to go— anywhere really.” He smiles slightly. “Just didn’t see the point of going by myself.”
“We could take a train—“ Jon starts to say, but Basira leans in a little bit closer.
“If the police decide to look into where you’ve gone, train and bus stations are the first places they’re going to go.” She doesn’t say anything about the other Hunters or Daisy or any other avatars that might be after them. She doesn’t have to. “Can either of you drive?”
“Yes,” Jon says.
“No,” Martin says, almost simultaneously.
Basira reaches into her coat pocket and pulls out a set of keys and a thick envelope. “My car’s outside. Well, it’s in my name anyway, but Daisy would tell you it’s hers, since she does all the maintenance on it. I can get along on public transit just fine.”
Jon ignores the car keys and goes for the envelope. Martin gets a glimpse of the contents before Jon puts it back on the table. He can’t tell how much money there was in there, but it couldn’t have been a small amount.
“Basira, where did you—“
“Emergency fund,” Basira says dryly. “If this isn’t an emergency than I don’t know what is. Take it. I need to stay here, and you need to stay far away, at least for now. This—“ Basira gestures vaguely. “This isn’t done. When everything has calmed down and the police lose interest, then we can get together and figure out what— his plan might be. Until then, whatever I can do to keep the two of you safe, I’ll do.”
Martin sees the way her jaw clenches when she says this, the way her fingers tighten on the table. He hears what she isn’t saying as plain as if she had said it out loud. I couldn’t protect Daisy, but I can protect the two of you.
“All right.” Martin reaches out for the envelope and tucks it into the pocket of his coat, then glances at Jon and down at the keys. Jon takes the hint and the keys both.
“We’ll pay you back,” Jon says, but Basira just shakes her head.
“You saved Daisy, Jon. We had two months together that never would have happened without you. This is the least I can do.”
“I tried to See her,” Jon says softly.
“Jon,” Martin says quietly, because Jon had said he’d try not to See things anymore, so as to not attract as much attention. But he isn’t upset. Jon wouldn’t be Jon if he hadn’t tried.
“I take it you couldn’t find her, otherwise you would have told me.” Basira sounds so calm when she speaks, but Martin can see the cracks in the facade, of course he can. She uses her stoicism the same way he sometimes uses his relentless cheerfulness. They were so similar. How had they never become friends?
“I’m sorry,” Jon says.
“Don’t be. I’m the one who has to find her. I promised her I would, and that part of the promise I intend to keep.”
Silence falls across the table, so heavy it almost makes a sound.
“You should go,” Basira finally says. “It’s a long drive to Scotland, especially if you stop to see the sights.”
“I thought we were supposed to be on the run,” Jon says.
“You are,” Basira says. “The nice thing about the countryside though? All those rolling hills and green pastures? Not big on security cameras. Don’t draw attention to yourselves when you head into town and you’ll probably be all right. Just use common sense.” She gives a pointed look at Jon and smiles the tiniest smile. “Try very hard.”
“Ha ha,” Jon says flatly, but he touches Basira’s hand briefly before getting up. “Should we call you?”
“Try to check in about once a week,” Basira says. “Any longer than that and I’ll assume something’s happened to you.”
“Right.” Jon walks a few steps before realizing Martin isn’t behind him. He turns, “Martin?”
“I’ll be along in a minute,” Martin reassures him. “Just— want to ask Basira something.”
Jon hesitates for only a second, then nods. “Meet you outside.”
“When the Institute isn’t a crime scene anymore, I’ll send transcripts to the post office in town.” Basira says as soon as Jon is out of sight. “That’s what you wanted to ask about, right? Can’t have your boy going hungry.”
“Thank you,” Martin says. He doesn’t blush when Basira calls Jon ‘his boy’ but his heart does a funny little skip. “He hasn’t brought it up, and he says he’s fine when I ask, but you know Jon.”
“Yeah, yeah I do.” Basira sighs. “Listen, what I’m going to say next, I’m not saying it because I want your pity or I’m bitter or anything. I want you to know that.” She looks Martin in the eye. “I really am happy for the two of you. I know the circumstances aren’t ideal, but enjoy the time you have together.”
“Is it that obvious? That we’re… together I mean.”
Basira arches her eyebrow. “Between the looks the two of you have been giving each other, the fact that you were holding hands under the table and the little thing of him throwing himself into the Lonely to rescue you? I’ve read the statements. I know what can pull people out from the Lonely’s influence. I just wish I knew—” She doesn’t finish the sentence. She doesn’t have to.
Martin gets up from the table. He wants to put a hand on her shoulder but it feels too forward somehow. “You’ll find her, Basira. If anyone could bring Daisy back from the Hunt, it’ll be you.”
“What if there’s nothing left of her to bring back?”
Martin thinks of how it had been in the Lonely, how lost he had been, wrapped in the numbing embrace of the fog. He remembers thinking how easy it would be to just—let go, become nothing more than mist on the wind, scattered over the sea.
Martin. Martin, look at me.
He remembers how Jon’s voice had sounded, so quiet, so desperate, how the words had wrapped themselves around a heart almost entirely gone cold. How warm those words had been. How full of love.
“There’s always something,” Martin says quietly. “Deep down, there’s always something.”
It would have taken them about eight and a half hours if they had just driven straight, but of course that wasn’t what happened. They had checked out of their hotel in the morning and had gone to Martin’s flat after checking that there were no police or Hunters about, a quick ten minute affair of throwing all of Martin’s clothes into suitcases and heading back out again. As for Jon, well, he had never bothered getting his own place again after he had come out of his coma. At the time there hadn’t seemed to be any point in doing so. All of his clothes were still in the Archives, so a quick bit of shopping had been in order. Then they had finally gotten on the road.
Jon keeps waiting for the anxiety to set in. He still remembers his time in America quite clearly, the sense of dread that had followed him while traveling. Before that he remembers sitting in Georgie’s guest bedroom that first night, sure that any minute the police would be pounding on the door. But this— there isn’t any tightness in his chest, no prickling sensation on the back of his neck. He doesn’t feel watched. He feels safe. Like the universe is finally saying that it’s sorry about the last few years. It feels like a gift.
“Do you think we can stop over in Cotswold?” Martin asks from the passenger seat. He’d bought a travel guide while Jon had been buying clothes. “It’s mostly on the way.”
A holiday. That’s what this feels like. Like somehow they’ve been shifted into another world, one where fear doesn’t hold such sway, where two people in love can just go off and see the sights.
Jon chuckles. “What’s in Cotswold?”
“It’s just so picturesque.” The last word comes out in a happy sigh. He hears Martin shift in his seat. “I mean, don’t look over, keep your eyes on the road, obviously, but I promise you it’s beautiful. It’s all so quaint. And over in Painswick, there’s a hill where you can see the mountains of Wales, if the weather is good. And, well, we need to stop and get something to eat sometime.” Martin says the last part a bit hesitantly.
Jon looks at the time on the dash. Yes, it’s near on time for lunch. “You’re right. I hadn’t even noticed. Okay, tell me which way to go.”
Martin does, and then there’s a silence in the car. Not exactly an uncomfortable silence, but Jon swears he can feel a question hanging between them.
“Whatever it is, Martin, it’s all right to ask,” Jon finally says.
“Do you, do you get hungry for—“ Martin suddenly starts laughing. “I’m sorry, it’s not funny. I was going to ask if you get hungry for people food anymore, like you’re a cat or something.”
Jon chuckles. “I do. Not as much since— since after the Unknowing. I’ve just always been bad at having regular meals. I’ll get focused on something and suddenly it’s the end of the day and all I’ve had is five cups of tea at my desk. The times when you’d knock on my door and drag me out for a sandwich were appreciated.”
“That’s good to know,” Martin says. “I always felt like they annoyed you, to be honest. But I figured it was better for you to be annoyed at me on a full stomach rather than an empty one.”
“I sometimes—have a hard time switching tasks,” Jon says hesitantly. He’s never tried to explain to anyone how his mind works really. “And sometimes, yes, that comes out as irritability. I’ve gotten better about it, but that doesn’t change how I made you feel back then, and I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right,” Martin says, and Jon can hear the sincerity there. It really is all right. “Thank you for explaining it though, it makes me feel a little better.” He chuckles softly. “I just remembered a conversation we had once. You said something about how we hadn’t talked very much, and I said that it wasn’t too late, unless the world ends. Well, the world’s still here. We have time.”
Later, much later, Jon will replay that moment in his mind, looking for subtle clues that everything was going to go wrong. There hadn’t been any. The day had been beautiful and bright and the man he loved had been with him. His skin hadn’t crawled in dread, the sky hadn’t suddenly been darkened by clouds, no ominous claps of thunder. Nothing.
Jon smiles, a sweet and easy smile that feels so terribly right. “We do. We have time.”
Martin stares out the car window, the endless miles of rolling pastures and stone walls nearly hypnotizing in their gentle monotony. He closes his eyes with a contented sigh, his thoughts drifting lazily.
Dear younger self, he thinks. Someday you will walk down charming village streets with someone you love. You will have lunch at an outdoor cafe and a goose will steal half of your boyfriend’s sandwich while you’re both distracted by looking at each other. You’ll visit a bookstore that doesn’t have a single Leitner in it, and instead has a shop cat named Marley who will follow you around, demanding to be petted. You’ll walk hand in hand up a hill and see the mountains of Wales ahead of you, and it won’t be half as breathtaking as Jon’s face when he smiles. You’ll be happier than you’ve ever been in your life.
Martin shifts slightly, his cheek resting on the cool glass of the window. Of course, if he actually could tell his past self something, he should probably tell him to stay away from the Magnus Institute. And then he’d have to tell past Jon the same thing of course, not to mention past Tim and Sasha. Oh, and past Melanie. Maybe past Daisy and Basira too, though they had mostly gotten involved with the Institute through Jon. And if Martin undid all that, then would he ever meet Jon at all? Or would he just meet him in some other way? Would a young Martin go to a concert one night and see Jon singing up on stage? Or maybe Martin would walk into a bookstore and there Jon would be behind the counter. Perhaps he’d be reading his poetry during a coffeeshop open mic night and there Jon would be, sitting at a table in the front.
If I could whisper secrets to my younger self, if I could unwind time and make it new again—
Martin opens his eyes and reaches into his back pocket before remembering that he doesn’t have his poetry notebook with him anymore. He had thrown it out one night in a fit of drunken grief two months after Jon had entered the hospital, shortly after his mother had passed. It had been full of all the things he had never said to Jon, things that he had thought that he would never have the chance to say. A small pocket notebook heavy with regret. He reaches for his phone instead, opening up the notepad app and typing out a few lines, then a few more, only looking up when he feels the car start to slow down. “Jon?”
“Just pulling over for a minute,” Jon says as he pulls off the road. “Haven’t driven this much in a long time, just need to stretch my legs.”
Martin feels a pang of guilt. “I wish I could help,” he says, closing the app on his phone, saving the poem for later. “Give you a break.”
“I’ll be fine,” Jon says. “I don’t even think we’ll have to stop for the night, we’ve been making good time.” He takes off his seat belt and stretches. “We’ll be… “ He pauses. “I was going to say that’d we’d be home sometime after dark.”
Home. The word makes him think of several things all at once. The house he had grown up in, the smell of sickness that had lingered no matter how much Martin had cleaned. His flat, which was only paid up until the end of the month. The archives, familiar, sinister and smelling of old books. Jon, holding his hand or putting an arm around his shoulders when they walked somewhere together.
“Well, it is home for now,” Martin says. “We might as well call it that.” He says it casually, like he’s not thinking about how the only other person he’s ever lived with was his mother. This situation is miles away from that one.
Jon smiles. “Fair point.” He unbuckles his seatbelt and gets out of the car.
Martin goes to follow suit and pauses when he hears Jon say something. He hadn’t caught the words, but he’s already learned what Jon’s, ‘I have found an animal to talk to and possibly pet’ voice sounds like, probably because it’s very similar to the tone he himself uses on things like cats and spiders. He grins as he gets out of the car. “What did you find?”
What Jon has found is a large, ginger cow with thin, upswept curved horns and long— hair? Fur? The cow is looking over a stone wall as Jon pets it, seemingly enjoying the attention.
“I’ve only ever seen pictures,” Jon says as Martin comes over. “It’s a Highland cow.”
“Hello,” Martin says to the cow, reaching out to scratch behind one of her ears. “You’re very fluffy. I didn’t know cows came in fluffy.”
Jon stops petting the cow for a moment and the cow make a disgruntled sound, its head swinging around to nudge him in the arm.
“You’re worse than the bookstore cat,” Jon says, but he’s smiling as he says it. “Okay, okay, more petting. Yes, yes. You’re a very good cow.”
Martin doesn’t know if it’s the phrase itself or the way Jon says it, all affectionate and exasperated, but the next thing he knows he’s leaning against the wall, laughing so hard he can barely breathe. He literally can’t remember the last time he’d laughed this hard, and it takes him several moments to catch his breath and look over at Jon.
Jon is smiling, still petting the cow. “Well she is.”
Martin starts laughing again, and this time Jon joins him.
“God I love you,” Martin manages to wheeze in between laughter, because he does. It’s the first time he’s said it out loud, but he’s been saying it for years without Jon noticing, saying it with every worried glance and cup of tea and half-written poem, every self-sacrificing gesture. And Jon had been saying it back, even when Martin hadn’t been able to listen, even when he had been sure that Jon hadn’t needed him after all.
Jon reaches up and gently cups Martin’s cheek and now Martin is having a hard time breathing for an entirely different reason. He’s never going to get tired of Jon touching him, never going to stop being surprised by the fact that Jon wants to.
“I love you too.” Jon’s voice is nearly a whisper. “Martin— may I kiss you?”
Martin feels his heart give a panicked, stuttering lurch in his chest. It’s not that he doesn’t want to kiss Jon, it’s just—
“I’ve never kissed anyone before,” Martin admits, and then looks away so he doesn’t have to see disbelief or pity fill Jon’s eyes. “That probably sounds pretty pathetic, I know. I just— I didn’t fancy anyone before I dropped out of school, and then I was taking care of my mother and I didn’t have time for much else.” The words pour out of Martin as if he’s been compelled, but nothing spurs him on but his own nerves, the need to explain, to defend himself. “And then when she went into a home I tried to do the dating thing, because that’s what people do, right? They date. I tried, you know? And I met some rather nice people, but I just didn’t feel anything special for them, not like I knew I was supposed to, and I thought something was wrong with me, and then there was you and suddenly I had all these feelings I’d never had before and—“ He takes a shuddering breath. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I—“
Martin.” Jon’s thumb glides across his cheekbone and Martin realizes suddenly that there had been a tear trickling down his cheek. “Martin, it’s all right.”
Martin looks at Jon. Jon, whose eyes are are full of unshed tears and understanding.
“You’re not pathetic,” Jon says softly, so softly. “And there’s nothing wrong with you.”
Later there will be conversations, explorations, heated cuddling in front of a roaring fire. Right now though there’s just the two of them standing by the side of the road in the countryside, staring into each others eyes. Seeing. Being seen.
“The answer was yes,” Martin says quietly, and then he’s leaning forward to close the distance between them as Jon does the same.
Seen from the outside, it is not a perfect kiss. Their noses bump together on the first try, and Martin has no idea what to do with his hands. It is not the hungry kiss seen in movies, lips and tongues working against each other. It’s a tentative, simple thing. Two lips touching, Jon’s hand sliding from Martin’s cheek to cradle the back of his head. That’s what can be seen.
What is felt though, oh what is felt is warmth and a feeling of rightness, a sense of at last that leaves the two of them breathless and trembling from the intensity of it when they finally part.
“How was that?” Jon asks, sounding a little nervous, as if it hadn’t been one of the best things Martin has ever experienced in his entire life.
“It was—“ Martin lets out a shaky, happy sigh. “Can we do that again?”
They do. This time, Martin reaches up and touches the side of Jon’s face, the worm scars soft divots under Martin’s fingers. Jon shivers and Martin immediately pulls back.
“I’m sorry, was that—“
“I’m just not used to them being touched,” Jon says quietly. “I— don’t think I mind it.”
They kiss again, soft and sweet, arms around each other, the worry and fear of the last few years and months and days fading into the background. It’s the complete opposite of the fog in the Lonely, and that only makes sense, of course it does. Martin wants to remember this forever, never wants it to end—
A cold, wet nose shoves its way between Martin and Jon and there’s a disgruntled moo as the cow they’ve been standing near decides that it’s been ignored for long enough and it’s time for more petting.
Martin and Jon look at the cow, then back at each other for a long moment before the laughter starts, the sound ringing through the countryside.
“We probably should get going,” Jon says, giving the cow a farewell behind the ear scratch. “If we want to make it home anytime soon.” He doesn’t hesitate on the word home this time, Martin notices.
Home, Martin thinks to himself as he looks at Jon. I’m already there.
There’s all sorts of things you discover about a person by living with them. Martin learns that Jon needs a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, otherwise he’ll just kind of slouch around in a semi-conscious state, having complete conversations without remembering them later. Despite having sweaters of his own, he’ll steal Martin’s at every opportunity, and Martin can’t even be annoyed by it because seeing Jon absolutely swimming in an ocean of wool is just too adorable for words.
Jon finally learns that Martin takes his tea with two sugars and no milk, unless he’s drinking Earl Grey, which is his favorite tea on rainy days. He’s not surprised that Martin can cook better than he can, but for some reason is taken off guard by the fact that, given the time and opportunity, Martin can bake truly amazing scones.
They spend hours together on the couch in front of the fireplace, sometimes talking about things they like, books and movies and music, trying to fill in the gaps of knowledge of each other. Sometimes they sit in comfortable silence, Jon reading a book, Martin writing something that he won’t let Jon see and gets terribly flustered about when asked what it is.
Nearly always they are touching. They lean against each other on the couch, brush hands when they make meals together, take turns spooning each other in the cabin’s one bed. They’ve never heard the terms touch starved or skin hungry before, all they know is that they can’t get enough of each other.
Jon’s dozing on the couch in the middle of the afternoon, a luxury he knows he shouldn’t get used to, when Martin stops stroking his hair and moves as if to get up.
“Mhhm?” A question, sleepy and affectionate.
Martin huffs out a laugh and kisses the top of Jon’s head. “You’re like a cat. I’m making tea, should I make you a cup or are you going to fall back asleep?”
Jon moves away from the soft comfort of Martin’s chest with a sigh. “I’ll take some tea,” he says as Martin gets up. “Thank you.”
As soon as Martin’s gone, Jon curls up in the warm spot that Martin left behind, his eyes already closing again. Maybe Martin is right, he really is like a cat. They should get a cat. Not for here, they can’t stay here forever, but maybe in the future, if they get to have one of those. A future where they don’t have to be afraid anymore—
A crash from the kitchen startles Jon from his half doze, his eyes flying open. He doesn’t remember getting off the couch, one moment he’s horizontal and the next he’s vertical, his heart in his throat.
“Martin?” Jon calls, heading towards the kitchen in a half run. It was too good to last, Jon thinks frantically. Someone else is here, got in without us noticing, it was too good, everything was too good. “Martin, are you all right?”
“I’m sorry,” Jon hears seconds before he enters the kitchen and sees the scene. A broken mug on the floor, spilled tea steaming and shining on the hardwood. Martin’s staring at the mess, his shoulders hunched around his ears. No hunters come to kill them, no blood and blades. Just an accident.
“Are you all right?” Jon asks, nearly weak with relief. Spilled tea and a broken mug. That was all. “You aren’t hurt, are you?”
“I’m sorry,” Martin says again, his voice sounding so small, so fragile. He doesn’t move, just keeps staring at the floor.
The momentary relief Jon had felt is quickly replaced by concern. “Martin?” He takes a step forward, feeling tea soak into his socks.
Martin makes a sound, a horrible gasping sort of noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “She can’t yell at me anymore.”
The image comes to Jon then, unasked for and unbidden. A different house. A broken plate on the floor. A younger Martin, hunched over, making himself smaller, hoping that the sound hadn’t woken up his mum, because then the shouting would start again, she was always shouting at him, he was so clumsy, not good at anything, and he picks up the broken pieces with trembling fingers and doesn’t make a sound when he cuts himself—
Jon crosses the space between them, barely acknowledging when he steps on a piece of broken ceramic. He heals fast anyway and he still would have done it even if that hadn’t been the case. He places a gentle hand on Martin’s shoulder, and when Martin doesn’t flinch away Jon pulls him close.
“No, no she can’t,” Jon says, and then Martin is crying in his arms, the loud, shaking full body cry of someone who has been holding in too much for too long. Martin is bigger than him, taller than him, but Jon curls around Martin as best he can, as if that could protect him from everything he’s feeling, makes comforting noises that surely Martin can’t hear over the sound of his own crying.
Eventually the sobs taper to sniffles, then to silence.
“Sorry,” Martin says, his voice hoarse from crying.
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Jon whispers into his hair. “Nothing at all.”
“I should clean this up,” Martin says into his shoulder. “It’ll stain otherwise.”
Jon doesn’t care about the floor. He wants to wrap Martin up in blankets in front of the fire and give him a fresh cup of tea. He can feel Martin trembling, little aftershocks of emotion discharging themselves. “Let me help.”
Between the two of them it doesn’t take very long to clean up, Jon sweeping up bits of broken mug, Martin mopping the floor, his eyes still red and face blotchy from crying. It’s Jon who makes tea while Martin fetches fresh socks and slippers for the both of them, Jon who builds up the fire in the fireplace as Martin sits on the couch with his hands wrapped tightly around his mug of tea, as if afraid of dropping it again. When Jon sits next to Martin with his own mug of tea, Martin gives a little sigh and moves a bit closer, until they’re touching at thigh and hip and shoulder.
The silence stretches, broken only by the crackling of the logs in the fireplace and the sound of two people drinking tea.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Jon asks carefully, then quickly adds, “You don’t have to.”
From the end table, the tape recorder that Jon had brought with him from London clicks on. Jon glares at it over Martin’s shoulder until it clicks off again.
“I don’t miss her,” Martin says quietly. “Maybe that makes me a horrible person. I’m not— I’m not glad she died, but she was in so much pain all the time, at least the last time I saw her she was, so maybe it was a relief for her, at the end. Maybe she’s not angry anymore.”
Jon realizes that he doesn’t actually know that much about Martin’s mother. All Martin had told him was that he had dropped out of school because she had some problems, and that he had been trying to support them both.
“I can’t even hate her, Jon. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty about not missing her if I could hate her instead, but that’s not— I just can’t. Even if she did hate me for something I couldn’t even— couldn’t even help! You listened to the tape. So you know.”
Jon blinks in confusion, opens his mouth to ask what tape he’s talking about, and then the knowledge drops into his head, as cold and sudden as a winter downpour. Elias staring at Martin, Martin’s face angry and determined, crumpling into tears as Elias speaks to him, tells him how his mother hates him, tells him why she hates him, shows him— and through it all Martin sobs, fully aware that something like this would happen as part of his plan, doing it because it’s what needs to be done to protect everyone, doing it because it will protect Jon.
Jon fights to keep the anger inside, because anger is not what Martin needs right now. He remembers after he had woken up from his coma and asking Basira what Elias had done to Martin. She had said he hadn’t done anything, but she hadn’t known. Martin wouldn’t have told her, of course he wouldn’t have. All this time, and Jon hadn’t known.
When Jon sees Elias— sees Jonah again, there’s going to be a reckoning.
“Two months after— after you went into the hospital,” Martin continues. “I got a phone call at three in the morning. And there’s only one reason anyone gets phone calls in the middle of the night. I—I cried when they told me she had passed, of course I did, she was my mother, but I was also crying because I was relieved. When the phone rang I thought it was about you, that you had—“ Martin puts down his tea and buries his head in his hands.
Jon rubs Martin’s back gently, wordlessly comforting him.
“And then I had to call everyone,” Martin says shakily. “All the relatives on my Mom’s side, the ones I only ever saw at funerals. I couldn’t get hold of my— my father—I don’t think he would have come anyway, he certainly hadn’t had anything to do with us after he’d left. I had to do everything by myself. I had to pick out a c-c-coffin and arrange the funeral s-s-services, and write a eulogy.” Martin laughs, a humorless, sharp sound. “I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? That my mother was probably happier now than she ever had been since Dad had left? That she had gone most of her life hating me, and in the end she had gone to her grave that way, no matter how hard I had worked in the hopes that maybe someday she would smile at me instead of glare, speak softly instead of shout?”
“I still don’t remember the funeral,” Martin says shakily. “I remember getting up to speak, looking out at all those— those strangers who hadn’t been around when she had been alive. I remembered thinking that I might have to do all this over again for—for you— and then I was at home, still dressed in my funeral clothes, with a refrigerator full of casseroles and sausage buns. Alone.”
It has to be Jon’s imagination, but he swears Martin’s voice echoes slightly on the word ‘alone’.
“A week later the Flesh attacked. We almost didn’t make it, and I realized then that I didn’t care that I had lived. It scared me, that I thought that, but I don’t think it scared me nearly as much as it should have. That night I went to visit you in the hospital, and you still weren’t— weren’t there. I was with you, but I was still alone. And then Peter called me and he told me— he told me he could keep everybody safe. That I could keep everybody safe. And I knew it was dangerous!” Martin’s voice rises in pitch. “It’s not like I didn’t know! I just didn’t care. You weren’t waking up. You weren’t waking up and I was alone, and I knew I was going to go sooner or later so why not go out doing something that might be useful.”
“Oh Martin,” Jon whispers, but Martin keeps right on talking.
“So I did what I had to do. I isolated myself, and it wasn’t that hard really. Not until you woke up. Not until you woke up and you missed me. It was so hard not to see you, not to talk to you, but I had to keep making Peter think I was with him, it was too late for anything else. I was on my own. All on my own. Lost in the fog and all alone.”
It’s not Jon’s imagination. There is a faint, all too familiar echo to Martin’s voice. He had thought— he had thought that pulling Martin out of the Lonely meant that Martin was safe from it. Maybe there was a bit of it in Martin still, a remnant, a scar, like all of Jon’s scars.
Jon pulls Martin close for the second time that day, feeling him solid and real in the circle of his arms.
“You’re not alone anymore,” Jon tells Martin firmly, his voice not shaking even as the tears begin to fall. “You deserve all the love you can possibly have, and I’m sorry you didn’t have it until now, but you are loved, Martin, and I will always come for you, no matter what happens. I’ll tell you that every day if that’s what you need to believe it.”
“I believe you,” Martin says, the echo gone from his voice, which has grown thick with tears. “I believe you, Jon.”
They end up falling asleep together on the couch, wrapped up in each other, tears drying on their cheeks, and when they wake up they both feel like a great weight has been lifted off of them. They both smile at each other as they kept up and go into the kitchen to make dinner, their hands intertwined.
Martin loves sleeping next to Jon. Feeling Jon’s arms around him, holding him close and being held in turn, the feeling of his breath against the back of his neck or against his chest, these were all things that Martin had only blushingly fantasized about before. They’ve been sharing a bed for weeks now and Martin still feels a thrill when he opens his eyes in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning and sees Jon just inches away or feels Jon’s head resting on his chest.
There’s only one problem.
“Statement of Doctor Lionel Elliot, regarding a series of events that took place during his class at King’s College, London, in early 2016. Statement recorded direct from subject 12th July, 2016.” Jon mumbles into Martin’s chest. “Statement begins.”
Martin sighs and runs his fingers through Jon’s hair. “Jon,” he says softly. “Jon, you’re doing it again.”
Jon mumbles something but doesn’t wake. Martin feels the hair on his arms prickle as the feeling of being watched settles over him. It’s not as strong a feeling as it had been at the Institute, but still, it’s unsettling when you’re trying to sleep.
Jon can’t help it, he knows that, can’t control what his dreams are doing. It’s not every night he dreams about the people he’s taken statements from, watches them live their nightmares, or maybe it’s just that sometimes Martin sleeps through it, he doesn’t know. He just knows that the one time he did manage to wake Jon— well, technically he’s not sure if Jon had woken up. He had sat up, staring into the darkness, not moving when Martin had switched on the bedside lamp, not responding when Martin had said his name and shaken him. Jon’s eyes had moved like they were watching something for about ten minutes before they had closed and Jon had lain back down. A few minutes after that he had mumbled the opening to another statement.
These days Martin just sighs and tries to go back to sleep himself, tries not to think about what exactly Jon is dreaming of.
“I’ve gotten used to other people’s nightmares,” Jon had said quietly over breakfast the other morning while rubbing at the dark circles under his eyes. “That’s the frightening part.”
“Statement of Helen Richardson, regarding a new door in the house she was selling,” Jon mutters.
Martin closes his eyes. Maybe the next time he goes into town he can buy some earplugs or something. Except he doesn’t like the idea of not being able to hear, especially when he knows what lurks both in the dark and in the daylight. His thoughts start to drift, spinning out into dreams—
“Statement of Tessa Winters, regarding a strange computer program she downloaded from the Deep Web three months ago.”
Martin sighs. “Is the Deep Web even a real thing?”
“Statement recorded direct from subject 7th January, 2017. Statement begins.”
Martin considers just getting up and going into the other room for a bit, maybe taking a blanket and falling asleep on the couch, but he doesn’t like that idea at all. He doesn’t want to be alone, especially not at night. It reminds him too much of how things had been before, sitting up at two in the morning writing poetry. Okay, he does have some poems he’s been working on, but he usually does the bulk of the work on them in the mornings when Jon is still asleep. There’s one he’s almost done with, one he’s actually considering showing to Jon. His heart races at the thought. If I could whisper secrets to my younger self— he thinks, running through the first line of the poem in his head as he begins to get drowsy again. If I could unwind time and make it new again—
“Statement of Georgina Barker regarding the last words of a possible corpse.”
Martin opens his eyes. “Oh no, not that one, Jon. You always cry when you do that one.” Martin stares up at the ceiling. He’s not sure exactly why he imagines the Beholding as a giant eyeball in the sky, but he does. “Statement ends,” Martin hisses at what he knows is listening, even though he knows it to be a futile gesture. He’s just so tired, and he doesn’t want Jon to be having terrible dreams. He doesn’t want anyone having terrible dreams. “Can’t you give them a night off?”
“Martin?” Jon mumbles. “Who’re talking to?”
Martin blinks in the dark. “I woke you up?” Last time he had tried to wake Jon up he had been all but shouting his name and had gotten no reaction whatsoever.
“Mmmmhmm,” Jon hums into Martin’s chest. He already sounds like he’s falling asleep again.
Martin kisses the top of Jon’s head. That watched feeling is gone and that— that’s good, right? It has to be a coincidence of course. Why would an entity listen to him? “I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”
Jon makes an affirmative sleepy sort of noise and snuggles closer to Martin. Martin stays awake for five minutes, then ten, but Jon doesn’t start talking in his sleep again. Coincidence or mystery or miracle, Martin is glad for it regardless, and when he falls back asleep it’s only the sun on his face through a crack in the curtains and Jon’s gentle breathing that wakes him in the morning.
Jon wakes up to the warm smells of coffee and cinnamon and for a moment all he can do is lay in bed and smile. He shouldn’t get used to this, he knows he shouldn’t, but oh he wants to. He wants to live in a world where this is his new normal. Waking up to the smell of breakfast, listening to the faint sound of Martin singing as he moves about the kitchen. Oh yes, he wants this to keep happening more than he’s wanted anything else in his life.
Jon slips out of bed, pulling on one of Martin’s sweaters as he heads into the kitchen. Martin has his back turned towards him and it’s easy enough for Jon to step behind him and wrap his arms around him, placing a kiss on Martin’s shoulder. “Good morning.”
Martin’s chuckle vibrates through Jon’s chest. “Good morning to you too. I thought I was going to have to drag you out of bed before your coffee got cold.”
“Mmm, you could have just brought it to me,” Jon says, not ready to let go of Martin just yet, not even for the temptation of coffee. “You did yesterday.”
“Yes, and if you remember you grabbed me like an octopus as soon as I set the coffee on the nightstand and then I was trapped in your clutches for an hour while both your coffee and our breakfast got cold.” Martin’s voice is full of gentle, teasing affection.
“Didn’t hear you complaining.” Jon has to stand a bit on tiptoe to kiss Martin’s ear.
“Kissing is more fun than complaining.” Martin turns his head and gives Jon a kiss on his temple. “Go drink your coffee.”
There’s a sheet of paper folded into thirds propped up against Jon’s coffee mug, Jon’s name scrawled across it in Martin’s handwriting. “Martin? What’s this?”
“I—um—I wrote you something.” Martin sets down a basket of scones before sitting down with his morning mug of tea. A faint blush is creeping up his neck. “I used to write you things all the time, I just— never showed you.”
Jon unfolds the piece of paper and begins to read, aware that Martin’s looking at him out of the corner of his eye, his whole face flushed now.
If I could whisper secrets to my younger self
If I could unwind time and make it new again
I’d want to do the same for you
Tell you that loneliness is not forever
Steer you away from all life’s dangers
But if I did all that
Would it undo what we have now?
If I sent us walking down different paths
Would we ever end up back on the same one
Hands entwined, side by side?
I like to think we’d find each other
A different time, a different place
A glance across a crowded room
A smile over a bookstore’s shelves
A song that makes me turn my head
We’d discover how we fit together
Different people with different lives
Drawn to each other despite the odds
Some things change
Hearts stay the same
It’s not the best poem Jon has ever read, except of course, that it is. He stares at the words on the page, his heart so full of emotion that he can’t speak.
“I haven’t written any poetry since— well, right after you went into the hospital I tried, but— so I might be a little rusty.”
Marry me, Jon thinks giddily. Then, no, we can’t. We’ve barely been dating a month. And for all we know the world could end next week.
The world is always ending. So why not do this now?
No, Martin deserves a proper proposal. A ring. How is he going to figure out Martin’s ring size?
“Jon?” Martin’s hand is on his shoulder. “Are you all right? Is it that bad?”
Jon nearly lunges forward in his urgency to kiss Martin, to somehow convey everything he is feeling but cannot say, and that warm, bright feeling in his chest only grows larger as their lips meet.
When the kiss finally breaks, Martin looks at Jon with the slightly dazed expression he tends to get after being throughly kissed. “So— the poem was all right then?”
Jon laughs softly and leans over to kiss Martin again.
“Tell me if you see any good cows,” Martin says as he snaps another picture of a shaggy black cow with his phone. “I’ll do you one better, Jon,” he says with a smile. “Pictorial evidence.”
The cow in question just stares back at Martin while he takes a few more pictures, seemingly unfazed by the attention. A little further up the hill, a few more cows graze.
“This is nice,” Martin says. “The country, I mean. At first I thought it’d be— well, a little lonely out here.” Martin gives a nervous little laugh. “I mean, I’m not alone obviously, Jon is here. But I’m used to the city, where everything is so much closer together, where something is always happening you know?”
The cow begins to graze.
“But— I don’t know. The city always felt lonely to me. I wrote a poem about it once. Hard streets, people walking by, looking straight ahead, not talking to anyone. Just constantly moving. Moving without connecting. Something like that.” Martin shivers as the wind begins to pick up.
“Out here— I don’t know how to describe it. There’s less to do, less people, but everything seems more— meaningful somehow? That’s how it feels to me, anyway. I wish— I wish we could just stay here. I know we can’t, I know this is temporary, but maybe someday— maybe someday Jon and I could— settle down somewhere like this?” It’s a possibility Martin has never dared entertained before, not even during the dizzying highs back when his crush on Jon had been new. Now though, now it feels possible.
The wind blows harder and Martin wraps his arms around himself, looking up at the rapidly darkening sky. He hadn’t read anything in the forecast about it raining today—
The lightning flash is bright enough to blind, and Martin cries out as he staggers from it as if he had been struck, feeling for the fence of the cow pasture to steady himself against. The crack of thunder that follows a moment later makes Martin’s ears ring. Distantly, he hears the cow moo in distress as it runs away. He knows how that cow feels as the fear floods his body in icy waves, as his heart pounds. Something is wrong. He feels the terror in his blood, in his bones, in that part of his brain that told his ancestors to run from the things that hunted them.
“Jon!” Martin yells into the rising wind, as if he could possibly hear him, as if he were anywhere near the house. He rubs at his eyes, blinking furiously to try and clear away the white and blue afterimages of the lightning flash. As soon as he can see he’s going to run, but until then he can only stumble back up the road. “Jon!”
There is a sound. It’s the sound of reality ripping itself apart, of every nightmare rushing through a suddenly open door, but Martin won’t know that until later. It’s a sound like the whole world screaming, a sound so awful and unnatural that Martin’s brain gives up trying to process it into something he can understand after only a few seconds. Martin dimly feels himself thrown to the ground by the force of it and then the world goes away—
Martin comes back to consciousness with the taste of dirt in his mouth and blood on his lips. He groans, trying to remember what happened. There had been— there had been—
The ground underneath him starts to lose its firmness and Martin lets out a cry as he manages to get to his feet just seconds before the spot he had been lying in becomes a deep, yawning pit. Martin stares at it for a long moment, transfixed, stares down into the darkness it reveals, darker than night, darker than the void between stars.
The distant music of a calliope organ comes to him on the wind, mixing with the sound of drums, the acrid tang of smoke. Something growls in the distance. Something screams in reply.
Fear can paralyze, but it can also motivate. Martin runs. His only thought is to get back to the house, get back to Jon, make sure he’s okay, figure out what to do. He is running so hard and so fast that he doesn’t see the mist rising up from the ground, doesn’t see the fog rushing toward him until it is far to late to stop and everything is—
Everything is quiet.
Martin’s steps slow as he catches his breath, as the fear becomes muffled by the cool quiet of the fog. He had been running from something— but there’s nothing to run from here. He’s alone. He’s always been alone—
Martin laughs, a sharp, bitter, ugly sound. “Really? Really?!”
The fog scatters around Martin as he starts to run again, not standing a chance against his anger and his love.
The windows on the cabin are shattered, the door open and banging in the wind when Martin hurls himself up the stairs. He takes time to slam the door and lock it, never mind that anything could get in through the windows. “Jon?”
No answer. No answer and Martin is running through the house. No answer as Martin screams Jon’s name. No answer as Martin enters the living room where pages flutter across the floor and over Jon’s body. Jon’s body. Jon’s body on the floor.
Jon’s body in a hospital bed. Not breathing.
Martin’s on his knees. They’ll be bruised later, black and purple. Jon is breathing, shallowly and way too fast, but breathing, his eyes half open to reveal only the whites.
“Jon!” Martin grabs the front of Jon’s sweater and half pulls him upright, watches as his head lolls back. “Jon, wake up!”
No. No no no not again, not losing him again no—
“Wake up! Jon! Jon!” He feels tears sliding down his cheeks as he hauls off and slaps Jon out of sheer, panicked desperation. “Wake up!!”
Jon jerks in Martin’s grip, takes a ragged, gasping breath, eyes opening all the way, focusing on Martin’s face. “Martin?” His voice sounds like he’s been eating the glass from the broken windows. “What— what happened?”
“I don’t know!” The tears flow faster now, relief and fear mixing together. “Everything—everything’s wrong!”
Jon struggles to get to his feet and as soon as Martin helps him up he starts heading to the kitchen, towards the front door. Martin grabs his arm, pulls him back.
“Don’t— it’s bad out there, Jon. It’s really bad.”
Jon heads towards one of the windows instead, Martin still clutching at his sleeve.
“Oh god,” Jon whispers as he looks outside.
Martin doesn’t look out the window, just stares at the profile of Jon’s face instead. “I don’t know if it’s just here or—“
“It’s everywhere,” Jon says softly. “They’re all here now, and I can feel all of it.”
Jon doesn’t sound afraid. Why doesn’t he sound afraid? He sounds—
“Jon? Jon, I’m scared.” You’re scaring me, he doesn’t say. You’re scaring me worse than whatever is going on outside.
“The whole world’s afraid, Martin. Because of me.” Jon starts laughing softly. “And the Watcher drinks it all in.”
“Jon?” I’m losing him.
“Look at the sky, Martin!” Jon’s laughter is getting louder now and there’s a undertone to it, something other. “Look at the sky. It’s looking back!”
Martin pulls Jon away from the window and spins him around to face him. Jon’s still laughing, his eyes glowing the strange yellow green of the sky before a storm.
“Look at me, Jon.” Martin says firmly. “Jon, look at me.”
“I can taste how scared you are,” Jon says, his laughter growing softer, his voice still full of wonder. “It tastes like tea and cinnamon and honey. You’re so afraid.” The laughter fades and the wonder in Jon’s voice dies, replaced with horror. “I’ve made you so afraid. I—“ He gasps, and it’s the sound of a drowning man taking his last breath. He grabs Martin’s shoulders as the glow of his eyes fades and the tears start. “Martin?”
“I’m here, Jon.” Martin pulls Jon close. “I’m here.”
“It’s my fault, Martin. Everything I did, everyone I saved, it’s all my fault, I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I didn’t know. I couldn’t stop reading, I tried to stop I tried I tried and it hurt and I couldn’t stop and it’s my fault it’s all my fault—“ The words dissolve into coughing and sobs.
Reading. A statement had done this?
Another gust of wind blows through the broken windows, causing the papers on the floor to flutter and dance. Martin manages to slap a page to the floor as it tumbles by, grabbing it and shifting Jon’s weight to one arm so he can read.
—You are a living chronicle of terror. The sentence draws Martin’s eye before movement from nearby makes him look up.
More pages drift across the floor, and Martin has to wonder if it’s a trick of the air currents that make them move towards the two of them. Martin collects them all and puts them in order as Jon cries and mutters and trembles in his arms. By the time Martin is finished reading, Jon isn’t the only one shaking.
“This isn’t your fault, Jon,” Martin says, his voice tight with anger. “You were used and manipulated. We all were. There’s one person whose fault this is, and it is not you.”
Jon looks up at Martin, eyes glassy and distant. He’s still trembling, and his skin feels cold when Martin goes to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. Shock. Looks like Martin will have to come up with a plan. Later, when they’re safe, then he can have a good long cry, but for now he has to shove that feeling into a box so that he can do whatever needs to be done.
“We can’t stay here,” Martin says. “Well, we could, if I boarded up the windows, but we only have enough food for a few days.”
“London,” Jon says quietly. “We need to go back to London. We need to find Basira. She—“ Jon’s eyes begin to glow again. “I can See so much now—“ His voice has that odd, slightly distorted quality to it again. “So many things to Look at—“
“Jon.” Martin’s voice is hard, and oh, he realizes he almost sounds like his mother and he hates it, but he hates how dreamy and distant Jon sounds more. “Don’t— don’t do that.”
Jon shivers and winds his hands into Martin’s sweater, as if to ground himself. The glow fades again. “It’s—it’s hard not to. The power is— it’s everywhere.”
“Just— just try. Stay with me.” Martin takes a deep breath. “Okay, we need to get to London, and you’re in no shape to drive, don’t try to tell me you are.”
Jon gives the weakest chuckle Martin has ever heard, but it’s a million times better than Jon’s earlier horrible laughter. “Wasn’t planning on it. Maybe I should have taught you how to drive while we were out here.”
Martin goes very, very still as an idea comes to him. “Maybe you can.”
Jon just looks at him, confusion plain on his face. “Right now? During all this?”
“No. I mean, yes. I mean— listen, Elias—Jonah— could just— he could put stuff into people’s heads. He did it to Melanie. He did it to me.” Martin doesn’t think about what got put into his head, he doesn’t have the time for it. “Images, thoughts, knowledge. Could you just— put how to drive into my head?”
“I— maybe?“ Jon’s brow furrows.
“It’s either that or you teach me as we go, but we have to get out of here,” Martin says. He wonders if Jon’s part in ushering in this— apocalypse? Is that what this is? He wonders if that will make any of the Entities or their avatars less likely to attack them. Somehow he thinks the Stranger is the type to hold a grudge at the very least.
Jon lets his breath out in a sigh. “Close your eyes. I’ll— try.”
Martin closes his eyes. There’s a moment of quiet, only the darkness of his eyes behind closed lids and then there is light and noise and words in a driving manual and a stern-faced woman instructing Jon as he tries to park and hours of driving hours and hours driving a van instruments in the back someone next to Jon singing and more driving and—
There is a dull pain as the information sinks in but that’s okay, that’s fine, he can live with a headache. Martin opens his eyes and rubs at his temple with the heel of his hand. “You didn’t tell me you were in a band.”
Jon blinks. “Oh I uh— didn’t mean for that to get in there. That was a long time ago.” His lips twitch up at the corners, almost a smile.
“We need to get going.” Martin helps Jon to his feet, then catches him when his first shaky steps fail, sweeping him up into his arms. He feels so light, and Martin has the thought that if he doesn’t hold onto Jon tightly he’s just going to drift away like paper burned to ashes. “Jon? Do you need to eat something? I can look over one of the other statements, make sure it’s safe—“
“No,” Jon says firmly and much too quickly. “No I— I don’t know if I need it anymore. The fear is everywhere. I think I just— need a moment.”
If Jon doesn’t look better by the time Martin’s done packing, Martin is going to press the issue, but not now. “Let’s get you into the bedroom then. You can rest while I pack.”
“You’re strong,” Jon says softly as Martin moves through the hallway.
Martin can’t help but laugh. “I took care of my mum for years, Jon, and you’re not nearly as heavy as her.”
“No, I mean— okay yes, that too. I meant more— I still remember us in the Archive when the worms attacked and you pulled out that corkscrew. And—I Saw what Elias did to you. And then Peter— you’re strong in the face of fear.”
“So are you,” Martin says as he shoulders open the bedroom door. “And don’t you dare say that’s what brought about all this, Jon. That strength saved us, and it’s going to save the whole damn world.”
Jon doesn’t say anything as Martin lays him down on the bed, but Martin can tell that he’s thinking about what he just said.
“Now just rest here while I pack. It shouldn’t take very long.”
A few changes of clothes go into a bag, followed by the first aid kit Daisy had kept in the bathroom, which is more of a first aid suitcase for all of the supplies packed into it, some of which Martin isn’t sure just how Daisy got her hands on.
Jon mentioning the corkscrew makes Martin think of weapons. Maybe he should go to the kitchen and grab a knife or something. Martin is not a violent man by nature, but he does devote at least a good ten seconds of thought of what he’d like to do to Elias if he managed to get his hands on him. Perhaps Daisy has one of those melon-baller things, that’d probably do a great job at scooping out eyeballs.
“We never thought to look for hidden weapons,” Martin says mostly to himself as he goes back out to the living room and grabs his messenger bag full of Jon’s statements. He wants to toss Jonah’s statement in the fireplace and light a match, but it’s possible they might need something from it to try and undo whatever he did, so it ends up in the bag with the rest. The tape recorder sits nearby, still running. Martin gives it a look.
“If we left you here, would you just follow us?”
The tape recorder does not respond, just whirrs on. Martin sighs as he picks it up and puts it in the bag on top of everything else. He knows the answer.
Martin does check the kitchen for a corkscrew just on general principles, but comes up empty. There’s not even a grapefruit spoon, which he’s pretty sure would do wonders on eyeballs in a pinch. He does consider the biggest of the kitchen knives, but he can just imagine tucking it into his belt and then stabbing himself with it accidentally the second he forgot about it. He grabs the few foodstuffs in the kitchen that will travel well and throws them in with Jon’s statements. Food for the both of them.
When Martin goes back into the bedroom, Jon looks up from the bed. He looks less ashy now, his eyes a little clearer. “You said something about weapons. No corkscrews in the kitchen?”
“No,” Martin says. “Knowing Daisy, she’s probably got weapons hidden everywhere, but I wouldn’t know where to start looking.”
“Try under that wobbly floorboard by my side of the bed,” Jon says.
Martin gives Jon a look.
“It’s a guess, Martin,” Jon says, sounding a little exasperated. His voice sounds stronger, less raw. “I know Daisy. She’d want something close at hand. I was honestly surprised there weren’t knives under the pillows when we first got here.”
It’s a good guess. There are sheathed knives in the space under the floorboard, if anything that long could still be considered a knife and not a short sword or a machete or something. No guns. Maybe they’re hidden elsewhere, or maybe Daisy had always slept with hers. It sounded like something she might do. It’s not like either of them knows how to fire a gun in the first place. Martin grabs two knives, and then two more. If an eight foot tall spider attacks them they probably won’t do much good, but it feels like protection at any rate.
“I think that’s everything,” Martin says as he starts slinging bags over his shoulders, looking at Jon. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, staring in the direction of one of the windows. “Jon?”
There’s a moment where Martin is sure that Jon is going to say something like, I’m a monster, Martin. You’re better off just leaving me here. If that happens, Martin is going to throw Jon over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and get him into the car regardless and then they’re going to have a good long talk while Martin puts his new driving skills to use.
“I would have said that two years ago, I think, and I would have thought I was right,” Jon says quietly. He looks away from the window. “I told you I’m not going anywhere, Martin, and I meant it. Wherever we’re going, we’re going there together or not at all.” He holds out his hand, and after Martin helps him to his feet, still he does not let go. “Lead the way.”
They walk out of their former sanctuary and out under the watching sky. They both look up, almost in unison, and they do not blink under that terrible gaze. They are strong in the face of fear, that strength only reinforced by the depth of their love for each other as, hand in hand, they set off into an unknown and terrifying future, towards whatever hope may lay beyond it.