Jon is fine. He’s not the best. Kind of prickly, prone to fits of irritation. Decorum for shit. But he isn’t the worst. He’s fine. Most people don’t like their bosses, and it’s not like Martin hates him.
“I want that rat’s head on a platter,” he says, squinting harshly at the closed office door that bares Jon’s name.
Tim startles at the desk across from his. “He’s not that bad.”
“He’s not that good, either,” Martin retorts. “What, does he really expect me to just go around town with nothing but a name and general age and figure everything out on my own? Knocking on old women’s doors for three days just hoping one of them happens to be the woman from our statement? And god forbid I try to make it enjoyable for myself, otherwise I’ve just wasted my time—he’s wasted my time! I could’ve been doing literally anything else! Three days, Tim!”
Tim cringes a little. “Okay. Yeah, that was—that was definitely not his best moment.”
Martin stops death-glaring at Jon’s office long enough to raise an eyebrow in Tim’s direction. “He has best moments? What do those entail?”
“I don’t think you’re being fair, Martin.”
“Yeah, well he likes you,” Martin insists. “I can’t do anything right, apparently, even when I very politely resign myself to spending nearly my entire week gallivanting around town trying to ask old women named Angela if they’ve had any strange encounters lately instead of rightly telling him he was out of his mind if he thought I was going to go along with this. If I knew I was going to get my ass chewed out for thirty minutes regardless, I would have.”
He wouldn’t have. Martin technically shouldn’t even have this job, considering the state of his CV (namely the fact that everything on it, save for his name, is a lie). He isn’t about to lose it just because his boss was being a bit of a prick—everyone’s boss is a bit of a prick, he’s not special. It would just be nice if he didn’t have to walk on eggshells all the time only to be reprimanded for not doing enough anyway.
“He’s just…particular,” Tim is saying.
Martin scoffs. “Particular?” he asks. “Tell me, Tim, has he ever told you—”
“No, Martin, he’s never told me to walk around town all afternoon looking for a woman that probably doesn’t exist,” Tim sighs. “I’m just saying, he’s like that sometimes. I’ve known him longer, so he’s thawed out towards me a bit, I guess. It’s nothing about you personally.”
“Is that supposed to be better? ‘Sorry, Martin, he’s just mean to you because he doesn’t know you,’ what, no one ever taught him manners?”
Tim raises his hands in front of him in a placating gesture. “Look, I’m not trying to make excuses. He was definitely being a dick about that. He’s definitely a dick a lot of the time when he shouldn’t be. But I don’t think he tries to be.” Martin gives him a very flat, very unimpressed look. “I don’t know, Martin, we’re friends, I’m not about to—” The look on Martin’s face gets flatter and distinctly more unimpressed. “Okay, like you’ve never had a friend who was a bit of an ass before. We all do.”
“Well,” Martin says. He lets the unimpressed look drop from his face, replaced by a more friendly look of exasperation accompanied by an exaggerated roll of his eyes. He’s starting to lose steam, complaining, and he doesn’t need to take out his frustration on Tim anyway. Not when Tim’s been nothing but nice to him and indulges him when he wants to rant about Jon, despite the fact that the two of them are friends. “I am friends with you, I suppose.”
“Ha, ha,” Tim says, looking amused despite the sarcastic tone. “You up for drinks later?”
“I suppose. Is Sasha coming?”
Across the room, Sasha is still leaning close to her computer monitor with a laser-focus. She pauses in her typing long enough to raise one hand over her head in a thumbs up to confirm.
Martin only ever gets called into Jon’s office if he’s about to be berated for something that wasn’t his fault to begin with, or if he’s about to be sent on a highly illegal goose chase for supplemental information on a statement that Jon always makes absolutely clear that he doesn’t even believe in. It usually alternates, so he’s not surprised when the next time Jon calls him in for something it’s to go follow up on an old statement about spiders.
It does surprise Martin, a little, that Jon wants him to look into this one in particular. When they’d first recorded it, Martin had mentioned he thought something seemed off about the way Carlos Vittery had died, but Jon hadn’t seemed to want anything to do with it. Which was pretty much the standard, when it came to Jon. The fact that he was asking Martin to look into it now, when he hadn’t wanted anything to do with it initially was particularly out of place.
But of course he’s pitching it like it was his idea the whole time. Not like Martin had brought it up in the first place. Whatever.
Jon relays the request with little to no enthusiasm, almost like he’s distracted. He flips through statements on his desk as he details to Martin what he’s to do, stating everything rather matter-of-factly without once looking up from the reading in front of him. Martin keeps waiting, perhaps naively, for Jon to fully acknowledge that Martin is even there while he speaks, but he never does; just keeps squinting down at statements and tugging absentmindedly on the single golden hoop earring hanging from his left earlobe like it is of absolutely no consequence to him who specifically he’s talking to. Considering it’s Martin he’s talking to, it probably isn’t of any consequence, at least not to him. If he was talking to Sasha, he would at least deign to look at her for more than the two initial seconds of acknowledgement customary when someone walks into your office.
Attention most decidedly not on him, Martin allows himself the briefest moment of weakness to simply observe, unashamed.
The thing is, Martin has a type, and Jon would very much fit that type if he wasn’t such a dick about everything. So sometimes Martin checks out during meetings like this and just looks. The way Jon’s lips curl around certain words, the sleeves pushed up over his elbows, the delicate golden hoops in each ear. The way the minimal sunlight coming through the window casts a subtle glow over his skin, making him look deceptively warm. Martin’s allowed to appreciate beauty, regardless of how much he hates the subject. At the very least, it gets him through whatever lecture Jon has prepared with slightly less of a headache.
As it stands though, Jon sort of is a dick about everything. So. It’s not important. Martin can’t be blamed if he still finds himself rather fascinated by the sight of Jon sitting with the sleeves of his button down rolled up to his elbows despite it all. Jon is objectively hot, and Martin is only human—he’s not immune.
He does still want to grab Jon by those stupid golden hoop earrings and spin him around like WWE Saturday Night. He contains multitudes.
Jon does look up at him, eventually, glancing over the tops of his glasses and waiting for confirmation.
Sure. Fine. Martin will go out in the pouring rain and check out the flat, there’s probably not even anything there anymore, but whatever. He’ll go break into someone’s home just so his boss can yell at him when he comes back with nothing much of note even though it’s not his fault that he was barely given anything to go on. It’s not like he could be spending his time doing more useful research indoors. What does he need to stay dry for, anyway?
“Right,” Martin sighs. “Sure thing.”
“Thank you.” What?
Jon has never thanked Martin for anything a day in his life, even when, by some miracle, Martin does manage to find the exact follow up information he wants. It’s out of place enough that it sets Martin just slightly off kilter, but Jon turns back to the work on his desk without comment and Martin really doesn’t want to be in Jon’s office for longer than he has to, so he leaves.
“Right,” he says again, still slightly dazed from the unexpected thanks. “Sure. No problem.”
Huh. What do you know. Maybe Jon does have “best moments.” Granted, saying thank you is just about the barest of bare minimum qualifications for a best moment that one can get, but considering the subject in question Martin is going to allow it.
If Martin ever sees Jon again after this, he’s going to strangle him. He really is, unexpected thank you be damned. Oh, go check out that flat down on Boothby Road, Martin, you know the one where the man was mummified by spiders? Surely you’ll be just fine, nothing bad could ever come from investigating a case where a man was mummified by spiders.
Surely you won’t be, I don’t know, chased away by a woman who was coughing up worms and get stuck in your own apartment for two weeks. While no one looks for you. And you can’t contact anyone because the power doesn’t work and you dropped your phone and you’re not sure if it would’ve worked anyway and you’re pretty sure you’re going to die here, surrounded by empty tins of peaches, and the only thing you can think about is how you couldn’t take the photo in time. Because on the off chance you do make it out of this alive, you refuse to let your boss brush this off like every other statement that comes across his desk and attribute it to you being mentally unstable.
Maybe you are mentally unstable, you’d have to be to keep this job, but that’s beside the point. You saw it. That thing, whatever she was, trapped you in your own home and didn’t let you out for two weeks.
So if Martin ever sees Jon again, yes, he’s going to strangle him. He’ll give him a chance first, to surprise him by taking his statement at face value, but one wrong step and he is going to strangle him. In as violent and satisfying a way as possible. He can falsify another CV and get a job somewhere else, it’s not that hard.
Okay so Jon didn’t make him go back the second time, the time that directly resulted in him being haunted by worms, but Martin could tell he’d wanted to. Martin had come back with nothing of note after his first visit to Boothby Road and Jon had given him a withering stare and muttered a very clipped “thanks,” and Martin could tell he wanted to say something about it. Maybe he was being petty, but he’d resolved to go back, just to get something. Anything that would make Jon stop looking at him like he was a particularly incompetent slug for longer than three seconds.
It was stupid. He didn’t—doesn’t—need the man’s approval. He doesn’t particularly care what Jon thinks about him at all. But Martin’s had a chip on his shoulder all his life, and he’s nothing if not spiteful, and so he went back. Just to rub it in Jon’s face, he guesses. Whatever reason he’d given himself, it’s landed him here. In Jon’s office. Forever scarred by the trauma that is inherent to being held hostage by a woman made of worms.
And the whole thing started because Jon was being a prick, really, so. Well, Martin doesn’t really feel bad about blaming him even if it isn’t wholly his fault. Maybe he’ll feel bad about something, for once.
Martin isn’t going to be mean—not on purpose, not to Jon’s face—but he has no problem being passive-aggressive. He’s pretty good at that, actually.
I didn’t want to come back to you without due diligence, though—I’ve learned that lesson—
Due diligence…and all that—
I was worried I hadn’t really done enough investigation for you—
I just wanted to take a picture of the thing. To prove to you that it happened—
He makes it a point to mention as often as possible, during his statement, that this whole thing only happened because of Jon, however indirectly that may be. Watching Jon’s stony composure steadily break down into something resembling distress isn’t nearly as satisfying as he’d hoped it would be.
Jon seems to regain his steely exterior as soon as the statement ends. It makes Martin feel a little less bad for leaning into the whole “blame Jon for my worm-kidnapping” thing. He still feels a stubborn itch in his chest for going so hard on him. It’s stupid. Jon doesn’t deserve his sympathy right now. He wasn’t almost eaten by homicidal worms.
“You’re sure about all of this Martin?”
Sure? Is he sure? Why in all hell would Martin lie about this? It doesn’t even make sense! What would his motive even be? What would be the point?
For Christ’s sake, Jon, of course he’s— “Look, I’m not going to lie to you about something like this, Jon,” Martin says, trying not to sound like he’s as close to leaping over the desk as he is. “I…like my job. Most of the time.” The when you’re not sending me on ridiculous errands goes unsaid.
“Very well.” Jon directs his gaze away from Martin and Martin thinks that’s it. Statement over, Jon’s going to kick him out and act like nothing ever happened. Just before Martin can say some sarcastic goodbye, though, Jon continues. “In which case there’s a room in the archives I use to sleep when working late. I suggest you stay there for now. I’ll talk to Elias about whether we can get extra security, but the archives have enough locks for now. It’s also supposed to be humidity controlled and, though it hasn’t been working for some time, it does mean it’s well-sealed. Nothing will be sneaking through any window cracks.”
This was not the reaction Martin had been expecting. At most, he thought Jon might say, “right then, go ahead and take the day off,” and even then, he didn’t have high hopes for that scenario. But instead, Jon is actively taking an interest in Martin’s wellbeing. It’s not a moment Martin ever thought he would live to see. And yet, here he is. Jon makes the effort to sound casually disinterested, sure, but it’s not his usual curt dismissal. And it’s a more detailed offer than Martin thinks someone would give if they didn’t actually care.
Evidently, Tim was right. Jon was capable of being nice, on occasion.
That still didn’t mean Martin liked him.
About three days into Martin’s new sleeping arrangements, Jon stumbles into the archives, not bothering to be quiet or considerate enough to not immediately flick the light switch on, jerking Martin out of sleep and effectively blinding him. Martin makes a sound that is more incoherent syllables than any real form of protest, inarticulate noise being the closest thing to communication he can manage after being unceremoniously jerked out of sleep at who knows what godawful hour it is.
“Oh,” Jon says, sounding surprised and somewhat abashed. Martin didn’t know he had the capability to do that. “I’m sorry, I thought—I forgot you were in here.”
Martin’s first instinct is to respond with something scathing, something along the lines of “of course you forgot I was in here, why would my whereabouts or general wellbeing be anything of importance to you,” but he’s not awake enough to put in the effort and Jon does look genuinely sorry besides. For once. So he lets it go.
“S’alright,” he says instead. “Sometimes I forget I’m in here, too. Nearly lost my head the first time I woke up and I wasn’t in my own room.” Martin cringes a little. He hadn’t meant to say that. It sounded childish, for one. He can’t imagine Jon would think any different.
“Are you—are you alright?” Jon sounds a little hesitant. When Martin looks at him, he’s rubbing a hand across the back of his neck and his face is pinched in something that Martin could almost call concern. Huh.
“Yeah, I’m—” Martin shakes himself a little, trying to dispel the fog of sleep as much as the shock of Jon asking after him. “I’m fine, I guess. Not surrounded by worms, at least.”
Jon quirks a hesitant smile. “I suppose that’s fair.” Martin doesn’t respond. He thinks his brain is exploding. The tremulous smile on Jon’s lips progressively fades. “Well,” he continues. “I, uh—I’ll let you be then.”
Martin should just let him leave. He fully intends to just let him leave. Instead, just before Jon reaches the door, he asks, “what are you doing here?”
“Oh!” Jon fumbles with his words while he answers. If it were anyone else, Martin thinks he would find it endearing. He still kind of does, despite himself. “Well, I—I used to stay in here when it was getting late, so I…like I said, I forgot you were staying here. It’s been a long few days.” Martin can’t quite argue with that. He doesn’t know what to say, though. He blinks. “Anyway,” Jon continues, “I can make it for the night in my office. Take care of yourself in here.”
And, okay. Martin wasn’t going to leave it at that.
Because the fact of the matter is, Jon kind of looks like shit. Like, “hasn’t slept in longer than a few days,” looks like shit. And Martin doesn’t think sleeping upright in a desk chair for three or four hours is really going to help any. He’s pretty sure it’ll only make it worse. Besides, he isn’t about to let Jon out-nice him. Jon is insufferable to be around at the best of times, but now suddenly he isn’t, and Martin isn’t going to let him get one up on him. He doesn’t like Jon, but Jon has laid off of him considerably since he started staying in the archives, and he can’t in good conscience let him suffer through a sleepless night when he looks like that.
It’s just being nice. And Jon doesn’t get to be nicer than him.
Martin sighs, less heavily than he might have if Jon wasn’t around. “No sense breaking your back in that ancient chair you have in your office,” he says. “There’s room.”
“Jon, I’m very tired, and we’re both adults. Just lay down.” Jon looks like he might be about to argue further. Martin doesn’t let him. “I’d sleep better if I knew I wasn’t ruining your sleep anyway,” he says. “Don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
Jon turns out to be a strangely considerate person to share a bed with. He doesn’t hoard blankets and he stays perfectly still on his own side of the cot, falling asleep almost immediately without any tossing and turning. Martin thinks he might have expected Jon to be too bony, or to have a bad habit of kicking out in his sleep. Instead it’s actually sort of nice. Having someone there with him, even if it is Jon, provides an added comfort that he hadn’t considered.
That had been the worst part about being stuck in his flat—being alone. More than the worms and the knocking and the lack of anything to eat besides freezer burned meals and canned peaches, what had scared him the most was the idea of dying there alone. He’s never done well, on his own, even when that’s all he’s known.
It’s early when Martin wakes, but even so Jon is already gone. Martin doesn’t think Jon could’ve slept more than two or three hours, considering, but at least it was something. It’s not his business to make sure Jon gets a full eight hours, anyway. He’d done his job: he made sure Jon slept somewhere that wasn’t an uncomfortable office chair that was more loose screws and half broken plastic than it was padding. That’s as far as he needs to go with it.
He makes his way to the break room for a cup of tea before he gets to work. The institute isn’t open for another couple hours yet, and if he can’t be at home, he can at least keep up some sort of normal routine. When he arrives, the electric kettle is already plugged in and his usual mug is sitting next to it with the string of a tea bag hanging over the rim. The tag tells him it’s his favorite. He doesn’t think about it.
It’s around twelve in the morning when Jon finally leaves his office. If there’s one thing living in the archives has told Martin, it’s that Jon is a horrible workaholic. Which, to be fair, he pretty much already knew, but twelve in the morning is early for Jon. In the last few weeks, Martin has seen Jon walk out of his office as late as half past three. In the morning. When most people have already been asleep for hours.
Granted, Martin has gotten accustomed to being up this late as well, having given up on trying to pretend he could ever have anything resembling normalcy again, but he lives here now. Jon has no such excuse.
“Leaving work early tonight?” he asks. It’s the sort of dry, teasing question Martin had never imagined himself making in regards to Jon, but he’d also never imagined being chased by worms before it happened, so. There was a first time for everything. Even, apparently, being on good enough terms with your boss that you felt comfortable enough making a joke at his expense without worrying that he was going to launch into a tirade about workplace etiquette and the importance of remaining professional with your colleagues.
It’s something Jon hasn’t done in a long time, actually, launching into tirades about workplace etiquette. Not since Martin started living in the archives. He’s…softer. Like maybe the view of him at his desk with the sun streaming through his office window was truer than Martin had realized.
He’s still sort of prickly during work hours, sure, never fails to remind them all to get back to work when he thinks they’re slacking off too much, but even then he doesn’t sound as outwardly antagonistic towards Martin as he used to. It’s closer to the tone he usually uses with Tim. Performative frustration in an attempt to appear professional and mask the fondness he really feels.
That’s just how Jon is in a professional setting, as Martin is starting to learn. It becomes increasingly clearer in times like this, when Jon is exaggeratedly rolling his eyes at Martin even while he drags a spare chair over to sit across from Martin at his desk. Martin very valiantly holds back the laugh that tries to escape him at the sight of Jon sleepily trying to maneuver a chair through the room without falling over.
“What are you still doing up?” The question is asked around a yawn that comes upon him suddenly. Jon wrinkles his nose in distaste, like he thinks such a display of exhaustion should be beneath him. Martin’s inclined to think it’s a little cute, in a weird sort of way. The whole thing—wide yawn, wrinkled nose—has the overall effect of making Jon look like a rather disgruntled kitten.
Martin doesn’t miss the opportunity to hit Jon with the most unimpressed stare he can muster at twelve in the morning. “Are you going to ask me that every time I’m still awake when you finally leave your office? It’s been weeks, Jon.”
Jon shrugs. It looks like it takes a monumental effort. “Figure at least one of us should be sleeping. Thought you’d be easiest to wear down.”
“You look much more worn down right now,” Martin counters. “When’s the last time you did sleep? Like, at all.”
The long pause Jon has to take while he considers his answer is less than comforting. “Maybe two—no, three? Three days ago.”
And okay, Martin may not be sleeping very much either at the moment, but at least he gets some rest. An hour or two a night, minimum. Certainly not enough to feel like a properly functioning human being, but still better than no sleep at all for three days.
“Right,” Martin says. “So, you’re going home then? You’d better tell me you’re going home, Jon, or I swear—”
“Still have work to do.” The words are punctuated with another yawn. It’s less cute now that Martin knows he hasn’t slept in three days, Christ, Jon. “There’s too many things we don’t know, and if I could just figure it out, then maybe I could sleep. But I can’t figure it out. So I have to keep looking until I do.”
“I think the answers will still be there in the morning, Jon. I’d be surprised if you could find them in this state, anyway, you don’t even look like you know where you are.”
“You mean I’m not on the train home already?” The joke doesn’t quell Martin’s worry nearly enough as he suspects Jon had hoped.
The thing is, at this point Jon is going to pass out for a few hours whether he wants to or not. Going longer than three days without any sleep at all just isn’t sustainable. And Martin would really prefer if Jon would just lay down somewhere, so he didn’t have to walk into his office later and see Jon bleeding all over the carpeted floors because he passed out and cracked his head open on one of the sharp corners of his desk.
“Would you at least just head down to the archives and let yourself rest for an hour or two? You’re dead on your feet, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
Jon shakes his head in response. The movement appears to take a monumental effort to complete. “I’m fine, Martin, thank you.”
Except he’s clearly not. And at this point, Martin has sort of decided that he’d actually rather not see Jon unwittingly dig his own grave just because he was too stubborn to take a break when he needed it. As much as he hates to admit it, he might be starting to consider Jon as a friend. And it would really be a shame if he went through all that character development only for Jon to go and split his head open on his own desk.
“Go,” Martin says firmly. “It was your room first, technically, and you clearly need the sleep more than I do right now. I’ll come kick you out when I need to, I’m fine here for now. Work to be done, and all that.”
“Yes, but you’re living in there now,” Jon insists, “because you don’t have a flat anymore. Because I made you go out and investigate something stupid and you almost got eaten by worms.”
Martin has forgiven Jon for everything, for the most part. He still hates who Jon was, but that’s not who he is now and that’s really what matters to him. Jon from before never talked to him unless it was to tell him he was doing something wrong. Jon now has late night conversations in the office and makes jokes and laughs with him and asks if he’s doing alright, if he needs anything, and by the way thank you for your help with that file yesterday, Martin. Actions are louder than words and all that. Still, though. The accountability is nice.
“I’m sorry, Martin.”
Oh. Martin didn’t know he’d been waiting to hear that. It’s nice.
“Me, too,” he says. “It’s alright, though. You can make it up to me by getting some sleep, so I don’t have to be the one to identify your body when you die from exhaustion.”
“You—yeah. Alright, fine. Don’t let me stay there longer than an hour two though, okay?”
Martin has no such plans. He’s going to make sure Jon gets at least six hours of sleep if it kills him; he can deal with the couch in the breakroom for one night.
They’ve come to something of an agreement with switching off on sleeping in the cot in the archives. Jon still tries to put up a fight most of the time, but what he doesn’t know is that Martin’s been waiting for the opportunity to tell him to fuck off since the day he became an archival assistant. He never imagined himself saying it so fondly, lacking all the bite and instead full of amusement and something he might let himself call affection if he was feeling generous. It’s still fun, though. It might even be more fun, like this, with the way Jon’s eyes go wide in surprise every time Martin curses and a startled laugh falls from his lips before he can stop himself. Martin thinks Jon protests as much to get Martin to curse as he does to insist that he doesn’t mean to put Martin out by taking over his living arrangements for the night.
The whole thing does mean that every time it’s Martin’s turn to use the room again, everything smells distinctly like Jon; a weird combination of rose scented laundry detergent, over-steeped tea, and worn leather. And it’s not a bad smell, exactly, it’s just a touch distracting is all. Because Martin already can’t sleep most nights, and then when he gets the chance to just lay down and rest for an hour or two all he can think about is Jon.
Which isn’t…bad, he guesses. Not like it might have been a few weeks ago. It’s just…well, it’s like he said: it’s distracting.
He doesn’t usually decide to devote the few minutes before he goes to bed thinking about Jon. He doesn’t usually think about anything, preferring instead to find abstract shapes in the colors swirling behind his eyelids until he finally drifts off. So it makes it a little harder to actually fall asleep, the way Martin’s brain keeps running at a hundred miles an hour, for some reason getting stuck on the fact that Jon uses rose scented laundry detergent. Why had he never noticed that?
The answer is, of course, because up until recently, Martin has spent most of his time trying not to notice Jon much at all, aside from the times he let himself subtly check him out in a moment of weakness because he had nothing better to do while listening to Jon drone on and on about filing errors. But still. Rose scented laundry detergent. It was interesting.
He blames the roses for the dream he has.
It’s hazy in the way dreams usually are, one of the ones that you usually remember in sepia tones when you wake up; fuzzy flickers of scenes that stick out the most, staticky like an old film reel. He recognizes the institute breakroom easily, even though it looks about five or six years out of date. That particular kettle broke way before Martin was ever made archival assistant, but the fact doesn’t occur to him here. So far as he knows, as deep in sleep as he is, this is the way the institute breakroom currently looks, old faulty kettle and all.
The mug he pulls from the cabinet has writing on it, but it’s too fuzzy for him to read. He doesn’t question that, either. It’s just the way dreams are—you read something and you can’t tell what it says, and you’re completely satisfied because you don’t know anything different.
He’s standing there at an ungodly hour in the morning, he can tell, dressed in just his pants and a large sleep shirt, and as he pours hot water from the years defunct kettle, a pair of skinny arms come up to wrap around his waist from behind. He knows exactly who it is without looking and melts into the rose scented embrace quicker than anything.
“Morning,” he says, letters slurred around sleep and a smile.
Jon leans his forehead against the space between Martin’s shoulder blades, dropping a kiss against the fabric of his shirt just below. “Enough for two?”
Martin twists around in his arms. “Depends.”
With a bemused quirk of the eyebrow, Jon asks, “On?”
But he already knows. They have never been in this situation before, let alone in a breakroom this outdated, but it is a dream and so they move as easily and fluidly as anything. Jon stretches up on his toes and Martin bends a bit to accommodate him and they meet in the middle with a soft press of lips like they’ve done a thousand times before and yet not at all.
Martin wakes up two hours later with an ache in his chest and one word on his lips.
The dream doesn’t mean anything. It’s just because Jon had been using the cot, and everything smelled very distinctly like his favorite laundry detergent, and Martin’s brain had just made its own conclusions. That was all. Dreams don’t mean anything. This one, in particular, doesn’t mean anything. He doesn’t like Jon. He doesn’t hate Jon either, not anymore, but he certainly doesn’t like him. Not like that, at least. They’re friendly. That’s it. Martin most decidedly does not want to kiss him.
He’s not even sure where that notion would come from. Dreams make absolutely zero sense.
And anyway, even if he did, it’s not like Jon would want to kiss him. It’s pointless to think about it. Not that he wants to! He’s over it. He’s not going to think about it anymore. Not at all. Never again. Starting now.
It’s easier said than done. The rose scent has a tendency to linger. Jon has a tendency to linger himself, oddly enough.
Prior to now, Martin could’ve counted the amount of times he ran into Jon in the institute on one hand. Now it seems like Martin can’t stop running into him. He’d think Jon was doing it on purpose if it weren’t for the fact that he’s pretty sure Jon isn’t the sort of person to do things like that on purpose. Running into people, that is. Sure, they’re friendly now, but Jon doesn’t even run into Tim and Sasha on purpose.
Besides, it was much more likely that Jon had been avoiding him on purpose, before. Martin spends a lot more time roaming around the institute, now, for obvious reasons, and Jon no longer hates him enough to justify spending the entire workday shut up in his office just so he doesn’t have to so much as look at him. There’s a rational explanation for it.
Certainly there’s no reason for it to cause Martin’s brain to run circles around his head all day and night for the next several days.
Rose scented laundry detergent.
Running into Jon in the breakroom.
“Are you alright?” “Yes, I’m fine, thank you.”
Running into Jon on his way back to his desk.
“Do you have that file on the man with the—the bones? The one you mentioned last night?” “Hm? Oh, yeah, hold on, it’s in here somewhere.”
Rose scented detergent.
Running into Jon.
Rose scented detergent.
Roses, roses, roses.
It’s exhausting, is what it is. The dream doesn’t mean anything. Jon running into him multiple times a day and asking after how he’s doing or thanking him for helping with the follow up on different files doesn’t mean anything. It means they’re coworkers and they get along and they both spend entirely too much time at the institute now, so they’re a bit more comfortable around each other. That’s it.
The ache in Martin’s chest when he’d woken up from the dream doesn’t mean anything. It’s all fine.
When Jon walks by his desk in the middle of the day, he doubles back and reaches out until his fingers come to rest, feather light, on the inside of Martin’s elbow. It’s not something he wants to admit, but Martin’s stomach does swoop a little, at the touch of Jon’s hand on his arm.
“I forgot, did you remember where I put the statement I was looking at yesterday? I can’t seem to find it.”
Martin doesn’t know exactly how he answers, but it seems to satisfy Jon all the same, and off he goes. The skin on the inside of his elbow feels at least two degrees warmer than the rest of him, maybe more. The smell of roses hangs in the air and he finds himself sighing contentedly.
Maybe the dreams have a point.
The thing with realizing that you maybe sort of have a crush on your boss that you maybe sort of used to hate, like, a lot, is that suddenly you can’t get anything done. Because Martin had been distinctly aware, before, that Jon was exactly his type, but he hadn’t cared in the slightest because Jon was also something of a prick. Now, though, Jon is most decidedly not that. And he is, most decidedly, still very much Martin’s type. You see the problem.
He’s also around all the time. It makes living impossible.
Martin is something of a romantic—daydreaming in the middle of work hours, writing disgusting poetry in his free time, inhaling a little deeper the scent of roses when he’s off to sleep after Jon’s been using the cot, the whole deal. When you functionally live where you work, it all makes things more than a little complicated.
Because the rose is there all the time. Jon is there all the time. Daydreaming in the middle of work hours is all the time because he is always at work. Writing disgusting poetry in his free time means sitting in the breakroom with one arm over the page and hoping no one comes in before he can make it look like he’s just taking a normal break.
Which is easier said than done.
Especially when one of your coworkers is named Tim Stoker.
Especially when one of your coworkers is named Tim Stoker and he’s worryingly quiet when he wants to be and he’s been asking you if you were alright all day because you’ve been a little out of sorts because you may have almost walked directly into a doorway no less than twice because Jon may have done so little as smile at you while saying hello, which is to say that he does want to be worryingly quiet, specifically now, because he wants to get one up on Martin and figure out what his problem is.
Martin should have been expecting it, really. As it is, he jumps about a foot in the air when he suddenly hears Tim’s voice coming from behind him in the breakroom, his shadow creeping up over the notebook Martin has his arm curled around. “What’ve you got there, Martin?”
“Just Tim is fine, actually.” He laughs like the joke has been at all funny, ever. “Is that poetry?”
Martin tries to cover up the rest of the open page inconspicuously. “What it is, is none of your business. Did you need something?”
“Did I see Jon’s name in there?”
Martin pictures himself smacking Tim hard enough to knock the teasing sparkle right out of his eyes like a cartoon. Sasha comes in before he can bring that particular fantasy to fruition.
“Jon’s where? I have the research he asked for this morning, I’d like to give it to him soon before I forget.”
There’s not a single force on earth that can stop Tim when he has that look on his face, not even, unfortunately, Martin. He readies himself to burst into flames where he’s standing while Tim’s roguish grin grows ever wider.
“Jon is in Martin’s poetry,” he says. There’s a second or two of pause for dramatic effect before he continues. “Martin’s writing poetry about Jon.”
“Well that’s nice,” Sasha says distractedly. Martin lets his head fall into his hands while he waits for her to process. “Wait you what? I thought you hated him!”
“Yeah, Martin, I thought you hated him,” Tim echoes. “What happened?”
“You know, that tone is exactly why I didn’t say anything.”
“You’re avoiding the question.”
“I’m not avoiding anything, I’m refusing—”
“Does it get cozy in the archives, Martin? I bet there’s a lot of time for sleepovers now that you’re both here all the time.”
“Tim we are at work, he’s here, and I am going to kill you if you—“
It’s just absolutely marvelous that Jon chooses to walk in just then. Absolutely marvelous. Because there’s no way it could get any worse.
If Martin were an outside observer it would be kind of funny, actually. The conversation comes to an abrupt halt as the door swings open, everyone snapping their heads towards Jon’s direction as he watches them, wide-eyed and stock still in the doorway.
“I’m not sure what’s happening here, but if you’re planning a murder could you at least do it somewhere I can’t hear so I don’t have to report it? I have enough to do as it is.”
Martin takes the opportunity to snap his notebook shut and push his chair away from the breakroom table with a sharp scraping noise, almost upending Tim in the process. “We were done, actually. Nothing to worry about. I have to go, um—you know, statements, and—yeah. Anyway! See you later.”
He barely makes it out of the room before his cheeks decide to start burning. It’s a small mercy. He has a little too much dignity to clap his hands over his ears to keep from eavesdropping on whatever the rest of them are saying in the breakroom as he leaves, but he does start talking to himself under his breath to distract himself from whatever they must be talking about.
Tim is a bastard, but he isn’t cruel, so Martin knows he’s not saying anything like that, but that doesn’t mean he’s not saying anything profoundly embarrassing all the same. It’s none of Martin’s business. Or, well, considering he’s probably the subject he’s sure it is his business, at least somewhat, but he doesn’t need to make it his business. He has better things to do, anyway.
Like locking himself in the employee bathrooms for twenty minutes until he can will himself stop blushing every time he so much as thinks about the horrifying possibility of Jon ever coming into contact with any of the truly miserable poetry he’s written about him.
Maybe forty minutes. He’ll see how he feels.
Martin barely has time to stuff the scrap of paper full of half-finished metaphors about roses and indirect bed-sharing into the back pocket of his jeans before he’s sprinting towards the sealed room in the archives with Jon and Sasha hot on his heels because there are worms. Loose. In the institute. He really thought he was over this part of his life, the whole running away from worms. Once was more than enough times. At least he’s taken to leaving a corkscrew within reaching distance of the cot, just in case. Whoever said paranoia wasn’t good for anything?
The corkscrew comes in handy quicker than he expects it to, because as soon as they slam the doors shut Jon and Sasha fall to the ground and it becomes immediately clear that they’re both bleeding. And also, Jon is screaming. And also, this is all happening because they both have worms in their legs.
Martin tries his best to get them out on his own, but as much as he’s thought about it, it turns out digging a corkscrew into someone’s legs to get weird monster worms out from under their skin is a lot harder than it appears in theory. Sasha makes much quicker work of it.
“There,” Sasha says when she’s finished. “And I just want to point out that I didn’t make nearly as much of a fuss as you did.”
“I think your removal was substantially cleaner,” Jon replies in an aggrieved tone.
“Well if you would stop moving, it would’ve been cleaner for you as well.”
“You try not moving when someone’s stabbing at you to get worms out.”
“Guys?” Martin chimes in. “Lovely as it is to see you two recovering—what about Tim.”
As Martin says his name, Tim walks past the room almost as if he’s been summoned. He doesn’t seem to notice what’s going on around him. He must have been out for lunch or something, and hasn’t seen any of the worms yet; hadn’t heard the three of them running through the institute trying to get to the spare room in the archives before the worms could really do them in.
There’s a shadow just out of frame of the window in the door. As it gets closer, Martin realizes what it is. Or, rather, who it is.
“Oh, shit,” he says.
Sasha gets up to look through the window with him. “What?” she asks just before her vision focuses. “Oh, hell. Tim! Tim, look out!” She pounds on the door, trying to make as much noise as possible to gain his attention. It’s not going to work.
“The room is soundproof, Sasha,” Martin says. “He can’t hear anything.”
They watch for a minute as Tim picks up the tape recorder Jon had lost on their way down to the archives, oblivious of how close Jane and her worms getting as he fiddles with the buttons. “Tim, no, come on, just turn around.”
Before Martin can stop her, Sasha grabs the door handle and pushes herself outside. Call him a coward, but he doesn’t exactly want to see what happens after she tackles Tim to the ground and the worms start flooding the room around them. He turns his back to the door and slides down until he reaches the floor, squeezing his eyes shut tight. What the hell were they going to do now?
A moment or two passes before the rustling of paper causes Martin to open his eyes. His hand flies instinctively to his back pocket—it’s empty. He turns his head to see Jon on the opposite side of the room, paper in hand and squinting down at the handwritten words with a look on his face that Martin by no means wants to name.
Martin’s off the floor and across the room faster than he has time to think about it, taking the paper from Jon’s hands and immediately crumpling it into a ball. “How much of that did you—? Did you read it? How long have you—? Jon, please tell me you weren’t—”
Jon just looks at him. For a few heart stopping moments, all he does is blink. Then: “Martin—”
There’s something about the way Jon says his name that makes Martin want to wither away. He decides he can’t take hearing the rest of whatever Jon is beginning to say. “No, you know what? It’s fine. I don’t want to know, actually. I think we should just forget all about this, yeah? That sounds best. You can pretend you never saw it and I can pretend I never wrote it and we can…we can all just pretend.”
Martin could have kissed Tim for bursting in, right then. Nothing quite like your friend smashing through the wall, high on CO2, and nearly getting fully naked in front of you and your boss without warning to pull attention away from you and the fact that aforementioned boss just read your disgustingly soppy poetry about how much you were in love with him.
But then apparently there’s tunnels. And those tunnels have no rhyme or reason to them in the slightest. And then Martin gets lost.
He thinks he’d rather deal with the mortifying concept of Jon reading his amateur poetry and lecturing him about keeping things like romance away from working environments over dealing with the suddenly very real possibility that he is never going to see Jon again.
Martin had been convinced that he would never see Jon again, after he lost him and Tim in the tunnels. When they’d gotten separated, all he’d been able to think about was that stupid poem and Jon’s aborted reaction and the fact that he’d never get to ask about it after the initial mortification had worn off. Now that he’s sitting right across from Jon, both of them more or less whole and healthy, he wasn’t sure what to do at all.
He tries to start by asking Jon if he’s alright, but Jon seems to be having none of it, insisting that Martin just get on with his statement. Martin starts from the beginning—the beginning beginning, nervous for some reason he can’t quite comprehend. Jon promptly cuts him off, reminding Martin that he’d been there, for that part.
“Sorry,” he says.
Jon’s voice softens, then. “Ah, it’s fine,” he assures, misinterpreting Martin’s apology. “I just…I only need from when you got separated. From when you got lost in the tunnels.”
That’s what I meant, Martin thinks. “No, I mean…I’m sorry I left you.”
Jon’s face sort of crumples. He’s silent for a moment. “Oh, Martin.”
It’s what makes Martin crack. Against his best efforts, his voice wobbles when he speaks. “It was an accident. I thought you two were with me! I mean, the worms came at us, and they were so much faster, and then there was the gas, and the running, and I just—”
A warm hand falls over his own, effectively cutting him off. He knows it’s Jon, it could scarcely be anyone else, but it causes his gaze to snap upward all the same, startled. “Wh—Jon?”
“Martin.” Martin thinks if he wasn’t already sitting down his legs would be buckling underneath him with the way Jon sounds just then. He hesitates to put a name to it.
“I’m sorry,” he says again.
The hand on top of his shifts a little until it’s more or less curled loosely around his fingers.
Martin cuts him off. If Jon tells him it’s fine one more time, he might lose it. “No, Jon, you’ve been trying to protect me since I got back, trying to help me, even though there was nothing you could do about anything, and I just up and left you to be eaten by worms, I mean—”
“To be entirely fair,” Jon says, each word leaving his lips slowly and deliberately. “The keeping you safe may have been purely selfish, on my part.”
Martin stops short. He’d been prepared to keep arguing, to fend off another it’s fine, but this gives him pause. Purely selfish? What does that—? “What do you—what?”
Jon takes a breath. He looks like he’s steeling himself for something. “That, um—you know that poem you wrote?”
Nope. Martin isn’t doing this. Not right now. Not while Jon is effectively holding his hand, Christ. “No, no, no,” he says, “we don’t have to talk about that right now. Or ever, really. Preferably ever.”
“We really do,” Jon insists, “I—”
“We really don’t.”
Jon keeps pushing. He always keeps pushing. “I—it’s the same, for me. Martin.”
Martin thinks he wasn’t more surprised when worms barricaded him in his apartment. “What.”
“You, the um…what you wrote, I—”
“No, I mean—I—you hated me,” Martin says. “Maybe not now, not in a while, but…you did.”
Jon cringes. “I didn’t—I mean, I know—” He sighs, removing his glasses and bringing both hands up to rub against his eyes. “Look. It’s been…a lot. Trying to put the archives in order, dealing with these stupid statements, and I…I know it’s not an excuse. I know I’ve…taken my frustrations out on you, and that wasn’t fair of me. You were doing your best—more than your best actually, certainly more than my best, and it wasn’t right of me to keep berating you for not getting things done when I couldn’t get them done either. You’ve always been…more than helpful. More than competent. I never hated you, I just—well, I’m sort of a dick, I guess.”
The casual tone he uses startles a laugh out of Martin. “I wouldn’t—no, yeah, you were. You definitely were,” he says. “If it makes you feel any better, I was kind of a dick to you, too.”
Martin shouldn’t be as endeared as he is by the way Jon tilts his head in confusion, looking very much like a particularly concerned Chihuahua. “What? No, you weren’t, you—”
“I was,” Martin says. “Not to your face, you’re technically my boss and I don’t want to get fired, but before the whole—the whole worm thing, I may have mentioned to Tim that I ‘want that rat’s head on a platter.’ The rat being—”
“Me, I assume,” Jon interrupts, sounding more amused than he has any right to be. “Suppose I deserved that.”
It’s not like Martin can argue with that. “You did,” he agrees. “I like you better now, though.”
Something mirthful glints in Jon’s eyes. “I may have expected. You know, with the whole poetry and everything.”
Martin groans. “Can we please never talk about that again?”
“So you don’t think I’m—”
And Martin really doesn’t need Jon to quote any of his own poetry at him. “Jon, I am literally begging you, I’ve been so nice to you.”
“You admitted to wanting my head on a platter,” Jon reminds him, amused. “You called me a rat.”
“Yeah, but we both agreed you were kind of a dick before, so—”
The smirk on Jon’s face just about sets Martin’s skin on fire. Martin really likes this side of Jon, he decides. “I like you too, Martin.”
Despite himself, Martin flushes. “Oh? Oh, I mean—I mean, good.”
Jon hums. “Good,” he echoes. “I am sorry. About…before.”
Martin shrugs. He’s not going to pretend it doesn’t matter, but it’s in the past now. “You’re not like that anymore. You haven’t been for a while.”
“Still, I shouldn’t have—”
“Jon,” Martin says. “I’m an adult, I can decide when to forgive people on my own. You’re different. I didn’t like you very much, before, but I do now. I certainly didn’t write horrible poetry about that you.”
Of all the reactions Martin would have pictured, he hadn’t expected the skin over Jon’s cheeks to darken. Martin doesn’t want to call it a blush, but…a horse is a horse. He doesn’t say anything, afraid of scaring it off. Jon looks like he’s about to wilt under the attention.
After a while, Jon clears his throat. “It wasn’t bad, you know.”
“The poetry,” Jon clarifies. “I, um…I liked it.”
And this is mortifying, but— “I have more. Maybe.”
Jon’s eyebrows shoot up. “More? About me?”
“It’s not like there’s much else to do in here, outside of working hours,” Martin says, trying to sound casual. “And you’re kind of around a lot. It’s fair, I think.”
“Would you show me?”
It’s the look in Jon’s eyes that does him in. Martin doesn’t think he could say no if he tried. If Jon keeps looking at him like that, he’ll do just about anything.