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“-All I’m saying is, maybe we should ask him?” 

Sasha nodded towards the office as she edged passed Martin's desk to her own.

“What’s the point? He will just say no.” Martin sighed, taking the file he was offered as She passed and flicking at the content ideally. “It’s not like it’s just normal after-work drinks, it’s hard enough to drag him out at the best of times.”

The snigger that came from behind Tim’s computer didn’t go unnoticed. Whatever he was browsing on the internet, Martin had a strong suspicion it wasn’t work-related. Tim had made a point of informing them both that he had finished his last case for the day about an hour ago, about the same time he started spamming the group chat with an assortment of historical memes. The constant buzzing of his phone had caused Martin to shove it into his desk drawer so he could concentrate. However, the close proximity of the desks in the cramped archives made it almost impossible to ignore the way Tim’s shoulders wriggled as something amused him.

“Just ask him.” Sasha sighed pulling the file closer and flicking through the notes. “Worst he can say is no, not like he can complain that we have work in the morning.” she paused her browsing to look up at Martin, her face set in the don’t argue with me expression that would have sent a lesser man running, “I’m sure if it’s You who asks, he will say yes.” 

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Martin paused, trying not to let this little tidbit of information cause his heart to beat just a little faster, Sasha was just teasing him, that was all. Just a gentle jab directly at that raw nerve that never seemed to be happy unless it was causing him some sort of mild discomfort.

“Exactly what you think it means Marty.” Tim looked up from his computer with a wink. “Nobody is safe from that Blackwood charm of yours, not even the Bossman in his fortress of solitude.” in his draw Martin’s phone vibrates violently, Tim’s ability to text and not look at his phone at the same time was a superhero power all of its own. “Like Sasha said, what’s the worst he can say? No? At least you asked, either way, you get to spend the night in my charming company, the only question is how much of your attention do I get?” Tim bites his lip, looking at Martin in that way that always makes him think of the oversized stuffed animals that they have at the zoo. cute, but probably deadly in real life. 

“Marto, the only loser here is me. If Jon says yes, I don’t get my drunk Martin hugs… and they rate highly on the Tim scale, might even be a nine, possibly a Ten on a good day. I'm' doing myself a disservice by actively encouraging you to ask out the boss.” 

Martin could feel the colour rising in his cheeks, "You make it sound like I'm asking him out on a date.”

“Yeah Tim, don’t be so ridiculous,” the eye roll was audible even though Sasha had turned her back to him,“Whatever makes you think, Martin… our sweet, innocent, not at all crushing on the boss Blackwood… would ever, ever, ask Jon out on a date?”

The red in his cheeks was visible from space, he’s sure now. It was one thing for Tim to tease him, but when Sasha joins in he knows he’s well and truly lost the game. 

So does Sasha. She turns to him beaming as he gets to his feet. 

“You win, I’ll ask. But it’s not a date…” he pointed at Tim, poised to make a sarcastic comment and cuts him off before he starts. “He’s gonna say no, but you're right, at least we asked.”

Martin tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his chest as he headed to the break room, the jaunty voice of Tim shouting “that’s the spirit” after him as he went.



****

 

He waited until the sound of the tape recorder clicking off before pushing the door open with his hip, both hands full , one with tea the other a plate of biscuits. 

The pickings had been slim with it being Friday afternoon, Tim had already decimated the jammy dodgers by Tuesday morning and Martin hoped that the meagre offering of custard creams, a bourbon and the last chocolate hobnob would be enough to make Jon at least pay attention enough so Martin could ask him to join them later. 

Jon looked up when he entered, It had been a long time since Martin bothered knocking. Jon never heard him anyway, and if he did question Martin’s lack of etiquette he never voiced it out loud.

Jon shuffled the paperwork, sliding it back into the file on the desk and placing the tape recorder down on top of it with a sigh.

“Rough statement?” Martin questioned placing the mug of tea down in the now cleared space in front of the smaller man, Jon reached out instinctively for it, fingers wrapping and curling into the heat, searching out its warmth. The office was always just a little colder than the rest of the archives and Martin tried not to worry about the way Jon shivered, as if the cold had gotten into his bones and made itself at home there. 

“It could have been worse.” Jon deadpanned as he pulled his cup towards him, steam curling upwards and fogging his glasses. “Nobody died in this one, I don’t think. I’ll have you check on that, but the body count seems reasonably low for a Friday.” 

Martin hovered, was that a joke? Should he laugh? He was trying his hardest to understand the mindset of the archivist, but Jon was not an easy man to read, for every new breakthrough Martin made, he lost something in translation. He compensated by placing the plate of biscuits on the desk and smiling when Jon reached out for the hobnob with what could almost be considered a thankful smile. That tiny tweak of lips gave Martin the ounce of courage he needed, Sasha and Tim were right, the worst he could say was no…

“Speaking of body counts…” he started, causing Jon to pause, the chocolate-covered snack halfway to his mouth looking at Martin curiously over the top, “Tim was wondering, well we all were…” he mumbled, suddenly wishing he had his own tea, even if it was just to keep his hands busy.

 “I was… wondering… Tim… that is to say, we’re going out tonight, all of us and we were wondering… I was wondering... doyouwanttocomewithustonight?” the words tumbled from his mouth jumbled and he mentally kicked himself hard at the stupidity of his own tongue. The red was beginning to rise in his cheeks again he knew it, but there was little he could do about that but ride it out as he watched Jon try and decipher the offer laid before him.

It took a few moments for Jon to respond, he picked at the biscuit in his hand as he mulled it over. “I'm not sure what time I will get finished-” he began, he seemed to find the crumbs on his desk suddenly fascinating. “Oh.” disappointment seeped into the sound more than Martin had expected, it had been foolish of him to expect anything but that answer really, but still, he had hoped that maybe this time the answer might have been a yes.Jon looked up at the sound, his eyes meeting Martian’s for a split second before looking away again, “-but I think maybe I could, I don’t know swing by later?” Jon finished, deliberately looking at his cup as if it were the most fascinating thing in the world.

Martin could feel the false smile he always hid behind slowly turning into a genuine grin, it wasn’t a full yes, but maybe he could work with. 

 

Martin was suddenly aware that the two of them had said nothing in a few moments, Jon sipping his tea and helping himself now to a custard cream as Martin's brain rebooted itself. 

“Was that all?” Jon asked, finally passing a stack of discarded statements to Martin who still hadn’t moved to leave yet. He reached out and took them suddenly aware of how awkward this had become, that last ounce of courage and bravado draining from him he nodded and headed for the door.  “Eight-thirty at Tim’s place.”  Jon nodded once in acknowledgement before pulling the tape recorder back to him and waving for Martin to close the door.




*****

 

Tim passed him another can, the first two had gone down too quickly, there was something terrifying about Timothy Stoker coming at you with an eyeliner pen that made alcohol feel like a good option. The flurry of sequins and hairspray as he had walked through the door had been only the eye of this particular human tornado, the residual fall out scattered every surface of the living room and kitchen in Tim’s open-plan flat. 

Tim’s flair for the theatrical always peaked when drinking was involved, but Martin had not been prepared for the onslaught of Tim’s Halloween preparations. He spluttered as Tim tried to get him to open his mouth so he could attach fake fangs to his canines. 

“Is this necessary?” he mumbled as Tim tried to prise Martin’s own hands from his mouth. Martin might well have the height and weight advantage but Tim most definitely had the upper hand as he prised a finger at a time off Martin’s face. He knew he was getting off lightly, on the scale of one to Tim, fake fangs and vampires were tame in the man’s arsenal of costume supplies. Still, as Tim grinned at him in his triumph, Martin resolved to not let the other man pick his costumes in the future.  

Tim sat back grinning as Martin’s tongue ran over the prophetic fangs that now sat in his mouth.

 “You do realise I now can’t eat anything tonight yeah?” the words felt strange with the extra space taken up in his mouth, it gave the words a slight lisp to them. 

“Good, it means you will get drunk faster, now drink your beer, It’s a red wine from now on or at least red cocktails, it’s all about the aesthetic of the thing.” 

“I don’t like red wine!” Martin attempted to say but it came out as a lisping noise that sent Sasha into a fit of giggles, she looked at him sympathetically when she finally caught her breath.

 “I think you make a rather handsome Vampire Martin, just count yourself lucky he didn’t throw glitter on you and call you a Cullen.” Martin groaned it was too early for puns, he glanced at Tim who grinned maniacally. 

“If you come at me with any sort of glitter Stoker, I will not be held responsible for my actions.” he tried to sound threatening, but the spray of saliva formed from the additional length on his teeth only caused Tim to collapse into Sasha’s buckled side as she howled with laughter.

“Oh, he’s adorable, can we keep him?” she asked patting some kitchen roll at her eyes to stop the makeup running from the tears of laughter that had gathered there. 

“I think the boss man might have something to say about that, speaking of which, you did tell him half eight yeah?” three sets of eyes turned to the analogue clock above the fireplace, it ticked slowly towards nine and the arrival of the taxi. Martin tried not to let the disappointment show on his face as he downed the last of his can, it tasted more bitter than usual as it landed on his tongue.

He had been stupid to think Jon would come, yet the little smile had seemed so genuine when he had offered up the invite. Sasha wandered over to him, a gloved hand hooking him under the chin till he looked up at her, rabbit ears and all, he tried not to let his heart sink a little more at the look of pity that sat upon her painted face. 

“Hey, none of that. It’s his loss, my gain, I get to take Jessica Rabbit and a sparkly vampire out to party, I'm one lucky Rabbit.” 

Martin just about ducked out of the way as Tim pounced, red sequin dress just catching his line of sight as he dove towards Martin, glitter spray at the ready. The haze of aerosol surrounded them as the air became a hazy rainbow of glitter. 

Martin reached out to grab Tim before he toppled over, having misjudged how far he could stride with the split in his dress. In his arms, Tim corrected himself, straightened the long red wig and glanced at his feet “Recon I can get away with trainers? Or will that break the illusion?”  he questioned, looking between the two people who had narrowly avoided a trip to an accident and Emergency.

“I don’t remember Jessica Rabbit having a beard either and Rodger definitely didn’t have a rack like mine, I think you're good.” Sasha rolled her eyes so loudly Martin could hear it. Nodding Tim excused himself tottering off to the bedroom in the heels he could hardly walk in, when he closed the door Sasha turned to Martin again, before pulling him into a hug. 

“What’s this for?” He asked as he pushed a fluffy ear out of his face.

“Nothing, I just wanted a Martin hug and you looked like you needed a little Sasha reinforcement, we are going to have a good night, even if captain grumpy let us down ok?” Martin squeezed her back when she tightened her grip, the cloud of glitter resting on them as Sasha refused to let go.




*****

The tiny porch outside Tim’s flat did little to keep the rain off them as they waited for the Taxi that according to Tim’s phone, should have been their quarter of an hour before.

Tim shivered as his naked shoulders took the brunt of the October air as it whipped around them, his stubborn streak refusing to lower the quality of his costume anymore by adding a coat to the ensemble. 

They were about to give up and go back in so Tim could call the Taxi company when a black cab turned into the street and slowed as it approached. Sasha looked towards Tim for clarification but he just shrugged. They had ordered a private Taxi, this wasn’t for them, at his side Sasha curled into Martin wrapping his cape around her to keep out the cold, she straightened to attention when the Taxi came to a stop in the road next to the bottom of Tim’s steps. 

“Is that the boss man I see before me!” Tim nudged Martin in the side “Don’t let him let that Taxi go! I’ll be back in a second.” Tim ducked back into his flat as Sasha bound down the steps pulling Martin behind her and pushing Jon back into the cab that he had only just opened the door too.

“Sasha?” Jon questioned as she flipped down the folding chair and leant to talk to the driver, her long white ears bending against the fabric roof of the cab. Jon darted his eyes from the Rabbit who now held the drivers' conversation to Martin, one eyebrow raised in question. Shit . Martin’s brain caught up with him, had he actually told Jon they were going to a costume party? He looked at the shirt and jeans that Jon was wearing under his jacket as his brain helpfully provided him with the ‘ No’ he was looking for. 

Well wasn’t that just typical of his own stupidity, Jon would never want to come out with them again after this.

“Hi, Jon…” he provided sheepishly as he slid along the bench seat beside the confused man, wishing that he could suddenly have at least another five drinks in him, Maybe then he wouldn’t feel quite so mortified. He opened his mouth to apologise but was cut off by Tim, sequins and all sliding into the seat beside him and slamming the Taxi door.

“Hi boss, you're a lifesaver, thanks for joining us … eventually.” he readjusted his wig again spinning it where it had blown out of shape with a gust of wind. “You’re costume sucks by the way.” He added nodding at Jon. 

Martin felt himself shrink into the space between the two men, suddenly aware of just how much room he normally took up as Tim sprawled his legs out in front of him stretching into Sasha’s space and leaning over Martin to talk to Jon, his elbow was dangerously close to causing Martin an intimate injury if Tim wasn’t careful. Jon didn’t move back from Tim’s space invasion but Martin could tell Jon was already having second thoughts about joining them on their night out. 

“Martin never said it was a fancy dress occasion, or I would have made more of an effort.” Jon deadpanned as Martin wished the world would just open up and swallow him whole.

“More of an effort to not come…yeah I know, that’s why I got Martin to invite you,” Tim turned to look at him giving him a smile and a wink. “No offence Martin but me and Sash knew you would forget to mention it, good job I planned ahead right?” for the first time Martin notices the brown paper bag in Tim’s hand that hadn’t been there when they first left the house. He thrust it towards Jon with a grin.

 “ I got you covered Boss, no excuses. Plus who’s gonna be looking at you when Mr and Mrs Rabbit are Right here” he lent back as the Taxi pulled away and Sasha turned her attention back to the group, reaching over to cover Tims’s modesty with the flowing skirt of his dress. She nodded at her handiwork before pulling some miniatures out the pocket of her dungarees and handing them around the back of the taxi. 

Jon grumbled, settling into the seat beside Martin and eying the paper bag, trepidation plastered across his face. 

Martin let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding when Jon let out an amused snort at the content of the bag.

“Very droll.” he turned to look at Tim, the corners of his lips twitching as he pulled the costume out the bag and turned it over in his hands. Martin looked at the green diamond attached to a hairband trying to work out what it was supposed to be.

“Well, I know you like a good pun as much as the next person.” Tim grinned back. 

“I don’t get it?” Martin tried to say around the fake teeth, how much longer was it going to take till he got used to it? Tim pointed to his own teeth in a way of explanation when Jon looked up at Martin confused. 

Martin gave Jon a shy smile showing off his fake fangs, with a put upon sigh. 

In an act of solidarity as well as explanation Jon stuck the hairband on, rolling his eyes. 

“Apparently , I'm one of the  Sims.” he smirked glaring over the top of his glasses at Tim who had just dissolved into tears of laughter at his own joke.  It took Martin longer than he cared to admit to get it, but Jon looked just the right amount of adorable and pissed off that he was momentarily distracted while his heart did some sort of summersault in his chest. 

“Oh don’t look so annoyed, at least you didn’t spend ten mins with my fingers in your mouth.” Tim grinned wrapping his arm around Martin and pulling him towards him so he could admire his own handiwork. Martin tried to wriggle free but there wasn’t much room on the back bench of the black cab, to his surprise, Jon reached out tapping Tim on the shoulder.

 “So where are we going that involves ritual sacrifice of my dignity?” He asked, this caused Tim to loosen his hold on Martin, as he plunged into the plan for the night, Martin caught Jon’s eye mouthing a silent thank you for the act of mercy that Jon had just performed.

“Friend of mine hired a pub for the night, sokay boss we will have you back in your cave at a reasonable hour.” The speed that Tim downed the miniature Sasha handed him made Martin very much doubt that was the truth, Tim and Sasha were gearing up for an all-nighter. It made Martin appreciate the fact that Jon had come out even more, at least when Jon made the inevitable excuse to leave Martin might be able to sneak out at the same point. 

Resigned to his fate he downed his own miniature, watching as Jon did the same at his side.



*****



True to his word Tim denied Martin access to his usual choice of beverages when they got to the bar, this was how he ended up nursing a cocktail that had questionable amounts of spirits in it, but did at least fall in the ‘only red things’ category Tim had set him. He sipped it cautiously, aware that at any given moment Tim was likely to show up with another drink in his hand if he thought that the glass was approaching empty. 

The pub was loud and he only recognised a few of the other people in the bar that Sasha and Tim both seemed to know well enough to embrace as they arrived. Now the conversation jumped sporadically between Tim waxing poetic about his stirling choice in costumes and showing off said costumes to everyone that stopped to compliment him on his outfit. Jon to his credit still had the hairband on his head, whether to blend in or to keep Tim happy Martin couldn’t quite work it out, but Martin had noticed that Jon seemed to have taken to sticking close to his side, avoiding the active chaos that seemed to surround Tim as his personality drew people to them.

After two laps of the bar ( Martin was impressed at how many people had made an effort to dress up, he had expected them to be the only ones) Sasha scoped them out a newly vacated booth near the back of the bar.

The feeling of relief that came across Martin was reflected in Jon’s face as the two of them slid on to the wooden bench. Sasha watched as Tim entertained the witch next to the bar, the look of fondness that crossed her face as she gazed at Tim led Martin to think there was more to their friendship than they let on, Tim was easy to love, charming and endearing, he just hoped that whatever was going on wouldn’t end in a disaster. The idea of having to pick sides between his two friends filled him with a preempted dread that he only ever thought about in the darkest times, normally before ringing the home to speak to his mother. 

The haze of glitter that seemed to still follow him, caught as he moved, the defused fairy lights that hung over their heads causing the little sparkles to catch his eye and in turn, Jon’s. Jon was staring at him, expression unreadable but the unmistakable darkening reached his cheeks as Martin raised a questioning eyebrow at his observation. 

“Worked out what's in that concoction yet?” he nodded at the drink in Martin’s hand, voice slightly flustered. Was that what that was? Jon was flustered at getting caught staring? And at him of all people? That didn’t seem right, yet the flush that darkened against the crest of Jon’s cheek and the tiny hitch in his voice seemed to point that direction. 

“I think it might have rum in it?” Martin sniffed at the glass before holding it out in Jon's direction, “My taste buds are a little off, because of the whole teeth thing.” he gestured towards his mouth with his free hand as Jon reached to take the glass he was offered, his fingers caught across the backs of Martin’s as the glass changed hands, the shock of the touch sending a warm tingling feeling across Martin’s skin that he knew had nothing to do with the alcohol. 

Jon was avoiding looking at him, eyes trained on the glass as he sniffed at the content. “ Smells like rum and maybe cherry?” Jon took another sniff then to Martin’s surprise put the glass to his lips and took a sip, the liquid stained Jon’s mouth where it touched, Martin couldn’t stop watching as his tongue came out darting over his lips where the residual liquid had gathered. 

“Yes, cherry. Can’t stand the taste of it myself, reminds me of the Calpol you used to get when you were sick as a child.” Martin watched as the slow realisation of what he had done began to creep across Jon's features, the blush darkening his skin even more as his eyes darted around the table looking for somewhere else to direct the conversation. 

Across the table, Sasha beamed. Her face alights with mischief as she watched on. Martin could tell she was planning something, she had that look in her eye that only showed itself when a conspiracy was afoot. The fact that this interaction between Jon and himself had dragged her attention away from Tim did not bode well for Martin's immediate future if that glint in her eye had anything to do with it. Her mouth opened to speak when Tim bound over hands full of shot glasses and a packet of crisps under each arm.  

“Sasha, you left me to fend off the men alone... betrayal of the highest order…” he pushed a shot glass in front of each of them, winking as he did so. “You realize this means divorce yeah?” 

“Hard to get divorced if you aren't married, Timothy.” 

“This is a metaphysical union, in some plane of existence you and me we’re on our third divorce and the kids all got a pony after the last one.” He pushed a shot each across the table. “ You two are the kids in this scenario just so you know, Martin you’re coming to live with me in the settlement.”

“Only if I get to change the pony for a puppy, not a fan of horses, to highly strung and bitey for my liking.”

“Yet, you seem to like Jon well enough.” Sasha’s stage whisper sent Tim into fits of laughter. Beside him he felt Jon straighten a little in his seat, the cocktail now sat on the table between them flanked by the aniseed smelling shots. 

“Anyway,” Tim glanced at them all as he straightened himself from his collapsed stupor against Sasha’s side “ A toast. “ he picked up the shot glass “to our sanity, may it get out the other end of this week at work in one piece.” he saluted the table, Martin followed suit, the taste of aniseed overpowering the taste of plastic as it burned on the way down, he spluttered slightly, before slamming the glass on the table and wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. 

“That tasted revolting.” face twisting to reflect his words he reached out to grab the cocktail just as Jon did the same, this time when their hands met Jon pulled back quickly almost like he had been shocked. 

He jumped to his feet making an excuse about having to go to the toilet, as soon as he was out of earshot Martin turned to Sasha, an anger burning in him that he wasn’t sure he knew how to control.

“What did you have to go and say that  about Jon for?” 

 Sasha shrugged “Was I wrong?” she turned to Tim. “You should have seen them before, it was revolting, I’m glad you came back to save me, it was starting to turn in to a bad Netflix special.” Tim slung his arm around Sasha’s shoulder, his eyes fixed on Martin, however. 

“Is this a true fact Blackwood, are you in fact being revolting over Bossman in public, before my sweet, innocent, Sasha? I expected better from you sir.”

“Oh shut up Tim,” Martin grumbled, pulling the glass towards him, and taking a drink, he tried not to think about Jon’s lips against the cold ridges of the rim, the way they had curled into it…

“Oh, is that the face?” Tim asked, his attention now back on Sasha. “Because that… that is adorable… you know your adorable right?” 

The sarcastic comment died on his lips as he watched Jon traverse his way back towards them. 

Did he know how the eyes of others followed him? Did Jon know how heads turned to look at him almost as much as they turned to look at Tim? Why would someone like Jon ever look twice at Martin, when he faded into the background, a lifetime of making himself as invisible as possible had never backfired as spectacularly as it did when it came to his feelings towards Jon. How was he supposed to stand up against the likes of Tim? Tim’s personality matched his looks and everyone seemed to love him so effortlessly, he often wished some of that charisma would rub off on to him by proxy, make him less socially awkward, give him that confidence to either make a move or get over his slow crippling crush on the one person that seemed unobtainable.

Yet, Jon remained captivating, even when all he was doing was walking across a crowded pub.

His mind was rushing with thoughts now, he hardly noticed that he had finished his drink until Tim was getting to his feet just as Jon returned to the table looking slightly less flustered than he had before his abrupt departure.

“I'll get the next round in, same again?” Tim questioned, as Jon had moved to indicate he was going to head home. Tim shot him a glance that quite clearly indicated that that was not an option at this time. 

“Oh… ok.” Jon slunk back into his seat defeated, grumbling slightly under his breath, but Martin had a feeling there was no anger behind it, for a start he still had his costume parched on his head. 

“Get something different for Martin this time, Not cherry, Jon doesn’t like it” Sasha volunteered, “and I want a yellow drink... ooooh maybe with a carrot in it… I am a rabbit after all,” she smiled up at Tim who tapped her on the end of the nose, she battered his hand away playfully.

“Not cherry got it…” Martin could have done without the loaded wink that Tim slid his way.



****

 

“-All I’m saying is Lois lane was a bit stupid, I mean it’s a pair of glasses, it doesn't make you look that different!”  to demonstrate his point, Tim reached across the table grabbing Martin’s glasses from his face, “Look, Martin still looks like Martin. I mean look at the sheer sexiness that this man brings to the table, with or without the glasses, Martin Blackwood, you’re well fit, like some sort of sexy gay super bear… that’s your new name. Super bear. I'm trademarking it, don’t any of you steal that before Monday… I’ll know… I’ll remember…” 

The pub had started to empty, it was getting late and the idea that the party was almost over was dragging heavily on Martin’s mind.

After the minor incident earlier things had settled back into the comfortable companionship he had become accustomed to having around his workmates. That was until Tim got on the tipsy side of a pint and moved into his favourite drunk pastime, unashamedly flirting with anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to him, this currently meant his full attention was on Martin. 

“Super bear?” 

“Sexy, Super bear.” Tim corrected him, grinning as Sasha laughed into his elbow where she had brought her head to rest, her rabbit ears tangled in the sequins of Tim’s dress. 

“I am not, and have never been sexy!” 

“See that’s where you’re wrong, dead wrong. Jon, tell him how wrong he is…” Tim laughed as he tried on Martin’s glasses, blinking as he tried to get the world to come in to focus. Martin could just about make out the blurry shape of Jon at his side, nervously shifting in his seat, the full force of drunk Tim suddenly thrust upon him.

“I…” Jon stammered, suddenly Martin wished he could see his face, would it have that dark flush to it again from earlier, his embarrassment at having been asked such a stupid question taking over Jon’s precious sensibilities.

“See, Jon agrees... and if Jon says so it must be true.” Tim stated matter of factly trying to grab hold of his pint, his vision distorted with Martin’s prescription. “You can’t argue with facts, and this is a Tim approved, Jon endorsed, a gold nugget of a fact.”

“Whatever you say Tim.” Martin held out his hand gesturing for Tim to give him back his glasses, he was pleasantly drunk now, but even in this state the ability to see featured high on his list of basic necessities. Begrudgingly Tim gave him back his glasses, as soon as he put them back on, he chanced a quick glance at Jon, and although flustered the smile that greeted him caused Martin’s inside to twist, the feeling of adoration he normally tried to keep hidden caused his own lips to return the gesture.  

“Hand em over… “ Tim pointed at Jon’s glasses now, face set in earnest. Jon may not have been out with them drinking on all that many occasions, but he knew better than to deny a drunken Tim his fun. He slid the glasses off and passed them over, Tim slid them on looking around the bar he cocked an eyebrow in confusion.

“Are they even propper glasses? Jon, do you just wear these for the look of the thing?” Tim asked accusingly as his gaze came to rest on the smaller man at Martin’s side. 

“No, they do have a prescription in them, it’s just not that strong, do I look like I wear glasses for a fashion statement?” Jon protested, he rolled his eyes at Martin who tried to stifle the giggle that formed but failed miserably. 

“Hum, I’m not convinced.” the disappointed huff not quite hidden in his voice. “What do you recon Sash, should I get some fake specs like the boss, do I look like some sort of repressed librarian? I'm guessing that the look Jon’s going for, I mean it seems to work for Marty, does it work on you? I feel left out, should I get glasses? Then I can be part of the sexy basement geek squad, we would be unstoppable, like the Beatles, if one of them was a woman.” 

Martin really hoped that Jon hadn’t picked up on what Tim had said, but he also knew his luck wasn’t that good. Jon had gradually moved closer over the course of the night, his leg pressed against Martin’s under the table where the table leg forced them together, Martin was hyper-aware of the way Jon nervously jigged his leg in time with the music that filled the bar, easier to hear now that the bar had started to empty. He felt the shift before Jon spoke. 

“The Beatles officially split in Disney world, did you know that?” 

“That explains why it’s the happiest place on earth then.” Sasha snorted as she got to her feet to head to the bar again. Martin chuckled looking down at Jon, his hair now pushed back by the band of the hairband, the cardboard diamond starting to look a little droopy from where he kept catching it and shoving it back into position. Jon was looking at him again, watching him in a way that made him feel incredibly seen. 

“Why on earth do you know that?” Jon didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would know that sort of random knowledge for no reason at all. 

“My ex, she has a podcast… there was a YouTube video we watched once, something about hauntings, it just stuck with me that’s all.”  

“And there was me thinking you were secretly a big Disney nerd, I am disappointed at a very base level boss.” Tim sighed, passing Jon’s glasses back to him, when Jon settled back into his seat, the gap between him and Martin had shrunk some more. 

Jon’s hand came to rest under the table, fingers grazing the side of Martin’s leg. Small prickles of electricity ran to the point where the touch connected. Martin glanced down, so did Jon, but to his surprise, Jon didn’t pull away. Before Martin could process this turn of events Sasha returned, drinks in hand and a disappointed look in her eye. 

“They just called last ordered boys, make the most of them.” As she pushed their drinks towards them, Martin could see her taking in the image of Jon, almost tucked into Martin’s side. He could almost piece together the comment that was bound to come out of her mouth if he didn't cut her off, he opened his mouth to speak but Jon beat him to it. 

“So where to next?” 

That got Tim’s attention, he sat up straight before reaching across the table and placing a hand to Jon’s forehead,

 “He’s sick, or he’s dying… or he’s been replaced by a Disney loving clone, what have you done with the real Jonathan Sims?” he teased. As Jon pulled back pressing himself closer to Martin’s side. He really did tuck in there nicely as if he belonged. 

“I’m enjoying myself, it has been known to happen on an occasion.” Tim pulled his hand back waving it blindly in Sasha’s direction, turning to her with a grin and a nod at the proximity of his workmates. The blush had begun creeping again, he could feel it spreading from his chest, the heat spreading from where Jon pressed into him. 

He seemed content to keep the contact and Martin was in no rush to stop him, even if his pulse was racing and he might die on the spot if Jon were to comment on their closeness. He tried to communicate without speaking to Tim, ‘ please don’t spoil this’. Tim seemed to understand. Whispering something into Sasha’s ear, Martin noticed he lingered longer than a normal conversation should warrant. Did Tim’s heartbeat betray him the way Martian’s seemed to want to?

“We can hit a late bar?” Sasha suggested when Tim finally dropped his attention. 

“or we can all go back to mine, I have a fully stocked alcohol cabinet and the takeaway on the corner does a dirty kabab to die for.” Tim wasn’t talking to the others, his attention was firmly on Sasha, the look of longing had crept upon his face again and this wasn’t the one that came before the harmless flirting. This was the one that belonged to the elephant in the room that they were all forbidden to talk about. 

“What do you want to do?” Jon turned to talk to him, his head was almost resting in the crook of Martin’s shoulder now, close enough to just bend down and…

“Up to you,” it came out as a raspy whisper, his mind struggling to stay on track. “Tim’s sounds like a good idea.” Martin was aware that Jon was watching him as he spoke, his eyes fixed on his mouth as he sounded the words around the stupid fake fangs that refused to let him speak like a normal person.

Yes, they could go on drinking, they could get paralytically drunk and all stumble home to their own flats, but something made the idea of curling up on the corner sofa at Tim’s with Jon at his side worm its way into his imagination, and now that was the only thing he could think about. 

“Whatever you want Jon.” his voice cracked as he tried to stop the longing he felt slipping out into the air between them; eyes jumping from Jon’s lips back to his hairline as Martin gulped down the breath that had caught in his throat, they were just drunk, that was all this was just too much… whatever was in the drinks that Sasha and Tim kept buying them. Martin tried not to feel disappointed when Jon pulled away, turning his attention back to the table at large, his hand returned to where it had lingered before, hovering just near Martin’s where it rested on the bench between them, fingers splayed waiting almost wanting…

“Mine then?” Tim grinned as around him everyone jumped at the sudden noise, woken from their own thought. 




*****

“It’s central London, it shouldn’t be this hard to hail a cab,” Tim complained as they walked up the windswept street, all of them trying desperately to book an Uber or a lyft, they had given up on a black cab when they had spotted the long line that had twisted around the corner and halfway down the next street. 

Sasha huddled under Martin’s cape, using it as a makeshift umbrella blocking out both the wind and the rain as she lent into the warmth that Martin knew he generated with little effort on his own part, this was usual Sasha behaviour, she often used him as her own personal space heater. 

What wasn’t normal was the body that pressed into his other side. 

Jon had taken the offer of shelter when Martin had raised his arm, but unlike Sasha who had instantly thrown an arm around him, Jon hovered, one hand on his phone the other gripping the soft black fabric like a lifeline. 

Tim waited for them to catch up, pausing with his finger on the button for the pedestrian crossing. He watched them, wig in hand as they manoeuvred like some sort of horseshoe crab towards him. 

“Sash, I can’t believe you dumped me for a vampire.” he huffed as they got to the crossing.

“Sorry, but he’s warm, you’re the one that wanted authentic costumes Stoker.” she teased back, but the look of hurt was evident on Tim’s face as the crossing turned to green. Martin felt awful. He hated seeing Tim look sad like this, it was like watching an injured puppy watching him mope over the lack of attention he was receiving. 

Martin must not have been the only one to feel it, because as they reached the pavement on the other side of the road, Jon paused shuffling off his jacket and handing it to Sasha. “Sorry Sasha, I didn’t think.” she slid out from under Martin’s arm and slipped on the jacket, pulling up the hood until all that could be seen was fur and rabbit ears, she bounded over to Tim who’s face lit up. 

A small chuckle at his side made him look down at Jon, who now sans jacket shivered in the cold October air. Martin lifted his arm again inviting Jon into his personal space. Jon looked from the offer of warmth to Tim and Sasha who were playfully pushing each other back and forth a little way ahead of them now laughing and joking. It was as if Martin and Jon had fallen off the face of the earth, but Martin couldn’t hold it against them. Jon shivered again, the coldness of the night affecting him more than he seemed to want to let on. 

“Stop being a martyr.” Martin nudged him with a hip reaching out to grab him and wrap the thick cape around them both, Jon rocked into his side steadying himself by reaching out and grabbing Martin’s waist. Once righted, Martin expected Jon to drop his grip, yet he didn’t, fingers wrapping into the hem of the dark red shirt, cold points brushing against the heat that radiated across Martin's own skin. Martin froze, unsure what to do with the arm that now hovered around Jon, finding a sudden burst of courage from somewhere, carefully he placed his arm around Jon’s shoulders, pulling him tighter to his side with a gentle squeeze. 

“You are warm, I can see why Sasha likes this.” around his waist, ever so gently, Jon squeezed back.

“You better not think I’m coming to sit in your office just to keep you warm.”

“That's a shame.” Jon dipped his head against the curve of his shoulder, hiding his face from view “Shit, I said that out loud didn’t I.”  he mumbled into the fabric as the square of cardboard that made up his Halloween costume bumped into Martin’s face. 

“Yup,” Martin directed them towards the next set of traffic lights where Tim stood waiting, Sasha now attempting to get him to jump on her back so she could carry him across the road. He gave Jon a chance to talk his way out of his statement, but the words never came. The tight hold on Martin's waist became firmer, the grounding realization that Jon still hadn’t let go was having a quite sobering effect. If they didn’t get to Tim’s soon and get another drink it would only be a matter of time before the courage he had found left him. 

“Warm enough boss?” Tim grinned when he finally managed to hitch his leg around Sasha's waist having manoeuvred his dress into a more manageable position. 

Martin was aware that both his friends were staring at the point Martin’s arm wrapped around the smaller man, he could feel the heat rising in his cheeks again. Yet they couldn’t begrudge him this small act of devotion, even if Jon never felt the same way, he could show him how he cared in small acts of kindness, even if it did leave him feeling vulnerable. 

"Perfectly fine. Thank you for asking." He looked across his assistant's mouth set in a grimace "is that a good idea? Giving Tim a piggyback can't be good on your spine?" 

Sasha adjusted her grip looking back at Tim through the fur on Jon's jacket and laughed… "na, he's ninety percent hot air,"

"I resent that…"

"Don't worry your pretty little face over it, I wouldn't want you to get wrinkles in the money maker."

"Hey now, I have a degree…"

"Oh yeah, how's that anthropology degree working out for you? raided any tombs lately? Declared something belongs in a museum?"

"Firstly… I can't afford to lock a butler in a closet … secondly, both of them were archaeologists… it's a whole different field of expertise…" 

Martin was glad the lights changed and he and Jon could cross the road ahead of the others. He had been witness to this argument a million times before and knew it always ended up with them fighting over film quotes.

 As if on cue somewhere behind them Tim could be heard to exclaim 'the dog was named Indiana, his name was Henry junior'. 

"What is the difference between archaeology and anthropology? I've always been too scared to ask." Jon asked quietly as they turned the corner onto the long stretch of road that led to Tim's flat.

"Thought you knew everything?" Jon shrugged and the movement jostled the smaller man against his side as he shifted to see him this close up. It was hard to read Jon's expression behind the glasses that only reflected back the street lights that bathed them in a low orange glow.

"I think one digs things up and the other categorises the findings? I just know Tim gets pissy if you ask him if he dug up any good bones on one of his trips. I asked him once and he didn't speak to me for a few days."

"I'll bear that in mind." 

"If you want Sasha to leave you alone just tell her she shouldn't be stapling archive documentation together… she hates that." 

“Should I be taking notes?”

“Only if you think you need to, anyway you have me, I can do more than just make tea you know.”

“I know.”

They came to a stop at the next set of traffic lights. Turning to make sure that Tim and Sasha had caught up and not managed to end up in a crumpled pile proved to show the two of them had stalled at the last corner…

“What’s the company policy on workplace relationships?”

“Frowned upon but allowed, thankfully… so you think we should throw water on them now or let them have a moment?” Martin turned away from the image of Sasha pining Tim against a postbox. If this went south he would never hear the end of it, either way, work was going to be fun come Monday morning. 

“Let them have a moment,” Jon looked up at him, “why do you even know that?” 

The little voice in his head laughed at him, ‘go on tell him it’s cause you checked on the off chance he even threw you a bone,’ 

“Rosie told me, you know how she likes to know everyone's business, I checked,  but it changed back when Elias took over, that and the amendment over spousal rights, it seems all above board.”

“Well we all know how Elias likes his paperwork.” as he spoke Jon pressed even closer to Martins side curling into the warmth that he knew he provided in spades. He could get used to this closeness, the constant awareness of Jon just present in his space. He looked so relaxed so unguarded the urge to lean down and kiss him was tugging at the back of every thought and action now. He had to concentrate, this was Jon, Jon didn’t deserve to have his fantasy thrust upon him.

“You alright?” Jon was studying his face, had he shown something in his expression that he had been trying to hideaway?

“I’m fine.” he lied “Just, the two of them normally keep this behind closed doors, I don’t think Sasha understands quite how much Tim cares for her.”

 Jon considered that for a moment glancing back down the street to where the two stragglers now playfully pushed each other back and forth. 

“I think she knows. she's just scared of the consequences if she read it wrong.”

There was a lot wrapped into that sentence, and he didn’t miss the small glance Jon shot in his direction. 

He needed to stop, he was going to get his hopes up and then get crushed beneath his inevitable misreading of the situation, yet he didn’t miss the increase of pressure where Jon’s hand lay against his waist. Not for the first time, he wished he had the confidence of Tim, maybe then he would have the courage to ask Jon if Sasha’s logic applied to him as well.






*****

Sasha brandished the polaroid camera at Tim and Martin.

 Tim rammed his wig back on and posed for the photo with the ease of someone who was not five sheets to the wind. Martin found he had to steady himself on the table as he adjusted for Tim’s additional weight. Tim sensing this, proceeds to pretend to faint at the sight of him, acting out the dramatic damsel in distress that he had obviously been dying to do all night.

“This is the point where you're supposed to say I want to bite your neck” exclaimed Tim as Sasha steps closer to them, camera at the ready. From the end of the kitchen counter, Jon laughed, a quiet thing but they all turned to look at him, he looked so relaxed perched on the stool drink in hand that Martin can't help but hope that Jon’s addition to their nights out might become a more regular thing. In his arms Tim wiggles to get his attention. “Pretend to bite me, it’ll make for a good photo!” Tim grins. Knowing there's no point in arguing when his mind is set on something, so shrugging Martin tugged him up and jokingly positioned his mouth near Tim’s neck.

 Sasha wolf whistles as she takes the photo, the cartridge chugging the print out into the real world as Tim laughs, shaking through them both due to pressing himself back into Martin’s chest. Sasha shakes the print, the look of adoration that she shoots at Tim obvious to everyone but the subject of her affection.

She looks away when Tim grins back. Her attention turns to the developing image in her hand shaking it, ignoring Jon’s protests that it does nothing to help speed up the process. 

As they wait for it to develop Tim pours out another random red cocktail concocted by his own two hands. Martin watches as he hovers over the cherry syrup before moving his hand to the strawberry with a wink at Jon. 

Jon looked about ready to say something when Sasha manoeuvred her way to Martin pushing the polaroid into Tim’s face and the camera towards Jon.

 “That looks good, I want one, come on Count, bite me.” She grins at him pulling at him to pose for the camera that Jon now pointed in their direction. Not even pretending to hide the lopsided grin that plastered his face at Martin's predicament Jon waves at them to hurry up so he can frame the shot.  

Martin tugged her hair away from her neck making to replicate the photo he had only just taken with Tim. He was about to bite but got the overwhelming urge to tickle Sasha instead as he brought his lips to her neck. She lashed out in retaliation to the onslaught, buckling with laughter under Martin’s hands as she swatted him away, the sound of the photo ejecting from the camera drowned out by the laugh as it echoes around the room. 

“That wasn’t fair!” She protested turning under Martin's hold and breaking free from the upper hand Martin had gained in the situation, she ducked behind Tim to use him as a human shield, as Martin moved a step closer barely holding in the laughter that had taken hold of him. 

“Mercy!” Sasha pleaded, rabbit ears poking out from behind Tim’s shoulder, her back pressed against the sink and her chest plastered to Tim’s back as protection. 

“I don’t think vampires show mercy, Jon what do you think?” 

Jon slid down from the stool camera in one hand and despite his warnings about not shaking the polaroid, he was doing exactly that with the other. He grinned as he moved to Martin’s side, it threw him, the grin looked so foreign on the smaller man's face, had Martin ever seen him genuinely grin like this before? He doubted it, the effect it had on him now would have flawed him when he was sober. The only reason it didn’t now was the comforting barrier of the alcohol in his system.

Jon looked stunning like this, his grin lit up the room and Martin was momentarily floored by it. It was hard to believe this was the same man who would fall asleep at his desk and could glare a houseplant to death if he thought it was interrupting a statement.

 Jon manoeuvred, blocking the only exit from Tim’s kitchen space. “Dracula never showed mercy … I say it’s fair game.” he placed the camera and the photo on the counter, next to the one Sasha had taken of Martin and Tim, before turning back to look at his assistants. The mischievous grin never dropped from his face. 

“This is favouritism.” Sasha protested from behind Tim’s back, trying to edge her way towards the counter, possibly looking to jump it to escape.

“How is it favouritism? You’re the one using Tim as a shield” Martin countered, at his side Jon moved closer again, taking in the layout of the room. Watching, he reached out placing a hand on Martin's arm, causing him to turn and look at him.

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Sasha used the minor distraction to duck under Tim’s arm and dash into the bedroom laughing as she went. 

“Cheat!” Martin shouted after her, unimpressed but not really all that bothered, Jon still hadn’t dropped his hand from his arm and he was finding it too much of a distraction to get upset about losing a minor game to his colleague. 

Tim watched the two of them, smiling to himself as he manoeuvred past them to grab the two photos from the bench, he grinned down at them before turning to stick them on the fridge. “I need the set,” 

Martin looked up to where Tim stood now, the camera in his hand pointing it towards the two of them.

“Really?” 

“Yes really! Martin, bite that archivist.” 

Jon rolled his eyes but shrugged as he turned his head to bare his neck to him, shifting into his space. Martin watched as the muscles in his neck moved as he swallowed, he could swear he could make out the pulse running through the other man's veins, he wondered if it raced the same as his.

Martin stalled, unsure if this was the brightest idea. 

But would it look weirder if he didn't treat Jon the same as Tim and Sasha?

Jon had offered up his neck freely and it wasn't as if he was really going to bite him. He shot a glance at Tim who gave him an encouraging nod, it was all he needed to move into Jon’s space, position his lips as if to bite down on the pulse point just below Jon’s ear… then Jon moved. Jon pressed up into his space, and Martin suddenly felt the flesh of Jon’s neck pliant against his lips, the rushed pulse almost matching his own as he tried to fathom out what was happening. His teeth grazed at the skin as he breathed in the rich smell of Jon’s woody aftershave, and the taste of Jon’s skin coated his tongue. Martin was certain he heard a low moan escape Jon’s lips but if it had, it had been drowned out by the sound of the camera. 

It had been but a moment, only the seconds that it had taken to create the photo, but time seemed to have slowed to a stop around them, Jon’s eyes had been closed when the photo was taken, but now they searched out Martin’s as they broke apart, both slightly flustered and welcome of the distraction of Tim. 

They watched as the polaroid developed, Tim was idly chattering and calling for Sasha to come out of the bedroom as slowly the photo began to emerge from its black square. 

“Oh, I might keep this one for my private collection, that's all sorts of nasty” Tim grinned looking down at the photo, then up to the two of them before pocketing it and bounding off to tempt Sasha from the bedroom with his ill-gotten gains.

Jon shuffled at his side, hovering just out of his personal space, as if unsure if he was aloud closer. That feeling stirred again in the pit of his stomach, The thought that maybe just maybe this wasn’t as one-sided as he was wont to believe. Maybe Jon really did feel the same way, maybe he had just been blind to the fact due to the inability to trust his own instincts? Well not past the ones that made him believe nobody could want him as anything other than a subservient. He didn’t deserve to have the thing his heart so desperately wanted, that wasn’t how life worked. At least not for him.

Jon shifted slightly beside him, drawing his attention. When Martin looked up, Jon’s face was flushed again, though this time he seemed in no rush to hide it from him. “You do realize, that photo can never be seen by another living soul right?” Jon sighed his hand coming up to rub absentmindedly at the point where Martin’s lips had come to rest. His eyes followed the movement drawn to the slight bit of skin that had now been marked as his own.

“I think it’s probably too late for that, it’s probably already on the internet, and unlucky for us Tim has quite the social media following.” the pulling in his stomach twisted into something different now. Embarrassment? Self-loathing? Of course, Jon had meant nothing by it, how stupid of him to think otherwise, he was about to apologise when the doorbell sounded making him jump. He had to stop jumping at every little thing…

“Can someone grab that? It’ll be the food!” Tim shouted from behind the closed bedroom door, “I’m a little busy …” Jon rolled his eyes but made to move towards the door.

“You should go take the fangs out if we're going to eat.” Jon pointed out just before he moved to open the latch he didn't turn but the darkening of his face seemed to reach all the way to his ears. Martin nodded and headed to the bathroom. 





*******

 

“Martin ?” 

Why couldn’t Jon just leave him alone? All he wanted to do was have a few moments to ground himself,  get his heartbeat back to normal, try and calm the itching that coursed over his skin at the thought of how stupid he had been to think that Jon thought anything more of him than a friend. He was happy with that, it was the lot in life he had been handed and no amount of torturing himself over it was going to make it any more uncomplicated. He should just bury that feeling deep and stop it from rearing its head at the most inopportune times. He looked at himself in the mirror, his eyes at least didn’t betray him, he hadn’t panicked so much that the tears had surfaced, just enough for him to make himself feel socially inept and possibly embarrass himself in front of the two men that he saw almost every day. This was fine. He could live with it. Or he would be able to if he could get rid of the taste of Jon’s skin, the heat of his neck under the press of his lips, the feeling of his pulse…

“Martin?” 

He tried to ignore the voice, he would only be a few more moments. He dug around the medicine cabinet looking for the toothbrush that Tim had given him the last time he had deemed it too late for his friends to venture into the cold London night. he tried to calm his breathing as he washed away the last of the gum that had held the fangs in place, the offending articles now cast-off into the bin. 

“Martin are you ok?” Jon knocked on the door again. Couldn't he just leave him alone for two moments? He just needed to get his head together. He needed to sort out what these complicated thoughts and ill-timed tugs at his heart meant. He couldn’t do that when Jon was all he could taste and all he could hear. if he could see him too it might be the thing that tipped him over the edge.

“Martin? You’ve been in there half an hour, are you ok? The food is getting cold.” 

The fake concern in Jon’s voice wasn’t fooling him, he didn’t really care. It had only been a few moments, Jon was just exaggerating, he reached for his phone to check the time, only to realise he had left it on the bench in the kitchen.

 Jon was exaggerating, wasn’t he?

“Martin, I’m coming in.” the door had no lock.  Martin watched as the handle turned, Jon ventured his head around the partition. He looked worried. Genuinely worried. 

Tim’s bathroom was not all that large, so two people in the tiny space were absurd, especially when one of them was the size of Martin, he suddenly felt as if he took up too much space as if Jon should absolutely be here and he should leave. Jon must have sensed it because he moved to block the door.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that before.” Jon cut him off before he could speak, “It was inappropriate of me, I crossed a line. I know you don’t think of me like that, and I'm your boss, I should know better.” Jon cast his eyes down and Martin followed the gaze, the smaller man wrung his hands glaring at them as if they had done him a betrayal. Why was he the one that looked ashamed? Jon hadn't done anything wrong, it was him that had made things awkward. Tried to take something from nothing and pushed too hard against that imaginary scenario his brain had conceived where Jon wanted him, that Jon needed him. The hammering of his heart against his ribs made it hard to think, to breathe.

 He focused on Jon's hands, caught in a memory. Nimble long fingers rubbing against each other, each twist drawing ghosts of fingertips across the base of his spine. The warmth of a body pressed tightly to his, hitched words, dilated pupils… 'I know you don't think of me like that' somewhere in his chest his heart began a new rhythm. 

Jon was in his space already so when Martin reached to still his hands, his own didn't have far to move. At the contact Jon's head snapped up, panic and sorrow were etched upon his features. Was Jon seriously concerned that Martin didn't care for him in return? That all the little acts of affection that had peppered there evening had been an act, conducted under some sort of joke on Jon's behalf?

 It seemed absurd until you realised this was the man who questioned everything, had built his life on trying to uncover untruths and hearsay, of course, he wouldn't trust what his own eyes told him, not when that truth was something Martin tried to hide every day.

Under his hand, Jon's stalled. Small and warm wrapped in his own, the urge to pull Jon closer was strong, fueled by the way Jon stared, looking up at Martin, curious eyes studying and trying to understand this change of events. 

Cautiously Martin tugged gingerly at the point they connected, pulling Jon closer to him. Sliding one hand from his hold himself steady as Jon bumped into his chest, face never looking away. 

"Who says I don't think of you like that? " his own voice sounded foreign to him as it filled the gap between them, a broken fragile thing that suddenly had the audacity to hope.

The change was instantaneous. Jons face twisting from something closed and worried to something open and hopeful, the corners of his lips beginning to twist into the nervous smile that had peppered the night and already reserved a place deep in the heart of its recipient. 

Martin was drawn to it, eyes lingering at the corners of the thin upturned lips, the urge to lean down and capture them in his own growing stronger by the second, would Jon's lips have the same musky taste as his neck or would he taste of the overly sweet artificial strawberries that had stalked there drinks all night? 

Jon tugged gently on his hand, pulling him slightly off-balance, the space between them growing gradually smaller as Jon manoeuvred to his tiptoes, steadying interlocking hands against Martin's chest as he bridged the last of the gap and sought out Martin's lips for his own. 

Soft. 

Martin's brain provided this information. Blank to everything else that was happening. 

Jon's lips were soft. They didn't look it, they were over-worried things, pulled between teeth and brushed by pens as the owner chewed on them, rough and chapped. Yet as they moved gently against Martin's own they felt soft and pliant, a wanting thing neglected and yielding to his own. 

Touch, Jon had shifted hands unfurled from the grasps of Martin's own, fingers now pressing in the base of his neck, pulling him closer leading him to chase the pulse that called him in. Fingers that grazed and caught in his hair tugging as hungry digits scraped at his scalp, shots of pleasure hard-wired to cause the sharp intake of breath that now escaped his lips.

Sound, the sound that escaped Jon's lips would linger long past its utterance. As Martin slid his hand against the soft flesh at the base of Jon's back pressing him closer, pulling him in A needy wanton thing, born of pleasure and released in much the same way. It caused his heartbeat to race as Jon pressed into him, clambering to deepen the kiss.

Taste, his lips parted as Jon pressed in harder, the taste of alcohol mixed on his tongue as Jon mapped out new territory, claiming Martin as his own. The bitter taste of cherry mixed with the spices of the rum, saccharine sweet flavours tinged with want and longing that Martin was willing to return drawing Jon to him, gathering him in, drowning himself in the sudden realisation that Jon was here and Jon was kissing him. 

His heartbeat raced, an overwhelming urge to flee grabbed at him as he grasped at Jon's face pulling away to look at him, something telling him he needed to check, he needed to make sure it was real that Jon was here and wanted this as much as he did.

"Martin?" 

Large dilated pupils looked back at him, the brown of Jon's eyes all but swallowed by the thing that burned within them, his voice was soft yet laden with something that Martin suddenly realised was desire. It tugged at his chest calling for him to close the gap between them. His name on Jon's lips a call to arms for the feelings that bubbled just below the surface. 

Martin swallowed, the words stuck in his throat as he tried to find the strength to sound them out. Emotions riding too high to form the question he wanted to ask. 'Is this what you want Jon' hovered part formed, lingering on the edge of completion but not making it to his lips.

He held Jon in silence, thumbs caressing along the hard jutt of his cheekbones watching as Jon's eyelids fluttered closed as he settled into the touch. 

Bang.bang. 

"Hoy, what are you too up to in there? I need to pee." Sasha's voice was muffled by the door, but still, the sound of amusement could be heard in her voice. 

Martin scanned Jon's face as he dropped his hands. it had almost returned to its usual stoic expression, the only thing giving it away that anything had happened was the darkening high upon his cheeks and the slightly ruffled shirt. Jon reached up carding his fingers through the messy curls upon Martin's head no doubt smoothing the birds' nest he had instigated before placing a gentle peck on Martin's cheek and shaking his head in the general direction of the door.

When it opened it revealed Sasha, decked out in Tims university hoodie it trailed past her thighs and skimmed her knees, she stared at the two of them glancing from one to the other before crossing her arms before her chest and clicking her tongue at them.

"What's occurring? " 

Jon shifted, shrugging as he passed her making his way back towards the kitchen.

"Fake fangs wouldn't come out," Martin offered as he followed Jon toward the pile of food that remained untouched on the counter. 

"Had to help him get that putty stuff off." Jon caught his eye as he spoke and Martin felt his face redden as much as Jon's darkened. It wasn't a lie. He no longer tasted the cheap plastic and adhesive in his mouth, if had been replaced by the bittersweet taste of the man that now casually helped himself to a slice of pizza. 

"Why do I not believe you? "

"I thought you had to pee? " Martin grinned before grabbing his own slice of pizza and settling down on the stool next to Jon. Unseen by Sasha Jon's hand came to rest on his knee, punctuated with a small squeeze. 

“Honestly, you men will be the death of me!” she stated as she slammed the bathroom door behind her. 

“Ok?” Jon asked under his breath, his palms now turned up and open, expectant of the fingers that now moved to lace in between. Martin squeezed, trying to convey the million and one thought and feelings that currently swam through him in the simple action. 

“I don’t think Ok covers it.” voice low to stop it from carrying, whatever this was felt small and delicate he wasn’t ready to share it with the world yet, even if the world was only Sasha and Tim. The bedroom door cracked open, and as if they had made some sort of silent resolve the point of contact broke both men moving the now vacant hand toward the Pizza on the bench.

Tim had changed out of his dress and now grinned as he wandered towards them in only his sweatpants and Sasha’s rabbit ears perched on his head. 

“What do you two look so guilty about?” Tim questioned as he picked the olives of the pizza slice in his hand, eyes flicking between the two of them accusingly. Glancing at Jon he did indeed seem to be staring out the label of the beer he had pulled towards him, making sure not to let his gaze linger on Tim. 

“I think your man boobs are making Jon a little uncomfortable.” Martin nudged Jon to pass him a beer as Tim laughed at the observation.

“And there was me thinking you liked having tickets to the gun show.” Tim preeend, flexing as he grabbed himself a beer. 

“Is he always like this ?” Jon tried to hide the amused smirk but failed as Sasha snuck up behind Tim pulling a shirt down over his head. 

“Unfortunately yes,” she sighed, kissing the side of his face as Tim's head poked through the neck of the t-shirt “It’s a good job we love him anyway, nobody else would.”

“This is workplace harassment….”

“Put your man tits away Stoker, nobody wants to be put off their food.” 





*****

 

Sasha and Tim lay sprawled across the rug in front of the t.v as they bickered over the answer on eight out of ten cats.  The heated debate about what Mr Blobby’s wife was called had been going on for the last ten minutes as they jibed back and forth between themselves oblivious to everything else in the room around them. Martin didn’t mind if it meant that he could enjoy the feeling of Jon pressed to his side and the feeling of Jon’s skin under his fingers, where the tips brushed gently along the other man’s arm. It was nice to have this, without having to worry that Tim and Sasha were constantly about to pounce on them and make them uncomfortable. Every time Jon would laugh at something on the telly, a wave of fondness washed over him, Jon’s gentle pressure where his hand rested on Martin’s knee was a reassuring gesture that stopped him thinking that the rest of the evening had been an illusion. He occasionally found himself wanting to reach out and pull Jon closer, to prove to himself that he was really curled up on Tims sofa with the man who had haunted his daydreams for longer than he cared to remember. 

The end credits rolled and on the floor, Sasha yawned loudly nudging at Tim's ribs before she got to her feet. Jon moved abruptly pulling his hand away but not moving from his place curled into Martin's side. 

"Right, I'm off to bed." She announced stretching out and looking down at Tim. It was almost an invitation the way the words rolled in his direction. So much so that Martin felt the chuckle that Jon tried to hide, vibrate into his own chest. Tim reached out, taking the hand that was offered, letting Sasha pull him to his feet, all his swagger now gone as uncertainty crept upon him.  He didn't even look at the two men on the sofa as he informed them he would be back in a moment with some blankets for them both. Tim looked so smitten as he followed Sasha to his bedroom that Martin was surprised when moments later a bundle of blankets were thrown over the back of the sofa landing softly in a pile at Jon's side. 

"Stay, go .. whatever…" Tim shrugged as he stepped back towards the door pointing his thumbs back over his shoulders "I'm not going to apologise for anything that happens under my roof." Martin half expected him to fire off the finger guns and was partly disappointed when he didn't.

 Martin chose to ignore the music drifting from behind the now locked door, turning his attention to Jon who now seemed to be blushing so hard he might burst a blood vessel. 

"You alright?" 

Jon shuffled slightly now he was aware of Martin's attention, his eyes darting towards Tim's bedroom door. 

"It's nothing… "only it clearly was, Martin could tell from the way Jon had gone back to wringing his hands again. He reached out stifling them under his own, trying to project a feeling of calm upon the other man. He knew he was failing. 

"Is it something I've done? Something Tim said?" He ventured trying to gauge tiny tells he had learned while observing Jon when he was in work mode, he had tensed up now, shoulders set, scowl emerging. So it was something Tim had said then.

"Jon?" 

"I… there's something you should know about me…" Jon sighed and it shot a bolt of panic through Martin's heart. He tightened his grip on Jon's hand unintentionally, making him lookup. He looked worried and stressed yet Martian couldn't help but wonder what this big thing that could make him so miserable was. 

Jon swallowed, and Martin waited.

"What Tim said before, about things happening under his roof, I just… I… this never gets easier." He muttered to himself more than to anyone else "I don't… as in...you know…" he nodded towards Tim's room where the sounds of Sasha giggling o could be heard over the music. A slow realisation crept up Martin's neck dragging the embarrassment along with it, he hadn't even let his mind wander further than kissing Jon and Jon was already...

"You think I want too-"

"-no, well yes, eventually I'm guessing that card will be on the table, I just… going into this… you should know I…well I don't…" he sighed again, shoulder slumped in defeat again eyes closed as if trying to find the right words, to sum up, the thought running through his head. "I'm ace Martin…"

Was that all? Did Jon really think he wanted him only for sex? That wasn't what made his heart beat faster, his pulse race and his stomach churn with nerves. If Jon just kissed him the way he had before he would die a happy man. 

"Ok, and?"

"And that's normally the deal-breaker." 

"Then maybe you have been chasing after the wrong people." 

"You don't mind?"

"If it's part of who you are, then it's part of who you are, to be honest, your grumpy personality is more of an alarm bell going off than that is. " 

Jon shifted moving slowly towards him. 

"It really doesn't bother you ?" 

Martin turned his hand wrapping his fingers in with Jon's and squeezing tightly. 

"If you keep asking me if it bothers me then maybe, That, will start bothering me. You can press it if you want?" 

That raised the smile he was hoping to see, Jon looking at him now and gently squeezing his hand back rubbing his thumb against the back of Martin's own, was he mapping the way their hands interlocked the same way Martin did? Trying to learn the subtle curves and dips of the skin between tightly woven digits. He wanted to ask more, wanted to know the boundaries of the ways he was allowed to show affection.  As if Jon had picked that from his mind Jon began to speak again.

"It changes, some days this will be all I can face," Jon lifted their joint hands to his lips and placed his lips to the back of Martin's knuckles. "And other days I might just want to attack you in a work colleagues bathroom…but that isn't always a given."

"What's the prognosis on a work friend's sofa?"

"Not sure… too many variables, but I'm willing to investigate if you're amiable to the idea?"

Martin tugged at their interwoven hands and Jon followed, leaning up to catch his lips against Martin's. 

There was no urgency, no overwhelming need to rush this time, this wasn't an impulsive all-consuming thing that raged from the pit of his stomach and staked its mark on the other. This was a gentle thing, mapping the way lips moved against lips, the way fingers moved across the skin. The first step on charting new and unusual ground, he was a follower into a new land, happy to let another guide his way.

 Jon deepened the kiss, fingers dragging along the base of Martin's skull, twisting into the curl of hair and pulling him in. He wasn't prepared when Jon shifted, moving to straddle his lap and press deeper into the kiss. He weighed so little, as Martin's hands fell to the other's waist he worried Jon might break below the gentle push and pull of his hands, but at the touch, all he did was bite down on Martin's bottom lip. 

The sound that came from him caused Jon to pause, breaking apart and resting foreheads together he looked down at Martin, pupils blown and glasses askew. 

The sensation of Jon looking down on him and the pressure in just the right places was almost too much, how was he supposed to verbalize that without sounding like an absolute fool? He didn't want to scare off Jon, but at the same time he didn't want to stop, he wanted this. 

"Too much?" Jon glanced down at the space between them before flicking his gaze back to gauge his reaction.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that ?" Martin tightened the grip on Jon's waist as the smaller man shifted, breath catching as the movement shot another impulse to pull him closer to every part of Martin's consciousness. The huff of amused sound that tumbled from the other man filled Martin with a new feeling, something that he had been scared to consider when his mild crush had been nothing more than a gateway to a fantasy that seemed increasingly improbable. Yet, now it had room to grow, break out of the tight little ball it cocoons itself in and stretch out its tendrils tentatively into the world. He didn't have a name for it yet, something new and strange, a feeling he would nurture and grow if Jon let him. 

The man in question nudged against his cheek with his nose seemingly trying to get Martin's attention, had his mind really wandered now? With Jon in his arms and the taste of him coating his ever waiting lips. He surged up pulling Jon to him, capturing his lips and trying to project the overwhelming surge of emotion he felt into the action. 

Delicate hands worked their way under his shirt each touch manoeuvring him to the tune of Jon's wants and needs, he gave himself up freely as Jon's lips fell to his neck and he gently bit down…

"J...Jon…" he gasped.

"Shit sorry… do you not… just you seemed to like it when I bit your lip so -,"

"No, I like it … maybe a little too much…" he stammered "I just… maybe not on Tim's sofa, or in these jeans…" he hoped his face hadn't gone as red as he thought it had but he didn't hold much hope. Jon had to know the effect he was having on him, he was pressed close enough.

"Something to consider for another time then." Jon sat back now and it took all of Martin's willpower not to chase the contact, willing himself not to reach out and pull Jon back in case that was the wrong thing to do. He was completely at Jon's mercy as he looked down on him from the higher ground, his face soft and open. 

"Another time?" 

"I…yes?" Jon dipped his head hiding his face from view, "I'm no good at this," he huffed sliding from Martin's lap and on to the pile of blankets that Tim had deposited on the sofa. 

"No good at, what?"

"This." He waved his hand in the space between them. At this moment it was easy for Martin to put a name to the feeling that filled him, but he wouldn’t not yet, he would give it room to grow. Didn't mean he couldn’t help it along in the right direction.

"Oh, then I guess you won't let me take you out for breakfast?"

"Breakfast? " the look of confusion upon Jon’s face forced a smile on to his own.

"Yeah, the meal normal people have first thing in the morning. I'm assuming you are aware of its existence?"

"I know what breakfast is Martin!" he protested weakly,

"Good. Then Jon, would you like to get breakfast with me in the morning … as a date, just to be clear. Because it's getting late and as much as I love Jon brand twenty questions, the sooner we get some sleep the sooner it's tomorrow and the sooner we can work this all out together."  

Jon's fingers twitched, a telltale sign he was trying to fathom something out in his head. Martin waited, not wanting to push. As much as he wanted Jon and as much as he wanted Jon to know that, forcing the point would only push him away.

"Breakfast sounds nice," Jon said eventually as he shifted to fuss with the blankets. Passing one over, he smiled before hugging himself into Martin’s side again, resting his head in the crook of his neck “Do you like pancakes? Cause I know a really good place not far from here,” 

“I love pancakes! And Jon?” 

Jon turned his head to look at him from where he had staked his spot on Martin's chest. “Yes?”

“You have to promise me we can watch that Disney documentary one time, it sounds fascinating.” 

Jon craned his neck placing a chase kiss on his cheek. 

“It’s a date.”