“—a half-rate internet series that can’t even do their research right—”
“Oh, well, at least we actually do research! You just throw out anything you don’t personally agree with!”
“My degree attests to the reliability of my methods, and I should think that—”
“Oh, whoop de do, the Institute prettyboy has a degree!”
Jon froze mid-retort.
“What did you just call me?”
Melanie lazily gestured to Jon. “Pretty boy,” she drawled.
“Why do people keep calling me that?” Jon wondered aloud.
It was true he tended to put a certain amount of care in his appearance. It was only professional. His clothes were always pressed and stylish, he made sure to get his hair cut regularly, and he was aware he was handsome by most standards. Still, plenty of people were. And Tim, of all people, had called him “pretty.”
It was when they’d first met, as researchers. Jon let his mind wander back to that day.
He was perched precariously on a shelf, feet braced against some cardboard boxes, one hand holding scissors and the other reaching for a piece of paper just out of his grasp. No one had bothered to tell him where the ladders were in this area, and he wasn’t about to let height stop him. If he let height stop him, he would have succumbed to natural selection long ago.
“That seems unsafe.”
Jon looked down to see a rather tall, dark, and handsome man grinning up at him. He clenched the scissors defiantly.
“I know what I’m doing,” he responded acerbically.
“Wouldn’t want to scratch up that pretty face,” the man replied. “Why don’t you hand those scissors back to me.”
Jon was pretty. It was an undeniable fact that Tim had learned to live with. The man was insufferable and rude and not sexy at all, not even in a rat kinda way, but he was pretty. His lips curved in a gentle bow, his eyes had all the allure of polished mahogany, his jaw was delicate, his cheekbones could cut glass, his hair looked soft and impeccably styled...well, he wasn’t nearly as attractive as Tim himself, but he was pretty.
So it was a bit of a shock when Jon came back to the Archives after his trip abroad. He looked like a different man altogether. His shirt hung off his shoulders like a pillowcase. His sharp jawline now just made him look starving. He wasn’t even trying to pull off the scars and wounds that now wound across his skin—skin that, despite Nikola’s best efforts, was oily. Before Prentiss, Jon had offhandedly mentioned his skincare routine. Whatever it was, he obviously wasn’t keeping up with it. His hair was longer and shaggy, and Tim was pretty sure he had to check the bags under his eyes when he went on the plane.
Jon’s physical features hadn’t changed, but he was long past trying to take care of himself. It was a bit of a relief, really. Made it easier to resent the man.
“Okay,” Melanie said, her voice a bit slurred. “Who’s the hottest employee of the Archives?”
Basira shrugged. “I mean, we’re obviously both gonna say you.”
Melanie rolled her eyes. “We’re all lesbians here. I mean, who’s the prettiest.”
“Hm.” Daisy took a slow sip of her apple juice. “Tim’s the hottest, Jon’s the prettiest, Martin’s the most dateable.”
“Agreed,” Basira said, already well on her way to being properly drunk, although her steady voice didn’t show it. Her tendency to sound more and more academic the more wasted she got had been a godsend during her college days. “Not to be a hetero, but I’d let Martin cuddle me.”
Daisy shook her head in disapproval.
“Jon is kinda pretty,” Melanie mused. “For a dick, that is.”
“At least he’s not Elias,” Daisy sighed.
“Oh, God,” Basira groaned. “Don’t even mention that. I don’t want to think about—”
“What Elias looks like shirtless?” Melanie provided. She cackled in cruel joy at how Basira recoiled from the thought.
“Jon would be pretty if he combed his hair,” Daisy said.
“He used to,” Melanie told her. “Before, you know, the worms and all that. And being falsely accused of murder. He was a real specimen. Still is, I suppose, if you’re into that sort of thing.”
“Martin is,” Daisy said.
Elias was having quite a hard time keeping up with 21st century standards, but he was fairly confident that Jon fit the one that meant “pretty.”
He was the kind of man that poets used to write about before their untimely death of tuberculosis. Perhaps Elias would have been one of them, once upon a time. Men who admired pretty men from afar, spilling tepid words onto a page. But Elias was long past that.
In any case, no one would write poetry about the man Jon was now. Scarred, lank, greasy. He’d totally let himself go, in Elias’s opinion—he’d stopped keeping track of Jon’s dress code violations, though he had allowed himself the indulgence of staring a bit too long at the moth-eaten band t-shirt Jon had taken to wearing.
If Jon just chose to Look, he could See what he should be doing to make himself look presentable. Elias tutted. Really, there was no excuse. Even if Jon was hesitant to use his powers, he had Netflix. Queer Eye was perfectly within his reach.
Jon knew he wasn’t pretty. People used to describe him as such, but that was before his face and body bore countless marks of years of exhaustion and fear. He looked in the mirror and saw a machine whose owner had very much voided the warranty.
He didn’t much like people seeing him shirtless. Never had, even before his ribs were crisscrossed with pockmarked scars and two of them were missing. He didn’t much like people looking at him too close, close enough to see all the imperfections he’d wrought through neglect and overwork. For all the seeing he did, he sure didn’t like being seen. It was too vulnerable. Too naked.
He laid himself bare for Martin in a heartbeat, though, and Martin’s eyes shone like they were gazing on the most beautiful sunset to ever grace the sky.
Mornings at the safehouse were languid and slow. When they weren’t torn out of sleep by some nightmare, they woke up at their own pace.
By the time they both opened their eyes, the sun was well and truly up. Jon simply stayed snuggled under the duvet, Martin’s arms wrapped comfortingly around him, and relished the warmth. Martin’s chin rested atop his head, and Jon hummed with contentment into his collarbone.
Martin was apparently already awake, as he responded to Jon’s hum by wrapping him tighter in his arms. There was no place Jon would rather be.
Martin pulled back and scanned Jon’s face. His lips curved up gently at the corners, and Jon drank his smile like a desert wanderer drinks water.
“Pretty,” Martin murmured, tracing his thumb over Jon’s lips.
Jon felt heat rise in his cheeks. He buried his face in Martin’s chest.
“You’re just saying that,” he muttered.
“You’re pretty,” Martin repeated. “You’re beautiful.”
“Stop it.” Jon’s fingers curled into Martin’s arms.
Martin kissed the top of Jon’s head. Jon was grateful he’d gone back to showering regularly.
“I’m not,” Jon continued.
Martin pulled back again, propping himself up on an elbow. He traced Jon’s face and torso with a slow look.
“How do you figure?” Martin asked. “Because I think you’re the most gorgeous man in the universe.”
“I-I-” Jon gestured to his face, his neck, his chest, the canvas on which the avatars had made their marks. “Look at me, Martin.”
“I have. It’s one of my favorite things to do.”
“I mean, I haven’t exactly been taking care of myself. And all these scars…”
Martin leaned in and pressed a kiss to Jon’s cheek. And another. And another. Jon realized he was kissing all the round scars. Then he moved to Jon’s neck, and Jon couldn’t help the noise he made when Martin’s lips touched the nick at his pulse point.
“I think they’re beautiful,” Martin murmured into Jon’s skin. “I think you’re beautiful.”
Jon made a little noise of denial.
“Look at me, Jon,” Martin said. “Look at yourself through my eyes.”
Jon did, and he Saw. He Saw a beautiful man who looked exactly like himself and realized that was him. Him, unaltered, unfiltered. Just a man who Martin loved with his entire heart. A piece of art Martin saw as a masterwork, despite its burns.
Jon gasped involuntarily. He was Seen, and despite that, Martin still loved him. Loved him enough to stay.
Martin took Jon’s burned hand and placed a kiss as delicate as a moth’s wing to his palms. That was what melted Jon—Martin turning a mark of despair and pain into a declaration of love so pure and fierce it made Jude Perry’s fire into a matchstick.
He took Martin’s face in his hands and kissed him again and again and again. Martin dissolved into giggles as Jon bowled him over onto his back and pressed his lips against his neck.
Jon realized with a little jolt that he was happy. Really, truly, happy. If the rest of his life was nothing but this, well, that would just be paradise.
He’d found happiness, after all. And it sure was a pretty sight, he thought, as Martin grinned up at him with shining eyes and freckles like stars.
Love was a beautiful thing.