When Jon wakes up, the bed is trembling.
“Martin?” he mumbles, turning around. The darkness softens the edges of his vision, so he reaches a hand out. Nothing. But he can hear breathing, sharp but constrained, and the bed jolts slightly. “Martin?”—louder, and this time, fear, familiar and unwelcome, slithers up his throat—“Are you alright?”
Slowly, a shape begins to form on the other side of the bed. Martin lies on his side, facing Jon, both hands over his mouth. His eyes are wide and still, but his chest rises and falls with exertion. He’s kicked off the duvet, and in the half-light sliver coming in through the window, his trembling forearms look exposed and vulnerable. Jon wants to reach out, past Martin’s frayed T-shirt and still-translucent skin to his frantically-beating heart, press his palm gently against its walls, and… do what?
“Sorry for waking you,” Martin gasps into the cupped space between mouth and palm. The words come in a burst, crammed hastily into the space between one breath and another.
“There’s nothing to apologize for. How are you feeling?”
“Fine, I’m—it’s fine. You caught me at the tail end; just—give me a second…” Martin squeezes his eyes shut, and his breathing begins to slow. Carefully, he removes his hands from his face. His lip is bleeding, like he’s been biting down on it for a long time. “Okay. I’m okay now.”
“You were invisible.”
“Oh. I, uh, didn’t really notice.”
“Nothing—it was- silly of me, really, you were just turned away, and I- couldn’t see if you were breathing, and obviously you’re alright, but I just. I’ve had a lot of practice watching you not breathe, and I wasn’t particularly… keen on doing it again.”
Oh. What with the running and packing and driving, Jon hasn’t even given thought to—“I’m sorry.”
Martin gives him a half-shrug. “Not your fault.”
Martin is silent, which, sounds about right. Jon shifts the duvet toward him, who tucks himself back in. “I can… I can leave, take the other bed. If you want.”
“If my being here—seeing me asleep, if it’s distressing to you, it only makes sense that I—”
“No, don’t feel like you have to—”
“It’s not a problem, I’ve had far worse—”
“Or—it’s not—don’t—it’s not just that.” Martin sighs. “I’d prefer it if—I… I want you to stay.”
Jon can’t tell if Martin is blushing or not, and god, does he want to know—wants the lights on, wants the sun up, wants a flashlight and a camera and a microscope so he can see exactly what Martin’s face looks like in this moment, but he also wants to lie here next to Martin in the dark and say, “I’ll stay, then.”
“Thank you,” Martin breathes, and doesn’t turn away, and Jon doesn’t either.
“You can… check my pulse next time. If you’d like.”
“When I was—after the Unknowing. If I- recall correctly, my heart wasn’t beating. If you check my heartbeat, and it’s still going, it might be enough to let you know that I’m just asleep?”
“That’s a… pretty good idea, actually,” Martin says, and then, reaching out a hand, “Can I?”
Jon must have nodded, or made some kind of head movement, because Martin’s pressing his fingers, warm and still a little sweaty, to Jon’s neck, and Jon proves Martin’s earlier worries fully rational by forgetting how to breathe.
Martin’s thumb brushes the scar on Jon’s neck. “Daisy?”
Jon wants to nod, but he’s afraid of jostling Martin. “Yeah.”
“And now we’re in her safehouse.”
“And now we’re in her safehouse.”
The calming effect is gradual. Martin keeps his hand steady, and slowly, his shoulders begin to relax.
“Is it helping?”
“Yeah,” Martin says, a little wonderingly, “I think it is.”
A few more minutes pass, the tension draining out of Martin until his eyes start to droop. “Do you think you can sleep now?”
“I do,” Martin murmurs distractedly. “Does it always beat so fast?”
Jon swallows, feeling his carotid press up against Martin’s skin. “I don’t know,” he lies, and thankfully, there are no follow-up questions.
Martin falls asleep with his hand still resting in the dip of Jon’s collarbones. Jon doesn’t sleep for a long time.
When Jon wakes up the next morning, Martin’s already awake and dressed.
“How’d you sleep?” Martin asks.
“Good. I actually don’t think I dreamt at all,” Jon realizes. Another reason to be glad he fed Peter Lukas to the Lonely, he supposes. “I hope it lasts.”
Despite the cabin’s square footage, cleaning it takes Martin and him until sundown. By the time they’ve finished, the floor is clean enough for the two of them to set their shoes by the door and walk about in their socks, which they soon do. There’s an unspoken understanding there—if they thought they’d only be here for a few days, a week, if they thought they would need to run soon, they would leave the dust in the corners and forget to sweep under the couch. We are safe, Jon whispers to himself as he watches Martin deposit a beetle outside, and we are staying.
After dinner. Jon tries to teach Martin how to play 24 Challenge.
“It’s the only card game I know,” he says apologetically. “My grandma wanted me to brush up on my mental maths. It’s alright if you don’t want to play—”
“I beg your pardon?” The look on Jon’s face must be especially affronted, because Martin bursts into laughter, loud and unconstrained in a way Jon hasn’t heard in a long time. I did that, he thinks, letting the thought spread, rose-gold, through his veins, and commits the soundbite to memory.
“As I was saying, Jonathan ‘Sims,’ short for Jonathan Symbiosis—I would be honored to learn how to play your weird childhood maths game on this fine night.”
A swell of affection hits Jon like a wave, and he quickly redoubles his card-shuffling efforts. “Okay, well, normally, we’d use a card pack made especially for 24, but we can also draw four cards at a time from a normal deck. The goal is to make 24 by using the value of each card exactly once. For example…”
The rest of the explanation comes out on autopilot, leaving Jon’s higher brain processes to observe Martin, as they’ve been doing all day. Jon’s glad to see that very little of the panic from last night has bled over into the now. Though Martin’s eyes flicker anxiously to the window every time there’s a sound outside, they always return, relieved, to his hands, the cards, and most often of all, to Jon.
“... That’s that,” Jon says, stuffing the example set back into the deck. “Do you have any questions?”
“Just one,” Martin says. “What are you waiting for?” (What? Jon thinks)—and flips four cards over. (Oh. Right.)
Jon learns several things over the next hour, namely that the best way to uncover someone’s torrid rugby past is to challenge them to card-based arithmetic. Martin’s about as embarrassed by Jon’s discovery as Jon is intrigued, if the former’s look of utter mortification after (seemingly involuntarily) crowing, “No pain, no gain!” the first time he accidentally slaps Jon’s hand to get to the cards first is anything to go by.
“Don’t say a word—”
“I’m sorry, Martin. Could you—could you repeat that? It’s just that it was so very pithy and, I’m afraid, too clever for me to fully comprehend the first time—”
“No pain, no… what was it? Plane? no, that can’t be it. Grain? Martin, you simply must help me understand—”
“Do you have, like, a list of these—”
“Obviously. Poet, remember?”
Then, the implications of Martin’s words sink in, and he freezes.
Jon’s chest is tight. “You wrote poetry… about me?”
Martin shrugs, barely meeting Jon’s eyes. “Might’ve done.”
“I don’t think I saw any of that when I was…” accusing you of murder and rifling through your personal belongings.
“Yeah, I uh, kept most of it on my phone. Bit of light reading for Prentiss.” Martin wince-laughs. Martin, who apparently wrote poetry about Jon within weeks of meeting him, during a time when the kindest thing Jon had ever said to him was a noncommittal grunt every time Martin brought him tea. God, no wonder he had said loved, past tense.
“How… exactly were the Sims puns incorporated?”
“Um, well”—Martin somehow manages to flush more—“it’s more that I used the words in place of your name? I thought it’d be appropriately… roundabout.”
The moment steeps in the air for a second, then two. Jon can almost hear a nonexistent clock tick before he takes pity on both of them. He gestures back at the cards. “You got there first; what’s the answer?”
That night, the two of them settle in bed, facing each other again. Martin only hesitates a little before he reaches for Jon’s neck. This time, Jon falls asleep first.
When Jon wakes up, he’s curled up in the dead-center of the bed, and—
“Shit—” says Martin, from the ground.
“Martin! What the—Martin, are you hurt?”
“Ow—no,” Martin says, wincing, and Jon helps him up to a seat on the edge of the bed. “Just took a bit of a tumble. There should barely be any bruising, I think.”
Jon moves to sit down next to him. “Nightmare?”
“No, no, you just—”
“Dropkicked you into the floor?”
“No”—Martin laughs—“you just sort of… rolled toward me? And I moved back to give you space and then… you know.”
“Christ, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault; this isn’t the biggest bed”—Jon opens his mouth—“And that’s not a cue for you to offer to move again. Unless you really want to.”
“I don’t,” Jon answers, a touch too quickly. “But you should know you’re allowed to move me if I ever get too comfortable.”
“I didn’t want to manhandle you in your sleep, Jon, you’re welcome to as much of the bed as you like—”
“I’m welcome to exactly half. Less, really, if we’re going off of relative sizes. I don’t mind if you push me, really; I’ve never faulted Georgie for her shove-Jon-in-self-defense maneuvers.”
“If you’re sure…”
“I am. Here, practice run”—Jon flops back onto the bed—“Look, I’m rudely encroaching on your space. What do you do?”
Martin laughs—“Alright, alright”—and stands.
Suddenly, there are sturdy arms under Jon, and then, both he and the duvet are being lifted in the air (with very little difficulty, Jon can't help noting). Martin sets him down ever so gently on the left side of the bed.
“Happy?” Martin asks.
Jon is glad his face is pressed into his pillow, glad that the duvet covers the fact that his hands are shaking a little, glad that his throat is too tight for an I love you I’m in love with you and I love you to squeeze through.
“Yes,” Jon says, and is surprised by how raw the syllable sounds.
The bed dips as Martin settles next to Jon. “Then so am I.”
Jon gets up early to make breakfast. He hadn’t set an alarm for fear of waking Martin; somehow his body Knows exactly when to wake, but he’ll worry about that later. He leaves a note on Martin’s pillow in case waking up alone is too disconcerting and heads to the kitchen, tying up his hair as he goes.
The village shop was fairly limited on supplies, and Martin could only carry so much (though, considering last night, that “so much” is... quite a lot) back over when the village is a twenty-minutes’ walk away. Thus, Jon’s cooking options are limited. He settles for poori, even though he needs to use a water bottle as a makeshift rolling pin and even though they’ll have to eat it plain. Jon spends several minutes debating how much oil they can spare for the deep-frying, then decides that he can just fill the pot and pour it all back into the bottle later.
In between mixing and rolling out the dough, he lets the kettle boil and scrambles some eggs. Jon is relieved that he can remember both how thick his grandmother used to make each poori before it was ready to fry and how Martin takes his tea—plain; he’d said something last year about how he’s sure his ancestors would throw a collective fit if he ever deigned to disgrace their country’s invention with milk or sugar. When Jon drops the first circle of dough in the oil and it begins to rise to the surface, he breathes a sigh of relief. Then it’s about ladling more hot oil on top of the poori and trying very hard to not get burned and taking it out, and doing it all again six more times. He samples one. It’s not as fluffy as he would have liked, but it’s good enough for him and almost good enough for Martin.
Jon contemplates the spread before him. It still looks incomplete, so he washes off the water bottle and sets it to work as a juicer, too. It takes three oranges and all of Jon’s hand strength to make enough liquid to fill a mug, and Jon eats the leftover citrus pulp so as not to be wasteful. Then, he sits and waits.
Martin emerges from the stairs barefoot and muss-haired, and Jon has to look away before his mind can start waxing poetic about how the sunlight caressing Martin’s cheek makes it look like Martin is the real source of light.
“Thanks for the note,” Martin says, crossing the room in two strides, “and I promise, I’m okay, but can I still…”
Jon nods, and tips his head up for the now almost familiar ceremony having his pulse checked. This close, and in the light, Jon can see Martin’s pupils, just barely distinct from the dark brown of his eyes.
“I made breakfast,” Jon whispers more than says.
“Oh,” Martin says, seemingly noticing the food for the first time. “Oh. Jon. Thank you.”
Martin has no right to sound so grateful for something that’s taken Jon less than half an hour to do, and Jon tells him such.
“You made me tea,” Martin replies, in a tone that brooks no argument.
Martin approaches the poori first. Jon watches anxiously as Martin lifts the first piece to his mouth, chews, swallows, and finally, turns to him.
“You’ve been living off of nothing but sandwiches and microwavable macaroni cheese for the last year when you can cook like this?”
Jon can’t help the pleased shiver that goes down his spine at the words, but he tries not to let it show. “You forgot Pot Noodles. And statements.”
"Point still stands, Jonny Pessimism."
Jon barely reacts to the name this time, which he considers an achievement. “It’s just fried bread.”
“Very good fried bread. Seriously, why don’t you do this more?”
“Fair enough. I mean, I’m sure you know I’m not the most dedicated to ‘self-care’”—Martin snorts—“I suppose I just don’t cook much when it’s just me. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to.”
“Well then. Good thing I’m here now,” Martin says around another bite of poori.
Yes. Yes, it is.
Jon wakes up Hungry.
Somewhere in his mind, he can register that it’s still early stages, and nowhere near unbearable—just some dizziness, something he wouldn’t even notice on an average day at the Archives—but after spending a few Seeing-less days hoping that Lukas had been enough to last him a few weeks, the realization still strikes him cold.
Since Jon is obviously not going to leave the cabin to snack on some poor villager, he tucks the duvet more securely around himself and tries to fall asleep again. But dread begins to pool in his stomach, and no matter how he shifts his position, the restlessness refuses to relinquish its hold on him. And if it’s already downright uncomfortable right now, how many days before it becomes unbearable? At what point will he need to lock the cabin door to keep himself inside? When will he no longer trust himself to leave the bedroom? Even getting up and pacing might be too much of a risk in time. Basira’s sending him some statements once the Archives are less police-monitored, she promised. He just has to hold out until then. He has to. He has to. He—
“Jon? Jon, can you hear me?” the voice sounds like it’s coming from a distance, but Jon's consciousness grasps for the source anyway. Then, there’s two fingers pressed to his neck, and Jon grasps at those too. “Jon, please—” and the room and the bed and the man Jon loves come rushing back.
“Martin,” he whispers.
“Jon, you were making little noises—are you okay?”
“Martin, I’m sorry, I thought we’d have longer—the Eye—it’s back.” His voice cracks on the second sentence, and Martin swears under his breath.
“Never mind that—How bad is it?”
“It’s—it’s not, really. Or—I just felt a little dizzy, I think most of- that was panic.”
“Still a little... but I’m back now. You—you brought me back.”
“Dizziness stayed, I’m assuming?”
“How can I help?”
“I don’t know, it’s never—”
“Or, easier question—what’s helped in the past?”
“Sleep, sometimes, but I can’t—” Jon breaks off into a sob.
“It’s okay,” Martin whispers, “It’s okay, Jon. Stay with me. What’s helped you sleep in the past?”
“I, uh, had a weighted blanket, it’s probably still in Document Storage—”
“Right, I remember—”
“I felt—solid, under it. And a little trapped, but in a good way. Less likely to go out and Compel people, at least.”
“I don’t think Daisy has a weighted blanket here, but we could try to imitate the feeling? What if—I could- kind of lay… on top of you, or—”
Jon shakes his head.
“That’s fair, I’m probably a bit heavier than your average—”
“No, no, no, that isn’t the reason; I just don’t want to… take advantage.”
Martin scrunches up his brow. “How do you mean?”
The question is obvious enough to stir Jon from his anxiety. “Well, just—the experience might… elicit different emotions from the two of us, and that would be unfair to you.”
“Right...” Martin says, then frowns. “No, hang on. Not ‘right.’ How does asking me to cuddle you count as you, what, ‘taking advantage’? Are you saying you’re somehow… manipulating my feelings for you in order to get me to—”
“—if anything, wouldn’t I be the one ‘taking advantage’ by offering, not that that was my inten—”
“—Your feelings? What do you mean, your feelings?”
“My… romantic feelings toward you?”
Jon blinks. Are auditory hallucinations a rare side effect of panic attacks? Or maybe it’s an Avatar thing; did Helen ever mention—?
“Jon… you’re staring.”
“In the Lonely. You said ‘loved.’”
“Oh,” Martin says, “So you've really thought—this whole time—”
“It's what you said, how would I be able to—”
“You’re right. I did say that.” Martin is, for some reason, smiling. “But I wasn’t fully myself there, surely you know that. What about the past few days?”
“I mean—you’re an affectionate person, and there’s no one else here—”
Martin cups Jon’s face in both his hands, and now, he’s laughing too—“Jonathan… Simpleton—”
“Martin,” Jon says. He thinks it may be the only thing he can say right now.
“Please, call up Basira, or Melanie, or Georgie, and ask them if they’d call me affectionate.”
“It’s just you, Jon. Of course I love you. Of course I’m in love with you.”
Jon stares, disbelieving and heart-racingly hopeful. “But… why? I was awful to you, and then I was gone—”
“—and then you changed, and then you came back to me.”
“It can’t be that easy.”
“It can, though. I’ve chosen to make it that easy.”
Christ, I love you, Jon thinks, and then, oh, God, I haven’t said it back yet. “This might be- clear, already, but Martin, I love you too, so much, and I’m sorry that I didn’t always show it, or realize it—”
“Hey,” Martin says, smoothing his hand over Jon’s hair. “It’s okay. We’re here now, aren’t we?”
“Yes. This—this is real.”
“It is.” Then—“Can I kiss you?” Martin asks.
Jon’s thought about kissing Martin before, but those imagined kisses had always been hurried and frantic and for larger, more selfish purposes—convincing Martin to stop working for Lukas; making a last-minute, time-efficient declaration of feelings before the Unknowing unmakes them both; trying to prove that there’s still some humanity left in him and hey, the logic of the universe is so twisted already that he may as well give it the old Frog Prince try. This moment—warm, close, deliberate; no danger present except for Jon himself—feels far more right than any of these. And yet—“Maybe not now?”
“Yeah, of course,” Martin says, in a voice that harbors no resentment and asks for no explanations. Jon continues anyway.
“I’d still like to, in the future, but I think I’m still a little… raw from all of tonight’s—revelations, and I- sometimes find skin contact challenging in even the best of situations.”
“Oh, of course—do you want me to let go of your face, or—?”
“No, what you’re doing right now is… it’s not too much. Feels nice.”
“And what about the weighted blanket offer, now that you know you aren’t”—Martin pitches his voice lower in a frankly horrendous Jon-imitation—“‘taking advantage’?”
Jon laughs. “That would be nice, too.”
Martin hmms, then presses closer and swings his legs over Jon’s.
“Would taking a statement from me help?”
“I don’t know if it counts, but I was there when the Flesh attacked, and I met Simon Fairchild.”
“You met Simon F—”
“Jon, Jon, it’s okay, he didn’t hurt me. The point is, you can Compel me about him, see if it does anything for you.”
Despite his agitation, Jon’s heart swells. “I’d rather lay off the Seeing until it’s really necessary. But I appreciate the offer.”
Martin pulls Jon in a little closer. “Anytime.”
Jon wakes up tucked into the space between Martin’s neck and shoulder.
“‘Morning,” he mumbles into Martin’s skin, and feels Martin smile against his hair.
“Good morning to you, too. Do you still feel Hungry?”
Jon takes stock of his headache, then shrugs. “Yes, but I believe I’m more used to the dizziness now.”
“Well, last night’s offer is still on the table, if you’ve changed your mind.”
“O-oh. Of course,” Jon says, and kisses him. Martin makes a small mmph! that Jon finds extremely gratifying, and for a few seconds, he just lingers there, feeling the warm, dry press of Martin’s mouth against his.
When Jon pulls back, Martin has gone pleasantly pink. “I—ah—meant the Fairchild statement, actually, but I did appreciate that. A lot.”
“Oh,” Jon says, and before he can get too embarrassed, kisses Martin again.
“Someone’s affectionate this morning.”
“We should probably get out of bed soon.”
“Maybe write up a plan for if you get worse before Basira can mail the statements over?”
“Also, if you need any ingredients for cooking, let me know; I might pop down to the shops again tomorrow; I’m due to spend some quality time with the cows soon.”
“Write me a list later, when you’re a tad more verbal?”
Jon nods. Yes, he’ll do it later, because they have a later to make promises for.