That first night, stumbling tired and bleary through the door of Martin's flat, they gripped each other's hands tight enough to hurt.
"It's not much," were the first words out of Martin's mouth, and Jon burst out laughing at how perfectly cliché and Martin it was.
When he pulled himself together, gasping a last few quiet giggles into Martin's jacket where he leaned on his shoulder, Martin was looking at him with an amused expression.
He coughed. "It's- it's fine, Martin. It's a lovely flat."
"You've barely seen it."
"And yet you're already apologizing for it." Martin flushed, and Jon smiled, drinking in the sight. Just to have him here was a small - or, perhaps, not so small - miracle; to have him warm and flustered and happy was a blessing Jon still couldn't quite believe.
"I, uh, I don't have a guest room."
"Oh." Jon hadn't really considered sleeping arrangements. This had been the safest place for the two of them to run after getting out of the Institute: his own flat had been empty for months, and Basira had her own plans. He didn't exactly like the idea of Martin being out of his sight, but... "I can sleep on the couch."
Martin was silent for a startled moment, and Jon had a second to wonder if he had misinterpreted something. Then: "No, Jon, it's- it's fine, you're a guest, you should take the bed."
Jon frowned. “No, you take it, it's your bed." He steeled himself for the possible fallout from his next sentence. Perhaps even the implication of what he was suggesting would be overstepping some unspoken boundary. "If, if we’re not sharing, you should have the bed.”
Martin’s hand twitched in his own, and Jon tightened his grip. “I… I mean, we could share." His voice was hesitant, hopeful. "If, if you don’t mind.”
Jon let out a relieved breath. He had misinterpreted, then. Martin's previous comment had been an invitation. “Honestly, I would prefer to share. If you’re… amenable to it.”
“Yeah, Jon.” Martin laughed a little, the sound hitching slightly. “Yeah, I… I don’t want to be alone.”
Jon nodded, squeezing Martin's hand again. “Me neither.”
They made a hasty meal of canned soup that was just barely on the safe side of its expiration date before collapsing into the bed, exhausted. Martin's head brushed Jon's shoulder as he flopped over, and Jon hesitated a moment before reaching out a hand.
"Yeah." Martin sighed, eyes drifting closed as Jon ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his face. Neither of them had had the energy to shower, so Martin's hair was still tangled with sea salt and sweat, but Jon didn't mind. He cupped his hand around the side of Martin's head, holding him still while he bent down to kiss those tangles, and pretended he didn't hear the choking noise Martin made at that, like a barely-repressed sob.
After a minute, Martin spoke again. "Jon?" His voice was thick.
Martin sat up, pulling away from Jon's hand for a moment before reaching back and lacing their fingers together. Jon followed him, sitting up and leaning back against the headboard. Martin took a deep breath before continuing.
"It's... something I said. In- in the Lon- in there." Jon waited, letting him get his thoughts sorted. "I didn't mean- ...I love you. I still love you. I never stopped." His voice was breaking around the edges as he said it, fragile and wounded. "I need you to know-"
"Martin-" Jon lunged forward, wrapping his arms securely around Martin's shoulders to hold him close. Martin muffled the beginnings of another sob into his shoulder. "I know. It's okay, I know, Martin, I know."
He did. Even without the way they clung to each other, the words and looks they had exchanged, (the passionate snog they'd had in the tunnels after getting back to the real world, Jon thought with a flush), he would know. He had heard it in the soft sorrow of Martin's voice when he confessed to the past tense, and seen it in the relief that filled every line of his body when Jon finally broke through to him. He knew.
It was nice to hear it confirmed, though.
He held Martin through his shaking, as the sobs and whispered I love yous trailed off into silence. He buried a few tears of his own in Martin's hair, and kissed him gently on the cheek when he pulled back.
Martin nodded, swiping at his face with his sleeve to clear the tears.
"Yeah. Th- thank you."
"Martin..." Jon leaned forward, kissing him again - on the lips this time, and he felt Martin smile against him. "Let's go to sleep. It's been a long day."
Martin curled into his side as they laid back, and Jon fell asleep to the soft sound of his breathing, echoes of that confession still circling through his head.
It wasn't until the morning that he realized he'd never said it back.
The second night found them still at Martin's flat, waiting on Basira's go-ahead to leave the city. She had a much better idea of what was going on at the Institute than they did, and had taken charge of the 'team strategy' - as she called it - with alacrity. Jon had murmured to Martin that she was probably trying to distract herself, and he was disinclined to disagree.
They didn't hesitate to fall into bed together, that second night. Martin spent a long moment fluffing the pillows behind his head, face turned away from Jon to hide the stupid grin he knew he was wearing. They had spent the whole day together, talking over everything from favorite foods to the fate of the world. He'd practically glued himself to Jon's side, and Jon had clung to him in return with just as much enthusiasm - and he loved Jon, and Jon loved him back.
It was unbelievable, and unbelievably amazing.
So Martin was grinning like a lovestruck fool, which was appropriate because he was one, and when he finally sat back against his newly fluffy pillows and grabbed his phone from the nightstand to catch up on a few webcomics he'd been neglecting he took a moment to just stare at Jon, sitting next to him. The bed was plenty big enough for two - a purchase made in hope when Martin first moved in, which had never lived up to its potential until yesterday. He hadn't minded sleeping alone, per say, but this was much, much better.
Jon was sitting with his hands in his lap, fingers fiddling with the blankets and a slight frown on his face. He glanced over at Martin, met his eyes for a moment, then looked away, flushing.
Martin set his phone back on the nightstand. "Everything alright?"
Another quick glance, and Jon leaned slightly in Martin's direction. "Can I...?" Then he shook his head, bit his lip, and hunched his shoulders. "Nevermind, you're, uh, you're reading. It's not important."
Martin frowned. "I was going to, but I don't have to. What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Jon laughed a bit, rubbing his hands over his arms. "Like I said, it's not important. Not worth interrupting. I'm, uh, I'm going to go to sleep, okay? Will you turn off the light when you're done?"
"Jon." Martin reached out a hand, laying it on his shoulder. Jon leaned into the touch immediately, like he'd been doing every time Martin touched him that day, and... oh. He took the hand away, and for a moment Jon looked like he was going to chase after the touch, move to Martin's side of the bed and cling again... then he straightened, running a hand over the spot Martin had touched and not meeting his eyes.
Martin thought back. At least ninety percent of the contact over the day had been from him initiating; Jon always responded well, sinking into the touch with something akin to relief, but he didn't seek it out. Martin had assumed he just wasn't a terribly physically affectionate person - which, honestly, wasn't that much of a surprise - but this looked more like... hesitation.
Martin tilted his head to the side. "Jon, do you want a hug?"
That got a smile from him. Jon chuckled. "I'm not a four year old, Martin, honestly."
"Yeah, I know," Martin said. "You just look like you want a hug. And you look like you're waiting for me to tell you it's okay."
Jon frowned, but didn't reply.
"You don't have to, you know. Wait, that is. You're allowed to just... get into my space."
Jon just looked at him. Martin raised his eyebrows.
"Whenever you want. You don't have to wait for me to initiate. You're not going to... to annoy me, or anything. Even if you're interrupting something. I like being close to you."
Jon frowned at him for a moment longer, then slowly, carefully, scooted forward under the covers until his shoulder was pressed against Martin's. Martin grinned, looping his arm around Jon's shoulders and pulling him even closer. Jon let out a breath, tension draining from him as he slumped into Martin's embrace.
"See? Easy as anything."
There was silence for a moment. Then Jon sighed. "It's not, though. Personal space is... I've never been comfortable..." another sigh. "I've never had someone give me permission like this. It's always been a battle to figure out the line between affectionate and clingy."
Something tugged in Martin's chest, drawing a soft look into his eyes. "There's nothing wrong with wanting to be near the people you care about, Jon. That doesn't make you clingy."
"I suppose." Jon pressed his face into Martin's shoulder, then raised his head to kiss him. It was quick, hesitant; Martin followed as Jon pulled his head away, kissing him again, putting as much adoration behind it as he could. The idea that Jon might think Martin would get tired of being close to him... it was almost too much to handle.
Jon's eyes were closed when Martin finally pulled back, and he watched as the serene expression gradually slid away to be replaced by another frown.
"Everything alright?" he asked again.
"How am I supposed to know when it's the right time?" The words were soft, and Martin wasn't even sure if Jon was aware he'd spoken them aloud. Then his eyes flicked open, fixing on Martin's, and a hint of a plea entered his voice. "How do I know when it's appropriate?"
"Showing affection?" Martin's turn to frown, now. "I mean, in public I guess you just have to make sure you're not going to be bothering anyone. PDA, you know. But here..." he shrugged. "Any time is appropriate, I'd say. It's just us."
"But..." Jon bit his lip, looking away. "How do I know when it's the right time to tell you I-" he choked on the end of the sentence.
"Tell me what, Jon?"
"I-" Jon clenched his jaw, frustration writ large across his face. "This kind of thing, I don't- don't think to- but you need to know, Martin, I- Martin-" His voice broke on the word, and-
Oh. Oh. Jon was trying to say I love you.
Jon was trying to say I love you, and he was so overwhelmed that he couldn't even get the words out. Martin was briefly overcome with a wave of fondness for this ridiculous, adorable, disaster of a man; then he shook his head, focusing on the problem at hand.
“Jon." Martin shifted the way he was sitting, placing both hands on Jon's shoulders and leaning in to press a quick kiss to his forehead. "Calm down. You know how you said you knew, last night? When I told you?" That frown was still tugging around Jon's lips, but he nodded. Martin smiled. "Well… I know too. It’s okay. You don’t have to say it. I love you too.”
Jon’s eyes welled with sudden tears. “Martin.” He lurched forward, throwing his arms around Martin’s shoulders and burying his face in his neck. “Martin.”
Martin let out a soft oof as Jon fell into him, lifting his arms on instinct to return the hug. Jon's shoulders hitched, and he kept repeating Martin's name as if it was the only word he knew.
Later, when Martin was dozing still wrapped in Jon's arms, he felt the other man lean over to press a kiss to his cheek. Cheek kisses, he was beginning to realize, were something he was going to be getting a lot of.
"I'm sorry." Jon whispered, and Martin twitched, not quite awake but aware enough to burrow closer to him. "I'll tell you soon." His arms tightened, drawing Martin closer, and he released a long breath on a sigh. "Martin..."
Maybe it wasn't your classic three-word declaration, and maybe Martin should be bothered by that. But there was more love packed into those two syllables than could be expressed in a thousand declarations, and the only worry on his mind as he drifted off to sleep was that Jon still seemed irrationally guilty over it.
Hotel beds were smaller, and less comfortable, but safer according to Basira. Jon didn't dare doubt her.
Martin's shoulder was warm against his. They were pressed together, side by side under the covers in the darkness. Jon was half-asleep; he could feel small movements next to him as Martin tried to get comfortable, but it was not enough to stop the exhaustion creeping up on him.
Martin's hand found his under the sheets, squeezing gently. Not enough to wake Jon, if he had been fully asleep; as it was he curled his fingers slightly to acknowledge the contact without opening his eyes.
He drifted off, for a few minutes or an hour, and woke to find Martin letting go of his hand. His fingers trailed over Jon's burn scars toward his wrist; then, delicately and deliberately, wrapped around it. Jon took a moment to process the new sensation. Martin's palm was pressed against the back of his wrist, and a single finger curled around to the front to rest against the point just below his thumb.
It took him a moment to realize Martin was checking his pulse.
Jon stirred, taking a deep breath and stretching his free hand out across the mattress to shake off some of his lethargy. "Martin?" He kept his voice soft.
"Yeah, Jon?" Martin matched him for softness. His hand tightened slightly, wrapping the rest of his fingers around Jon's wrist in a more secure grip. The one against his pulse point stayed where it was.
"Yeah, just... couldn't sleep. Didn't mean to wake you." There was something restrained about his voice. Jon frowned in the darkness.
"You're checking my pulse."
"Oh." Martin went completely still next to him. Jon turned over on his side, making sure to not tug his wrist out of Martin's grip, and finally committed to wakefulness enough to open his eyes. Martin was the barest silhouette in the darkness, curly hair and a round cheek outlined against the faint light in the room.
"I don't mind, Martin. I'm just curious."
"Right." Martin let out a breath, sinking a little deeper into the mattress as he relaxed slightly. "It's just- I-" Jon could hear the embarrassment in his voice. "It's what I used to do. When you were in the hospital."
Jon's turn to freeze, as that sank in. Then-
-he twisted his wrist out of Martin's grasp and used both hands to pull Martin's hand to his chest. He pressed it there, over his heart.
"I'm here. I'm alive. I'm not going anywhere."
Martin's fingers tightened in the fabric of his shirt, pressing down over the steady beat. "I- I know, I just-"
Jon kept one hand there, holding Martin's hand to his chest, and hooked his other arm around his shoulders to draw him closer. He was still working on boundaries and personal space, trying to process the idea that he really could have Martin close whenever he wanted, but it was easier like this; easier when it was oh so obvious that closeness was what Martin needed, too.
Martin pressed himself close, ducking his head under Jon's chin and shifting so that his legs could tangle with Jon's. When they were as close as physically possible - when there was no space at all left between their bodies, not a single point where they weren't touching, and Jon was seriously starting to worry that they wouldn't be able to un tangle when morning arrived - Martin sighed.
"I know you are, Jon. But you weren't, for such a long time. You- you died."
Jon squeezed his eyes shut. "I know," he said, "and I can't imagine what that was like. If, if it had been you that... I can't even imagine. I don't- I don't think I could have gotten through it." It hurt to even think about. He'd thought he'd lost Martin for a little while, back in the Lonely, but it hadn't really had time to sink in - and anyway, he’d had someone to blame, someone to fight: killing Peter might not have been entirely necessary, but it certainly helped with the burning need for vengeance and retribution. Martin hadn't even had that. "You're so strong, Martin. I don't know how you do it."
Martin sniffled. "Jon, I was suicidal."
"I know." Jon pressed his face into Martin's hair again. "I wish there was something I could say to make it all better."
"Me too. But..." he nudged his head up, pulling away from Jon just enough so that they were face-to-face, and pressed their foreheads together. "You're helping just by being here."
Jon swallowed the lump in his throat, and nodded. "Well, I don't plan on leaving."
"I know." Martin kissed him gently, then settled back down.
Jon listened to his breathing - slightly fast, a bit uneven, nowhere near close to sleep - for a few minutes. Then: "I could help you find a therapist, if you think it would help?"
Martin chuckled. "Only if you come with me."
"Of course. Whatever you're comfortable with."
"No, I mean-" Martin's breath huffed against Jon's face. "Only if you get a therapist of your own. I'm blackmailing you, Jon. Holding my own mental health hostage until you start taking care of yourself as well."
"Oh." Jon found himself smiling into the dark. "Rather devious of you, Mr. Blackwood."
"Oh, you know me, Mr. Sims," Martin said, "I'll go to any lengths to achieve my goals."
Jon snorted. "Fine. We can start looking once we find someplace to lay low on a more permanent basis."
"Wait, really?" Martin's eyes were wide in the dark. "You'd actually go?"
"Yeah." Jon smiled. "I... probably need it, if I'm being honest. It'll be good for both of us."
"Good. That- that actually makes me really happy, Jon. I want us to be okay."
"We will be." Jon leaned forward, kissing him again. "We'll be okay, Martin. I promise."
Jon dropped his phone in Martin's lap as he walked past, before settling in on the other side of the bed.
Martin picked it up. The phone was open to a - he raised an eyebrow in surprise - tumblr post. He hadn’t even known Jon knew what tumblr was. Though he either didn’t have an account or wasn’t signed in, so perhaps whatever-it-was had just turned up in a google search.
It was a discussion of various forms of expressing affection, starting with children who were uncomfortable with hugs but developed various gestures and cues to show when they liked someone and ending with a different author relating how their husband would squeeze their hand three times to say ‘I love you.’
Martin was biting his lip to hold back a smile by the time he got to the end. He knew what this was about.
“Jon, you know I don’t care whether you say it or not, right?”
Jon huffed, aggrieved. “That’s not what I’m trying to-”
“Jon. I know.” Martin turned to him, passing the phone back. “I just want you to know that I know how you feel either way. You’re very good at non-verbally expressing affection already, you don’t need to find other ways.”
Jon huffed again, but this time a smile was playing around his lips. “And if I want to find more ways to tell you?”
“Then go right ahead. I think I know which part of this you meant me to focus on, anyway.”
“Good.” Jon leaned forward suddenly, pressing his lips to Martin’s and grabbing his hand. He pulled back from the kiss before squeezing it, three times. Martin smiled, and returned the pattern.
The smile that spread over Jon’s face at that took Martin’s breath away. He squeezed Martin’s hand again, three times. Paused, then did it again. And again. Martin started laughing. Jon looked so happy.
Martin tugged him back into another kiss, whispering his own “I love you,” against Jon’s lips. Jon kept squeezing his hand, in that same steady rhythm, and for once didn’t seem to mind at all that he hadn’t said the words back.
The rain drummed against the roof with a heavy, oppressive beat. The sky outside was dark, whatever small light that had managed to bleed through the clouds during the day already drained away to pitch-black night. Intermittent gusts of wind rattled the shutters.
Inside, it was warm. They had turned off the lights, but the room was lit by a small fireplace, and the crackle of burning logs provided a cheery backdrop to their conversation. The Scottish weather had not been the most welcoming since they’d arrived that afternoon, but even so, the cottage already felt like home.
Jon was sitting cross-legged on the bed across from Martin, elbows braced on his knees and chin propped on his hands. Martin was frowning in thought, forehead pinched into sharp lines of concentration. His lips were pursed, and if he kept thinking about this any longer Jon was going to have to interrupt the game to kiss him.
“Okay, I’ve got it,” he said, just as Jon was starting to lean forward. “I’ve never broken a bone, I used to hate the taste of tea, and my first crush was on Hugh Grant.”
Jon snorted, leaning back again with only a little touch of disappointment. He would kiss Martin after answering, then. “I think everyone’s first crush was Hugh Grant. Which movie was it for you?”
“Four Weddings and a Funeral.” Martin gave an exaggerated, dreamy sigh, placing a delicate hand over his chest, then grinned. “Which, I mean, you’d think I would’ve crushed on one of the gay characters, but nope.”
“It was Maurice for me,” Jon admitted. “Though, really, the whole cast in that one is good looking.”
“I don’t think I know that one.”
“It’s, uh,” Jon laughed. “Based on a book by E.M. Forster? I watched it after reading the book, it was, ah… not exactly a mainstream movie. But the main romance is gay, so there’s that.”
“Wait, really?” Martin perked up, interested. “I’d like to see that, actually.”
“Somehow I doubt the village library has a copy, but we can see if we can get in online next time we get signal?”
“That’d be great, Jon. We can pick up some popcorn, turn it into a movie night.”
“It’s a date.” Jon leaned forward, taking the opportunity to kiss him. Martin smiled when he pulled back.
“Still haven’t figured out which one’s the lie, though.”
“Sure I have. You have broken a bone.”
They had spent a long time discussing Peter Lukas’s gibe that they didn’t really know each other, and come to the conclusion that it was partly true. While they were very familiar with the deeper aspects of each other’s personalities - core values and beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, life goals and such - they were missing out on some of the more basic, surface level facts and stories that would normally come to light far earlier in a relationship. Martin had suggested playing ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ as a way to make up for the lack, and so far it had proved far more entertaining than Jon had expected.
“How did you figure that one out?” Martin protested. “I thought for sure I had you with the tea thing!”
“Martin, I’ve seen you put so much sugar in your tea that it barely counts as a liquid anymore,” Jon laughed. “It’s not that far of a jump to think it’s an acquired taste. Besides, when I was on crutches after Prentiss attacked you gave me some tips on maneuvering with them that were far too good to have not come from experience. Taking a wild guess, I’d say you broke a leg at some point.”
“Fell down some stairs when I was thirteen, tripped over my own two feet. My left leg broke, it took months to heal.” Martin huffed. “But how do you remember that? I don’t even remember helping you with the crutches.”
“Well, I was paying rather a lot of attention to any behavior I’d deemed suspicious.” Jon grimaced, biting his tongue for a moment to keep from apologizing again. He’d done that already, and he didn’t want to bring down the mood. “And for some strange reason, I’d decided that you were very suspicious indeed.”
“Sure you weren’t just looking for an excuse to watch me?” Martin flashed a grin, winking, and before Jon knew what he was doing he’d leaned forward to kiss him again. Martin had been doing that more recently - coming out with quips that toed the line between teasing and flirty - and Jon found it rather hard to keep his train of thought when he did.
Martin laughed softly as Jon pulled away again. “I must admit, I didn’t expect a party game to get you this, ah… enthusiastic.”
“I like learning about you,” was the only thing Jon could think to say to that, which didn’t seem to be enough. But it made Martin smile again, so Jon figured it was alright.
“You too. Speaking of, my turn to guess. Let’s see what you got.”
“Right.” Jon glanced up at the ceiling, thinking. He’d already run through the entire list of non-embarrassing truths he’d prepared; time to go with something a little more mortifying. "I was in a band in uni, I can play the guitar, and I once died my hair green."
Martin scoffed. "Oh, come on, that's too easy. Band and guitar together?” He shook his head in disappointment. “True, true, and you never dyed your hair. What kind of music did you play?"
“Um.” Jon frowned. “Can we get back to that one? Besides, you’re wrong: I’ve never touched a guitar, I was the lead singer.”
“Oh. So what kind of-” his eyes widened. “Wait. You can sing?" Jon grinned, waiting for the rest to catch up to him. After a moment, Martin jolted back in shock. "You dyed your hair green?"
"Just a couple streaks.” Jon said, ducking his head in an attempt to hide his flush. “Georgie dared me to back when we..."
"Ah, I see." Martin chuckled. "Fools in love, and all that?"
"I wouldn’t go quite that far.” He and Georgie had been close. Very close. But it had been nowhere near what he felt for Martin. “Fools in... competition. She was going purple, so..."
"So she dared you to go even more ridiculous?"
"And I wasn't going to back out of a challenge like that."
Martin gave him a considering look. "You were a very different person before you joined the Institute, weren't you?"
Jon shrugged. "In a very real sense, yes. But even in a 'personal growth' way... it was my first real job. I wanted to impress." He sighed. "Besides, it was more a return to normalcy than a change. Georgie brought out a side of me I had never seen before and am rather glad is gone again. No matter how many stories it's left me with, bands, green hair... it's really not me."
Martin nodded sagely. "You're books and tea and stealing people's sweaters."
"Exactly." Jon smiled, adjusting the sleeves on his purloined clothing. "Much more my style."
Martin shook his head, leaning over to initiate the kiss this time. Jon made a soft, contented noise against his mouth, and Martin lingered rather longer than Jon had expected before pulling back. Not that he was complaining.
“So…” Martin said. “Back to the important points: what kind of music did you play? Who was in the band with you? What were you called?”
Jon laughed. “It’s, ah, rather hard to describe? Sort of… steampunk folk? Only not really, I mean some of our stuff was based off traditional songs…I wore eyeliner.” He shrugged. Martin’s eyes bugged out of his head.
“Tell me you have pictures.”
“I can do you one better than that, Georgie recorded a few of our concerts and they’re all up on YouTube.”
“Oh my god, I love you so much.”
It was far from the first time Jon had heard that, but it still set his heart racing. He reached out, grabbing Martin’s hand and squeezing it three times, and they both smiled.
“Unfortunately, I think that’s another wait-until-we-have-internet problem,” Jon said. “So for now: my turn.”
“Okay.” Martin thought for a second. “I've had several poems published, I still have the pet rock I got as a kid back in my flat in London, and I'm allergic to dogs."
"Well, I know you're not allergic to dogs." Jon tilted his head. "So you've had your poetry published? That's great, Martin."
"Thanks." Martin blushed a little. "But I am allergic to dogs. I never had a pet rock."
"Wait, what?" Jon blinked in consternation. "Since when are you allergic to dogs? You love dogs."
"Enough to go on semi-permanent allergy meds for them, yeah. I'm off them right now, though, if I got near a dog now I'd be sneezing for the rest of the day."
"Huh." Jon stared at him for a moment, then nodded in understanding. “Yeah, okay, I get it. If I was allergic to cats I’d do the same.”
“Oh yeah, I’m allergic to those too.”
Jon shook his head, smiling. “You never cease to amaze.”
Martin hmmed quietly, losing the noise in a yawn. “One more from you, then we should start thinking about bed. It’s been a long day.”
“It has.” Jon stretched, uncrossing his legs and flopping back down on the bed. Martin laid down next to him. “My name was spelled John with an H on all official school records until I was sixteen and finally managed to get it corrected, I lied about a pocketwatch being a family heirloom when I was seven, and I collected stamps when I was a teenager. I stopped when I left for uni.”
Martin frowned at him. “I thought you collected the return slips from library books you checked out.”
“I did, yes.”
“Ah,” Martin nodded, tapping a finger against his temple. “I see. I solved it without even noticing I had.”
“You’re just that amazing,” Jon murmured, and dragged him into a kiss before he could start laughing.
“So why did you lie about the pocketwatch?” Martin asked when he pulled back.
“What seven-year-old carries a pocketwatch?” Jon shook his head, smiling a bit. “I dug it out of an old box of junk my grandmother was throwing away, she said I could keep it. I was convinced the other kids were going to tease me about it, but looking back I don’t think they even noticed. Calling it a family heirloom… I don’t know. I guess I thought it gave me a valid reason to be carrying it around. More valid than ‘I think it looks cool,’ at any rate.”
“Do you still have it?”
“Yeah, back in London. In a box with the eyeliner, and the hair dye, and the high-heeled boots…” Martin was shaking with laughter. “What? It fit the aesthetic.”
“You have got to show me that footage,” he managed to choke out.
“Don’t worry, I promise.”
Martin settled down again after a few minutes, snuggling against Jon’s shoulder. “Would you sing to me, sometime?”
Jon shrugged, taking care not to jostle Martin too much. “Sure. I’ll sing you to sleep if you like.”
He meant it as a joke, but the look Martin gave him was so soft and loving that it stole his breath away. Right. Singing someone to sleep was pretty romantic, wasn’t it?
“I think I would like that, actually,” Martin murmured. He sounded a bit choked up.
“Then it’s settled.” Jon kissed his forehead gently. “I still need to change for bed, though.”
“Me too.” Martin sat up, sighing, and Jon swung his feet over the edge of the bed to the floor. It was chilly, even through his socks, and he shivered.
“I’ll toss another log on the fire, too.”
“Thanks, Jon.” Martin squeezed his shoulder gently as he scrambled off the bed and over to his bag. Jon watched him for a moment, smiling softly.
He’d never really considered himself a romantic before. But if it was romantic to want to hold the man he loved in his arms while he drifted off to sleep, singing to him quietly and letting the gentle melody guide him into sweet dreams… well then, he might just have to revise that judgement.
Jon’s hands were in Martin’s hair. This was a very small portion of everything that was happening, but it was an easy one to focus on, to ground himself with. Jon’s hands were in his hair, fingers digging against his scalp as Jon clutched him closer with desperate energy.
Jon’s tongue was in Martin’s mouth. This one was a much more important part of the proceedings, but it didn’t help him focus at all. His tongue was in Martin’s mouth, running over his teeth, the inside of his lips, pressing up against his own tongue.
Jon’s mouth was very warm, and wet, and wanting, and Martin desperately needed to focus on something else otherwise he was going to lose what little technique he was managing to maintain in kissing Jon back, and just let his mouth hang open to let Jon take what he wanted.
Jon’s nose was pressing against his cheek. This was another grounding thought - a shifting point of contact as Jon tilted his head to the side to kiss Martin even deeper. Martin’s nose was pushed into Jon’s face, too, and it was very warm and intimate and nice, though it was less nice when they turned their heads at exactly the wrong moment and their noses collided with a sharp rush of pain.
Jon barely paused for a wince before diving back in again.
His hands were in Martin’s hair, and his forearms were braced on the pillow next to Martin’s head, and he had slipped a little so his elbows were digging into Martin’s shoulders. His chest was flush with Martin’s, and Martin’s hands were looped around to clutch at his shoulderblades, holding him steady. Their legs were tangled together below, Martin’s right leg hooked up and around over Jon’s left, Jon’s right falling down to rest on the mattress between Martin’s shins.
And his hands were in Martin’s hair. He had to focus on that bit, not the low heat growing in his belly as Jon shifted on top of him.
Jon broke the kiss, out of breath and gasping, and pulled back for a moment, untangling his fingers from Martin’s hair. Martin let his head fall back on the pillow, running a hand down Jon’s spine just because he could. Jon sighed with contact, and tipped his head down again to place a much more chaste kiss on the corner of Martin’s mouth.
Martin smiled. “Alright?”
“Yeah.” Jon’s eyes were soft, crinkling at the corners with a barely-there smile. “This is nice.”
“It is indeed.” Martin ran his hands over Jon’s back again, pressing down against knots of muscle he knew turned stiff if Jon sat still for too long - which tended to happen frequently.
Jon sighed again, relaxing against him; then pushed himself up on his hands with a grunt, pulling his legs up under him so he could kneel over Martin’s chest. His knees bracketed Martin’s hips, and Martin swallowed, eyes going wide for a second before Jon kissed him again.
He’d braced his forearms against the pillow again, and his fingers ran gently along Martin’s jaw, tilting his head back before starting in again with lips and tongue and the slightest hint of teeth, nipping at Martin’s bottom lip…
Martin had a wide waist. He knew this. Jon’s hips were very narrow. He knew this too. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise at all when Jon made a small noise of discomfort, lifting one knee off the bed to balance it on Martin’s hipbone so he didn’t have to spread his legs quite so far apart to straddle him. He settled in again soon enough, seemingly much more comfortable with this new position if the enthusiasm of his kisses were any judge, and Martin barely noticed the change.
Then Jon’s leg slipped, and suddenly his thigh was between Martin’s, and Martin let out a small whine, hips twitching as he tried not to buck up against Jon.
“Sorry!” Was, nonsensically, the first word out of Jon’s mouth, and he practically flung himself off Martin as he rolled to the other side of the bed.
“Wha- Jon?” Martin shook his head, pushing himself into a sitting position. His heart was still beating fast, blood thrumming through his veins to the rhythm of Jon’s kisses. “S-sorry, what?”
“I’m sorry.” Jon was kneeling, poised to run, hands gripping the sheets at his sides tight enough his knuckles were turning white. “I shouldn’t have- that was- I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing.” Martin pushed a hand back through his hair, trying to get his breath under control. “I’m the one that- well, I should have told you how much that was affecting me.”
The room was cool without Jon on top of him, and it was going a fair way to helping him calm down. He crossed his legs, careful to keep his distance from Jon. He knew he’d crossed a line.
“N- no, it’s not-” Jon turned his face away, closing his eyes. “You haven’t done anything wrong. I overreacted.”
“No, you didn’t.” He smiled, hoping it was coming through in his voice. Jon still wasn’t looking at him. “We just haven’t- you know, talked about it. About- boundaries, and things. I think that was a perfectly valid reaction to me crossing one.”
“I just-” Jon cut himself off, grimacing.
“We don’t have to talk about this now, if you don’t want to.”
“No, we should.” Jon nodded decisively, turning back to Martin. His jaw was tight, but he looked determined. Martin nodded.
“Okay, then. Can I start?”
An affirmative noise; Martin took a deep breath. He’d known this conversation was coming, and had prepared what he wanted to say a long time ago.
“This is going to sound super cheesy, but you never have to worry about crossing a line with me. I- I’m sure I have boundaries I wouldn’t want pushed, but I honestly can’t imagine you ever trying something that would come up against one. If you do, I’ll let you know. But... I’m ready to go however far you want, whenever you want, and while some forewarning would be nice it doesn’t have to be a huge conversation about consent or- or commitment or… anything. You never have to hesitate to touch me, wherever or however you want to. I’m comfortable with it. With you.
“And on the flip side,” because Jon was looking nervous, and this was just as important, “everything I just said makes it sound like I’m coming from a place where I expect you to want to touch me, but I’m not. Part of ‘however far you want’ is ‘even if that’s nowhere.’ ‘You can touch me however you want’ includes ‘even if you never want to touch me.’ I’m okay with that.”
“B-but,” Jon stuttered, and Martin waited, letting him talk. “I want to be able to- I want to do that for you. You- you should have everything you want.”
“And I do. I’ve got you.” Jon met his eyes, frowning, clearly ready to deny that that could be enough. “No, look, I’m serious. A big reason I don’t have any qualms about giving you permission to do anything to me is, well- you’re already more than enough. Anything else we do is just… extra. I can take it or leave it. I like sex, don’t get me wrong-” and Jon blushed at the very word, and Martin smiled. “And because I like it, and I trust you, I’m okay with you trying anything. But because you’re already everything I could ever want, I’m also okay with never doing- any of that.” He laughed a bit. “See, I told you it would sound cheesy.”
Jon took a minute to formulate his response. When he finally spoke, it was slowly, choosing his words with care.
“Firstly, thank you. For- for trusting me like that.” Martin shrugged, and Jon shook his head. “No, don’t- don’t dismiss that. It’s… nice, relieving, to know I won’t do something that will make you uncomfortable. Or- or that if I do, you’ll tell me. I never want to hurt you.”
“You won’t.” Martin said it softly, and Jon closed his eyes for a moment, taking a small breath.
“I wish I could offer you the same. But I can’t.” He paused again, then resumed with: “I’m uncomfortable with nudity. Mine or other’s. I’m sure you’ve noticed I tend to turn my back when we’re changing.” Martin had, but he hadn’t thought it was odd. “Shirts are fine, trousers too, if it’s someone I’m comfortable with - so just you, basically.” Martin snorted, and Jon smiled before turning serious again. “But it feels very exposed to… well.”
“Let it all hang out?” Martin suggested, raising an eyebrow. Jon nodded slowly.
“If you like. Yes. And I am okay with you touching me. Just not…” he waved his hands vaguely in the air, seeming to search for a less embarrassing word, before settling on, “...erogenous zones.”
Martin lifted an eyebrow again. “That’s the word you’re going with?”
“Okay, then. I still have to clarify, though, you know. Some people consider ears to be erogenous zones.”
Jon huffed. “Fine. Not…” he hesitated.
“I’m going to take a wild guess and say the words you’re struggling with are nipples, bum, and…” Jon’s face was bright red. Martin decided to spare him. “All the bits under the pants.”
“Pretty much, yes. Um.” Jon stuttered over the next words. “The, uh. Bum is sometimes okay. Ask first.”
“Got it. Any others I should know about?”
“Not really.” Jon tilted his head to the side, considering. “No, actually, there is one more: I’m fine with your hands going anywhere on my front except the-”
“Nipples,” Martin provided.
“Yes, those.” Jon cleared his throat. “And I’m fine with you kissing my collarbones, shoulders, chest, even down to the ribs. But not my stomach.”
“Noted. I won’t.”
“Thank you.” Jon’s shoulders slumped in something akin to relief. “A-and. Much as I a- appreciate your invitation to, um… touch you wherever. You should know I probably won’t be doing anything beyond what I’m okay with you doing to me.”
Martin shrugged. “That’s fine by me. Honestly that’s way more than I was expecting you to be comfortable with.”
“I like holding you. Being held by you.” Jon’s shrug was much smaller, just a tiny lift of his shoulders as he picked at a loose thread in the hem of his shirt. His teeth worried his bottom lip, and after a moment he took a quick breath, tensing where he sat. “And I need you to know it’s nothing about you, you’re all I could ever want, I just-” the words came out in a sudden, desperate rush, and Martin realized with a start that Jon was still holding onto a well of unresolved tension. “I’ve- I’ve never- and if I ever was going to it would be with you but I don’t want to, it- it scares me, only- I trust you, so I’m not really scared, I just-”
“Whoa, Jon!” Martin reached out, covering Jon’s frantically wringing hands with one of his own. “I know.”
“Don’t want you to feel like- what?” Jon blinked at him, thrown.
“I know it’s nothing to do with me. I told you I like sex, yeah? And that is a thing entirely removed from my feelings for you. Well, I know you don’t like it, and that that is a thing entirely removed from your feelings for me.”
“Wh- wait, how-”
“You told me. Us. All of us, a long time ago?” Martin gave him a half-smile. Jon was looking emotionally wrung out from the conversation, and he didn’t want to push him too far.
He was shaking his head. “I didn’t- I think I’d remember something like that.”
“It wasn’t a big deal, or anything. Just, Tim was going off about his weekend, started asking the rest of us for stories about times we’d… well. Stories, anyway, and you said you… didn’t.” Jon let out a small oh, shoulders relaxing as Martin talked. “From the way you said it, it was pretty clear that the concept as a whole put you off. We all just kind of moved on, Tim started bugging Sasha instead, but it stuck with me. I mean, I already had a crush on you, so…” He laughed, embarrassed. “It seemed like relevant information. In case I was ever lucky enough to actually end up with you.” He crawled across the bed, settling down against Jon’s side and pressing his face into his neck in a gesture that could have almost been a kiss, if he hadn’t been grinning so much. Jon’s skin warmed in another blush, and he raised a hand to run his fingers through Martin’s hair.
“Oh. That’s…” He paused. “I think I do remember that.” He sighed, nuzzling into Martin’s hair. “You’re amazing, you know that?”
“You’re not so bad yourself,” Martin replied, and Jon huffed.
They sat quietly for a long while. Martin wished he knew what Jon was thinking about. His own thoughts were spinning a bit at everything Jon had told him - he could kiss Jon’s chest? (sans nipples, of course.) And Jon would be comfortable with that? - and he laughed a bit ruefully when he realized that, in clearly stating what lines he didn’t want crossed, Jon had actually given him permission to cross dozens of boundaries that he would have assumed were off-limits.
“Did you really already have a crush on me?” Jon’s voice was soft. It took Martin a moment to remember what he was referring to.
“Oh. Yeah.” He sat up, catching Jon’s hand as it fell from his hair and lacing their fingers together. He stared at their joined hands, smiling sheepishly. “Yeah, it’s been… a long time. For me.”
Jon looked at him for a long moment, thumb tracing a gentle pattern across the back of his hand. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.
“What?” Martin glanced up at him. “What for?”
“For how I treated you. For- for not seeing this” - he squeezed Martin’s hand - “Even when I did begin to feel the same. I just- just tried to ignore it, hoped it would go away if I… if I pushed you away. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry that you thought I didn’t feel the same?” Martin smiled faintly. “Jon, that’s on both of us. Either one of us could have made a move at any point. It wasn’t all on you.”
“Even so. I was awful to you. And I’m sorry.” Jon turned their hands, lifting them to kiss the back of Martin’s. Martin’s smile grew wider.
“Okay, yeah, I’ll give you that. But you’ve already apologized, and I’ve already forgiven you.” He shifted closer, leaning against Jon’s shoulder again and nudging him back. Jon relented, letting himself get pushed back into the pillows until they were both almost lying down, Martin with his back pressed into Jon's chest and Jon's arms wrapped around him. Jon kissed the back of his neck.
"Thank you. I think it’s going to take longer for me to forgive myself, though.”
“Yeah, well, that’s always the problem, isn’t it? I still haven’t forgiven myself for killing my houseplant when I first moved to London, and that was over a decade ago.”
Jon laughed, chest shaking under Martin’s shoulder, and Martin smiled.
“We’ve been talking about some pretty heavy stuff here.”
“So,” Martin shifted to face Jon, moving next to him and propping an elbow on the mattress. “I’m thinking we either go back to kissing like teenagers who’ve been left on their own for the first time, or we head to the kitchen and try our hands at making pizza.”
Jon raised an eyebrow. “Do you have the faintest idea of how to even begin making pizza dough?”
“No. Do you?”
“Not at all.”
“Figured. But I picked up a giant cookbook down in the village, and it’s gotta be worth a shot.”
“Alright then,” Jon shrugged. “Pizza?”
The late afternoon sunlight cut across the room in a bright streak, gilding a path from the west-facing window, across the floor, and over the bed. The blankets muted it, dark blues soaking in the light and warming under its glow; but the floor gave the light back, reflecting and refracting it off the smooth boards so that a soft radiance pooled in the space between the window and the bed. Martin was outlined against it, haloed and crowned by its luminance, and in its gentle brightness he looked like something ethereal and holy.
Jon watched him, entranced, blinking slowly and languidly against the light as he gradually woke from his nap.
Martin turned a page of the book he was reading. Maurice, Jon knew, though the dust jacket had fallen off and the name had long since faded from the spine. Jon had found the copy tucked into a back shelf of the local library a few days after they watched the movie, and waited until Martin wasn’t looking to bring it up to the desk. He’d snuck it home under his jacket, and presented it to Martin over dinner that night. Martin had smiled for so long that Jon’s own cheeks started to hurt in sympathy.
Home, he’d called it. That was a nice thought.
Jon took a deep breath, shifting slightly. Martin glanced at him, lowering the book.
“Almost.” He shuffled back a bit on the pillows, just enough so that his head was level with Martin’s side, and leaned against him. Martin switched the book to his other hand so that he could hook an arm around Jon’s shoulders, and Jon closed his eyes again, leaning into his warmth.
“Bit early for dinner yet,” Martin remarked.
Jon hmmed. “Don’t let me interrupt your reading.”
“Wasn’t planning to.” And he dropped a kiss into Jon’s hair before turning back to the book.
The light faded from the room slowly, golds bleeding into blues. Jon drifted again, feeling the soft rise and fall of Martin’s breathing under his head as one of Martin’s hands dragged slowly through his hair. Intermittently he would stop, and Jon would be jostled slightly as Martin turned a page; but then the hand would return, and Jon couldn’t help finding the interruptions more endearing than annoying.
Eventually Martin shifted in a more determined fashion, and Jon cracked an eye open to watch him fetch a bookmark from the bedside table and mark his place before setting the book aside.
“End of the chapter,” he explained. “Also, it’s getting too dark to read.”
“There’s a lamp,” Jon murmured.
“It’s still the end of the chapter. What do you want to do for dinner?”
Jon turned over, pressing his face into Martin’s side and looping an arm over his waist. “Don’t care. Something easy.”
“We’ve still got some leftover soup from yesterday?”
Jon could hear the smile in Martin’s voice. “You’re going to have to get up to eat it.”
“Sure.” Martin’s hand returned to his hair.
Silence fell, comforting and thick. Much as he protested it, Jon was actually awake by now. Martin was just very warm, and very comfortable, and even though Jon knew that it was just a few hours until they went to bed, and he’d be able to spend the whole night glued to his side like this, he was still going to treasure every moment of it.
He was treasuring every moment of everything.
“Martin?” he began, then stopped. He wasn’t entirely sure what he’d been intending to ask.
They’d gone for a walk that morning, away from the village and into the fields. Jon had almost sprained his ankle tripping over the uneven ground; Martin had caught him before he fell and made sure he was alright before laughing at him. They’d eaten lunch on the small porch at the front of the cottage, sitting on the steps watching for any cows that wandered near with a blanket pulled around their shoulders against the autumn chill.
It had been nice. Normal. Domestic.
"Is it-" Jon stopped again, biting his lip. "Is it moving too fast if I say I could see spending the rest of my life like this? Just you and me, a house in the country..."
Martin looked at him, a slow smile spreading over his face. "Not at all." His voice was soft. "I'd like that."
“Oh.” Jon took the hand that had been draped over Martin’s waist, and laced his fingers with Martin’s free hand. He squeezed it three time, and Martin’s smile widened. He squeezed back.
“We really should think about getting dinner soon.”
“Fine,” Jon huffed, rolling off him. He sat up, tugging a hand through his own hair when Martin’s hand fell away. He frowned. “You tangled it.”
“You’re the one who whines when I stop playing with it.” The comment was delivered lightly, teasingly. Jon scoffed, feigning offence.
“I do not whine, Martin.”
“Sure you do. This quiet little oh, like you’re trying to hide how disappointed you are. It’s adorable.”
“You’re adorable,” Jon rebutted, which wasn’t much of a rebuttal.
“Yeah, I know.”
Jon snorted, starting to get up. “Come on, you’re the one who wanted to grab dinner.”
“You’re the one who’s delaying.” Martin followed him, clicking on the lamp so they wouldn’t trip on anything as they crossed the room. He was wearing a pensive look. “I could brush it out for you later, if you like. Get out all those tangles I put in.”
“Really?” Jon glanced at him in surprise. “You’d do that?”
“Maybe it escaped your notice, Jon, but I kind of love playing with your hair. Yes, I’d be delighted to brush it out.”
“Oh. Thanks.” Jon grinned, leaning over to press a kiss to his cheek. Martin flushed, pleased.
“Stop distracting me, we’re supposed to be on our way to the kitchen.”
“Or you could just brush it out now. It’s so tangled, after all…”
Martin laughed, shaking his head. “Later. For now, there’s soup in the kitchen with our names on it.” Then he made a grab for Jon’s hand, and dragged him out the door.