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every good intention (is interpretation)

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It starts on the train, Martin decides.

If he really wanted to be pedantic about it, he might say it started earlier: maybe in the Lonely, where he’d stupidly professed everything in a haze of numbness, and Jon in return had showered him with words and looks and touches, all with enough softness that it’s still difficult for Martin to think about directly without going to pieces. Or even earlier: perhaps just after Prentiss’ attack, when Martin’s feelings of looming guilt had coalesced with his juvenile crush and started that slide, gradual and irreversible, into the boundless mess of feelings he’s living with now.

But that’s besides the point, Martin would say. The real, concrete start of it, the place where he’d put his finger on the timeline if absolutely pressed, is on the train.

London transport is notoriously terrible, as Martin can firmly attest. He’s lived in London for many, many years and, like every Londoner, he has had the grim fact of London's terrible transport system ground into him over time, as finely as the soot and grit from the Underground itself. It's not a new fact to him. What is new to him is the unpleasant knowledge that the rest of Britain's infrastructure is just as bad, which is why he and Jon - despite Jon's leg and his cane and the eight-hour length of the journey ahead of them - have ended up squeezed shoulder to shoulder in the vestibule on the London-Edinburgh train, together with what seems like approximately half of Newcastle.

Jon's bearing up as well as he can, given that they can't even reach the seating area to ask people to move so he can sit and take the weight off his bad leg. Nor is there any room for him to walk about or stretch. While the conductor's tinny voice blares out apologies overhead about overcrowding and the Falcons' away match, Martin's tried to fashion him a sort of half-sitting, half-leaning monstrosity of a pile out of their assorted bags and suitcases whilst attempting to avoid injuring any bystanders in the process. Despite single square foot of space he's working with, he does get it so that Jon can wedge a hip in and take some of the pressure off his leg. But it is far from an ideal situation, to say the least.

Looking at Jon, pinched and ashen, Martin bites his lip.

"Sorry," he says, and when Jon just grunts, he says helpfully, "At least it's not all the way."

Jon breathes out slowly. It seems to help: at least, the little, omnipresent wrinkle between his eyebrows looks like it's relaxed a bit.

"I know," he says, and then, with a deprecating huff of laughter, "Well, just all the way to the border, I suppose, but. Thanks. For the, uh, luggage."

"No problem," says Martin, a little too brightly, and resists the ridiculous urge to give him a thumbs up.

He finds that he’s been fighting stupid urges like that more and more often over the past day and a half. Because the glaring issue that the more nervous and stupid parts of his brain keep relentlessly trying to fix, of course, is that it feels like there's been a gap of some kind between the two of them ever since they’d dropped hands after leaving that beach, and he can't for the life of him think of anything to say that will bridge it.

Starting a conversation about anything other than what they'd said and done in the Lonely feels wrong, like they’d be belittling it or minimising it somehow. But they've managed to go a whole day or more by now without managing to exchange a single word about it, and Martin isn't really sure where to go from here.

And it's stupid, in a lot of ways, he knows that - after all, they're leaving London covertly, probably under suspicion of murder, and neither of them have any idea where Daisy or the Not-thing or the hunters are. But after everything that's happened, it feels reassuring and good and right to be worrying about where he stands with Jon, in the same worn, familiar way he's been doing for much of the last four years, in a way that he thinks is helping him skate over the worst of it. After all, he's been clinging to the thought of Jon like a fucking lifeline for longer than he'd really care to remember, and there's no real reason he can think of to stop now.

The problem is that he's not entirely sure what to do with Jon now they're here: standing next to each other, on this crowded, noisy train, trying fruitlessly to figure out what to say. And he doesn't think Jon does, either.

In the Lonely, Jon seemed to be full of a purpose and conviction so strong that it swept Martin up in it, enough to overpower whatever hold Peter had in that place; enough not just to save Martin, but to make him feel safe. Untouchable. Wanted, even – and that in and of itself is more than a minor miracle. But when Martin looks at Jon now, he seems – not unsure, exactly, and he's still newly and heartstoppingly gentle in ways Martin doesn't know how to think about: it's more that he's somehow just missing that spark of unyielding determination.

So as far as Martin can bring himself to think about it, it's not that they've missed some kind of window; more that it feels like they were hurtling towards something, and outside of that life-or-death situation they've lost that momentum. And Martin doesn't know how to work his way back to that space, short of stumbling into another realm of nightmare fears and hoping that Jon will pull him out again.

Because the unfortunate and undeniable fact, of course, is that Martin has spent the last six months learning how to repress every emotion like the world depended on it, and that’s not the kind of thing you can undo overnight, as much as he wants to. So the chances of him being able to articulate anything other than awkward attempts to break the ice or the bare practicalities of what they're doing – they’re low enough to be off the table, at least for the moment. And Jon, in his turn, is – being Jon about things as usual, which is a particular brand of stiff and desperate formality that never quite manages to mask whatever heart-breaking emotion of the week Jon's struggling with. Although at least now it's tempered – at least, as far as Martin can tell – with a genuine veneer of peace and happiness that Martin's not seen in Jon for as long as he can remember. Maybe ever.

That is, admittedly, reassuring in ways that make Martin’s heart hurt. But it still hasn't helped either of them broach the subject that Martin both desperately wants to talk about and cannot bring himself to open up to: the reckless and devastating potential of the feelings he'd admitted to Jon in the Lonely and what, exactly, Jon plans to do now he knows about it.

But he doesn't have the first clue where to start. So until he has any bright ideas, there's not really a lot left for him to do but keep a worried eye on Jon – which if he's totally honest, sometimes feels like all he does, for one reason or another. But it's refreshing to have an overcrowded train be their biggest problem, and he thinks Jon thinks so too: he's in surprisingly good spirits for a bad pain day, and he hasn't gone for the cigarette stash in his inside pocket once.

This is, of course, an optimism unable to stand up to the sheer power of National Rail's grinding incompetency. By the time they reach Darlington, the crowds still haven't lessened and Jon is beginning to look very grey indeed, although he gives Martin a small, tight smile whenever Martin meets his eye.

"Do you think," says Martin carefully, in the end, "that you would classify this train journey as the work of the Spiral or the Buried? Because I am – I’m convinced, at this point, that Virgin Trains has to be patronised by one of them. I just can't decide which."

Jon, miracle of miracles, lets out an actual laugh. The worried pit in the bottom of Martin's stomach lessens somewhat.

"God – the, uh. Spiral, I’d say, for sure. I would absolutely classify all this as maddening," he says, and Martin thinks he looks surprised at how easy he finds it to joke about.

For a moment, they just smile at each other. Then Jon slumps into their suitcases a little bit and motions to a small bag next to Martin's elbow. He sighs.

"Can you unzip that front pocket?" he says, and there is an unmistakable note of exhaustion in his voice. "Grab the headphones? I'm afraid I – I could do with a bit of distraction."

It takes a minute of careful manoeuvring, but he manages to extract the headphones and offer them up to Jon, who takes them with a grimace of thanks. Plugging in the jack, he holds out a bud to Martin. And after a only a brief moment of pleased surprise, Martin takes it.

As Jon bows his head to scroll through his phone, Martin spots a flash of white at the nape of his neck: the tag of his jumper is sticking out.

Martin says, "Oh, hang on." He reaches down, absent-mindedly, to tuck it in.

The moment his fingers touch Jon's neck, Jon gives an unmistakable little shiver, and he flushes. Martin freezes for a moment. Then, heart in his throat, he carefully continues tucking the tag under the collar of Jon’s jumper, his fingers sliding against Jon’s skin. He watches as Jon ducks his head to smile at him and flushes darker. It's a little, abashed grin that makes his stomach spike in a series of sharp, tender jerks: both newly thrilling and, because it's Jon, and Martin has been gone on him since the fucking dawn of time, sweetly familiar.

Emboldened by something deep inside him that he hasn’t got a name for, Martin brushes his thumb gently across the nape of Jon’s neck. Jon pushes back against it, equally as gently, and his smile widens.

Helplessly, Martin gives him a nervous, happy grin and pulls his hand back. He doesn’t know what else to do. He keeps expecting Jon to say or do something to defuse the situation, but Jon just keeps looking at him with the same charged, heart-felt earnestness as he did on the beach, and in the end it's up to Martin to look away, fumbling with the headphone. The image of Jon’s little smile, he thinks, is going to haunt him for the foreseeable future.

Carefully, still a little breathless, he slips the headphone in his ear. The opening strains of some podcast or other slip through after a moment: Martin couldn’t tell what it is. If he’s being honest, the chances of being able to pay enough attention to it are now slim to none. After a second, he hears Jon settle back onto the luggage next to him, taking a deep breath. Martin feels the inches between them like they’re miles.

So they stand like that all the way to Newcastle, where the train blessedly empties like an upturned bucket. When the vestibule’s finally clear, Jon slips out from next to him to stretch his legs with a sigh of relief. Martin, feeling slightly unbalanced, grabs his suitcase while Jon wheels his own through to the seating area, which is now almost comically empty. There's two seats next to each other a few rows in: Martin follows Jon as he makes a beeline for them.

Jon proffers Martin his cane to hold, seemingly absent-mindedly, as he tucks a backpack into the overhead luggage rack. And then, as Martin’s fingers fold around it, he immediately covers Martin’s hand with his own and gives it a gentle, purposeful squeeze.

The feeling of Jon's fingers over his sends Martin’s heartrate rocketing through the roof. A moment too late, he realises he's staring at the point where their hands are touching and he looks up into Jon's face to see Jon looking back at him with a small, sweetly satisfied grin. If Martin really had to describe it, he'd say it's the most self-conscious smirk he's ever seen. The unexpected Jonness of it is a devastating blow to Martin's higher thought processes.

Clearly aware of what, exactly, the touch of his hand is doing to Martin’s insides, and more than clearly pleased, Jon gives Martin's hand one last squeeze before swinging himself down into the window seat. Numbly, Martin folds up Jon's cane and sinks down next to him. He can still feel the pressure of Jon's fingers over his, but when he shoots a look over, Jon is looking innocently out the window. Martin can still see the ghost of a flush staining his cheeks.

That's when it starts.

 


 

The rest of that day they fall into a state that Martin can only describe as unmitigated warfare.

When they finally arrive at Edinburgh, Jon briefly rests a hand on Martin's hip while they’re stepping off the carriage, and Martin stumbles and knocks his head on the door. As they're at the crossing opposite the station, waiting for the light to turn green, Martin carefully tucks an errant lock of Jon's hair behind his ear and all of Jon's breath seems to leave his body. They both, at the same time, link their fingers together over the spare seat in the taxi - but that only lasts for a few seconds before Martin has to pull away, nervous and overwhelmed. Jon's already withdrawing his own hand, rubbing it unconsciously as he does so like Martin's touch has left some kind of physical mark. Watching him, the mindlessness and intensity of his movement, Martin finds it a little hard to breathe.

They’re standing entirely too close to each other in front of the hotel desk when the clerk asks them whether they’d like a double, twin, or two singles, and Martin absolutely bottles it.

‘Uh,’ he says, at exactly the same time as Jon says, ‘Oh.’

Admittedly, part of it is because he’d leaned into Jon’s side when they approached the desk in an attempt to get him to flush again, and – although  it was an overwhelming success on that part – standing so close to Jon is kind of messing with his ability to think straight. But most of what it comes down to, again, is the fact that they’ve gone this long without having that conversation about where they are and what they’d done in the Lonely. If he’d like to be confident, he’d say that this seems like the kind of decision that directly hinges on a conversation about that.

Except, of course, that although this is obviously a problem that’s been playing on Martin’s mind, he doesn’t think that standing in public in front of this poor underpaid hotel worker, having been silent for the last ten seconds while trying to figure out whether or not the tone in Jon’s voice when he’d said he knew the way home means that he wants to share a – room, is exactly the place that they should be working on that.

Jon definitely seems to think so too, if his continued silence is anything to go by. When Martin sneaks him a look, he is staring determinedly at the rubber tip of his walking stick as if it contains secrets heretofore unknown to man or beast. No help there then, Martin thinks, and enjoys the familiar moment of fond exasperation he feels.

The clerk clears her throat, not unkindly.

‘Uh, twin, please,’ says Martin decidedly, and tries very hard not to think about it as any kind of a step back in where things are going between them.

But then he looks at the continuing flush on Jon’s cheeks and the way that Jon is finally looking up to meet his eye as the clerk hands over the key – a little apologetic smile playing on his lips, one that kills him just as much as every other smile Jon’s given him over the past 36 hours. He feels the little thrill that runs through him when considering why, exactly, a question about where they’d be sleeping has got Jon so flustered.

Maybe it’s not, he thinks.

 


 

Edinburgh is beautiful. Martin thinks so, anyway: it’s historical in a way that London often tries to hide, like it’s grown naturally out of the landscape where London has bullied its way steadily towards modernity. Martin’s never been very much of a big traveller – born in London, lived in London, never had much cause or money to go outside it – and being somewhere else relaxes him, even just in the sense that being able to look up and see somewhere new reminds him that there is, in fact, a world outside the Archives.

After they’d dropped their bags off, Jon had suggested going out for a while – he’d said, apologetically, that he wouldn’t be up to much wandering, but they could take in a couple of streets at least and maybe find somewhere to eat dinner. Martin had agreed, hesitantly.

It is a strange feeling, being out amongst people after so long tucked away in the Lonely. Not that he hadn’t left the Institute physically more often than the others – he thinks they were mostly all sleeping there, from snatched conversations with Basira – but Martin’s experiences of London over the past six months had mostly been the walk to and from the District Line, eyes on the ground as much as possible, and he doesn’t think that really counts. So it’s kind of nerve-wracking, stepping out onto the street for no reason other than to try to fully be somewhere, with someone. The noise of the streets and the people around them ebb and flow like water as Martin struggles to take it all in.

But Jon seems determined to experience the streets and shops as widely as he can, despite the late hour - and if he’s set on bringing Martin with him, who is Martin to deny him that. He doesn’t seem to mind Martin tagging a little too close as they wander, and Martin’s happy to let him think it’s part of the little game they’ve been playing since the train, if it makes being outside easier to bear.

And it does help, a little, but only insofar as it starts to make Martin a little wistful for what this trip could have been if they weren’t coming off – well, literally everything that’s happened to them over the past four years, but mostly all those months he was preparing for the Lonely and then the time he’d spent inside it. In the heart of him, he’s an easy mark for all things old and loved and full of history, and it’s a shame that he’s here, now – in a beautiful old city, with nothing hanging over his head but the sweet tension of the way he feels for Jon – and he’s still just a little too close to the Lonely to be able to fully appreciate it.

“I’d like to come back,” he admits, when they’re peering through the window of a little curio shop together, tucked into a darkened side street. “Sometime. When we’re – when I’m – better.”

It’s half an observation, half an invitation: embellished by the hand that he slips around Jon’s waist to rest gently over his hip. He thinks Jon understands, because he just flushes a little and blinks several times. When he meets Martin’s eye in the window’s reflection, they look at each other for a long moment.

“Alright,” Jon says, eventually, ducking his shoulders. He sounds quietly, intensely happy, like he’s answering the question Martin hasn’t asked aloud. “Al – alright.”

 


 

There’s a heavy silence that falls when Martin swings open the door to the hotel room. He and Jon had been cheerfully, almost giddily verbose during dinner – a little sitdown meal in some small Thai place, when Martin had nervously volunteered a preference for Pad See Ew, trying to remember what it was like to have an opinion on what to eat – but it drops further and further away the closer they get back to their hotel.

By the time they’re standing in the lift again, Jon drooping tiredly against the wall, they’ve passed into a peaceful and contented quiet together. Martin’s swinging his hand at his side in little circles as the lift rises, just close enough to Jon to brush their fingers together. Jon’s got his eyes closed but there’s a small smile playing around his mouth that Martin can just make out, and when Martin misses on one turn he crooks his fingers out just an inch so they can brush again on the next swing.

It’s a peaceable quiet that changes immediately when they open the hotel room. He’s not sure why, exactly. And he’s not sure that Jon does either. But trying to read his facial expressions would involve looking at him, and Martin has been trying as hard as he can not to do that from the moment he’d stepped into the room. It makes getting ready for bed fairly difficult, but he does it anyway. Mostly by fussing pointlessly with his washbag until he hears the soft click of Jon setting his cane against the bedside table, and then fleeing to the bathroom to change, but a success nonetheless.

It's not about the expectations of it, he thinks, as he slides under his sheets. Jon's already turned away in the other bed, a vague shape under the duvet, and Martin takes the opportunity to spare one fond, aching glance before he turns out the light. None of it's been about those kind of expectations, for a long time: he's heard enough of what Jon has and hasn't said over the years - that, and enough of what's been said around the Archives - to put some of those pieces together. Although he doesn't want to assume, he's comfortable with that being a conversation they have far in the future. If they ever have it at all.

It's the intimacy of it, somehow, of the dark. To being close to someone, and falling asleep near to them: a kind of trust and vulnerability that which Martin would never have appreciated four years ago. And honestly, for everything that’s happened in those four years, it’s strange that he can still appreciate the dark in the way he does. But he likes the way that things can be more of themselves without the light to put a real shape to them – dangers more dangerous, strangeness more strange. Truths more true.

Or less, in a lot of ways. The familiar made strange and the strange familiar, he thinks, remembering those dark twisting tunnels and how he and Tim had been so sure of the way, all the way up until they weren’t anymore. The heat with which he’d spoken to Tim, a fire and a surety in the dark that at that point he’d had trouble finding in the light. The way that, in the dark, known could be made different. The scared made brave, he thinks, and it’s a thought that emboldens him.

“Thanks,” he says, quietly and to the ceiling, but it's loud enough that he thinks Jon should hear him. “For – for everything. Thank you.”

And it’s not everything he wants to say, not nearly, but it’s a start.

Jon doesn’t say anything back: Martin isn’t sure whether he’s already asleep. But when he rolls over, Jon is looking right back at him, silently, curled up on his side with his hair loose against the sheets. Martin can see the expression on his face in the light of the streelamp outside: it’s calm and relaxed, and it makes something inside Martin loosen up just to see it. He almost doesn’t recognise Jon’s face when it’s not dented in a scowl or taut with fear or in a mask of worry. It makes him feel – hopeful.

Across the room from him, Jon extends a hand towards him across the mattress, still looking at him with that calm, peaceful expression. Not quite an invitation – a suggestion – it ends up resting gently on the edge of the bed, palm down.

Hesitantly, Martin mimics him. And if he closes his eyes, he can pretend they’ve bridged the gap. That they’re almost touching.

Somewhere in the middle of imagining it – his fingers against Jon’s, a breath, a heartbeat away – he falls asleep.

 


 

He’s not sure how much sleep Jon gets that night, because he falls asleep on the coach the next day almost immediately, his head dropped over onto Martin’s shoulder. This means that Martin spends the whole trip being as still as he possibly can – for four straight hours, trying not to wake him. By the end, his back is in agony. Jon, of course, repays him by trailing his hand all the way along the top of Martin’s shoulders when he reaches for their bags in the overhead luggage compartment, which, of course, makes Martin’s knees go fucking weak.

But it’s okay, because when they’re asking for directions in the local post office, he puts a hand on top of Jon’s where it’s resting on the desk, and Jon immediately loses his train of thought halfway through a question and has to start again. When they’re walking away, scribbled directions in hand, he shoots Martin an unconvincing look of disapproval over the top of his glasses. Martin doesn’t try particularly hard to hide how pleased this makes him.

The safehouse is a charming little thing, nestled at the head of a valley maybe ten minutes’ walk away from the village. There’s one wooden stile in the way, which Jon graces with a few imaginative curses, but apart from that it’s a dry September and a fairly flat track so it turns out to be a pleasant and beautiful walk. Or at least, Martin thinks so, anyway. When he stops in the middle of a field, just to take it in, Jon turns to look at him.

“It’s so clear, here,” he tries to explain. That’s not quite it, but he doesn’t exactly know how to put into words how heartening it is to look out at the grassy, rocky hills beyond, to be able to see for maybe a kilometre or more. After London – after the fog – it’s immeasurably reassuring.

Jon eyes him with an inscrutable expression.

“Do you feel – good?” he asks, like he can’t find the words either. There’s a quiet intensity to the way he says it, enough that Martin knows there’s something underneath it.

If Jon can’t put the words to it, he certainly can’t, so he just nods. But that seems to be enough for Jon, or more so: when he laces his fingers with Martin’s as they set off down the track again, it seems to make him almost as nervous and happy as it makes Martin, so he chalks it up to a win for both of them.

That’s the tone of the next few days, all in all. Daisy’s safehouse takes only a little settling into – throwing some windows open to let in the fresh autumn air, cleaning off the dusty surfaces, unpacking into the rickety chests of drawers in the two little bedrooms. Martin particularly enjoys collecting all the weaponry from various parts of the house to pile on the living room coffee table, like in a weird reversal of what his grandmother’s cat used to do: Jon raises an eyebrow when he sees it and snorts.

“Successful hunt?” he deadpans. When Martin laughs in response, the rusty and unpractised sound of it surprises him.

Like he’s forgotten how, he thinks absent-mindedly, and then with a spike of shock he realises that he may genuinely have forgotten. If pressed, he thinks, he wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the last time he laughed. Maybe not even in the last year.

When Jon looks up at him, he must sense something’s up, because he lifts an eyebrow in a wordless question.

“I – uh. Can’t remember the last time I did that,” Martin admits, and he hears how the way he’s trying too hard to downplay it makes it sound all the more tragic. “It felt good, though. Nice.”

The look on Jon’s face is a little bit heartbroken, a little bit hopeful. He reaches out a hand to press Martin’s briefly.

There is a lot of that, as well. They spend the first couple of days getting acquainted with the house and then the village – Martin makes a lifelong friend in the lady who runs the local pub when he admits that he once got very deep into trying to learn Scottish Gaelic after a short-lived Julie Fowlis obsession, and she laughs at his poor nasalisations and corrects his butchered mutations during the course of their short conversation. It’s rusty, at first, getting used to being around people again – like laughing, it’s something he didn’t realise he could lose the skill of until he’d lost it - but there’s a little of the sweet joy he used to get at meeting someone new when she laughingly calls, Mar sin leat, mo shasannach beag! as he walks out the door.

And all the time, all the while, he and Jon are touching: little presses to the shoulder, briefly touching hands as they walk along, Jon stepping in a little too close, Martin making any excuse he can to brush Jon’s arms or hair or face. Martin thinks it might lose its charm after a while but it’s a thrill, every time, like a sensory reminder that Jon’s still here, still choosing to be here with him. And everything else that might entail.

On the third morning, Jon’s having a good enough pain day that they decide together to take a little hike into the surrounding hills, although he does fold his stick up into his backpack just in case. Inevitably, they get lost: Martin will maintain until his dying day that they were doing fine until Jon veered off to get a closer look at a waterfall in the distance, while Jon loudly complains about Martin’s supposed inability to read maps properly, and they fight about it for about half a mile until Martin is bent over and breathless with laughter.

Jon finally gets them directions from a less-than-impressed young farmer on a quad bike on some land that is almost definitely not on any public footpath: he seems actively resentful of the way that both Jon and Martin are so clearly charmed by his highland cattle, but he does at least point them in the right direction. Following his instructions, they manage to make it back to the house before the sun sets, if only just. Martin doesn't realise they've been holding hands until Jon has to untangle himself to find the keys in his bag: if pressed, he couldn't say when they'd started. Standing by Jon, just watching him absent-mindedly rummage through his pockets, Martin feels a lightness in his heart so big and bright he thinks he might lift off the ground.

And after dinner they kind of just sprawl out in the living room in front of the fire Jon builds, in the contented exhaustion that only really comes from having thoroughly worn yourself out. Martin’s keeping an eye on Jon in case he’d like Martin to go for his cane or the pain relief gel he keeps in his bag, but he seems okay: albeit maybe in the way that he sometimes gets when he’s just waiting for the consequences of overexertion to hit him. It’s difficult for Martin to tell sometimes.

Jon has an acute inability to sit normally in a chair like a regular person, but he’s at least conceded to sitting on some cushions that he’s grabbed off the sofa instead of directly on the freezing floor. He’s got them pulled up against the bottom of the sofa and he’s leaning up against Martin’s legs where Martin’s sitting on the sofa, one leg stretched out across the carpet, rummaging through a box of board games that had previously been stashed haphazardly under the coffee table.

Martin’s flicking idly through an old magazine when Jon, hands covered in dust, blows back a lock of hair in irritation.

“Can you fix that?” he says, and Martin leans forward to tuck it carefully behind his ear with hands that are only slightly shaky. When his fingers trace the shell of Jon’s ear, Jon lets out a low, pleased hum. Martin, emboldened, runs his hands through Jon’s hair a little until Jon leans forward to pull out the hairpins that are keeping his hair swept up at the sides. He leans his head back against Martin’s knees in a clear invitation.

That’s how Martin ends up plaiting it, combing his fingers through it before braiding it loosely to one side. His mother used to let him do the same, when she was younger and when things were easier, and it’s maybe the first time since her death that thinking of her hasn’t just hurt. In the wake of what Elias had done to him, he’d almost forgotten that there were good moments too. It’s not like it makes any of the rest of it easier to bear, exactly, and it certainly doesn’t make him feel completely happy or comfortable: it’s just another thing for him to consider, further on down the line.

When he’s done, he taps Jon on the shoulder gently and Jon pulls it around to admire it. He twists to give Martin a small, grateful smile.

“Thanks," he says, softly and happily, and then, "By the way. I – uh, I won’t be up to much tomorrow, after today. Don't - I'm okay now," he adds hurriedly, when Martin's face starts to make some very complicated maneouvres of worried sympathy. "Mostly. It's just - it feels like we walked ten miles today. And that’s probably going to be me wiped out for all of tomorrow, I’m afraid, so I’d prefer to stay in the house if possible.”

Martin shrugs, relaxing.

“It’s all the same to me,” he says, and he almost has to swallow the, “if I’m with you”, that bubbles up carelessly after.

It’s not that it’s not true. It’s just that maybe it’s a little too true, if there’s things that they still have to talk about. Or, one thing that they still have to talk about. Regardless, he thinks Jon hears it anyway: he flushes a little, and then he climbs onto the sofa next to Martin to sink into the cushions next to him. There’s a hesitancy and precision to his movements around Martin that make him feel – treasured, almost, in the care that Jon’s taking not to jostle him.

It’s almost funny, actually. Partially because Jon is small enough that he probably couldn’t jostle Martin if he tried, and also because the way he tucks himself up against Martin’s side is more disruptive to Martin’s entire being than any push or shove might be, and he thinks Jon knows it. The little satisfied sigh he gives seems to suggest so.

Martin regrets very much having to wake Jon for bed half an hour later, and he thinks Jon does too, if the dishevelled, disgruntled look on his face is anything to go by. When Martin gently chides him, he pushes his head back into the sofa and grumbles an incoherent complaint, which Martin loves – that Jon’s comfortable and content enough to be this open around him now. It makes him feel a little giddy, a little stupid. And that’s maybe the reason why he leans forward without thinking and, with a little grunt of exertion, scoops Jon up into his arms.

Automatically, Jon wraps an arm around Martin’s neck and grabs Martin’s elbow with his other. His eyes are wide with shock.

“Oh,” he says, very, very quietly, on an exhale, and then his whole body softens against Martin’s chest.

He is more flushed than Martin has ever seen him before – almost more flushed than Martin would have said is possible – and Martin is delighted beyond words. For a brief second, he lowers Jon’s legs a little so that Jon can slip off easily if he wants to, but Jon just tightens his arm around Martin’s neck and looks steadily past Martin’s ear towards the opposite wall.

In fact, Jon puts more effort into avoiding meeting his eye as Martin carries him carefully down the corridor to his bedroom than he ever did when they both first joined the Archives, which Martin is willing to attest is an astounding achievement. He himself is busy trying to catalogue, very carefully, every single part of Jon letting him do this – the soft swoop of air Jon had taken when Martin had first lifted him, how tightly he’d held around Martin’s shoulders when Martin had stooped to grab his cane. How cool and soft his hair was when Martin had cupped his head as they’d passed through the door, mindful of the frame.

Jon shows no inclination of wanting to get down when Martin stops carefully outside his door, and Martin is only too happy to indulge him. When he feels Jon’s other hand press carefully over his chest, he gathers Jon in a little tighter, mindful of his leg. Jon blows out a long, soft breath. He leans their heads together.

The shocked, open look is still on Jon’s face when Martin eventually releases him. It will, he thinks, stay with him for a long time. Jon doesn’t move from the standing position where Martin carefully deposits him, even when Martin presses his cane into his hand and gently steps back in the direction of his own bedroom.

“’Night, Jon,” he says, in as innocent a tone as he can possibly muster, and as he turns for the door, he thinks he sees Jon starting to smile.

He is, when he falls asleep that night, perhaps the happiest he might say he can ever remember being.

 


 

When Martin wakes the next morning, he immediately knows that something's wrong.

But he tries, anyway, to sit up and swing his legs out of bed like it’s a normal morning. When he can’t even will his hands to push the duvet from off his chest, that’s the first real confirmation. When instead of shock or fear he’s expecting, he touches onto the edge of deep, almost endless numbness inside of him, that’s the second.

It’s not as straightforward as not being able to get out of bed, he thinks, distantly. It’s more like he can’t bring himself to want to get out of his bed: like it belongs to a part of his brain that he can no longer access. Like being back in the fog, there’s a very real sense of sense of detachment: as if he’s floating out in space, somehow, and everything inside him that he recognises as himself is far enough away as to make it impossible to reach.

He can hear Jon moving around in the kitchen next door. The part of him that suggests he might be able to keep Jon from knowing loses out extremely quickly to the part of him which knows that something very bad is happening. When he tries to call out for Jon, nothing comes out but a weak, breathless little croak. So he throws out one arm wildly in a broad swing against the bedside lamp, hoping that the noise of it falling will bring Jon’s attention.

Martin’s best effort is still clumsy enough that the lamp doesn’t fall all the way over, but when it bounces off the opposite wall instead, the sound it makes is loud enough that he can hear Jon’s footsteps stop and then start to move in the direction of the corridor. After Martin’s brief flash of relief comes an absolute kaleidoscope of truly horrible feelings, one after another after another. He gives himself only one second to sink into itguilt, shame, stupidity, helplessness, and a kind of dread and vulnerability more cutting than anything he’s ever known before – and then he shoves it back down into the numbness, hard, so he can focus on being as presentable and non-worrying as possible for when Jon arrives.

Because Martin’s life is the way it is, it doesn’t work. By the time Jon peers around the door, the tears are sliding silently down Martin’s face thicker and faster than he even knew he could cry. He manages to catch a glimpse of Jon’s face – happy, he thinks, stupidly, heartbreakingly happy, leaning on his cane, carrying a mug of tea in one hand and carefully holding in his mouth the corner of a paper bag that’s just starting to grease with pastry sugar – before Jon seems to register what’s going on.

It’s almost gratifying, Martin thinks, that he would say he has rarely seen Jon look more horrified – which, given the context of their lives in general up to this point, really must say something about the way that Martin’s looking right now. He doesn’t even take the time to lean his cane up against the table when he reaches Martin’s bedside: he just lets it fall to the floor with a clatter as he climbs onto the duvet next to Martin. He takes only a moment to twist around and dump the pastry and the mug unceremoniously onto the table, hot tea slopping carelessly over the rim. And then, without a second of hesitation, he reaches for Martin.

As Jon’s arms close around him, Martin slides down towards Jon’s thin chest with a feeling of inexpressible relief. When they collide, Jon instantly tucks Martin’s head up under his chin and pulls Martin closer against him. Heedless of how wet his face is, Martin shoves his face into Jon’s neck with an almost primal urge for contact and Jon slips his arm around a little tighter to support him.

He doesn’t say a word. Martin doesn’t know if he wants him to: part of him thinks he’s had enough of silence, over the past few months, but all the same he feels like if either of them break it, then he’ll stop treading the numbness that’s been thundering over him in waves and he’ll drown. And anyway, they’ve been doing pretty well without saying words the past three days. Or at least, Martin would like to think so.

Besides, it’s not like Jon’s gestures and expressions aren’t speaking volumes for him. It’s almost funny to think about the way that Jon used to be, stoic to a fault, when nowadays he’s the most open book Martin knows. Case in point: when Martin turns his head to look upwards, Jon’s eyes are lightly closed and his entire face is drawn like he’s in pain, bending down towards Martin. Something about the way he looks so nakedly distressed, like he’s not expecting Martin to see – it sends a little spike of pain through the numbness that’s still clouding everything Martin’s feeling.

But after a deep, steadying breath, Jon starts to move them together a little: kicking off his shoes, rearranging them together on Martin’s pillows and tugging Martin over onto his chest. Listlessly, Martin mostly just lets himself be moved. Jon makes a little noise when Martin pushes his face directly into Jon’s chest, but he doesn’t otherwise protest.

It’s a funny thing, Martin thinks. He knows, of course, that he loves Jon. Messily, helplessly, but as best and as undemandingly as he can, he loves Jon. It’s been one of the tragic cornerstones of his increasingly tragic life for the past four, entire years: an old friend at this point, one he knows the size and shape and feel of from years of carrying it from one catastrophe to the next, all the way through the wreckage of what their lives used to be.

So when he feels Jon carefully tucking the hem of the duvet up over his shoulder – firm but gentle, painstakingly smoothing the edge into the ridge of his collarbone – and he looks at the way Jon’s face is set in a firm little frown, like what he’s doing is the most important task in the world, it’s almost affronting for him to realise that it is, in fact, possible to love Jon more.

Martin had made peace a long time ago – by necessity, he’d thought at the time – with the simple fact that Jon was never going to share the same – the same feelings for him. And despite all the recent, tentative developments, he’s still never really anticipated just how it might feel to be able to sit within the evidence of Jon’s regard and just take it in. Because being witness to Jon’s tenderness like this – it’s not something he’s ever really seen before, not directed at him or at anyone else. He’s almost ashamed of how surprising it is to him, to really understand for the first time the depths to which Jon is capable of making him feel. To be cared for.

He tightens his arms, minutely and wordlessly, across Jon’s chest. It’s all he can do.

Jon drops his head a little lower against Martin's, and he sighs.

They spend most of the rest of the day like that: Martin resting, exhausted, up against Jon’s chest, while Jon plays around on his phone or skims through the books that Martin’s left on the bedside table. That he’s willing to stay so still for so long is a surprise to Martin: on any other day Jon is restless enough to make Martin antsy by proxy, but he seems fairly content to lay still and let Martin just lean on him. Occasionally, he’ll get up to stretch or to fetch some water or some food. Martin can’t really bring himself to eat anything, but he’ll take occasional sips from Jon’s glass when he offers, and Jon doesn’t push it.

By the time the sun starts setting outside, Martin feels empty in a whole different way: boneless and drained, but peaceful with it. At this point Jon is entirely absorbed in one of Martin’s David Gemmell novels – this despite the disgusted little wrinkle of his nose, which is telling Martin he is not impressed – and he’s running his spare hand thoughtlessly through Martin’s hair as he reads, which makes Martin feel warm inside almost to the point of tears. Tucked into the curve of his shoulder, Martin watches comfortably and distantly as over the next hour or so, the book starts to slip further and further out of Jon’s grip and his head tips back against the pillow.

There are many things Martin thinks he’d like to say about the curve of Jon’s throat, but he’s been having a hard time with poetry since he met Peter Lukas. So he contents himself with trying to test his movements again, to see if he can get up and return the favour of making Jon comfortable.

There’s a small moment when he first tries to move himself where he’s terrified that he still won’t be able to, and the relief that rushes through him when he finds he can extend an arm to push the duvet off them both is powerful enough to be overwhelming. He will admit that the slowness with which he slips out from under Jon’s arm only has slightly to do with the stiffness he’s feeling in all his limbs, and more to do with the little irrational fear he’s nursing that he’s going to hit a movement, somehow, somewhere, that he won’t be able to do, and then he’ll get stuck all over again. But he slides out of bed and gets to the loo and comes back and takes Jon’s glasses off all without any trouble, so he has to content himself with believing, for now, that he’s past the worst.

Jon doesn’t entirely wake up as Martin arranges him into a more comfortable position, but he does shift a little to let Martin tug him down the bed so he’s lying comfortably, and he capitulates easily to letting Martin lift his head so Martin can tuck a pillow under it. And then heartbreakingly, when Martin briefly presses their foreheads together after slipping back onto the bed, he clutches onto Martin’s pyjama sleeves in a grip that only tightens when Martin starts to move away.

Martin had been planning on going to sleep over on the other side of the bed, just to give Jon some space – just in case. But Jon seems determined to make that impossible, if his iron grasp on Martin’s sleeve is anything to go by. Heart in his throat, Martin settles down an inch or two away under the covers instead, and tries to pretend to himself that lying this close next to Jon in the dark is completely no big deal and normal and regular and that he should just relax and go to sleep with no problems whatsoever, thrilled and reassured by how easy it feels to be this flustered.

Unheeding of all Martin’s efforts to keep a respectful distance and also of his general desperate attemps to stay relaxed, Jon immediately rolls closer, drapes one arm over him and sighs. It is a sound that, given the immediate circumstances, makes him feel a little bit like he’s been shot in the chest.

After just a moment of panicked happiness, Martin carefully and purposefully puts all that to one side in favour of just looking at Jon to make sure that he’s as comfortable as Martin can make him. And admittedly, he looks snug enough – although it doesn’t feel like much to him, really, in comparison to what Jon has done in just being there for him unquestioningly for twelve or thirteen fucking hours, doing at least something for Jon in return does make him feel a little better. If nothing else, it’s a step towards what Martin finds himself really wanting to do, going forward, with a determination he feels down to his bones: making Jon feel as cared for as Martin has felt since the moment Jon stepped through the door this morning, now he knows how it can feel. If Jon wants that. If Jon will let him.

Jon’s arm tightens around him. Gently, Martin folds his own arm over Jon’s ribcage, and lets Jon’s sigh of response wash over him.

 


 

The next morning, Martin wakes early. Jon’s still next to him, turned away and flung out over the other side of the bed in sleep, and Martin allows himself a maximum of five seconds to just look at him and think all the stupid, heartbreakingly sincere thoughts he wants about how Jon looks and how it makes him feel and how happy he is to be here.

He's aware, as soon as he steps outside the room and no longer has looking at Jon to distract him, that there's a very large part of him that still doesn’t feel great, but at least it feels now like he's out the other side of something instead of stuck in the middle of it. Having a shower and a shave helps, and making breakfast. As does Jon shambling through the kitchen door, yawning, after about half an hour. He gives Martin a small, sleepy smile of a greeting that makes Martin blush, and wanders over to bother him about tea.

Martin would like, if at all possible, to leave what happened the day before in the day before, but he also doesn’t want to pretend it never happened at all. Jon deserves a little more than that, he thinks. So when he passes Jon a mug, he also touches Jon’s jaw with one hand and presses a quick kiss to Jon’s other cheek.

It’s meant in a completely different way to the little game they’ve been playing with each other this whole time – not that anything Martin’s done so far has been insincere, at all, more that there’s a direct gratitude and appreciation behind the kiss that Martin doesn’t want to get lost in whatever they’re doing together. But, he thinks, it wouldn’t have made too much of a difference, really, if Jon had taken it in the same way he’s taken every other gesture Martin’s made over the past few days – warmly but playfully; smiling, flushing, maybe pushing back a little. After all, it’s all shades from the same palette of Martin’s hopeless adoration.

Jon doesn’t do any of those things. Clearly awake now, he blinks twice, slowly, like he’s just processing it. And then he takes Martin’s hand with his own free one and, very seriously, he turns it palm up and presses his own mouth to it with his lips closed. When he raises his eyes to meet Martin’s gaze, the look in his eyes is nothing so much as it is a kind of helpless, determined respect.

For Martin, it is quietly and unexpectedly devastating.

Martin is used to being wrecked by Jonathan Sims, in more ways than he’d care to admit. The embarrassment of pretending not to hear the open disdain of someone you still can’t help but admire; the fear of watching someone you care for start to lose themselves. The unrelenting grief of losing someone you love. And then, after all that, the worst of it: the hopeless numbness of having to hurt someone who’s rapidly become the foundation of your fucking world in order to keep them safe. If there’s a checklist out there of ways to be hurt by someone then Martin has, over the past four years, been making a depressingly determined effort to mark off as many as he can.

Being wrecked by Jon’s deliberate reverence hits in an entirely unexpected way. If Jon’s not-at-all casual touches were – destabilising, perhaps, is how Martin would categorise them – then Jon’s unapologetic respect is world-shaking. Not least because there’s still a part of Martin, and he thinks there always will be, that’s standing in a corner of the Archives basement, listening to Jon dress down his work ethic in a blistering tirade to Tim, not even bothering to look around and check if Martin’s within earshot.

So many times over the past few days, he’s looked at Jon and seen a stranger: the Jon he used to be, always a step away from curling his lip in disdain and turning away without a word. And he’s felt a stab of shame about it, every time, because if Jon’s done anything over the past four days, it has been to make sure as far as he can, without words, that Martin feels safe and well and – loved. He thinks of the way that Jon had smoothed the covers up around his shoulders yesterday, his face set and quiet and determined like nothing else mattered in the world apart from Martin’s comfort. And even now, undeniably, here Jon is: bringing the hand he’s just kissed up to his own cheek to lean into it, closing his eyes to let out a quiet sigh.

Martin used to lie on his cot down in Document Storage and dream about fixing it things for everyone: he’d be cool and collected and knowledgeable about all the important things, and he’d figure out Jane Prentiss and save the day. In his most secret daydreams, Sasha would clap him on the back and Tim would be impressed and Jon – Jon would apologise and tell Martin he’d been wrong about him all along.

It was never anything more than just a dream, even before Sasha died and Tim got so angry, so bitter and twisted up inside himself that he stopped being able to really see anyone else. Martin’s got enough self-awareness to know that he is who he is, and he thinks, after all this time, he’s been pretty good about letting most of that go. It’s not that he’s changed into the person he’s always wanted to be, that cool collected self who always does the right thing: more like he’s come to terms with who he is and the knowledge that there’s not much he can do to change it. But he never quite let go of wanting that apology from Jon, even if he’s accepted that he’s never going to get it.

But it can be enough that it feels like Jon sees him now, if he wants it to be. He thinks, maybe, it was never about an apology as much as it was about Jon acknowledging him as he is, as enough. If he wants to, if he lets it, that in and of itself can be an apology. In a lot of ways, he thinks – and the thought makes him breathless - they’re beyond that now anyway.

Jon, still looking at him, does not let go of his hand. And when Martin tugs him closer, he comes.

 


 

It’s different between them, somehow, after that. Like something’s shifted without either of them having said a word. That feeling that Martin had been worrying about, that the things they’d said and done in the Lonely were hanging over them – it’s gone, at least as far as Martin’s concerned. He wonders at what point over the last 24 hours he stopped thinking about that conversation as something that lay ahead of them, and started treating it like something that already happened. And he feels strangely calm about all of it.

Because he and Jon are constantly close, constantly touching now, almost helplessly, and it’s completely different from all the ways it’s been so far. There’s a moment when he releases Jon from their short embrace in the kitchen that he thinks maybe that’s it – that they’ve both expressed what they wanted to and it’ll go back to the two of them, separately, and those brief, heart-stopping little brushes – but then Jon follows him over to the sink and wraps his arms around Martin’s chest from behind, and Martin thinks, oh. When he reaches up a hand to cover Jon’s where it’s resting over his ribs, Jon leans his head against the top of Martin’s back, and he sighs. Martin feels it run all the way through him like a shiver.

And after that, he stops worrying. It’s a strange feeling. For the first time since he’s really been conscious of his feelings for Jon, he doesn’t have to hold back from all the ways he wants to be close. He’s constantly catching himself catching himself: like letting himself be close to Jon is something he needs to settle into, to learn how to do. Being able to tell himself it’s ok to curl into Jon, to catch him into an embrace, to lean into Jon and wrap an arm around his waist - it's a high he thinks he’ll be chasing for as long as Jon will let him. And Jon seems to feel the same way: determined not to be hesitant, wanting to be as close as possible. There’s a familiar marked purpose to the way he moves around Martin, the way he'll gather Martin close – deliberate and careful, like he's putting thought into every movement. The obvious care of it almost brings Martin to tears.

It’s how they spend the whole day, more or less: close. Jon curling up next to him on the sofa as he reads, tucking himself neatly into Martin's side; Martin making dinner one-handed, his other arm tight around Jon's waist; Jon reaching up to embrace him as they chat about the village - apropos of nothing, just to be a little closer. It’s a contradictory experience for Martin, in so many aspects. The terrifying thrill of how new it all is, the buoyancy of how happy he feels, and the comfort of how right it seems: as natural as breathing, and endlessly sweeter, and all of it without them really saying a word.

But Jon still looks like he’s waiting for a storm to break, sometimes: like the peace that Martin’s feeling hasn’t quite reached him yet. Martin sees flashes of it on his face, every now and then, and he doesn’t know what to do with that, except to wait for Jon to bring it up on his own.

Which he does, all of a sudden, when they’re piled up comfortably together next to the fire in the evening – standing up suddenly and then closing his mouth like he’s forgotten what he was going to say.

“I-“ he blurts out, and then he presses his knuckles to his eyes in abject frustration. “God. Christ. Why can’t I say it?

Martin just looks up at him. For a brief moment, just looking at him, he’s struck by a sense of understanding and purpose unlike anything he’s really felt before, and the words that fall out don’t feel like a choice as much as a kind of the end point of everything he’s ever done for Jon: like an inevitability. As natural as breathing, he thinks, even though his heart is still pounding.

“You mean, I love you?” he says, calmly.

How effortless it is to say, after everything. It doesn’t really even feel like it takes any bravery, in the end, like he might have expected - just the kind of determined acceptance that comes with taking a step into something you’ve always known is coming.

It doesn't seem to help Jon, though: he makes a little wounded sound and drops gently back to his knees, leaning into Martin's side. When Martin, frowning, reaches out to rest a palm against his cheek, he sags tiredly into it.

“I’m sorry,” he says, and he really does sound heartbroken. "It's not - that I don't, it's just - I’m not good at this, at talking about things. God, what an irony. I just - I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know how to do this.”

“Neither do I,” Martin says, as softly as he can. “But I – I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it so far, all things considered. I mean, unless - unless you have any regrets.”

Jon grimaces against Martin’s palm.

“God, no. Please believe me, it's not that. It’s just – I don’t want you to think that I don’t, just because I can’t–“

When he breaks off, Martin smiles.

“It’s okay if we don’t say it,” he says, and it feels like he’s never said anything more true. “Jon, I don’t expect you to, and at this point I really don’t need you to.”

Jon turns his head to say something incomprehensible and miserable-sounding into Martin’s palm and Martin laughs.

“It’s okay,” he says again. “Jon, it really is. I mean it. You don’t have to, if you can’t. Or if you don’t want to. Ever. I don’t want to take anything from you that you don’t want to give, and I don’t need you to say it out loud. I know. And I’ve – I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been more than happy so far. With what’s been happening, I mean. With the way we've been - saying things. If you want to, we – we can just do what we’ve been doing.”

For a brief second Jon still looks fairly miserable, and then he gives Martin a small, pained smile. It seems to take a lot of effort, but it’s there. And then, after a moment, he takes a deep breath and drops his shoulders: relieved and delighted, Martin watches his whole face relax as the side of his mouth draws up into a joyful, unmistakable smirk.

“Oh?” Jon says, straightening up. He sounds both a little breathless and utterly, hopelessly fond in a way Martin recognises completely - almost, Martin thinks giddily, almost like he's in love. “So, uh… what have we been doing?”

It takes a second for Martin to catch on. Then, thrilled, he cautiously slides his hand down to meet Jon’s, palm against palm. When he slips his fingers in between Jon’s and squeezes, Jon closes his eyes like he’s savouring it, just for a second. Martin grins.

“I think it went something like this,” he says. He congratulates himself very hard for keeping his voice steady.

“Is – is that all?” says Jon, his whole face starting to screw up like he’s fighting a grin.

Martin quirks his eyebrow, heart hammering in his chest. He raises his other hand to push aside Jon’s fringe, running his fingers through Jon’s hair and down behind his ear, landing on the rounded edge of Jon’s jaw.

Jon inhales sharply and closes his eyes. He’s smiling widely now, big and bright and beautiful, mirroring Martin’s own helpless grin, and Martin – Martin fucking loves him. He loves him.

“Anything – anything else?” says Jon, definitely breathless by now, just a little touch of nervousness in his voice. Martin’s pre-occupied in brushing a thumb over his cheek: every time it touches the corner of Jon’s mouth, Jon’s eyelids flutter.

“I’ve only got two hands,” he says quietly, after a moment. There’s a warm, bright feeling flooding through his chest – nervous and comfortable, relaxed and thrilled, all at the same time.  “I – hm. Suggestions?”

Jon reaches a hand up to cover Martin’s where it’s resting on his cheek. Gently, he pulls Martin down so that their foreheads are touching. Martin closes his eyes and lets himself get lost in it: the closeness of Jon, the breathless vastness of his own feelings, like he’s tipped over some edge and is waiting, endlessly, to reach the ground.

“Surprise me,” Jon breathes, and he’s still smiling when Martin kisses him.

 


 

Later that night, when they’re curled up in bed together – Jon tucked firmly into the curve of his chest, one hand hooked over Martin's shoulder and buried in his hair – Martin is busy trying to sink into the feeling of everywhere they're touching when he realises Jon’s eyes are open, staring into the middle distance. He looks a little worried.

Carefully, he pulls back a little so he can tuck a knuckle under Jon’s chin to lift it. When Jon meets his eye, he hums a quiet question sound.

“You know, don’t you?” Jon says, twisting his mouth into a grimace. He looks away. “I mean, we never actually clarified it. But it’s important to me, regardless of whether I can actually say it. I-I need to make sure that you know.”

He's running his hand gently and repeatedly through the shaggy mess of Martin’s hair as he talks, so naturally Martin’s not even sure if he’s aware that he’s doing it. Martin thinks about the shape and weight of the feeling it brings up inside him, the way it does every time Jon touches him now - big and bright and strong enough to fill him all the way up. He doesn’t need to ask what Jon’s talking about.

“Oh, Jon,” he says, and he lets the weight of four long years of love – of fondness and exasperation and devotion and everything in between – drop heavy into that one syllable. “I know. You already told me.”