Jon’s car is a fifteen-year-old sedan.
He’s known this for a while now, of course, but it still somehow surprises him when he remembers. He’s not sure why—he supposes he just expected Jon to have something sleek and shiny, something professional. This fits, though. He might have teased him about it if they weren’t running for their lives.
The passenger door is still locked, and Jon’s already in on the driver’s side, so Martin taps lightly on the window and mutters a quick “Jon”. It doesn’t roll up all the way, and he can hear Jon swearing as he leans over to unlock it manually. He fumbles with it for a moment before there’s a dull click and Martin pulls the door open, allowing himself one last anxious glance back toward the Institute.
He’s sure he would feel hazier if it weren’t for the adrenaline. He’s not even sure what’s going on, just that they’d gotten back to chaos and noise and fear. Jon had pulled him out by the arm and now here they were.
Jon pulls out of his parking spot quickly enough that the tires squeal, and Martin cranes his neck to watch the Institute as they drive away. He’s pretty sure he hears sirens, so that’s good. Hopefully someone had a chance to call 999. Not that they’ll be able to do much, when they get there. He turns back around in his seat and decides not to think about that.
Instead he looks forward and lets out a long breath. After a few moments of silence, he asks, “Do you think Daisy and Basira got out all right?” He’s pleased to hear that his voice isn’t shaking too badly.
There’s no response, and he looks over at Jon, who has both hands on the wheel and is staring straight forward. His chest is heaving visibly, like he’s still breathing hard, and Martin’s brow crinkles. “Jon?”
“I don’t know, Martin,” Jon says, and his voice is impossibly quiet.
“Well, should we—I mean, should we call them or something?”
Jon sucks in a breath. Blinks. Then he nods, slowly.
“Right,” Martin says, “right.” His hand goes to his pocket, and his breath catches. “Jon, I, erm... could I use your phone?”
Jon peels a hand off the wheel and searches around in his own pocket. “Where’s yours?” he asks, handing it over. His voice is still quiet. It’s not a tone he’s used to hearing from Jon—the only times he’s heard him speak like this at all, in fact, have been during their rare and fleeting interactions since Jon had woken up.
Months. He’d woken up months ago. Months of time that he missed of Jon’s life. His throat feels tight.
He takes the phone, though, and replies, “I… don’t know.” Jon’s eyebrows quirk upwards, and Martin explains further, “I haven’t really been… recently, with Peter, and everything…”
“Oh.” Jon swallows hard and his hands tighten further on the wheel. “Right.”
Right. Not much else to say, there—or maybe too much to say right now, in the car on the way to who-knows-where. Martin has to ask for Jon’s password—it’s long and convoluted and Jon recites it easily, voice still low—and he goes to his contacts. There’s not many people in Jon’s phone, and Basira’s name is there immediately, so it’s only a moment until the phone is ringing against Martin’s ear.
It rings once. Twice. Three times. He bounces his knee and looks sidelong at Jon, who’s still resolutely watching the road. Four times. Five. He sucks in a breath and waits for it to switch to voicemail, and then—
“Basira!” He’s not able to keep all of the hysteria from his voice, but he’s pretty sure it’s fine. It just sounds like relief. Which it is, obviously, but he’s got a lot going on right now. Again—not thinking about that. Not yet. “I-it’s Martin!”
“Where’s Jon? What happened?” There’s more than a hint of worry in her voice.
“He’s here, he’s fine, we’re fine—well—we got out, we’re, erm—Jon, where are we?”
Jon… bristles, almost. Like a cat. The sort of thing Martin would find incredibly endearing if it weren’t for—well, everything about their current situation. Jon doesn’t say anything, and Martin decides it’s probably because he’s not sure if he should, so he just says, “Erm, well, we’re not at the Institute. We left, we—we got out. Did you…?”
There’s a pause, then, “Yeah.”
It doesn’t sound like a very happy ‘yeah’. “I—are you okay? Are you with Daisy?”
A longer pause.
“Oh,” he says, much quieter than a few moments before, “oh, Basira…”
There’s a sniff from the other line. “It’s fine. Just tell me where you are.”
They meet Basira at a cafe that none of them have ever been to before in an area of the city far from the Institute. She’s not there when they arrive, and Jon immediately goes to a far corner of the cafe, positioning himself to watch the door with almost frantic eyes. Martin sits next to him and doesn’t even realize that he doesn’t feel the pull to keep a buffer of distance between them that’s been ever present these past few months.
Jon’s eyes are fixed on the door, and Martin leans in a little, putting the lightest pressure on Jon’s arm from his. Jon flinches, and Martin flinches in kind, and the look on Jon’s face immediately sets off a pang of heartbreak in his chest, so he asks gently, “Is something wrong?”
It’s quite a redundant question. They both know it—everything’s wrong, of course, because isn’t it always for them, lately. But Jon takes in a breath and then says, slow and measured, “I don’t… feel the Eye.”
Martin tries his best to keep the shock he feels from manifesting on his face. Judging by the way Jon’s brow crinkles, he didn’t do as well as he’d hoped. “You—what do you mean? Not—not at all?”
Jon shakes his head. “No, it’s—it’s there, still, it always is, but it’s… distant, right now.” He sighs again, and it’s a sigh that Martin knows well; the one he does when he’s trying to parse something out. Its familiarity is unbelievably comforting. “Maybe it was… being in the Lonely, I’m not sure…”
There’s a pang from that, too, if only from the reminder. They’ll have to talk about that, at some point. Or they should, anyway—whether or not they will is a different matter entirely, given Jon’s—no, that’s not fair, given both of their track records with communication.
“Oh,” Martin says, not sure what to make of it, “well, that’s… that’s good, isn’t it?”
It’s a genuine question. His voice goes up at the end, hesitant and soft. And Jon looks at him, he turns his head and meets Martin’s eyes, and it’s so overwhelming that Martin nearly has to look away. He’s glad he doesn’t, though, because there’s the smallest shadow of a smile on Jon’s lips as he says, even softer than before, “Yes, Martin. I think it is.”
The chime at the front of the shop goes off again, then, and they both jump. It’s only a momentary panic, though, a visceral reaction to their expecting the worst, and in the next moment Basira’s crossed the cafe and sat down at the table across from them.
Martin lets out a relieved huff, but he’s pricked by worry again at the expression on Basira’s face—it looks like she’s been crying. Hard. For a while.
He opens his mouth to say something, but Basira shoots him a look so hard that he claps it shut almost immediately, his words dying in his throat. There’s a few moments of silence bursting at the seams with tension before she leans in and asks, “What the hell happened?”
“I went into the Lonely.”
Jon’s answer comes much quicker than Martin expects. He looks at him in shock and at the same time Basira breathes, “Jesus, Jon.”
“Well, it—” Martin starts, reaching desperately for the right words, “—I went in first—”
“Lukas sent him there,” Jon says, defensively. The venom in Peter’s name as it rolls off Jon’s tongue is palpable, dripping. “There was a whole… Elias— Jonah— he was there, too; I thought he’d be there when we got back, but he was gone.”
“So Elias let out that thing, then?” Basira asks, and Martin feels shame crawling up his back at the distraught note to her tone.
“I, er. I actually think that was P-Peter.” He stumbles over his name. Basira looks stricken, but it’s only for a moment, and then her face shutters again. Jon gives Martin a somewhat incredulous look, and he explains, “He had a Leitner.”
Basira’s voice is even and kept carefully free of emotion when she speaks again. “I barely got out. There were those two Hunters, and that... thing. Daisy is—” Her voice catches in her throat. Martin glances at the table, gives her a moment to regain her composure. “Daisy’s the only reason I got out.”
“What happened?” Jon’s voice is so quiet it’s hardly audible. Basira just shakes her head, lifts her shoulders ever so slightly. “God.”
Silence hangs heavy between the three of them again. Basira breaks it, eventually, to say with quiet determination, “She’s not dead.”
Martin doesn’t know what to say to that. It seems Jon doesn’t either, because neither of them say anything, and Basira’s eyes flit between them desperately before settling on Jon. “She’s not. I mean, you—you would Know, right?”
Jon makes a small noise before managing, “I… not right now, I don’t think. The Lonely did something. Disrupted my… connection.” Basira’s face falls, and Martin’s heart falls with it. Jon’s voice is soft and ragged when he adds, “I’m so sorry.”
Basira’s face does something that Martin can’t quite process before settling into a composed expression once again—but there’s a fire in her eyes, now. “I’m going to find her. I—I made her a promise.”
Martin nods. “Of course.”
She’s looking through her bag, now, and her once-more steady voice is grounding. “You two need to get out of here. For a while, at least. Maybe if you’re having trouble Seeing, Elias is going through the same.”
Jon snorts. “Yes, I doubt we’ll be that lucky.”
Basira makes a face. “Still.” She holds out a key, then, and explains, “Daisy’s got safehouses all over the map. This should be one in Scotland. Real out of the way; she hasn’t used it in years. I’ll write the location down on a… a napkin, or something.”
Jon opens his mouth and makes a noise that sounds like he’s about to protest, but nothing comes. Martin feels the same impulse, but he has no clue what he would say. ‘Sorry, I think we actually ought to keep trying to throw ourselves on anything that even remotely resembles a grenade in a never-ending cycle of sacrifice’ doesn’t seem like an incredibly valid argument.
So he reaches out and takes the key, and when he says, “Thank you, Basira,” he really, truly means it. Her lips purse together in something that’s definitely not a smile, but is as close to one as the situation warrants. “Please stay safe.”
Basira exhales. They all know it’s a promise she can’t make. “You too. Both of you.”
They can’t make it either. She stands and leaves without another word, and Martin and Jon sit at the table for another long, silent moment before they go to move.
There’s a silence that they maintain from the cafe back to Jon’s car. It doesn’t begin as a tense one, but the longer it goes on the more suffocating it begins to feel to Martin. Silence has been all he’s had for far, far too long now, and after where he just was... They’ve barely pulled out of the parking lot before he says, “I suppose we ought to go back to our flats, then. Get our things.” The words come out in a rush at first, like water from floodgates.
Jon shifts in his seat. “Yes, I—yes, that would be, uh… that would be the sensible thing to do, I suppose.” He tapers off into that silence again, but only for a moment or two before he presses on, “We’ll—stop by yours, first, and then—”
He cuts off abruptly. Martin looks at him after a moment, curious. “...Jon?”
There’s a look of vague horror on Jon’s face, and Martin’s skin begins to crawl immediately. Just as his mind is about to supply him with some horrific worst case assumption, Jon says, “Martin, I—I’m afraid I don’t know where you live.”
Oh. Well, that’s fine. He actually laughs at that, because that’s a problem they can handle. Jon still looks like he’s been struck, though, and Martin offers, “Oh, it’s fine, really. That’s better than you knowing, when you think about it, because you’ve never had occasion to come round, so either you’d Know, or it’d be like it was with T…” He falters. He hadn’t realized what he was about to say until it’s already out of his mouth. “...Tim.”
Jon takes a shuddery breath. Martin begins to list off directions.
Martin’s flat is freezing. He barely notices it, certainly not anymore, but when they walk in Jon shivers visibly and makes a small noise of discontent. Martin strides over to his coat rack and grabs a hoodie, holding it out to Jon. Jon stares back, eyes wide and confused, trying in vain to rub the warmth back into his arms.
Martin jostles the hoodie in his hands. “Jon, I’m offering this to you. You’re cold.”
“I’m not,” Jon says. It convinces neither of them. He takes the hoodie and stares at it oddly for several moments, and Martin decides to leave him to it as he goes to gather his things.
It doesn’t take him long. He tries to think of what he needs, really needs, and he can’t come up with much. He wonders, as he packs clothes into a duffel, if that’s another side effect of all the time he spent with the Lonely, or if regular old things just don’t seem as important, now, in the grand scheme of it all.
He finds his phone under some clothes on the floor. He doesn’t check to see how many calls he’s missed, or even if the battery is charged. He can’t remember the last time he had it on him.
As the adrenaline of escaping the Institute had faded, some of that signature fuzziness had come back, as Martin had expected, but what he hadn’t expected was for it to be significantly weaker than it had been in months. It hadn’t felt like this since he’d been working with Peter, certainly. He wants to be relieved, but if he’s being really, really honest with himself, he’s terrified of it. There’s so much he’s been pushing down, so much he hasn’t bothered to process, hasn’t needed to process, and now it’s all bubbling back up to the surface, ready to overwhelm him in one fell swoop.
He zips up the duffel, and the harsh sound against the quiet of the room is enough to shake him from his thoughts. The haze around him fades a little more, and Martin can feel just how cold his flat actually is.
When he walks back out into the living room, Jon is hovering in front of the fireplace, staring at something on Martin’s mantle. He’s wearing the hoodie—it’s far too big on him, and the sleeves are bunched up at his wrists. It hits Martin like a shock of ice-cold water that Jonathan Sims is in his flat, in his jacket, alive, and isn’t this just the funniest situation, Martin; isn’t this what you’ve imagined so many times? Dreamt, even, back before the Jon in your dreams grew too many eyes?
Jon turns around and nods his head toward a photograph, and Martin barely manages to choke down the emotion. “This is your mother?” Jon’s voice is soft still, almost—gentle, Martin realizes, and he has to swallow again. He nods. And then Jon’s face softens, and Martin has no idea what he’s looking at. It occurs to him, again, how much he’s missed. How much everyone has changed.
It looks like Jon is about to say something, but maybe he thinks better of it, because he clears his throat and asks a bit more steadily, “Do you have everything?”
Martin holds up his duffel. “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to pack for.”
Jon breathes a quiet laugh, and Martin feels an old familiar swooping in the pit of his stomach. “No, I don’t have a packing list for going on the run from ancient monsters, either, I’m afraid.”
They stand there for a moment in the same charged silence that seems now to definitely be following them before Martin says, “Cup of tea?”
Martin has asked Jon that same question many times, but he’s never seen him look so desperately relieved to hear it.
When they arrive at Jon’s flat, it’s started sprinkling. Jon’s still in Martin’s hoodie, which is a realization that Martin keeps having, and every time it does something funny to his brain. He doesn’t put the hood up, though; he just lets the rain fall onto him, and his face is glistening a little once they get inside. Beautiful, Martin tries not to think. (He doesn’t succeed.)
“Right,” Jon is saying, wiping his glasses on Martin’s—Martin’s!—hoodie, “well, I-I don’t think I need much either, so I shouldn’t be too long. Erm—” He shifts his weight, looking awkward. “Do you want another cup of tea?”
He’s pretty sure that this is the first time Jon has ever offered him tea. He opens his mouth to respond, but Jon is already going for the kitchen, so he follows wordlessly instead, taking in the state of Jon’s flat.
It’s a mess. There’s no nice way to put it. It’s not dirty, really, but it’s cluttered, in a way that makes it seem painfully obvious it was once clean, not too long ago, and now there’s just no time for that. No point, perhaps. He’s sure Jon’s been spending more time in the archives than he has here, from the unopened mail in a pile on the table to a sink nearly full of dishes. If Jon’s embarrassed, he doesn’t say so—he just goes right to his kettle and gets to work, and Martin leans against the island countertop to watch him. Jon’s only just put the water on when he freezes, and a moment later he turns around with an expression that almost seems ashamed, and he says quietly, “Martin, I don’t know how you take your tea.”
“Oh,” says Martin. His flat was one thing, but this is—well, he can’t blame Jon, but it doesn’t feel good. There’s a bubble of emotion that wells up in his chest that he just barely manages to quell to say as lightly as he can, “Do you have any er—green tea?” Jon shakes his head, and—Christ, why does he look so sad? Martin looks down and drums his fingers on the countertop absently, unable to bear the weight of Jon’s gaze. “No, that’s alright, really, just—milk and loads of sugar, then.” He pauses, then, “...Like, too much sugar.”
Jon gives a small nod and goes to his cupboards, and Martin takes the opportunity to fall into his thoughts. Really it happens in spite of himself—he watches Jon go about preparing him a cup of tea and considers how utterly surreal this situation is. Jon in his flat, and he in Jon’s, making each other tea, wearing each other’s clothes. He’s quite sure that if this had happened a year ago or more he would be a complete mess over it, nervous and awkward and generally not making a good case for himself. He’s not entirely sure what’s different now—perhaps it was the distance, or perhaps he really has changed.
He knows he cares about Jon still. That was never in question. He remembers hearing the familiar click of a tape recorder turning on, when he was down in the panopticon with Peter and Elias, and he wonders if Jon will ever hear those tapes. Hear that he’d done it all for him, in the end. He wonders if he’ll ever tell Jon—because that’s something he can do, now, not bound by the loneliness of his and Peter’s plans. The idea of simply being able to talk to Jon again whenever he wants, being able to see him—he focuses very hard on a little spot of discoloration on Jon’s counter and waits for the wave of emotion in his chest to recede. At the same time, he vaguely registers Jon’s voice over his train of thought. Only after failing to process the words for several long moments does Martin relent and look up at him again.
“Sorry?” he says, noting Jon’s concerned expression and keeping his tone as light as possible.
“I was—just asking if you’re alright,” Jon repeats. His eyebrows pull further together. “Do you need anything else? Something to eat, maybe, er—or if you want to sit down…”
I used to fret over him like this. “It’s alright,” he says, and then at Jon’s less-than-convinced look he presses, “really, Jon, I’m… I’m okay, for now.”
The kettle shrieks, and Martin jumps. Jon’s across the kitchen in a second, grabbing for it and then pulling his hands away just as quickly, swearing under his breath. The whistling continues, and Martin relaxes back against the counter, exhaling. Jon shoots him an apologetic glance, and Martin can’t look away fast enough, laughing quietly. “It’s funny,” he says, “everything’s been muffled for a while. Just have to get used to it again, I guess.”
Mercifully, Jon moves his gaze back to the tea, preparing it like Martin had asked. When he brings it over to him, though, he watches him bring it up to his lips, and still when he lowers the cup again, and Martin realizes he’s waiting to see if he’s done a good job. He smiles, and says, “It’s great, Jon,” and he means it. Jon’s shoulders sag with relief, and he mutters something about going to get his things before shuffling out of the kitchen.
When he does, Martin puts another spoonful of sugar in the tea.
“Jon, do you not—do you not have an aux cord in here?”
Jon makes a vaguely confused noise. “Er, no? No, why?”
Martin twists and reaches back to rummage through his duffel. “Oh, so I can put on some cheeky binaural beats for the drive.” There’s a pause, and he clarifies, “For music. You don’t listen to music in the car?”
Jon rubs at the back of his head. “Not… typically, no.” A few moments later: “Actually, never.”
“You really just sit in silence with your thoughts? All the time?”
“Oh, good God.” Martin lets out a small aha! and pulls a cable from one of the nether-pockets of his bag and reaches for Jon’s phone in the cupholder. “Knew I’d find one in there if I dug around. Alright, well, we don’t have to put music on the whole time, but it’s a long drive, and I don’t really want to wallow right now, so what d’you like?”
Jon hums and then says, “Well, I don’t really listen to music. Much.”
“Yes, I don’t have any requests, so you can put on whatever you like. I’m sure it’ll be—lovely.”
Martin scoffs. “Okay, ignoring that that was vaguely condescending, can we circle back to the fact that you don’t listen to music?”
Jon’s brows pull together. “Is that… a problem?” He sounds genuinely confused, and Martin lets his head fall back against the headrest as he processes this.
There’s a bloom of warmth in Martin’s chest, and he laughs softly. “No, it’s just. I—” Not the time. Not the time. “You are incredible.”
Jon bristles. Martin grins, takes time to appreciate it. “What?” Jon retorts, defenses rising. “In what way?”
“I’m teasing you, Jon.”
“I’m giving you a hard time.”
Jon relaxes after a moment, sighing begrudgingly and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. Martin sits in the silence and smiles at him, and then he says jovially, “It is really odd, though. That’s not a normal thing. Normal people listen to music.” Jon rolls his eyes, and the warmth in Martin’s chest spreads.
It’s in the pause that follows that Martin realizes something. The only sound around them is the rumbling of the car, maybe their breathing if he listens hard enough. There’s something missing—a low, staticky hum that’s usually ever-present, these days. He listens for another few moments until he’s sure it’s not there.
“Jon… have you noticed…”
“No tape recorders.”
“No tape recorders,” Jon repeats, a note of awe in his tone. And then he sucks in a sharp breath—it’s quiet, but Martin still hears it, and he turns his head immediately. “I mean, I—”
Martin’s heart sinks. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Jon says hurriedly, flexing his hands on the steering wheel, “nothing, I just—well, I brought one.”
“It’s just one! I-it’s the one I already had with me. And you’re right! You’re right; it hasn’t turned on at all.” He actually looks away from the road fully, then, to give Martin a pleading look. A please forgive me look. Martin can hardly stand it. “I only thought… well, if anything happens to us—”
“Watch the road, Jon,” Martin says, quietly. Gently. He exhales. I refuse to become another goddamn mystery. “It’s alright.” He feels Jon exhale in turn beside him and wishes, for just a moment, that Jon had one hand off the wheel, perhaps lying on the center console, so that Martin could rest his hand on top. “...It’s alright.”
The safehouse is small. It’s a cottage, really, and when they pull up Martin can’t help but make a soft noise of admiration. “Nice, isn’t it?” he says, taking in the red-brick chimney on the roof and cobblestone path in the front garden. “Not very Daisy, really, but I suppose that makes sense, for a safehouse.”
Jon chuckles. “This may sound odd, but I can… actually see her really enjoying a place like this.” Martin hums in response. “Quiet, you know?”
Lonely, Martin doesn’t say. The village is at least an hour walk away, and there are no neighbors in sight to speak of. Just rolling highlands, clouds, and cows.
But Jon is here. That will be enough. It has to be.
It’s dusty inside, but nowhere near as bad as Jon had worried about at several points during their drive, and Martin says as much, reveling in the little victory. As if to prove a point, Jon sneezes. Martin gives him a long-suffering look, but there’s no real exasperation behind it, and Jon actually smiles by way of response. It’s a comfortable rapport, one they’ve never quite managed before, but it comes easily, now, as naturally as breathing.
Martin must have been looking at Jon for a moment too long, because Jon clears his throat and looks away awkwardly, and Martin’s breath catches a little bit at the realization that Jon was looking back.
It’s a cozy house, with a den in the front and a kitchen attached. There’s a sofa, and a fireplace, and a little wooden dining table that has three chairs. It’s normal. Not at all what he’d been expecting. And there’s even only one cobweb. “You could almost forget why we’re here,” he says with a laugh, and Jon huffs a laugh back. As naturally as breathing.
And the bedroom. He’s not sure why he hadn’t thought about this until now, to be perfectly honest. It’s a very logical thing, figuring out your sleeping arrangements, and they hadn’t even discussed it, hadn’t even brought it up. And naturally, this being Daisy’s safehouse, there would only be a single bed, because why on Earth would there be more than one?
It hits him all at once, the reality of what they’re doing, what he’s doing—getting ready to spend an indeterminate amount of time with a man he’s been in love with for years in a small, secluded cottage in the Scottish highlands. (There’s the evil-supernatural-entities backdrop to it all, too, mind you, but it doesn’t change the situation at hand.)
He looks over at Jon, who has frozen in place beside him and appears to be in a very similar train of thought, judging by the odd way his face has contorted. He looks… a bit pained, frankly, and if Martin didn’t know any better, he’d say that Jon is actually blushing. Except Jonathan Sims doesn’t blush, has never once blushed in the years Martin’s known him; so that is certainly not the reason for the color in his cheeks.
“Jon?” he asks. Jon makes a very small hrng? noise in his throat. “You okay?”
Jon clears his throat—presumably before the noise can happen again—and nods, suddenly moving again, looking away from the bed, away from Martin, and lifting his bag back up over his shoulder. “Yes, just fine. I’ll take the couch out in the other room, and you—”
“Whoa, no, Jon—”
“—can take the bed, you need the rest more than I do anyway—”
“—Jon, I really don’t—”
“—it’s not a problem, Martin, I’ve slept on couches before—”
“—I don’t want to sleep alone.”
Jon stops. His back is turned, and he’s halfway out the door, but he stops, and Martin sees the tension leave his shoulders before he turns around, wearing a definitively softer but still unreadable expression. “Alright,” he says, and it sounds a little strangled, but it’s still gentle. Sincere. “Alright. I—okay.”
The room is sparsely furnished, aside from the bed itself and a small nightstand with a dusty lamp sitting on top. Martin slides open the drawer, and there’s a Bible, which makes him snort. Jon hums inquiringly, so Martin holds it up, and watches Jon’s eyebrows dip in confusion. It makes something in his stomach flutter a bit.
“Daisy’s not religious,” Jon says, in his I-am-trying-to-understand voice.
Martin grins. “I think it’s a joke, Jon.”
They should probably save petrol, they’d decided, in case they wound up in need of an immediate getaway—only bare minimum trips into town for food, at least with the car; the rest could be made on foot. The food trip is needed now, though, and calling Basira is a good idea, so Martin will take the car in and pick up some things, and he’ll come back and they’ll cook dinner, and it will all be unbearably domestic and still completely surreal.
That is how it will go, anyway, if can get his breathing under control before he hyperventilates himself into somehow wrecking on a straight, empty country road.
He had been fine for the first three minutes of the drive, and then the quiet started to weigh down on him; he’d forgotten about Jon’s complete lack of an audio setup and left the aux cord back in the house with the rest of his things. Fine, he’d thought, I’ve driven by myself in the quiet plenty of times before; I’ve done that so many times I couldn’t even begin to count, all I’ve got to do is get ten minutes down to the store.
But it’s so quiet, so empty, and so, so lonely.
Martin pulls off to the side of the road and hits the brakes desperately, trying to regulate his erratic breathing before the darkness at the corners of his vision spreads any further. His first coherent thought through the haze of panic is Jon , and he fumbles with shaking hands to get to his phone, only to realize with a sinking stomach that he has no service.
He swears under his breath, lashing out at the quiet around him as it threatens to envelop him again—he can’t tell if he’s imagining it in his panic or if the Lonely really has found him, because he hears static, but it might just be a memory of it—Peter is gone, he thinks vaguely, there’s no way he could come back for him, but then the Lonely wasn’t just Peter, was it, it’s still out there, waiting, always waiting for him to wander too far away—
He lets out a small sob, and it startles him enough to break the train of thought. He scrambles to keep hold of the momentary lull in his fear to find something else he can ground himself with. He doesn’t know where it comes from, but he read it somewhere once—breathe in for seven seconds, breathe out for eleven, and he does it, because even a placebo is better than nothing.
He’s not sure how much time passes before he feels like he’s fully back to himself. The clock reads three forty-two when he finally shifts the car back into gear and turns it around, but he can’t remember when he left, and he wouldn’t get any calls or messages from Jon out here in the dead zone. There’s still a nagging feeling of anxiety at the edges of his mind, asking him if he’s sure he’ll find Jon when he gets back to the cottage, if he’s sure he didn’t go too far already, but he ignores them and stares straight ahead, gripping the wheel like it’s keeping him afloat.
His body carries him out of the car and back into the house without him steering it; everything is a blur until suddenly Jon is standing there in front of him, eyes huge and worried behind his glasses, which are sitting down at the edge of his nose like he’s just been reading something, and Martin doesn’t hear what he says, because he barely sees Jon’s mouth start to move before Martin throws his arms around him, presses his face into the hoodie Jon’s wearing—Martin’s hoodie—and starts to shake.
That’s all there is, for a minute—the warmth of Jon underneath his arms and the soft cotton of his own hoodie, which Jon is wearing, and which Martin is slowly but surely staining with his tears. He realizes, too, that Jon’s wrapped his arms around Martin in response, and something inside Martin calms, and then stills, and he lets out a long, heavy sigh into Jon’s chest.
“Martin,” Jon says, and his voice is so soft it makes Martin’s tear-flushed cheeks grow even hotter. “What happened?”
Martin turns his face to the side, but keeps his head pressed up against Jon, grounded by the contact. He sniffs, and then laughs bitterly at his own expense, feeling quite pathetic indeed.
“I think I had a panic attack,” he says, his voice hoarse. “I didn’t even make it into town.” There’s an edge to his tone—a bit of self-deprecation easily leaking through the window of vulnerability.
He hears Jon sigh. “Oh, Martin,” he says, and his voice is so full of something that Martin can only imagine is pity that it makes him feel queasy.
“God, I must look so stupid,” he says, and he sniffs a little harder, removing one arm to wipe at his face. He’s a mess; he can feel it, and he goes to pull away, embarrassed. Jon lets him straighten up, but when he starts to turn, his hands come gently up to the sides of Martin’s arms, and he looks at him with such an open expression that it shocks him, still, to see it on Jon’s face, a face he’s spent so much time almost always seeing kept carefully steeled under direct attention.
But it’s not, now; it’s right here, Jon is right here, and he’s looking at Martin like that, and his voice is earnest when he says, “Not at all,” and Martin shudders.
“I didn’t even make it to the store,” he repeats, and it sounds weak against the tangible sincerity of Jon’s reassurance. Sure enough, Jon shakes his head.
“The store’s still open,” he says, and his thumbs rub back and forth where his hands are rested on Martin’s arms, and Martin’s heart calms again. “We can go together. It’s all right.”
Martin is reminded of one time, over a year ago now, when Jon had just been kidnapped, and then returned in a flurry of chaos and new revelations, and he’d taken the time to speak to Martin, to ask him if he was okay, to tell him not to push himself too hard with the statements. He can count on both hands the times he’s seen Jon speak to anyone like that, let alone to him (most of those are recent efforts that he’s resisted, and he tries very hard not to think about that right now, and he even nearly succeeds), and he takes a moment to appreciate the gravity of Jon giving this to him now, and then he nods.
“Okay,” he says. His voice is steadier than it’s been since he left the house.
This, Martin realizes, is going to be a long process.
They have mac and cheese, because when they get to the store, Martin realizes just how exhausted he is, and the endless options start to feel dangerously overwhelming, so he says “We ought to just get something microwavable”; to which Jon agrees very quickly, “Yes, I suppose we ought to”, in a way that says I-am-feeling-exactly-the-same-way-as-you-right-now. It’s a short trip, but it is free of further disaster, and Jon even remembers to text Basira and tell her that they’ve made it. All things considered, Martin decides to count it as a success.
It’s only half five when they’re done eating, but Martin is beginning to feel tired down to his bones, and he says as much. Jon’s face relaxes and he mutters grateful agreement. Conversation is still easy as they do the dishes together—Martin teases Jon about his washing technique, and Jon gets playfully defensive. And then there’s no more dishes to do, so Jon clears his throat after a pregnant pause and stutters that they might as well sleep now, because they’ve had a long few days. They have, Martin agrees, and they wander to the bedroom in silence, the inevitability of what they’re about to do hanging heavy in the air above them.
He’s hyper-aware of everything that happens in the next few minutes—they both strip down to their boxers, careful not to pay too close attention to the other as they do so, and out of the corner of his eye Martin watches Jon pull off the hoodie and shrug off the shirt underneath so he can put on an old t-shirt instead, one with faded writing on the front that Martin thinks might say something about Oxford.
Martin inches agonizingly closer to climbing into the bed, fluffing up one of the pillows and then continuing to fluff it up longer than he realistically needs to. Two minutes in he starts to feel particularly stupid, and thirty seconds later he can’t bear to stall anymore, so he throws the covers back on his side and clambers in.
“Oh,” Jon says, suddenly, before turning and bolting out of the room.
Martin is, if he’s being perfectly honest with himself, left dumbfounded. His mouth actually drops open and he stares at the empty doorway, his overstimulated brain working to try to process Jon’s abrupt absence. And then, a moment later, just as he’s about to start feeling a little indignant about the whole thing, Jon is back, with a book in his hands and a sheepish expression on his face.
“What is that?” Martin asks, his voice pitching up in airy confusion.
That is definitely embarrassment on Jon’s face. “It’s a book,” Jon says, as if he hopes that will explain everything, despite knowing that it most certainly will not.
“I can see that it’s a book,” Martin says, tone light and dry, “do I get to know what book it is?”
Jon sits at the foot of the bed, as far away from Martin as he can without being perched directly on the edge. “It’s—Dickinson.”
“Oh,” says Martin, feeling funny.
“Yes, I figured.”
They stare at each other for several seconds before Martin holds out a hand. “Which collection?” he asks, valiantly ignoring the way electricity shoots up his arm when the book is passed over to him and his fingers brush Jon’s. Jon’s thumb is wedged in between two of the pages, and Martin replaces it with his own, keeping his place.
“Second,” says Jon, watching Martin intensely, almost like he’s afraid of what Martin will say next. “1891.”
Martin turns the book over, and reads out loud, “‘Hope is the thing with feathers.’” He looks up at Jon, expectantly, waiting for the other shoe to drop, whatever it is that hasn’t yet been said that they can both feel ready to burst through at any moment.
“I found it right after you left,” Jon says, the words coming in a rush, now, “er, after—while you were working with—it was a while ago. I was reading it. It made me—think of you.”
“Oh,” Martin says, as his stomach bottoms out.
He’s too winded to say anything else, and he desperately wills Jon to say something, anything to fill the resulting silence.
His wish is fulfilled when a long moment later, Jon says tentatively, “It’s quite good,” like this is the first time he’s giving Emily Dickinson any consideration, and Wouldn’t you know it, the young lady can write, and Martin suddenly has to focus all of his energy on not pulling Jon across the bed and kissing him right there.
Martin laughs, and the tension is released, and the next thing he knows, Jon has moved up to lie beside him. There’s a healthy gap between them, but it feels like there’s a silent acknowledgment of it, and Martin settles into it comfortably, happy to not have to process further feelings-for-Jon for the time being.
He’s not completely scot-free, of course, because Jon is still lying less than a foot away from him, in the same bed, just after he’s told Martin that Emily Dickinson made him think of him.
In the morning, he swears there’s a moment where they wake up pressed against each other, but they say nothing, and the sun hasn’t even risen, and once Martin’s awake for good he can’t be sure it wasn’t just a dream.
“I don’t want a bruised apple, Martin.”
“Well none of them are perfect! Every one I’ve grabbed has some kind of nick or spot that’s not good enough for you; I can’t just manifest an apple up to your standards, which you haven’t even been clear about, by the way—”
“It’s just—a thing! It’s just a thing. Look, I’m sorry, pick out an apple, I’ll—I’ll deal with it.”
Jon looks properly flustered about the whole debacle, and it makes Martin’s chest tighten with fondness enough that he has to look away while he rolls his eyes. They’re making a concerted effort to do some real shopping, now, after the previous night’s aborted mission, and picking out groceries for two—especially when one is fussier than a toddler—is turning out to be more of a challenge than expected.
It’s good, though. It feels warm, and soft, standing in the produce aisle with Jon, bickering over apples.
He reaches for a few that look to be in about as good a condition as any, and as he turns to pull out a bag for them, he catches the eyes of the woman standing next to him, in the midst of choosing her own apples. He gives her a what-can-you-do smile, and she laughs softly.
“Can’t live with them, can’t live without them,” she says, “my husband is just as picky.”
Martin laughs politely in response. By the time he’s processed what she’s said, she’s gone, and he’s staring at the empty space in front of the apples, mouth agape.
It takes several seconds before he manages to clear his throat and carry on—he’d frozen in the middle of retrieving a bag, and he pulls it out the rest of the way, resolutely not looking at Jon as he tucks the apples inside and sets them in the trolley. When he does look up, finally, Jon is watching him with an odd expression, and Martin concludes that he must have heard, as well, so he scrambles for something to say.
“Friendly here, aren’t they?” is what he comes up with, and Jon shifts his weight uncomfortably.
“Quite,” he says, and then, for some reason, keeps talking as they walk away, “you’d think people would—would know not to a-assume—”
“You would think,” Martin says, keeping his voice remarkably light, and wishing very hard that Jon will stop.
He does not stop.
“—but manners are—are different here, I suppose, culturally—”
“It’s Scotland, Jon, not America.” Jon starts to sputter something in response, but before he can, Martin asks, “Should we get anything for dessert? May as well treat ourselves.”
Jon’s mouth snaps closed and he thinks for a moment before saying (hesitantly, like he’s worried Martin might say no), “I do love chocolate.”
A few minutes later they’re down the baking aisle, choosing between brownie mixes. Martin’s about to ask for the third time to confirm that yes, Jon is alright with dark chocolate despite the little disappointed noise he made when Martin said he doesn’t like milk chocolate, but Jon’s not paying attention, and the question dies in his throat when he realizes.
“Jon,” he says, ready to rib him about zoning out, but Jon doesn’t look over, doesn’t make any sound or movement to acknowledge whether or not he’s heard, and Martin follows his line of sight to a person down at the other end of the aisle.
It’s a woman—plain-looking, though not in a bad way; merely unremarkable as far as Martin can see, as perfectly normal as every other stranger in the market. She’s speaking on the phone, gesticulating towards the shelves in front of her as she does, too far away for Martin to hear any of what she’s saying. He leans forward a bit, to see more of Jon’s face, and his stomach sinks.
Jon has gone pale, and he’s staring with wide, unblinking eyes. There’s almost a darkness to them, something different than the usual deep brown; something foreign and intense, something that makes Martin’s skin crawl in much the same way it does when one feels like they’re being watched.
“Jon,” he says again, openly concerned now. He remembers the woman that came in, the one Jon had run into in the coffee shop, remembers the look on her face as she’d described the way that Jon had stared, the way that it had made her feel, and his stomach turns unpleasantly.
“I can see it,” Jon says, abruptly enough that Martin almost jumps. His voice is low, and hoarse, like he’s straining over the words. “Martin, I can See again.”
“Look away, Jon,” Martin says, trying to keep his voice from shaking, unsure of the right thing to say to help, “just—look away. Look at me, come on.”
Martin thinks he can see Jon trembling. There’s a wetness to his eyes, though Martin’s not sure if it’s because of how long he’s kept them open or if it’s tears. Maybe both. Not that it matters. Jon takes a shuddering breath and says through his teeth, “I—I can’t.”
His voice breaks on the word, and he sounds—he sounds scared.
Martin feels several things at once. There’s a pang of heartbreak—not for him, but for Jon, because he can see how much pain he’s in; it’s written all over his face, and in his body language, and thick in the air around him. He’s not seen this in person before, certainly not like this, and it’s frightening in its intensity, its indescribable energy, like something horrible and inevitable. He feels guilty for thinking that, too, even for the briefest moment, for thinking that about Jon; Jon, who he knows, who he trusts, who he loves, who clearly doesn’t want this. And he feels panicked, because he wants to help, wants to pull him back like Jon had done for him on that beach, but he doesn’t know how.
He takes a breath, then a deeper one, and he exhales the mess of emotions swirling irately inside his chest.
“Jon,” he says, once more, softer, now, and steady. He slips his hand into Jon’s and squeezes. “Look at me.”
There’s a moment, a long moment, where nothing happens. Time freezes, and waits for them to take their next breath before it begins to march forward again. Jon stares.
And then he closes his eyes.
Martin reaches up to put his other hand at the side of Jon’s face, and Jon’s entire body visibly relaxes. Martin turns Jon’s face gently towards him, lets his thumb run softly across his cheek as he does, and meets Jon’s eyes when they open again, a moment later, back to their usual rich brown. Jon must have been holding his breath, because he releases it in a sudden rush of air, letting out more of the tension with it, and Martin feels Jon rest his face into his hand more intentionally, his skin warm, but slightly clammy.
And all at once, they’re standing very close together in the middle of a supermarket, holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes.
Jon breaks away first. He clears his throat and pulls back, away from Martin’s hand, and he looks away, too, but it’s a fraction of a second later than everything else. He casts his eyes down toward the floor and then looks back up from where his head is tilted, and he says in a small voice, “Thank you.”
Martin squeezes his hand again. Jon had disengaged, but hadn’t let go. “Come on,” he says, “let’s go home.”
Before they walk away, Martin puts a box of milk chocolate brownie mix into the trolley.
There’s less hesitation, this time, at night. There’s a moment where they’re getting changed, again, where it’s intimate enough that the silence around them starts to feel charged, but Martin climbs right into bed when he’s ready. Jon follows suit only a few moments later, and they’re sitting there next to each other in the same bed with just enough distance between them to ignore it.
Only—Martin turns to set his glasses on the bedside table, and he starts to reach for the lamp, but Jon’s still sitting up, staring straight ahead, out toward the opposite wall. The expression on Jon’s face is blurry without Martin’s glasses on, so he squints up at him and then sits up himself, pushing himself up with one hand and leaning on his forearm as he shifts to face Jon.
“Something the matter?” he asks, knowing that the answer is almost definitely Yes, there is, and only able to hope that Jon won’t shy away from him asking so directly. He slips his glasses back on with the hand that isn’t supporting his weight, and Jon comes into focus, tense and hunched over, his face lined with worry. It’s just in time for him to see Jon’s eyebrows dip at his question, too, and he fights back a tiny smile.
Jon sighs, a pinched noise from his nostrils. He’s fumbling with the hem of the sheets, rubbing it in between his fingers anxiously. Martin wonders if he notices.
“I don’t want to sleep,” Jon says, then, a clear note of frustration in his voice. Martin takes this to mean that it’s not just because Jon isn’t tired.
He raises an eyebrow, unsure of how to proceed. “Er—why’s that?”
He’s still not fully grasped how to approach these things, with Jon. There’s a fair amount of coaxing involved, subtle encouragement when Jon starts to reach the point he wants to convey—enough to let him know he’s on the right track, but without overwhelming him to the point of him risking a shutdown. He thinks, vaguely, that this is one of his favorite parts of getting to know a person—learning how to communicate with them, how to know what they need, how to show them your feelings in return. Much like the two of them sharing a bed, it’s a level of intimacy he never really expected to reach with Jon.
Jon’s hands tighten around the sheets, bunching the material into his fists. “I’m,” he starts, but falters, his sentence dying in the air. A moment later he starts again, “I suppose that I’m—worried I’ll have… dreams again.”
Martin hums softly in response. He doesn’t know much about Jon’s dreams. He doesn’t really understand what they are, or how they work. They’ve never spoken about it—what he knows, he’s gleaned from tapes he managed to listen to, or from fleeting conversations with Melanie and Basira, or pointed comments from Peter. Or, in the worst case, from a scared woman who came in to give her statement, and shook when she described the monster she saw in her own dreams, Watching her every night.
“Alright,” he says, sitting up more fully, now, criss-crossing his legs in front of him. He keeps his tone gentle as he continues, “because of—earlier, yeah?”
Jon wrings the sheets in his hands. He looks down at his lap. “It was…” He trails off into a shaky breath, then shakes his head and huffs a humorless laugh. “I—I was just standing there, and I turned my head, and I Saw her.” He laughs again, the same way, harsh even in its quietness. “I thought… I don’t know what I thought. It’s not as if—I mean I didn’t expect it to last, but I hoped maybe—”
Martin can hear his voice starting to get choked up, and before he even has a chance to think about whether or not he should, he reaches out and puts his hand on top of Jon’s. Jon freezes, and for a moment Martin is afraid he’s done the wrong thing, but Jon doesn’t pull away—he just stays frozen in place, staring down at Martin’s hand lying on his with wide eyes, as if he’s unsure of what to do next. Martin gives Jon’s hand a gentle squeeze.
Jon takes a long breath, and then he looks up to meet Martin’s eyes.
“I don’t want to be part of this anymore,” he says. His voice is low, but it’s stronger than before, more certain, and something in Martin’s chest swells with pride. “The entities, the rituals, Beholding. All of it. I—I don’t know if I’m ready to—quit,” he says, smiling wryly at Martin, who can’t help but return it, “but I know I don’t want to be a pawn in whatever game Eli—Jonah is playing. Not as long as I can help it.”
“You’re going to try to resist,” Martin says, and Jon nods, confirming. The pride in Martin’s chest grows, and his throat feels tight. He swallows hard against it, and wonders briefly how long it will take his emotions to start regulating themselves again. “Jon, that’s… that’s good. That’s really good.”
“I don’t know how it’ll work,” Jon says, almost like an apology, “and I’ll probably get… weak—”
“We’ll figure it out,” Martin says, and means it. Comforting is something he can do. “We can ask Basira to try and send us statements, or something.”
Jon looks thoughtful. “Yes,” he says, “yes, that… that may work.”
“It’ll be fine,” Martin says, and that’s something he’s less confident in, but he knows he’ll do everything in his power to make it so. “It’ll be good.” He rubs his thumb along the back of Jon’s hand, without even thinking about it. Jon hums acknowledgment, and they slip into silence, but it’s different than usual, this time. It’s comfortable.
Still, after several long moments, Jon says quietly, “I meant it, you know. When I came to you. After I found out how to quit.” He pauses, then looks back up at Martin, his face earnest and open and, Martin thinks, maybe even the slightest bit wistful. “I just want you to know that—that I meant it. I would have. With you.”
Martin sucks in a sharp breath. He sees Jon tense as he does, and he feels a wave of guilt come crashing down on top of him, bringing the bitter memory of what he’d said to Jon that day with it. His instinct, he realizes, is to disappear. He’d only ever done it a few times, and he’s not even sure that he knows how he did. It was simply something that happened, one day, when everything was getting to be too much, and he just wanted with every fiber of his being to not be there , and so he wasn’t. It doesn’t feel as strong, now—it’s more of a tug at his heart, like an old ache, beckoning him back into the comforting nothingness of isolation, where it doesn’t matter what sort of things he’s said to Jon and where he doesn’t have to figure out what to say to Jon now. What’s worse is that there’s a part of him—small, but still there—that wants to give in, that wants to fade away again, and it’s only adding to the weight of his feelings. He feels like he could sink down into the bed, all the way down to the floor.
He squeezes Jon’s hand again. Anchors himself.
“I know,” he says. If he tried, he could probably keep the note of regret out of his voice. He doesn’t try. “I—I think I knew then, too. But I was…”
“Lonely,” Jon supplies, when Martin trails off. Martin nods.
“And I was… focused, on everything. And it was just—a lot to take in.” A quiet laugh escapes him, incredulous at the idea of blinding themselves and running away together, and to his relief, Jon smiles softly back, as if to say I know, it’s mad. But Jon would’ve done it, mad or not. Would have left everything, with him. “I’m sorry,” he says, “for the things I said to you. I didn’t really mean them.”
“It’s alright if you did,” Jon says, and somehow that hurts more than anything else he could have said. Maybe because he can’t bring himself to deny it.
There’s another silence; still comfortable, but more melancholy than the last. And then Jon’s lips curl up in an amused little smile, and he says, “Besides, we sort of… ran off together anyway.”
Martin’s stomach does a very impressive acrobatics routine. He huffs a short laugh, and lets it evolve into a contented sigh. “I suppose we did.”
“What about her?” Martin points toward the one cow with a black coat, standing out amongst the herd of mostly russet-colored cattle. The cow is grazing leisurely a ways away from them, its tail flicking back and forth.
“Ah.” Jon regards the cow in question for a moment before declaring, “Boadicea.”
“She does look quite regal, doesn’t she?” Martin coos in Boadicea’s direction, then rethinks it. “Is it rude to coo at a queen?”
“Bit infantilizing, I’d say,” Jon says, grinning.
There’s a break in the weather and a spring in Martin’s step. The air is crisp, but he still feels warm, walking the winding country roads with Jon, their hands and arms brushing against each other as they go. It’s the lightest he’s felt since they’ve arrived—the lightest he’s felt in months, in fact, and out here in the rolling fields and the blue skies he’s content to walk with Jon forever.
A smaller cow approaches them lazily from the right, and Jon veers off to Martin’s other side, eyeing it warily. Martin laughs.
“Scared of a baby?” he teases, his smile growing wider as Jon pouts back at him.
“Cattle are dangerous,” Jon says, lifting his chin, “they’ve got—horns. And hooves.”
“Oh, is that so?” Jon pouts some more. Martin laughs softly again. “They’re gentle, love. Not to be underestimated, that’s for sure, but as long as you don’t act like a prat around them, you’ll be fine.”
The endearment slips out before he knows what he’s saying. He’s not about to take it back, but he can feel a flush creeping up his face already, so he turns away from Jon and toward the calf, making soft noises as he takes a few slow steps forward. The cow looks back, wide-eyed and silent, then moves toward Martin’s outstretched hand, its nose twitching as it searches for food. It seems to deem Martin as Not-A-Threat, because after a few moments of inspecting his hand, the cow nibbles at his fingers gently, gumming them. Its nose is wet and cold and Martin giggles, enamored.
“Jon,” he says, craning his neck around to look back at him without moving too suddenly, “come here.” Jon is standing a few feet away, watching Martin with an expression so soft and unguarded that he nearly blushes again just looking at it. Jon blinks at him, like he didn’t hear what Martin said. “Come on, it’s alright,” he presses, keeping his voice low and placating.
Jon steps forward, then, his gaze flitting from Martin to the cow to Martin to the cow, and Martin smiles fondly. He gestures for Jon to move up to the cow’s other side, and Jon does so, although he moves awkwardly and tentatively, as if he’s dealing with a venomous snake instead of a shaggy-haired bovine. When he’s planted himself at the calf’s other side, he lets out a loud exhale, then slowly reaches out a hand and strokes the top of its head. Martin watches his face relax, and he’s not aware that he’s staring and smiling openly at him until Jon looks up and meets his eyes, and his cheeks fill with color for a moment before he smiles shyly back.
“Do you have your phone?” he asks suddenly. Jon looks surprised, but nods, and he pulls it out of his pocket and hands it across without a word. Martin remembers Jon’s password, by now, and he opens the camera and holds it out in front of them.
Jon makes a small “oh,” but doesn’t protest. He looks mildly uncomfortable in the first picture, like he’s unsure of what to do, or how to hold himself in front of a camera, but then he relaxes into an easy smile, a genuine smile, and Martin finds himself wondering when these butterflies took up residence in his stomach. He takes several pictures, making sure there’ll be at least one or two that are salvageable between blinking eyes and his unsteady hand, and after a minute the cow decides it’s had enough and pushes forward, shouldering each of them out of the way as it does. They laugh together, and Martin’s still in the middle of taking pictures, so he hits the button a few more times as they do. (Later, he’ll set one of these as his lock screen—a candid photo of the two of them, mid-laughter, sandwiching a fuzzy, ginger blur.)
Jon yelps, then, and Martin reaches out instinctively, touching his hand to Jon’s forearm and stepping in towards him. Before he can ask what’s the matter, Jon’s holding his foot and swearing through his teeth, and Martin bites back a laugh.
“Did it step on your foot?” he asks, and Jon shoots him a chagrined look, which only elicits more laughter from Martin. He speaks through his laughter, rubbing Jon’s arm consolingly. “Are you alright?”
Jon makes a thoroughly frustrated noise in his throat that sounds somewhat like a growl. Martin laughs louder, throwing his head back.
“Oh, I’m glad my suffering is so entertaining,” Jon snaps, but there’s no bite to it. He wobbles back and forth on his one leg, still cradling his foot, and Martin reaches out his other arm to steady him, laughter still bubbling up from his chest every few moments. He looks up, then, and Jon’s face is very close, and his lips are curved in the most adorable pout that Martin’s ever seen on a grown man, and Jon is looking back, his eyes soft even under his pain-wrinkled brows. Martin’s breath catches in his throat, and time seems to stop for a few moments as they’re caught in each other’s gravity.
And then Jon clears his throat, and he sets his foot back down gingerly, hissing as he shifts his weight, away from Martin. Martin steps back, pressing down disappointment, and he laughs once more, a little breathless this time.
There’s several moments of silence before Jon looks after the cow and calls out, “Thanks very much, Tim,” and Martin dissolves into giggles again.
He’s on the beach, again. He doesn’t know how he got here, doesn’t remember walking back, but he’s standing barefoot on the sand, down where it’s wet. His feet begin to sink down into it as he stands there, and he thinks he ought to try to move, but as soon as the thought occurs to him, it slips away, and he sinks in further, just as a wave comes rolling up to meet him—it doesn’t rush, or roar; it’s a gentle, calm approach, and the water flows around him easily, embracing him. It’s cold—freezing, even—but he doesn’t shiver.
When he was younger, he went to the beach with his mother and father. It was only one time—he must have been six or seven years old, and he has nothing but the vague recollection of the day happening, and one very specific, very vivid memory of walking out towards the water, entranced by it. He remembers how it felt as a wave surrounded him, then receded, and how it felt like it was pulling him out with it.
He doesn’t remember how he got out, if he turned and ran or if one of his parents came running to help him. He just remembers the ocean, and the way it seemed to create its own gravity, and how it wanted to suck him in.
It feels the same now. He’s bigger, and taller, and he doesn’t consider the ocean to be particularly frightening, but as the wave begins to pull back, it brings him with it, and he knows he’s gone, because the sky is grey and he can’t see the horizon and the water is cold but he’s not shivering. He thinks he’s screaming, but he can’t hear it. He can’t hear anything. Until—
“Hey,” a soft voice is saying, close and gentle and comforting, and Martin leans toward it as it continues, “hey, hey, hey.” It’s Jon, he realizes; Jon is next to him, warm, and safe, and here, and he has a hand resting at the side of Martin’s face, cupping the curve of his cheek, holding him. Martin’s eyes flutter open, then, and Jon is very close, leaning down over him with unabashed concern painted on his face, enough that Martin can see it even in the darkness.
He takes a gasping breath, and feels Jon’s thumb slide over his cheek, a reassuring touch. Jon’s eyebrows pull together, and his lips are twisted in a frown, and Martin, in the haze of his leftover panic and sleep, is overcome with the thought that he’d like nothing more than to kiss it off him.
“Hey,” Jon says again, “Martin, you’re—you’re here. I’m here.”
Martin breathes heavily, willing his heart to stop pounding. Jon’s hand is still there, at the side of his face, and it’s such an un-Jon-like display of intimacy that he might think he’s just gone from one dream to another, if not for the fact that he can feel exactly how warm Jon’s hand is on his cold skin, and it’s the same way it felt when Jon did the same thing the last time that Martin was on that beach, about to be pulled out into the ocean with the waves.
“I was having a nightmare,” Martin says, and his voice is small, so he clears his throat. “I was—” I was there again. I was gone again. I was on my own. He looks up into Jon’s eyes and breathes, “Thank you.”
Jon looks back intensely, and it’s grounding. And then his eyes flit down for a moment—it’s so brief that Martin’s not sure he didn’t just imagine it, but it does something to the energy between them that makes it next to unbearable.
What he wants to do is pull Jon down, close the distance between their faces, just make it happen; it’s nearly happened God knows how many times now, but they still can’t get past this moment. Every time, they get so close, and they fall back into the same patterns that have haunted them for the past few years, all repression and denial and things they don’t say.
Martin wraps his arms around Jon’s middle and pulls him close.
He can feel Jon tense against him, not expecting the contact, and not sure how to receive it—Martin realizes, sleepily, that this is only the third time that they have really, properly hugged, and he wonders how often Jon has allowed himself to be hugged by anyone—but after a few moments, he relaxes into it. It’s almost hesitant at first, and then he exhales and he falls into place next to Martin, against him, warm and solid. There’s another few seconds, and Jon wraps his arms loosely around Martin in return, and between the heat of Jon’s body and the warmth blooming out from inside Martin’s chest, any of the cold left over from the water is gone.
“Thank you,” he says again, whispering it into Jon’s shoulder. “Thank you. For this. For everything, all of it. Thank you.”
Jon is breathing into the crook of his neck. He turns his head a bit to speak, and when he does his voice comes directly into Martin’s ear, low and soft. The skin down Martin’s back prickles with goosebumps. “It’s nothing.”
“It’s not,” he says, squeezing Jon gently, “it’s not nothing.”
There’s a few moments before Jon responds, and the only sound is their breathing, synced up in their proximity. And then, somehow even softer than before, Jon says, “You’re worth it.”
Martin doesn’t know what to say to that. It makes him feel raw, and he presses his face further into Jon’s shoulder, into the soft cotton of his worn t-shirt. He falls asleep like that, memorizing what Jon smells like.
There’s not much to do, during the days. The collection of Dickinson poems doesn’t last them very long, nor does the Virginia Woolf novel, and both of them have already read the Jane Austen. They read it again anyway, and they do so out loud, bundled up under the single blanket on the couch out in the main room, taking turns with each chapter. Martin feels endlessly grateful to be able to sit and listen to Jon’s voice like this, after going without it for so long, and more than once he falls asleep to it, nearly always waking up with his head on Jon’s shoulder (and once or twice, fully in his lap). Jon does the same when Martin’s reading, and Martin marvels at how peaceful Jon looks when he sleeps, how much younger it makes him seem.
When the weather permits it, they go on walks and name the cows, or go into the village, where the locals have begun to recognize them, begun to ask how they are. Martin’s very sure that everyone they meet thinks he and Jon are a couple, and he’s quite sure that Jon is also aware of this, because he’s watched him go beet red when an older gentleman had asked him if they were on their honeymoon, and yet neither of them has said anything, either to confirm or correct it.
When the weather doesn’t permit it, which is more often than not, they stay inside, reading the same three books and making each other tea. They’ve come up with a sort of game that involves buying every variety of tea sold at the supermarket and surprising each other with new kinds. Jon particularly likes the lemongrass, so Martin’s slipped it in a few extra times, just to see the contentedness on Jon’s face when he takes his first sip.
It’s Jon’s turn, this time, so he’s in the kitchen while Martin is already under the blanket, thumbing through the Dickinson poems to find a satisfactory one to start off with. He has his knees curled up to his chest, and he props the book open on them, trying to keep his arms as covered up as possible while still turning the pages. It’s particularly cold today, even with the fireplace crackling, and it’s not long before Martin starts to shiver slightly.
He means to call out to Jon light-heartedly, tease him about whether or not he needs help reading the instructions, maybe, but when he looks up, the view out the window catches his eye, and he forgets to speak.
There’s a fog outside the window, so thick that it obscures everything. Martin can’t see the garden, or the big boulder that juts out of the ground like a pedestal, or the winding little driveway that leads down the hill to the road below. He can feel how dense it is even from inside, its milky whiteness all too familiar, and he feels a chill run down his spine that’s altogether unrelated to the temperature.
He wants to call for Jon, but his throat feels thick, and he can’t get his voice to work through it, so he sits there gaping at the window, his eyes glued to the nothingness of the fog. He’s unmoored, floating, as if he’s out there himself, and then there’s a hand on his shoulder, reining him back in. His face feels oddly wet, and he wonders for a moment if maybe he really did go outside for a bit and get rained on, before Jon reaches up and gently wipes the tears from his cheeks.
“Martin,” Jon says, and his voice grounds Martin further. He reaches out, and Jon reaches back, and the warmth of his body melts away the cold seeping in from the fog. Martin shivers against him, gathering his jumper in his fists a little desperately. Jon rubs his back, and Martin’s breathing steadies with the rhythm of it.
“I’m sorry,” they both say, at nearly the exact same time. Martin lets out a chuckle, thick and wet, and Jon says firmly, “You have nothing to apologize for,” and he shifts his head against Martin’s almost imperceptibly. Martin thinks Jon’s lips brush against the side of his hair. He has no way of being sure, so he forgets about it. (He can’t.)
He’s not sure how long Jon holds him, but eventually they pull apart, just enough to adjust so that they’re sitting up against one another, huddled underneath the one blanket, both curled up into balls so that their knees are a tangled mess between them. Jon plucks two cups of hot tea off the coffee table, and they both cradle them in their hands, holding them close enough for the warmth to reach their faces. Martin’s glasses begin to fog up from it, and he has to lower his, afraid of an encore of his performance.
“Can’t believe Daisy only has one blanket in here,” he says, shaky laughter in his voice, “and no heat.”
Jon laughs, softly, sweetly. It’s the most beautiful sound Martin’s ever heard.
“Maybe we should go get the duvet,” Martin muses, “or, or a weighted blanket or something. Erm, I think one of those would maybe be really good for me, actually.”
Jon is remarkably expressive when he’s comfortable. It’s been one of Martin’s favorite things he’s gotten to know, lately. He makes a small little hmm sound, thoughtful and considering without uttering a word. His eyebrows knit together, lips purse subtly. “I’ve never used one. I’m... not sure it would do much for me.”
“Yeah? Why’s that?” He drops a hand onto Jon’s knee, draws little circles there with his finger.
It doesn’t sound like Jon’s pulling teeth when he answers Martin’s questions, anymore. He sucks his bottom lip in a bit, gnaws on it as he thinks. “I feel a bit differently about—pressure, since the Buried.”
The rhythm of Martin’s heart does something that probably ought to be concerning, but only for a brief second. The smell of the tea wafts up toward him, and the heat from the mug flows into his hand, and he draws tiny circles on Jon’s knee, and he manages to keep himself tethered. “What was it like?” he asks, small, almost breathless.
Jon visibly struggles to find the words. “Close,” he finally says, scrunching his nose up as he does, like it still isn’t quite accurate. “I think—the worst parts weren’t when I couldn’t breathe. It was when it let up a bit, enough so that it was a, a comfortable pressure. Like a cocoon. Sometimes it felt like I could just… fall asleep.”
Martin hums. He’s not sure what to say. He’s not sure that there’s anything to say, and he doesn’t feel pressured to do so.
“We could look for one for you, of course,” Jon amends, then adds with a sigh, “I just don’t think I’d take it too well.”
“Is that something you Know?” There’s no accusation in his voice. Just a genuine curiosity, a desire to learn all the things about Jon that he’s missed.
Jon tilts his head to the side, parsing the question. “It’s hard to tell, when it’s about me.”
There’s a drawn-out silence, then. Martin spends it remembering the deep fear he’d felt—tried not to feel—when he’d learned Jon had gone into the coffin. The thought of him never coming out, of never being able to say goodbye, and the way it had nearly incapacitated him, had sent him to the corner of his lonely new office shaking and sobbing. “I put the tapes there.”
Jon’s eyebrows shoot up. “What?”
“On the coffin,” he clarifies.
Several moments pass before Jon’s face changes, slides from vague confusion to curiosity. “Why?”
Because I had to. Because I missed you. Because I needed you to get back safely. Because I love you.
Martin breathes deeply. “...I thought you might be lost.”
Jon takes a small, sudden breath. It’s too quiet for Martin to hear, but he can see his chest lift, ever so slightly, but quicker than it has been, and it stills for a moment before he exhales. His hand twitches on his mug, as if he’s thinking about moving it, perhaps over towards Martin, but he doesn’t. He just looks at him softly, his eyes warm and ardent. It feels like a long time before he speaks again.
“Why did you agree to work with Peter?”
The question takes Martin by surprise, although only in its specific timing. He knew this was coming, at some point. Besides, he knows he owes Jon answers. He knows it wasn’t easy for either of them. He steels himself.
“At first? I just didn’t care anymore. Everyone was gone, and I was alone.” Jon’s face does something heartbreaking that Martin doesn’t quite know how to process. He wants to look away, but he clutches his tea a little tighter and perseveres. He’s quite proud of how steady he manages to keep his voice. “But it… it changed when you woke up.” He holds Jon’s gaze. “After that, it was for you. To keep you safe.”
Jon smiles at him sadly. “And I charged off into coffins and corridors.”
“And you charged off into coffins and corridors.” Martin’s tone is fond. He harbors no anger toward Jon, no resentment. They were both alone, then. “I grieved for you, you know?”
This seems to catch Jon off-guard. He straightens up slightly and blinks. “S-sorry?”
“The coma. The… whatever it was. You were dead, really. All the doctors were sure you weren’t going to come back. Apparently when they found you, er, they didn’t even want to take you to hospital. The only person who didn’t seem to be concerned was Elias, which was… not exactly reassuring.” Martin attempts a small smile, but it must come across as sadly as it feels on his face, because Jon’s brows dip even closer together. “So I… I mourned for you. Because I thought—well, the longer I spent trying to hold onto hope that you would come back, and—and be you, the more it felt like I was kidding myself. And Basira and Melanie were really worried, which was uncomfortable—and mostly, it just… hurt. A lot.” He takes a deep breath. Inhale, exhale. “What I said… in the Lonely. About how I felt about you. I meant that.”
Jon looks like he’s been struck. All at once, Martin wishes that he could take back his words, or at least the last few, but there’s also a sudden relief, like he’s finally lifted a weight off his chest that he’d gotten so used to carrying he had forgotten to notice it at some point. And now without it, suddenly, he can breathe again—except Jon is sitting in front of him looking quite like he cannot, and it certainly doesn’t feel fantastic.
“So… yeah,” he adds, lamely, rubbing absently at his arm.
Jon stares despondently at him for another few moments before saying in a strangled voice, “Christ, Martin, I’m so sorry—”
“No, no,” Martin cuts in, because he can’t do this; he can hardly deal with his own emotions right now, let alone all of Jon’s, which he vaguely thinks may be selfish of him, but they’re in an odd place, and he’s pretty sure he needs to relearn how to be there for people before he can do it properly, consistently. “I’m trying to tell you, I—I did all of that already. It’s not like it was… your fault, or anything. You didn’t mean to die.” After a moment he adds, “Well, I—I don’t think.”
The little joke is lost on Jon, who rakes a hand through his hair, clearly still in distress. His eyes look almost frantic, which makes Martin’s stomach start to twist into a knot, and he opens his mouth to offer more reassurance, but Jon manages to get it out first: “Please, Martin, listen for a moment,” and anything Martin was about to say dies on his lips.
Jon is the one who takes a steadying breath, now, before saying, “I’m… sorry for treating you the way I did. And for so long. I was—well, frankly, I was awful to you, and you never deserved that. Any of it. And I… I know how you felt about me—”
“Jon, please, you really don’t need to—”
“—and Jesus, I’m sorry it’s taken me this goddamn long—”
“—in fact I’d really rather if you didn’t—”
“—because I know you don’t feel that way anymore, and—”
“—I really am begging you to—hold on, what?”
“—I just want you to know that’s—that’s alright, I understand why—”
“No, wait, Jon, wait—” Martin blinks at him owlishly. “What did you just say?”
Jon stares, openly confused. “That I… understand?”
Oh, Christ. “Before that. About me not feeling that way anymore.”
Jon blinks back. When he speaks, it’s slow and measured, like he’s still waiting to get it. “Yes, you—you had said ‘loved’. In the Lonely, you said you had loved me. Past tense.”
“Oh,” he says, and before he can stop it, he’s laughing. “Jon—”
Jon looks absolutely mortified now. “I don’t—”
Martin sucks in a desperate breath and forces his composure, running a hand down his face a little more forcefully than he needs to. “Jon, that was—I didn’t mean that.”
“...Oh.” Jon’s look of horror becomes crestfallen, and Martin scrambles.
“I meant—the past tense! I didn’t mean the past tense! Jesus,” he laughs again, breathlessly, “this is not how I pictured this—”
“You pictured this?”
“Not this, no,” Martin says, and there’s an overwhelming surge of warmth in his chest, “but—me telling you I love you.”
Jon is back to staring. Martin thinks he might go insane if this goes on any longer. “What?”
“I love you,” he repeats, a little firmer, and the words feel as natural as he’s always known they would. “I think that’s been obvious for a while, but I just figured—well, I thought when I finally told you, it’d be different. More… romantic. Or dramatic, maybe, I don’t know.”
Deafening silence is, Martin thinks, an awful cliche. Silence can be incredibly uncomfortable and thoroughly unsettling, he’s certainly experienced his fair share of unpleasant silences, but ‘deafening’ is not a word he would use for any of them. This silence, however, comes closest to earning it—it seems to swallow the end of Martin’s words, and even though it can only be a few long seconds that pass between them, it feels like hours of nothing but Martin’s blood rushing in his ears. And then, finally, Jon breaks it.
“...You love me?”
The disbelief in his voice is… unexpected. To say the least. Martin suppresses the urge to laugh again out of sheer incredulity and says instead, “As I said, I think that’s been rather obvious,” and to his credit, he manages to not even sound dry about it. “You—come on, Jon, there’s no way you didn’t know this.”
Jon opens his mouth, makes a sound that Martin assumes is an aborted attempt at speaking, then closes it again. As endearing as it is, it’s also agonizing, the amount of time it takes him to finally form words, but Martin waits. He’s gotten quite good at waiting for Jon. “I-I-I-I suppose I did? But—no, I—”
Jon exhales forcefully and drags a hand through his hair. It’s longer than it’s ever been, now. Martin’s sure he probably hasn’t gotten it cut since before he started working in the archives. He pointedly does not think about running his hands through it. “I knew you had—f-feelings for me before, but then… everything… lately, I thought—” He could say something, but Jon’s puzzling through it, like he always does. He’ll get there. Hopefully. “—and then the past tense—”
Jon gets up, suddenly, and starts to pace, and Martin leans back and watches, feeling unbearably fond. Jon takes a few steps, turns away from Martin, then turns back and raises a hand. He’s always gotten animated, when he’s frustrated, or close to working something out, which often is one and the same. It’s comforting, in a way, that there’s just as much about him that hasn’t changed. “So you—” He falters. His hand hangs in the air. “How long?”
Martin lets out a short exhale, soft and somewhere in the vicinity of a laugh. “Nearly the whole time.” This seems to alarm Jon a bit, because his shoulders fall a little lower and his eyes grow a little wider. Martin continues, “I mean, it was—it was a crush, at first. But it never went away. Especially not when—when we started talking, you know, for real.” He smiles fondly. “Once you stopped being a complete arse. I think I started warming up to you when you let me stay in the archives.”
“I see,” Jon says weakly, and looking very much like his knees might give out underneath him. Martin stands, then, closes the distance between them, and puts a hand on Jon’s forearm, which has fallen back down to his side. Jon looks at him with huge eyes, and Martin’s chest tightens, but he manages to follow through with leading Jon gently over to the couch. Sitting him down. Allowing his hand to rest on Jon’s arm for a few moments longer, before pulling it back (he tries not to regret that, and does not succeed).
They’re very close, now, sitting next to each other on this sofa, both of their chests rising and falling more intensely than sitting on a sofa and talking requires. Mostly sitting, because Jon has fallen silent, and seems to currently only be capable of staring at Martin with his eyes so large and his expression so open and vulnerable that it actually makes him look his age. It’s an incredible sight, and Martin’s not entirely sure how he manages to overcome it to speak again.
“What are you thinking?” he asks, because he wants to know, and he figures Jon could use the help. He can’t compel him, but he knows even a regular question can do the job, when you ask the right one.
Jon struggles visibly, his lips doing odd little movements as he works to form words. “I… could you say it one more time,” he says, finally, more of a statement than a question.
“I love you, Jon.”
Jon inhales sharply, and there’s a few moments where he holds his breath before exhaling, slow and careful. Martin can see the tension in his shoulders, leading down his arms and into his hands, which he’s pressing into anxious fists. Before he has time to reconsider, Martin reaches out, and he lays his hand on one of Jon’s. The nervous movement stops, and there’s a pause before Jon’s hand relaxes, and Martin slips his hand easily into Jon’s, and there it is.
They’ve held hands once before, when they were leaving the Lonely. It hadn’t registered then, not among everything else, the fog and the cold and then the chaos back at the Institute. It hadn’t registered in the adrenaline of running, the grief of realizing what they’d lost, the confusion of leaving in a hurry, heading for this house in the middle of nowhere. It somehow hadn’t registered, fully, in the days since they’d arrived, even in all the charged silences and the nights spent pressed up against each other, the soft looks and the easy jokes and the fond teasing, the briefest, shyest little touches and all the unspoken things, but it’s registering now, with the warmth of Jon’s hand in his, because it’s familiar. It’s right.
“Alright,” Jon says.
Martin knows Jon. He knows what kinds of things are hard for him, what things he has trouble saying. What things he has trouble hearing. He knows Jon’s body language, the way he winds up when he’s irritated or stressed, the way he softens only when he thinks no one else is paying attention. He knows Jon’s expressions, the guarded, intense face he wears when he’s drinking in information; he knows that to read Jonathan Sims all you need to do is look into his eyes, because he shrinks all of the emotions that he’s too afraid to feel and keeps them trapped there where he hopes no one will notice.
He knows Jon’s voice. He knows this newer tone, even, the quiet and gentle one, the one that’s sometimes sad, oftentimes resigned, and the one that right now is warm and accepting. Martin knows Jon, so he knows that Jon doesn’t just mean ‘alright’. He knows exactly what Jon’s ‘alright’ means.
He squeezes Jon’s hand.
Two days pass, and nothing changes.
They’d sat on the couch like that for a while, just being in each other’s presence. And then one of them had said something, something insignificant enough that Martin can’t recall who spoke first or what was said, and they got up, smiled at each other in a silent acknowledgment of the ground they’d just broken, and they’d carried on.
Around one in the afternoon, on the third day, Martin’s in the bedroom thumbing through a book he’d picked up their last time into town, and he hears a yelp from somewhere in the house, followed by an anguished “Martin!” He’s on his feet and out of the room in a split second, his heart racing, ready to find some horrible scene waiting for him when he turns the corner, and then—
Jon is crouched on top of the kitchen counter, staring wide-eyed down at the floor at a tiny, black dot.
Martin squats and peers at the dot, and it shifts a little, and he realizes it’s a very, very small spider. With a hint of a smile, he leans down and places his finger in front of the dot, and it panics at the sudden change of environment, scurrying up onto Martin’s hand. Jon makes a disgusted noise from above him, but Martin just turns and holds it away from him, putting more distance between Jon and the spider until he’s opening the front door and stepping outside, where he bends down and lets the spider off into the grass. It disappears, and he turns to go back into the house.
He’s just barely closed the door behind him when he nearly runs into Jon, who’s suddenly standing immediately in front of him, face flushed and eyes still huge, but not with fear. Before he knows what’s happening, Jon flings himself forward, and Martin is being kissed.
It’s not like how he’s imagined it, at first. Their noses knock together and his glasses press into his face and Jon’s leaning his weight on him in a weird, top-heavy way, and then without so much as a sound they adjust, and it’s better than Martin’s imagined; it’s like they were always meant to be kissing one another. The kiss deepens, and they find a rhythm to their breathing, and Jon’s arms are snaked around Martin’s waist, warm and gentle and relaxed. Martin takes the opportunity to push one of his own hands up into Jon’s hair, dragging his fingers along his scalp, reveling in the feeling of him. It’s safe, safer than the Lonely had ever felt, and Martin’s brain melts to nothing but the feeling of kissing Jonathan Sims.
After a while they pull apart, only enough to breathe, their foreheads still touching and chests heaving against one another. Jon breathes heavily, eyes still closed, and Martin drinks in every detail of his face—the little wrinkles, the soft, round scars; his lips, bright from just being kissed, the way they move when Jon says breathlessly, “I love you.”
Martin laughs, just a few quiet huffs, and he kisses Jon again.