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dustsceawung

Chapter Text

There were many times Martin wished he'd just stayed in Reverdie.

He missed the bright awnings at the Sunday market, how the sunlight filtering through the stalls cast colored light against the pale brick road like stained glass. There was fairy floss and an exotic fruit stand, and the Seneschal from the local Court dressed in every hue of summer.

He missed the breeze in from the ocean, salt-tinged and cool, mixing with the rising fog from the machair every morning as he went for his morning walk down to the creamery. It had tousled his hair as he carried glass milk bottles and fresh butter and soft cheese back to the house.

He missed sitting outside with his bundles of imported wool, carefully separating them out and dyeing them in wooden buckets to the perfect hue before working them on the blending board, crafting smooth gradients of colors. It was distance from his mother, who hated how much space his "yarn rubbish" took up around the house.

In the end, it wasn't enough distance at all. Eventually the topic of Lacuna came up, and how good it would be for Martin to move up north. And there was some truth to the idea. He had been importing wool from Lacuna for years now, and it'd be useful to live closer to the source.

But more than anything, he knew his mother wanted him out. And the brisk cold air of Lacuna was still easier to breathe through than the knowledge that he was unwelcome in his own home.

Still. It was fucking raining all the time.

Back home (if he could still call it home) the Court didn't get on with rain, and it was part of their blessing to shepherd away the grey clouds when they collected. Now, every day seemed to begin with a mist through the air. His galoshes were becoming everyday wear.

Lacuna was a smaller town than Reverdie, but… taller. All of the buildings had the same white-washed sides, the curves of every brush stroke clear in the paint, and the framing and windowsills and shutters were all a dark stained wood. The bottom floors had wide entrances for visitors and shoppers, and hanging signs proclaiming what could be found inside.

The upper floors, where the people actually lived, were quiet, the shutters closed tight enough only the hint of lamplight shone through at night.

Also the mobile reception was atrocious.

The walk from his cottage to the village was just long enough to be a hassle, and too far to carry too many groceries, so he spent a week making the journey down the road to fill up his hand-cart with pantry goods and produce and whatever homegoods he found himself lacking.

When he was finally mostly pretty much settled in, Martin dressed himself in the best clothes he had that could withstand the weather, including his very finest scarf dyed in a dusk cascade of blues and violets and the truest black he could manage. Walking down into Lacuna proper, he stopped at the bookstore, Pinhole Books.

Martin liked bookstores, especially ones with older books. The smell of vellum and leather and dust was a treat after just cold wet mist. And they were practically required by rite to be informational places.

"Hey, could I bother you for a moment," Martin asked the shopkeep on duty, a young man with matte black hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail. He was kneeling by a low shelf, rearranging the books, and looked up at Martin with a flat look that nearly withered Martin's friendly smile.

"Yeah?"

"I, uh, I was just wondering where the Seneschal is? Like, where do they have Court?" He tangled his fingers in the trails of his scarf. "I've been here 'bout a week and I've not seen them around?"

"The what now?" the shopkeep asked. He had a name tag, but the name itself was crossed out with black marker.

"The Seneschal? Whoever is the head of the Court around here?"

"Don't know what a Seneschal is, but our glorious protector the Echelon Elias of the All Seeing is up in the forest." He jerked his head vaguely to the north. "Big terrible tower you can see right over the treeline."

"Right, right, the— The Court of the All Seeing." Martin nodded. "So they… aren't around town?"

The shopkeep snorted. "Thank fuck, they are not, no." He rested his elbows on his knees. "You eager to meet them?"

"I… no? Should I not be?"

"You should not be," he answered firmly. Picking up another book, he frowned at the spine. "How do they do it… where you from?"

"Ah, down south? Loamy Green Spills Into The White Salt Stone, Reverdie?" Martin smiled. "Court of the Deft Hands."

"Huh. Far from home," the shopkeep said, still looking at the book spine. "What'd you say your name was?"

"I didn't," Martin said, still smiling.

A suspicious glance cut through the man's dark fringe. "You a weaver?"

"I dye wool and spin yarn," Martin answered, giving a curt nod. "Thanks for your help."

 


 

Even back home people were afraid of the Weaver. Which Martin could totally understand. Sometimes fears were well-placed. In a faerie court, almost always.

But Martin knew what he was getting into when he sat under the gossamer canopy and let the Weaver teach him to spin. She offered to teach him to thread the constellations themselves with silver thread.

Martin said that sounded lovely but all he wanted was to learn to make yarn. It was honest, useful work, and would keep the roof over his head.

After his tutelage, he saw the Weaver plenty of times, and saw the way she smiled and tipped her head his way. It wasn't unlike a cat watching a bird that had successfully escaped its reach: hungry, but admiring.

At least he'd always seen the Weaver around Reverdie. The Court in Lacuna was just absent. Utterly a non-presence in the village. No fancy chair in the pub for their use, no saved table in the restaurants, no brioche left out at the bakery.

It made Martin anxious, honestly. He couldn't see how the Court was being repaid for its mercy, and that worried him dreadful.

So he kept to his cottage. After all, he had work to do. Moving to Lacuna had done the trick; he'd been able to meet with the shepherd and see the farm for himself.

Daisy was tall and stood with her back straight at all times. She looked precisely like the type of person who would write the terse letters that had accompanied every shipment of wool down to the shore. Her dungarees were grey, faded from black, her hair was pencil straight and wisped across her face in the wind until she blew it away with puffed breaths.

She also walked around with her earbuds in, listening to some show apparently.

Tugging one loose, she gave Martin a stern look up and down as he trudged along in his galoshes. "Blackwood, right?"

"Daisy," Martin greeted amiably. "I stick out around here, huh?"

"Still tryin' to keep your trousers clean. They're going to get muddy, just accept it and walk like a person," she advised coolly. "You wantin' some wool? I got a few clips."

"I'll take two fleeces, please." Daisy lifted her eyebrows at him, so Martin elaborated: "I'm local now, don't have to devote an entire shed just to keeping wool handy."

"Leavin' it with me," Daisy said and grunted. "Fair enough. You better be a regular customer. C'mon."

Her house was a wide ranch that looked maybe converted from old stables. The stone floors had a slight uneven leveling that made Martin think they were set by hand. He felt it was fair to assume whose hands.

Daisy left him in the foyer for a spell, then returned with two bags stuffed full. "I'll invoice you," she said, putting them by his feet. "I know where you live."

"Ah, ha, right…"

Suddenly, the slate blank expression on her face broke into a grin. "You'll get used to it around here. Keep your curtains shut at night."

"Okay, what?" Martin sputtered. "Are you— have I done something?"

"Heard you were asking Gerry about the All Seeing. So, you don't know." She patted him briskly on the arm. "We don't talk too loud, we keep our windows shut, and we don't sleep on the night of the new moon."

Oh thank goodness, someone willing to talk about the Court. "Right, okay. So… how do you repay them? I haven't seen any offerings or anything?"

Daisy's grin softened into something weary. "We don't offer. They take. Every few months, someone's to go to the Court and meet the Echelon."

"Oh. Is that bad?"

She shrugged a shoulder. "It's not good. Best not to pry. If they hear you're interested, they might pick you."

That didn't sound good at all.

True to her word, Daisy sent him an invoice. Along with a few bundles of rosemary, thyme, and fennel. From the garden, she wrote on the strip of paper that was shoved in with the invoice.

Maybe Lacuna wasn't as lonely as Martin feared.

 


 

On a cloudy day, Martin decided he wanted to bake something.

He wasn't necessarily good at baking, but that didn't deter him. Especially now that his mother wasn't around to accuse him of wasting good flour.

There were pots of wool dyeing around the house, waiting for the color to set. He had a little time, so he washed up and then got out his ingredients.

There was no yeast. That was fine. He could make scones. There was a lemon in the fridge and Daisy's rosemary. A nice combination for a treat.

For once, it wasn't raining out, so Martin opened the kitchen window to let the cool air in as he smushed cold butter into the dry ingredients, humming to himself. Snatches of songs drifted through his head; his mobile was useless out here, so he had no music on hand to fill the quiet of the house. Maybe he could get into vinyls. The idea was exciting. There was a tactile pleasure to conjuring music out of a needle and a meticulously grooved disc. Like baking.

There was a consignment shop in town. If anyone would have a player, it'd be them. He just had to remember to check. However, actually acquiring good music would be tricky. Martin was horribly picky.

The bakery had wifi. He could walk into town, buy something, and place an order from there.

He was contemplating how much one had to spend at a shop before it was acceptable to use the wifi when Martin saw him.

Martin's cottage was far enough from Lacuna proper that he honestly had never seen another person out here. Daisy's farm was in the opposite direction, on the other side of town, and the road seemed to exist for Martin alone to travel into town.

But today, someone was just walking down that same road. The movement spooked Martin at first, making him wheel away from the window, crumbly scone dough on his hands.

Heart racing, Martin glanced out the window.

He was tall, and walked quickly, and had on a long black cloak that kicked up around his feet, always swishing just a hair over the damp gravel. His arm was crooked around a stack of books.

His nose was sharp in profile, his features otherwise obscured by distance and dark hair streaked in grey.

Briefly, he looked skyward, examining the quality of the clouds in the sky, but did not break his stride, hurrying along the road, right past Martin's cottage.

Martin watched him until he strode entirely out of view of the window.

Sure, the road went further away from the cottage, but Martin hadn't been aware of another house further down the line. Maybe he had a neighbor? That… sounded very nice, actually. Someone who liked to read, too!

Biting his lip, Martin shuffled back to his sheet pan to finish his scones.

 


 

Now that Martin knew to look for him, he saw the stranger walking by the cottage every few days. Always, he was laden down by books.

What he needed was a woven bag, a nice satchel to help him carry so much along on such a long walk. Martin looked at his dyes and thought about maybe a nice seafoam green, just a pinch of his light blue mixed with the jade. He could dye it into the latest fleece Daisy sent him; there was a texture to the color of the wool that would blend over once it was dye, giving the final hue dimension.

The satchel took two weeks to make. He sold it to some person over the internet, packing it into a box and leaving it for the courier.

The next day, the stranger walked by the house late in the afternoon while Martin brewed a pot of tea and stared out the window. Today, he was carrying three books under his arm and another three braced on his shoulder.

Martin watched him trudge up the road, and startled as his kettle whistled.

He was being foolish. More than that, he was going stir-crazy. It was so very quiet in his cottage, and while the people of Lacuna were warming up to him (especially as he began selling yarn and simple textiles), only Daisy was truly friendly with him. Martin knew how he was, always wishing on stars and pinning his hopes on the wrong people.

The stranger was handsome at a distance and he was the person Martin saw most. It was all terribly predictable.

So too was Martin deciding to pull on his galoshes and go for a walk. Not down to the village, but up the road. If he was going to call this damp landscape home, he could stand to be more familiar with it.

The road turned to gravel soon after leaving the neat paving stones of the village, but even further past the cottage, it turned to more of the idea of a road. Scattered rocks that gave into earth soon after. There was a trodden path, with stubborn grass springing up, trying to reclaim the strip of land more and more as Martin followed it.

The rain made the path downright sodden, and more than once Martin paused to haul his foot out of sucking mud before continuing on.

Daisy was right; the hem of his trousers were terrible, clotted with dirt. But he'd already walked enough, he wanted to reach some sort of conclusion.

There were no houses along the road, no secret home for a long-legged bibliophile. The path wound further from Lacuna until the trees thickened around it, narrowing the way forward.

Soon, the shade of the trees plummeted the temperature until Martin shivered. Overhead, only patches of the grey sky were visible through the branches.

Further on and he might find himself straying close to the Court of the All Seeing. Which: no thanks. Not today. Martin looked balefully around, as if he'd somehow missed an obvious domicile hidden just behind a tree.

There was nothing. Just more remoteness.

The walk back home was slower, as Martin scanned the horizon, looking for a hunch of a house or just a trail of fireplace smoke. As if he could spot such a thing against the endless grey.

Upon returning home, Martin filled the tub with the hottest water he could stand and lounged for hours, coaxing heat back into his bones.

The next day, Martin walked the other way, down into town.

"These are decent," Daisy said, pulling apart one of his scones with her fingers to eat it bit by bit. "Should put some salt on the top, the big kind?"

It was his third batch, and thus the first one he felt okay sharing. "Say, who else lives up the road by me?"

"Nobody," Daisy said immediately.

"Well, no, I think someone must?" He described the stranger, with his books and his long cloak and his definitely living further off than Martin.

"Never heard of him." Her eyes were narrow and serious.

"The… The Court's up that way, right? Gerry said there wasn't a Seneschal, but—"

"They don't come into town," she said firmly. Then, snorting indelicately, she added, "And certainly not thrice a week. No." Pushing the last of the scone into her mouth, she chewed, considering. "Mhm. Books," she said, a few crumbs escaping her mouth. She folded a hand over her lips as she swallowed. "Tch, yeah, might ask at the library. She'd know if someone was swanning around with so many books. Ask her."

The library was the cramped lower floor of a building, the overfull stacks watched over by a severe woman Martin only knew from selling her a few skeins of sunset yarn. Since he last saw her, she'd evidently turned the yarn into a headscarf, the colors blending together beautifully, standing out against her black longsleeve and her black jeans.

When Martin entered, she was up on a ladder. Not reshelving or taking anything down. Just… halfway up the ladder, her eyes landing immediately on him as he came in.

"Hello, uh, Basira?"

"Yeah," the librarian, Basira, said.

"Daisy sent me," Martin offered up.

She let out a breath. "Yeah?" Her tone was exactly the same, but still somehow less oppressive. Something about the slope of her shoulders. "What do you need?"

"I need nothing," Martin said primly. "I'm curious about this person I keep seeing up along the north road. Tall, wears a long cloak, dark hair."

Basira's brow furrowed. "Doesn't ring a bell. Why ask here?"

"Oh, he's always carrying a load of books?"

"Up the road, past the old cottage." She shook her head slowly. "No one lives up that way."

"The Court does?"

"When one of the All Seeing comes to A Stone's Throw From The Highest Tower, you will know it. There is no mistaking it." She tilted her head at Martin. "You don't drink, do you?"

"No." Alcohol tended to taste awful, and… also seemed a bad habit for someone who lived on his own. "He's carrying books up the path about three or four times a week. You've really not seen him?"

"No one here reads that much," Basira said. "Sorry."

"Right. Thank you anyway." He looked around the library.

"Want a library card?"

She sounded like she'd prefer to do anything else but sign him up, so Martin took the hint and excused himself. The sky was rapidly darkening anyway, and he had a walk before he was safe at home.

 


 

It was honestly a wonder that Lacuna did not slide down the hill in a landslide. The village dotted around a lazy slope that crested with the forest, that perilous tower watching over everything. When a storm rolled in, pounding rain that turned an afternoon sky to darkest night, Martin thought it curious this place even survived.

Perhaps that was the protection of the Court. It certainly seemed like magical intervention.

He wished they'd be a bit more thorough about it. As the storm continued, Martin walked around the cottage with his dye pots, finding the places the roof was dripping. At least he had an abundance of containers to catch all the water. Soon, the cottage was ringing with the sound of plinking and plonking as shallow pools rippled with each new drop.

Sighing, Martin flexed his hands.

That was the other thing about rain. His wrists and shoulders throbbed with a low, dull ache as the downpour continued. His hands were his livelihood, and the effects made him feel so old sometimes.

Rice socks were so important. Sighing, Martin retrieved them and went to put them in the microwave. It seemed a fine way to spend the rest of the day, draping warm weight over his joints and maybe watching Pride & Prejudice from the sofa. A big cup of tea, too, just to hold in his hand, letting the warmth permeate would be lovely.

In the kitchen, he started the kettle and the microwave, leaning on the counter to look out the window.

It's just slightly ajar, not enough to allow any rain in. The breeze flowing through was a nice counterpoint to the fire in the hearth.

Watching the rice socks spinning around in the microwave, Martin nearly missed it when something fell down from the window. There was just enough movement out of the corner of his eye for him to straighten up, hopping back from the counter.

There was… a moth. There was, in fact, a large moth that was crawling sluggishly across the smooth wood kitchen top. Martin had grown up with the small white and grey bugs that got into the closets and bashed themselves against any exposed bulb they could. This one looked out of glossy nature magazines or documentaries: a furry dark body (thorax, maybe?) that dragged a set of oversized wings, rich chocolatey brown with waves of cream-white and dashes of an almost iridescent dark teal.

Martin gasped in awe and delight. "Hello, there, what— where did you even come from?" he gushed.

Carefully approaching, Martin assumed the moth would take off if he made any sudden movements. But the moth continued to pull itself along the countertop.

Up close, Martin could see big droplets of water scattered over the moth's wings. They didn't seem to be soaking into the dense, fluffy chitinous material, the drops solid and perched on top.

His heart immediately sank. It seemed dreadfully cruel, for him to see a beautiful, enormous insect that looked like it was dressed in a wooly jumper, only for it to go and die because of the rain.

The microwave went off, beeping insistently. Tutting, Martin turned it off and moved back to his visitor, gently placing a hand in the moth's path.

The moth's antennae, big feathery things, flick around for a second. Changing its mind, it trundled around in a circle, its fuzzy legs tapping rapidly against the countertop as it about-faced and tried to go the other way.

"Aw, poor little puffball." Leaning down, Martin set his arm in the moth's path again. "C'mere, little friend. Where are you going?"

Picking it up was a slow process. Closing his arms around the moth by degrees caught it eventually, and with a nudge, Martin got it to climb up onto his sleeve.

The size of the thing became clear. It was like carrying around a weird, colorful corsage, the body of the moth stretching down the back of Martin's hand. Gently pressing down on the moth's back, he lifted it, making shushing, comforting noises.

Could moths hear things? He had no idea.

He had a leftover box from buying a new needle for the record player. It seemed as good a place as any to keep his guest as he… figured out what to do.

Once he tried to lower the moth inside, it seemed far more agitated, trying to climb back onto Martin. It's little tappy legs explored every corner of the box.

"It's okay, you're fine," Martin soothed, sitting back on his heels. "I can't very well put you outside, you're already lucky to be alive."

But it did beg the question: now what?

Now, Martin poured his tea, and took out his phone as it steeped. The reception was so spotty here, he paced around, holding it up as he looked at the bars.

By standing on the chest at the end of his bed, Martin managed to get some information. The webpages wouldn't load any pictures and all the formatting was ruined, but he could read enough.

Opening the flaps of the box, Martin lowered in a dry bundle of spare yarn, just some bits that didn't dye properly. In a shallow saucer, he put some sugar water and a slice of apple.

Then, holding a hand towel very carefully, he pressed two fingers to the back of the moth's body. With all the grace Martin had ever had in his entire life, Martin caught the droplets with the towel, letting them be absorbed up and off the moth's wings.

For two minutes, Martin barely breathed. Until he was done, and all the droplets were gone. Exhaling slowly, he sat back on his heels. "That was… Well, you're all set, I think. Ah, rest up? Have some… sugar." He watched the moth scuttle around in the box, apparently relieved to not be held still anymore. It's long legs tapped at the yarn clippings, then waved in the air.

So he'd saved a moth. Smiling, Martin closed the flaps again and patted his thighs.

… Goodness gracious, his shoulders hurt. Lumbering to his feet, he went to reheat the rice socks. He'd definitely earned a night watching some DVDs.

 


 

When morning came, the rain finally ceased. It was, for Lacuna, almost sunny. At least the light through the clouds was vivid enough to illuminate the landscape.

Checking on the box, Martin found the moth tucked back in the corner, and felt a pang. "Oh no. Please don't be dead," he whispered, reaching in.

The moth was still, still, totally motionless as Martin gingerly curled his fingers under the fuzzy little thing.

"Please, please, come on…" He tapped his fingers against the butt of the abdomen (definitely the abdomen, he'd googled that before bed) to urge it forward.

All in a moment, the moth stuttered forward, its legs bracing it on Martin's palm, already propelling it up his wrist.

A relieved breath whooshed out of Martin. "Don't do that, you scared me something awful." Rising out of his crouch, Martin cupped his free hand over the top of the moth. "Ready to go? I bet you are."

Insistently the moth journeyed up Martin's forearm, then to his elbow. By the time he got the door open and stepped out onto the porch, he was doing his best to tilt it away from his face. "Here, we're here!" He stood out in his slippers, the cold air nipping at his toes. "Uh."

He'd expected an immediate take-off into the clear air. With the same careful movement, the moth spun around, it's antennae waving around toward Martin.

"Hi," he said nervously. Was it worse off than he thought? Maybe the water had damaged its wings and it couldn't fly?

As he started to fret over that, the moth flapped its wings, and lifted off Martin's arm. Instead, he yelped and froze as it landed on his head, just against his hair. He could feel it move through his hair, a ticklish sensation that had his body locking in place in his effort to not fucking move.

Then, it was gone, fluttering away from him, out into the field to the left of the porch. It was just huge, the teal streaks on its wings vivid as it flew away.

Slowly, Martin's heart rate settled, and he smiled. He'd saved a moth. Sure, it was just a moth, but… the feeling of good work well done filled him with suffusing warmth.

"Bye," Martin called belatedly. "Try not to get caught in the rain again!"

He watched until he lost sight of the moth, then retreated back inside, still smiling to himself.

Chapter Text

The record player made a quiet whirring noise underneath the music as it spun the vinyl. Martin hadn't gotten his hand on many options yet. An old Death Cab album was nice ambiance as he worked. He also secured a Metric album, but was waiting to get sick of his current music before moving onto the next. The consignment shop didn't have much and the courier only came once a week around Lacuna.

That was likely why he hadn't gotten a response from his mother when he sent her a letter. He'd written about the cottage, the nice countertops as well as the sometimes spotty roof. He'd shared the tale of the enormous moth he'd saved from the rain.

He hadn't mentioned the local court being strange. Only good things, so she'd know he was alright. Which he was.

The worry hung around him like a miasma. But she was probably fine. At least back in Reverdie there were kind people. They'd look after her.

But the lack of company did bother him. The cottage was so very quiet, outside the drizzling rain. The only person around was his stranger.

Martin was making some poached eggs for his toast and just happened to be looking out his window as the tall cloaked man walked by.

"Only two books today, huh," Martin said to himself. "Is that going to occupy you for long? If you had one of my nice satchels you could carry more and wouldn't have to make so many trips." Snorting to himself, Martin added, "But I'd lose the highlight of my day then, wouldn't I?"

Mister Stranger slowed his pace, juggling his books to swap them around and frown at the cover of the one on top. His teeth pressed into his lower lip, and Martin sighed quietly.

It was fine, really. It was good, really! He could simper and sigh over the stranger because he was a distant figure that would never know Martin was even there , and so Martin would never stumble over himself like a fool.

He was busy rejoicing in this safety when the stranger's head turned very subtly, beyond the edge of the book, and his eyes were a greenish-blue, and Martin realized he was glancing in the direction of the cottage.

Where Martin was just staring out like some sort of voyeur!

Gasping, Martin looked down at his pan where the water was boiling and ready for the eggs. Had he salted it already? Oh, god, he'd just been staring , that wasn't okay!

And the only way to know if the danger had passed was to look again.

After cracking an egg into the water, Martin peeked out the window again.

The stranger was nearly out of sight, continuing up the road with his books held to his chest.

A deep breath whooshed out of Martin. A disaster narrowly averted.

 


 

Martin returned to Pinhole Books now that he knew Gerry's name.

Honestly, the dance around names was always something of a pain, especially for Martin. He was an only child and his mother wasn't inclined to bring him up in conversation, so the dialogic acrobatics he needed to ensure people knew him were intense and annoying. Lucky him that Daisy and he had corresponded by letter, and she was able to safely share his name and give him a few to work with.

Ergo, now when Martin walked between the shelves of the bookstore, there was less tension. He found the four shelves devoted to poetry easily and skimmed his thumb over some of the titles. There was Averno, which he always meant to read, and so slipped it out to carry as he went to look at cookbooks next.

Gerry was sitting on a three-leg stool behind one of the shelves, his phone in his hands as he tapped rhythmically at the screen. On the wet gleam of his eyes, reflections of color danced and sparked as he moved his thumbs to the beat.

"Morning, Gerry," Martin said, smiling.

He nodded once. "Hey, Blackwood."

"Slow day?"

"Never anything but," Gerry said sourly. "Let me know if you need something. But try not to need anything."

"Oh, I might have a question? When you reach a break."

Snorting softly, Gerry nodded and continued to tap and play at his phone. Eventually, he seemed to finish and set it down on his thigh. There was a score screen there, showing a bright shiny B Rank! at the top. Martin had no idea if that was good.

"Right, what is it?"

"Right, yes," Martin said. "I know it sounds odd but do you have a regular customer in the morning? Tall, dark hair, has a long cloak and buys a lot of books."

"Tall in comparison to who? Like, to you or to me?"

That seemed a bit uncalled for. "I'm not sure. I've only seen him at a distance. But he walks by my cottage two or three times a week, and he's always got a load of books. Basira's never seen him, so I figured you might?"

Dark eyebrows pulled together. "There's nothing past the cottage."

Sighing, Martin shrugged.

"Haven't seen anyone. But Mum usually opens the store. I could check the receipts." He stood and, rather predictably, was pretty tall himself. "'Cept, why do you want to know?"

Oh, because the stranger was handsome and Martin would love to get his name so he could strike up polite conversation. "It's just weird that I've seen him a dozen times and no one else seems to know him."

"Bog-standard nosiness. Fine." He stalked up the aisle to the front counter. "Got nothing better to do."

At the register, Gerry pressed buttons, coaxing the machine to spit out long strips of paper with a lot of thermal print. He read through whatever was on the paper before crumbling and binning it. "Not charged." He opened the cash drawer next and glared down into it, flicking through notes and coins. "Yeah… there's extra money in here."

"Oh!" Finally, some evidence that the Stranger wasn't some persistent hallucination. Or a ghost of the cottage or something. "Then I could ask your mother—"

Gerry shut the drawer. "I wouldn't recommend it. Her help never comes free and she doesn't name her price up front." Any amiability that was in him vanished like a flame being blown out. "You buying that or what?"

Reluctantly, Martin handed over his book to purchase, unsure what to say.

 


 

The black clouds returned to Lacuna before long, and Martin spent the last remnants of sunlight bringing in his laundry from the line, hanging everything up around the bathroom instead. More storms, just what he needed. The air was so damp, it made his hair start to frizz in ways that would be mortifying if he had anyone to look nice for.

Which, he didn't, so Martin got into warm flannels and got the fireplace going before the rain started to come down.

It was the lack of light he didn't like. How he woke up, enjoyed two hours of moderate sunshine, and then the entire sky turned back to something akin to night. Having to keep all the lights on in the house at 1pm was an absolute pain in the arse.

Sighing, Martin watched the rain strike against the window. The breeze through the narrow gap was cold; he rubbed his hands together.

Maybe the local court enjoyed storms. Maybe they didn't care enough to intervene.

He made tea for the weather; a milky chai with some extra cinnamon on top suited the chill. It would go nicely with his new book.

As he took his first sip of his tea and decided it needed a smidge more sugar, it happened again. From the windowsill fell another bloody moth, landing on the countertop soundlessly and waving its thick wings in circles.

Martin nearly choked on his tea, setting it quickly down. "What the hell?" He didn't hesitate this time, moving in close to get a look. "Again? Am I a bus shelter for wayward insects now?"

The weird bit was that the moth… looked very much like the last one. Actually, incredibly so, with its grand fuzzy brown wings and the teal-shining highlights. As it sat on the counter, it lifted its furry front legs and tugged one of its antennae down to clean speckles of water from it.

"Okay," Martin said, bereft. "There… you're not the same one, are you?"

The moth switched antennae, pulling and tugging against the great black feathery things to its satisfaction.

Well, at least Martin sort of knew what to do now. With a towel, he leeched the few droplets off the moth's wings before nudging the butt of its abdomen. The moth took a few stuttering steps until it was climbing onto Martin's palm with ticklish legs and a surprising heft.

"I threw out the box, you know. What am I going to do with you now…" Since the moth seemed contented to perch on Martin's hand— it had to be the same moth, it was so calm as Martin picked it up— he grabbed his tea with the other, walking into his living room.

There were some dyed skeins of jar on the table. Martin nudged them aside with an elbow, then put down his mug.

Putting the moth down was more difficult. It was almost silly; it had this enormous, thick wings and a big furry body, it seemed like it would be very heavy. But it wrapped two sets of legs around Martin's finger and hung on easily, even when Martin inverted his hand. Upside-down, it waved its front set of legs wildly as the others held it fast.

"Okay," Martin murmured, sitting down on his sofa. "I'll just… hold you, I guess."

Its front legs waved again, and Martin smiled. Later, he'd get his guest a saucer of sugar water and any fruit he had in the fridge, and he'd get back to work with some spinning.

But for a while, Martin sat quietly and watched the moth crawl over his hands, enjoying the soft ticklish touch.

 


 

The storm finally broke late in the evening. This time, Martin opened the kitchen window, wiped off the sill with a towel, and coaxed the moth from his arm onto the wooden platform.

It walked in circles, antennae waving.

"Bye," Martin said, leaning on his arms to watch. "I don't know how long you guys live, but I guess I'll see you next time?" He looked at the dark field beyond the open window. "Hm. There's not a lot of trees. Maybe that's why you come here?"

With a great flap, the moth took off, disappearing into the dark almost immediately.

Shaking his head, Martin sighed. "Right. Anyway." Tapping his knuckles on the counter, he went back to the sofa.

After ten minutes, he put in a DVD, some schlocky Hollywood thing that didn't split his attention from the spinning wheel. Even if his visitor hadn't made much noise, everything felt much more quiet in its wake.

 


 

Two days later, Martin woke up and something was different.

It wasn't the courier's delivery day, so Martin wasn't expecting anything on his porch. All he wanted was to shuffle outside to grab some herb clippings for his omelet.

Instead, he nearly went arse over tea kettle, tripping over the threshold.

Staggering, he braced himself on the patio fence, and looked down at what the hell had caught him up.

Sitting on the mat by the door was a box. In and of itself, that wasn't unusual. The village was a bit remote, so Martin had things mailed in fairly regularly. But the box wasn't branded. It didn't have a shipping label or return address. It was actually entirely unblemished.

It was also made of wood.

This wasn't normal.

Martin ducked inside to grab his gloves before picking up the box, in case he'd mistakenly fallen into some parable about rose thorns and poisoned beauty. The box was very beautiful, fit between his hands easily, and had just enough heft to make it feel solid and well-made.

Turning it over slowly, Martin examined it from all angles, looking for some kind of emblem or mark of ownership. Some little burned-in symbol could indicate ownership, and by opening something that wasn't addressed to him, Martin could get in trouble, et cetera.

But each plane of the box was smooth and perfectly sanded and lacquered. There was a slight slope to create the curved top of the lid, but otherwise it was clean as a whistle. The only break was the line where the lid met the rest of the box.

Sighing, Martin shut his eyes for a moment, bracing himself, before he worked his thumbnail into the narrow line and pulled the lid off.

It didn't explode or immediately swallow a portion of his soul or smell of pomegranates or anything.

Inside were… food things. Not food, but a bundle of cinnamon sticks, a vanilla bean in a long glass tube, a jar of big nutmegs, cloves, and big bold star anise pods.

This was strange.

Later, Daisy was stomping around the squishy ground and handed Martin a lamb with a curt, "Here, hold this. Now, what about a box? On a Tuesday?"

"I know, it's not courier day," Martin said and tried his best to hold the lamb across his arms. It wiggled its long legs and tossed it's head, almost toppling Martin over.

"Aaah-aaah-aaah," it bleated at him.

"It was filled with spices and stuff?" He followed Daisy around as she trailed after her sheep, clicking her tongue at them. "But what was really weird was the container. It was this really nice wooden box, like a— a jewelry chest. Except there were no maker's marks or any marks, so I was wondering if the, uh, the All Seeing, maybe wood is one of their emblems?"

Daisy turned around, walking backwards for a spell to keep her eyes on Martin. "It is not, no. Mostly just eyes. I hear the Echelon has a few extra on hand."

"Urgh," Martin said, lip curling.

She smirked briefly before it vanished from her face. "There was food inside, you said? You can't eat it, obviously."

"No, not food," Martin said, taking a deep breath and hitching the lamb further up into his arms.

"Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah," the lamb said into Martin's ear.

"It's all specifically not food," Martin went on. "Just stuff you could add to food. Cinnamon and nutmeg and so on."

"Huh," Daisy said. "That is very… precise." She spun around again and reached out her crook, a long blue-painted staff with a hook at the end. Catching a wandering sheep, she tugged it gently back into the group. "Beggars the question, doesn't it?"

"Is it so precise because it’s from a faerie or because it’s from a mortal who wants me to feel safe," Martin answered, nodding along. "That's what I've been wondering."

Clicking her tongue, she walked around to the other side of the sheep, steering them along. "Well. Either way, it's not food , is it. Might as well use it."

"You think?"

"Don't see why not," she said. "It's the good stuff, right? Shame to waste it."

"I thought so too but was sort of… waiting for a second opinion?" Martin paused to resettle the lamb. "Ah, Daisy, why do— why am I carrying this rascal?"

Immediately, she wandered back over to Martin and took the lamb from his arms, tucking it under her arm so it balanced against her hip. It bleated again, and she smiled.

"She likes being carried," she said calmly, and walked off with her flock. "Good job. Go try your fancy spices. And remember tonight's a new moon."

Oh, right. He'd forgotten.

 


 

It was his own fault for not keeping an eye on the calendar. He woke up far too early today, and was yawning by the time ten rolled around.

He had to do something to keep awake, clearly. Explicit details of what would happen if he slept through the new moon weren't forthcoming from anyone in Lacuna, but only a fool took that as invitation in court lands. Trying to know everything about everything never did anyone a favor.

So Martin was going to stay up and make some use of the kit of goodies that arrived at his door. Taking his laptop into the kitchen, he put in his latest secondhand DVD purchase (one of the Wes Anderson films, garishly and strange and pleasantly weird) and got to work setting things out.

Bread first. He opened his mason jar of yeast and got started mixing things, since it'd have to sit a while before puffing up nicely.

One day he'd get it right. Maybe having some fresh ingredients would lend him a little luck in the matter. The smell of baking bread was always lovely, but the deflated, dense products that came out of his oven never lived up to his expectations.

After the bread was sitting aside to rise, he started another set of scones, already aware they were very much the easiest option. At least some cinnamon and sugar would give them a little personality. Maybe an eggwash on top and then a cinnamony crust on top? How would he do that, take them out before they finished up and add the extra mixture on top?

Martin was frowning into his bowl of crumbly flour and butter when a noise cut through the jaunty movie soundtrack, a soft flump, like a feather duster being dropped.

He turned, and there was absolutely the same moth, it was too similar to be a three-times coincidence! This time, completely dry, it fluttered its wings before slowing to a gradual open-close motion, idle movement.

"You again!" Martin exclaimed, and began lifting his hands before remembering they were coated in sconestuff. He still needed to break up the butter a little more. "Hello there!"

The moth's wings moved slowly. It reminded Martin of breathing, though he was fairly sure that wasn't how it worked.

"I'll get you an apple in a minute, alright? As you can see I'm busy." He mushed the dough together and sighed. "I'm talking to an insect. I should really get a dog. Or a boyfriend." He grinned grimly to himself. "But mother always said to set realistic goals, didn't she?"

His moth friend took off again, and Martin instinctively froze in place, eyes shut tight.

When he opened them again, the moth was on his shoulder, tapping its excitable little front legs against Martin's shirt. As its wings settled, the edge of one brushed Martin's neck, and he shivered.

"Okaaaay," he said quietly. "You can… sit there, that's fine." He waited for a moment, in case it was about to fly off somewhere else next.

No luck. So shackled with his hands covered in flour, he finished making the dough and getting the scones ready for the fridge before washing up.

The moth adjusted as Martin moved around, but otherwise didn't seem ready to leave him yet. Every time it gently moved its wings open and closed, it brushed against him again.

"I'm actually terrible at baking," Martin confided quietly. "I want to be good at it, so I keep throwing myself against the proverbial wall there."

The moth said nothing, but seemed sympathetic enough.

"Hey, you know, I actually got a book about you. Well, hopefully." Moving carefully to not dislodge the moth, Martin retrieved an ice pack from the freezer and then the book from his satchel.

There was a Property Of Lacuna sticker on the spine of the book, and a collection of painted butterflies and moths on the cover. Martin set it on the counter. "That's you. Lepidoptera. I think it's a pretty word."

His wrist always hurt by the end of the day, so Martin set the ice pack down by the book so he could rest his hand on it as he read. It was a thick volume, and every third page was adorned with a beautiful sketch of a butterfly or moth. Against the bottom of the page was a physical description, explaining the coloration that was tragically missing from the book.

"Come here, I can't see you up there," Martin murmured, and coaxed the moth down, settling it on the counter. It waved its arms; Martin waggled his fingers in reply.

There were a lot of little moths before he reached the exciting ones, the big moths. His visitor was certainly a big one.

Page by page, Martin compared and contrasted his options. There was the Megalopyge opercularis , which was furry enough but lacked the right patterns. Iotaphora admirabilis was beautiful, but the wrong colors. Speiredonia spectans had the eye-shapes and some nice coloring, but was too small.

"Wow, look at that one," Martin said when he found the lunar moth. Too bright. The Atlas moth was too dramatic in another way, the reds and oranges so vivid. Hyalophora cecropia seemed close, except for all the details being wrong. The sphinxes were closer, though the abdomen and thorax were all completely different.

By the time he reached the end of the large moths, he was looking very closely at his own. Really, nothing seemed close at all. "I wonder if you're new," Martin mused quietly. "That would be… pretty cool, actually? If I found a new moth."

He fetched a slice of peach for the moth as he considered it. "I don't know how you verify new discoveries. Maybe I could ask Basira, she's sort of… intimidatingly smart in that way." He placed the slice down, watching the moth walk over to it and start licking at it with its long tendrily thing.

Proboscis, the book said.

"I think I get to name you," Martin said to himself. "That part I like. I— I think Blackwood would be nice for the sort of second part of the name, right?" Very slowly, Martin reached out and stroked the back of the moth's abdomen. Fur spilled out over the dusty wings, very fine under his fingers. " Lepidoptera Blackwood. Or, wait, the first name is the… genus?"

The moth didn't supply any answers.

Martin sighed and rested his cheek on his hand. "Who am I kidding? I don't know how this works. You're probably a bunch of moths all over this area. I should just call you… Dusty."

The moth flapped its wings and seemed to finish with its fruit treat, instead scurrying around to climb onto Martin again.

"Too cliche, huh? What about… Delilah? Mink? Chocolate?"

This time antennae brushed Martin's neck, and he came very close to jostling the moth right off as he squirmed.

"Gah, okay! Something simpler?" He nudged the moth down away from his sensitive skin, catching some dark powder on his skin as he did. "Fine, Harry. Get it, because you're a puffball?"

More tiny moth flailing before he settled.

"Okay. You can be… Jon. How's that?" He considered, and felt the need to clarify. "And specifically without the superfluous 'h' in it. Much classier that way." He rubbed his fingers together, looking at the moth dust and how it dyed his fingers vividly. "Until I can get some scientists on the phone, then you'll be Saturnalis mothyguy Blackwood, or whatever."

A yawn cracked Martin's jaw. "Fuck. Let's bake some bread already before I fall asleep."

 


 

The moment the sun began to lighten along the horizon, Martin staggered over to the sofa and went to sleep.

He was so damned tired. Luckily this sort of thing only happened every month, because the ordeal just drained him. There were people built for all-nighters, and those people went to uni. Not Martin, who tutored under the Weaver and never bought an overpriced textbook in his life.

By the time he woke up, he had another disc-shaped piece of heavy bread, two sets of scones, and some cookies, all out on the counter and basically getting in the way as he tried to make morning (nearly afternoon) tea.

Sleepily, Martin gazed out the window, hoping for a glimpse of…

It didn't matter. As everyone in the damned village told him, no one lived out past his cottage. He was being ridiculous.

It was courier day, at least. As he set his tea to steep, Martin stepped into his slippers and puttered to the front door. He wasn't expecting anything, but was always up for a surprise.

Upon opening the door, he did find a small collection of envelopes. A few looked like junk, but two looked like handwritten letters. Probably requests from clients.

But more importantly, there was a wooden box sitting on his porch.

Martin stared at it, mouth dry. Another box. That seemed bad.

Shoving the letters into his dressing gown pocket, Martin lifted the box up. It was heavier than the last one.

"Shit," Martin muttered, hurrying back inside. "Oh, what have I done?"

Inside, he examined the box again, thrice as thoroughly as before. He checked every centimeter of it, held it up to the light, examined the shape of its shadow, even got out a match to wave a flame against it in case a secret crest was lurking there.

Nothing. Utterly boring, outside the fact it was wooden and was beautifully made.

All he could do was look inside.

This time, there was a book.

There was a used copy of The Beginner's Baking Book, a hardcover with worn corners and brightly colored photos across the pages. There were guides to baking inside, shockingly enough, a few pages dogeared or creased.

It seemed a well-loved book; there were the tacky remnants of a pocket inside the cover, where a library card might've sat once. There was also a sticker on the back, and Martin recognized it immediately as the price tag used at Pinhole Books.

The price was tactfully marked out.

This was all, genuinely, a massive relief. Someone had bought him a book. So at the very least, Martin knew the chances of it being a faerie were as close to nothing as made no odds.

Faeries, broadly speaking, did not understand currency. They knew it was a mortal thing and an alternative to trading goods and favors. They could even be convinced sometimes to understand the basic monetary worth of things.

The problem was faeries could just… make notes and bills. Pick up a leaf and bend it through the light and suddenly they had ten quid in hand. Humans had long since learned that the fae didn't care about things like inflation, and so politely declined to exchange faerie money for goods and services. And luckily, faeries were so bloody obvious about themselves, it was easy to spot them.

Point being: someone had bought Martin a book, and it probably wasn't a weird trick. Weird: yes. A trick: thankfully no.

A smile stole over his face as he pulled the pages back with his thumb, letting each one slip his grip and flip by. It was nice. It was also a tad worrying that someone had learned so much about him, but he was within the domain of the Court of the All Seeing, so maybe everyone was kind of sneaky.

He decided to be upset about it later, when he found out who it was, and not now as he looked out at the late morning sunlight.

As fortune would demand, Martin saw his stranger walking up the road again. The hood of the cloak was up, and Martin noticed the man squint angrily up at the sunlight.

Still smiling to himself, Martin chuckled. "Don't imagine anyone in Lacuna would be a fan of the sun. You scarce see it."

Today was a four-book day, though two of them were enormous thick tomes that seemed a trouble to carry. Eventually, the stranger frowned down at his haul and separated out the two smaller books from the stack. With much shifting and rearranging, he tucked them inside his cloak somehow.

"Oh, do you have pockets? That's handy." Picking up his tea, Martin sipped and watched the man hurry up the road, head ducked from the unusual bright sunlight.

God, speaking of All Seeing. "I should really stop watching him," Martin chided himself, as he followed the stranger's movement all the way out of sight. "Just terrible."

Then, he was gone, and Martin rested his hand on the book.

Maybe now he'd succeed at a single blessed loaf of bread.

Chapter Text

Martin just accepted that he had a pet moth now. His hope had been for a dog or cat, maybe, but there seemed to actually be very few of them in Lacuna. When he asked Daisy about it, she shook her head and mentioned something about having to be careful of any creature with eyes like that. Which was a worrying statement, to be sure.

"They see through many eyes," Daisy had said over coffee. "Any bird that seems to always be perched outside your window, any cat that lays in the same spot even after the sun's moved, any dog that's too quiet, you have to be careful."

"What are they looking for?" Martin had asked, adding enough milk to his coffee to garner a look of quiet dismay from Daisy.

"Don't think it matters, honestly. So long as they get something."

So instead, Martin had a moth. It was fine. A little harder to cuddle and not capable of comforting purring,

"Hey! No nibbling the wool!" Martin stuck his fingers in front of the moth's mouth, not liking the way it was plucking at the fibers. "Stop that."

The moth reluctantly climbed up and let itself be moved to a new spot, this time on Martin's shoulder, where it couldn't make as much trouble.

Usually, silkmoths (the big ones, generally speaking) didn't even have mouths. Once they came out of their cocoon, that was it, they laid some eggs and then shuffled off the mortal coil. Which seemed very beautiful and sad to Martin, to be grand and gorgeous and doomed to die. But his moth, among its other variations, had a mouth, and enjoyed sweet treats. As well as fibers.

"I'll get you a bit of nosh in a moment," Martin said, and got back to rolling the wool. Basira had requested, "one of those really thick yarns, yeah? that does all the work for you," so she could make a blanket.

No one ever seemed to understand just how much chunky yarn went into making, well, anything. He endeavored to get half the order done for Basira, then took a break. It truly was a lot of work, laying out dyed strands to give the yarn depth, then rolling it against his lap, coaxing it into the thick shape needed. Felting the surface a bit helped it hold together, and he wound up balls of yarn and softly underhanded them into a basket on the floor.

After finishing one, Martin sighed. "Rice sock time. Which means nosh time for you."

In the kitchen, Martin tossed two socks into the microwaves and grabbed his bottle of sugar water that he kept on the counter now.

His moth fluttered to settle on a clear jar with a hinged lid, set aside by the window. Inside was what Martin thought was supposed to be a tea blend, loose leaf and dried herbs and small petals. It had arrived at his door in a wooden box one morning.

His moth tapped excitedly at the lid. Martin smirked. "No, no tea. Or, at least not that tea," Martin said, smiling. Setting down a saucer of sugar water, he bopped the moth's abdomen, getting it to flutter down. "Don't tell anyone, but it's not very good."

The tea had come in a nice wooden box the other day, left on the porch in the morning. By now, it was becoming routine for Martin to check as soon as he woke up if there was something waiting for him. There wasn't a gift every day, but often enough he now was the proud owner of a Matryoshka box of smaller boxes.

There was the book and the spices, then some cute wooden cups Martin was keeping his new vanilla sugar in, then a jar of muscle balm (the same he liked to pick up from the shop in town), and the tea.

The tea was… not great. Very herbal. It smelled nice, but Martin had elected to not try any more after the second cup.

The moth dragged down one of its antennae with its furry paws, holding it over its face for a moment before letting go, the feathery thing flicking back into place.

"Maybe you could eat it? You can eat plants, right?" The microwave beeped, and Martin retrieved his rice socks excitedly, taking no time to drape them over his wrists. "Ah, lovely."

There was a companionable quiet as the moth licked up sugar and Martin rested. From where he stood, he could see out the window. It was getting on in the day, and the road was empty.

Martin sighed. "No sign of him today." He watched a cloud roll over the field outside. "I should stop, right? I should stop looking for him. It's— creepy, isn't it, to just watch someone, to think about someone like— like that, all fond and such, when you've not even said how do you do." His mouth twisted. "It's stupid."

He watched his moth clean its antennae again, one and then the other.

Sighing, Martin rolled his hands over and repositioned the socks. He really needed some hobby that was easy on his hands. Or to learn to sit still and stop doing things that further agitate his aches.

With a trundle of movement, the moth walked down the counter to Martin's hands. The temptation to stroke the feathery plumes was strong, but Martin knew better and simply rubbed the back of the moth's head, between its enormous eyes.

 


 

When Basira's order was done, Martin loaded up two whole bags of it, carrying them down into Lacuna, casting nervous looks upward in case the sky was about to open up and utterly ruin his work. So far, the partly cloudy sky seemed to hold.

As the gravel turned to flat stones, Martin walked onto the main street around which all of Lacuna branched out.

Immediately, Martin knew something was wrong.

There was a crowd by the library. There had never been a crowd in Lacuna before. People were so careful to keep indoors; the village was often quiet and still but for a few pedestrians. Seeing more than a handful of people standing outside together made Martin imminently and deeply nervous.

Daisy was standing at the edge of the crowd, a sling bag of groceries hanging down. One fist was knuckled against her hip.

Walking over to her, Martin tried to stand up on his toes, looking over people's shoulders toward the library door. Basira stood at the front, her playfully colorful hijab standing out vividly amid the dour mood.

In front of her was another woman, nearly as tall, pale with golden blonde hair pulled up into a pinned bun. Her skin seemed pulled tight around her bones in a worrying way, and her teeth were visible as she spoke. "This is absolutely outrageous! We were called upon not a year ago!" She pointed a finger at Basira. "A speaker for the All Seeing should be careful about the words they choose."

Basira's expression didn't shift. She stared the woman down, looking mildly annoyed but otherwise unperturbed. "And such a prominent figure of A Stone's Throw From The Highest Tower should be honored to be invited to the Echelon's table twice in her lifetime."

"Daisy," Martin said quietly. "What's happening?"

"Keay family has been called to the Court," Daisy said curtly.

"Oh." Martin watched the women trade barbed manners. "That's… not good?"

"It's an honor," Daisy said. Rolling a shoulder, she looked down at Martin. "Invitation comes every few months. A family is chosen. They send someone up to the tower."

"They come back, right?" Martin couldn't help but ask.

Nearby, someone barked a laugh, and Martin jumped, turning to look.

Gerry was smoking, wearing the most self-satisfied grin Martin had ever seen on a mortal. "Yeah, they come back. In a matter of time."

Things clicked together for Martin. Or, rather, they didn't quite make sense with what he knew. "Then, that's… your mother, you mentioned?" He almost told Gerry he was sorry, but Gerry didn't seem… upset.

"Yep," Gerry said, popping the p obnoxiously and grinning.

"I don't understand," Martin said plainly.

"The message was quite clear," Basira was saying ahead of the crowd, voice picking over Mrs. Keay's. "The Echelon will be pleased to have the company of Keay at his table. Unless you mean to displease, Mary."

"Oh, just shut up and do it," Gerry muttered darkly around his cig.

Martin nudged Daisy. She shook her head slightly.

"Keays got invited last spring. Small family at this point," Daisy said quietly.

"She sent me instead," Gerry offered up, tone falsely bright. "A true shame for her; you can't send the same person twice." He gave Martin a wink, vicious and cold. "Her turn to take supper with the Echelon."

"I'm not going to argue with you, Mary," Basira said sternly. "You can either go or it'll be on your head when the consequences come." She leaned forward, into Mary Keay's face. "Either way, I don't think you'll be staying for long."

Mary's face was a rictus of anger as she glared daggers into Basira. Turning sharply away, she walked through the crowd, people moving quickly out of her way.

"Shit, tonight's going to be tense," Gerry muttered. "Daisy—"

"No," Daisy said immediately. "I'm running some goats down to sell."

"Then you won't even notice I'm there!"

"Go bother Oliver," she told him.

"No, shit, do you think I want to watch a documentary about the history of Microsoft Excel?"

"Sorry to, ah, interrupt," Martin said. "But is this invitation thing, is it for the whole town?"

"You're part of this place now," Daisy said, and squeezed his shoulder. "Just do your best not to be too interesting ."

Right. Be uninteresting. That didn't seem hard.

 


 

The more he thought about it, the less Martin worried.

There wasn't much interesting about him. A faerie of knowledge, as Martin presumed the Echelon was, wouldn't gain much from him.

He knew small things. He knew about every flavor of petrichor, every loamy soft dampness of the air after a rain. He knew how yellow yarn felt slightly more gritty under his fingers than red yarn dyed from the same sheep. He knew how ocean air made his tea taste different than valley air.

All too tiny to matter, like dust motes that colored the light. Fun and sparkling, but ephemeral.

He swept the porch, eyes on the tip of the broom as he knocked damp leaves loose and right off the edge of the wooden slats. It wasn't that he was upset about it. Being a little boring was a lifesaver in a town that hoarded knowledge and kept secrets.

Someone thought he was worthwhile, presumably. Martin bit his lip and thought of the wooden boxes in his living room.

Someone who knew he had sore wrists and liked baking and tea.

Martin had considered who in Lacuna could have sent the boxes. He considered Gerry, but there was always a distance to him that kept Martin firmly at length. It always felt as though Gerry was resisting some casual meanness when he swallowed down jibes and redirected their conversations back on topic each time. They weren't close, and Gerry didn't seem up for that sort of thing.

Daisy seemed slightly more likely, if Daisy hadn't realized Martin wasn't interested in that with her. But while she was friendly, and perhaps was his one friend in Lacuna, there was always a feeling to her, that when Martin was out of sight, she didn't think of him. Which wasn't terrible, but failed to engender the sort of connection that resulted in gift giving.

It wasn't Basira. It just wasn't. And the only other person who had been friendly to Martin was Oliver, who tended to work on his laptop in the bakery and smiled handsomely when Martin showed up to buy (edible) bread. But he wasn't sure Oliver knew his name, so.

And none of them seemed likely candidates to own a bunch of wooden boxes they were happy to unload.

Martin wiped his forehead and looked out from his porch.

A fair walk away stood the stranger, just passing by the cottage. It was a three book day. It was a hood-down day, and he rubbed a hand through his dark hair as he walked.

Martin froze, watching him go.

The last person Martin considered as the owner of the boxes. His mysterious booklover. Who, really, Martin had mostly invented in his own ridiculous fantasies. He didn't know anything about the man, and had no reason to think he knew anything about Martin in return.

And yet, because Martin was afflicted by the terrible sickness that was a romantic heart, he looked at the stranger and felt heat curl around his cheeks.

"This is a bad idea," Martin murmured to himself, then pitched his voice louder. "Uh, hello there? Excuse me?"

The stranger froze as well, a book fumbling out of his grip and hitting the ground. He looked down at it, then up at Martin, his eyes wide and startled.

"Sorry!" Martin said. "I, sorry, I— I just wanted to say hello? You, you live further up the road? I think we're neighbors! Sort of."

The stranger continued to stare at Martin for a moment, saying nothing.

Martin stared back, unsure what to do.

The tension was a piano wire stretched between them, and it snapped suddenly. The stranger jerked into movement, dragging a hand over his hair before bending to grab his book. He shoved it into the folds of his cloak and hurried up the road again, his head turned away and his pace quick.

All the air went out of Martin in a long sigh. For just a second, his eyes prickled, but he blinked it away. Resettling his grip on the broom, he cleared his throat. "Right. Don't know what I was thinking."

He swept about half the porch before giving up, going back inside.

 


 

It was raining, and Martin's shoulders were aching something awful.

Two weeks past, he had traded a few skeins of Merino as black and luxurious as fresh charcoal for a bag of lavender salts. Dumping them into a hot bath, Martin swished the water around, letting everything dissolve before climbing in.

There were the florals of the lavender, cooked up from the buds floating in the tub, and underneath a nice astringency. Whatever was in the mixture, it lanced into his muscles, and bled out some of the tension.

Sighing, he lay his head back on the rim of the tub, letting himself go pink all over as he soaked.

For the first time since he arrived, Martin wondered if Lacuna had been a bad idea. He'd not heard back from his mother since he moved. In a fit of worry, he labelled his next letter to another craftsperson who worked with the old court. Michael had written back promptly, and informed Martin he'd seen Martin's mother refilling her medicines and buying groceries in town not two days before, and she seemed in a fair enough mood, given her usual tenor.

Wetting his hands, Martin pressed his palms against his face, closing his eyes.

He didn't want to go back to Reverdie. Or, he did, but Martin was quite sure that the tenuous space that he'd existed in before had closed the second he left.

He could go elsewhere. It never looked good to be rootless in that way, to move to another court's lands so soon. However, Martin was sure he could be useful if he did.

But what happened if it was the same in the next place? What if he was still like this, orbiting outside the community without ever settling.

The steam from the bath was salty and irritated his eyes. Sniffing loudly, he looked around, as if something would occur to him if he just laid eyes on the right shape.

Lightning flashed, the sky outside the cottage illuminating white for a moment. Martin jumped, and some water sloshed out of the bath.

The lights flickered around him, and then went quietly out.

"Goodness' sake," Martin said, and sank himself down to the chin. He wasn't climbing out until he was done soaking in the heat. It wasn't like there was anything he could do about it.

Another crack of thunder jolted him, and his heart began to race. He fumbled a hand to touch his neck, feeling his pulse.

There was nothing for it. He pulled the stopper and climbed out of the bath, fumbling for a towel. It was dark inside, and he could only see the ghostly edges of whites and greys. The curve of the tub, the sink, the cloud of his hair in the mirror.

Pulling his robe on, Martin shoved his feet into slippers and traced his path out of the bathroom with outstretched hands.

It was louder out here; he'd left the window slightly ajar for his moth friend, and the window had blown the rest of the way open. There was water coming in.

Wherever his moth friend was, Martin didn't know, and murmured a small apology as he closed the window and the shutters.

Another crack exploded overhead, the gap between flash and noise barely a breath. Martin clapped his hands over his ears, letting out a whine.

Everything was ringing after. A metallic taste was coating his tongue, adrenaline unleashed without anything for him to spend it on. Wrapping his arms around himself, he shuffled through the cottage, checking the windows and doors, making sure everything was fine. Or, as well as it could be, given the circumstances.

Getting the fireplace going was difficult when his hands were shaking so hard. Those long matches kept breaking on him. Swearing under his breath, Martin grabbed his lighter, usually left off to the side on the mantle. Lighting the match with it, he finally shoved the stick in with some kindling and got some fire going.

He was just starting to calm down, standing there as orange light flickered over him, when a different terrible noise came. Not static and booming, but splintering, the sound of wood giving way. And it was close.

"Oh no," Martin said, and darted towards the spare room. The spare room with the weak bit of roofing.

Every storm, Martin laid out his dye pots to catch the water that came in through the ceiling.

Now, he certainly didn't have any containers large enough to help, given the roof at the corner sharply dipped, loosed from its place. It bowed and broke, showing the distant illumination of lightning lacing through the dark clouds overhead.

Two steps inside, and Martin's slippers were soaked with rain water.

For a few minutes, Martin moved mechanically. Towels, he threw down towels to soak up the water. That didn't work. He sacrificed a comforter to try and do… something. But it was rapidly clear that he had no idea what to do about a massive hole in the ceiling.

The adrenaline left as swiftly as it had come, and Martin backed up, slippers making wet noises with each step.

He didn't know what to do.

There was, right then, a pounding at the door. Martin looked down the hall at it numbly for a moment.

When the pounding came again, a heavy one-two-three knock, he jolted into motion. Someone was stuck outside in this?

Turning the deadbolt, undoing the chain, Martin unlocked the door and pulled it open.

The person on the other side was wet, casting water in fans of droplets as they pushed in. Martin yelped and nearly fell, his footing lost in his surprise.

He didn't hit the ground hard; whoever it was grabbed Martin by the robe and managed to slow his fall, letting him sink down against the floor.

"What," Martin managed, voice dull with shock.

They turned and shut the door, pushing it into place against the wind. It was dark, and they were a dark figure in the hallway.

"Excuse me," came a voice, as they stepped over Martin's legs and went down the hallway, and— right into the spare room.

Scrambling up, Martin followed. "Who are you, what the hell are you doing?"

"Stand back, please," they said, flinging a hand backward wardingly, keeping Martin from coming in.

They moved with a certainty that was really unsettling, that didn't make any sense. Surveying the damage and the damp pouring in, they stepped right in under the sheets of water, letting out a splutter as it hit them.

There was another flash of lightning, and one brief moment of light filling the room.

Martin rubbed his eyes, certain he was going mad. It was— he'd stared at that sharp profile too many times, he knew the features of the stranger. The stranger was in his cottage.

The stranger slammed his palms against the wall, a noise that echoed, a reverb that Martin could feel in his teeth. "You will listen to me!" the stranger shouted over the din of noise.

Before his eyes, Martin saw the loose wood and material of the roof begin to retract. With all the grace of a lumbering giant, it rose, sliding noisily along the wall, lifting up and fitting back up into place, up where a roof was meant to be.

The sheets of water thinned to thick spouts, and then to heavy drips. It wasn't perfect, but it was a damn sight better than a cave in.

Slowly, the stranger stepped back from the wall, shaking out his hands. Looking around, he spotted one of the dye pots, tipped over. Righting it with a nudge of his foot, he pushed it under the worst leak, giving a little nod.

"Best to close the door," he said quietly, walking over.

Martin backed up, hands fisted in his robe, pulling it tight around himself as he stared in shock at the stranger.

Wincing slightly, the stranger coaxed Martin further back, then shut the door.

Under everything, Martin knew that he'd just seen magic, he'd seen the touch of someone who the land had to answer, the very world answering sympathetic to a call. He was standing in his hallway with a faerie, a sidhe.

So asking was a completely imprudent and terrible idea, but Martin still asked in a high, shaking voice, "Who are you?!"

The man blinked hard once, his eyes luminous even in the dark. "I… I am the Voluntary Exile of the Court of the All Seeing, Who Turned His Back On The Beholding, The Conductor of Dust Motes, the Archivist of Dustsceawung."

Martin felt the words, the weight of a Name asked and given. He drew his arms closer around himself, a desperate what have I just done ringing in his ears. "I… I'm sorry."

The— not stranger, he gave a faint smile. "That's fine. I, I know you're scared. But you, ah, don't… owe me anything for that." He grimaced. "It's hardly a name, is it?"

At that, Martin rewound the words and considered the titles. And… no, there wasn't a name in there at all. "I, I guess not. Um." He cleared his throat. "Still sort of a mouthful."

Ducking his head, Martin saw him reach up, darting a hand over his hair. "You, ah. You could… call me Jon?"

"Jon," Martin repeated dully.

"No superfluous 'h.' I— I hear it's classier that way," Jon said, with a slight smile. He looked around. "Could— Could I hang up my cloak somewhere? It weighs about four stone like this."

"You, what did you just—" Martin squeaked, covering his mouth. Questions, he had to stop with the questions, there was a faerie in his house.

"Martin Blackwood," Jon-the-faerie-maybe-sidhe said softly. "I submit myself to your hospitality. I will not, I won't hurt you for the duration of my visit."

"Okay," Martin whispered.

"Now, where can I hang this up? It takes ages to dry." He unfastened something at his neck, and tugged his cloak off his shoulders.

"Um, the— the bathroom? From the curtain rod, maybe?" Martin unmoored himself from the wall and slowly walked Jon over to the correct door.

Standing in the entryway, Martin watched his guest move the curtain all the way down the rod, then drape it over the free space he made. Plucking at it, he tried to open it up as much as possible.

Under the cloak, Jon was narrower than Martin could have ever guessed, his torso was wrapped up in what looked like a very soft chenille, the fibers fluffing out to make a cloud of floaty fibers around him.

And under the cloak, the underside that became visible as he set it to dry, was an ornate lining. Gradient shades of brown, sharp lines of white, and iridescent panels of a rich teal that gleamed even in the lowest light.

Mouth going dry, Martin stared at the pattern. He knew it so well by now. It was maybe the only thing that Martin knew in Lacuna.

"Are you… do you listen through the— the moths?" Martin asked, backing up again, giving Jon room as he stepped out of the bathroom, back into the flicking firelight of the living room.

"Oh. Close, but not exactly." He gave Martin his space, circling wider out as he watched Martin. In an anxious movement, he reached up, pulling at his hair, drawing it forward into his hands and rubbing it. It was a strange, long strand, in congruous against the rest of his dark hair.

Pulling his fingers along it, he pulled wetness from it, and it took a more clear shape in his hands. It was a plume, a wide feathered shape.

Smiling wanly, Jon let it go, to fold back against his head, and pulled the other one loose, drawing it in forward to repeat the process. Cleaning it, drying it with his fingers, then flicking it back to fold against his head with the other antennae.

Martin sat down very hard on his sofa. Immediately, Jon took the seat furthest away, the footstool by the fireplace.

"This is mad," Martin managed quietly.

"A little," Jon conceded. His hands folded together between his knees.

"Why are you… I don't understand."

Jon nodded, as if he expected that. "That first night. Well. When the cottage was empty, I used it all the time. There's not a lot of tree cover around here, certainly not enough between A Stone's Throw From The Highest Tower and where I live. And you've seen how often it rains here. So I would duck in, wait it out, and continue on my way.

"Then, one day, someone was living here. It was no longer an empty space. It belonged again." He darted his tongue over his lips. "I… intruded. And you defended yourself, locking me away into a box."

Martin blanched. "I didn't—!"

Holding up his hands, Jon went on. "Or so I thought. It was perfectly acceptable to do such a thing. But then you… helped clean my wings and you gave me something to eat, and… let me go, come morning." His fingers knit together, pressed to his chest. "I was in your debt."

Martin covered his mouth with his hands.

Jon leaned forward, bent over his lap. "What's wrong?"

God, he had no idea. It seemed so much. "I think I— I should change. I'm cold." He got up, movements jerky. "I'll just— were you the boxes?"

A nod. "Yes. I… I know things about mortals. It was my purpose once, to know things! I was good at it. I know that mortals enjoy getting things in boxes at the door."

A laugh startled out of Martin. "That's… I mean, so the… the book, you bought that!"

"I buy all of my books!" Jon said, a shade defensively. "I know how currency works. Ms. Keay never suspected and always took my money."

Turning, Martin walked into his bedroom, nudging the door most of the way shut.

He could imagine it so vividly now. Mary Keay opening Pinhole Books early for a faerie. Turning a blind eye to the bits of twigs and leaves transformed into money. A woman who would throw her son like a shield between her and the Court might decide faerie money was fine, actually.

Taking a moment to catch his breath was interrupted by another boom of thunder. Martin yelped, then covered his mouth.

"Are you alright?" Jon called from the living room.

"Yes! Just a moment!" He hurried up, changing out of the damp clothes and into flannel pajamas and socks. It was immediately warmer, and he felt more settled.

Returning, Martin found Jon had gotten the mop out of the closet, and was in the kitchen, soaking up rain water with the dry cords.

It was probably the weirdest thing Martin could imagine. He had a faerie in his house, cleaning up.

"Do you want tea?" Martin asked quietly.

"Yes," Jon said. "That would be lovely."

Bracing himself, Martin stepped around Jon, opening the cabinet to get the metal kettle down. He filled it with water, and carried it back to the fireplace, putting it on the crossbar over the flame.

Shuffling back to the kitchen, he got down two mugs.

"Did you…" Jon started slowly. "Did you really hate the tea?" He let out a low, annoyed sound. "I did try."

"Sorry," Martin said. "Would you like that tea?"

"No," Jon said. "I'd rather try what you like."

Okaaaay. Martin picked out the bags, a fancy Darjeeling he'd splurged on once. Setting everything up, he carried the mugs into the living room again, and considered the table.

Jon was silent as he followed.

Making a decision, Martin swept his yarn rubbish off the table, into the basket, and set both mugs by the sofa.

As he… hoped? dreaded? Jon sat on the opposite side of the cushion, prim and polite, his hands folding, unfolding, fidgeting.

A flash of memory, of watching his moth fiddle its legs together, struck Martin.

Life was so strange. Martin sat down, and watched the kettle over the fireplace.

It was quiet. Or, no one spoke. There was plenty of noise: the storm, the thunder, the fire crackling.

Full, unbroken minutes spun around them, until Martin caught a hint of steam finally. Pulling on his padded mitts, he retrieved the kettle, pouring out hot-enough water into the mugs before setting it down on the stone beside the fireplace.

Turning around, he stilled.

Jon's eyes were lifted, settled on Martin's hair. When Martin caught him, he guiltily lowered his gaze, clearing his throat.

"Problem?" Martin asked.

"No, no." His eyes were that shifting, strange dark-teal hue from the moth's wings, from his cloak. They were obvious as they darted back up.

"You certain?" Martin asked.

Jon blinked. "I would like to touch it."

"Why?" Martin asked.

"It looks soft," Jon said.

Martin had no idea what to say to that. He didn't know what to do. All of the rules and manners he knew didn't fit with a faerie sitting on his sofa and wanting to touch his hair.

He sat down on the sofa, and looked at Jon steadily. "Okay. You can."

Jon scooted down, closer to Martin. It took a lot not to move, to sit still as Jon's hand extended gradually.

His fingers caught against Martin's loose, at this point horrifically frizzed, curls. He looped one around his fingers and stroked his thumb along the strands.

The light caught in his eyes. "Your hair is white."

Martin inhaled. "Yeah."

"The Weaver liked the color, the ginger snap umber around your crown." His voice was steady as a pendulum. "She asked for it, and you weren't in a position to refuse, lest she ask for more. You had much more to give, but none you could spare."

Biting his lip, Martin nodded.

Jon let go, and quickly picked up his mug of tea. "This is good," he said after a sip, his cheeks dark.

Martin exhaled the breath he'd been holding, and picked up his own mug. Outside, the lightning called, and the thunder answered.

The storm would continue all night.

Chapter Text

Come morning, the air had that crisp, just-washed scent that meant a long rain had come and gone. It was a pleasant smell, enough to almost make up for how often it did rain in Lacuna.

Martin stirred, lifting himself slightly from the sofa. He was curled up against the arm, one of the throw pillows held in his arms. He rubbed his nose, sniffling as he looked around.

He wasn't sure why he was sleeping on the sofa, but it wouldn't be the first time he didn't quite make it to bed.

Sitting up, Martin cracked a yawn. His pining was getting quite out of hand. He knew that in the night, he had some dream about the stranger, who somehow was also his moth, and had antennae and had been sending Martin the gifts and had known things about Martin no one ought.

It felt very silly. Except that there were also two mugs left on the table.

Setting his eyes on them, Martin froze, as everything rose up in him, images in eye-bleeding technicolor. He thought about the roof coming down and the power outage and the Darjeeling tea. He remembered vividly the wan little smile on the stranger's face as he introduced himself by title and then by Jon.

Shoving himself to his feet, Martin picked up both mugs, letting out a despairing sound. Carrying them with him, he walked over to the hallway, and to the spare room.

The door was mostly shut. Martin held his breath and nudged the door.

Inside, the roof was perfectly fine. The standing water was gone, though the towels were still a mess across the floor. A few things were moved out of place, but nothing worse for wear. Spic and utterly span.

He put the mugs in the sink, then gathered up the towels, throwing them into the wash bucket just outside the back door. He'd deal with them later, when he wasn't about to vibrate out of his skin.

Martin stood in the hallway, thinking about what he should do. And then, slowly, came to realize he had no idea what to do with the situation. Really, as he stood there with his arms crossed, rocking from foot to foot, he considered the facts.

He had, inadvertently, rescued a faerie and provided shelter regularly. In return, the faerie gifted him things, which would help balance the debt, but… life debts tended to be fairly serious to faeries. It rarely worked in this direction , though. Often, it was a lost or injured mortal who was saved by the fae and thus found themselves paying them off for a long time.

It was slightly unfair. By all assumptions and accounts, faeries could simply feel the scales, knew how the debts were arranged between them and the world. Humans had to guess. There were a few apps that let people guess at the metaphysical balance sheets, but no one actually knew anything.

Martin ran some mental numbers, trying to assign values to "provided shelter" and "sweetwater treats" and "fancy wooden boxes" but nothing came out in a way that felt accurate to him.

As he was counting across his fingers, there was a knock at the door. Martin jumped, looking up in surprise.

Only one person had ever knocked on Martin's door.

"I'm still in my pajamas," Martin mumbled, and flexed his fingers, unsure momentarily what to do.

He shuffled to the door, undid the locks, and pulled it open enough to look out.

There was a faerie on his porch. Jon's hood was up and his eyes were a little squinty, but his expression brightened somewhat when he laid eyes on Martin. In his arms was a wooden box.

"Hello, Martin," Jon said primly, and inclined his head. "Did you sleep well?"

"I… I guess? I think I dozed off," Martin managed.

Jon nodded. "Yes. A lot happened, it must have strained your delicate constitution. Rest is good." He raised the box a little. This was one of the smaller ones, it seemed. "I brought you this. I would like to come in."

"Oh," Martin exhaled hard.

He stood there for a moment, trying to see a way to ascertain what was going on. But Jon held out the box, and Martin reached to take it, letting the door open. Stepping back, Martin watched Jon flit inside and turn to re-lock the door.

To open the box, he needed a place to put it down. Carrying it into the living room, Martin sat down, placing it on his lap and tracing the seam of the lid until he could fit his nail in and pull it open. "Where do these boxes come from?"

"My tree," Jon answered, walking around the room. His hands fluttered over the fireplace mantle, the shelf with the start of Martin's vinyls, over a small felted toy of a sea turtle. His fingertips caught the winged fins of the turtle, picking it up and stroking the felt, looking over the pale green and the brown sculpture.

Martin felt a common urge, to explain that the toy was payment for one of his first real yarn orders, a trade he'd been happy to make. The toy maker in Reverdie had always delighted Martin, but he'd never felt allowed to buy one of their felted dolls. The trade had convinced Martin he could do his work and do it well enough to live.

Offering that up to a faerie for free was a bad idea, so Martin opened the box instead.

Inside was a scarf. It was knitted, and dragging his thumb across it, Martin recognized the garter stitch, though it was uneven in places; the columns widened and shortened in a few spots, the sort of thing that usually should have been corrected.

Something about it was familiar, and Martin drew out the scarf, finding the end corner, where a small piece of yarn still hung loose. Taking it between his fingers, he frayed it, unspinning it and looking through the composition. There was a rich seafoamy green, and a few threads of paler blue and white.

It smelled strongly of dry, powdery dust.

His brow furrowed. "This is mine," he said softly.

"Yes, I made it for you," Jon said, taking a seat at the other edge of the sofa. His fingers crawled over the shape of the turtle, tracing every inch, but capriciously, moving in a jittery sort of way. He flipped it over and stroked its soft belly.

"No, I mean I made this, I spun this yarn! I gave it to the consignment shop to sell."

"Yes, and I purchased it," Jon said, sounding slightly put out. "So it was mine."

Oh yeah. Purchased with real, genuine money, Martin was certain. His fingers ran over the amateur stitches.

It did bring him to a fairly important revelation.

"You go into the village often," Martin said. Jon said nothing. "But no one knows you there."

Jon continued to fiddle with the toy, likely because sure, that was a factual statement. No question yet.

Martin twined his fingers into the scarf and took a deep breath. "Why don't people remember you around town?"

Jon cocked his head to the side, and both his antennae lifted from where they were well-hidden amid his dark hair. The great peacock plumes of them shivered in the air. "They knew me once, by a name long gone. Then, I gave it up, some years ago." He looked down at the turtle in his hands, a frown creasing his lips. "Hence, the being they knew was gone, only the shadow of a memory behind. But still a shadow with more weight than a nameless exile. In time, they may come to know me, but lacking an identity makes the process… difficult. " He looked up at Martin, blinking luminously. "Faster now, maybe, that I have a name again."

Martin's hands felt tingly. That seemed… impossible. That he just, on pure whim, gave a name to a faerie. "I— I didn't know you could do that," Martin said quietly. "Give up a name."

"I didn't know I could either," Jon said. "Until it was done." His antennae slid into a beautiful curl, down to nearly his chin, the vane fanning into a curve. "It's fine. I did not like that person anymore. And all things are eventually forgotten. Some, deservedly so."

There was a finality to his words. Martin swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat and nodded.

Jon blinked twice, and his antennae flicked back over his head. "Are you going to make yarn?"

"Am I—" Martin paused. "I could? Yeah?" Jon nodded, and was quiet. Not very forthcoming, except when he was admitting to ancient unknowns of fae life. "Why?"

A confused moue took over Jon's face. "Why?"

"Why do you want me to spin?"

If anything, Jon looked more puzzled. "I have enjoyed watching you work for some time."

That… was apparently still true. His moth friend had spent hours perched delicately on Martin's shoulder as he worked with the drop spindle or on the wheel. It was still strange how all the habits of his pet continued in this new guest of his.

But really, he wasn't a new guest at all.

Martin gathered his things, pulling them over to his seat on the sofa, and settled down with the wheel stationed at his feet and a bundle of undyed wool ready to be turned to raw yarn. He glanced a few times askance at Jon, who sat with his cloak draped around him, his hands slipped from the folds to let him continue to turn the turtle over in his hands. As the spokes of the wheel started to spin, his eyes settled unblinkingly on the movement.

Martin was never not aware of the faerie's gaze, but soon it settled into the background radiation of weirdness in his life as the yarn twisted and his feet coaxed the wheel along.

 


 

Martin picked up another bag of fleeces from Daisy late in the week, bringing her some fresh chai mixture, made from normal black tea from his cabinet, mixed with some of the spices he'd gotten from his faerie friend.

She brewed them both cups, dumping some into a saucepan with milk and stirring it as it heated up and dyed the milk a dark tan color. "Smells good," she said lightly.

"Hopefully tastes good," Martin said. "You look a little peaky."

It was around her eyes; there were dark smudges, signalling a lack of sleep.

"Lost some sheep during that enormous fuck-off storm," she said with a sigh. "Tromped all over the woods until I found them. One's at the vet."

"Oh my goodness." Martin put a hand over his chest. "I'm so sorry."

"It happens. Had to repair a fence too." Shaking her head slightly, she poured out the chai into their cups, using a fine mesh strainer to collect all the unwanted crunchy bits. "Surprised you're in such spirits. Don't you normally grouse about the weather yourself? How'd the cottage fare?"

How indeed. Martin brought his cup to his lips for a sip, keeping it tipped against his mouth.

There was a fork here. He could tell Daisy what had happened, that he has this moth, see, but the moth was actually a faerie, and the faerie sent him the boxes, mystery solved!

The problem was that though Martin had nothing but the best of intentions, in the past that that hadn't exactly gone well for him.

And if Daisy decided he was too fae-touched to be safe, Martin… didn't know what he'd do. Perhaps then he would be forced to move again.

He wasn't ready for that.

"Leaks something awful, but pretty sturdy otherwise," Martin said. "Every time it rains too hard, I use all my dye pots to catch the dribs."

No need to mention the roof collapse and the fae intervention. It was a nice day, and that sort of talk didn't belong at teatime.

Weighed down by two big shoulder bags of wool, Martin returned home.

On his porch was a narrow bench. Seated there was Jon, his fingers curled into the hem of his hood, pulling it low over his face.

Martin couldn't help the way his breath caught in his chest, and he hurried along the road as quick as he could while hauling unwieldy bags. "Are you alright?" he asked as he hurried up the steps.

"Hello, Martin," Jon said, voice slightly tense. "It is… a very bright day today."

The sun was indeed out, the sky blessedly clear for once. It didn't seem to agree with Jon, though. Putting a bag down, Martin got out his keys and opened the door.

Jon stood and continued to shield his eyes as he slipped inside. As he crossed the threshold and into the dimmer light, he let out a huge breath, his hood slipping off his head.

Tutting quietly, Martin carried his bags inside and hip-checked the door shut. "What are you doing here?"

"Nothing yet," Jon answered, even as he went to the windows to draw the curtains, dimming the light. "I suppose it depends on what you are doing here."

"I live here!" Martin said incredulously, dragging his bags down the hall. "I don't mean to cause offense, but you're a little ridiculous sometimes."

"There is no offense," Jon said, following Martin. "You were in town today."

"Sort of. I had to pick up more wool from Daisy." He took off his shoes, putting them on a mat. Surreptitiously, he glanced down at Jon's feet. He was wearing something, though for his money, Martin couldn't say for sure what kind of shoe they were, especially obscured by the cloak.

Jon did notice Martin's glance and followed it, and looked at the mat. Without further word, he removed his shoes, which were black and slid off his heels easily, but otherwise seemed featureless. They were almost like a child's caricature of shoes.

Underneath, Jon's socks were fuzzy with that floaty distressed material, like his jumper.

Clearing his throat, Martin said, "Were you in town today as well?"

"Yes," Jon said, and scowled deeply. "To no avail. Mary Keay still takes sup with the Court, and I cannot purchase my books from Gerard." In his voice, that sounded rather grave.

"I don't know how long guests tend to stay at the tower," Martin mused.

"It varies wildly and cruelly," Jon said, and continued to idly trail Martin around as he moved through the cottage. "The Echelon's hospitality is limitless when he wishes it to be. Humans are not so… inexhaustible."

Martin gathered his tools: gloves, good clippers, the trash bin, and a sheet to spread over the floor. The wool needed to be skirted, all the imperfections and lodged bits of twigs and dirt removed. Sitting on the floor, Martin spread out one of the fleeces and started picking through it, snipping away bad bits and tossing them out.

Jon hovered for a moment, his hands folding and unfolding in front of his chest.

"You could make us tea," Martin offered softly.

Immediately, Jon's eyes widened and his antennae flicked skyward. "I could."

"You know how, yes?"

"I do, I have made tea at home, thank you for your concern." Jon sniffed. "Now, I take offense. Which type would you like?"

Martin's stomach flipped. "J— just green. Sorry, I didn't mean—"

"No, I was… it was exaggeration for humorous effect," Jon said, going a bit pinched. "That is how humans make jokes." More than anything, he seemed to be pouting as he swept out of the room.

Martin breathed out long and slow, calming his racing heart. "Right."

As he worked, he could hear Jon fussing over cups and teabags and sugar, the kettle humming as it was turned on.

Outside the fear of a verbal misstep or a failure of manners, it was nice, having someone else make the tea. Martin tried not to think about it too much, lest he risk growing accustomed. His gloves slid over the fleece, plucking out pieces to cut loose and bin.

Returning with tea, Jon bent and sat the mug on the floor near Martin's hip, then draped his long, heavy cloak over the footstool in the corner. So divested, he shuffled around to poke at Martin's things again, fingers tracing the sparse titles on the bookshelf.

"Do you want to read something," Martin offered, and Jon hissed a desperate and earnest, "Yes," before the words even finished.

He did look a little chided when Martin shot him a look of surprise. "I am… very hungry, and I have read everything in my home."

Hungry, Martin noted, bemused. "You can borrow something. I'm going to be working for a while anyway."

Jon consulted the shelf with renewed interest. His fingers tapped against the spines. Some poetry, but a few novels. Nothing terribly adventurous. Hopefully not so pedestrian that Jon would judge him.

Splitting his attention between the wool and the faerie, Martin watched Jon pluck out books, reading their backs. As he finished reading one, he passed it to his other hand. Picking up another, he read the dust jacket of that one, then passed it to his other hand again, and the previous book was passed onto his other other hand, and Martin's eyes widened as his clippers stilled.

Jon settled on leafing through a Tartt novel with his hands, even as his other hands emerged from the thick fluffy carpet of his jumper to delicate hold the other books. Now that Martin was paying attention and knew what to look for, there seemed to be an entire other set of arms, easily hidden in the loose fuzzy material around his chest. Which… maybe wasn't a jumper?

Oh my god he's a moth, Martin thought, staring.

Jon turned slowly around, eyes still flicking over the book. When he noticed Martin staring, he froze, and tucked the spare book against his chest protectively. "Ah, yes?"

"Sorry, I didn't… realize you have extra… limbs?" Martin managed falteringly.

They tucked closer, and the shape began to melt into the soft texture of his chest. "I, yes. Best most mortals don't see, lest they learn my nature." The book turned over and over in his grasp. "I hope it doesn't bother you."

"Of course not. Just surprised." As Jon nodded and picked up his mug with one hand, Martin smiled. "Seems very convenient, maybe."

"It is! Yes." Jon sat on the sofa and pulled his legs up, folding them.

It was very hard not to stare at him, but Martin shook himself, and went back to his skirting. He had work to do.

 


 

Jon did not just read books. He devoured them. A novel that took Martin a week and a half to make it through, the faerie finished by dinner.

Hospitality pressed upon Martin's shoulders. "Do you want something to eat?"

"This is fine," Jon said as he started the next book.

So Martin made sup for himself, then tried to wind down for sleep a bit. An old record on the turntable filled the air with string-y music as Martin looked over his upcoming orders, jotting down what colors he'd need to dye up.

There was really only so much he could do. His gaze dragging back to Jon was inevitable as rainfall.

His antennae were lifted straight up and shivering as he read. In the fading light of the evening, it was clear his eyes were luminous in a very literal way. That seemed very handy for late-night reading.

In the quiet companionship, Martin allowed himself to relax, for just a moment, and meditate on the fact the handsome man he'd pined terribly over was in his home. He had been very alone since moving to Lacuna, and there was a simple but florid pleasure to just sitting in a room with someone like this, the way it altered the atmosphere. Things felt more solid and real.

Which was a little ironic, given the sight of him. Jon poured through the book, and used one of his extra hands to rub back and forth over his lower lip.

There wasn't a Moment, though. Jon didn't look up as he read, didn't meet Martin's eyes across the sofa, didn't release a swarm of butterflies in Martin's chest. He was… very focused on his reading.

It was fine. Martin inhaled deeply. "It's getting on pretty late," he said. "If you need pillows or a spare blanket, you should let me know."

Jon finished the page he was on before looking up. "I think I'll stay up. I don't need to sleep much."

"Okay," Martin said, considering that. "You're… going to stay, then."

"I could leave if you prefer." His nails tapped at the cover of the book. "Though I would not."

"Okay." He winced at his own repetitiveness, but he felt so entirely out of his depth.

Jon tilted his head to the side, staring back at him. The fire popped and crackled behind its grate.

"Why?" Martin burst out, unable to contain himself. "I don't know what is happening here, and it's driving me just slightly mad? Why are you here, what do you want from me?"

Blinking, Jon opened and closed his mouth, then touched his tongue to his teeth. "That… is a lot of questions."

"I know! It's reckless and terrible, and I might as well just hand myself over on a platter at this rate, but…" Martin waved his arms in the air in what he hoped was an informative manner that conveyed his distress.

"Right, of course." Jon stood up. Without his cloak and the additional padding of his arms against his chest, he looked even more narrow than before, though even with hunched shoulders he loomed over Martin. "I'll explain in order, I suppose. I would prefer not to leave because I worry about you, living on your own in the shadow of the Echelon's tower, and if I'm here, I can at least keep watch."

"Am I in danger?" Martin asked.

"Everyone is always in danger. It's a matter of degree and mitigation." He tucked his book under an arm and stepped tentatively in closer. "Next. I'm here because I desire your company. And thus, that is what I want from you, in the most… prosaic terms."

This close, Martin could see the corona of floaty fibers eminenting from Jon's chest, drifting up around his neck and jaw. He looked unbearably soft.

Martin lowered his gaze to their feet, rubbing his arm sheepishly. "That doesn't really make me feel better."

"I don't want to hurt you," Jon said, a note of pleading to his tone that strummed through Martin like a chord.

"I don't mean to be blunt, but the courts sometimes have different definitions from their quarry. It's just the way of things."

"I know that! It— it was my job, to study this, to know." One of his hands reached out and grazed Martin's elbow. "Martin."

Another hand gently lifted Martin's chin, and another rested lightly on his shoulder. His face flushed, unsure what to do.

Jon's face was very close, his antennae doing that tall, shivery thing again as he leaned in. For a moment, the tension suspended between them, Martin held and waited for the next step, for the touch of lips against his. It was unwise, but he couldn't pull away, lingering on bated breath.

Then, Jon sighed and eased back. His hands slide down, taking Martin's wrists and squeezing them briefly. He let go. "You should turn in."

Martin gaped. "What?"

Flinching, Jon's cheeks darkened. "I don't want to do this while you are afraid. It'd taste wrong." He retreated back to the sofa and settled in, knees drawn up, book again on his lap. "So I believe you should sleep."

"I…" He rang with hollow disappointment. If he were to court disaster this much, the least he could do is get a proper kiss out of it from a handsome, strange man. But Jon was looking at him, clearly waiting for him to step away.

"Fine," Martin managed, trying not to let his upset bleed into his voice. "G'night then."

"Sleep well," Jon said gravely.

Martin retreated to his bedroom, shutting the door firmly, and glared at a spot on his wall as his emotions braided over and over into a horrendous, confused knot.

 


 

It was so unfair.

Of course Martin wanted to kiss him. Everyone who wanted to kiss anyone, they wanted to kiss a faerie. Really, his desperate sad pining made so much sense in retrospect. Deep down, some glamour or something must've… called to him, or something.

Or, no. Martin knew himself well enough, and how terribly weak he was to someone tall with a handsome profile. These were the exact sorts of weaknesses the fae depended on.

Come morning, Martin slunk out of his room, and saw Jon laying down across the sofa, his cloak draped over his body.

His head seemed like it was laying at a bad angle. Could faeries get neck pain?

He let himself into the loo, brushed his teeth and washed up.

And yelped when Jon was waiting for him outside.

"Ah!" He startled, staggering back a step. "D— don't do that!"

"Sorry," Jon said. "I would request a favor, if you're going out today."

"A favor?"

"Yes." He nodded, and withdrew a small stack of notes from his cloak. "I… I need more books. It's becoming quite urgent." He held out the money to Martin.

"Did you make this?" Martin asked as he looked over the notes.

"Of course." There wasn't an ounce of guile to him, no recognition that making money was a problem. "It's important to make the money you have."

It was too early in the morning for Martin to dismantle that to explain what it actually meant. "Right. Uh, books. Anything… in particular?"

"Fiction. The denser, the better. Quality is… not much of an issue," he admitted with another pout.

"I can probably manage that," Martin said. "For a favor."

The faerie nodded, apparently unconcerned with the shifting balance of debt between them. "Thank you. Will you go now?"

"No, I'll have tea first, thank you."

With a deeper pout, Jon nodded. "I'll get it started, then." And without another word, he swept away, towards the kitchen.

Before the hour was out, Martin was bundled up against the chill, carrying his satchel over his shoulder and tucking his nose down into the new scarf. For all its little amatuer mistakes, it was perfectly functional, the stitches loose enough to breathe through while blocking out the intermittent gusts from over the fields.

The air smelled like damp grass, but the scarf itself filled his nose with a powdery paper smell. There was that strange bookshop smell that came from printed pages too seldom opened.

Just breathing it in and exploring the feeling served as a nice distraction as he entered town and made for Pinhole.

Gerry was sitting on the front stoop on an overturned milk crate, smoking, his long legs stretched out in front of him.

"Blackwood," he greeted with a smile. Reaching down beside him, he brought up a dark bottle to his lips. Martin hoped it was some sort of craft soda, rather than the alternative.

"Hello, Gerry. Are you, uh, open?"

He blew out a sharp breath. "Yeah, I s'pose we are. If you want." He nodded to the door. "Have at."

"Is… your mother returned yet?"

"Nope!" He beamed and swallowed deeply from his bottle, setting it down again. "Blessed relief, that is."

The cavalier attitude honestly made Martin feel slightly unwell. His own mother could be a bit difficult, but he couldn't fathom the sort of vitriol that Gerry had. In a very basic, boring sort of the way, it seemed… well. If Martin harbored such sentiment to his mother, he'd be a bad son.

He didn't say that, of course, and just let himself into Pinhole.

So, fiction books. Martin sought out doorstoppers, the sort of novels that came with glossaries of terms and maps in the first pages and The X of Y names. If there was a dragon on the cover, Martin picked it up. Also a Madeline L'Engle book he'd not read since he was a teenager, because it made him smile.

When he was done, he set the books on the counter and sort of… waited. He needed to check out, but Gerry was still loitering outside.

So Martin waited. Got out his phone, checked the weather report (bad, what a surprise), and looked up the reviews on a few of the books he'd randomly selected, in case one was truly heinous.

Eventually, Gerry walked in, strolling behind the desk and putting his key into the register to wake it up. As he laid eyes on the stack of books, he paused, lifting his eyebrows.

"Huh. Bit heavier than your usual fare." He picked one from the top and looked at the vaporwave-y art on the cover. "Literally and figuratively."

"Yeah, well," Martin said expansively. He didn't elaborate. Given Gerry's mood recently, he hadn't really anticipated any undue interest.

Gerry started ringing things up, his eyebrows lifting further with each book. "Sort of funny, isn't it?"

Martin let out a non-committal noise, not really wanting to encourage him. The faeried bills were in his pocket, and he took them out, starting to count along with the total on the screen.

"Just, I remember you asking about a big reader before," Gerry said over the faint beeping. "Who probably bought from Mum." He gave the money a look. "And paid in cash."

"I've been living here a few months now," Martin said coolly. "I'm all settled in, I finally have my shelves up. I just want some stories to read before bed."

"Right, right," Gerry said quietly. "Sorry, just… thought it was interesting."

The lull between them was deafening loud. Martin put the books into his satchel and avoided looking at Gerry. With a muttered goodbye, he left.

Interesting. Anything but that.

 


 

Back at the cottage, Martin noticed that with the overcast day settling in, the curtains were all opened again. In the kitchen, there was a pan on the stove, simmering gently.

And Jon stood gazing out the window in the living room, his fingers tucked deeply into a hank of yarn. It was nearly pressed to his mouth as he stared across the field, at the treeline in the distance.

Martin cleared his throat. "I'm back."

Spinning around, Jon laid eyes on Martin's very full bag and darted in, excitement writ into every bit of his body. He continued to stroke the yarn as his other hands came up, eager and fluttering. "Yes, thank you, I put on something for you as well if you like, what did you bring?"

"I, uh, sort of a literary pick and mix? I didn't know what you'd like." He did hand him A Swiftly Tilting Planet first, clearing his throat.

"As long as it's fiction, it doesn't matter." He took the book greedily and thumbed it open. "I haven't had this one yet."

"Okay," Martin said, and set the rest of his satchel down on a stool. "Is it… are books like…" He faltered, unsure how to ask.

"Here," Jon said, and handed the yarn to Martin. "I— I found myself incredibly hungry, but I resisted."

"Resisted— were you going to… eat it?"

"The lavender, it looks delicious." He stepped back with his book. "I'll have this instead, thank you. There's lunch on the stove."

"I appreciate that," Martin said. "But I'm not going to eat faerie food."

"No, no, it's all from your kitchen. Doesn't count." He was already reading, incredibly. "Used some of your left fruit, put it in with chicken and some of the cinnamon and clove. There's flatbread in the oven."

That did sound very good. Swallowing down his ire and confusion, Martin went to help himself.

It was a very bright little meal, the fruit bouncing off some mint leaves, all the juice ready to be soaked up by the bread. Carrying his plate back into the living room, Martin ate quietly as he watched Jon.

Jon turned a page sharply. "You're staring."

"Nothing you say makes a lot of sense."

"Everything I say makes sense. You just lack context."

Martin scoffed and used a strip of bread to pick up some chicken and apple, shoving it into his mouth.

He didn't glance at Martin, but Jon did turn to vaguely face him. "I was once a repository of secrets and fears. I was very good at it, until I stopped liking it very much. So, I stopped being that." It was curt, brisk in a way that Martin sensed was maybe an oversimplification. "I can't escape the hunger, though. So I read books. It helps."

"So, it's a hunger like needing food?"

"Yes. I need to fill the need with something, or it would grow… impatient." Finally, he lifted his eyes from the book to look at Martin. "I appreciate the help. Is the food good?"

"Oh, yes! It's good, very sweet." Martin considered. "You like sweet things? Like when you're a moth."

"Like when I'm a moth," he repeated with a short laugh. "I'm always me, and yes, of course. Who doesn't like sweet things?" He returned his gaze down to the pages and shuffled to the sofa to sit down. After a moment, Martin joined him.

"You wore the scarf," Jon pointed out quietly.

Martin, mouth full of food, just hummed as he chewed.

"Good." The nod he gave was quite serious. One of his hands slowly reached out and rested lightly on Martin's knee.

A warm feeling spread up from Martin's neck as he thought quite vividly, Oh dear.

Chapter Text

Martin hadn't intended to gain a roommate when he took in a moth from the rain. He was only trying to be nice, and then he was trying to have a semblance of companionship in his lonely cottage, in his lonely new town.

Well, he accidentally succeeded with that.

Martin was trying bread again, prodding at the lump of dough he'd left proofing in a metal bowl on the counter. His book was open nearby, and he frowned at the pages, wondering what he was doing wrong this time.

"Is that doubled?" Wrinkling his nose, he glared at the dough. "I've never doubled bread before, where would it all even come from?"

Reading a passage in the book about proofing, Martin pressed his thumbs into the dough, then removed them. The dough was meant to remain flat or something, but it just… returned to its shape.

Martin sighed, then yelped as something came in through the window and landed on his face. "Ah, ppft, what?"

Instinctively, he blew out hard, and dislodged the moth from where it was trying to perch on his nose. It was a little too big to manage, its fluffy front legs patting at Martin's brow, before it flew away and fluttered from the kitchen and into the hall.

"Excuse you!" Martin said, looking over his shoulder briefly before staring down at his proto-bread lump.

There was a strange noise, like a feather duster being dropped onto the hardwood floor and bursting into a flourish, and a plume of powder erupted around the frame of the door. As he walked in, Jon was rubbing his face with his forearms, clearing away the streaky dust from his skin before pulling an antenna down to clean it.

"Pardon my entrance. The window was open and seemed better than waiting for you to mind the door," Jon said mildly. His fingers were nimble as they worked through the vane of his antenna. "How are you today?"

"I'm failing at bread again," Martin said tartly, turning the dough out onto his counter and glaring at it.

"But I bought you the book on baking for beginners," Jon noted in confusion.

Martin turned his head and gave him a withering glare.

"Ah," Jon amended. "It's not working."

"No, it's not." Martin rolled the dough around. The tepid amount of air that had managed to make it into the lump seemed to leave it, and it returned to its unimpressive size. "I should just dump this in the bin."

Brow furrowing, Jon seemed to think very hard about this. "Bannock. Make bannocks."

"What's a— I don't know what a bannock is."

"A fried bread. Goes well with jams. I can show you."

Almost automatically, Martin asked, "I wonder what that costs."

A sour expression crossed Jon's face. "An afternoon of your company."

"Afternoon? Not evening? What recompense will be made from four o'clock onward?"

"The answer to that question, certainly." His lips pressed together after he said it, and Jon stepped around Martin to square off with the bread ball. His extra hands held the drape of his cloak back as he touched the dough hesitantly.

"Should I do something?" Martin asked, uncomfortable with the silence falling over them both.

Jon only hummed as he started sectioning off parts of the dough, forming them. "They fry in a pan."

The quiet settled poorly over them. Martin got out his cast iron and put it on the heat while Jon made the bannocks. Frying them up was so easy, it felt like cheating; with a little oil, they quickly turned a beautiful golden brown.

Jon watched over Martin's shoulder, but steered clear of the pan itself. Which made sense, given the fae's allergy to iron.

For a second, Martin felt a little thoughtless, using the cast iron and not his nice, non-threatening ceramic pan that he usually made eggs in. But by now, he was nearly done with the breads, and it was far too late to course correct.

The round little bannocks sat on the rack to cool, and Jon dressed them with rosemary he broke up with his fingers.

"Watch out behind, hot pan," Martin said before putting it into the sink. With the metal bowl set on top, it was well out of sight and out of mind.

When they were both done, Jon glanced askance at Martin, his antennae folded back over his head. He passed Martin one bannock on his palm.

Taking it, Martin ate it with his hands; it tore apart easily into bites, and tasted vaguely of yeast and strongly of olive oil and the rosemary. It was far more successful than his attempts at loaves and boules.

He smiled. Jon returned it, wanly, his eyes still a little downcast.

Swallowing, Martin blurted out, "You can't be mad at me for being cautious, it's hardly fair."

"I am not mad." He looked down at his own bannock, turning it over between his fingertips. "But I don't know what you are scared of. Or, I do. I must. Logically, it must be me."

"I… yeah, but…" Why did it feel like abandoning a kitten? Martin knew how this worked, even if Jon didn't, or pretended not to, or whatever it was. "I just, I don't know what you want, and it's a little nerve wracking."

"You should know that I don't want to hurt you!" Jon said, suddenly loud, then staggered like he'd startled himself. "I— I— I said as much, before, the night of the storm."

"For the duration of your visit," Martin said, because he was careful, and he remembered these things because he needed to.

"You know as well as I do not to leave indefinite oaths laid out, how dangerous that is."

"I do," Martin agreed.

More than anything, Jon looked annoyed, his eyes casting almost wildly around the kitchen, like something would be able to solve his problem. Instead, he made a rather sulky face and said, "I don't like this, this isn't the way of things." His eyes narrowed severely. "Or, I don't like the way of things… No, I think I don't like it at all, I think that's why I'm Jon now instead of who I was."

At a loss, Martin reached out and picked up another bannock to eat.

Blinking slowly, Jon lifted his eyes to Martin's again. "It's difficult, to throw out an old map and take a pen to new parchment, to start over and disregard the lines you knew and come up with new ones."

Martin was chewing, and so only nodded.

Jon stared for an extended moment, then said, "Fine. While I'm within your home, I submit myself to your hospitality. I will make no moves against you."

There should have been more to it, but Jon left it there, and Martin's eyes widened. "Uh, in— indefinitely?"

"By lack of definition, yes."

"That seems… I mean, that's…" Martin didn't know what to say.

Seeing Martin at a loss seemed to brighten Jon's mood. "I want to hang up my cloak. Then, I'm owed your company, if I remember right."

Watching Jon swish away, his hems light around his ankles, made Martin feel very much like he was treading water.

Though… maybe that was a little fatalistic? So far, Jon hadn't done anything—

Martin lightly slapped his own cheek. "Stop it, right now," he scolded himself harshly. Then, he went to be companionable.

 


 

By the time Martin had the next skeins of yarn ready to go and carried them down the road into Lacuna, Mary Keay was back from her invitation to court. After Martin dropped off his work at the shop to sell, he wandered past Pinhole Books and saw for the first time that the store's sign was flipped to CLOSED.

This was vexing, as Jon had requested Martin pick up a few more books if he could. With some boldness, Martin walked up to the door, to see if he could peer inside, just to be sure the shop was closed. Which perhaps was a little too solicitous, but truly Martin had never seen the shop closed at this midday hour.

He could only see through the glass darkly, but within Pinhole Books, there was the figure of Mary Keay, standing in front of one of the back shelves, where Martin knew the more expensive, rarer books lived.

She ripped books down, slamming them onto the counter with enough force that Martin didn't really hear it but he could almost feel it. Her hands dug into her blonde hair, pulling with clenched hands, a snarl on her face as her nails seemed to press into her own scalp.

Leaning on a shelf nearby, Gerry stood, his gaze averted, lips together even as his mother snapped at him.

Lacuna was such a haven of secrecy and nosiness, when Martin came back to himself and wheeled back from the door, hurrying away from its glass, he cursed himself for falling into the community's favorite little pastime himself. He was better than that, thanks, and didn't need to know about the private lives of his distant neighbors.

But it was interesting to know, and Martin went to the library next.

Basira was up on one of the ladders again, facing outward, sitting up on the top rung with a book of astrology braced on her knees. Somehow, it seemed like she always managed to be up high, looking over the entire cramped library.

"Afternoon, Basira," Martin greeted, walking over to the return basket and setting his borrowed DVDs into it.

"Hn," Basira said, her dark eyes finding him from over the edge of her book.

That was about as much as he expected. He got to it, looking over the DVD rack first, wanting something nice to put on in the background as he worked.

Then, he figured he could take out a few novels. Unlike Jon, Martin had a name, and thus could borrow books. He assumed that was why Jon avoided the library.

"Basira, do you have any, any sort of odd books? Like…" He frowned as he walked slowly down the stacks. "Just a story that probably most people don't know?"

Basira, looming over her domain like a very regal gargoyle, closed her book, one finger holding her place. "Hm."

"Hm?" Martin parroted back.

"Yeah, hm, a non-committal noise while I think. Last I heard, you enjoyed, uh, poetry?" Her lips downturned. "Never had much stomach for the form myself… How, ah, how do you feel about… science fiction?"

There was a light laugh a few aisles down. Martin's head didn't quite clear the half-shelves unless he got on tiptoes, but he tried.

Two down, Oliver, who usually haunted the bakery, was giving a warm grin back at Martin. He had very dark skin, and it made the gleam of his smile dramatic and undeniably handsome. "Do not let Basira recommend you any books."

"Did anyone ask you, Banks?" Basira said archly. "Get your latest mass market paperback and leave, would you."

"No, I want to hear what you pick," Oliver replied.

"Tch, I was going to say maybe The Three-Body Problem —"

"Oh my god," Oliver started, laughing. He had dimples, which was really criminal.

"Sorry, I've never heard of that one?" Martin said. "Though, naturally, I— I am hoping for something a bit out of the way."

"There's also a older Stephenson book—"

"Do not, don't offer the poor boy two-thirds of a decent book," Olive cut in. "Martin, you like poetry? How about If on a winter's night a traveler, that might be—"

Goodness sake, it wasn't like it was for him! Not that he could say as much. But, well, he didn't know what else to get, so he grabbed what the two mentioned while sniping across the room at each other. Basira's offerings were all unanimously doorstoppers; if he swung Anathem at someone, they would perish. At least Oliver's were breezy.

When he was ready, Basira finally deigned to descend from her ladder and went to tend to him at the counter. As she stamped cards and slipped them into the slots, Martin silently despaired; his bag would be heavy all the way back.

Oliver queued up behind Martin, holding a few paperbacks with sort of pulpy art on the cover, murder mysteries with white creases along the spines.

"Let me know if you like the Calvino?" he said. "It's funny, Gerry definitely said you were stocking up on an eclectic mix the other day."

Of course he did. Martin silently disparaged Lacuna and its penchant for gossip. "I'll give it a try and let you know."

"You can only have five out," Basira said, sounding annoyed. "Which one do you want to wait on?"

Reluctantly, Martin parted with the period drama DVD he'd picked out, and signed off on the rest of his selection.

As expected, his satchel wasn't quite up to holding books that doubled as murder weapons. The trip back home seemed even longer than usual. Periodically, Martin paused to rest the bag down and swap which shoulder it was hanging off.

Maybe he could make a shoulder strap cushion. Though, now that Mary Keay was back in town, Jon would likely return to getting his own books. Less stress on Martin's back and fewer marks on his shoulders.

He was still fine minutes out from the cottage when the first drops of rain began to hit him, landing in his hair.

"Oh no," Martin moaned. His bag was a nice weave but it wasn't waterproof and these were library books. As another big drop hit him, he considered wildly what to do. There must've been something.

There was no cover, no trees along the road to protect him. He could run for it, maybe. In preparation, he took his bag off and clutched it to his chest.

He was walking quickly when a thought struck him. Martin had one thing that most people lacked, an option that most humans lived and died without getting access to.

He had a Name. What a stroke of absolutely mad luck and circumstance that he was a human walking around with a faerie's Name in his pocket.

Biting his lip, Martin flinched as a drop hit his glasses. "Dammit. Okay. Okay. Just do it, just…" He took a deep breath. "J— Jon!" No, stutter. He had to be clear, and so tried again. "Jon!"

For a moment, nothing happened. Maybe that wasn't actually the faerie's True Name. He'd been clear it was new, so maybe invoking it didn't work?

But then, as the clouds really started to flex their might and open up, a flutter moved through the air, and there was…

It was difficult to understand what he saw. It felt like looking at fractals, or at how the colored panes in a kaleidoscope moved, with an internal consistency that Martin couldn't actually comprehend. There was a small thing in the air, and then there were overlapping folds of browns and teals and pale stripes unfolding, like a flower blooming from a pinprick.

And the angles settled into shape, and a tall faerie stood before him, his cloak settling.

Martin watched, mouth open in awe.

Jon winced as the rain hit him. "Hello, Martin. I am here now." He reached into his cloak and pulled out an umbrella. "I have borrowed this from you, I hope that's acceptable."

"Y— Yes, yes, just open it!" He darted in, and ducked under the umbrella as Jon pushed it open, lifting it over their heads. He held it steady with two hands, and pressed another against Martin's shoulder blades, guiding him fully under its protection.

"There. We should return to the cottage. The rain will worsen," Jon said, voice pitched louder to be heard over the sound of rain against the canopy.

Nodding, Martin followed along at Jon's side, still clutching his bag against his chest.

There was still the wet. It soaked the hem of his trousers before long, and his feet were cold, wrapped in damp socks. But the rest of the walk wasn't terribly far, and soon they were ascending the steps together, safe under the porch roof.

Jon shook out the umbrella and left it out to drip-dry while Martin unlocked the door. As soon as his shoes were off, he went to close the windows. Luckily, it hadn't rained in much yet.

"I want to use one of the dye pots," Jon said while Martin peeled off his socks.

"Ugh. I— I mean, if you want, sure." His toes were freezing, even colder than when he was still in his shoes. "I'm going to change."

It was a little early to be in pajamas, and maybe a little impolite given he had a guest, but Martin reasoned that Jon hadn't technically been invited, had rather imposed on Martin's hospitality, and if he did the math, carried the four, then it was totally fine for him to be in pajamas while Jon was around.

Lingering a moment, Martin dried his hair, because it fizzed into truly dreadful shapes if he left it to air dry.

When he was ready, he slid into his slippers and stepped out of the bedroom.

The fire was already started, which was a blessed relief; there was a chill in Martin's bones, even now that he'd changed.

There was also one of his dye pots on the floor by the sofa, the table moved to make room. It was half-full of water, and very faintly steaming.

Martin frowned, circling the sofa to look into it.

Jon walked from the kitchen, some herbs held in a fist, and went up to the pot, dumping lavender and mint right into the water.

"What," Martin said flatly.

"You're cold. This will help. It would be inconvenient if you caught a cold." He gestured. "Sit and put your feet in."

"I… really?" Martin asked, incredulous, looking down at the hot water and back to Jon.

"Yes. Humans are delicate, especially when wet."

"Moths are even more delicate when wet," Martin pointed out even as he gingerly sat down. Leaving his slippers aside, he dipped his toes into the pot. It was very warm, almost too hot, but it was bearable if he went slowly, lowering his foot in. By the time one was submerged, it felt very nice indeed, and he repeated the process with the other before sitting back against the sofa with a sigh.

"That's true. But I'm not only a moth."

"Sure," Martin said agreeably, because he felt very agreeable now, warm and comfortable. "Do you know how to work the DVD player?"

Both of Jon's antennae lifted straight up, then curled forward, nearly to his brow. "I know how DVD players work."

"If I tell you exactly what to do, will you put it on for me?"

"I will try," Jon promised, and walked over to pick up the control from the table.

Together, with a valiant group effort, they managed to put something on. Just Pride & Prejudice again, but Martin was happy just having something filling the room with noise.

Beside him, Jon sat with his cloak spread over his lap, dabbing at the wet spots with a dish towel.

It was nice. Martin sank back into the cushions and relaxed, listening to the rain against the roof, and to Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, and to Jon's soft hums of concentration as he dried his wing cloak.

 


 

Eventually, Martin had decided to add a coat hook to the wall. There, Jon's cloak hung when he was over, so he could just putter around in just his own fuzziness (which, given it was always the same dusty brown color with golden flecks, was just him unless he owned a dozen identical jumpers). His hands drifted over everything in the kitchen as Martin made sandwiches and soup. One fingertip tap-tap-tapped against the jars Martin kept sugar and flour in, as if testing the different sounds.

Sighing, Martin said, "Do you want sugar water? It'd be fine if you did, it's hardly the oddest thing about you."

"I'm fine." The pout in his voice was audible. Smiling, Martin shook his head.

"Well, did you want a book? I managed to get…" He trailed off, considering. "Well, they're library books? I figure I can take them out with my card, since I have a mortal identity and all."

Jon didn't respond immediately, and Martin turned from the counter to frown at him. "Is that all right?"

Slowly, Jon nodded. "Yes. Yes. I will just be careful with them."

"Okay," Martin said. "Ah, what's that mean?"

Jon shrugged, his antennae folding down around his face as he mumbled something.

"I'm sorry, did you say something about eating them?" Martin asked.

"It, they, well, yes!" Jon was fully sulking now, his eyes low, not meeting Martin's. "If I purchase the books myself with the money I make, then I can accidentally eat a bit of them, and it's really not a big deal!"

"Oh my god." Laughter bubbled up in him, and Martin shook his head. "Well then. Mary Keay's back, so you could go back to buying the books just in case you eat them."

"I've never eaten an entire book," Jon said, pointing at Martin emphatically.

"Sure."

"I know about sarcasm, thank you." His lip jut out impetuously before he put the pout away. "I can't go to Ms. Keay. I will need another solution."

"What? Hang on." The soup was ready, so Martin filled a soup mug up, and started to carry everything to the living room.

Someday, maybe, he would clear off the little round wooden table he had, that was ostensibly meant for meals. But for now, it was covered in bagged orders and Martin's to-do list, so it was just easier to sit on the sofa. Legs crossed, he balanced his sandwich plate on one knee and held his soup steady on the other.

Jon was wringing his hands together as he followed. Stepping over Martin's satchel, he beelined for Martin's knick knacks and picked up his felted turtle again, spinning it in his hands again. "There's another reason I don't go to the library. You're right, that without a name of my own, it would have been exceptionally difficult to secure a library card." The turtle fins flapped as he moved them with his thumbs. "But Basira has been a guest of the court before. As has Gerard, as well as the baker, Yui. And now, Mary."

Huh. Martin took time to dip a corner of his sandwich into the tomato soup and have a bite. After he swallowed, he said, "You left the court. So— so do you think that if they visit it, they'll know about you and be more able to recognize you."

Jon nodded silently, and started pacing. "It's too risky. I don't know if the Echelon is somehow unaware of my presence here or if he simply tolerates it, but." He scowled. "I don't mean to find out."

"Then we'll start ordering you some books," Martin said. "Gerry is a little too observant, and I frankly don't want to deal with his mother, so— so we'll just put in book orders by courier. The guild doesn't care a wink." He waved his sandwich at Jon. "But then you have to be careful, and don't… overeat."

Briskly, Jon circled the coffee table and just— just took the soup mug and plate from Martin, setting them aside. Martin let out a noise of dismay, unsure what the hell he was doing.

Then, Jon sat next to Martin on the sofa, their knees knocking together, and put his arms around Martin. His arms wrapped around Martin's shoulders, one around his chest. The last still held the turtle toy, tucked against Jon's stomach.

He was extravagantly fluffy. Without really meaning to, Martin palmed Jon's back, and marveled at how much of his bulk was just floaty fuzzy that sank under the weight of his hands.

The smell of powder was strong, layered over what seemed like dried herbs and flowers, and that peculiar scent of vellum.

Resting his cheek on Martin's head, Jon sighed. "Thank you."

Martin didn't know what to say, and nodded silently, indulgently resting against Jon's shoulder.

Some of the drifty downy bits of Jon's coat tickled his nose, and he jerked away to sneeze into his sleeve.

"Sorry," Martin mumbled.

Jon just smiled, easing away, and handed Martin back his food.

 


 

When Martin had first arrived in Lacuna, he been able to keep track of the days by the letters.

Saturday was a good letter-writing day. End of the week, everything wrapped up, plans for the coming week lined up. It was a nice way to reset, sitting down and putting pen to paper and telling his mother about what all had happened.

At first, he'd been very good at keeping up on it. Every Saturday.

His mother wasn't as rigorous about her letters, though. Maybe because writing anything out made her achey, and Martin certainly wasn't around anymore to run a hot bath or fetch her a compress.

Or she just didn't want to take the time.

Martin missed the rim of his mug as he poured hot water, and yelped, hopping away as some spilled off the counter onto the floor. "For goodness—" He bit it all down, exhaling hard through his nose.

Anyway, the point was that once-per-week became once-every-other-week and now it must've been about a month ago, because the last letter Martin had written had been during the new moon, in an attempt to occupy himself and stay awake through the night, and… yes, that had been the last one.

A month later and nothing had come back.

Jon leaned through the door frame. "I heard you, you seemed distressed."

"I'm not distressed," Martin snapped, deciding he was going to leave the drips of water on the floor. They would dry, it was fine.

He wasn't going to write another letter tonight. According to Michael back in Reverdie, she was fine. So, she… was fine. That was it. Start and end of the thought.

Martin scrubbed his face with a palm.

"I think you are distressed, despite what you said," Jon said, his voice closer now. "I would like to help."

"I just haven't slept very well and it's the new moon and I'm not looking forward to staying up until dawn, right?" Martin rubbed the heel of his hand against his eyes, under his glasses. "Unless you can change the very phases of the moon, then there's not much to be done."

"With that, no," Jon agreed. "Lunar manipulation is well beyond even the most affluent sidhe."

"Right," Martin said, watery.

"I want to try anyway."

"To change the moon?"

"No, to—" Jon huffed. "To help."

"Okay."

Jon stepped in behind Martin swiftly, and moved in a fluid way that belaid most of his fidgety, anxious mannerisms. His hands gripped the edges of his cloak, and he wrapped it around Martin, bringing his fists together.

Underneath, his other arms wrapped around Martin from behind and tugged him into place, Martin's back flush against his chest. So held, Martin was enclosed from the chin down, and froze as he reckoned with this new reality.

It was very soft inside the cloak. The inner lining was lush, thicker than velvet as it pressed against Martin.

For a moment, Martin held his breath, waiting for the next step, the other shoe, whatever was coming next.

There was nothing but seconds sliding into minutes. Martin let out his breath and for a moment just shut his eyes.

"What are you doing?" Martin murmured quietly. "Is this magic?"

"Hm. I don't know," Jon said, lowering his voice to match Martin's. "I know what humans consider magic," he started to go on, and Martin couldn't help rolling his eyes behind his lids, because, ah, another thing Jon knew about the mortals, eh? "And to me, everything is magic. You'd have as much luck asking a bird if it’s being a bird."

"Are you being a faerie?"

"Obviously." His arms tightened around Martin minutely. "You're fearful of the coming night?"

"Everyone is," Martin said.

"That's very reasonable. In absence of clean light, there is nothing to blind the Echelon's sight."

"What happens?" There was eagerness in Martin's voice that he couldn't quell. Because of course everyone spoke of it , people whispered reminders to each other, but no one actually explained anything in town. Or, at least, never to him.

To his surprise, Jon said, "I'm not sure. It's difficult to remember. Nothing good, though." As he spoke, he let go of his cloak; it remained mostly closed around them, but freed his hands to find Martin's, to press his thumbs into Martin's palms. "I think it slips through the cracks. It gets everywhere. It sees anything. Sometimes, it takes what it sees." He made a soft noise deep in his throat, a reverb Martin could feel. "Does it? Is that what it does?"

"I don't know," Martin said, catching Jon's thumb under his fingers and squeezing briefly.

"No… no, I don't either. But, I had a point to this digression. Believe it or not." Martin ducked his head, smiling, while Jon scoffed lightly. "I— I— I wanted to, ah… Hm. You'll need context first, you always need context."

"Well, I am mortal, as you so often remind me."

"Yes," Jon agreed, the facetious tone slipping right past him without notice. "There is little shade in A Stone's Throw From The Highest Tower, have you noticed? No hills sharp enough to cast shadow, no trees among the village to offer shelter. Everyone retreats into their own houses when they wish to hide."

"Don't really need it, given how often the clouds blot out the sun?"

"But what if what you want shade from is lower than the clouds?"

Martin considered, and shrugged. "And no one has tried to plant trees closer to the town?"

"They die," Jon said shortly. "They'd get in the way. That's rather the point."

"Okay, I follow."

"Right." Reluctantly, Jon let go of Martin, of his waist, of his hands, and stepped back, away. His cloak slid off, over Martin's shoulders, leaving a smear of dust behind.

Martin turned, suddenly nervous, rubbing the smears from his arms. "Yeah? That's context, then?"

For all his prior boldness, Jon looked nervous now. His shoulders sagged, his arms folding in front of him. His gaze slid from Martin's face to the floor. Eyes narrowing, he said, "There's water on the floor."

"Jon."

His antennae folded back, reminding Martin vividly of an unhappy cat. "Fine, fine. Just… would you like to come stay with me for the night, I live beyond the forest line and well out of the Echelon's sight, that way you can sleep and not worry about whatever that blasted sidhe wants with his quarry tonight?"

Martin was already flushed. He knew this, because being wrapped up snug in Jon's cloak and held had raised plenty of heat over his cheeks. But now, he assumed he must've been like a strawberry, and it was terrible with his complexion. "I, uh, oh."

"If you come, I— I will keep you safe to the best of my ability as host. And— and you will be allowed to leave, you will not be barred." His fingers knit together, over and over, as he flicked his eyes from Martin's slippers up to his face and back down again. "And, ah, I will not use anything you consume to bind you." His nose wrinkled as he gave a little smile. "Though, I don't know if that would work even if I tried at this point, the proverbial scales in all due consideration."

"Jon," Martin managed.

He dropped further, folding into himself. "It was just an idea. I will endeavor to keep you awake here, that's also amenable."

"Jon!" Stopping, Jon blink luminously at Martin. "How… how far is it?"

It was Jon's turn to color, his cheeks darkening as he slowly, haltingly smiled.

Chapter Text

By the time Martin was ready to go, they were already pushing evening. It was unnaturally dark already with the cloud cover, making the time seem hours later than reality, and with no moon in store, the darkness would descend even faster across the land.

A prickling nervousness crawled along Martin's skin as he puttered around his room, packing an overnight bag.

He was being foolish. More than once, Martin sat on the edge of his bed, his hands clasped tightly together and pressed to his chest as he tried to calm himself down.

He was being very foolish, and in every story about faeries and fools, the fools wound up punished.

Maybe that was what he deserved though, Martin thought as he got up and looked around his room for what else he would need. He had two changes of clothes, a set of pajamas, his toiletries. If only there was an obvious talisman or something he could bring. A token of favor he could cash in for a rescue, maybe.

He palmed his poetry book, with the wild thought that if he were about to invite ruination to his life, at least he would have that.

Tucking it away, Martin steeled himself and turned out the light, walking into the living room with a held breath.

This was what he deserved for being a romantic, he thought as Jon hopped up off the footstool he'd been sitting on and smiled.

"Ah, you look ready. Are you ready? There is still some time, but— I'm willing to wait, of course." He stepped closer to Martin, bending like a willow branch over him.

"I'm ready," Martin said, shouldering his bag.

His smile widened, so bright and happy Martin couldn't help but reflect a shade of it.

When they left, Martin locked up after, putting his keys into his bag and trying not to shiver under the sheer weight of all the jitters. He failed, and felt one solid shake roil down from his shoulders to his curling toes.

"Can I carry that?" Jon asked.

"You're hovering," Martin pointed out.

"I'm leading the way," Jon answered immediately.

He was. Martin vaguely knew Jon had a tree, and so the forest was the obvious place to go. The road pointed right towards it before its cessation, looming grand over the dispersing gravel.

Jon drew Martin close, casting one sharp look over to the tower, hidden from here by the canopy. He linked Martin's arm through his and stretched another arm over Martin's shoulders.

It was warm, and a solid weight around him that felt like a mantle falling. Being brought under protection wasn't a small thing, and Martin pressed his knuckles to his mouth to hide the complicated gymnastics his face was doing.

Jon didn't tell him to stay close, nor to avoid wandering off. It would have been insulting.

As they stood at the threshold, Martin shivered from the cold this time, and reached out to rest his arm against Jon's back, sinking closer into his side, under his mantle.

Jon immediately let out a wordless noise, antennae lifting from his hair to stick up. His eyes were wide and animal-dark for a moment as he looked at Martin, and it was clearly visible when his pupils returned to a normal size in the teal of his eyes.

Oh. He'd never… touched Jon before, had he? Not since he'd stop being just a moth.

"This, ah… it's this way," Jon said, and started to draw Martin along into the forest.

Martin was momentarily distracted by the feeling of Jon's… well, it wasn't a jumper , that was for certain. What was he supposed to call it? Not skin, because it wasn't. Fur? Pelt? Coat, maybe. His coat was thick and soft, absorbing his fingers easily as he tried to find the solid place to rest his hand. The fibers of it were almost ticklish, brushing against his palm. When his fingers curled, threads of it pulled, almost feathery against his skin.

The texture was captivating enough it took Martin some time to look up again to actually take in what was happening around him. The forest was dim inside, the tree branches so thick overhead. The walking itself was eerily simple; there was very little undergrowth, the ground evenly rising on an incline that felt sympathetic to Martin's feet. No rocks got in the way, and the ground was clear of fallen branches.

Definitely not a normal forest. Still, Jon held Martin close as they walked, his eyes flitting around, seeming not exactly alerted but definitely cautious.

"Are we in danger?" Martin asked, keeping his voice whispery soft, scarce louder than their steps.

"You've asked that before." Jon pulled Martin along to the right, off from what could maybe be considered a path that continued up the slow incline up to… presumably the tower.

"Context," Martin replied.

Jon let out a small huff. His fingers found Martin's and twined together as he slipped his arm from Martin's shoulder, moving to walk in front of Martin as the trees grew more narrow, the gaps between them vanishing.

The entire forest became a good deal more threatening off the path. Everything pressed so close, Martin could barely judge distances. It was easy to imagine someone straying and getting lost in here. Maybe eventually, there wouldn't be enough room to squeeze through the trees and then…

But that was someone else's fate. Jon led him through an unmarked trail, and just as the claustrophobia began to set in, they stepped out from the narrow space and into a wider clearing.

There was, as Martin expected, a tree. But it stood out from the tall ominous pencil trunks all around them. The roots were wide, the trunk girthy, and great drooping branches hung around them, dotted with dark little berries.

As if that weren't enough to seem out of place, Martin could see windows cut into the bark, each surrounded by heavy window boxes of flowers and herbs that hung in overgrown clusters. There was a faint trail of smoke coming from a gap between two bows of branches. From one knot in the trunk hung a heavy lamp.

Everything smelled sharp, almost like menthol, almost like pine, definitely green.

"You live in a tree," Martin said, trying not to be impressed.

"I do." Jon offered up a slight smile and stepped closer to his house, the tree. "You're welcome here."

It was mortifying, how hard Martin flushed at that. Nodding mutely, he dutifully followed as Jon approached the tree.

There was no visible door until there was. The lines in the bark simply opened on invisible hinges. There was no door handle, no way to divine the door from its surroundings. Jon simply reached out and pushed it ajar, his other arm coaxing Martin inside before shutting it again behind.

Without even meaning to, Martin pulled his bag into his arms, hugging it to his chest.

He was here.

Here was a round space that seemed hollowed through the tree. It was, in fact, a space that seemed hollowed from an even larger tree, giving way for a decent sized room. Here, there was a threadbare rug and some cabinets and cubby holes carved into the walls, but no windows. A staircase curled like a cat's tail along the wall, leading upward. Another wrapped around the other way and seemed to lead down into a basement.

When Martin tore his eyes away and back to Jon, he found Jon staring at him anxiously, his cloak drawn fully closed. Martin could still imagine Jon's fidgeting hands underneath. "This is my home. There is more upstairs. I want to show you."

Martin bit his lip and nodded, and followed Jon up the stairs, trying not to be amused at how Jon kept looking back at Martin, as if surprised he was still there.

The steps were narrow, but had a sturdy railing. He watched his feet, eager to not fall or trip or make more of a fool of himself.

Then, upstairs opened up around him.

Here, were the windows, looking out on the forest around them, partially curtained by dangling herbs and overgrowth. They brought in a little light to the space, but so did the orange glow from the stove as a fire murmured and popped away behind what looked like glazed iron, a thick glossy coating that would protect faerie fingers.

There was a small kitchen curved along one wall and a partition walling off what looked like a bedroom area, but what caught Martin's attention were the bookshelves.

The majority of the walls were taken up by bookshelves, and every inch of those were taken up by books. Just a ridiculous amount of books stood up primly on the high upper shelves and shoved in disheveled stacks and piles on the lower shelves, some overfilled two-books deep. More were in additional stacks on the floor, presumably waiting to be added to the collection. And laid into a hollow in the floor were soft cushions, also surrounded by books, most dogeared or bookmarked.

Martin pressed a hand to his cheek and started laughing. He'd known Jon read a lot of books, but this was… a lot of books. Too many books. Martin wasn't certain but it was fair to guess it was an even larger collection than Lacuna's library.

Jon shuffled forward and shed his cloak, tossing it with more carelessness than usual over the corner of the partition screen. There were a few books on the wooden island by the kitchen and Jon scooped them up, adding them to one of the already overburdened shelves.

"I didn't clean up," he muttered. "I didn't know I would be having guests. I knew when you needed shelter from the Echelon's gaze, but not…" He touched the spine of one book. "I didn't know I'd have you here."

Martin licked his lips. "I appreciate the shelter." He looked around more, taking in the small details: lots of rugs, a few overlapping imprecisely over the wooden floors; a few of the books by the little reading cushions had crochet hooks as page markers; there was a kettle on the stove and big ceramic mugs on the windowsill.

There were also visible dust motes swaying through the air everywhere. Martin was extremely glad his childhood asthma had cleared up because otherwise he'd be dying.

"Would you like tea?" Jon asked. "And perhaps to put your bag down."

He was still hugging his bag to his chest. Smiling tightly, Martin set it down on the floor near where the cloak hung. "Yes. To both."

 


 

Martin felt for a while that the entire idea was a little pointless, that he would never manage to sleep in such a strange place. His anxiety wouldn't allow it, all the lessons he grew up knowing, like don't accept food from the fae and don't rest your head in their bowers and don't trust them braiding together into rope tying him into knots.

But, also: Martin was very tired, and after tea and a small supper of sandwiches on crusty bread and an amazing root vegetable soup, Jon went to lounge in his little reading nest with a book.

The cushioned space was big enough for two or three people, so Martin decided he could… maybe join.

He changed first. It was a little awkward, ducking behind the screen for a bit of privacy. The room still seemed very open, but he put on his pajamas quickly and tried not to think too much about it.

The wood floor was cool under his feet, and the rugs were a blessing as he padded over. He hadn't thought to bring his slippers.

Settling down into the reading nest, Martin wedged himself in, his feet sticking out alongside Jon's, his back pushed deep into the pillows.

Jon had a mug of tea clutched between his palms and a book open on his lap. He gave Martin a smile, seeming just happy to have him there.

"I make you another cup," Jon said, and nodded to it sitting on the floor, just outside the rim of the nest. "Also there is a selection of poetry books. I don't have many. Also, you seem to enjoy Austen, I pulled a few of those out."

"What if I'm just sort of tired?" Martin asked.

"It's herbal tea, no caffeine." Jon reached a free hand into the nest and pulled out a blanket, passing it over to Martin.

Nodding, Martin pulled it over himself and picked up the mug to have a sip. Honey and chamomile.

He did at least look over the books Jon had left for him. There was a Neruda, which was nice. And Dante, which was definitely a poem someone could read, but someone who was not Martin. Emma seemed the most appealing, but the idea of trying to work through the denseness of of Austen's prose when he was so wound up was about as appealing as having a walk out in the rain.

Also, it seemed rather dark. Glancing around, Martin tried to spot any reading lamps or additional lights. Jon's home was rather old fashioned, with the stovelight and a few cloudy-glass candlelights set around, but nothing that would actually illuminate a page.

Watching Jon, he seemed unperturbed by the really impossible lightning conditions, sharpling turning a page. His fingers rubbed the corner of the paper, and his eyes drifted off the words for a moment. A flash of tongue touched his lip before he seemed to shake himself and refocus.

God, he wanted to eat the pages. Martin wondered if it was just every page or if he wanted to eat the ones with his favorite passages maybe.

Instead, Martin asked, "Isn't it a little dark for you to read?"

"No." He continued to read, but Martin has long since gotten used to that and learned not to be offended. "My eyesight suffer greatly in the light. I always saw best in the dark, I think."

"Maybe you used to like the new moon thing the court does," Martin mused.

Jon blinked, even as he kept reading. "I… might have. He-who-I-was might've been an active participant in whatever Elias does on these nights." Another page turned. "I would not."

"You must be the only person in Lacuna that isn't a bit of a nosy bother."

"I think it's better to let people share things with you than to take them when their eyes are closed." He did pause then, gaze sliding slowly to Martin's. "I don't remember why I feel that way."

"That's all right," Martin said, and covered his mouth as he yawned.

"You could sleep," Jon said.

"Which book are you reading? I can't see a thing in here."

"Calvino," Jon said.

"It is good? Oliver thought I'd like it."

"It's excellent." His brow furrowed. "Oliver Banks, he does accounting remotely for the Courier's Guild."

"He was in the library when I stopped by. He and Basira had a go at each other's tastes in literature." He reached to grab his mug, cradling it in his hands as he cheated in towards Jon, resting his head on a cushion.

"He has the…" Jon looked at his book again. "The hair, doesn't he?"

Martin considered it, trying to remember. Oliver did have very nice hair, he supposed. "I never noticed," he murmured.

That somehow made Jon smile. "Ah, well." He nodded curtly. "Would you… like to hear some? Perhaps that would help you sleep."

What would help Martin sleep was for someone to strangle the lurking beast of fear that crunched through the shadows of his mind. To somehow be sure he'd be okay. Everything seemed like being caught up in a very nice dream that he was going to wake up from the moment he dropped his guard.

But really, how much further could he drop his guard than here, languidly draped over a soft bowl of pillows and watching Jon's profile in flickering orange light.

"Okay," Martin said, and tipped his mug for a sip of tea.

Immediately, Jon folded the corner of his page to mark it— Martin nearly stopped him, to remind him it was a library book, but decided it was fine— and flipped back to the beginning.

His voice had always been of a sound and quality that demanded Martin's attention at all times, the deep bell tone of it just getting Martin between the ribs. Usually he was rather stilted and prone to stumbling over his earnestness.

Reading, Jon's voice ran even as a level, pulling words from the page and filling nest with them, smooth and confident like Martin had never heard from him.

Most of the book seemed… very odd. Post-modern in a way that Martin felt you had to be in the right mood for. It was dithering on about the reader finding the actual book by name and the process of getting ready to read the book, all very recursive and metatextual.

There was, then:

"It's not that you expect anything in particular from this particular book. You're the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store.

"But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst. "

A huffed laugh escaped Martin's mouth. Jon paused for a second, waiting, but Martin only pulled an extra pillow up and under his head.

The air was heavy in his mouth, and the room was coated in a soft, kind din of the fire and the rain that came down and pattered against the hollow wood, the windowpanes. And Jon reading, until that sound faded gradually away.

Later, in the depth of night, Martin roused enough to feel wrapped up tight, arms around his chest, warm weight pressed flush to his back, and steady breathing against his shoulder.

He repositioned his pillow and slept.

 


 

Morning came, and with it breakfast, and Martin requested to go back home.

If Jon was upset, he didn't show it. They retraced their path back through the forest and back to Martin's house.

More than anything, Martin wanted to be certain that worked. That he could still do it, could leave.

If Jon was luring him into a trap, it was a comfortable one. He liked it. Especially now that he proved that he could leave it at his leisure.

It was midway through the day and Martin was sitting in front of his blending board to prepare dyed wool for spinning. Jon was looking out the back window as he sipped tea.

It had been hours, so Martin hazarded to ask, "Are you going to invite me back to—"

"Yes," Jon said, looking sharply at Martin. "Yes, I just… didn't know how soon was too soon. Would you come?"

This time, Martin packed up his drop spindle and a bag of wool to work with. Jon's hand clutched his tightly, the excitement vibrating from him and into Martin.

Dinner was some pasties Martin brought from the bakery with sauteed herbs and vegetables from Jon's garden, and Martin tried not to sit there eating, warm and comfortable, and think that losing out to a faerie had its perks. Did everything just taste better when made from fae-touched produce? Or was the golden light filling the house making Martin susceptible to fanciful thoughts? Was there a difference?

After the plates were cleared, Martin sat at the table and worked with his spindle. Jon sat near, splitting his attention between reading and watching Martin's fingers coax wool into yarn, fibers blending together into something new and stronger.

More than once, he paused to access the tensile strength and clipped out a section, dropping it into a pile on the table. Feeding more wool in, he spun the threads together and watched the yarn pull as it formed.

He caught Jon eyeing the pile of clippings at it grew, his fingers rubbing together. Eyebrow lifting, Martin asked, "What is it?"

"Nothing. The color. It always looks like a confection."

A smile curled his lips. "Do you want to eat the bits?"

"I do. Can I?" Jon said, leaning in eagerly.

"I guess?" He laughed, and watched Jon sweep the clippings off the table and into his cupped hands. Cradling them between two palms, he picked out a pastel yellow bit and just… tucked it into his mouth like it was nothing, like it was— "Fairy floss," Martin said, giggling.

Jon blinked, considering that, then rolled his eyes. "Yes, fine."

"Well, glad you enjoy it," Martin said, grinning as he picked up his spindle again. "That's supposed to be how you do it, right, you come to a faerie home and you bring a gift for their hospitality. How far does fairy floss get me with you?"

"Oh, who even knows?" Jon said airily, and continued to snack away.

That was that for a while, as they both drank tea and individually poked away at their tasks.

It was probably a solid fifteen minutes later that Martin looked up and said, "Wait, what?"

Jon, who had been avidly reading, didn't look up, his eyes still flicking over the page. "Hm?"

"What do you mean, who even knows?" Martin asked. "Is that a… well, its a question, isn't it. You know. Faeries know."

Now, Jon looked up at Martin, gaze suddenly very alert. "Are you saying that I know?"

"Yes. No." Martin frowned, considering wording, trying to line things up. "I'm asking if you know."

"Oh. Well. I don't." And he tried to return to his book.

Martin set the spindle down on the table, letting the wood knock against wood. "Ah, no. No, I don't think so. Jon. Jon."

Shivering, Jon's head jerked back up. "Yes, Martin."

"Why don't you know what the… the balance is, the…" Martin flexed a hand in the air. "The debts, the favors, the whole ledger between us! That's what faeries do, they know this stuff and act all smug because us mortals can only guess at it, and…" He gestured helplessly. "You must know."

Jon's antennae folded back over his head as he frowned. "I mustn't do anything. I don't have to do it." His mouth moved as he stared back at Martin, his lips pursing then flattening again. "I— I don't know who's in the black and who's in the red, and I— I— I don't care to know." He cheeks colored hotly and he glared down at the table, at the spindle where it sat. "Humans don't do it like that."

Martin opened his mouth, but wasn't sure what to say.

"Humans don't treat everything like a transaction," Jon said quietly, with a viciousness that Martin had never heard before.

"Some do," Martin pointed out, hollow toned.

"I don't care. I." He shuddered, shaking his head adamantly. "I don't know why I did what I did, when I became this person, but I don't think I liked things very much before. I'm an exile, I have no reason to keep up the mores and rules of the court."

He stood up then, suddenly towering over Martin, his head lifted high. There was determination in the set of his face, but his hands curled and uncurled nervously.

It was a paltry, silly thing to ask, but all Martin could manage to put into words was a faint, surprised, "Really?"

Jon nodded once. "I'm never going to… call in my favors, to even the books with you. I don't want to."

"Why?" Martin asked.

There was sudden stillness in Jon's form as he considered this, his fidgeting stopping all over, like he was a frozen picture. It made Martin hold his breath too.

The response wasn't words this time, but felt as much like an answer as any of Jon's precise replies ever had. He stepped closer to Martin, rest two hands on the table to brace himself and cupped Martin's jaw in another hand, yet another pressing into Martin's chest.

Bending, Jon leaned down.

Martin shut his eyes, and felt warm, dry lips press against his. Dust and warm and a desperate gentleness.

It lingered just like that, no deeper, just wallowing in the connection of skin and affection until Jon leaned his head against Martin's and asked, a tremor running through his voice, "You're not afraid, are you?" He sounded hopeful. He sounded scared.

"No," Martin said, reaching up to touch his fingers to Jon's cheek.

Jon leaned back in, and they were quiet for a long time.

Chapter Text

Martin was writing poetry at the table, and Jon wanted to taste it so bad, he could feel it in his teeth.

He was supposed to be making lunch for them, heating up a pair of bread puddings that Martin has acquired from the bakery. Lucky him it was a hands-off sort of preparation, just putting the ramekins into the oven and then checking them so they didn't burn. In the meantime, Jon couldn't help the way his antennae twitched as he picked up the sound of Martin's pen against the page, the light papery drag of the fountain pen.

Martin used a fountain pen, one with the reloadable cartridges. Jon found this fact about him delightful, as he found most facts about Martin delightful. Everything about him seemed very round and soft, like dandelion fluff against the tongue.

Jon checked the oven to ensure no burning yet, then went to peer around the corner at Martin in the living room.

His notebook had a soft grey suede cover that folded flat against the table. Frequently as he wrote, he consulted the dictionary on his phone to be sure of word choice. His hair was dyed a pale blue from the light coming through a lampshade, fringe tousled into sharp flips and curls.

Jon tapped his fingers against the wall briefly before darting back to the kitchen.

"If you keep opening the door, it won't be hot enough to cook," Martin called from the other room.

"Then how am I to know when its ready?" Jon asked in return.

"You can fix a roof but can't detect when a pudding is ready to eat?"

"That is correct," Jon said, and peeked in the oven again. The surface of the puddings was beginning to bubble, so he retrieved the mitts and pulled the tray out. They were steaming. That seemed like a good sign.

Grabbing forks, Jon held each ramekin on a mitten and carried them back to Martin. Setting everything out, he warned. "They are incredibly hot, please use caution."

"Thank you," Martin said with a funny little smile, and the words zipped along Jon's spine, settling in his gut like a good meal.

Still, Martin wrote in his book, seeming to be in the midst of a thought. He hoped Martin would share. Then, remembering he could admit as much, Jon said, "I would like to see your poetry."

Martin's cheeks went pink, and he shut the book, though not before blowing across the page to dry the ink. "Uh, ha, I don't…" He cleared his throat sharply. "S— so why roofs but not pudding?"

This was easy. "The land is sympathetic to me and will bend to my command. I don't have that power over pudding."

A light, airy laugh escaped Martin. "No, I suppose that makes sense." His cheek leaned on his hand as he picked up the fork, his eyes glancing askance at Jon.

Every time felt like another little zip in the core of Jon, a prosaic, simple pleasure at having Martin's attention. He could feast on that alone for epochs.

But also, there was pudding, and he could feast on that too.

Three days later, Jon let himself into Martin's cottage, shivering at the fading sensation of transgression that rang through him every time he did this. The struck-bell-chord in him had been much stronger before, a reminder that he was not explicitly invited. But as time passed, the sensation lost resonance.

Which was its own thrill, the knowledge that settled into Jon's self. This was, to his memory (such as it was) the first place he was welcome. The first threshold that parted like a curtain to call him in.

Buoyed by that, Jon hung up his cloak and placed his shoes where he ought, then puttered around the house.

There was a piece of paper on the table. In fact, there were many papers on the table, but this was not among Martin's collection of filled orders, unfilled requests, and junk mail. This was a lined page with an uneven edge, torn from a book with poor perforation. The page was folded and propped up like a card beside a dinner setting. On it was written clearly: Jon.

Plucking it up, Jon turned it over and flattened the crease.

Paving stones, trodden dirt, carpet nails
The bricks are the same in every town
There's nothing but wandering soles and lingering footprints
the dust of people who don't stay
Mother says, mind your steps
Keep your head down

There's constellations overhead
and colored awnings over the shop door
and shapes beyond the shadows across my floor
and the shape of my feet have become a bore
I'd rather look at you instead

It tasted like temptation and deliberation and tentative hope and cellulose, and Jon felt it in his chest like an effervescent thing, stretching out along his veins to make his fingers tingle in delight. A poem for him! A poem that referred to him! It was far beyond what he wished for, and he glut himself on it.

There was a difference, of course. He'd done his best not to consume anything about people, sticking to the sugary sweet taste of false worlds and talented lies. It didn't fill him up quite like the dark mead taste of someone's inner thoughts, fears, desires, but…

Just this once, he could have something true. Something about Martin that was truer than his furtive glances and his careful questions.

Jon was still humming with satiety when Martin returned to the cottage, unwinding his (formerly Jon's) scarf and hanging it up.

"You didn't put on tea?" Martin asked.

"I didn't know when you'd return," Jon defended himself, even as he stalked over to Martin, bending to press his nose into downy soft hair.

Martin scoffed, but stayed still. It was tacit permission, and Jon put his arms around Martin's body, reveling in how warm he was even after his walk through the chilled air. Wordlessly, Martin leaned into Jon and bent his head back.

Call, and response. Jon kissed his cheek, squeezing him, enjoying the slight give of his shape under pressure.

Martin's hand curled around one of Jon's biceps, thumb stroking his coat.

The embrace lasted the perfect stretch of moments, and they broke apart nearly in unison. "I'll make tea."

Martin nodded, and put up his boots, stepping into slippers before following Jon into the kitchen.

Making tea was not a task requiring two people, but the company was quite nice. Without prompt, Martin told Jon about Daisy, about how he'd nearly passed out witnessing a new lamb being born, and how Daisy had laughed at his weak constitution.

"But in my defense, she didn't tell me what was going to happen, just that she needed to keep an eye on the sheep! Then, all of a sudden," Martin gestured in an incoherent but still expressive way. "Lamb!"

"And you were unprepared for the existence of another lamb."

"Too right!" He shook his head. "Anyway, uh. How d'you get on today? Read anything good?"

There was just a thread of nervousness in his voice. It was wonderful.

"I did," Jon said, and poured the hot water. "Very good."

"Right. Right." Martin cleared his throat. "Did… I mean, did you find it? The thing I left for you."

"Yes."

A huge sigh blew out of Martin. "Okay, good. Great. Ah, did… was it okay?"

"Yes," Jon said, and slid Martin his mug. "I haven't have opportunity to enjoy something so much in a long time. Thank you for indulging me."

The color of Martin's ears was entirely unique and unable to be replicated by dye or paint, and was more precious than rubies. And of similar hue. "You're welcome, Jon." He spun his mug around by the handle, smiling down at the tea as it rippled gently. "Could probably use another pass or two, though. Might put an actual rhyming scheme in it."

Then he held out his hand.

Jon took it with one of his.

"I, oh," Martin startled. "I— I meant the poem, but this is good too."

"The poem," Jon repeated, antennae folding back.

"Yeah. You… have it?"

Oh.

Hm.

"I don't," Jon said slowly. "Not the actual poem, not anymore."

"You, what? I don't understand."

Still holding Martin's hand, Jon linked the fingers of two other hands together, pressing them firmly together. "I… could recite it for you? I know it perfectly, that's sort of how it works for me."

"Did you bin it?" Martin asked, a hurt crease appearing between his eyebrows.

"Of course not," Jon said firmly. "But I still, well, it's not accessible? I'll help you rewrite it."

Martin's hurt seeped out of him, but in its place came a sudden incredulousness. "Jon! Did you— did you eat it?!"

"Why is that shocking?" Jon asked, matching Martin's volume. "I didn't know you'd want it back!"

"So you ate it?!"

"Obviously, why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know!" Martin cried, and then dissolved into giggles, putting his free hand over his face. "Oh my god. I wrote you a poem and you ate it. You're mad."

"I didn't know you'd want it back," Jon muttered.

"What did it taste like? Like dreamstuff and ephemera?"

"Like wood pulp and belated awakening, yes, it was very good." He picked up his tea to take a pointed sip, looking away from Martin. "I'll transcribe it for you later."

"Okay," Martin said, his voice a shiver of laughter. Between them, he squeezed Jon's hand.

Jon squeezed back.

 


(skip to the end!)


 

It was deep night as they laid up in Jon's bed.

It'd taken Martin some time to get used to it, the half-moon hollow filled with pillows and bedding quite unlike human's elevated platforms.

With the screen between them and the firelight in the stove, it was quite dark, the sort that made the pupils of Martin's eyes very large as he watched Jon.

Jon was reading, and the words flowed through his mind like water through a kettle spout. But he wasn't able to ignore the drape of tired human along his side. Not entirely.

Martin's head was propped up by pillow, his arm folded under his head, the fold of Jon's cloak against his cheek. It was a very cold night, enough their breaths had fogged on the walk through the forest. Jon didn't feel it quite like a mortal would, but he couldn't leave Martin to the chill.

And it was strangely satisfying to see him wrapped in Jon's wings. Like an emotion he'd not gotten a chance to experience until now.

There was a languid haziness in Martin's eyes as he traced his gaze idly over Jon's neck, down to where the peach fuzz thickened into his full coat. At any moment, it seemed like he could drop off into sleep. Jon had watched him do so plenty of times now.

Instead, Martin scooted himself closer, keeping the cloak around him as he rested against Jon and lightly placed his hand on Jon's thorax, just under the clavicle. Fingertips pressed together, drawing up individual hairs from the the thick collection.

Jon held very still, his attention fully loosened from his book to resettle instead on Martin. When he noticed, Martin lifted his gaze to Jon's, seeming shy as a flower reluctant to open for the sun.

"Sorry," Martin whispered. He always whispered in the dark. "I just wanted to know what it, uh, what you felt like, where you go from sort of fuzzy to all fluffy. It's interesting."

"If you say so," Jon said, matching his volume, the papery texture of quiet words. "I don't mind. You can touch." His antennae straightened on their spines, and shivered. "May I touch you?"

"Uh." Martin huffed a laugh, close enough it stirred Jon's hair. "Why?"

"You don't think you're interesting?"

"No," Martin said simply. The idea seemed to baffle him.

Jon frowned. "I've not seen any humans this close. How is it different?"

"Because there's loads of us? And…" He trailed off, looking down at Jon's chest. His fingers slipped through the fur, knuckle-deep before he nodded. "You can, sure."

He could. He could. That was exciting. Bracing himself, Jon rolled over, towards Martin, pausing when Martin yelped and covered his mouth.

Jon tilted his head. "What is it?"

"Mhf." Martin lowered his palm. "Sorry. Just surprised. I'm okay."

Excellent. Reaching out, Jon carefully removed Martin's glasses to a shelf, and lifted himself up on two arms, freeing up his other hands to rest on Martin's face, fingertips coming to rest on Martin's eyelids until he closed them.

His lips parted around a deep exhale, his brow furrowing. Jon smoothed it, dragging his thumb against the lines. "Jon," Martin murmured. He didn't otherwise move as Jon examined his eyebrows (thicker than his hair, and darker by a significant degree) and his ears (very foldy, and the skin was softer here, and pierced though unadorned). His nose stood up to being pressed on admirably, until Martin's mouth trembled and he giggled.

"Jon," Martin protested faintly, lifting a hand to nudge him. Taking the opportunity, Jon took Martin's hand by the wrist, turning it and examining it.

A seer might divine Martin's heart, mind, life, fate from the lines dug into his skin. Jon imagined it would be a worthwhile fortune. But he instead measured the relative size of their hands (Jon's were slightly longer), the curl of each finger (perfect), and the stretch between thumb and palm (adequate). While Martin silently rolled his eyes, Jon bent his head and kissed his knuckles.

The flush along Martin's neck was bright and radiated warmth when Jon touched it. A stutter of breath from Martin dredged Jon up from the sensations and cataloging he was mired in, and back to the dark, blown-out pupils of his eyes.

Jon spared a hand to cup Martin's cheek. "Still good?"

"Yeah," Martin said in a rasp. "If you are."

"Yes."

With a small nod, Martin laid his head back on the cloak and reached down to the first button of his pajamas, slipping it loose before laying his arm up around his head.

The invitation to explore was taken greedily: Jon cupped Martin's neck, measuring his pulse.

It was fast under his grip, rabbit-quick. Then, slowly, as Martin breathed deep and steady, it calmed. Jon felt it calm, and it was an incredible effervescent feeling, to hold it in his grip. How could Martin think humans weren't interesting when Jon was enthralled by the basic reality of the cardiovascular?

As he measured heartbeats, he brought another hand down and unbuttoned the rest of Martin's shirt. He wanted to put a hand over Martin's heart, to hold his lungs as he took those deep breaths, to gather every detail. They tasted different than secrets, from truths, even from fiction. A new flavor to try out.

He did still momentarily, taking in the new skin. There were an array of freckles, scattered like paintbrush spray. They were spaced out enough, he could use both free hands to press on them. Under, Martin puffed out a breath.

There were also scars, which Jon did not touch directly. He framed them with two fingers, careful not to make contact.

Martin shut his eyes, head pressing back. "They— they don't hurt."

"No?"

"No. Just, ah… tingly sometimes?"

That was important information, and Jon tucked it away as he moved closer. Braced on his knees, he could free his arms, and there was so much to touch. Martin's firm shoulders, his lovely collarbone, the very very soft place just under the ledge of his ribs that made him shift and move with a faint noise. Here, where Martin's skin felt different. Here, where it was dotted with color. Here, where Jon could feel his pulse.

Much quicker now. Jon paused, looking up into Martin's face.

Martin's expression was a cousin to loss, a fellow to pining, and was staining his face darkly with a rich blush and a wet lower lip.

Jon wasn't uninformed; he read many books. It was different seeing the emotions he'd only read suddenly alive and breathing in full color. "Should I stop?" Jon asked.

"Should," Martin repeated. "I— I don't know, uh, it's just a little…"

His antennae flicked, wafting through the air. "Intimate?"

Martin shut his eyes as if pained, then opened them again. "Tch, yeah. I don't know if you… I mean, I know sometimes faeries do, but you're not… always like other fae?"

This was true. Nodding, Jon explained: "I don't currently have the equipment needed to have an arousal response."

"Oh." The disappointment was clear in his tone, and in the way his shoulders hunched.

Ergo, Jon was being misunderstood again. How their lives where a constant negotiation, like trying to learn to dance with your hands tied fast together. "I don't mind yours. Unless you want me to stop," Jon said.

"You don't have to stop," Martin said in a small voice.

"Good," Jon said firmly. "Because this is all very interesting, and I'd like to continue."

"Well, so long as its interesting," Martin said.

Clicking his tongue at him, Jon went on. There were pale blue plaid pajamas in the way, worn down to a buttery soft texture by years of use. They felt like favorite sleep clothes of Martin's, and it was a shame to remove them, but Jon wanted to see .

Jon stripped them off, and Martin shivered. A rising tide of little bumps washed over Martin's skin. Jon pet them, fascinated at the sudden texture change. "What is— ah. Gooseflesh."

"Yep, yeah," Martin said on an exhale. "Well spotted."

Gooseflesh meant Martin was cold. Grabbing some of the bedding, Jon drew it closer, tucked it around Martin's body, hoping it would help. "You're cold," Jon noted aloud.

"A bit," Martin admitted. "You— your hands are warm."

Warm and plentiful, so he placed them against Martin, hoping that would help. One he placed over Martin's ribs; Martin folded his own hand overtop, pressing it firmly in place.

That seemed a good sign.

Finally he could turn his attention to the new skin. He was drawn in by broad thighs. Spidered out along Martin's legs were pale lines, incongruent and striking as they spread out. Jon touched them, finding another new texture in the slight wrinkle of the skin.

Martin's face was red enough he was pressing the back of his hand to his cheeks. "Sorry," he muttered when Jon noticed.

"What're these?"

"Just… stretch marks. I, uh, I only had the one growth spurt when I was a teen, but it was a big one." He drew a knee upward and across.

Jon caught his ankle with a hand and gently pulled his leg flat again, touching the marks more. "They're remarkable. Like feathered lightning in your skin."

The sound Martin made then was like he'd been struck. It jostled Jon out of his reverie. Martin was wiping his eyes with the heel of his hand, and Jon felt the wind rush out of him. "Should I stop? Am I hurting you?"

Martin let out a faint laugh. "Do… D'you know in a book, when something really good happens, and you, uh. You feel almost like your chest is on fire, but in a good way?"

"Yes," Jon answered.

"It's that, kind of. I'm okay." He drew up some of the linens to wipe his eyes. "I'm good. Uh, can I… hold one of your hands?"

He had plenty to spare, so Jon took Martin's hand, intertwining their fingers, pressing their palms together. A breath rushed out of Martin, and he smiled.

That seemed a very smart tactic. Jon was quite aware he could get caught up in something when it fascinated him. This way, he could feel Martin's reaction.

Speaking of. Martin's heels dragged against the bed as his legs bent. Joining in, Jon coaxed them back, and open as he fit between them.

The slight pressure around him was affecting in ways he wasn't sure he could explain. Not yet, anyway. Maybe repetition would help him find the words. For now, he squeezed one of Martin's thighs, watching the way he reacted. Mostly with a darker flush and a slow, sinuous movement against the bed.

Holding Martin's legs in place, Jon reached between them to press his palm against pubis. It was warm— no, hot — and damp, and Martin's hips lifted as if without his command to press harder, a hiss of an inhale through his teeth.

For a moment, Jon remained still, taking in the abortive little motions of Martin's hips, how his muscles bunched with each movement, his legs tensing.

Slowly, Martin opened his eyes and stilled, staring at Jon with his dark eyes. His teeth pressed against his lower lip, a crescent of bruised red.

As Martin slowed, Jon shifted his hand, pressing harder, working the blade of his thumb down. "Oh!" Martin gasped, and squirmed again.

"How can you not think humans are interesting," Jon murmured, his fingers pressing on the fabric of Martin's briefs, following the wet shape underneath, finding a firm bit that made Martin's head toss, his breath stutter. "You're so vividly reactive."

"Ah! Oh, th— that, there, Jon," Martin gasped, hips canting up.

"Are you listening?" Jon asked curiously as his thumb skipped over the firm bit again, making Martin's legs quake.

"Yeah, yes, yes" Martin said.

Jon wasn't sure he actually was. With another hand, he tucked his fingers under the band of Martin's pants, pulling them down. The winded noise Martin made was exquisite.

He was very pink and wet underneath, the fabric clinging until Jon pulled it away. Getting it off took some collaboration, guiding Martin's legs up until Jon could pull his pants free.

His legs fell open, and Jon put a hand on one thigh to hold him that way. Two other hands, he dragged against Martin's vulva. The last, still held in Martin's grip, squeezed. He was quite occupied.

Though, not as occupied as Martin seemed. His eyes traced shapes in the ceiling, gasps escaping his lips as Jon stroked him. His whole body trembled like a strummed chord, humming as Jon used his knuckles to spread him gently open, dragging his thumbs through the hot wetness.

"Jon," Martin moaned. "Jon, I'm— I'm going to…" He bit his lip sharply, moaning as Jon worked his clit in slow, firm circles.

"Of course. In your own time," Jon said. His fingertips traced the giving, soft folds, attention narrow.

A laugh gusted out of Martin. "Oh my fucking, th— yes, that, please," he pleaded.

Jon nodded and stroke two fingers deeper against Martin, gliding smooth as silk into him. Martin's mouth opened, wordless this time as he breathed heavily. It was incredible, how every breath filled his chest and made the muscles in his thorax shift, and how Jon could feel each shudder that rolled through him, from the inside. When he squeezed Martin's hand again, every part of him clenched tight, then released.

Dragging his thumb through wet skin, he worked against Martin's clit, and just watched as he shook, body twitching, rocking, his neck curving back as he arched under what seemed like an uncontrollable onslaught of sensation wracking his body. His lips formed Jon's name, then he simply moaned as Jon pushed him harder and harder, eager to see where the precipice was.

It wasn't far, and Martin came, taut and almost soundless. His body clutched Jon, tensing around him, his legs pressing into Jon's sides, a mindless want that stretched several seconds in suspension.

Then, it let Martin go, and he let go, slumping against the bed, panting, his eyes mostly shut, dazed.

A moment later, he shivered and pressed his knee into Jon's side. "'nough, enough," he managed.

Jon obligingly stopped, removing his fingers. They were very wet now. With one of his drier hands, he patted Martin's belly. "Very good, thank you."

Martin let out an incredulous sound. "Thank you?"

"Yes. Of course?" He pet along the lovely lightning marks. "How was that?"

"Oh my goodness," Martin said, giddy. "Jon, that was… very good. That was so much." He at last freed his hand from Jon's, reaching up to stroke his hair out of his face. "Was it… fine? I mean you, you don't…"

"I do not, no. I'm fine with this arrangement." Turning his head, he kissed Martin's knee. "In fact, I believe to make the, ah, the necessary adjustments, I would… perhaps need to spin a new cocoon." His nose wrinkled at the thought.

Martin smiled. "You what? Really?"

"It's a lot of tedious work," Jon said. "Hardly seems worth it."

"Okay," Martin agreed softly. Slowly, he sat up, wincing at some lingering soreness. "Right, I should— ah, oh my god, Jon!"

As he moved, it became clear that… what they were doing shouldn't have been done in the wing cloak. Everywhere it had touched Martin's skin was now darkly smudged with the brown and teal scales, mixing with his sweat into what looked like lurid paint, smeared into swirls. Martin lifted his arm, saw the mess along the back of his bicep and up his shoulder, and gasped.

"Oh dear."

"Jon!" There was outrage in his voice, but also what Jon hoped was a deep amusement.

"I'll fetch something," Jon said, propelling himself back, to his feet.

"It's everywhere!"

"It's not everywhere, it's merely in many places," Jon corrected him. "Just sit still."

Hurrying downstairs, Jon retrieved a damp cloth. As he returned and attempted to wipe Martin down, it was clear the effort wasn't enough; the cloth collected so much of Jon's colors, it was quickly saturated. With a concentrated effort, they managed to clean Martin up enough to get up. He stood naked on wobbly legs, and Jon held him tenderly, in case he fell. Together, they managed the steps, heading down to the basement, and to the tub down there.

Jon ran the hot water to fill the hollowed wooden basin. As he climbed into the tub, Martin complained with a warm smile, "You made a mess of me."

"I'll tidy you up then," Jon said instantly. It seemed an obvious answer.

Martin's expression softened. "Good. Good," he murmured, before reaching out to smear Jon's chest with the clotted dust. "Get in here, I wanna see if you go all skinny when wet."

"Fine." Acquiescing, Jon slipped in next to him. If Martin claimed to want to see the effects of water in his coat, the concern apparently left him; Martin wrapped his arms around Jon, resting his cheek on Jon's shoulder.

Sinking lower in the warm water, Jon closed his eyes, curling his arms around Martin in return.