Actions

Work Header

Promises of Sanctuary

Work Text:

Martin had almost forgotten what warmth felt like.

No, not almost—when he and Jon had grabbed hold of each other, there on the fog-choked shoreline, the sensation of Jon's breath on his throat and Jon's hands on his back had been completely alien. At first, Martin hadn't even known what the feeling was. It had hurt, to have even those few points of warmth against his chilled skin. But it had hurt in a good way, somehow. Catharsis, not harm.

Jon hadn't let go of Martin's hand as they had walked away from the ghostly water, and Martin had been grateful even as his nerves screamed and protested. He had thought that the numbness would be preferable to the agony of fear and loss that had consumed him, day in and day out, while Jon lay unresponsive in the hospital bed, but by the time he could have realized his mistake, he was in too deep to want to leave. Now that the fog has been lifted from his eyes—so to speak—Martin is desperate not to return to that awful emptiness. He is careful not to let the joyous agony of human connection, unfamiliar after so long, lend tension to his face or posture. He doesn't want Jon try to give him space. Not now.

(Maybe not ever, he thinks, with equal parts guilt and pathetic, selfish longing.)

The fog grows thinner as the shore recedes behind them. As they take the last step together over the boundary between the Lonely and the real world, the sensation of Jon's hand in his changes from vicious pins and needles to warm, dry skin. Oh, he thinks. That's what that feeling was—

"—tin? Martin, what's going—are you all right? Martin?" Martin blinks. Jon is staring up at him. He looks... afraid? No, that's not quite right. Worried. Belatedly, Martin realizes that Jon has been talking to him.

"What?" His own voice is incredibly loud in his ears, and he cringes internally.

"Martin, you're—you're crying," says Jon. He raises a trembling hand towards Martin's face, but it drops back to his side before it can make contact.

A lightning bolt of desire strikes Martin. He wants Jon to touch his face and wipe away his tears so much it's nearly a physical ache. But Jon has already put his hand down and Martin can't think of a way to ask that doesn't sound idiotic, so he scrubs at his own face with the hand that's not busy holding onto Jon's for dear life.

"What's wrong?" asks Jon anxiously, eyes searching Martin's face. His empty hand twitches at his side, and he curls it into a fist.

"Nothing's wrong." Martin sniffles. "Well—I mean, obviously, everything's wrong, but mostly I'm just—a bit overwhelmed."

Jon lets out a brief, tense hah. Making Jon laugh, even so briefly, feels shockingly good, but Martin doesn't have time to dwell on it before Jon speaks again. "Is there anything I can do?"

Two-plus decades of self-abnegation bubble up in Martin's throat, threatening to spill over, to reassure Jon that everything's okay, not to worry, Martin's just fine. But the words die on his tongue. Maybe there was a thread of compulsion in Jon's question. Maybe it's the after-effects of that glorious, already-fading moment of SIGHT, when all the fog had gone out of Martin's head for the first time in months and Jon had stood before him, real and true and unafraid. Or maybe it's nothing supernatural at all. Maybe it's just ordinary human trust.

"Can you—" Martin has to clear his throat to get the words out. "Can you, can you hold—me? Not for long. Just. Just for a second?" He can't look at Jon’s face.

"Of course," says Jon softly, and Martin's breath whooshes out in a helpless gasp of relief as Jon wraps his arms around Martin again. He's warm and present, and he's holding Martin because Martin asked and Jon wanted to help, and Martin didn't even do anything to deserve this gentleness and care but Jon doesn't seem to mind giving it anyway—

Tears drip from Martin's chin into Jon's hair. He takes a shuddering breath, tries to get used to the feeling of dry air in his lungs. Standing here with his hands clutched in the back of Jon's shirt, Jon's bony face and arms digging into him, isn't exactly helping Martin feel less overwhelmed, but he doesn't care. He lets the sensations wash over him, and weeps with helpless joy.

 


 

By the time they're halfway to Martin's flat, Martin is—not having regrets, exactly. But the feeling of being overwhelmed has gone from relief to pain.

It's not like he hadn't known that being slowly eaten up by an ancient inhuman fear—monster? god?—was having an effect on his day-to-day life. He had realized that the gradually dwindling crowds during his commute were a side effect of the fog that had been creeping into his lungs, his blood, his skull. But somehow it hadn’t occurred to him until he had to squeeze onto the crowded train that being free of the Lonely would mean a return to certain daily torments. Case in point: people keep bumping into him.

Martin has always hated it when people misjudge his size and collide with him. Nobody ever seems to notice how tall he is, how much space he takes up, until they're standing right next to him. He suspects it's down to his posture. He's been slouching and making himself smaller in public (and in private, if he’s honest) ever since he was fourteen and already as tall as most adult men he encountered, and often broader to boot.

Martin's not sure exactly why he hates it so much when people bump into him. It’s not like he doesn’t like it when people he knows touch him! Not that they do that much, mind. Come to think of it, the only one who even so much as gives him a friendly pat on the shoulder is Tim—

Was Tim. 

Being lonely—Lonely—seems to have distorted his sense of time somewhat. Martin takes a deep breath in and out. It doesn’t help much. Trains don’t smell very nice.

Someone else jostles him as they make for the train door, muttering a quick “oh, pardon me,” as their shoulder smacks into Martin’s. Distracted by his thoughts, he leans away from the sudden contact, accidentally straightening his spine until he’s upright. Five different people do startled double-takes, and the young woman on the other side of him from Jon from edges back half a foot, eyes wide. Martin doesn’t dare look over to see Jon’s expression.

It is, in a word, awful. Feeling the unnerved stares of people realizing quite suddenly that they are sharing a train with a very large man is somehow worse than being unexpectedly touched. Martin holds in the exhausted groan that threatens to escape. Instead, he hunches down, making himself look small again. As usual, it’s oddly effective. Most of the stares stop, though a few people still seem confused, trying to reconcile two rather different mental images of him. He closes his eyes so that he won’t have to see them.

 


 

When they walk out of the station, Martin takes a huge lungful of evening air, grateful to be away from the press of humanity. Jon is still beside him, but seems to be giving him a lot of personal space. Martin tries his very best not to read into it too much.

 


 

The trip home passes quickly; the next day, despite all the panic and rushing about they're forced to do, is agonizingly long. Basira shows up out of the blue with some advice that is—rather alarming, actually, if Martin's being honest? He can't imagine that his and Jon's feeble attempts at confusing potential pursuers are doing much. Maybe they just need to make it annoying to keep track of them, enough that whoever it is Basira is worried about at the police station will give up out of laziness. Martin attempts to comfort himself with this conclusion, with limited success.

Despite the fact that it's objectively a far less important concern, Martin finds himself more preoccupied with the fact that Jon is still giving him a nearly comical level of elbow room. At first, he's just confused; while Jon is definitely one of the least touchy-feely people Martin has ever known, this is excessive even for him. But as the day wears on, and they trade one passenger train for a second and then a third, Jon is still taking extravagant pains not to touch him, and Martin's confusion slides into despondent self-pity.

It's not... quite like the murky gray despair of the Lonely, but it's uncomfortably close. Martin tries to come up with a way to ask Jon to comfort him again, but can't think of anything which doesn't make his insides curl with guilt at the thought of imposing even more on Jon's generosity. Jon pulled him out of the Lonely; the least Martin can do is respect his obvious desire for personal space.

His moping is interrupted a few minutes later by a happy accident. Just as Jon is preparing to sit back down, having gotten up to stretch his legs a few minutes before, the train goes around a curve in the track a hair faster than either of them expected. Jon ends up half-sprawled across Martin's lap, with Martin's arms around him, steadying him. Immediately, Jon pushes himself back upright and into his own seat. They both try to speak at once.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Jon, I'll just—"

"Martin, god, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean—"

They stop and look at each other. Jon looks as puzzled as Martin feels.

Jon breaks the silence first. "Why are you apologizing? I'm the one who, who fell on you." His gaze slides down to the floor.

"Why—? Why are you apologizing for falling on me? It was obviously an accident," says Martin. He hopes Jon doesn't notice the twinge of bitterness that escapes on the last word.

Jon's shoulders hunch. "I know you don't really want anyone touching you right now—"

Martin makes a completely involuntary squeak of utter befuddlement. "I... don't? Jon—what?"

Jon peeks up at Martin. His eyebrows are deeply furrowed, like when he's in the middle of trying to work out some conundrum or other. "You—you said just for a second when we got out of—there—and you were so tense I knew it must be hurting you, and on the train last night, you were flinching every time people brushed past you, and, and on the sofa last night you didn’t even—" He breaks off suddenly. There's an uneven reddish tinge high up on his sharp cheekbones.

An invisible hand unclenches from around Martin’s lungs for the first time since Jon started avoiding him. "Jon..." Martin can't think of a way to say it that won't come out sounding clingy or desperate. He blunders ahead anyway. "I don't, I don't mind when it's you. I—" His hands twist in his lap. "If you want space, I understand. But. If you don't mind..." Deep breath in, deep breath out. "It's been—a really long time since anyone touched me. On purpose, I mean, not because they didn't notice I was there. Aside from Peter, I guess, but even he didn't really—"

"Oh, god," groans Jon, sounding miserable. Martin is just about to apologize for bringing up the subject at all when Jon wraps him up in a bony hug. "I'm so sorry, Martin, good lord, I didn't even consider that, how stupid of me—"

A second invisible hand unclenches from around Martin's heart. Very carefully, he reaches up and winds his arms around Jon. Abruptly, he has to blink back tears. "It's okay. I didn't exactly say anything about it."

Jon winces. "That's the whole problem, though, isn't it? You didn't say a thing, I just assumed I knew what you were feeling." He looks up. "I'm sorry. Next time you seem uncomfortable, I'll ask instead of guessing."

Jon’s delivery might be a little stilted, but he’s so earnest. Something deep inside Martin, some scar much older and smaller than the wounds of the last few years, eases.

"Thank you," says Martin quietly. "And—this is okay?"

"Yes, of course it's okay," says Jon. "I'll hold you whenever you want." He suddenly ducks his head, and his ears turn the same shade as his cheeks did a minute ago. Maybe he's more touchy-feely than Martin thought, after all. 

Or just more willing to put up with Martin’s particular flavor of neediness. Yes, that’s much more likely.

Still, Martin can't help a little contented "hmmm" from escaping. He tightens his arms minutely, and feels Jon tighten his a bit in response.

 


 

The "safehouse" is a cottage, tiny and full of dust and perfect. It looks like the sort of place people go in the happy endings of children’s stories, never mind the cracks in the brick stairs and the holes in the moth-eaten curtains. Martin can't even see it fully in the gloom, tired eyes straining, but he knows as soon as he makes out its silhouette that he's in trouble.

It's not that Martin's feelings are some kind of secret—he's pretty sure Jon already knows, one way or another. And it’s not that he’s afraid Jon doesn’t feel the same way. Well—no, he is afraid that Jon doesn’t feel the same way, but he’s not afraid that Jon doesn’t care. He wouldn't have been able to rescue Martin if he hadn't cared a great deal. Rationally, Martin knows this.

The problem is that Martin is... not exactly the easiest person to be around, long-term. He's only had a few boyfriends in the past, and none of those ever stayed with him longer than a few months. Every time, it had come down to the same things in the end: Martin is smothering, overbearing, naïve; he has no sense of perspective; he wants too much commitment too quickly. He’s always somehow too much and not enough at the same time.

It will be so easy to forget, in this shabby yet picturesque sanctuary, that they're together out of necessity. That Jon has nowhere else to run, no one else who it's safe to be around; it’s Martin or nobody, regardless of Martin’s inadequacy. He absolutely cannot exchange Jon's comfort for his own, no matter how much this whole thing feels like an unearned honeymoon.

God. A honeymoon. Listen to him. It's already started.

While Martin silently berates himself, Jon digs the key out of one of the flowerpots on the stairs and lets them both inside. It's less dusty than Martin would have guessed from the windows, but there's still enough on the floor to show their footprints clearly. With a sigh of relief, Martin deposits the worn duffel containing his non-clothing luggage next to the sofa in the front room; Jon does the same.

They explore the dark house just long enough to figure out the floor plan and make sure the electricity is working. Martin shoves the bag of groceries he brought into the fridge and hopes it doesn’t decide to break in the middle of the night. 

There is only one bedroom, up a short flight of stairs from the rest of the cottage. There is only one bed in the bedroom, and it isn't very wide.

Martin stares at it, too exhausted to react properly. Sleepily, he works through the ramifications: if they don't want to sleep next to each other, one of them will have to take the sofa. The sofa is several rooms away and downstairs. If Martin spends the whole night with (Jon) the closest person several rooms away and downstairs, he won’t be able to sleep at all. If he isn’t able to sleep, then he’ll be completely useless the next day.

Martin will allow himself to be greedy, just a little longer. Just until the morning. Then he’ll stop. He sits down heavily on the mattress, which creaks slightly, and begins shaking the dust off of the pillows.

Jon sets down his suitcase with a soft thump as Martin puts the pillows back. "I can take the sofa, if you don't—if you want," says Jon. "I think I saw a linen closet, but if it's empty, I think I have enough spare clothes to keep warm." He does not sound enthusiastic at the prospect.

Martin hadn't even considered the blanket angle. He can almost fool himself into believing that he's motivated by care for Jon's well-being rather than his own comfort when he shakes his head and slides over to make room.

Jon stretches out on the edge of the mattress but makes no move to come closer. That makes sense—he's been holding onto Martin basically ever since their conversation on the train, so he must want a break. He falls asleep in literal seconds.

Martin tries to sleep facing the wall, but his own breathing is so loud in his ears that he can't hear Jon's. Eventually, he rolls over, resolutely telling himself that it's not creepy as long as he's trying to fall asleep too. He keeps his eyes open as long as he can bear it.

 


 

The day dawns bright and early. Jon must have already gone downstairs to get breakfast, because he's not in the bed. Martin hopes that Jon hasn't already made any tea; he always ruins it with way too much sugar. Plus, if Martin gets back into the habit of making tea in the morning, maybe Jon won’t get fed up with him as fast. Martin slides out of bed, fumbling for socks inside his suitcase to protect his feet from the cold floor.

Jon's suitcase is gone.

Martin fights back a prickle of unease at the sight of the empty patch of floor. Jon must have taken his suitcase downstairs, that's all. Maybe there's a cabinet or dresser down there they missed on their first wander through the house. It was dark, after all.

Even with the socks, Martin's feet nearly freeze as he makes his way downstairs. Jon is being very quiet in the kitchen; Martin can't hear any noise from him at all. "Jon?" he calls as he stumbles through the doorway, rubbing his eyes.

Jon isn't in the kitchen.

That's—fine. Everything is okay. Jon's probably just—looking over their bags in the front room! Yes, that must be it. Silly Martin, assuming Jon would think of food first thing in the morning. He almost never eats of his own accord. Martin's going to have his work cut out for him, making sure Jon eats enough while they're here. "Jon?" Martin calls again. "Jon, it's too early to be unpacking, you haven't even eaten yet…"

No answer. Jon isn't in the front room.

Martin sits down hard on the sofa, clasping his hands together in his lap. They're so cold. It's so cold in here. Maybe Jon got tired of how chilly it was. Maybe he decided to take an early walk to the village to get extra blankets, or some warm food. Yes, that's it. If Martin opens the door, he'll see Jon walking along the road.

He rests a trembling hand on the doorknob. He could have sworn it was shining in the sunlight from the window when he walked into the room, but now it's dim. He forces himself to turn the knob and pull the door aside.

There's nothing moving out there. No Jon. No birds in the trees. Not even a breeze to rustle the grass, or stir the thick, low-lying gray clouds.

Martin stumbles away from the doorway. His eye falls on the dusty floor. There are his footprints, and the tracks from his suitcase. There are no other marks in the dust. Had he... imagined Jon's presence, yesterday? The last two days?

Had Jon even come to save him at all?

He wheels back to face outside again, but now there's nothing there. No hills, no grass, no crumbling brick stairs. Only clinging gray fog, so dense he can't see his hand in front of his face.

The walls have disappeared. The floor has vanished. The house is gone. Martin is alone on a gravel beach.

The escape, the train trip, the cottage, the whole thing has just been an elaborate hallucination, just the last gasp of Martin's broken heart before it finally dies in his chest and he's trapped forever in the numbing, eternal embrace of the Forsaken—

Martin jerks awake. It's dark, and the air is dry. Desperately, he looks over. He can't really see much, it's very dark, but—yes, that's the side of Jon's face, and the shape of his body under the blankets. His gray-streaked hair is a dark, messy halo, gleaming faintly in the moonlight from the window.

Martin takes a gasping breath in, but it turns into a sob. He muffles it with his hands, but more start coming. He wishes he could hold Jon in his arms, feel something warm and real to banish the lingering chill, but then Jon would wake up, and Martin doesn't want to disturb his sleep. He doesn't look like he gets much, nowadays…

There's a sound of shifting blankets, and then Jon is curled up against his side, one hand wrapped around Martin's upper arm, bleeding warmth.

"Jon?" Martin says softly. The hand tightens a little. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep." Martin tries to breathe evenly, choke back the next sob before it can emerge.

"It's all right. What's wrong?" Jon's deep voice, a little rough from having just woken up, is the most beautiful thing Martin's ever heard.

"Nothing, I'm fine," Martin manages to say. "Just a, er, just a bad dream."

There's a pause, and for a moment Martin thinks Jon has gone back to sleep after all, but then he asks, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," Martin lies reflexively, not wanting Jon to stay up any later. But he does want to talk about it. He wants desperately to tell Jon how much he needs him, how afraid he is that Jon will leave and Martin will be alone again, make him understand so that he'll stay here and never go away. "...Yes. I was—I dreamed I woke up and you were—gone. Your bags, all the stuff you brought with you. I looked for you but I couldn't find you, you weren't outside or anything, and then I realized that, that the floor was all dusty but there was only one set of footprints—and outside, outside the fog was closing in—" The tears choke off the rest of his stuttered explanation.

Jon half-climbs Martin, laying his head on Martin's sternum. He’s so warm. "I'm here, Martin," he murmurs. "I'm right here. You're safe. I'm not going anywhere, I promise. Look, it's a lovely clear night out, there's no fog at all..." Martin can't help tugging him a little closer, pressing his face into the top of Jon's head. A few strands of hair poke him in the eye, but he doesn't care. Jon keeps talking, his voice low and soothing. After a few minutes, Martin finally gets the crying under control.

"Sorry," he finally rasps, face still pressing against Jon's hair. That has the potential to make an unpleasant mess. He fumbles for the pack of tissues he'd dropped on the bedside table before going to sleep and blows his nose.

"Sorry? For what?" Jon sounds completely baffled, like Martin didn't just disrupt his sleep with a stupid nightmare.

"I didn't mean to wake you," says Martin. "And I'm sorry for making, for making such a big deal out of it, it was just a bad dream."

Jon pulls away slightly, but keeps one hand on Martin's chest. "Martin, you don't have to apologize for any of that." He sounds completely sincere. "What you went through, what you've been through, it was awful. And even aside from that, there's nothing wrong with crying when you have a nightmare."

Is he serious? "I woke you up! You were so tired last night and I know you can't possibly have been sleeping well and I woke you up." Martin sniffles again. His throat hurts.

"I don't care. I'd rather stay up all night than have you think that I'd left, or that you were back... there." Martin's heart feels like it's about to swell out of his chest. "Er. Is this all right? I can move over if you want more space."

Space is absolutely the last thing Martin wants right now. He can't stop himself from pulling Jon back down. "No, I don't..." He lets out a deep breath. "Please don't leave." His voice is impossibly small in his own ears.

"I won't," says Jon, voice still so soft and sweet. "Never. I promise."

Martin isn't quite sure he can believe that, but he holds Jon tightly and lets himself pretend.

 


 

Martin begins to think he was off the mark about Jon's motivations for touching him. He had assumed at first it was all selflessness, or perhaps just a guilty conscience, but now he's not so sure.

The first hint comes when he wakes up that first morning in the cottage (for real this time; it's gloomy out, not bright, but less cold than in his dream) to find Jon still draped over him, not having moved at all since their whispered conversation during the night. It takes a fair amount of effort, not to mention willpower, in order to detach him from Martin's side; like a cat, Jon has a habit of grabbing back on every time Martin thinks he's free. When Martin finally manages to stand up, he hears a faint, inarticulate grumble come from behind him, and smiles on his way to the kitchen to inspect the pantry.

The tea supplies are nonexistent; the tins in the cupboards are out of date. It's a good thing Martin thought to bring some food along, as they would be walking to the village on empty stomachs otherwise. As it is, they probably have a day or two before they'll have to make a grocery run, enough time to get the house cleaned up a bit. It's still very dusty, and they hadn't unpacked the previous night. Martin tosses the expired food and resolutely ignores a prickle of anxiety at the sight of the bare shelves. To distract himself, he puts the kettle on.

By the time he hears Jon's unsteady gait on the narrow wooden stairs, the tea has been steeping for just about long enough. He adds a precise ratio of milk and honey to one of the mugs (he'd spent ages tinkering with the proportions, until Jon had rarely left a cup unfinished), pours in the tea, and sets it down to begin fixing his own mug when a warm weight bumps into him from behind.

Hint number two that Jon’s motivations for touching him are not entirely selfless: when Martin turns around and catches a sleepy, unsteady Jon before he falls over, Jon immediately goes boneless, leaning against Martin's front. Martin can't help a quiet, fond chuckle at the sight. Jon blinks up at him, obviously not quite awake yet. He rubs at his eyes with a hand covered by a sleeve that's much too long for him. He's... wearing Martin's discarded jumper from last night over his pyjamas.

Martin is not sure what to do with this information.

He feels as though continuing to smile dopily down at Jon is probably not the most productive course of action, though, so he picks up Jon's tea from the counter and carefully hands it over. He makes sure that Jon holds it in his bare hands and not through the jumper so that he won't drop it.

"Good morning, Jon," he says, turning back to the counter and preparing his own mug. Jon makes a sound that might be "good morning" through his tea.

Martin fixes a slightly forlorn cold breakfast (he hasn't had a chance to try the antique-looking stovetop yet, and he frankly doesn't trust the ancient toaster), and they wash the dishes together afterwards. Made anxious by the lingering quietness of the morning, Martin begins to tell Jon his plans for cleaning the house. By the time they head back to the bedroom and awkwardly turn their backs to give each other some privacy while getting dressed, Martin's blathering has turned into a discussion of the house in general, and then the countryside.

He honestly tries to stop himself from talking. He really, really does. It's just that he can't seem to get his mouth to cooperate. But when he's on the point of finally cutting himself off in the middle of theorizing about their new neighbors, Jon asks, "Have you seen the cows in the field next to the house?"

Martin's brain short circuits. That's the only explanation for why the next thing out of his mouth is "Cows?" instead of the much more important Wait, I'm not boring you to death?

Jon smiles and beckons him over to the nearest window. Martin had only taken one look out of the window in the kitchen that morning, and upon seeing only dense gray mist, had decided to pretend that the window wasn't there after all. But an hour or so has passed, and while it's still overcast, the low-lying fog has lifted to reveal—

Those are absolutely the best cows that Martin's ever seen.

"I thought you might like them," says Jon. Whoops. Martin hadn’t meant to say that out loud. At least Jon sounds fond instead of mocking. Well, okay, he sounds a little mocking. But it's a fond sort of mocking, like Jon actually likes it when Martin says inane things by accident.

A moment of quiet passes, and then Jon says, sounding oddly hesitant, "Have you seen cows up close before, then?"

"...Yes?"

"A school trip, or...?"

"No, I was visiting my grandparents in Poland—" To his horror, Martin's mouth starts operating without input from his brain again. But Jon doesn't seem put off. Rather, he listens intently, occasionally asking a question or two whenever Martin slows down or trails off. Partway through an anecdote about the tragic fate of Martin's second-favorite pair of shoes from when he was seven years old, Jon very cautiously slips a hand behind Martin's elbow, resting it on the small of his back. When Martin, equally cautiously, puts his own hand on Jon's far shoulder, Jon smiles. His whole face relaxes into something that looks suspiciously like relief, and he gently leans against Martin's side like he did in the kitchen that morning.

Having Jon lean on him for support while he was still drowsy from bed is one thing, but having him do it while fully awake is another. Maybe he's still tired, or still trying to comfort Martin, or maybe his missing ribs (what the hell, Jon, Martin wants to say but can't seem to find the right opportunity) are hurting him, or—

(Jon's head on his chest in the dark. Is this all right? I can move over...)

Or maybe, thinks Martin, he just… actually likes being close to me.

It's a strange thought. A novel thought. But not an unpleasant one.

 


 

The rest of the day passes in a blur of scrubbing, dusting, and sweeping. Martin is vaguely aware that he talks pretty much the entire time, but Jon continues to encourage him, and eventually Martin stops trying to impede the flow of chatter.

By the time evening falls, though, his heart isn't in it anymore. A quiet dread has been building in his gut every time he thinks of trying to sleep again. Jon promised not to leave, Martin reminds himself. And he didn't seem all that reluctant to hold me last night after all. Or this morning. So maybe it won't be so bad?

But Martin's always been an anxious sort of person, and the months of isolation haven't helped in that regard. The fretting continues, to the tune of it’s probably only for your sake, maybe he doesn't really like you after all, maybe he's going to leave tomorrow, maybe he'll leave tonight...

He said he wouldn't leave, Martin thinks grimly, holding the promise like a talisman against the hurricane of doubt.

Did he mean it?, beats the storm against the inside of his skull. Did he mean it? Did he mean it? Did he mean it?

"Did you mean it? What you said?" Martin eventually asks, as they're cleaning up after dinner. "Last night, I mean."

Jon freezes, his back to Martin. He stands there, silent, as the seconds slip by.

Oh, says a tiny, miserable voice inside Martin's head. Martin takes a breath, about to say—he doesn't know what, exactly. Some lie about how it's okay, he understands, it's not like he thought they were going to stay together for long anyway...

Before he can speak, Jon spins around and rushes towards him. Martin barely has time to glimpse the expression on his face—wild and panicked—before Jon's arms are squeezing him tightly. There's a little patter of water hitting the walls. Jon's arms must have been wet when he flung them around Martin. Yes—Martin can feel the damp spot starting to seep through the back of his shirt.

"I meant it," says Jon. "I promise I'll never leave."

The hurricane falters, spins back on itself, unwinding. Martin stares down at the top of Jon's head. Jon suddenly looks up at him. "Un—unless you want me to. I wouldn't—I mean, if you wanted to leave, I'd understand, I'd probably leave me too—" Martin feels a dizzying wave of something like recognition at the sudden venom in those words, but Jon keeps talking before he can interrupt—"but if, if you don't tell me to go, I won't. Not ever."

Martin doesn't realize he's decided to hug Jon until it's already happening. Slowly, so that Jon can pull away if he doesn't like it, Martin reaches up to stroke the hair at the nape of Jon's neck. Jon presses his forehead under Martin's chin.

"Thank you," Martin whispers. The feeling of being overwhelmed is back, but Martin wouldn't trade it for anything.

Jon reaches up and rubs his thumb across Martin's cheek. The angle is very awkward, and Jon's hand is still covered in dish soap. "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you," he says, the words stilted but sincere. "You saved me, so many times, just by—existing. By being there, and being you."

You did too, Martin cries inside his mind. His throat isn't working. He clears it.

"And... I love you," says Jon, single-handedly obliterating every single thought Martin's ever had, ever.

Martin has a vague idea that Jon says something about staying as long Martin still wants him. Oh god he has to say something, anything—"Always—I'll always want you with me—" The soap is wetter than Martin remembers. He reaches up to wipe it off and encounters... rather a lot of tears. Ah. That explains it. Then he remembers that Jon just said that he loved Martin out loud with words and tacks on "I love you, too."

Neither of them seem to know how to follow that up, so they just stand there, holding on, until Martin realizes his shirt really is too wet to keep wearing in the chill of the evening.

That night, Martin dreams he's back on the gravel beach again. But this time, when he wakes, he doesn't cry. Jon loves him, and that's enough to keep the fog at bay.

 


 

Martin starts writing poetry again. It's… very soppy. He knows it's soppy. But he figures that, if ever he can be forgiven for a bit of self-indulgent melodrama, it's while he's hiding out in a tiny cottage in Scotland after being rescued from a fate worse than death by his true love.

Oh, god. No wonder everything he writes is so saccharine.

Still, he keeps at it. He knows that Jon would never make fun of his poetry to his face, not anymore, but when the time comes to show Jon his work, Martin wants to actually impress him. He has no illusions that that time will be soon—he's very rusty—but he thinks it might actually arrive, someday. Practice makes perfect, and all that.

 


 

One morning, as they take their now-customary walk, Jon stops near a stand of low bushes, frowning. Martin opens his mouth to ask what's wrong when Jon puts a finger to his lips. A shiver runs up Martin's spine. Is the other shoe about to drop? Is this all the happiness they get? It's barely been any time at—Jon is pointing at a hedgehog. There's a hedgehog under the bush.

It's so tiny. Martin is utterly helpless to stop himself from crouching low and telling it—quietly—how small it is. It could fit in his hand! With room to spare! Not that he'd try to pick it up, it's a wild animal after all, not to mention the spikes, but if he did pick it up he could probably fit about two of them just on his palm—

It's not until the hedgehog looks up, perfect little dark brown nose quivering, and trundles off into the undergrowth that Martin realizes just how long he's been talking. He looks over his shoulder, worried for a moment that Jon will have gotten bored and continued walking—but no, there's Jon, leaning against the worn wooden fence by the path, one hand covering his mouth, shoulders quivering. 

Martin gets to his feet, determined to hang on to whatever dignity he still has, but Jon ruins his plan immediately by remarking, "The best nose? Are you sure? I could have sworn you said that the cow with the funny white spot we saw yesterday had the best nose."

Martin's face goes hot. "Shut up," he replies eloquently.

Jon does not shut up. "And what about the cat in the bookshop? Goodness, Martin, telling all these poor animals they have the best nose behind each other's backs, it's dishonest, really—"

"Oi!" Two can play at this game. "I seem to recall you telling that very cat that she had the prettiest ears in the world, when I know for a fact you also said that to the cat outside the train station on the way here—"

"Can I kiss you?" interrupts Jon, apropos of nothing.

Martin's brain short circuits again. It's been happening often of late. Shoddy workmanship, clearly.

Jon's looking up at him, looking like he can't quite believe what he just said. Martin's fairly sure he's wearing the same expression. It occurs to him that Jon is waiting for a response. He has to clear his throat before he can speak. "Erm. Yes?" Why oh why must Martin's voice always get so squeaky at the worst possible moments? "If you—if you want to?"

"I do," Jon replies instantly, and oh, that does something to Martin's insides, hearing Jon say those words, even in the wrong context. "Want to, that is." He swallows.

They're going to have a hard staying hidden if this keeps up, Martin thinks hysterically, with how people can see his blush all the way from London. He's pretty sure it's visible from space. "Okay," he says. His voice is still about two octaves higher than normal.

They blink at each other for another moment without moving before Martin realizes that this isn't going anywhere and he has to actually do something. He reaches down to touch Jon's (very, very warm) face just as Jon stands on tiptoe and they almost crash their faces into each other but they both pull back at the last second and it takes an instant more of maneuvering before… Yes. Good.

With the very (very, very) tiny piece of his brain not occupied with what it feels like to be kissing Jonathan Sims what even is Martin's life he wishes he'd gotten up the nerve to ask for this earlier. Like yesterday. Or the day before. Or—actually, this is a waste of brainpower. Martin promptly puts it to better use.

 


 

That night, Jon wakes up with a choked gasp. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence; there hasn’t yet been a night that they’ve both slept through. But Jon seems more upset than usual. He wrestles his way free of Martin’s arms—not that it takes much effort; Martin releases him as soon as it’s clear that he’s trying to get away—and sticks his head out the window, gasping in the frigid breeze.

Martin pulls the blanket off the bed and cautiously approaches him. “Jon? Is it—are you—”

“I’m fine,” says Jon sharply, not turning around. His voice is as chilly as the night air. Martin cringes back, but Jon winces too. “I’m—I’m sorry, Martin, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine,” says Martin. He looks down at the blanket in his hands.

“It’s not fine,” says Jon vehemently. When Martin looks up, startled, Jon is looking at him, eyes catching the faint light from outside. “I can’t, I won’t take it out on you when I’m upset. It’s wrong and I refuse.”

“Jon, it’s really not a big deal—”

Jon shakes his head. “No. You can’t—neither of us can leave, right now, and I will not make your only h—your only refuge a hostile place. And even if, if either of us could leave, it would still be wrong.” He breathes in and out. “I’m sorry for snapping at you, Martin. You were trying to help, and you didn’t deserve that.”

The hard, painful knot in Martin’s throat unwinds. “It’s okay, Jon,” he says, but Jon makes a little unhappy noise, his brow furrowing. “I forgive you?” he tries. Jon seems mollified, so Martin holds up the blanket in offering.

Jon’s whole face softens, and there are abruptly tears in his eyes. He flings his arms around Martin’s stomach, burying his face in Martin’s shoulder. Martin has to extricate the blanket from between them in order to drape it around Jon’s shoulders. Jon doesn’t resist when Martin sits on the bed and tugs Jon down into his lap.

The blanket-wrapped bundle in his arms starts quivering, and Martin realizes that Jon is crying. “What’s wrong, Jon?” He gently runs his hand through Jon’s hair, and Jon leans into the touch.

“I’m sorry,” whispers Jon in a tear-choked voice. “I’m sorry I’m not a better person, I’m sorry you have to keep waking up in the middle of the night because of me—” He coughs, sucks in a deep breath. Martin interrupts before he can carry on.

“Hey, that’s my line,” he says, trying to keep his voice comforting but still light. 

“Martin—”

“Jon,” says Martin. “I don’t mind waking up in the middle of the night if it means you don’t have to, to suffer alone. And even if I did, I think I wake you up about as often as you wake me, so we’re square.” He takes a deep breath. “And as for being a better person… Jon, you already are a good person.”

Jon scoffs quietly.

“It’s true.” A moment passes in silence while Martin tries to find the right words. “Would it help if, if I asked you to stop being mean to someone I love?” he finally says, feeling a bit foolish.

After another moment, Jon presses closer against Martin. “I’ll try,” he promises in a small voice.

 


 

There are still times when Jon’s eyes go dark and he curls in on himself, hands clenching too tight around his wrists, in his hair. But instead of hiding in another room, he sits beside Martin and listens to him talk, and the episodes start passing quicker.

 


 

Being alive is confusing.

Or, no, that's not quite right. Wanting to be alive is confusing. Martin spent so long wishing for an easy way out, wandering tired through life ready to drop, that every time he thinks of the future and it doesn't ache, it surprises him. Which honestly should probably worry him, at least retrospectively, more than it does. But really, what's the point of being worried about it? This is his life. It's even a happy one, despite the last four years. (Despite the last twenty-three years, hell, despite the last thirty.) No point in being suspicious of something positive.

Still, Martin thinks it's probably a good sign—whatever that means nowadays—that he looks forward to waking up each morning with an eagerness he's never known before. It's certainly a pleasant change.

 


 

Another pleasant, if equally confusing, change is the fact that Jon seems to like kissing Martin a lot. Martin's not exactly about to complain, even though it does seem kind of excessive. Nobody he's ever dated in the past has bothered to so much as hold his hand as often as Jon does, and it's not like Martin's had a lot of friends in his life, or even—well, he's never even really had family members who liked him. There's definitely never been anyone with a habit like Jon's of leaning over and kissing whatever bit of Martin is at a convenient height, seemingly whenever the fancy strikes him. (It's usually Martin's arm. Jon is adorably, hilariously short, though he doesn't seem to see it that way.)

One day, Jon, apparently sick of pulling Martin down by the front of his shirts, uses the stairs as an improvised stepstool to reach Martin's face. He still has to stand on tiptoe to get up high enough. Martin can’t help the laugh that bubbles up out of him. He's almost got it under control when Jon scowls and grumbles about Martin being a giant, which just sets him off again.

Still, though. It makes him wonder, in the corner of his brain he's lately taken to swatting with the mental equivalent of a rolled-up newspaper whenever it speaks up, if Jon will ever get tired of him. Of having to initiate everything because of how anxious Martin is of overstepping, even when Jon’s made it clear what he’s comfortable with. Of being with someone who's so bad at recognizing body language that Jon has to physically pull him, however willingly, into most kisses.

That sounds a little too close to self-pity, though, so Martin edits himself: "It'll be a sad day when you finally get tired of craning your neck all the time."

Suffice to say, Martin is not prepared for Jon to propose quite so... concrete a solution as carrying around a box. By the time he's done laughing again, both at the mental image of Jon lugging around a milk crate to stand on and at Jon's flustered expression, Jon is already in the house.

"Come on inside," says Jon, trying and not quite succeeding at maintaining his scowl. "You'll have plenty of time to laugh at me later."

"Yeah," says Martin. The simple truth of that sentence hits him all at once. "I will, won't I?"

"You can count on it." The scowl slides off entirely, replaced by a remarkably soft-eyed smile. "I seem to have a rather spectacular talent for making a fool of myself." The corner of Jon's mouth quirks up a little higher. "And as I’ve said, you’re stuck with me."

Not Jon, stuck with Martin. Martin, stuck with Jon. As if getting to stay with Jon could ever grow old or tiresome. Martin is struck by a sudden giddy urge to scoop Jon up in his arms as if he were a teddy bear, but dismisses it as being too—too—

Wait. Why is he dismissing it? It's a great idea. "I have a better idea than the box, though," he says, and turns and plucks Jon up off the floor. "See, this is much more convenient," he continues, smirking down at Jon.

Jon's eyes are very wide, and his lips fall open slightly. "Yes, very convenient," he gabbles, dazed. Martin can't not kiss him.

That evening, emboldened by Jon's obviously delighted reaction, Martin indulges a rather less daring urge and gently kisses the top of Jon's head as he passes him in the hall. Jon makes a happy little hmmm sound and smiles up at Martin. Martin resolves immediately to do it more often.

 


 

The next day, they walk to the village for a quick grocery run. While Jon is inspecting a carton of eggs to make sure none have any cracks, Martin spies a heap of abandoned wooden crates near the dairy section. The chance is too good to pass up, so he braves the excruciating ordeal of asking one of the employees if he can take one home. The bored-looking teenage girl only shrugs and says "Sure," which doesn't help with Martin's anxiety, but then again, it is a perfect opportunity for a bit of harmless fun. When he's sure Jon isn't looking, Martin squirrels a crate away in one of their bags.

Jon's face when Martin unveils it back in the kitchen of the cottage is priceless.

 


 

Martin isn't quite sure what he would call Jon, hypothetically, if he were to introduce him to someone else. They're pretty solidly together, what with the hugging and kissing and trading shy I-love-you-s, but Martin's not exactly sure if they're dating, as they haven't gone on any actual dates. "Boyfriend" seems an oddly casual way to refer to someone Martin fully intends to spend the rest of his life with, but "partner" feels too formal a label for a relationship not yet out of its second week. Martin briefly toys with "sweetheart", but he doesn't think he'd be able to actually call Jon that in front of another human being without imploding from self-consciousness.

(He does experiment with calling Jon sweetheart to his face, though. Jon ducks his head immediately, but Martin spies a smile, and decides to keep using it. Sparingly, mind—he wouldn't want to wear it out.)

Sometimes, Martin fantasizes about a nebulous but bright future in which they somehow manage to solve all their problems. In his mind, they find some way to get rid of Jonah Magnus once and for all, stop all the rituals, and cure Jon's dependence on taking statements. Once or twice, Martin even allows himself to consider a solution to the problem of what to call Jon: he imagines that one day Jon might be his fiancé, then, later, his husband.

Martin is aware that he has a somewhat… romanticized view of marriage. By all rights, he shouldn't; his own parents were married, and look where that got them. It's unrealistic and a bit silly to think that signing a piece of paper and exchanging a few bits of jewelry really makes much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But there's just something about the idea of making that sort of audacious promise in front of the world, that this is my person who I love, who I will stay with as long as I live, come hell or high water, that's always appealed to Martin, ever since he was little.

Until the last few weeks, he'd never dreamed he'd ever get to make that promise. Now...

He usually stops himself by the time he starts waxing philosophical on the nature of marriage; it feels too self-indulgent. They haven't exactly solved the important issues yet; best focus on those first, and sort out the little details later.

Still, though. Food for thought.

 


 

It's not all sunshine and smooth sailing. They're both a bit of a mess, after everything that's happened. More than a bit, in fact. Jon is doing better than he has been for the last few months, but the unnatural hunger is still there. Some days, they have to skip going to the shop in the village even though their food is running low, because Jon can’t bear to be around other people who might have things to tell him, and Martin isn’t up to walking all the way there and back alone.

Martin can no longer deliberately muster the distant, casual coldness he was capable of when he was deep in the Lonely's influence, but there are still times when the chill gets into his bones. At times like those, all of his emotions—all his feelings for Jon, which normally help keep him anchored—start to go faint and fuzzy around the edges. It scares him, which scares Jon, and of course their fear makes the whole thing worse. Usually there's nothing for it except sitting on the sofa next to Jon, or curling up in bed with him if it's especially cold, and waiting it out.

Their nightmares don’t stop.

But they’re getting better at comforting each other afterwards, and it’s such an improvement on suffering alone. Martin finds himself musing now and then that even if it never gets any better, he thinks he could live like this for the rest of his life.

 


 

The day Martin finally accepts that Jon truly isn't going to leave starts out like his more devious nightmares do, with bright light slanting in through the windows of his—of their bedroom. When Martin wakes to sunlight brightening the insides of his eyelids, he's afraid for a moment—but there's no awful chill biting at his face, and Jon is warm beside him. Martin can feel the weight of Jon's gaze on his face, but it's pleasant.

Not a dream, then—just a sunny morning. The light is annoying, though, so Martin attempts to hide under the covers. Jon follows and tries to kiss him, but his aim is off, so Martin helps.

And then, because it's cozy in their narrow little bed, and neither of them has anywhere they have to be, and Martin doesn't want Jon to leave just in case this really is a nightmare, Martin squeezes him against his chest, tucking Jon's face into his neck.

He doesn't even realize he's rolled onto him until Jon goes boneless under him, breath coming out in a long hmmm. Some of Martin's sleepy contentment drains away and he freezes in place as best he can. "Jon? D'I squash you?"

He barely has enough time to remember Jon's missing ribs oh god what if he's hurting him before Jon replies, "Yes. Don't move. S'nice." His voice is as slow and warm as honey in the bottom of a teacup.

Still, Martin can't quite shake the fear that he's going to injure Jon's poor exposed insides, so he shifts his weight to his elbows. "Are you sure?" he asks, rolling slightly to one side so that Jon can hopefully breathe a little better.

Jon's hands whip up and grab Martin's shirt. "No," he mumbles grumpily, eyelids fluttering against the light. "I mean yes. Stay."

Jon is not nearly strong enough to actually make Martin move, but he seems comfortable, so Martin cautiously lets his arms relax. Jon sighs, face nuzzling in a little closer. He's not tense, and his breathing doesn't seem labored, so Martin closes his eyes and lets the sunshine soak in.

Martin doesn't think much of the whole thing while they make and eat breakfast, except perhaps as a pleasant experiment to repeat sometime, but when Jon wedges himself behind Martin on the sofa and tugs him into leaning backwards, he realizes it might be more than just a passing fancy on Jon’s part.

"You really like that, don't you?" he asks, trying to get a glimpse of Jon's face over his shoulder. It does not work; Jon is still very short. 

But Jon’s hands are clasped in front of Martin’s belly, so he can hold them while Jon relays, in that sleepy-soft voice, the story of his favorite childhood blanket. Martin's heart twists in his chest at the melancholy conclusion to the tale. Sure, it's only a blanket, but Martin understands a thing or two about loss, and he knows a beloved childhood object when he hears about one.

Jon goes quiet, and Martin, as usual, fills the silence despite his own common sense. "I never actually had a duvet, when I was little. My—" Oh dear. This was a poor choice of conversational topic. "My mum always got cold at night, so she got both of the heaviest blankets, and I had a pile of the thinner ones instead of one big one, but usually it wasn't really warm enough." Stop while you're only a little behind, Martin, you idiot—"Mum wouldn't let me keep the heating on at night. Sometimes I would take the pillows off of the sofa and pile them on top of myself in my bed when I had a bad day, or when it was really cold. It felt nice at first, but they always fell off as soon as I moved, and I had to put them back early the next morning before Mum woke up or she'd get mad at me." He finally wrestles back control of his voice. "Sorry. Didn't mean to, ah, start a pity party."

Jon is quiet for a moment, and Martin wonders whether he's gone to sleep. Hopefully he didn't hear too much of that frankly humiliating bit of blather—but no such luck. Jon is pushing on Martin's back, trying to get him to stand up.

Martin is ready for Jon to collect the dishes and head to the kitchen like nothing happened, Martin's faux pas steadfastly ignored, but instead he pulls the blanket off the back of the sofa. "Jon?" says Martin, confused. Jon just takes him by the hand and tugs him towards the stairs. Martin goes willingly, still puzzled. What is Jon up to, that he needs the sofa blanket?

The penny finally drops when Jon is smoothing the sofa blanket and the bedcovers over Martin's shoulders. "Jon, you really don't need to—" Martin starts, now truly worried that Jon thinks Martin was fishing for affection instead of ineptly trying to carry on the conversation.

"Shh, I'm not done yet," is Jon's only reply. He absentmindedly pats Martin's blanketed knee as he turns and walks out of the room. Martin can hear him open and start rummaging around in a closet somewhere else in the cottage.

This is silly, really. Truly, it's fine, the whole thing is in the past, Martin is an adult and past it now. He sits up with the intention of telling Jon not to bother just as Jon comes back in, armed with two even larger blankets. Jon rolls his eyes with a huff and presses Martin's shoulders back down. Martin lets himself be pushed. Jon clearly wants to do this for some reason, so Martin will indulge him. Solely for Jon's sake, understand.

Jon tosses a faded quilt over Martin's chest, then neatly arranges the corners where he wants them. When he's done tugging this way and that to get rid of all the wrinkles, he repeats the process with an ancient-looking duvet.

Martin watches him work, enjoying the sight of Jon's deft, spindly hands and precise movements. The way he holds himself is very—neat. Everything just so. He looks sort of like how he looked before Prentiss, Martin realizes. He's still frighteningly thin, and covered in scars, and there's still gray in his hair. But somehow, the exhaustion and untimely age seem to have faded, just enough to be noticeable. It's been happening gradually since they arrived here, but until this moment Martin couldn't see the whole picture. He had only noticed that Jon was happier, not that he was healing.

(The peaceful expression is entirely new, though.)

Did I have something to do with that? Martin wonders to himself. No, can't have been. Must be the distance from the archives. Jon's eye momentarily catches Martin's, and Jon smiles to himself as he picks a bit of dust from the seam of the blanket. Maybe...

Maybe it's not such a far-fetched idea after all. Maybe it's the distance and Martin.

Jon lifts a corner of the blanket pile. Martin prepares to move over, but Jon immediately lies down full-length on top of him, pulling the covers back into place above both of them.

Jon doesn't weigh much, but having him rest limp on Martin's ribcage is very different from holding him in his arms. The blankets are heavy on Martin's limbs. It's like being deep underwater, but warm and still and quiet. (And also not suffocating.) Martin feels as though an itch, somewhere inaccessible under his skin, has eased for the first time in years, and he has to struggle not to fall asleep. It's a losing battle, but he doesn't want to miss a single moment of this. He feels so safe.

After a stretch of time that could have been hours or only seconds, Jon props himself up so that he can see Martin’s face. For once in his life, Martin finds that maintaining eye contact feels—if not natural, at least bearable. Comfortable, even, the skin-crawling directness of the act submerged in trust and drowsy comfort.

"I love you," says Jon. Martin reacts the same way he always does when Jon says those words to him: a smile spreads across his face and tears begin to prickle his eyes. He reaches up to wrap Jon in his arms.

I love you too, he tries to say, but the first syllable is barely out of his mouth before Jon touches a finger to Martin's lips, shushing him. His fingertip lightly brushes Martin's nose.

"Wait. I—" Jon swallows, a tremor in his voice. "I know, but—let me finish." A familiar nasty little voice immediately begins speculating upon the devastating way in which Jon is obviously about to break up with him. Martin whacks it with his imaginary newspaper.

Jon's voice is low and serious. "You are—you are the bravest, and strongest, and best person I know." The tears start prickling harder. Martin takes a breath to say you are too, Jon, I love you so much, but Jon's finger presses a little harder against his lips. "No, shhh, I'm not done yet. When we first met—" Oh no. Martin will definitely cry if Jon starts being self-deprecating. He must have made a sound, because Jon shushes him again. "—I was an idiot and an arse to treat you the way I did. I'm sorry. I don't think I'll ever be sorry enough to make up for it."

"I've already forgiven you for all that, Jon." The words are out before Martin has time to remember that Jon wanted to speak uninterrupted. Jon groans, irritated, but there's only gentleness in the way he flops onto Martin, muffling his voice. Martin strokes a hand down Jon's spine under the blankets. "Sorry," he says, hearing the smile in his own voice. "I'll be quiet now."

Jon pushes up onto his elbows again, looks down at Martin. He's smiling, too. "It's all right, Martin. And I know you have." He looks down, then back up. "I—well, I haven't. I don't think I'll ever really deserve you, or deserve your forgiveness."

You already do, Martin wants to tell him. And you don't need to be deserving. All you ever have to do is keep being the person I love. But he promised to let Jon finish, so he holds his tongue, and Jon keeps talking.

"But that's not the point, is it?" Jon lets out a sigh, eyes searching the pillow beside Martin's head for answers. "What I mean to say is..." He looks back at Martin, and his eyes are bright with unshed tears. "I know we've only been together—really together—for a little while. But I've known you for, for a long time now." The briefest of pauses, to blink rapidly a few times. "I've seen you when you were terrified and hurting, and I've seen you when you were furious, and I've also seen you when you were—really happy. Or at least I hope I have."

You have, Martin replies in his mind.

"And you've seen me at my best and my worst, too. I—I like being around you. I like myself, I like the whole world better when you're around. So I just wanted to tell you that, that this is it for me. I want to make you happy. I want to spend my life making you happy." Martin feels the tears start to trickle down his face. "Whether that means little things like wrapping you in blankets or showing you pictures of cute animals, or big things like pulling you out of the Lonely—" Martin's arms tighten convulsively around Jon. "—Or whatever comes our way next. I'm going to spend as much time as I have left trying to, to deserve you, Martin. Unless you tell me to get lost, I'm going to stay with you, or—" Now Jon is crying too. "Or die trying," he finishes.

Is Jon done talking? Martin decides that if he's going to say anything else, it can wait until after Martin has thoroughly kissed him.

When they come up for air, Jon doesn't say anything more, so Martin guesses he must have been finished after all. Martin is... not disappointed, he decides. If Jon had said anything more, Martin's heart might have literally burst.

"For a minute—for a minute I thought you were going to, I dunno, ask me to marry you or something," says his traitorous mouth.

Jon scoots up to look at Martin again. Martin tries to meet his eyes again but finds he can't.

He is absolutely not prepared for Jon to say, "I will if you want me to," as if it's not a ridiculous idea that Martin only brought up because he's the clingiest person ever to live.

"Jon, we—we've only been dating for, for like two weeks," says Martin. And I love you so much, but nobody’s ever wanted me for long, and I'm terrified that you'll grow to resent me and leave like everyone else has—

Jon cuts off Martin's train of thought before he can spiral too far. "I don't care. Like I said. I am... I'm very determined to make you happy. And it's not like we were ever going to be a normal couple anyway." He pauses, swallowing. "Do you want me to ask?"

As if he's certain that Martin can make him happy—that they’ll be happy together. As if it's completely natural that Jon should be the supplicant for Martin's hand, and not the other way around. As if Martin can just—have this thing he's wanted, secretly and desperately, for so long, and all he has to do is say yes.

As if Jon means to stay for good.

Martin waits for the other shoe to drop. But Jon just keeps looking at him, open and earnest. Waiting for Martin's answer.

Well. If Jon really means it—if he’s willing to make Martin's deepest, fondest dream come true, then maybe he won’t mind fulfilling a smaller one along the way. "Get me a ring, first?"

"Okay," says Jon. He doesn't make fun or complain at the nuisance of finding a jeweler. He just curls back up on Martin's chest, ear over his heart.

Just like that, Martin thinks, dazed. He doesn't realize he's spoken aloud until Jon echoes him.

A sweet, warm eternity passes before either of them finds the will to move.

 


 

(Later, Jon will find him a ring with a stone like the sun that no longer is, and makes a very audacious promise indeed, plus one more: that they will see that sun again, even if they have to move heaven and earth to do it.)

(Martin holds him to every promise he makes.)