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Whatever souls are made of

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Of course it dumps him out here.


Here, in this place, this office, this chair even. It’s the old one, he notices, the near-threadbare one with the hard back that Martin nagged him relentlessly to replace because if you have to spend 23 out of 24 hours a day here Jon, you might as well do it in a chair that won’t give you back problems. 


But Martin is gone now.


Martin was gone the second they lost contact. 


It all happened so fast. Helen was dead and the hallways were shrinking, twisting endlessly around in a desperate effort to unwind from within and escape the ceaseless gaze that had been turned upon it. He told Martin he’d be right behind him.


And Martin had believed him. 


The loss inside him is a tangible thing. It fills him up and atrophies, rendering him nothing but a shell. A container for the Watcher and whatever little, nasty pieces of himself that belong to it because everything that was ever good about Jonathan Sims fell through that door. 


His first instinct is, of course, to find him. Jon clenches his shaking hands together and desperately tries to See where Martin is. It takes longer than he’s used to. Ever since he ended the world he’s been forced to see everything all at once but now he can’t even find one person- there! 


There’s a brief flash of Martin, much younger and far too different, holding a box on… a regular street. A normal London street with the normal amount of cameras around. Martin frowns slightly and then he’s gone from Jon’s mind, leaving a splitting headache in his wake. 


Instantly, Jon knows that there’s no going back. The hallways are unending, unpredictable at its best - on its deathbed?  Jon cannot even fathom the possibilities upon possibilities, the realities upon realities it created trying to run from the Eye. The very moment Jon pushed Martin through that bright yellow door the only two things that he could know for certain were a) that he escaped the Distortion, and b) that Jon would never find him again. 


His second, much more practiced instinct is to find something dangerous to piss off. He’s good at it. It wouldn’t take him long. He has half a mind to get up right now and run off to find an avatar of the Slaughter, or the Flesh - something really gruesome, something that would make it hurt. The only thing keeping him rooted in that seat is a memory. A soft, comfortable memory from that house in Scotland before it - and everything else - went to shit where Martin, tears in his eyes, had made him promise that you can’t keep recklessly running head-first into dangerous situations, Jon. You can’t do that to me again.” 


“I’m sorry, Martin,” Jon had said, “there have just been a lot of… extenuating circumstances.” A pause, just long enough for him to realise none of this was helping his case. “Better me than someone else. I’ll probably survive.” 


“You almost didn’t,” Martin reminded him, “but I’m not letting you do something that stupid again, so at least bring me along the next time you run head-first at something that wants to kill you, yeah? Better than nothing.”


The smile pulled and tugged at old wounds in his face but he could no more control it than he could stop the sun from rising. He was in love. “Better than nothing,” he agreed softly. Then, with a pointed look: “better than being Lonely, too.” 


A laugh. The last few rays of afternoon slinking back to the window. A press of lips to the back of a hand. “Luckily, I think I’ve found a pretty good way to help with that.” 


Martin’s smile tugged and pulled at the smattering of freckles over his cheeks, created valleys and hills in the corners of his eyes and it was beautiful. 


They kissed. And they kissed. And they kissed. 


The memory burns him from the inside out, worse than anything Jude Perry could conceive of in her most lucid of dreams. Jon notes, almost absently, that the paper in front of him has some wet spots. A deep-rooted instinct tells him to protect the documents, the statements, but it is almost instantly overruled by grief as Jon places his head in his hands and allows himself to cry. 


If he could bear to stir such a thing up now, he might hope. 


Here he is, again, in his office. His regular, normal office with his normal, awful chair and a normal amount of fear that someone is watching him. So he could hope that things were different than they are, but.


He came through the spiral to get here (wherever here was). The whole of reality could be confined to this room, and if he opens that door there might be nothing but whatever the hallways left behind in their wake. It could be a dimension made from his own memories, created just to mock him. It could be some other version of reality, some fractured point of time and space made tangible. 


And none of those would get Martin back to him. 


There are just too many variables with the spiral. Martin was only a handful of seconds ahead of him but he could be in any one of a countless number of places. He could be nowhere. He could be- 


He could be- 


No. He isn’t. Going through the door had… dampened his connection to the Eye somehow but he would know if Martin was… gone. He would. 


A knock at his office door startles him and Jon Knows a split second before it opens that it’s Tim. A Tim, at least. A version of Tim concocted by the spiral who grins at him like he hasn’t in years, not even when he was alive. 


“Sash and I are going to grab lunch before the new guy gets here,” this Tim says, “you want anything? We’re going to try that new sandwich place up the road.” 


And just that gives Jon a blinding clarity, allows him to put pieces in places previously obscured. He’s back at the start. Some twisted form of it, at least. That first day. 


It feels too cruel, even for the spiral. To give him a facade of peace just to tease out every last modicum of grief and fear he has left. 


“... No,” Jon chokes out, “no I’m fine.” 


Tim shrugs. He looks so much younger in so many ways. “Suit yourself.” 


Jon tries to say something, anything else just to keep him here, but ultimately lets the door close. And then spends the next few minutes double- and triple-guessing everything. Sasha’s here he thinks, it could be her. 


But it’s probably not. Sasha was completely erased - even when he destroyed the NotThem, all he could think of was her. The other one. There’s no reason why the Spiral would be able to interfere with the Stranger’s work and, just this once, he doesn’t want to Know if he’s right. He can’t do it again. 


Slowly, painstakingly, Jon begins to pull his pieces back together. They’re not in the right shape or the right order, but he could probably stand up without collapsing immediately. The thought comes to him, unbidden, that this is probably how he’ll always be now. Not right, not without him. Not here. 


Jon shuffles over to his office door and opens it just a crack. Outside is a familiar, daunting mess. The old computers, the desk that was eaten by worms, the shelf Melanie destroyed in Slaughter-fuelled rage, the couch Basira commandeered for her reading nook - it’s all here. And so is he. 


Jon sighs, world-weary, and looks out at the archives. His archives. And he makes the only decision he can: he has to trust them again. 


There are too many variables when it comes to the spiral, that's what it does. There are a hundred thousand maybe s and what if s that will drive him mad. It could be that this is nothing but his brain conjuring up a highlight reel seconds before his death or he could still be in the dying Distortion, slowly going mad, but. 




It's not worth the anguish. It's not worth potentially hurting them all again. Even if they are completely different people from the ones he knew, even if they’re not real, he will not make the same mistakes. He trusts them. Trusts them to be real. Even if that comes back to haunt him, Jon knows he won't regret it. 


Jon tries to See Martin again and finds that same, younger doppelganger talking to a woman outside and he aches. Aches for the man he loves, his Martin. Another headache is preparing to settle down between his temples but he just wants to Watch for one moment longer, thinking of all the things he never got to tell Martin. 


There were things Martin knew, of course. Martin knew he loved him, knew that he had to love him just to get him out of the Lonely but Jon had always been better at other people’s words than his own. It was a struggle just to get that first I love you past his lips but oh, if he had just one more chance. Just one more minute with Martin. Just ten seconds, anything. There was so much he needed to know, but now never would. 


Jon lets out a breath through his teeth and shuts the door. There’s a tape recorder sitting on his desk, ready and waiting for him, and the Watcher turns its ceaseless gaze onto him as he picks it up. Statement of Nathan Watts, regarding an encounter on Old Fishmarket Close. Jon quirks his lips in a rueful smile and presses record. It feels like a second chance. It feels like giving up. 


He's had years of experience in making stupid decisions, but this doesn't feel like one of them. 

It takes a moment for Martin to come back to himself. It was hard to do in the hallways, and harder still in that journey from that door to - wherever he is now. Self was not a concept readily available to him, and neither was time, so he had no idea how long that journey had taken him. 


He's holding a box. A very full box. 


It's odd because the only thing he remembers holding was that pack. The one filled with absurd supplies that Jon said would- 




All the air rushes out of him at once. It makes a painful exit and leaves in its place a wide, bleeding hole in his chest. It aches. 




He remembers Jon pushing him through the door, remembers losing contact, remembers yelling, screaming for him as he fell through. His grief is an oppressive, all-consuming thing that rots him from the inside out. 


"Are you alright?" 


He looks over to the speaker, and when he blinks tears from his misty eyes he can see it’s a woman. She has a kind face for an avatar of fear. 


"Y-Yeah, I'm. I'm fine," he says, convincing no one. 


The lady also has a dog. He only realises this when the wet press of its nose shocks him out of his own memories. Martin freezes instinctively. The last dog he saw- well. It wasn't pleasant. Most dogs are in hunt domains. 


But this one… looks normal. It's a spaniel, he thinks. Brown and White. Floppy ears. Hunt-less. 


"Oh I'm so sorry - you're not scared of dogs are you? I promise she's really friendly," the lady says, and moves as if to call the dog back. 


Martin drops the box he was holding and falls to the ground, both hands coming up to scratch behind the dog's ears. "No I- I love dogs."


She places a hand on his shoulder. "Well, whatever you're going through I'm glad Roxie could help. I hope you've got someone to talk to about it.". 


Martin shrugs, and stands up. Picks up the box just because it seems like it was his and instinct tells him that even though this lady and her dog seem like very nice fear avatars, he probably shouldn't leave his rubbish all over her domain. 


"If you don't want some stranger giving you advice, fair enough, but." She gives an awkward, but genuine laugh. Her eyes aren't focused on him, but are instead looking at something just over his shoulder. "A friend of a friend once went in to tell them her story and I think it helped, in the long run. But apparently she was… a bit of a wreck, really, for the first couple of months. Kept having bad dreams. So I guess I’m just saying be careful, even though you’re probably not an idiot and already know the risks yourself.” 


Martin turns around to look at what she was talking about, and his jaw drops. The woman keeps talking but Martin can't hear her over the roaring in his ears. The Magnus Institute, founded 1818


Audio. Opperior. Vigilo


He takes a step forward without even being fully conscious of it. Whirls around, startling the woman who is probably not a fear avatar to find- a regular street. A familiar one, even. He knows every single one of these buildings, has tried every single one of these overpriced cafes, has been here daily for the past fifteen years-  


He has to get inside. There can only be so many explanations for his current situation he- 


"You seem like you have… a lot to get on with so I'll just be on my way. You sure you're alright? You don't need to tell them anything, you know." 


Martin is overcome with gratitude for this stranger. This genuinely kind person who stopped her commute to make sure someone she didn't even know was okay. It's been a long, long time since Martin has been the recipient of such a random, good act. It's another heartbreaking revelation, that he has forgotten the kindness of strangers. 


"Yes, I'm...okay," he says, smiling. He pushes open the door to the institute with his foot, still holding the box. "thank you, I-"


And is abruptly knocked aside by her dog, that spaniel, running past him and into the institute. 


The woman yells, and moves towards the door. A dawning realisation creeps up on Martin before it washes over him in all its ice-cold clarity. 




It can't be. 


The pair of them follow the dog into the institute just in time to see it run past the "Off Limits To The Public" sign and down into the archives.


"I- um. I'll go get him for you. I know. Uh, a… friend, works here."


“Oh, could you? Thank you so much,” she says, “I swear she’s not usually like this.” 


Martin gives her a smile that feels more like a grimace and walks down those familiar stairs. The box he’s holding - the contents of which he now knows to be the few trinkets he displayed on his desk - clunks and rattles with each step. The sound precedes him and echoes into the Archives. 


It feels like an age since he’s been here.


It’s a dump. Martin never felt like they made much progress into sorting out Gertude’s “filing system” but looking at it now… yikes. If Martin is where when he thinks is, then the archives were a lot worse than he remembers them. No wonder Jon was snarky back then. 


And oh, does that thought hurt. 


The archives is a dump, but it was his home for the better part of a year. And it was where he met Jon, who has also been his home for the better part of a year. Time doesn’t work like that, Martin . Yes, he knows apocalypse-time hates him personally but that’s what it felt like, Jon. 




It takes almost everything Martin has to not fall over right at that moment. He keeps forgetting. How does he keep forgetting? Jon has been an almost constant presence by his side for- however long in the apocalypse and for a few years before that and Martin. Keeps. Forgetting. 


That he was found alone. On his first day in the Archives. That Jon pushed him out that door and Martin has no way of knowing when Jon got out or if he got out at all. 


He remembers what happened that day. Today. Remembers that he’s supposed to place this box down on that desk and walk into Jon’s office and make a supremely bad first impression. The first part goes swimmingly - Martin walks into the archives, trying to ignore the sudden well of memories pressing against his eyelids, and places the box down on his desk. 


On his first first day, Martin chose a different desk originally. There were plenty to choose from, and most empty. He had simply picked the one that seemed the most out of the way. Later, as he got to know Tim and Sasha, they had helped him move to one closer to them. We archival assistants need to stick together, Tim had said. He had been laughing. Also I’m 90% sure there's a spider infestation in one of those desks. 


It didn’t hurt that his new desk had the best view of Jon’s office door. Martin huffed a quiet laugh to himself - he hadn’t realised why that had been such a perk until a little later. 


Over the years (and through the Lonely), Martin had gotten rather good at compartmentalising. Things had a tendency to spill out of their assigned boxes occasionally, but he still considered it a skill. 


Looking at the head archivists’ door now, a lot of things were spilling out of his control. This wasn’t his Jon.  He’d take a hundred Jons who hated him over one who didn’t even know him. If he opened that door now, he wouldn’t see that soft gaze or warm, weathered smile he would just see… indifference. Mild annoyance. 


He knows he could just walk straight to the second row of the archives proper and find the dog relieving itself on a box of very fake and very poorly mislabeled files. He could fly through his first day and leave an amazing first impression on Jon. He could fix the filing system, stop Jane Prentiss, hell he could march down into the tunnels himself and drag Leitner up kicking and screaming. There were a million things he could change about this first meeting and kickstart the office romcom he always daydreamed about, but he knows he’ll be thinking of an entirely different man the whole time. 


As soon as Martin opens the door, he regrets it. Jon is in the middle of a statement and just the sight of him takes his breath away. 


He’s so young. 


The temples of Jon’s suddenly-short hair only have wisps of grey. His hands are identical, no telltale jumping of muscle under melted-smooth skin that Martin would rub carefully, slowly, while Jon dozed on Daisy’s awful, lumpy couch. His face is unscathed and is wearing an expression of dumbfounded shock. 


“S-Sorry to interrupt,” Martin says, and it's a chore just to get the words out. His arms ache to hold the man in front of him so he folds them up to keep them contained. It hurts. “Have you, uh. You haven’t seen a- a dog. Have you?” 


There, good. He stuck to the script. Now he just has to come up with something else to say, anything that will keep him in Jon’s presence just a moment longer. 


Jon takes a short, sharp breath in. Opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again but no words come out. Martin flounders for a moment at the unexpected pause, trying to find a way to bridge the gaping ravine between them. 


“No, I er.” Jon clears his throat and looks away. “Haven’t.” 


Something about that doesn’t sit right with Martin. He remembers obsessing over this first encounter for weeks, torturing himself with the different things he could have said, something else he could have done to stop Jon from hating him. 


Even now, so many years later, every word was burned into his skull. Every detail accounted for and categorised. 


And Jon hadn’t stuck to his script. 


“I think I let a dog into the archives,” Martin says, teetering on the edge of confidence and unbridled desperation. He could barely contain the anxious, heart-wrenching feeling building up in his chest. He wants to scream. 


“A-Ah,” Jon says. He’s fidgeting now, rubbing on the palm of his right hand in familiar circles. 


The moment between them stretches long and thin. 


“I-” Martin starts again, but is interrupted. 


“Please leave,” Jon murmurs. 


Martin takes a step forward. 


Seeing Martin was worse than he expected. It tore down all his barely-there defences and ripped the breath straight from his lungs. Everything inside him screamed he’s here!! He’s here and alive and you’re in love!!!


He can’t do this. He needs more time. He needs to breathe. 


“Please leave,” Jon practically begs. 


Martin does the opposite of leave. He takes a step forward, and Jon flinches back. 




“Martin, please.” Jon puts his head in his hands. “Please just… go.” 


“Jon, look at me,” Martin says, and Jon takes a painful breath in, mustering up the parts of him that are still stern and solid in preparation to- to do something. He needs this Martin gone, at least for now. Just for a little while. 


“Look at me and tell me what you see.” 


The absurdity, the sheer out-of-place-ness of the statement makes Jon, finally, look up. He spends the first few seconds regretting it - all he can see is Martin. Tragically young, as lovely as ever, stubborn despite pretending he’s not. He’s wearing a sweater Jon doesn’t remember him having and the slacks he later told Jon he only bought to seem more “professional.” They’re an ugly tan, and the memory almost makes him smile. There’s something about the way he’s standing, the quirk of his lips, the intensity of his gaze. There’s something… more, here. 


And then, without warning; all he can see is Martin. 


His Martin. His Martin who remembers all the long international phone calls at absurd hours. Remembers the Lonely. Their cottage in Scotland. Remembers the apocalypse and how he invited it into the world. Remembers him, for who he is. Martin, who loves him anyway.


Jon finds his body lurching out of that stupid chair and crashing into Martin, who had stumbled forward to meet him. He embraces and is embraced so tight it’s almost crushing. As they sink to the floor Jon feels the rumble of Martin’s laughter against his chest and he knows, Knows, knows that nothing short of another apocalypse could pull this man away from him again. 


Martin’s arms circle his waist as Jon places his hands on Martin’s shoulders, drinking in every detail, every microexpression from a distance he never thought he’d be able to achieve again. Jon wants to stay here forever, counting freckles and recording how Martin’s smile makes his eyes crease at the edges. 


“I love you. I missed you,” The words fall out of him all at once and when they do it makes the edges of Martin’s mouth twitch ever higher. So he says it again. “I love you.” And again. “I love you.” 


“I love you too.” 


“I thought you were gone. The Distortion, Helen, I. I thought...” 


Grief flashes across Martin’s face, a memory of what could have been. “I thought you wouldn’t even know who I was.” 


“I thought I would never see you again.” 


“I’d come back. I’d find you, always,” 


Jon shakes his head. “You don’t know that Martin, the Distortion, it-”


And Martin kisses him. Just once, but it’s one more than before. Martin pulls back, briefly. 


And then, slowly, they fall into each other. 


They kiss. And they kiss. And they kiss. 


“I love you,”Jon says again, just for good measure, "I’ll love you forever, if you’ll let me.”


Martin stops. Then smiles. 


“Let you, you’re ridiculous,” he laughs, “that almost sounds like a proposal.”


“I’m serious.” 


Martin’s expression tells Jon that he’s still being laughed at slightly, so he pushes on. 


“I’m serious, Martin. When I got here I thought.” The words lodge themselves in Jons throat and spend a moment refusing to budge. “I knew you were gone, I tried to find you but I couldn’t, not really, and there was so much you didn’t know - which, considering who I am-”




“You’re… it for me, Martin.“ Jon softly places a hand on either side of Martin’s face. His eyes are misty. 


“You’re really asking.” Martin swallows. “Me. Now. You’re… asking.” 


“Well I’m not Asking -” 




He laughs. “I don’t know if I am asking honestly, I just… I wanted you to know. I wanted to tell you.” 


“Because if you were asking... “ 


“If I was…?”


Martin shrugs, overexaggerated. Jon knows he’s trying to look put-upon but he's honestly failing miserably. “If you were,” Martin agrees, “but you’re not, so it doesn’t matter.” 


“But if I did.”


A smirk. “Are you?” 


“Martin,” Jon huffs, defeated. He leans forward to place his head on Martin's shoulder, which shakes with suppressed laughter. 


“And besides,” Martin continues, once again bringing his arms up to bring Jon closer and settle around his middle, “I think we’ve technically only just met, be a bit forward if you did, y’know. Ask.” 


“Would you prefer I yell at you for misfiling a statement instead?”


“I’d like to see you try.” 




“Well don’t you two look cosy.” 


Martin and Jon jerk away from each other at the unexpected noise. Tim. In all the… everything, he had quite forgotten where he was. Jon’s face flares. 


“I did knock,” Tim smirks, raising an eyebrow, “I guess you were just a bit… distracted?”


Jon shoots to his feet, blustering slightly. Martin, laughing at him from the floor, cheeks red, offers absolutely no help in the situation.


“Hey, what’s all the- oh, hello.” A round face peeks out from behind Tim. The complete stranger smiles at them both and waves as she shoves Tim aside to come into the office. “Why are you… on the floor?”


“Sash!” Tim grins, “An excellent question actually. Do tell us, Jon, why is this nice young man on the floor?” 


And it is her, isn’t it? Really her. Seeing her truly melts the last of Jon’s fears of hallways and possibilities on the spot because it simply no longer matters where or when he was. She’s here. They’re all here, and he trusts them. 


Martin manages to recover before Jon at the new appearance and stands up. “Sasha, was it? I’m Martin.” 


Jon watches as he walks over and takes her hand like it was the most delicate of porcelain and shakes it once, twice. “It’s… so good to finally meet you.” 


Sasha glances up at Tim, confused. “You… too?”


Tim clears his throat. “And I’m Tim, now that introductions are all out of the way. Jon, please tell us why he was on the floor. And if you wouldn’t mind, why you were basically in his lap .” 


Sasha gasps dramatically and brings her hands to her mouth. Jon is truly realising how much he missed this, missed them, just as they were. This perfect stranger and this kind, smiling man who were, and could be, his friends. He is also realising that this situation is… not ideal. 


“He- I, uh. We. This is my-” Internally, Jon’s memory skips a track. Did that count as asking? Had he just asked? For an avatar of knowledge he is really scrambling for an answer. “This is Martin.” 


Martin snorts. “I’m his fiance.” Jon immediately chokes on completely nothing. Tim’s smile grows wider. “Unofficially, I suppose. I’m also going to be working in the Archives, today’s my first day.” 


“Unofficially?” Sasha echoes.


“Well, he hasn’t asked me yet.” 


“Ah, a man with big aspirations!” Tim said, slapping Martin on the shoulder, “I do admire the ambition, Martin. Good luck with that one.” 


Sasha pats Martin’s other shoulder. “My condolences.” 


Martin laughs. “For what?” 


“For the fact that you want to marry Jon and the fact that you’re apparently gonna wait for him to ask.” 


“I am right here.” 


“It’s okay Martin, sometimes I hear Jon say words that aren’t ‘will you marry me’ and I just ignore them as well,” Tim chimes in. 


“You’re all fired.”


“Is that really how you wanna talk to your future husband on his first day?” Sasha tutts, “Shame on you.” 


At the words future husband Jon’s brain immediately stalls. Yes, that was the implication of the word fiance but hearing it actually said out loud in relation to Martin is… something else. 


“Holy shit, you really are going to ask,” Tim gasps, “why was the last conversation we had about pickles when you had an unofficial fiance this entire time?!” 


“I didn’t realise he had an opinion on pickles,” Martin says, almost to himself. 


“He doesn’t! It was a really boring conversation!” 




“Martin I have told Jon about every single office hookup I have had over the past, like, seven years, Sasha, back me up here-” 


“He has,” Sasha agrees solemnly, “it’s been awful.” 


“-and not once has Jon mentioned a date, let alone-” 


“I never asked to be told about your… flings, Tim.” Jon interrupts, “you just loudly announce it whenever you walk in. Every time.” 


“They do this a lot,” Sasha murmurs to him as Jon and Tim’s argument spirals wildly off topic, just like they used to, “don't worry, you get used to it. It kinda fades to background noise after a while.” 


Martin grins. He has missed her so much.  "If Jon gave himself enough free time to have a hobby it would probably be arguing." 


Sasha smothers a laugh behind her hand. "Ten quid says Tim brings it up again when he leaves for the day, just to get the last word in." 


"Twenty says Jon locks his office door to keep Tim from specifically doing that." 


There's a glint in her eye that he hates himself for being able to forget. She sticks out her hand and Martin shakes it. It's all incredibly mundane.


Martin loves her for it.