When Martin realises that there’s something moving ahead of them, he thinks it means that they’re probably doomed. It’s this enormous shadow, jagged and spiky, and it looms up and up, through the mist, far too many spindly crooked limbs and far too many long, needled teeth, and all of it shrouded in white-grey fog. He thinks that it must be some entity’s pet and that they’re definitely doomed and that he’s in love, he can’t be doomed, it isn’t fair, and he gasps, stumbles, tugging sharply back on Jon’s hand, trying to turn and being pulled up short, skidding on the grass. And then he thinks grass. Not sand or salt water or sinking sucking wetness, but grass. He stops, blinking furiously, trying to make sense of where he is and what he’s seeing, and he realises that he’s looking at Victoria Tower, before the sun has risen, not moving at all but still and old and eternal.
“Oh,” he says, faintly.
“Are you okay?” asks Jon. “Martin, what’s-.”
“We’re back,” he interrupts. “We’re at the Vic Tower gardens.” They’re standing on wet grass. He can’t remember when the echo of the ocean turned into the silence of a city before it’s woken up.
“What? I-.” Jon looks around, startled. “I hadn’t noticed.”
It feels different, being back. Martin hadn’t even realised that they’d left the Lonely, but now that he knows he can feel it everywhere. They’re in a place that’s whole, not just the shell of something. Not just a hollow place, the sharp intake of breath when you’re scared, the missing limb of loneliness. Here, the streets are empty, but there are still signs of life everywhere. Names carved into tree trunks, short-cuts worn into the grass, birds starting to sing. Lights, through the mist, where people are waking up. In the Lonely, his footsteps hadn’t even left prints. They’d been absorbed by the sand and water instantly, erasing any trace of him as soon as he left it.
“So what... what happens now?” he asks. He turns toward Jon, away from the shadowy tower. They’re holding hands. They have been since Jon woke him up. He feels sort of like if he lets go he’ll disappear, lose his anchor to the real world, so he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to. Jon doesn’t seem to want to either, his grip occasionally verging on too tight.
“I think we should call Basira,” says Jon, pulling out his phone and squinting at it. It’s just before six in the morning and Jon has twelve missed calls. Martin’s own phone seems to have disappeared. “We need to know what happened.”
Martin nods, swinging their hands between them. Part of him wants to tell Jon to forget about all of it, to drop his phone in a bin so they might disappear together, but he knows it doesn’t really work like that. No, you have to gouge your own eyes out first. Romantic. It had still dropped Martin’s stomach when Jon suggested it, wired and desperate. It had still... it had still made him want with everything in him.
So he doesn’t say anything and Jon calls Basira and Martin swings their arms and thinks about kissing the back of Jon’s hand, but doesn’t do it. What if Basira is dead? What if there’s nothing left? Above them, the sky gets lighter.
“Basira,” says Jon, voice weak with relief. “It’s... it’s good to hear your voice. No, I... we’re at Vic-Victoria Tower... yes, yes he’s with me, I... I found him.” I thought you were lost, thinks Martin. He feels strangely hysterical. He starts to move, crossing the wet grass toward the road, pulling Jon along with him. “Are you okay? Is Daisy- right, I... I’m sorry. She’ll... she’s resourceful, she- oh. Yes, Peter’s dead.” His voice goes cold. Martin drums his fingers along the back of Jon’s hand, finds space in the wave of his knuckles. “What happened at the Institute?”
Martin stops trying to figure out what they’re talking about. He doesn’t want to hear one side of death. He doesn’t want to care. He’s exhausted, all the way to his bones. There are white flowers growing around the trunks of all the trees, flowers bowing to the air, delicate hanging bells. Snowdrops. Winter flowers, even though it’s still autumn.
When they reach the pavement he pauses, unsure what to do. They’re not far from the Institute, but he thinks it’s probably a terrible idea to go back there. Maybe it’s gone, swallowed up by the ultimate in hostile architecture. Maybe... maybe Elias is still there. Jonah Magnus. Whatever way they’re twisted up, one and two. Or any number of other people who want to kill Jon. Maybe they should go there just so Martin can burn it down himself.
“Scotland?” Jon is saying, sounding tired and confused. “Yes, maybe that’s for the best. Send us the address and we’ll... we’ll head to the station. Thank you, Basira. Be... be careful.”
“Are we going on a holiday?” Martin asks, through a yawn, as Jon puts away his phone. Maybe they’ll disappear after all.
“Daisy has a safehouse in Scotland,” says Jon, quietly. “Somewhere in the Highlands. Basira thinks it’s best if we’re... not here, while the police... while they’re looking into what happened.”
“What did happen, exactly?”
“I don’t know.” Jon laughs, shortly. “Basira doesn’t really know either, but the hunters are... still loose, and Elias is-.” His mouth twists and he shrugs.
“Basira doesn’t know.” He sighs again. Martin sways into him, squeezes his hand. “So we’re going to Scotland.”
“And I’m... why am I coming?” He can’t help asking. They’re holding hands and Jon followed him somewhere neither of them thought they could come back from and he still can’t help asking.
Jon looks momentarily confused, like it hadn't crossed his mind that Martin might be unsure. And he isn't, not really, he's just... tired. Then Jon's expression clears, softens, and he tugs gently on Martin's hand, and pulls him closer. His hands move over and around his shoulders, closer again, in a garden, in the morning. Martin's breath catches and he's slow to slip his arms around Jon's waist, but then he does and they're closer still and Martin's mouth grazes Jon's temple and Jon buries a hand in Martin's hair.
“I only just got you back,” murmurs Jon. “I don't... want to be... apart from you.” He pulls back a little, eyes on Martin’s face. “A-assuming that you want to come.” He laughs shortly, kind of nervous, kind of bitter. “I think I can guarantee you the time off.” Martin’s hands are still at his waist.
“Well you’re not actually my boss anymore,” he says, shifting his hands to tug gently on the lapels of Jon’s jacket. “So you don’t actually get to decide that, but uh... yeah. Yes. I'll come."
They go to Jon’s apartment first. Martin hovers while Jon packs, trying not to look like he’s staring at everything, even though he is. His place looks somehow both messy and unlived-in at the same time. There’s a legal pad on the coffee table, scribbled writing, coffee rings, but the kitchen is completely spotless. There are no pictures on the walls, no art or postcards, no houseplants or candles or cushions that don’t match the sofa that they’re paired with, just a single crumpled sweater sitting on one chair, arm trailing onto the carpet, and shoes strewn about the entryway, like Jon kicks them off violently as soon as he gets through the door. There are bookshelves against almost every wall, everything piled haphazardly, ordered in some way only Jon must know.
Martin wanders around, idly imagining his own belongings alongside Jon’s. His favourite mug, the orange one with the daisies, sitting on the kitchen bench, waiting to be washed. His coat and scarf hung on the hook on the back of the door, next to Jon’s. It makes him feel weird and shaky and nervous and he has to push away the urge to seek out solitude. A small room with a locked door, empty hands shoved into deep pockets, fingers curled into palms because there’s nothing else for him to hold onto. And then Jon appears, dragging a little suitcase on wheels behind him.
“Alright,” he says. “I think I’m done. Are... are you okay?” He looks frazzled and flyaway and Martin is in love.
“Yes,” he says, unable to keep from smiling. “I am.”
They go to Martin’s apartment then, and Martin hauls his suitcase out of the top of his closet. It’s an old-fashioned thing, with curved edges and a hard shell, wrapped in teal blue vinyl, scratched at the corners. When he was a teenager he’d painted his name along the top edge in white-out and it’s still there, though part of the A and most of the M are gone. ARTIN BLACKWOOD ‘03. He fills it with a mess of clothing, because he’s not sure what it’s like in Scotland in the autumn. He thinks it’s probably light jacket weather. Corduroy trousers weather. Cardigans and woolly socks weather. He can work with that.
He wonders if Jon is looking around his place the same way he had been at Jon’s. Trying to figure out a person from the way they live. All he’ll see are tiny cactuses in painted pots and the weird magnets on his fridge and his records, ordered in a way that isn’t really meant to make sense to anyone but him. The postcards he has stuck down the sides of the door frames, not because he’s been anywhere but because he likes to look for them in thrift stores, find the most romantic messages on the back of the prettiest pictures. He’d started collecting them when his mum first got sick, trying to find proof that there were people in the world who loved like he did.
When he’s packed, he looks around his bedroom, wondering if there’s anything he’s missed. He doesn’t really have anyone to tell he’s going away. He should probably clean out his fridge, but he won’t.
“Keep an eye on things for me, Horris,” he tells the ancient teddy bear sitting lopsided on top of his chest of drawers. “I’ll see you later.”
King’s Cross is busy when they get there, though it's mostly people coming into London, not leaving it. It makes Martin uneasy. He curls his fingers into his palms, keeps his eyes on the floor, on the scuffed backs of Jon's shoes, or on the vaulted, latticed ceiling above them. He wonders if there would be an echo if he shouted to it. He wonders if he shut his eyes and stood very still, he might feel like he was alone. He might disappear. But then Jon takes him gently by the wrist, fingertips against his pulse, a dragging, fleeting touch, gone in an instant but enough to bring him back a little.
They take out cash, as much as they can, for their tickets and because it feels like they should, to hide out more effectively. Something Daisy would do. Martin can feel himself flagging, swaying in place every time he stops moving, limbs heavy, eyes gritty and dry. Jon looks like a ghost. They get hot drinks at one of the cafes and that helps, but leaning against one another on a bench at their platform helps more.
On the train, London to Edinburgh, Martin puts their bags into the overhead compartment and then takes the seat by the window. Jon takes off his jacket and hangs it off the back of the aisle seat. He rolls up the sleeves of his shirt carefully, neatly, folding the fabric back and pressing it down, running his thumb along the edge of the seam. In the Archives, Martin would watch Jon push his sleeves up over and over again, never bothering to roll them properly, hand hovering over the buttons of his tape recorder, sleeves slipping down. He sits down and Martin reaches for him and takes his hand and turns it over in his. Jon’s palm is burned, smooth, twisted scar-pink against the brown of his skin. Jude Perry’s mark. And there are other scars too, the thin, spidery worm scars, pale grooves that Martin can trace with his eyes closed, up and up until he reaches the soft cotton of Jon’s shirt. He opens his eyes and Jon is watching him, expression sharp, curious. Martin pulls away, suddenly sheepish.
“You should get some sleep,” he says. “I... I have a blanket in... I packed one, I mean, if you want it. Or a woolly jumper or something, if-.”
“Do you think I didn’t pack any warm clothing?” Jon asks, voice mild, a smile just beginning at the corners of his mouth.
“No, I-.” Martin stops. He thinks it’s pretty likely that all Jon has in his suitcase is a tape recorder. “ No ,” he says, again. “I just... if you wanted mine, I don’t know. Look, it doesn’t matter, I was just-.”
“Alright then, give me something of yours.”
“Oh,” says Martin. “Well, okay.”
Jon lets Martin out into the aisle again, to get to his suitcase, and he pulls out the first thing he finds that's soft. It’s a thick wool cardigan, dark grey with brown quilted buttons, which he wore a lot when he was a lot younger, an old man at nineteen, with his records and his postcards and the way he did his hair then. He'd eventually abandoned it for Paddington coats and Quadrophenia-style fishtail parkas and three holes Docs instead of ten, but he would wear it at home sometimes, curled up on his couch, when he was feeling lost. Something familiar to hide in.
He hands it to Jon, who slips it on clumsily, not bothering to roll down his shirt sleeves just pulling the cardigan on over top. It's too big on him, but not overly so. The sleeves hang over his hands. He hugs it to himself instead of doing up the buttons. It makes him look like a disheveled librarian, which is pretty much accurate.
"Better?" he asks.
"You still kind of look like you’re on the verge of death," says Martin. “But it’ll... it’ll be a cosy death.”
“Wonderful,” says Jon, softly.
Martin knows that there are things that they should talk about, like holding hands from an empty beach to a palace garden. Like I thought you were lost . Like I really loved you . But they sit back down and Jon rests his head on his arms, on the table, in Martin's cardigan, and shuts his eyes, and Martin thinks that it can wait. He has faith in love, still. Somehow. He has postcards covered in words like forever and only and home . He fidgets. He digs his thumbnail into the cuticle of the opposite thumb, until it aches, and then he shakes his head to clear it, and shuffles down further in his seat. He draws patterns in the faded red suede, dragging lines out with his fingers. He’s not alone, he thinks. Jon is sleeping next to him. He resists the urge to wake him up, ask him to say something, just so he knows for sure he’s real. He resists the urge to touch his hair, his face, his hand, and turns to look out the window instead.
Red brick and grey concrete quickly turns to flat green paddocks and gold and red trees. They pass a field of flowers, white, Snowdrops again maybe. He’d always liked them, winter flowers, because they never seemed like they should exist. A flash of bright white and green amongst the grey sludge of a London winter. It’s not quite cold enough for them yet, but there they are. He falls asleep soon after, leaning against the window, his sweater bundled up as a cushion. He dreams of black sand and white flowers and holding his hands under running water.
Jon wakes him up a little over halfway there, two hours in, and they get milky tea from the drinks cart and eat the sandwiches and biscuits they'd bought back at the station. They don't speak much, just pass things to one another and eat and blink blearily under the artificial light of the train. Martin feels undone, like he might just... disappear.
"Did you get any sleep?" Jon asks, and even his voice seems smudged at the edges, like he's speaking through a dream. He reaches up and pushes Martin's hair back from his forehead, fingers cool and brisk. "You're warm," he says.
"You're lovely," says Martin, made stupid by the touch, and then he says, "sorry, ignore me, sorry, still half asleep and uh... not in control of all of my... faculties."
"Martin, don't... you don't have to do that, apologise for-." He frowns and sits up a little straighter. He folds his hands in his lap. He's wearing Martin's clothes. They're sharing a sleeve of Jammie Dodgers and the little hearts cut out of the biscuits make Martin feel like he might completely break down. "I... you're being... and I'm... I'm just... worse at this than you."
This , thinks Martin. What does this mean? He feels suddenly trapped by it all. By glass on one side and Jon on the other and the stupid biscuits with their strawberry hearts, cut open. There's no way out and nowhere to escape to. No locked door or maze of corridors to keep himself away from anybody else. He wonders if it would even work anymore. His... transparency. Disappearing into thin air. He remembers how it had felt, the way his skin had sparked and then burned out, like a match, into nothing. He hadn't done it often, but he remembers wondering whether he left anything behind, like the indistinct outline of his body or a change in air pressure or a puff of smoke. A magician's trick. He takes a breath.
"I..." he starts, and then loses steam immediately. "I'm tired," he says, truthfully.
"Would you like your cardigan back?"
Martin laughs. "No," he says. "Please keep it."
He spends the rest of the journey with his face pressed to the window, unable to sleep, watching the coast as they pass it. Flat green grass that is cut off, abruptly, by the sheer white cliffs that Martin knows fall straight down to the water, even though he can't see them. It reminds him of catching a ferry with his mum, just after his dad had left, and he can't remember where they were going, but he remembers the uneven wave of stark white rock that he could see from the front deck of the boat. There had been sea spray in his hair and on his skin and he'd been wearing a puffy red raincoat and his mum had been beside him, holding his arm so tightly that it hurt, even through the thick fabric. He'd always thought of it as a pleasant memory, one of his last, but now he's not so sure.
Next to him, Jon is asleep again, leaning forward over the table, head resting in his arms. His face is turned to Martin and his mouth is soft and the way his hair falls over his cheeks makes Martin's palms itch. He reaches over and touches his arm, just below his elbow, the loose wool of the cardigan, squeezes gently, and lets go.
They reach Edinburgh mid-afternoon. It's a grey filigree city under a grey slate sky and they're not meant to be staying longer than it takes to hire a car, but it's immediately apparent, as they leave the station, that neither of them are in any state to drive. Jon seems to be sinking slowly into the footpath as he walks and Martin can barely keep his eyes open. There's no crooked horizon to watch, no half-formed memory to dwell on. His suitcase, without wheels, seems to weigh twice as much now as when he packed it.
They pick the first place that they come to, a tall narrow bed and breakfast, carved concrete and wrought iron, with paintings of knights and flowers in the lobby. They pay an absurd amount, in cash, for a single room, overnight, Martin handling the transaction because Jon's the sort of exhausted that makes him so brittle he seems close to breaking.
"All this cash makes me feel a bit like a spy," says Martin, in the lift, tucking his little fold of money away in his bag. "Double Oh Martin." He feels instantly ridiculous and his face heats up and he considers pulling the hem of his jumper up and over his head, but Jon just laughs, all the exhaustion seeming to melt from him, from his shoulders and his brow and the corners of his mouth, and he presses his face into Martin's shoulder and his hands curl at the fabric at his waist and Martin thinks of all the different ways that the people he has loved have touched him, and he pulls Jon a little closer still.
In their room, Martin takes a shower. He's hoping that he'll come out of it feeling like the Lonely never happened, hot water to wash away sand and salt, and he stays under the water until his skin is pink at his shoulders, his stomach, his thighs. It doesn't work, not really. There's a hollow feeling sticking to his ribs, something that feels like it will always be there, that can only be burned or cut out, not washed away. Still, he does feel a little bit more human. A little bit less like someone who will never have their feet on the ground. He dresses in sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, worn soft, loose at the collar. He fusses with his hair, toweling at it until it's as dry as it's going to get. He brushes his teeth, humming the little rhyme that every kid learns when they first start at nursery, to keep them brushing for long enough, round and round and up and down. He's not sure why he's putting off going back into the bedroom, just that he's nervous in a shaky queasy way that feels far too... young to be a real feeling at all. Just a mess of hormones.
Or maybe, maybe he's just worried that he's alone again, that as soon as he'd closed the door to the bathroom he'd become the only person in the world, in a room suspended in space, and if he opens the door there will be nothing, no one, and he'll know that he's alone and that he'll always be alone and that Jon had never come for him, had never even thought about coming for him, there was never anyone who would, and that-.
"No," he tells himself, sternly, scowling into the mirror. "You're in Edinburgh and tomorrow you're going to drive to the middle of nowhere and you'll probably get to see some of those fluffy cows and Jon is going to be with you, because he just is. Because he wants to be."
Jon is sleeping again when Martin comes out, curled up on top of the covers, fully clothed. He's still wearing the cardigan, pulled over his hands, soft under his cheek. It's a twin room, two beds, but they're both big enough for two. Martin chews on his lip for a moment, then crosses the room to shut the curtains, giving them something close to twilight. He climbs onto the bed beside Jon, over the covers, rubs his cheek against the cool cotton of the pillowcase. He doesn't feel nervous anymore, just tired. He closes his eyes, falls instantly asleep, and dreams of grey mist, white flowers, loops of wool curled over the knuckles of someone else's hand.
Jon wakes him up again, some time later, shaking him gently by the shoulder. The room is fully dark now and he blinks and sits up, scrubbing at his face with his sleeves pulled over his knuckles.
"S'everything okay?" he asks, voice thick with sleep.
"I was going to get something to eat,” says Jon, voice a soft rasp. “I... I can bring you back something or-."
"No, no I'll come, just... gimme a minute. Two minutes."
It takes him five minutes to get ready, waking himself up with cold water, bundling up in a coat and scarf. Jon is still wearing the cardigan, under his coat, and he looks kind of like a scarecrow, all uneven layers, messy everything. Martin wants to push his hair back, tuck it behind his ears and then mess it up again. He settles for straightening his collar, pulling his scarf loose from where it's caught against his throat, folding it carefully again.
Outside, the streets are wet and everything smells faintly of dust and gasoline. There is grit and rain water in the gutters and the sky is black and swollen with clouds, no stars in sight. They find a pub, fake lanterns and high-backed booths, and Jon gets wine and Martin cider and they retreat to one of the back corner booths and it feels... normal. Completely normal. To be sitting together, having a drink, talking about nothing, as rain starts to fall outside. Martin watches the condensation fall from the rim of his glass to the base, resists the urge to stop it before it hits the table, lets it puddle feeling reckless, wide awake, giddily normal. He and Jon are practically on a date, he thinks. No, they’re actually on a date. On holiday together. Sharing beds. Sharing clothes. And in the morning they’re going to drive through the country and the sun is going to split the clouds and bounce off the raindrops on the windscreen and it’s going to be beautiful.
They order breakfast food for their dinner, because that seems like the sort of thing you’re supposed to do when you’re on holiday. Two kinds of fried potatoes for Jon, a mess of stuff in a skillet and an extra side of hash browns, because he has the diet of a first year uni student, just moved out of home, and Martin gets pancakes with lemon and sugar, because he’s a proper adult with a sweet tooth, but they share everything anyway. Martin’s cheeks get warm from the cider and Jon is laughing so much, eyes crinkling at the corners, and he’s constantly reaching over to touch Martin when he speaks, the back of his hand or his elbow or to tug on his sleeve.
And then Martin notices something.
“Jon look, there’s a jukebox,” he says, sitting up straighter, pointing at the other side of the room.
“Is that unusual?” Jon twists in his seat to look, expression almost comically suspicious.
“No?” Martin laughs. “Kind of? Some pubs keep them for... aesthetic reasons, I think, but they don’t usually work. I... I really like jukeboxes. When I was a kid, before... um, well if my mum and dad took me with them to the pub, they'd get me pink lemonade and sometimes give me money for the jukebox, to keep me out of the way." He wrinkles his nose. "I'd probably play something like Mariah Carey or Boyzone and it'd piss of all the... y'know the guys who were there to watch the football or whatever. I remember that... a couple of years later, the main reason I was angry with... with my dad, when he left, was because we stopped going to the pub, so I couldn't play the Spice Girls. They um, their debut was 1996, with Wannabe, so. Golden opportunity, lost.”
"I wouldn't have picked you for a Spice Girls fan," says Jon. He looks delighted. He’s resting his cheek against his hand and he’s smiling and he’s a little flushed. Martin is in love.
“Don’t try to pretend you’re not,” he says, a little breathlessly. “Everyone is.”
“Are you going to play me a song then?”
“Oh,” says Martin. “Oh, I am definitely going to play you a song.” He gets to his feet, patting down the pockets of his jacket for coins.
He crosses the room to the jukebox. It looks exactly right, a bubbled neon arch, gold and red, spinning disks and the thick plastic pages of track listings that you flip through, pressing red and green buttons. Almost painfully nostalgic. As a kid, Martin would turn the pages even when his dad hadn’t given him any money to use, just to see what songs there were and to imagine what he’d play. There are hundreds to choose from. Too much Britpop, but that’s kind of to be expected. Not enough Kylie Minogue, which is a travesty. Exactly the right amount of Spice Girls. He ends up in the golden oldies section, which isn’t exactly surprising, and he passes by Rat Pack classics and boring rock and roll favourites, searching for something that fits him better. Girl groups, he thinks. Wall of sound. Be My Baby is too obvious, he decides, and Leader of the Pack isn’t right either, but the Shangri-Las might be. He laughs, puts his coins in the slot, makes his choice, slams the button down with his palm. The music starts and he turns back and Jon is watching him, peering over the back of the booth. When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love L-U-V .
Grinning, Martin heads back to their booth, mouthing along with the words, shimmying a little when it feels right, which is the whole song, basically. When he was a teenager he took took these sort of songs very seriously. Teenage love and teenage death and life-altering romance in every breath. Now, he likes the humour in them and he likes how earnest they are and he still likes the romance, such as it is. He slides back into the booth, crooning along to the lyrics, mm he’s good-bad, but he’s not evil , and Jon laughs helplessly, cheeks pink.
Later, after a second drink and three more turns on the jukebox, they leave, bumping into each other as they walk the wet streets, Jon's hand curling around Martin's wrist, Martin's at the small of Jon's back, pulling him closer. In the room, in the dark, only lamplight, soft and gold, Martin starts to feel nervous again, shaky, and he wrings his hands and turns in place and wonders what will happen now. In the Lonely Jon had used so many words with love in them and on the train he said I'm just worse at this than you and only an hour ago he'd laughed while Martin crooned and shimmied. But it's hard to just be... still. He has faith in love, but it’s hard to think it belongs to him. So he turns on his heel and he shrugs off his coat and throws it over the single armchair the room has and he begins to un-knot his scarf, fingers clumsy, but then Jon is there, stepping into his space, doing it for him. His hands are scarred and beautiful. He pulls the length of the scarf through the opposite loop, pulls it carefully from around Martin’s neck, throws it onto the chair with his coat. Then he places one hand at the hollow of Martin’s throat and one at his jaw and kisses him. His mouth is warm, open, sweet. Chapped lips and velvet. Martin's knees almost give out. His skin feels hot and thin and Jon's hands are warm and his mouth is warm and Martin stops thinking about anything and wraps his arms around Jon’s waist and melts into him.
They get ready for bed together, elbows bumping as they brush their teeth. Martin keeps laughing, he can't help it, and Jon meets his eye in the mirror and smiles, every time. He wears flannel pajamas, faded at the knees. They're so far from everything. They're in some place apart from the world, and not like the Lonely was apart from the world, but a different sort of bubble. An island. A holiday. There is no Institute and there is no Elias Bouchard or Jonah Magnus or monster hunters and Daisy and Basira are at home together, in love too.
In bed, they lie together facing one another, the dim light from the bedside lamp casting shadows across Jon’s face in gold. Jon looks calm, a little determined maybe, not tired. He reaches forward and touches Martin’s face, gently, brushing his fingers down the curve of his cheek, touching the pad of his thumb to his Cupid’s bow and then to his bottom lip and then to the bridge of his nose, like he’s trying to see which parts of him can fit there.
“What are you doing?” Martin asks, smiling, cheeks warm.
“Looking at you,” says Jon.
“There’s not... it’s... why ?”
“I like your face,” he says, simply, and Martin hums dubiously. “I haven’t had a chance to look at you properly, in... in a long time,” he says.
“I’m still the same.”
Jon doesn’t say anything to that, just leans forward and kisses him, softly, and then tucks himself up against his chest and shuts his eyes. Martin dreams of open blue sky and white flowers and Jon’s hands against his.
They hire a car in the morning, cash again, and Martin drives. He’s a distracted sort of driver, easily caught by a beautiful landscape, and the drive from Edinburgh into the Scottish Highlands is all beauty. Wild fields with hedges that look like they’re held together by thorns. Half-tumbled stone walls, crawling with ivy. Endless forests in orange and red and green. They stop several times, just to look at the landscape, standing by the car and staring out over the weird, watercolour grass, marvelling at the way the grey sky bleeds into the hills.
They skirt the Cairngorms; domed hills, bare rock that melts into yellow and brown tussock grass, taller mountains in the distance, stark tabletop rock formations. They pass a sign for a reindeer farm, the only free-roaming herd in Britain , and Martin very nearly takes them completely off course to go and see them, but Jon reminds him, gently, that it’s likely they’ll be staying for awhile, they don’t need to do everything all at once. They’ll go tomorrow, then, Martin decides, and he waves as they pass the turnoff and Jon laughs.
Daisy's safe house is in a small village called Beauly, just outside of Inverness, and they arrive in the early afternoon, stopping in the village to get a few groceries and to go and see the firth. They walk along the rocky shore. Martin balances on the balls of his feet, jumping between the little piles of rocks that go out into the water. Everything shivers with the wind. Jon spends a long time picking up stones, testing their weight, their curve, and skipping them out across the water. He’s very good at it, he pulls his arm back sharply, one eye closed, hands steady, and then casts them out into the water. Every single one seems to go forever, stepping across the water, before invariably hitting the flat surface of a wave, casting up a splash, and sinking.
Martin walks along the grassy bank, finds more Snowdrops crowded around the truck of a bare-leaved tree, half dead. It’s something of a comfort, that the flowers have followed them the whole way, and Martin kneels down in the grass to pick some, thinking that it’s only right. He gets a small bouquet, a posy, green stems and swaying white blooms, and he gives them to Jon to hold in the car and Jon’s cheeks go a little pink at that, which is a comfort too.
The house is white plaster with a slate roof, small, looking down over farmland and hedges to the water and the village beyond. There’s electricity, but no internet or phone. There’s hot water. Everything is kind of stark and scary, but there are no immediately obvious weapons or explosives. Martin finds a chipped clay mug without a handle, glazed in pink and grey, and he fills it with water and takes the Snowdrops back from Jon, puts them in the makeshift vase. They’re fragrant, sweet smelling, beautiful and Martin thinks that everything is going to be okay. They’re safe. They’re together. There are white winter flowers, even though it's autumn.
“Snowdrops mean... well, they mean a lot of things,” he says, quietly, placing the vase on the mantle. They’ll have to sweep out the fire, he thinks, and get some firewood. “Mostly they mean um... rebirth, starting again, overcoming obstacles. Also hope, I think. They’re a-a good omen, maybe."
“How do you know that?” Jon asks, gently curious.
“I..." He laughs, screws up his face. "When I first started getting into poetry I thought the meanings of flowers were going to end up being... way more relevant than they actually... were."
Jon laughs and takes Martin's hand and kisses the back of it. "I think it's a good omen too," he says.
On the first morning, Martin wakes up before the sun has fully risen. He gets up, trying not to disturb Jon, who is curled up small, a frown creasing his brow. He grabs their shared cardigan from where it’s slung over the door, pulls it on, hugs himself. He heads down to the front room and their coats are hanging from hooks on the back of the front door, his and Jon’s, coats and scarves next to one another, like they’ve always been there. Martin opens the door and walks outside. Over the paddocks and the hedges, there is a thick mist, all grey, making it impossible to see anything beyond the fence line of the safe house. There is something moving down there, Martin thinks, his skin breaking out in goosebumps. Something enormous, jagged, too many crooked limbs and too many needled teeth and violence in every shadow. Martin holds his breath and the thing moves and he tugs the sleeves of his cardigan over his hands and the thing moves and the door opens behind him, and the thing is gone, there’s nothing there, there never was. Jon comes to stand next to him. They look out over the mist. Just mist, nothing sinister or evil, just the way the land looks as it wakes up. Safe. Easy.
“I’ll make us some tea,” says Jon, quietly, and he kisses Martin on the cheek and heads back inside.