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The Ghosts That We Knew

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The first time Martin lets himself into Jon's tiny flat he feels like a home invader. Like any moment someone will appear out of nowhere and ask him what he thinks he's doing in his boss's apartment without permission.

But that's silly. He does have permission. More than permission, he's been asked to by Georgie. To come and check on Jon's apartment while she's away for a couple of weeks. Georgie who for some reason had been doing it for Jon for months now, the whole time he'd been hiding out at her apartment and then kidnapped and then kidnapped again.

Martin pushes away the jealousy that bubbles up in him that Jon had gone to her for help all those months ago. It's not helpful to be jealous about something as petty as who watered Jon's plants and made sure he didn't wind up with a science experiment in the refrigerator when Jon's…

Not dead. He's not dead. Get a grip on it, Blackwood. Even though his heart stopped, too damaged by the explosion to beat on its own, his lungs torn by shrapnel in the explosion that had killed Tim and Daisy. There hadn't even been enough of Daisy left to find and Tim had. Tim had.

Martin shoves the images of the urn with the ashes of what had been left of Tim away. He's not here to think about Tim's funeral or Jon in hospital or Daisy still missing and Basira's stone face whenever she thought about it. Which was always these days.

So he takes a deep breath and steadies himself and looks around the flat. It's tiny, just a sitting room and kitchen and he can see a tiny single bed, the type he hates because anytime he tries to sleep in one his feet hang over the end and there's no space to sleep diagonally.

He remembers his mum grumbling about it when he had outgrown his own single bed, about how his bedroom was too small for something bigger and the cost of the frame and the new sheets. He'd compromised with a secondhand mattress on the floor eventually, sheets from the charity shop down from the church they had attended back then. He'd told her it was fine, it was okay for the space and it wasn't too bad even if he hung over the edge because the floor was right there.

But this single bed is in a high frame, a much too big duvet rumpled at the bottom and several pillows arrayed around in a shape that Martin can't help but think of as a nest. If he closes his eyes he can even imagine Jon sleeping there, cocooned in the middle with the duvet covering him, his hair spread over the pillows, the grey strands blending into the soothing grey sheets.

He wrenches his attention away once more before he can start imagining that it’s himself that Jon is pillowed on. It's inappropriate at the best of times and right now.

Right now he doesn't care if Jon sleeps alone for the rest of his life in his shitty little bed in his shitty little flat, just so long as he wakes up.

He's distracted again.

Grief does that.

Martin knows. He has learned what grief will do to a person. First Jon and Tim and Daisy, and then his mother. Some days he thinks that he'll never climb out of this well of grief. He'll never be able to drop a sugar cube in a cup of tea without thinking of how he would serve it to someone he'll never serve it to again. How he'll never pick up a hairbrush without thinking about brushing his mother's hair and braiding it for her on the days her hands had locked into position and refused to cooperate. How he'll never go into the breakroom at work and catch Tim taking an extended break at the tiny table, a pack of biscuits open and his phone leaned up against his tea cup while he dunked them in until the chocolate melted and then dribbled tea and crumbs all over the table as he ate and watched a show.

Martin knows what grief is, knows the bitter salt spray taste of it on the back of his tongue as he tries to swallow down tears that won't help anything or anyone.

He swallows them down now and surveys the work ahead of him.

Water the plants, Georgie had said, standing in the bullpen of the Magnus Archives, one hip propped against Melanie's vacant desk. Mind you turn the tap all the way off when you're done, it's fiddly and leaks.

Still...Martin hadn't been expecting quite this. The flat is tiny but it's a riot of green. A giant window that looks over the terrace into the building next door is nearly blocked out with plants. Plants in pots hanging from hooks in the ceiling, a tiered stand that holds an entire garden, big pots off to the side that even contain what looks like trees to Martin. Outside there are even more, sitting on the terrace, and filling boxes that have been hung from the railing.

Martin doesn't know plants that well but when he approaches he think he recognises a few of them from his attempts at cooking. He wasn't good, hadn't ever had the space or money or equipment or time to experiment really, but he presses his fingers into a few of the leaves and recognises the smells.

It's jarring enough that he has to take a step back. This is a part of Jon he hadn't known. Hadn't imagined. when Georgie had asked him to water Jon's plants he had though perhaps a lonely cactus or two.

This is a garden.

Finally he turns to the sink, finding the watering can resting on the sideboard. He turns on the tap and sets the can under it, surveying the garden as he waits for it to fill. It's early morning still, the sun not even reaching over the buildings although he can see the hazy brightness stretching up over the building opposite. Dust mites dance in the air in front of him, mesmerising until he realises the tone of the water falling has changed and turns back to see it overfilling the watering can. He tips a bit out, thinking guiltily of conservation as he does, and then hauls it over to the closest pot, a tall sapling in a huge pot right at the edge of the counter. He wonders if Jon can even lift it, imagines skinny arms reaching around it and tugging as he pours water into the dirt until it seems damp enough before moving on to the next and the next, staying mindful that he doesn't overfill the pots and their catchment dishes and make a mess.

A mess wouldn't do, he doesn't want to damage Jon's apartment for when he comes back.

It's almost meditative, filling pots and returning to the sink again and again. He pauses somewhere around the middle to filch a bag of tea from the tin and set the kettle on to boil before returning to hauling water.

It's not hard, not taxing, but there is something satisfying in the act, knowing that he can give water to these plants and help them to grow. Martin composes a poem in his head as he does, thinking of farming, of growing crops that bring food that give nourishment to the one he loves. It's silly and awful but fun at the same time. He hasn't composed poetry since.

Since.

The kettle whistles as he's finishing the last few plants and he hurries back to turn the hob off, set the watering can upside down in the dish rack, and make his tea. While he waits for it to steep he uses a soiled dishrag hanging from a cabinet knob to wipe up the drips of water he had trailed from the sink to the garden. He can see the path of shiny floor where Georgie must have done the same before him, a clean streak of flooring bracketed on either side by the dust of disuse. It makes him feel lonely, seeing that streak of cleanliness and he thinks of hunting through the apartment for a broom or a mop but discards the idea. Even if he does it will just get dust again in the absence of a living person occupying the space and he's not sure he could handle the reminder next time he comes here.

If he comes here again.

Instead he returns the cloth to its knob and takes his tea cup from the counter.

There's an oversized armchair against the wall, almost a tiny sofa more than a chair. The side of it is shredded in a way that Martin recognises as catclawing and he knows Jon doesn't own a cat, wonders what happened to get it into this state. Perhaps Jon did have a cat some time before. Or perhaps he had just got it second hand and not cared about the wear on it. It’s possible but as Martin looks around the small tidy room again he thinks it seems unlikely. Jon takes care with his possessions it seems. Not surprising for a man as meticulous as Jonathan Sims but it plants a small seed of curiosity deep in Martin, wondering if Jon would take just as much care of a person he considered to be his own.

A knitted blanket is draped over the back of the sofa and a book sits on its arm, a bedraggled bookmark tucked in the pages. Of course Jon would use a proper bookmark instead of just dogearing a page or leaving it open and facedown on the arm to mark his place.

Martin takes his tea and curls onto the sofa. It’s comfortable, not too small for him the way chairs sometimes are too small for him to curl up sometimes. Not the kind of rickety kitchen chairs that came with his flat that are the only places other than the floor or the bed to sit. He pulls the blanket off the back and drapes it over his lap, hugs his tea to his chest and closes his eyes and imagines Jon curled up in this same spot. He would be able to curl a lot more efficiently in the space, be able to tuck more of himself under the blanket. Martin imagines him propped up on one arm, holding a book, staring into it through the glasses perched on his nose and his loose hair curling down, bracketing his face.

Martin blinks his eyes open again, dismissing the image, and doesn’t acknowledge the way he can feel a faint sting in them, the way he can taste salt in the back of his throat. Instead he picks up the book and flips through it as he sips his tea, blinking as he realises it’s a book about gardening. He turns to the copyright page and sees that it was published in the 1970s and he chuckles a bit. Well he supposes gardening can’t have changed too much in the intervening decades. In a way it’s cute and it’s so very Jon. There’s something about him that gives off a little bit of an old-fashioned air, one that appeals to Martin’s taste for vintage.

He finishes his tea and sets the mug on the floor, flipping to the chapter that’s bookmarked. It’s about testing nitrogen levels in soil and to his surprise he sees that Jon has marked in the book, underlining a few things and writing a note that looks more like a mathematical equation than anything in his tiny, precise handwriting that Martin recognises so well.

The stinging in his eyes becomes a welling and he closes the book and holds it to his chest, feeling his nose clog as he sniffles.

It’s not just Jon. It’s Tim and Sasha and Mum and Daisy, and in a way it’s Melanie and Basira and how they are all trapped by this impossible, inescapable position. It’s what-could-have-beens and how-it-should-be’s and Martin finds himself sinking into a well of loneliness and hopelessness and just wishing that any of those things could be different. Any one thing that might make all of this a little bit less awful.

He feels tears leaking from behind his closed eyes and dripping down his cheeks but doesn’t move to wipe them away. This has been happening a lot lately and it’s better that it happens here, happens now, rather than holding it back and having it happen in front of someone at the Archives or, even worse, while doing something mundane like standing in line at a Tesco and catching sight of the brand of biscuits Tim had liked.

He just stays in the quiet dark behind his eyelids of this abandoned apartment and lets the tears flow.

It’s light when he wakes up. Much lighter than it had been when he fell asleep, he can feel the sun streaming in past all of those plants, all of that good green life, and blanketing him as cozily as the knitted blanket was.

For a moment he just stays still, keeps his eyes closed, ignores the crick he can feel in his neck from where it’s angled against the arm of the sofa. He imagines that when he opens them it will be to Jon in the kitchen. Maybe making tea or messing about with his garden, or sitting at the tiny table for one and reading or working on his laptop. Just for a moment Martin pretends that he’ll open his eyes and Jon will notice, look over at him and stare over his glasses in that way that always makes something feel strange in the pit of Martin’s stomach and Jon will tell him off for being lazy, for falling asleep on the sofa.

He won’t be lying in a sterile hospital bed in an anonymously donated private room, hooked up to machines whose alarms have been turned off because they are saying impossible things.

But Martin knows better than to live just in a fantasy. He’s seen too much of reality for that by now and so eventually he does open his eyes. He opens them to the empty, brightly lit room, the sun streaming full force in through the window over the building opposite. He stands and folds the blanket back where it had been, picks up the book from where it had fallen to the floor and returns it to the armrest, takes his mug to the sink and rinses and dries it and then rinses and dries the dried tears from his face.

He leaves everything just as he had found it except perhaps a tiny bit better, just as he had been taught to as a child, and he can’t help that perhaps soon Jon will wake up. Perhaps he’ll notice.

He turns to leave, catching sight of the clock as he does and realises that he’s going to be very late to work. He shrugs to himself. Who really cares? It’s unlikely that anyone will notice. He thinks he’ll even stop by the hospital to see Jon on the way. He hasn’t really got anything to do at work anyway, except that he’s expecting a call from Peter Lukas at some point today and, well, he’s got his mobile. Even if he’s with Jon, Peter will still be able to get ahold of him.

Either way, he feels like he needs to see Jon. See him and tell him.

Tell him something. Martin’s not sure what but he can feel it in his chest, something that feels too big, too hurt to just let it linger there festering. Yes. He’ll stop by the hospital on the way.